Category Archives: Setting up

Snippity snip

I think I have mentioned our many fruit trees before. We have 3 cooking apple, 4 eating apple, 3 pear, 3 plum, 2 greengage, a mirabelle and at least 4 cherry plum. Having all of these mature trees here has meant an abundance of fruit, which has been awesome. The downside is that all trees need maintenance and from what we can see these trees have been neglected for many years. We’ve been clearing away dropped and diseased fruit, brambles around them and the chickens have done a very good job of clearing the grass around the base. All of that should help but what the trees really need is a prune.

Pruning sounds simple enough, cut some bits off and voila, but I’ve actually been really scared of it. If you do it at the wrong time of year you can leave the tree susceptible to disease and poor growth, if you cut too much off it can turn into a spikey hedgehog throwing up loads of new shoots and the very idea of cutting off branches that would have given me fruit later feels like throwing the fruit away. So why do it? The current state of the apple trees means that the fruit is actually lying on the floor while it is still on the branches. We made some supports last year which helped a bit but a lot got damaged and more were eaten by the chickens. When branches are criss-crossing each other they rub which can damage the bark and leave the tree open to disease. Branches that are all close together means less airflow through the tree and again leads to disease. All the trees in the garden have had some instances of brown rot which is a fungal disease, more airflow should help us fight it.

This past weekend we finally took the plunge. I have the Fruit Tree Handbook by Ben Pike which talks about pruning in general and in relation to restoring older or neglected trees. We had a quick read, not as in depth as I would have liked but that comes with trying to do anything with a toddler, and decided to start with the Beauty of Bath eating apple tree. It looks to us like a previous owner actually trained the tree to grow it’s branches downwards, they bend down at quite the angle. Unfortunately that means a mass of braches and loads of apples on the floor. They’ve done this with two of the cooking apples aswell. The book said to take off no more than 20% in the first year and to look at restoration as a several year project so that is what we did. The pictures aren’t great but I can certainly see a difference. I just hope we didn’t take too much off.

Next I had a go at our russet apple tree, we don’t know what type of russet it is, but it produces small tasty apples so we like it. They worked really well dried last year. The tree itself is very small and tucked behind the Beauty of Bath and under our largest Cherry Plum. I only took a few branches off of this, mostly where they were tangled with the Beauty of Bath or where they were crossing themselves.

The next tangle was our 3rd eating apple tree, we have no idea what type it is so we call it Eating Apple (EA) 1, and one of the cooking apple trees called Cooking Apple (CA) 1 (I just went anti-clockwise around the garden). I had to tackle them together as they are that tangled that you can’t really tell one from the other at the moment. I started on the eating apple side and did my best to free it from the cooking apple. Again we liked the taste of these apples and they came in earlier than the other eating apples so more of them would be good. Unfortunately, due to the crowding and an awful problem with coddling moth I think we got 2 apples from this tree last year, the rest were inaccessible, infected with brown rot or riddled. I am hoping that if we can get to it this year, and get the chickens access to scratch around the base, then we can reduce the coddling moth and airflow will help with the rot. We only managed to tackle CA 1 in as far as it was encroaching on EA 1 as it started getting late and my confidence had grown to the point that we decided it probably didn’t need to be a two person job.

A lot of the jobs around our smallholding are split into one person or two person jobs. One person jobs I try and do during the week with Chi, unless I don’t have the skills to do them, in which case it goes on Sam’s list if he does. The two people jobs, because it is a bigger job, needs more hands or I am just not confident doing it on my own, wait until a weekend, evening or Sam has a day off. I am getting a bit more confident at trying some jobs on my own but I was really worried about taking too much off the trees and just cannot judge if a pile of twigs is 20% of a tree or not!

The prunings from Beauty of bath. 20% of the tree???

