Once a month I am going to tell you the story of our sheep and how we came to acquire them!
First up is our first sheep on the smallholding, Wanda. She is a Beulah Speckled Face sheep, which you can see more in later photographs.
Wanda turned up in the lane and on our yard just before I had Mati so three years ago next month. She was scared, alone bedraggled and very, very thin. We managed to coax her into our barn, but as we had sold all our hay bales that year we couldn’t keep her in there for long. Plus the barn was still a bit filthy from having been loaned out to a local farmer.
We called everyone we could think of and then a few more, trying desperately to find her owners. I sent a photo to a local lady who works for animal health and she came out to see her once we had put her out into the field.
She would come running for a bucket of feed and we managed to have a look at her ear tag numbers, which the lovely lady ran for us, to no avail as her last home recorded was on the English borders!! A heck of a long way from here! She also noted on her visit that Wanda was at least 4 years old having no teeth, and at some point recently had had scab. The scab is a notifiable disease but it had been treated, so we were warned to be watchful of her and to not let her out of the field, unless the owners came. Wanda was particularly not allowed to see other sheep until we were certain the scab was clear.
So she stayed in the field, and we put up signs as instructed. Then after 14 days she became ours…. so we got ourselves a flock number and became sheep keepers, easy we thought…..
After the 14 days were up Wanda decided she did not like the solitary life she was leading and tested every single fence, gate and hedgerow on a daily basis. She got out more times than I care to say! Remember at this point I was heavily pregnant with Mati and shouldn’t touch sheep and this continued till I had Mati in a sling for our round ups. She tried joining flocks in both of our neighbours’ fields.
We walked the lanes pretty much daily with a bucket of feed to round her up and bring her back. She happily followed me and the feed anywhere, but it became exhausting. One day we thought she had completely gone forever, as it took us walking halfway down the track that goes through the valley to the next village and part way back up before she heard me and came running for the feed. This last one was a mile and a half of walking, which doesn’t sound much, but just after having a baby, losing a scary amount of blood post birth…. still being paper white and having a toddler to wrangle along the way as well as babywearing it was enough.
We went round all the fences, gates and hedges and tried every field. Eventually we found a field she couldn’t escape from. The relief was immense! We had also in the meantime been speaking to a neighbouring farmer who kept sheep. He had a spare ewe…. and offered her to us as a friend for Wanda to help her settle into the fields and maybe stay put! Finally the friend for Wanda arrived in May 2018, but more on her in a later post!#
Wanda by May was fattening up despite her long walks…. and her fleece was growing back. The scab was completely clear. She was a very confident sheep, didn’t mind Sookie the dog (to be fair Sookie the neurotic spaniel was more afraid of Wanda!) If Will got too close and over enthusiastic then she would head butt him and put him on his bum!
These days, at probably about a minimum of 7 years old, she is still the most friendly sheep, coming running to sound of my voice. Greedy when the bucket comes out, happy to be hand fed by anyone and not fussed if she muscles in on the horse nuts too! She is now shorn every year, wormed regularly and has to have lots of hoof trims as her hooves curl in all sorts of directions! She could live to be 10-12 years old, but some live to about 20! She is certainly stubborn enough to manage that! She helps to coax some of the more nervous ones over with her enthusiasm, but also doesn’t like too many others crowding around her. She will liberally give out head butts if the mood takes her. I love her attitude!!
She is one of our bigger sheep and produces a great huge soft bouncy fleece every year! It sure makes some wonderful or should I say Wanda-full yarn!
If you fancy a bit of Wanda wool head on over to the Etsy shop, anything with Rustic in the name has Wanda fleece in!
I am starting a series of blog posts, about the things we get done and need to do around the holding…. maybe accountability, maybe a kick up the bum when we need it, maybe all just pie in the sky….. I will add videos onto the YouTube Channel for a monthly tour of the main bits of the holding as well! Hopefully around the same time as my monthly updates posts!
So for a first posting, maybe a list of to dos I seem to add to almost daily. These are over and above our daily chores of feeding and watering the animals which has to be done whatever the weather, although the chickens didn’t like the snow we had recently!
So my list at the moment:
Barn gutterings and down pipes (this will have to wait till later in the year and for a dry time, but we have managed to repair the middle barn sidings so far less water incursion there)
Tin hut finishing (there are MANY small and large jobs for this to happen but it will happen this year!)
New duck enclosure, they need a new house, more space and we plan to add it onto the current large chicken run
New willow plantings, both basketry and biofuel (J has finally said the whole little field can be put to willow!! Yay!! Well other than my dye beds, which will move up to allow for the duck enclosure to be added.
Renovate chicken shed enclosure after fox incursion last year, make the run ‘walk in able’
Make a hedgehog enclosure, Holly will need a safe outdoor garden space to live in come the spring, with log piles, a shallow pond and sleeping box.
2 long hedgerows to cut and reshape into a hedge rather than the tangled mess, and to also add to our wood supplies for next year.
Camping pitch x1 in the far pasture.
Start clearing the holding field for building work/landscaping though this will be an ongoing project over the next few years. I plan to build a cabin to run courses and more forest school etc.
Planting, growing, harvesting, fruit and veg
Planting and growing dye plants
Ongoing garden projects, both for the children and for flowers and prettiness!
Make a pond
Make more wildlife garden areas
Continue clearing and sorting the inside of the barns, removing rubbish, from years of accumulation both by us and the previous owners. Making workable areas and storage.
Pigs, at some point in the springtime the pigs will head off on their final journey to the abattoir
We have always had lots of plans each year for this place, last year we did a lot of gardening and we managed a few final fencing jobs, some holiday let building, a pig house, and a play palace for the boys. In fact since we bought the place in 2014 we have built a house, started and almost completed a second, built a veg garden, three huge raised beds and a polytunnel, planted an orchard, fenced and fenced and fenced. We have built a fruit cage, planted withy beds, a dome and a tunnel, more gardening after beating back enormous bramble forests….
