We went shopping – smallholder style. A member of our local smallholding group is leaving the smallholding life and offered up a bunch of their stuff to the group members to buy.
A couple of our purchases were to do with future interests. We know we’d like to get into keeping bees, although I’m slightly worried as to how I will react with a bunch of bees flying around me but we should find that out when we go on a bee keeping course. The equipment was at a really good price should get us pretty much set up to go so we went for it. We also want to keep goats for milk in future, but we’d like to see if we like and will use the milk first so a cheese making kit (soft and hard) seemed like a good buy.
On the practical side we bought a scaffold tower as some of our fruit trees are high and it will help us do repair work on sheds, the house and polytunnels. The most useful of all is that we have now bought a trailer! Once we get a tow bar on the car and collect the trailer it will come in handy not just for transporting animals but collecting muck, moving things around the land and crazy spending sprees like this! As it was, somehow Sam defied the laws of physics to fit it all (except the trailer) into the car plus me, Chi and a pushchair!
One of our Brown Marsh Daisies, Aino, has gone broody. It started nearly 3 weeks ago when we couldn’t collect eggs from one of the nest boxes for two days in a row as there was a hen on it. It dawned on me that it might not be bad luck (3 Brown Marsh Daisies and that nest box was everyone’s favourite). I tried to move her off and was thoroughly pecked for my efforts. Had to pick up the nest box and tip it to get her out – definitely gone broody.
We briefly thought about trying to break her of the broody feeling but I was hoping to buy some more hens this summer and hatching our own gets rid of the risk of bringing in disease so we thought we’d give it a go. We were wanting to increase the diversity of the eggs we were producing (currently 2 blue layers, 3 cream layers and 1 darker cream layer), so we went for some Cuckoo Maran eggs. I couldn’t find any locally so we braved ebay. It wasn’t the best of experiences. Egg arrival day came and went with no eggs. I emailed to be told the eggs hadn’t been laid yet, there were only 4 Maran eggs, not the 6 I’d paid for. The lady assumed I was incubating and figured it would be ok. I explained I had a broody and she was very apologetic, she agreed to ship the 4 Maran eggs along with some others she had. She also ended up refunding so not too bad in the end.
We also bought a little rabbit hutch for the broody so we could get her out of hen house and the popular nest box, we had eggs turning up left right and centre. We put the broody coop inside our big shed as it has a solid floor and we can shut it up each night in case of predators. Aino was moved into the broody coop two days before the eggs were due to arrive just to be sure she was serious about sitting. She did not want to budge!
We let the eggs sit for about 8 hours when they arrived. They turned out to a mix of Black Copper Maran, Cuckoo Maran x Black Copper Maran, Rhode Island Red x Black Copper Maran and Cream Leg Bar x Lakenveldar. Not really what I had wanted but I had read the advert wrong the night I ordered and the other eggs were to make up the numbers. Some of them were really large though, so if we can get a hen laying large eggs that should help, and we might end up with some interesting coloured eggs, assuming we don’t hatch all cockerels!
She accepted the eggs straight away although she kept having two Maran eggs peeking out from under her, sometimes feeling cold. We left them as they didn’t seem to be kicked out, and of course they were 2 of the 4 Maran eggs.
We bought a candler and then realised that we probably shouldn’t have started with Maran eggs as dark brown eggs are hard to see through! We couldn’t really tell with them but we saw veins with the others and a growing dark area when we candled at day 15 so fingers crossed.
At day 15 when we were candling I noticed a Maran egg had some cracks so we took it away and had a look, rotten. At day 17 I noticed another Maran egg the same, rotten again. I am hoping that these were the two eggs that had been peeking out. We did number the eggs when they went under Aino, but the pencil wore off. I’m guessing these two eggs just weren’t fertile. The other two Marans seem to be ok, so fingers crossed they hatch ok and are female. The eggs are due to hatch on Saturday so watch this space, hopefully all will go well and we will be having to come up with some B names from fandom!