Once I had a vauge idea though, we decided I could probably manage on my own (Sam had spent most of the pruning time fixing a broken tap so we finally have water in the back garden again – oh and entertaining Chi). We then turned to another fruit tree related 2 person job, planning out the orchard. We have planted 4 fruit trees in the orchard so far. We weren’t very sure about spacings so we went with 4m around each tree. Those trees were penned off with chicken wire to keep the geese away and mulched with old hay to keep the grass down around them. Sam and I worked at getting some bamboo canes in to mark out where the rest of trees will go until it got so dark we couldn’t actually see the bamboo canes. Now I have a new one person job, dig holes for the trees! We bought 8 trees when our garden centre was having a clear out. They are older trees, probably not in the best of health and I am pretty sure 1 is dead (possibly more after having spent the autumn and winter in the polytunnel) but they were stupidly cheap (£2-5) so we will give them a go. I’m not sure what the geese will think when they go back in and find even more trees in thier area!

Now I just need to prune CA1, CA2, the three pear trees and EA2. At least we will have plenty of kindling for next winter’s fires!

Dans

December catch up part 2: Bird flu

Aside from the usual festive season and a late tupping, December had the added surprise of bird flu, which although we had known about it being in the continent we were hoping it would pass us by. For those that don’t know bird flu was spreading through Europe in November and a Prevention Zone was set up in the UK on 6th Decemeber. That basically means that everyone with birds had to do everything they could to keep wild birds away from thier birds. At the bare minimum that meant keeping the wild birds away from your birds food and water as bird flu is spread through contact with bodily fluids. Cases of bird flu were reported in December, in wild birds, in a turkey farm in Lincs and in several backyard flocks, mainly where there were ducks and chickens together. Waterfowl can get bird flu but don’t show symptoms very well. Chickens drop dead quite quickly though. If you want to read more about the current bird flu situation in the UK the DEFRA page is up to date.

As it affects waterfowl differently we started by getting the geese into the shade tunnel. It’s a large polytunnel with butterfly netting over it and weed proof fabric down but no doors. We cleared out the left over plants from the last owners (we haven’t used this tunnel for anything yet), patched up some holes in the netting and nailed some tarp to the door frame. We also set up a small shelter using an old door and some chairs so that there was a dry spot for thier food and somewhere to get out of any heavy rain. Netting isn’t ideal as wild birds can still poop on it and it gets washed in with the rain, but it is better than the birds using the goose baths or drinking water as a bird bath or hopping all over the ground they graze on. The geese made it into a slippery muck bath pretty quickly so we had to shovel it all out and threw 3 bales of straw down. That seems to have done the trick but it’s starting to get mucky again now so will need to refresh.

The goose set up pre-straw

Geese are grazers though, and grass is the bulk of our geese’s diet. There was some grass growing over the weedproof fabric in the polytunnel but they ate through that pretty quickly. We tried them on some hay (with grit available to help them break it down) but they weren’t interested. They did pick at grains from the bales of hay though. They were having corn each night anyway as the weather had gotten cold and they kept eating that but seemed to have little interest in the goose food mix we bought for them. I saw an oppertunity and switched them to the flubenvet worming layers pellets in the hopes of getting them wormed before the breeding season hits. They weren’t interested at first but are eating it now. They are still looking in good condition (apart from April who has alway had a very prominent keel, even after they were wormed with an ivermectin injection), so I guess they are getting enough to eat. I’ll be so very glad to let them out again when the time comes though!

