Category Archives: Food

2019 – a Difficult year

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.

Me and my bestie, Arha

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.

Dans

P.S. As always if you like the post, give us a thumbs up, and if you want to be notified of every blog post then subscribe – there’s a button to the left or below if you’re on a mobile device. It’s always nice to know people are out there and reading.

Our first homebred hogget

*TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES* There are pictures on this post but unfortunately they aren’t showing up. Please let me know if you can see them, as it’ll help me fix this.

 

Our first homebred lambs were 18 months old in November. Cisco was a really lovely ram in looks and a good temperament so was traded to another smallholder in exchange for Django, our new ram. Cisco has 6 girls of his own and I’m crossing my fingers that we hear of some lovely lambs from him next year.

 

The shearling ewes were put in with Django along with our 3 mature ewes. If everyone lambs then we’ll have a lot of sheep on our 2.5 acres, especially if the shearling ewes have twins. If that happens then I think we’ll be looking at selling some ewes with lambs at foot. We could also sell some stock at weaning. Everyone has been covered by Django at least once so its a wait and see what we get now.

Lots of lovely coloured bums

That left Crichton and Crais. Although Crais had done a lot of growing he was still smaller than Cisco and his horns weren’t quite growing in the right direction. As he was kept intact there was no option of him being a friend for a ram. Crichton was lovely and friendly but that also made him a bit dangerous. He thought he was people but he was also most likely to butt you. He did it a few times to me through the fence if I wasn’t scratching his chin right. Both boys were destined for the freezer.

From left to right, Cisco, Crais and Crichton

The night before they went, after they had been penned up safe, Sam and I had a discussion about meat. We raised these lambs. Crichton was so friendly. Could we eat them? Did we want to eat them?

The answer to the latter for me was yes. I am a meat eater, I don’t see that changing, and with the way my gut is, meat is one of the few things I can eat without trouble. Despite being a meat eater I also care passionately about animals. Some people find that hard to marry but I believe that it’s ok to eat animals if they have had a good life and a good (quick, low stress) death. I’m not completely there yet but I’d like all my meat to come from animals we have raised or have been raised by people we know. As to the former question, I feel that if I can’t eat meat I have raised then I shouldn’t eat it at all. I guess I believe that I should be aware of the animal and the life that was sacrificed.

The hogget from our homebred sheep wouldn’t be our first homebred meat. We have eaten chickens that we have bred. Sam felt that the sheep were closer to us, more relatable and that made it more difficult. We both went to bed with slightly heavy hearts that night.

Ingredients for a homegrown feast

One thing that came out of the conversation was looking at our consumption of meat in general. As a family we eat a lot of meat. We also have a lot of meat on the freezer. We talked it through and realised we were saving our homegrown (and other smallholder grown) meat for ‘special occasions’ and sharing with friends and family. Whilst it’s nice to share, doing this was keeping us away from the aim of only eating meat from known sources. We need to stop ‘saving’ meat in the freezer. We also decided to make an effort to reduce the amount of meat we buy in. I am working on buying only 2 fresh dinner meats a week. Everything else should come from our freezer (or kievs and pizza – our meals for overwhelmed days). Lastly, we decided to reduce down our consumption. See about meals without meat where we can and reducing meat portion sizes where we do eat meat.

A mutton shoulder from last year that we decided to stop ‘saving’

When we got the meat back I have to admit I was nervous. As they were intact rams which were living close to the ewes I was worried about ram taint. I didn’t even advertise the meat for sale in case it was inedible. As soon as I got the meat into the fridge and freezers I cut a bit of us and fried it. I’ve never sniffed meat with such suspicion. Thankfully I needn’t have worried. It was delicious and we tucked into fried chops that night.

Pan fried hogget chops – delicious

Despite not advertising we sold 3 halves by word of mouth. Selling always worries me in case people aren’t happy with what they bought but everyone reported that the meat was the best they’ve had. It’s a wonderful feeling producing good meat.

We got the horns and skins back as well. The skins are salting on the polytunnel and will be sent for tanning in the new year. The horns are outside waiting for nature to work it’s magic and the cores to come out.

One of the skins pre-salting (it was very dark by the time I could work on them)

All in all I’m feeling very positive about the whole thing. Now that Django has covered the ewes the ball is rolling for the whole process to start again.

