Weeds/ For Want of a Nail

We are fighting a total war with nature. Nettles and dock are my nemesis, and nothing makes me happier than beating, smashing, ripping and then burning the evil things.

It’s a job you have to be resigned to, but we are spending days on another job at the moment, moving and sorting an abandoned compost area- weeds and roots to dry and burn, rubbish to the dump, and good soil (after sifting) to a Rhino sack to use on the vegetable beds when they are ready. Its knackering.

The solution for each set of jobs and problems on a farm is livestock. Each breed of animal, let lose on the land in turn, is able to do specific labour saving chores another type of animal can’t. So cows eat grass with their tongue by ripping, sheep follow and nibble, goats prefer overhanging tree branches and wasteground, and pigs are the ultimate rotavators- they root around with their snouts until the land is ploughed, and fertilised by their droppings. I want to let lose the pigs on the weeds and all the crop areas taken back by nature. Within a month it will be like the Somme, and fertilised, and think how much Fallout 4 I could have played by then. And that will teach the nettles a lesson they’ll never forget.

However, we cant afford pigs yet (because they need an ark, and other stuff like a portable electric fence, and it’s too much) so we are committed to clearing areas by hand. Soon we are going to hire a rotavator, if we can’t buy a cheap second hand one (which costs what hiring one twice would cost) But this all rips my knitting, because the the cost of this is a frustrating false economy,  when such money could go towards an old tractor with bigger and better implements you operate from the seat, so you don’t spend days walking around holding the small of your back, like a weird fat bloke with….erm…a bad back.

I have found the perfect tractor, by the way- a Ransomes MG40, a tiny but powerful crawler often used in vineyards, that would be ideal for the kids to operate (yes, under supervision) because it has no steering wheel, only levers – like a tank- remember the push and pull and sensory stuff I talked about? The MG40 can do most of what other tractors can do, including pulling a topper (uber lawnmower) and ploughs etc. Plus it rocks. I used to dream about driving one around my land in a rainstorm, wrapped up in a waterproof coat.


The lack of the right tools compounds the fact we haven’t got the time we need to sort the smallholding out as quickly as we would like. Until it is sorted, its a mess. It makes me dribble, because I hate messy farms- you know the type with 12 rusty tractors out front, and fifty abandoned greenhouses full of trees out the back? I don’t want a smallholding like that.

The kids doing things on the farm is central but we can’t expect too much focus (D has ADHD) and if both are home (which is nearly every weekend) we can’t leave them to their own devices, so you get pulled off the job, and have to run down the paddock hooting, shedding gloves and boots and hand tools and twine to stop D trying to feed the chickens Red Bull soaked chewing gum, or something. Because, of course, some of the “help” you get from kids is about as helpful as getting on the wrong plane, and finding yourself in Botswana, when you have a business meeting in New York. Even my dog was unhelpful today. The one raised bed we had cleared- the only ready to plant raised bed Shabbafarm owns- he had decided to desecrate by burying his stupid hamburger toy, and then grinning at me.

Never work with children or animals.


The Constant Gardener/ Mudhouse Mansion

We were mindful that some of the principles of having a smallholding (as a therapeutic tool for traumatised adopted children) was about how routines and movements could soothe stress. Pushing and pulling, swinging and spinning, seeing and smell, taste, touch and hearing are the essence of why animals and crops are important. People aren’t always aware they crave these sensations, but they are often driven subconsciously to seek these experiences out.


Its interesting how D has already started to use these at the farm, now he comes most weekends. We bought a cheap, old school push lawn mower to keep the paths and tracks down, given our Flymo flex won’t stretch very far, and our land is a long 3 acre finger. Soon as he saw it, D loved the mower and spent hours pushing it around. We laughed to ourselves, and referred to him as the “Constant Gardener” because he was still doing it in the dark! He used to do this pushing thing as soon as he started walking, often shoving a large toy truck literally miles through woods and fields on our frequent walks. He would be very intersted in the wheels as he did this. It has reminded us of all the above, and we want to develop this principle by finding other things he can push or pull. I have even thought about lending scrum machine from the local rugby club.

Sensory, hands on experiences are also vital. We had always planned a “mud bath”  and so got on with making a basic one the other day. As usual with us, time and planning were limited and what we prepared was smaller and less intentional than we wanted, but it was a start, and also an experiment.  The children love water and mud, and we have always encouraged this. I have blogged before that our children were the only children who went into the woods in wetsuits, which spooked a number of dog walkers, but “wisdom is proved right by her children”. So we let them loose with the hosepipe and one of our overgrown raised beds.

The kids got stuck in, but we let them use some of Mimi’s “Bratz” and “Monster High” dolls in the mud bath, which was a bad decision as the play turned ghoulish about burying the dolls and hurting them (which is sometimes a reoccurring theme in their free play- bad endings, no rescue, etc) Its like they go into sensory overload. That can happen with all good sensory experiences. Its really frustrating, because you end up monitoring a living souffle kind of thing. Too soon to stop? Too long? Careful or it will collapse! Gaaah!! I was aware how tense I was the whole time, thinking of how I would get them into the shower without making the house look like it had been hit by a Tsunami, and how I would control any over excited situation, and how I didn’t want get wet or dirty. I know I have to be ready to get stuck in and dirty, and theres a disconnect. Im processing this as well.