Happy geese post-straw

The chickens were a bit more difficult. If we put them in either of our other polytunnels there would be nowhere foxproof for them to perch. After losing Bellatrix to what I suspect was a goose attack I really didn’t want to put the chickens in the shade tunnel with the geese, even if it was partioned off. They also don’t do as well in the wet as geese do. The best option seemed to be to keep them in thier current house, but even though it is a shed rather than a coop it still isn’t big enough for them to be in there 24/7. We ordered some aviary panels the night the prevention zone was announced with a 3-5 delivery. We wouldn’t be complying immediately but at least we would have something in the works. Unfortunately the seller was awful. I emailed on day 3 to find out if there was tracking and was told the parcel would be with me on day 5. I emailed again on day 5 as it hadn’t arrived (after cancelling all our plans on days 3-5 just in case it came) only to be told it had been dispatched that day and would be with me in 3-5 days. Ebay were awful and just said I could refuse delivery and get a refund if I wanted. They arrived on day 8 and as soon as the chickens went to bed I set about building a run with cable ties, tarp and some scaffold netting. It was pretty tricky building it as the light went, without a torch (because I was too gung ho and just rushed into it), especially when I dropped the black cable ties on the floor!

The finished run. It was just a tad dark!

The chickens seemed to be a lot happier in there than I expected but slowly the layer of fallen leaves and bits of grass poking through started to turn into mud and they started to look unhappy. I didn’t want to use straw as I had heard about that harbouring bacteria and giving the chickens respiratory problems. I took the plunge and threw some of thier indoor bedding down. It’s schopped straw treated with pine oil and isn’t the cheapest but they were over the moon with it. Scratching about and nice clean feet again. It’s lasted about a week and what I put down went further than I thought, so I’ll get some more down tomorrow.

The hens were surprisingly ok with the confinement

The chicks were the easiest to deal with. I used the estimated 3-5 days before the run would arrive to intergrate Aurora and Buffy into the flock (our last broody hen and her 15 week old daughter). Buffy was a bit younger than I would have liked but I didn’t want to introduce them into the pen as there wouldn’t be much space for hens to hide before the pecking order was sorted. I had been thinking of killing the boys before Christmas so they wouldn’t be in too long and the coop they live in comes with a run so we just threw some tarp over it. That was fine until I went out one day and was greeted by 3 cockerels running around. I thought I must have left the side door unlocked when I put them to bed, or the wind something open. Well the wind had blown something open, the roof off the coop had been ripped off it’s hinges and was over the fence in the goose area. We had a rush job of herding them into the big polytunnel then moving the house and run and getting them inside that. They would be ok in there as we could still open the polytunnel doors for ventilation with them being self contained. It’s the last time I buy a commercial chicken coop though.

The roof flew straight off the coop

The prevention zone was due to be lifted on the 9th Jan but instead it was extended until the 28th Feb, which is very depressing. I think the chickens will be ok but I am not sure how the geese will cope with the breeding season whilst still in there. I was hoping to get them back out on grass before then, and I don’t know where they will lay as it is all so open in the tunnel and they like to be under bushes to lay. I’m now trying to come up with some sort of additional housing in there so that they can lay inside. Any suggestions are welcome.

On the upside we are getting eggs again finally. One of the Brown Marsh Daisies is giving us the odd egg which is nice. Buffy and Brienne (the two female chicks we hatched last year) have started to lay as well. Brienne is laying nice >60g eggs whilst Buffy is laying <30g eggs. I have no idea what breed Brienne is, the egg was advertised as Copper Brown Maran x Rhode Island Red, but she is pure white. Either way I think I might hatch some of her eggs this year, as she is a big bird producing big eggs, and a cross with Aramis (also breed unknown) could produce some nice chicks.

A Brienne egg vs a Buffy egg

The chicks weren’t very happy in the polytunnel though and had started to fight each other, so when the news came that they would have to be in for another 2 months we decided that d-day was upon them. We killed them the other weekend and got ok weights from them 1.2kg and (Bifur), 1.4kg (Bofur) and 1.6kg (Bombur).

The boys

It’s still not a task I relish doing, and I was a bit grumpy and stressed out leading up to it, but I was able to give them a quick end and we now have food in the freezer. Serving up our roast chicken and veg to my family for Christmas dinner was a really proud moment. Next year our own goose! Looking at how long it takes me to process them though, we may end up sending them away in future. We reckoned about an hour to pluck and then another 40 mins to an hour to process in the kitchen. That isn’t too bad if you have the time, and I am sure I will get quicker as I get more experience, but at the moment, with a toddler and still trying to get everything to set up here, it may well be a better use of time to have someone else do them.