Dans

P.S. As always if you like the post, give us a thumbs up, and if you want to be notified of every blog post then subscribe – there’s a button to the left or below if you’re on a mobile device. It’s always nice to know people are out there and reading.

Harvest 2018

You may have noticed that we’ve been rather quiet over the last few months. As my due date got closer I really went into nesting and birth preparation mode. It was quite odd seeing the different fruits come into season and not harvesting them. August should have been filled with harvesting and preserving but instead instead it saw me growing in size, decreasing in mobility, organising and reading. I have to admit to feeling a bit jealous of everyone else’s harvest posts, and even my own from previous years.

We did manage to harvest a little from the land, the beauty of bath apples were first, the wasps got to a fair few but we still got a few bottles of juice from them. We harvested, quartered, froze and then juiced when we had time (and my nephew’s help). It worked well.

Pressing apples after defrosting. You certainly get more juice.

The tomatoes were next, not as good a harvest as last year by far, we lost a lot, especially the cherry tomatoes, but we did get a few jars of passata. I also finally processed the last of last year’s toms so my passata stores are looking healthy again.

We had our first experience of blossom end rot with the toms. This was our first year with raised beds but also our first heat wave year. I am hoping that if we add some more nutrients to the soil and keep steady with our watering next year, then we won’t see it again.

One thing that benefited from the heat wave was our attempt at melons. We got a few good size, really tasty cantaloupe melons. I’m really keen to try these again and see what we get when we put some effort in to them. We got a couple aubergines and sweet peppers too.

One of our tasty melons

We lost a lot of the cooking apples and pears as well. The apples were a smaller harvest anyway as one tree barely fruited but the pear trees were laden. We did manage to have our first attempt at pear juice and have enough harvested Williams pears to do some dried pear.

It was a good year for pears

We always knew this year wouldn’t be great in terms of the smallholding, my body doesn’t do pregnancy well and we ended up with an emergency C-section which put me out of action for far longer than I had hoped. We had a go at planting, harvesting and preserving but kept our expectations low.

On the upside we now have our not so little boy. I have just about recovered from the section enough to get back to work on the smallholding. It’s been a little forced as Sam broke his foot last week. It does feel good to be back to doing lots (when baby allows of course) and I’m feeling very motivated to get this place back on track.

Baby’s first trip to the polytunnel.

Dans

As always likes and comments are much appreciated. We have a new Instagram account for all the day to day posts, we are @six_oaks_smallholding

Adventures with rhubarb

So this year we haven’t been doing as much with growing but there are two very prolific rhubarb bushes just by our bedroom window. I’ve never been very good at using rhubarb. I tried for several years to do rhubarb wine and it has bested me every time. For some reason I always get a smell and taste of old socks from it. One day I will try again and I will master a rhubarb wine. My only other experiment with rhubarb is the Finnish fruit soup which comes out ok but does need cream or milk with it. I planned to change that this year.

I started with the Finnish fruit cake I do but doing first an apple and rhubarb and then a rhubarb on it’s own. They were both lovely but the I really like the solo rhubarb one. Unfortunately I haven’t mastered a gluten free cake yet, the only gluten free flour our Tescos does is Doves farm and it just comes out too thick, even with extra baking powder. I tried the Tesco cake mix but due to not checking the ingredients it just came out as a molten sugar mess, my biggest baking disaster yet, it actually got scraped into the bin. I’ve bought some flour from Morrisons though and I’ll give the Tesco cake mix another try but without adding sugar. Fingers crossed I can make a decent tasting cake that my body approves of. Home made cake with home made custard is just so lovely.

The next step was some jam. I made jam late last year for the first time and really enjoyed it, but for some reason I have had cold feet about doing jam this year. Which is kind of crazy as I am hoping to be making jams and chutneys for sale next year as an added income from our fruit trees. I finally bit the bullet when Chi was settling in for her first long day at a new nursery. She seemed to be settling well but I wanted to be close to the phone and not too tied into a job. The rhubarb was also getting a bit overgrown at this point too. I’m very glad I gave it a go as it really is simple and Chi had us down to our last jar of jam (blackberry), she really does like jam on her toast and porridge. The rhubarb and vanilla worked well but I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as sharp as I was hoping, in fact it was really a bit too sweet. I’ll try again with less sugar and see if I can get one to our taste. That said Chi loved it on her porridge and Sam enjoyed it on his toast.