I’ve not been very good at keeping this up to date have I? I’m currently putting that down to a toddling terror with a love of laptops and a questionably understanding of the word no (I’m pretty sure she understands but ignores). A new rule that Mummy can have her laptop at breakfast might help.
So what’s been going on at Six Oaks? I’ll update you on the sheepy front this time.
The sheep have been shorn and ended up looking more like deer than sheep. It was a real adventure getting them in for that. We had to get them out of the field they had been in and then through the next area with long grass and willow trees, down a 12 foot wide strip of good grass between the leylandi and the polytunnels (aka Polytunnel Way) and into the open polytunnel. To start with they didn’t want to go past the gate of their existing field and a drop of the bucket on the other side meant they got a fair amount of the food without getting them very far. But we got them in and the gate closed behind them. Success!
Except it wasn’t, we got as far as Polytunnel Way and then refused to go further. I guess it was narrower and they could see that the end of it was blocked off. The bolted off in a series of kicks and jumps and found the willow which was then far more interesting than the coarse mix Sam was shaking. We gave up on the carrot approach and went for the stick. There’s a hedge going through this area and with an unsuspecting volunteer (Kay) we tried walking them down the gap between it and the fence to get them into Polytunnel Way. We soon found out that the hedge wasn’t as thick as we thought when they started jumping through it!
We gave up, stuck some hurdles up a little way into Polytunnel Way so that we didn’t have sheep wandering all over the place and put their water there. We had dinner and thought about shearing the sheep ourselves (shearer due first thing in the morning).
Of course when we went out to lock up for the night the sheep were happily in Polytunnel Way munching on the grass. We opened the hurdles and tried with the bucket again. It worked and we got them penned up just before it got dark. Of course both our phones were dead at that point so no victorious photo. The only bucket we had with us at that time was the chicken corn though as we were quite surprised to find that they seemed to like that even more than the coarse mix!
The shearer came and went with little event. We had the sheep penned up in the open polytunnel with the ends of the polytunnel blocked off just in case. Turns out that was a good idea as one sheep got loose at one point and was running around the tunnel.
The fleeces were so tiny! It didn’t help that a couple of them were really shedding so had the fleece coming away in pieces and half gone anyway. I may need to get them done earlier next year or learn how to roo them. My plans to make a couple of rugs from them went out the window when I saw the size so instead I have sourced some white fleece and I will do some peg loom rugs with brown and white wool. Hopefully more on that soon.
We then had a go at treating the sheep with clik to prevent fly strike. A lot of people say to do it a few weeks after shearing but our vet advised same day and I trust her, plus we were still mentally scarred from having tried to get them in that once! We managed ok, and it was only the sheep that got sprayed so pretty good going for newbies I think!
They are in their new area now, eating the grass down to a manageable height, taking shelter under the willows and looking very much like deer. The field they had been in is looking lush and green but I want to rest a while before they go back there. I also want to split it into three areas.
Not much else to report on the sheepy front. We did have our first wound to deal with a while back when I went out and saw one of the sheep had a bald patch. Turned out that 28 had an abscess on her head, but thankfully after a squeeze from the vet and a long acting antibiotic injection that healed up without event.
Now to start thinking about tups and how many we keep over the winter. We’ve got use of a neighbour’s half acre field now and the grass is looking really good so thinking about keeping all the girls and maybe selling some with lambs at foot next spring, but I know the grass will slow over winter and I may come to regret that. Lots to think about!
We’ve been having a few cockerel issues lately. Aramis (as he is now known) has started charging at us during corn feeding times and giving our legs one good peck with his beak. We thought it was hunger as sometimes the pellets would run out during the day but he continued to do it even on days we kept on top of the pellets and even after all the corn had been given out and his girls were still pecking happily away at the ground. Sam ran after him the last time he did it and so far so good but he gets one more chance. If he does it again he is in the pot.
