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.