The recipe was taken from the BBC and is simply equal amounts of sugar and fruit (1kg) with 2 cinnamon sticks stirred until the sugar dissolves, then the juice of 1 lemon added and proceed as you would for any jam. You do have to scrape the scum off the top though, we used a metal spoon for this and once cool Sam gobbled up the scum! Waste not want not here.

Lastly I’ve had my first go at a cordial. I found this a bit daunting too, but that seems to be a trend for me with new skills. It was really simple once I carved out the time for it, another day of Chi at nursery where other commitments meant I couldn’t get stuck into a big job outside. I used  another BBC recipe for this one, using an orange and a lemon as well as rhubarb. I was meant to use ginger too, and even had it in the house, but completely forgot to add it. Maybe for the best as it would be nice for Chi to have this and I’m not sure how the ginger will affect her liking of it.

I have to say that I’m not sure I did it quite right. I did it in the jam pan as that is easy to pour from and I don’t know if the thicker bottom will have affected things. I also think I left it too long. The recipe said ‘until the rhubarb is falling apart’ but I wasn’t sure if that was just some of the rhubarb or all of it so I waited until it was all coming apart. The cordial was very thick. The recipe expected 600ml to be produced but I only got about 250ml until I pressed and squeezed the bag with a metal spoon. I ended up with about 400ml which seems like very little. The rhubarb I used was quite old though, very thick stems, and the weather has been quite dry, so it is possible the fruit itself had less moisture to give. It is lovely and tasty though, maybe a bit more orangey in flavour than I was expecting,. the ginger may balance that out.

I had heard that cordial needs to be stored in the fridge so I called Vigo Presses to see if I can pasteurise it for a longer cupboard storage. We bought our pasteuriser and apple pressing kit from them a couple of years ago and I am still really happy with their customer service. They said I can absolutely pasteurise it but also suggested using a steamer to produce a cordial that will store in the cupboard without pasteurisation.

As I only got 400ml this time I haven’t bothered to pasteurise but we do have a Mehu Liisa in the cupboard that I think I will use to make the next batch of cordial. It came straight from Finland so doesn’t have English instructions but I think I will ask my mother in law or some of our Finnish family for help with it. It looks like it will take a lot longer than just on the hob but it can be left and I like the idea of not having to pasteurise separately. I might also get a better return. I think I’ll do another post about that when I get around to giving it a try.

The only picture I have of the Mehu Liisa in action (blackberries)

Dans

P.S. As always if you like the post, give us a thumbs up, and if you want to be notified of every blog post then subscribe – there’s a button to the left or below if you’re on a mobile device. It’s always nice to know people are out there and reading.

Pressing frozen apples

We’re having a bit of a freezer crisis at the moment. We’ve got quite a lot of home grown fruit, veg and meat in the freezers now, as well as some bought in pork from other smallholders. This means that we are nearing capacity, which of course is brilliant, if I can get sorted with using what is inside then it will really lower our food costs and is in tune with the whole reason for this smallholding, eating home grown produce. We did really well at getting on with the preserving last year, apple sauce, apple and cucumber chutney, lots of jams, passatas, apple juice and wine etc but the freezers are still quite full.

I’m pregnant and due in August, that means that during our peak harvest of fruit and veg and when we shall be getting hogget and possibly mutton back from the butchers I be either heavily pregnant or dealing with a newborn. I’m not sure how productive I will be in the kitchen, but given the state of my hips currently I think it’s a good idea to bet on me not doing much at all. So what will we do with all the produce? Wash, chop and shove in the freezer of course! Then, when baby is older I can start working through it. The issue is there is no space for a summer’s worth of produce at the moment, so I need to get clearing while I still can.

That brings me to this post, and hopefully a few more along the same lines in the coming months. Emptying the freezers and turning the contents into tasty and in some cases, long lasting, foods. We kicked off this process this week with the immanent arrival of 3 geese and 2 chickens for the chest freezer. At the end of last year we were drowning in apples and, after contacting Vigo Presses, I washed, chopped and frozen 2 builders buckets of cooking apples. Just straight in the freezer with some cling film over the top. These came out along with a small bag of Beauty of Bath apples. We popped them in an empty fridge to defrost for a couple days and dusted off the apple press.