To be honest he may end up in the pot anyway. He’s a lovely looking boy and he does well showing the girls food and keeping them safe (he gets them all on red alert when one of our cats walks by). On the downside though we have to keep the eggs in the fridge and he has a favourite hen who is getting her back feathers damaged by his affections. We’ve had to resort to buying a saddle for the poor girl. On top of that he is another mouth to feed, and a big one at that! Just need to get myself booked onto a course to learn how to humanely dispatch chickens or have someone show me. Whatever happens I want his end to be quick and utterly unexpected for him.
We’ve also been having nest box issues with the chickens. We bought two nest boxes to attach to the side of the chicken house but we put them a little bit too high up I think. Nevertheless we did get a couple of eggs in them but then it rained and the boxes leaked. The tongue and groove joints weren’t done very well. We ended up putting an Ikea storage box in there on it’s side which has actually worked really well. We had 5 birds using it though which is too many (one of the Brown Marsh Daisies has made a nest underneath the house). We felted the roof of the box now though and the Norfolk Grey is happily using so I am hoping the others will follow.
On a good day we are getting 4 eggs that are suitable for selling (we only sell them if they are over 50g, not too dirty and not ridged at all). Two of the Brown Marsh Daisies are still laying very small eggs and the Norfolk Grey has a really ridged egg every 2 or three days. Not the best layers I guess. The Cream Leg Bars are doing a great job though, we sometimes even get large eggs from them and the blue shell is a draw for some of our buyers.
We’re doing quite well selling eggs to family and friends and are now looking at getting some more chickens, laying some eggs that differ in colour to the ones we already have. We need to re-paint the hen house first though and get another nest box in (probably another Ikea box as it is working well). I’m thinking that we will wait until July for more chickens as that’s when the next round of worming is needed and buying then will mean that 1) the new girls get a quarantine treatment, 2) everyone is kept inside to allow them to sort themselves out so they will eat all the pellets and get a good dose of the wormer.
A lot has happened since the last update, but this post will focus on the geese.
We’ve had a bit of a switch around with names, aiming to have animals named according to their year of birth. All of our animals so far were born in 2015 so they will have A names. Jules and May have been renamed Athos (Musketeers) and Abigail (Hannibal). April (TMNT) has kept her name.
After a few escape attempts we fenced off a new area for the geese. They now have 0.2 acres to roam. I was worried that they would switch and start laying in the new area but luckily they seem to have imprinted on the ‘orchard’. We are now thinking about digging a pond for them in the boggiest area. We’re hoping that will improve drainage all round.
The geese have had even more fencing as we gave up on the windbreak fabric we put up in the last post. Abigail went under it too many times, it was starting to break free from the staples holding it up and then Athos went over the top to attack our helper Lis. So 1M stock fencing went up, just need to get a gate in there which will make getting to them a lot easier.
We had a couple run ins with Athos getting a bit more protective but he seems to have calmed a bit since we started walking with a stick and using a dustbin lid to aid in egg collection.
The girls are laying really well. We’re now on 35 eggs from April and 36 from Abigail. The highest egg estimate I saw was 40 so I am hoping that they exceed that as I was expecting them to lay until at least the end of May. Omelette had been our go to goose egg meal but after tasting a fried goose egg I am sold. Still need to have a go at a soft boiled one though!
I’m reconsidering the hatching goslings idea. It’s quite likely that Athos, Abigail and April are all related and we’ve no idea if their parents were related or not. However I am still interested in having some goslings. Athos and Abigail are very much bonded which leaves April all on her own a lot of the time. If we got a couple of goslings we could kill one in the winter and keep one as another layer/companion for April. Another girl would also be useful as April is now sporting a bald patch from some rather eager affections from Athos.
If we could get the geese to actually lay in the shed we’d be able to sell the eggs. Currently they get quite muddy. Unfortunately they seem to be very fixed in the idea of sharing a nest in a spot that gets wet when we get a lot of rain. If anyone has any tips to get them into the shed that would be awesome.
The last bit of news on the goose front is a mouse problem. They have started getting in to the layers pellets bucket and have been trying to get into the water/corn bucket and drowning. We’ve started taking the pellets away at night but there’s still some droppings so time to find another feeding system I guess.