So far this year, we have managed to start cutting back one of the hedgerows, the longest in fact! We are about halfway down the inner side, the outer side was done by tractor flail cutting. So just the tops to do on that half and then into the really overstood half! This has so far gained us about 5 foot more garden space for the holiday let. Now I need to chip the brash and get the willow fedge planted and the holiday let garden can rest till spring, when patio, gate building and planting will start in earnest. The far field hedge will allow us to plant some quick growing pines, for biodiversity, screening and firewood and also to prepare the camping pitch and compost loo site for the summer months.
We have planted our little horse chestnut tree, we have mastered sourdough and we have measured, planned out and written a to order list for the three new enclosures or extensions we need to build.
So many people say this to us!! And it always makes me laugh a little, yes in so very many ways we are living the dream, but I really don’t think a lot of people realise how much hard work the dream is!!
Take this week for example!!
All the rain and wind, meant slipped roof tiles and James braving the ladders to fix them, because water had started to come in through the ceiling in the boys room!!
We had a small electrical fire resulting in us losing our immersion heater…. no big deal we light the Esse for hot water mostly at this time of year! But more wood hauling…
More water around than ever it seems…. and for some strange reason multiple air locks in the water pipes of the house (seems to be a weekly occurrence requiring us to drain the system)
So we go puddle jumping to feed the animals and the pigs are happily digging themselves ponds!!
Rats!!!!! (And foxes!! We have lost 10 chickens this year to two fox attacks one where they clear chewed through the wiring of the cage!) but back to the rats, they have increased hugely this year and now as well as trapping the beasts we have to repair rat damage building the ducks a new home and repairing the floor of the chicken house, despite having “rat proof” feeders! We also have a nest in the workshop, so each time we go to get firewood we catch movement out the corner of our eyes and they are wily beasts avoiding the traps set or even bold enough to lick them clean without tripping them!!
And we have been working hard on the new build! James has painted the internals walls, the rear access ramp and front steps have been built by our wonderful builder!
And that’s before we even get started on the effects of Covid, isolations and lockdowns….
BUT would I swap this?? Would I go back to life before????
A million times no!!
Thank fully living here we have been (until this week) sheltered somewhat from Covid effects and having the land here means we have always had something to do and somewhere to go! The land allows us to get outside every day, to work, to look after our animals and to play.
We have the time and space to grow our own food and raise our own animals for eggs and meat and wool. So we know where our food comes from and how they have been raised and treated, which is important to us and waking round at this time of year both shows me how much we have done and how much more we have to do to put everything to bed for winter, then the willow harvesting can begin and I can put in more fedges, new plantings and try to soak up some of the water!!
We have some snippets of time to follow our own interests and this will hopefully increase as the years go by and things get more under control!!
Tomorrow we bring in the horses for winter and move the sheep into a more sheltered field for the winter, and maybe a bit more gardening or repairing…. today we eat a roast dinner from our own animals and our own veg and maybe I’ll steal some time to knit!!
And one day we will have field shelters, under control gardens and land, rat proof poultry pens, and a holiday let up and running!! So rather than living the dream more working towards or on the dream!! 😁
I thought I would share a poem I found about firewood today! Given that we like lighting fires for cooking, sharing, making drinks etc in our forest school sessions!
We are also completely wood fired at the smallholding here, a log fuelled Esse for cooking, heating and hot water when the solar thermal panels are out of season, and a small log burner in the lounge!! So useful thoughts for what burns well in those too, especially as we seem to have ash die back in the woods so need to carefully monitor and fell!
Also it’s now the first of September and officially the start of the part of the year where we can trim hedges, gather firewood for next year and do a bit more work around the place without disturbing wildlife with their young.
We have been busy as bees round the holding still, but since the start of lockdown in March we have not had any significant rainfall!!! 10 weeks!!
Things are tinder dry outside…. we are having to regularly water everywhere and currently just the other side of our nearest village there is a forestry and field fire that the forestry services and a helicopter have been battling since Sunday evening…
Thankfully there is some rain forecast tonight and for at least the morning tomorrow! The earth here will give a sigh of relief I expect when it starts to fall!!
In the meantime here a few snapshots of the past few weeks here! New fencing, shearing, turning out the horses, new chicks, new play stuff for the boys, elderflowers and a lot more!!
Social distancing smallholding style!! We have an absolute load of work to get on with here on the smallholding and with the nice dry weather that has started we have made a start!!
Moving the chickens and ducks to new turf. Wood chipping paths and flower beds and around new raised beds!
Having cleared the Polytunnel a while back, we have started some seeds in there and in the house. Today we have started in the veg garden, turning the beds from an absolute weed ridden state into something we can actually plant into!! So we have seeds ready for starting in successional sowings there!!
We have started a few projects for the boys for play, including a bean teepee…
These times are going to be difficult, but I am certain, no determined that we will come through it and be more organised, sorted, prepared and ready to face the new world head on. We are using this as an opportunity to finish projects started, start new projects, action plans we’ve had on the back burner for an age it seems.
So as for plans….
Weeding (there is always weeding)
Growing veg and fruit
Dyeing all the yarn
Clearing and sorting first the house, then the barns (I’ve started this as a wet day job and am part way through upstairs…. slow work with two small helpers though)
Finishing the new cottage
Building a tree house (if W gets his way it will be two storeys!!)
Making a garden or lots more garden areas
Gates, trying desperately to keep the errant hound in and the free range children!!
Processing the giant log pile into useable stacked logs ready for next winter
And there is likely to be more but I’ll add them to the lists as I go along!!