Vigo had suggested that if doing the apples from frozen we may benefit from a mesh bag to put the crushed pieces into inside the press. I can’t remember what stopped me from buying it at the time but I am guessing eventually the tab got closed on my computer and it got forgotten about. I’m not sure we actually needed to crush the apples, they pretty much turned to a mush despite still being a little frozen.

We then got to the pressing stage and soon realised the reasoning behind needing the mesh bag. A fair amount of the apple just squeezed through the press and we even got some spurting. It was certainly going to be a cloudy apple juice. As we couldn’t press it too much the mush ended up being quite wet at the end, much wetter than we would have liked so a lot of juice remained in it. If we had the bag we could have probably gotten it a lot drier and gotten more juice.

We took the juice inside and poured it through a small colander into a pot, we had about 10 pints of juice. We left it to sit for a while as I was feeling a bit broken by the point but I’m glad we did. When I went back to it there was quite a bit of frothy scum that had risen to the top. We had this with our first batch of juice and Vigo had said then that letting it stand may reduce that. I scooped off the scum and bottled the juice.

It went into the pasteuriser which had been filled with cold water and set to 75°C for 25 mins. We sat down to watch TV and forgot about it so it had long been done by the time I remembered. The bottles were still too hot to touch though. Being so hot for so long may have affected the flavour but hopefully not, we haven’t opened a bottle yet although we did taste some freshly pressed juice which was lovely. I used our nifty grabby tool to get the bottles out, tightened the caps and lay them on their sides. There is still quite a lot of scum so I think we will leave the juice to stand for longer next time. The juice is also quite dark after pasteurising but this time I didn’t bother with ascorbic acid or citric acid, the juice tastes fine as is and I just didn’t feel like adding extra things in just for aesthetics.

Just to pop labels on them and drink them in the next 1-2 years. A learning experience to be sure, but we now know we can juice from frozen apples and have some ideas on how to improve the process. As a bonus it made just enough space for the geese and chickens which went into the freezer the next afternoon.

Dans

P.S. As always if you like the post, give us a thumbs up. If you want to be notified of every blog post then subscribe – there’s a button to the left or below if you’re on a mobile device. Comments are always welcome too!

Eggs everywhere

We have too many eggs. Seriously too many eggs. 20 boxes of eggs in the fridge for our use. We are getting between 16 and 22 eggs a day from the chickens, we try and sell as many as possible, but any small eggs, dirty eggs or eggs with shell defects go into our use. We also only keep eggs at the gate for 7 days before bringing them into our use. I like to only sell fresh, decent sized, clean eggs to those who choose to buy from us.

Eggs for sale on the gate

The downside is the sheer number of eggs we are getting at the moment. The Derbyshire Redcap young hens should increase their egg size soon and if it ever stops raining the eggs will be cleaner. In the mean time though we have a glut!

One day’s harvest of eggs

So what to do with all these eggs. We’ve been having scrambled eggs for lunch and omelettes for dinners but it’s just not cutting it so I asked on facebook for some ideas. The first one was Spinach and soft cheese fritters. There was no recipe and I’ve never made fritters so I winged it. I greased a muffin tray with butter and put a whisked egg into each one. We didn’t have spinach but we did have kale so I chopped that up and put a bunch into each one. I finished it off with a dollop of soft lactofree cheese. Into the oven at 200C for 10 mins. They came out quite well but a bit plain. I think some salt or bacon or even herbs mixed in would help. My second tip would be don’t use butter, a week later I’m still trying to scrub the muffin tray clean, oil may have been better.

Kale and soft cheese egg things

My next attempt was custard. A few years ago a friend told me custard was easy to make. I love custard but being lactose intolerant I don’t get to have it much. I looked it up but separating eggs seemed far too scary so I left it. I bought an egg separator a few weeks ago and have finally put it to use. I found a really simple recipe online here but as I’m rubbish at following recipes I modified it a bit.

My modifications were small, mainly using 3/4 a cup of full fat milk and 1/4 a cup of single cream. I am also terribly impatient and whisking continuously is far too boring so I just turned the heat up to high. I was meant to pour it into a jug once it hit boiling and then whisk until thickened but I honestly couldn’t tell if it was boiling because the whisking was creating bubbles (I may have had some white left in). In the end I whisked until it very suddenly got harder to whisk which turned out to be it thickening. I checked it and it seemed thick enough to now be called custard. I was quite nervous but as soon as I tasted the spoon I knew it was a success, I didn’t even get a photo of the custard in a jug, it was gone far too quickly. It was really tasty but I might do slightly less vanilla in future. I’ll scale it up tomorrow for dessert with Chi as I waited for her to be in bed before attempting this.