Well it has been a long time since I last checked in with you but there’s been good reason. For valentines day my true love bought me a website! I’m not very good with websites, and an 8 month old makes everything take 3 times as long but we are up and running at www.sixoaks.co.uk so you can read all about us over there!
Don’t worry I haven’t just been sitting on the laptop, we’ve been very busy outside too. First we had a wonderful weekend with some friends we hadn’t seen in a long time. In true smallholder style we put our guests to work and planted those fruit trees in our new ‘orchard’ and netted it off ready for the goose move.
We took a day trip up to Sheffield to check out our potential new sheep. Leaving the chickens and the geese for a day was a little nerve wracking but it was worth it to check the sheep out and see someone else’s set up. The more smallholdings we see the more ideas it gives us and the more confidence it gives me. No-one’s smallholding has the perfect conditions for everything.
We then had the regular helpers, Lis and Kay, over to set up protection around the new trees, move the geese into the ‘orchard’ (that was fun!) and clear the last of the chicken wire from the sheep field ready for their arrival. Somehow we managed to take no pictures at all that weekend.
Next up was the actual arrival of our six sheep and the vet visit (vaccination, worming and faecal sampling), which all went surprisingly smoothly. They are a bit timid and skinny, but they should get used to us and fatten up on the grass. We now have the task of working out who will stay and who will go for meat.
That weekend also saw the building of the goose shed (finally!). They have straw in there and some grit and layers pellets but they are spending most of their time outside, still laying outside and I haven’t tried shutting them in yet. Getting the shed up with the geese still in the area with my step-dad and nephew was a bit daunting but they kept their distance in the end.
The most recent developments have been the turning out of the sheep (which included one very short escape run by one of the sheep), the introduction of rubber eggs to try and get the hens to lay in the nest boxes and getting some more veggies planted.
Our next projects are fencing off a new area for the geese as they are running short of grass, building a rain shelter for the sheep and looking into drainage options. It’s been raining all day today and we really are starting to look like we have several ponds :-/ We should now have all our livestock for this year, except for a tup and maybe a wether this autumn. Oh and maybe some more hens (still plenty of space in the hen house) and some goslings if I let April sit hmmmm…..
The first week not much happened. I succeeded in day to day care of our animals, the geese (April, May and June) and the cockerel (Casey). We discovered our limitations as a weekend went by without much progress due to Sam having a sore foot and Chi being very clingy with teething. We did however get our first egg from May (which made a very yolky scrambled egg), realised that June is in fact a boy who is now renamed Jules, got the hen house a bit more set up and saw the first seedlings peeking through the soil (radishes). I also made some progress with the geese, no longer having them try to bite me every time I go anywhere near them.
This past weekend we really buckled down though. There were two main priorities, 1) move a builders bag of soil into the polytunnel and 2) prep the hen house for the girls. We did a pretty good job at meeting both of those. On Saturday we had the wonderful Lis over and made short work of the soil. The second veg bed in the polytunnel isn’t quite a no-dig as I forked the surface a little just to break up the crust. I’m much happier with this soil than the last batch though, we didn’t find a single bit of glass in there. It’s now all levelled out and waiting to be planted in. I also cleared some more of the chicken wire from the sheep field, getting ready for the arrival of sheep.
Sunday was all hands on deck. We had another volunteer friend over, Kay, as well as her parents in the afternoon. Together we stripped the old roof off the hen house, treated some rotten bits and got a new roof on. We also got the feeder and drinker hanging, sanded the perches to give a bit of a rounded edge and installed a nest box. Thanks to the help of Kay’s dad we also got some more fence posts hammered into the sheep field.
As if that all wasn’t enough, over the course of this week we’ve installed a pop hole in the hen house, made a makeshift shelter for the geese in the sheep field (there’s a shed on the way for them), had two more eggs, planted some fruit bushes, started making the outside veg beds and marked out an area (our mini orchard) for the geese to move into this weekend. Oh and we’ve arranged to buy some sheep at the end of the month. It really does feel like all things go at the moment, unsurprisingly we’ve been in bed quite a bit before midnight this week!
