It’s been quite a while since I posted here. A year in fact, and what a year. When I last posted, Sam was recovering from his broken foot, I was recovering from the pregnancy and the baby had started taking decent naps. I was feeling very hopeful for the new year and came up with a long list of things I’d like to achieve. Ah the joy of January resolutions.
It turned out to be quite a hard year again. We had a few good months but then physical complications of doing too much too quickly post-pregnancy came up. I need to be very careful these days as to how much I do each day or else I’m wiped out for a few days. Paracetamol, the hot tub and my trusty back heatpad have become so valuable to me. On top of that the baby proved the saying that no two are alike. My daughter was happy outside toddling around, she was very trustworthy in regards to eating anything and would listen in regards to things she shouldn’t do. My son’s a bit more of a free spirit, he doesn’t like being in the pushchair outside, but eats everything he touches and doesn’t listen to much. It made doing stuff outside quite a challenge. I tried using a sling or carrier but the lack of core strength just gave me awful pain. He’s getting a lot better now though and seeing him run around in the polytunnel or outside, shovelling soil and investigating (but not eating) plants, makes it all feel worthwhile.
Despite the difficulty I did get the duck patch cleared and set up (although strong winds have since taken the roof off). I love looking at that grassy area with its very young willow trees and remembering what a mess it was a year ago. We had our first lot of ducks and really enjoyed that. Walking them into the house each evening was lovely and they grew so quickly. We got 10 and raised them up, kept them a bit longer than we needed to but they were a good weight and they tasted delicious. We jointed 4 of them for us and kept one whole. The rest we sold to friends and family and got great feedback on them. We’d like to do the same again this year.
We made the decision not to hatch chicks in 2019 as we were struggling a bit and our flock was large enough. I perfected the use of our sin bin and broke broody after broody, but we still had 4 hens appear out of hedgerows with a total of 24 chicks between them! The cockerel chicks have now all gone into the freezer and the hens are set to join the laying flock. In addition to having more chickens than we had planned for we had our first ever encounter with redmite and it was awful. We used DE, smite, redstop and fire to try and get rid of them. I think we managed it, though I saw a couple at the last house clean. This year I think we are sending our two cockerels to the freezer to make sure we don’t get more surprise chicks. I’m a bit sad about Aramis, he is the last of our first animals, but he is 4 years old now and with 30 girls to chase around he is looking quite tired.
We did lamb in 2019 and it didn’t go as smoothly as we’d have liked. All but one ewe needed help, most were just a one leg back situation but our smallest ewe had our largest lamb who was overdue, stained waters and quite stuck. It ended up being a job for lambing ropes and a bit traumatic for her. We managed to get her mothering in the end but she went for meat in December. I couldn’t put her through another lambing and the vet said with her size it may well happen again. We also lost a lamb at birth, she just wouldn’t take a breath no matter what I did. That one was a bit traumatic for me. The vet says there’s not much I could have done differently, maybe pouring cold water over its face but there may have been something wrong with her. Then we lost one who strangled himself in a fence at a few months old. These were our first sheep losses and although people say ‘where there is livestock there will be deadstock’ it was quite hard. We have decided to not lamb this year, we’re a bit overgrazed and looking for more land. 2020 will be a take it easy year.
On the growing front we managed to build 4 of the 5 polytunnel beds and started planting in the outside beds. The weeds ran rampant though and quite a few bits didn’t get harvested. I didn’t make a single jam or chutney, I only brewed 2 batches of wine and we did a batch of apple juice. It was quite disheartening, the intention was there but we just didn’t find the time or ability or energy to do much.
On the upside I did make my first ever soup (butternut squash), I followed it with some lovely broth soups. I also finally braved my Mehu Liisa and made rhubarb cordial which went down really well.
I did however manage to get back to my monthly smallholding crafting meetings this autumn. I may not have made any pegloom rugs but I started needle felting which I really enjoy. I also picked up the knitting needles and crochet hooks, getting a few very old works in progress (WIPs) finished. I’d really like to make a felted sheepskin rug and tan my own sheepskins in 2020. Meeting with some like-minded folks really helped to inspire me to craft some more and it is so good for my soul.
We had a lot of talks in 2019 about selling up, moving to a detached house with a big garden and going on lots of holidays. Smallholding with children, very young children, has been far more challenging for us than we could have imagined. I see lots of families on instagram managing it well but we’ve found it hard. Despite the attractiveness of selling up we do see the joy smallholding brings us, the health benefits and the fact that everything changes each day with the kids (the one constant of children is that nothing is constant!). We’ve decided that we are trying to do too much on our acreage, it’d be great for ducks or geese or chickens on their own. Or pigs, plenty of space for them. The polytunnels are great for growing and you can build on the established fruit trees. The problem is when I really sit down and look at everything about smallholding I find it’s the sheep I love and there just isn’t enough land here for a breeding flock of slow growing sheep (keep until min. 14 months). We’re looking at a larger acreage to better support a similar number of sheep, something that will also justify a bit of machinery as my back and core strength just isn’t what it used to be.
Looking to 2020 we’re not lambing and not having chicks. We’re working on sorting out our grass (quite mossy and overgrazed at the moment), repairing the sheds and polytunnels that have fallen into disrepair, growing veg, raising some ducks and hopefully finally having a holiday or two to ease the stress. I’m hoping to find the time to keep posting here, I do enjoy sharing the ups and downs of smallholding with you all. Hopefully even our struggles will be useful to other people who are smallholding or thinking about it.
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