My last egg adventure is whisking eggs up and freezing them. I tried in a muffin tray to start with but I found it very hard to get the frozen egg out. It does work well in silicon fairy cake molds though, popping them out into a bag once frozen. I’ve yet to try defrosting and using them. That is on my to-do list for this week.

Eggs ready for freezing

We’ve been doing all the usual egg dishes as well; egg fried rice, eggy bread (french toast), fried eggs, egg salad, hard-boiled and dippy eggs. Hopefully there’ll be some more posts of ways to use up eggs soon. Quiche and meringue are my next challenges.

Dans

P.S. As always if you like the post, give us a thumbs up, and if you want to be notified of every blog post then subscribe – there’s a button to the left or below if you’re on a mobile device.

Our first mutton, sheepskins and horn

Yes we are still here!

My laptop had a slow death and went completely out of use a couple of months ago. Since then I have been limping along with my phone but it was a lot harder to get things done. Now I have a nice new laptop I’m back again. I’ll catch you up with the various goings on as new stuff comes up, but I want to do a post about our first experience of sending sheep to the abattoir and getting the meat and other products back.

You may remember that we ended up getting more breeding ewes than we thought we could have in the long run. We wanted to see how they lambed and then cull down to our final number of breeding ewes (3). Two of the ewes, Anya and Aelin didn’t get in lamb, there was a chance they would if we gave them a second year but we just couldn’t justify keeping them on. They were earmarked for meat once we were certain they weren’t carrying lambs.

Lambing went pretty well for our first time. Alanna’s lambing stood out though. She scanned as a single and had a small lamb with no difficulty. We saw another sack but she showed no sign of pushing. A very small lamb literally wriggled it’s way out of her, it dropped to the floor, she looked behind her and then continued licking the first lamb. I waited a bit to see if she would do anything but then cleared the airways. We gave her 2 hours and still no mothering towards the second lamb. We did finally get the lamb up and feeding, which she allowed after a bit of a fight. She never did ‘mother’ Crais though. She would allow him to feed if he was by her but she never answered his calls or went to him. Both lambs were a lot smaller than any of the others and Alanna got marked for meat once her lambs were weaned. Her not looking after Crais gave us so much extra work.

So weaning time came around and we booked the ewes in. I spent the week before trying to come up with ways to avoid it. Maybe we could sell them – but we want meat, if we sell them we have no mutton. Maybe we are being too rash in writing them off – but if we keep them we have 12 sheep on the land over winter, far too many. It really was a decision I wrestled with and I am kind of glad I did. I hope I always feel at least a little tug in sending animals off for meat.

Aelin, Alanna and Anya

Abattoir rolled around quickly, the trailer had been scrubbed out, the sheep dagged and checked over, everything was ready. We got a little lost driving to the abattoir, despite doing a test run a couple days before, we pulled up at the butchers expecting the side road to be a route to the abattoir but it turned out it was further so Sam had to do a u-turn in the trailer! The animals unloaded fine and we had all the paper worked needed to get back our Category 2 animal by-products. We drove back home feeling a bit solemn but not with the tears a lot of smallholders had reported.

Saying bye to the girls

I was back there a few hours later though to pick up the skins and horns. It would seem that the abattoir aren’t used to people doing this, they weren’t sure about the paperwork at first and the horns were cut at varying lengths, they did apply an initial salting though which was nice.

Cat 2 products for transit

When I got them back home the skins were laid out and any flesh removed, in future I think I’d actually ask them not to do the initial salting if I’m going to collect them so quickly (they were still warm), as it seems to make the flesh harder to remove in places. I got them as clean as I could though and covered with salt. A week or so later we covered them again and then about a month later we sent them off to be tanned. I’ll try a do a more in depth post about the skins once I get them back.

The horns I had much less of a clue about. I’d read about burying them, or putting them on a high roof far away. Unfortunately we had neither of those and so we popped them in a dog cage near the back door until I could read more about the boiling method. As it turned out when I next checked on them the maggots had loosened the core on one despite the cold weather. I left them longer and the maggots loosened the core on 3 more, not really much of a smell at all until you removed the core. There are two more and they are now in the conservatory. I should give them a try again soon.