I had another butchery task this month. We were gifted two phesants, shot the day before. Unfortunately, this was a few days before Christmas. They got hung up and I stressed about them until I could see to them after Boxing Day. I skinned these ones and I hated it, I do definately prefer plucking. I was quite shocked to see that they had full crops and gizzards, and that they were full of corn. Then I saw how much fat they had on them and how yellow it was. I had thought that with phesant shoots they were released and then you went huting them, but these birds can’t have been released much before they were shot and were fattened up ready for the shoot. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, but I’m not sure I will be accepting any more phesants from shoots, fresh roadkill may be ok.

My first phesant

The last achievment of December was that I finally braved facebook. We have a page! Pretty much just random updates from the smallholding  but hopefully interesting enough to people. I’m trying to get some advice from trading standards as to what we need to do to start selling our produce and hopefully get this smallholding somewhat productive in 2017!

Dans

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Parenthood and smallholding

I remember back when we were still in the early days of planning for smallholding, reading everything we could, and spending a lot of time on The Accidental Smallholder (TAS) forums. One of my many questions there was about babies and smallholding, would I be mad to start both at the same time?

In my utter inexperienced view I figured I would be pregnant and be working away at the land and whatever house we were renovating until the late stages. Then, as new born babies sleep a lot, I would continue working on things after baby was born but with baby asleep in a sling or pushchair. As baby got older I’d just use a play pen or something wherever we are to keep baby contained and occupied. Then when I have a toddler I’d incorporate them into what I was doing and all would be fine and dandy.

Oh how differently things turned out. I got quite bad SPD during the pregnancy which had me on crutches from 20 weeks. It took me a fair while to be able to move freely after the birth, talking 4 or 5 months before I could move like I could pre-pregnancy. My new born did sleep a lot, but on me and we didn’t get along with the whole baby wearing. I did manage to get her down in the pushchair but only for a single 2 hour nap a day. During the summer I used those two hours well, working away on some project while she dozed. If she woke mid-project I’d often try and carry on whilst holding her.

All hands on deck - even if you only have one free!
All hands on deck – even if you only have one free!

As she got older and was tottering about I tried the whole play pen but my Chi is very *ahem* strong willed and independent, she needs to be doing what you are doing and doesn’t like to settle for pretend ‘baby’ things when you are doing the real thing. Apparently very similar to me as a baby… Unfortunately, she isn’t quite at the stage of being helpful. We did manage to get her picking red tomatoes, but she had a tendency to throw them into the basket, and she would stay in one spot, pick the red ones, then the orangey ones and then start on the greens unless you quickly diverted her attention to a new patch of reds.

Picking red tomatoes
Picking red tomatoes

Don’t get me wrong, starting this smallholding with Chi has made it so very special. It’s an amazing feeling to see your 12 month old watering the veg beds, your 13 month picking tomatoes, your 15 month old digging for potatoes and your 17 month old sorting through the windfall apples and pears. She even baaas at the sheep now. Seeing her interacting with the animals and land, knowing the food she is eating is fresh and seeing her get involved with preparing the food (she can now peel leeks and garlic) makes me think ‘Yes, this is why we are doing this, this is what it is for.’.

Washing the harvesting baskets
Washing the harvesting baskets

But, and there is always a but after a ‘don’t get me wrong’, sometimes I do think we were mad to do smallholding and starting a family at the same time. The past week Chi has been down with the flu which has gone to her chest. I’ve been keeping her in and looking out the window wistfully at the apples on the floor, the shed that needs work, and (when I do a quick morning or night run) the beds in the polytunnel that need sorting.  I tried taking her out the other day for her nap and she just kept being woken up by a coughing fit, only seems to be sleeping at the moment whilst lying on me.