Hopefully I’ll be able to update a bit more often than once every two or three weeks.
Ok so we have been here since August but with a baby getting set up has been slow. So slow that I have had this tab open to write this post for nearly a week…
Our journey to smallholding probably began when we moved to our first house in Scotland and started a fruit and veg garden. Self-sufficiency became an interest, wanting to know where our food was coming from, and after a bit we began to dream about our next house, one we would move to once I had finished the studies that had brought us to Scotland.
We have lived all over the UK and whilst I have a fondness for the North West we searched everywhere for the right place, with viewings in Scotland, Wales and England. Six years later we found this place, 2.5 acres of flat, fairly good grazing, with some impressive polytunnels and established fruit trees in Lincolnshire. It was less land than the 10 acres we had dreamed of, and it borders a well trafficked road, but the house wasn’t in disrepair and I was heavily pregnant so we went for it and moved in when our daughter was 10 weeks old, late August.
I had so many plans. We would do any repairs needed to the fencing, buy a 4×4 and a trailer and get the sheep in autumn so they could keep the grass down. We’d also get some veg beds made in the polytunnel and outside in time to get autumn garlic and onions in. Oh and we’ll paint the inside of the house. Oh and chickens, yes we could get some chickens if we’re quick and do it before the light stops them laying. And of course we’ll get some hedges and fruit bushes and fruit trees planted in Jan.
I don’t think we would have done all that even if we didn’t have a house to unpack, my husband had a full time job, I was recovering from severe SPD from the pregnancy (only just off the crutches when we did the move) and recovering from a c-section, oh yes and the small matter of a baby!
To top things off when we got here the fruit trees were dropping their fruit and I’m of the waste-not-want-not mentality. Plums and apples and pears kept us busy well into November. I don’t think I’ve eaten so many apple crumbles in my life! We made 5 gallons of apple wine, 10 gallons of pear wine (5 of Williams, 5 of Conference), 5 gallons of plum wine and 5 gallons of spiced apple. We still have a freezer full of fruit and there are apples stored for me to process!
As such we are still knocking fence posts in where there are rotten ones in the sheep field (only one long side left to do!). Still clearing brambles and tall grasses and saplings to actually get to the fence on the boundary side of the sheep field. This past weekend we did make progress on the growing front though, we started on the veg beds in the polytunnel. We now have a 6x1m bed that we’ve chucked some seeds in and the outline for a second bed. The grand plan is to have 6 beds in that one polytunnel. We’re trying no dig, although I’m not sure how well that will work. Will post in detail about it later.
We also made progress on the livestock. Our neighbour moved and gave us his geese and abandoned his cockerel so we took him in too. We now have April, May and June (who I suspect is John) our 2015 born Toulouse geese, as well as Casey our cockerel of unknown breed and age, but I think is quite young.
We managed in true smallholder style to knock up a chicken hut from an old shed in the back garden and things we had lying around. It must be pretty alright as Casey took himself to bed the first night it was done. Need to get some nest boxes, a pop hole and better ventilation before we can get the hens but I’m pretty chuffed with it. We also need to get a shelter sorted for the geese.
We aren’t doing things perfectly, I’m not sure there are any smallholders that do but we are getting there, fumbling our way through. I’m sure we’ll make a lot of mistakes and in years to come I’ll read this back and think ‘why oh why did you do that’, but we will keep trying and we will keep animal welfare as our #1 priority.
I’ve said we a lot in this post. The team behind Six Oaks consists of me (Dans), my husband Sam, baby Chi and our incredibly helpful volunteer Lis (without whom I think we would have only managed half the things we have so far!). If you’re interested in smallholding without a smallholding check out her blog smallholdingbyproxy.
Right as the baby is sleeping I better get myself to bed, I’ve got a chicken to let out early in the morning and some geese to attend to! Hopefully there will be more posts from me soon.