Collecting of the meat was ok. The butchers got a couple cuts wrong which was annoying as I had to drive back to get it corrected, I didn’t want to disappoint the customers. We sold 5 halves in the end, keeping one half back for ourselves. One was collected fresh from the butcher, one was collected fresh from us, two were frozen and then collected from us and the last was posted fresh. The last one was probably the most nerve wracking for me. I pretty much loathe polystyrene so we went for Woolcool packaging which is cardboard boxes lined with a wool insert. We sent it next day delivery via courier and it arrived fine thankfully. I think we’d definitely be open to posting in future.

The contents of one of the meat boxes

We ate our first home grown mutton the next night and it really was delicious, just a quick dish of chops lightly fried but the meat wasn’t tough at all. We saved a leg for Christmas dinner and slow cooked it, the meat really is different to lamb, it is genuinely richer. We’ve had lots of positive feedback from the customers which is really nice.

Our first mutton meal

We should have a very limited amount of hogget over summer, so if you’re interested get your orders in, I have a feeling it will go quickly!

Dans

Livestock update

I had been trying to do posts on different topics here, but things pile up, I find myself waiting to post until a particular project is finished and finding lots of other things that I’m wanting to talk about but feel I should wait until the earlier stuff has had a post. So I’m going to try forgetting about all that and have a go at doing a post once a week on the various goings on. I can always do a special post on a particular project/adventure when they occur.

So I guess I’ll do a bit of a catch up starting with the livestock. All of the chicks are going like weeds. We found Alice randomly joined the flock one day and had no inclination to go back to her chicks so I guess she was done with motherhood. Her chicks (the cross breeds) will be joining the flock in a couple of weeks. We managed to get 3 definite hens and 2 that I think are cockerels but they have no tail feathers to speak of so far.

The cross breed chicks

The Derbyshire Redcap (DRC) chicks are so flighty that we are having a bit of trouble keeping them contained, they just fly over the heras panels, but we got 4 hens and 2 cocks, 1 of which is really quite stunning so will try selling him. We are about a month of having them join the flock. I was a bit nervous given how much trouble the DRC pullets had given us but thankfully they are all now going into the house and have even started laying (had to wait until 30 weeks!). Just waiting for the eggs to increase in size a bit and then we shall hopefully start having eggs on the gate again. We’ve been in a bit of a low patch and I’m pretty sure we have an egg thief/eater. We’re getting a camera set up in the house to have a peek.

The lone chick (Ixworth) is starting to feather up now, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a hen. It won’t be ready to join the flock until Christmas time though. Not our greatest hatch ever but Aurora is happy with her chick.

We also had some surprise hens. A neighbour is moving away and had 3 hens that she wasn’t taking with her. We agreed to take them in so have 3 Rhode Island Red hens that were born in 2016. They are laying well so should have their eggs in our boxes soon. We’ll introduce them to the flock at the same time as the cross breed chicks. They aren’t a rare breed but I’m a bit of a sucker for taking in animals.

We lost Boomer, one of the Cuckoo Marans, about a month ago. Like Aino we have no idea what happened. Happy and healthy in the run up, no marks, no swelling and a good body weight. I guess it will just be one of those things. So we started the year on 8 hens and a cockerel and now have 23 hens, 3 cockerels and 3 possible cockerels. I have a lot of naming to do! The chicken house had a bit of an update so we have more space and better perching in there for the birds. Just need to update the poop trays and nest boxes.

Boomer, RIP

The geese really are growing like weeds. They are huge. Really huge. They still have a couple of their baby feathers but are well on their way to adulthood. There’s at least 1 gander, possibly 3. They have just started making adult noises so we’ll be watching for their behaviour and sounds to attempt sexing them. The two white ones are destined for the butcher but I would like to keep the other 3 if we can. We are just in the process of getting them some new housing built (our first real building project) but for now they are in the trailer, safe from foxes at least.

The sheep are doing really well. We have just separated off the lambs from the ewes, and the ewe lambs from the ram lambs and Cisco was having a bit of a try with one of the ewe lambs. Really hoping we didn’t leave it too late and aren’t surprised by lambs in January! They have all just turned 4 months. It’s a bit noisy out at the moment but that should settle . Once the ewes have dried off we will put the ewe lambs back in with them.