It’s not just when she is ill either, sometimes she is just too inquisitive to take out when she is wide awake. I can’t have her running around in the goose area whilst I’m tackling the brambles that are swamping their house and she gets too frustrated awake in the pushchair. Or it’s raining and no matter what rainsuit I buy she always seems to be soaking if we go out in the rain. Or, as has been the case the last few weeks, it is just too dark. I felt really disheartened the other week as Sam had the day off and we prepared the polytunnel for the tup. We were really getting into the swing of things and making progress. We were about to start another job but we checked the time. Half an hour until sunset, time to have one of us do the night run for the animals and then we head in. 3:30pm. If we didn’t have Chi with us we would have got the lights out and worked in the polytunnel after the night run but just no can do with Chi.

Apparently not waterproof
Apparently not waterproof

Tonight I’m feeling slightly disheartened again. We have to drive up North, over to Sheffield way, to collect the tup tomorrow (so late I know). Sam made the suggestion that I should stay with Chi. It’ll be 3 hours there, load him up and do the paper work, then 3 hours back, unload him and get him settled. Chi is still ill and grumpy and crying over everything. 6 hours in a car seat, eating lunch in the car, will not be pleasant for her, or for us. I feel like I should be there, I have been talking with the guy to arrange this hire, I’m the one who wants us to have sheep, I’m the more physically able. But it’s not in Chi’s best interest, so I will stay, do what I can here and have a cup of tea and dinner ready for Sam when he gets home.

I was reading an article in Country Smallholding the other day about a family that are doing flowers on their smallholding. They had started with animals but it was too much work with young children. The lady said that when they are both in nursery/school she might get the animals back. It reminded me again about thinking we must be mad to try and do it with Chi and be thinking about baby #2 at some point. It would all be so much easier if we didn’t have Chi, if we had set everything up before her, or waited until she was older to set things up. But writing this post and looking through the pictures of her on the smallholding I don’t think we are mad. We’ve made it harder for ourselves for sure. It certainly isn’t as easy and rosey as I expected, but seeing it all through her eyes, seeing her interact with it all makes the delay in getting everything done worth it. I’m still banking on her being really useful in getting things done in a couple of months though!

Up close with the sheep
Up close with the sheep

Dans

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Shopping smallholder style!

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!

Our car, aka a TARDIS
Our car, aka a TARDIS

Dans

Chicken update

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.

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Aramis – our cockerel

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.

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Our ‘First Lady’ showing off her saddle

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.

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Eggs!

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.

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Happy chickens

Dans

 

Geesey update

A lot has happened since the last update, but this post will focus on the geese.

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From front to back, Abigail, Athos and April

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.

New fence posts going in
New fence posts going in

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.

A wobbly fence in the making
A wobbly fence in the making

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!

Lots of goose eggs
Lots of goose eggs

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.

Three's a crowd
Three’s a crowd

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.

Dans

We’re still here

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.

Netting to keep the geese in
Netting to keep the geese in

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.

Some of these girls will form our new flock
Some of these girls will form our new flock

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.

We have sheepsies!
We have sheepsies!

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.

Goose house in the making
Goose house in the making

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.

Nomming on the grass
Nomming on the grass

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…..

Dans

Chicken huts, veg beds and goose eggs

It’s been a long two weeks since my last update.

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.

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Our first egg

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.

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Our not quite no-dig second veg bed

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.

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All hands on deck – even if you only have one free!

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!

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Final touches on the roof before we lost the light

Hopefully I’ll be able to update a bit more often than once every two or three weeks.

Dans

 

Finally here

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!

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One day’s harvest in Sept, with the help of child labour in the form of my niece and nephew

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.

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First no-dig veg bed in the polytunnel, all planted up.

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.

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The girls, April, May and June.

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.

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Casey sunning himself in front of his house.

 

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.

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The Six Oaks team

 

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.

Dans