But hey, you can tweak all your plans and experiments, can’t you? Next time there will be no dolls, and I hope the mud bath will be bigger, deeper and more immersive. Im also going to remove the hosepipe, because that becomes another distraction that can end in tears, as D loved the power of having something he often chose to squirt at Mimi.  It sort of ended like a Chinese student protest in Singapore. On acid.


Home At Last/ The Once-Ler

We’re in!

This was 6 weeks ago, but everything went light speed from there, and we didn’t have internet until a couple of weeks ago. Trying to blog from an iPhone requires microscopes and nano-technology with my sausage fingers….plus I went to America for two weeks with step daughter, which deserves its own blog entry some day!

We secured a new property by M (my wife) working full time for a season. The knock on is enormous in regards to time she is away from home, and how this affects the kids, but we had to do something or we were stuck in me being in B and B and us being separated indefinitely. The last entries prior to this kind of show the desperation. M starts a new job in a local hospital next month, so will be home more.

Needless to say, our new home is a dream house, with  a plot of land kissing 3 acres.

The house itself is a “cybercottage”- a farriers house and workshop built sometime in the 1800’s, but so modernised and reclad it looks sort of 1930’s. You can only tell its an old house by the inglenook fireplace, that exposes the brick and this ancient wooden beam, and the upstairs windows that are so low you have to shuffle on your knees to spy on your neighbours. We love it. We can’t believe were here, I sometimes feel I’m squatting.

One of the first tasks we had is to register as a small holding to gain your “County Parish Holding” (CPH) number. When that came through I was suddenly a “farmer”- a strange moment!

I am now registered to have sheep, goats and pigs (you don’t need to register chickens unless you have over 50) From that you get your flock number, and the paperwork begins….

Alongside the mantle of having animals comes a mindfulness about how you want to roll as smallholders. I knew a farmer who dealt only in rare breeds, as a reaction to farmers who have abandoned the older UK breeds and gone for new breeds and hybrids. Crudely put, rare breeds are breeds of livestock of ancient heritage, that have become more and more scarce due to business reasons. They are hardy and smaller than newer breeds, and thus yield less meat. Some also tend to have only one lamb when breeding, whereas new breeds tend to have twins and triplets, thus exponentially increasing yield and profit over their fiscal life.

Perhaps those old breeds being left behind is wise, given farmers rely entirely on their livestock to make a living (and I don’t) But the chicken breeding business can be far more sinister, with intensive battery breeding locking birds on top of each other in tiny spaces, so they become distressed and fight and loose their feathers. Some keepers even go so far as debeaking -which is evil.

We hate where all this mentally is coming from. I don’t want to be the Once-Ler.

Im totally committed to spacious, free range animal husbandry. But due to the cost of animal delivery, and the fact I don’t own an animal trailer yet (and thus can’t get to many the rare breeds, which tend to live in Wales or Scotland) I’m going to practice on the newer breeds and hybrids until I find my feet. A manager at work has a pretty developed small holding and she sold me our first three sheep, Texel and Suffolk crosses. 

The sheep were bought partly to embed our smallholder commitment, and partly to keep the grass down (we don’t have a lawn tractor, and I would prefer to avoid the financial outlay) So we got 3 shearling ewes.


Our 3 hens came out of “foster care” immediately and loved their new home and their first true free range experience. They started giving us two eggs a day, so one of them is a non layer- but we have made a commitment that short of dire illness, and maybe finding we have too many cockerels, all chickens will live cull free. They are meant to be therapeutic for the kids, and egg layers, not Sunday dinner.

We needed more chickens. We wanted hand reared chickens, to encourage tameness (we want our children to handle chilled out birds) and it so happened the same manager at work had a broody hen. Me and Mimi had the joy of seeing the chicks pretty much being born, and a day or so later the manager said it would be good to take the chicks as she was worried the hen was a poor mother, abandoning them while she went off to feed.


But that statement was recalled when it was found “mother” hen had hatched 18 chicks- many clearly not her own offspring (or same species, my initial thoughts!)-  and stashed some in logs, whilst taking others out in small groups to feed around the garden. So in order to go with natures vibe, we took all 18 chicks and mother hen, who was already named Audrey! We haven’t sexed the young chickens yet. I’m hoping somehow we only have one cockerel, which we shall keep. He’s going to be called Mr Tumble.

Because there was some delay in getting the baby chicks from the manager (the first attempt ended in disaster, as Audrey went nuts, told the chicks to hide in the trees, and we couldn’t catch her!) I bought four chicks from a local dealer to be hand reared. Whilst full of spirit, one (called Custard) is clinically insane and wants to fight everybody, and the other three look like they may have been born in Chernobyl. The stench of having them indoors during the cold weather is immense, and now they have caught a virus. We are treating them with an endless water medicine, which I especially enjoy in the winter dark at silly o clock before 8 hours of child protection.


But Mimi has come alive with it. Every day she goes up to cuddle the various chickens and feed the sheep (ignoring Custards flying headbutts and foul language) and seeing your anxious child talking to the animals, calm and peaceful, makes us know we have made the right decision.

Nearly killed us getting here.