Ram lambs (left to right) Crais, Cisco and Crichton

Three of the ewes are off to slaughter at the start of next month. I’m quite nervous but so far things are coming together. We have people interested in the meat and will hopefully secure the orders and get deposits before they go off. I’ve talked to the butchers about cuts, the food safety officer should be coming around soon to give us our hygiene rating for selling the meat, I’m looking into distance selling as one buyer is quite far away, I’ve applied for our registration to handle Animal By-Products so that we can get the skins and horns back and been in touch with the tannery so they can process the skins. I’m also doing my food safety course, although we won’t actually be handling the meat. There seem to be a lot of different plates spinning with this but  it should be a good learning experience. The abattoir is a small one, attached to the butchers and there has been some good feedback about it so hopefully the girl’s last journey will be as smooth and non-stressful as it can be.

So I guess that’s a very long way of saying that despite being quiet on here we’ve been busy busy, and that doesn’t include all the harvesting and processing. More on that in the next post!

Dans

Harvest challenges

Things have been busy here, we are well into the harvest season and I have to admit it is getting to be a bit of a struggle to keep up with everything! I do think we are doing better each year with the animals and growing, but there is still so much more we could harvest and could be doing with the land.

I’ve actually decided to join in with a challenge that I saw on another smallholding blog, Holding On 4. The aim is to harvest 5lbs of something each day for 50 days. It can be fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, well pretty much anything. On her blog she wasn’t counting anything that she was eating that day, but I’m not quite that hardcore. We are including things that we pick to eat or put out to sell but we aren’t including the eggs. I do find that it can be quite easy to get bogged down in the jobs that keep things ticking over, especially in the house, and leave things unharvested, so I am hoping that this keeps me going out each day. I started on Friday and smashed the goal with a harvest of 11lbs. 2lbs 10.9oz of cucumbers, 10.2 oz yellow courgette, 11.7oz green courgette, 3lbs 11.9oz of yellow plums, 1lbs 2.4oz of cooking apples and 2lbs 4.3oz of red onions. The next day we were away for the day so I only collected a few apples to take with us. 3lbs 11.1oz of Beauty of Bath apples. And today we were out again so we didn’t harvest anything at all.  14lbs 14.5oz over 3 days. Sam isn’t sure we will manage to have 5lbs of things to harvest each day, and days we are away it will be hard, but it’s a fun little challenge.

Speaking of daily harvests, we now have another incentive to get out and picking each day. We have started putting some of the veg out on the stall to sell along with the eggs. We haven’t had many sales yet, but I am hoping that, like with the eggs, it will pick up soon. We just need people to take a chance on us and then hopefully they will come back based on the taste. Our tomatoes this year are delicious.

Our ‘farm gate’ stall

I’ve set myself another mini challenge and this one might actually be achievable. We were getting quite behind on the harvesting and the fridges and freezers were filling with the things we had harvested. To work our way through I decided to try and harvest at least one thing a day and do at least 1 batch of preserving each day. That could be freezing if needed, but also includes dehydrating, jam, wine, chutney, juice, fruity spirits, or sauce. Last week I turned my hand to drying plums (purple and red) and tomatoes, plum (purple) and blackberry wines, plum brandy, blackberry rum, blackberry and plum jams, passata and a cucumber and apple chutney.

I spoke a bit about preserving last year, mainly saying that I hadn’t done much of it so far! We did a little bit last year but chutney and jam were still new to me this year. I was quite nervous to try them but so far they have gone down a treat with everyone who has tried them. I’m really looking forward to trying to keep up this harvest 1/preserve 1 a day, it’s making it manageable and keeping the gluts under control. I’m open to all kinds of recipes so fire away if you have any. Especially anything with cucumber that will keep!

Between all the harvesting, preserving, cleaning out sheds, getting set up to sell more complicated food items, and dropping my laptop (which means it will no longer run chrome for some reason) I just haven’t been able to come on here much. I am hoping that now I’m a bit more comfortable with internet explorer, I’ll be on more regularly. I need to update about the geese, and the chickens, and all the things we are growing.

Dans

Busy bees

Well this weekend it was Mother’s day and Sam’s birthday but that didn’t mean a restful weekend!

It started on Friday evening when we caught up the sheep ready to move them to some fresh grass. We took the opportunity to do a body condition score (BCS) on them. This is basically feeling their backs over the hip area to assess how bony or fatty they are. This gives you an idea of how they are doing and what feeding they need. Especially Arya who we know is carrying twins as this can put quite a strain on her body. We also took some poo samples so we can check the worm burden of the sheep.

Checking Arha’s BCS

Saturday wasn’t too bad, a trip to B&Q to pick up some supplies and had a quick lunch out so we could get straight to work at home. First job was a delivery of manure. I’m trying desperately to improve our soil so some free organic matter seems like a good bet. It’s horse manure though so a bit weedy but we don’t have cow manure in great quantities in this area.

The manure delivery

Next was the usual jobs around the holding, including cleaning out the chickens. We’ve been having a slight problem with mice. Our house is filled with lovely deep bed of chopped straw for the chickens to jump off the perches onto. Unfortunately, this winter mice have decided it’s a great place to live. First it was two nesting which we cleared out. Then about a month later we had a young family which we also cleared out. And now a month or so later we have had 1 in there which I cleared out Saturday. I basically move all the additional things in the hen house (plastic nest boxes and a wooden step for the hens to reach the higher nest boxes) and chase out the mice. It seems to work as they stay away for so long, but I think we need to look into some traps if it persists.

The inside of our hen house (although the food is no longer kept in there)

Then I decided to brush off my very rusty skills to do a faecal egg count (FEC) on the samples we gathered on Friday. This tells us what eggs are being shed by the ewes and if they need worming. It was a nice low count of about 150 eggs per gram (epg), which wouldn’t be anything to worry about. However, I found a single Nematodirus egg. This is a type of worm that can be quite bad for lambs to get so the ewes will need to be treated in the next coming weeks.

The Nematodirus egg

Sunday, the day of rest right? Especially as it’s Mother’s day and a birthday? Well I was up at 8:30am and Sam stayed in bed until about 9:30am with Chi. Then it was all go again. The guy who owns the 0.5acre plot across the road has said we can graze the sheep there. It’s quite overgrown at the moment and the grass won’t be very nutritious so we’re going to send Anya and Aelin over there as they shouldn’t be pregnant and are being a bit of a nuisance to the others. But there is a pile of rubble at the back and the guy goes in regularly to get bits from his storage container so we’ve bought heras panels so that they sheep are safe and he can get to his stuff. They arrived bright and early so that was the first job.

Our next job was to finish marking out the berry patch. We marked out the blueberry row a little while ago and got some planted. We marked out the rest of the spots and cleared more of the area but there’s more moss and grass to clear and then of course the bushes to plant but I can do that on my own. Thankfully of the 31 fruit bushes we bought at our local garden centre it looks like 30 have made it through the winter and are budding. I’m holding out hope for the last one but we will see. They varied in price from 50p to £2 so pretty good value.

Next we had an impromptu chicken rescue. Aurora had got into the goose area and one of them went for her, judging by the squawking and honking I heard. I ran over to check she was ok and found her on the other side of the fence, on the bank of the drainage ditch that runs along our smallholding. There’s chicken wire along the bottom so she would have had to fly back over. I ended up climbing over the fence and trying to catch her on a steep bank. That was not fun but we got her back safe and sound.

No rest for the wicked, a quick drink of squash and we were back to work. We pulled back the weed proof fabric that we spread over the intended veg bed. It was much better than it had been but some bits were still growing. We dug out some of the bigger stronger tufts of grass, raked the area to be somewhat level, flattened out the fabric and marked out the veg beds. We’ll plant through the fabric this year, then in the winter we will pull it back again, mark out the beds top with well rotted manure. Or at least that is the plan. We’ll see how it goes.

The clocks going forward meant that it was still light out so we headed across the road to start putting up the heras panels. We managed about half before Chi woke up and we had to head in for dinner whilst Sam saw to the animals.

For the last job of the day Sam went to get a combination of Chinese and Indian for dinner whilst I baked him a birthday cake. It was an experimental apple and redcurrant cake. I thought I used enough redcurrants but they are quite subtle so I think I’ll double amount next time.

With all the stuff getting done, the plants growing, the buds on all the trees, the sheep getting bigger and all the eggs rolling in it really feels like the year is turning.

Dans

PS We have a new like button on our posts, you no longer have to sign in to wordpress to like things! So if you liked the post then click the button. And if you’d like to catch all of our posts there’s a subscribe box on the left if you’re on desktop view or at the bottom if you’re on a mobile device.