The New Name

Today we renamed the third paddock (which up to this had been referred to as the hayfield). We planted seven oaks and two beech in it. As we were trundling up with the empty wheel barrow trying to work out how many of each tree we’d planted, I said “we planted seven oaks, we’ve got to call this field Sevenoaks now. “

Cue confused stare from Gaƫlle, the Workaway student. I then had to explain how and why fields are named here.

I’ve already planted willow, alder, birch, crap apple and hornbeam as well as a hawthorn hedge. I had to make sure that the big tractors and balers could still get in to cut and bale so they’re all planted at the end of the paddock bordering the massive intensive field where all the hedges and trees have been ripped out. This means the south west wind comes barreling down until it meets my small hawthorn barrier between Sevenoaks and the Pig Field wherupon it laughs and high tails it through and barges into my hay shed.

A lift home

The polytunnel is finally up but the ground within is so wet and sticky, it’s virtually a no go area. The rain the night before they came to put it up didn’t help and the tractor putting in the posts a few days before made massive ruts now filled with water.

Today the fencing was finished beside it, just on time before Storm Jorge arrived.

I planted the peach tree, the vine and the salad seedlings just inside the door because for now it gets the most sun until the sun gets a bit higher and reaches over the hay shed roof, and yesterday I noticed the buds beginning to unfurl on the peach so happy days.

New fence beside tunnel

The wind here is a bastard. It is relentless and damaging. Every gate has been reefed off its hinges. The front gates which are massive heavy yokes have been wrenched out of the wall twice. The most recent time during Storm Dennis. Today I discovered the little green door into the hen shed has been pulled off its bottom hinge. And this was despite being wedged with heavy stones and lumps of wood which every door in the place has to be.

Now hopefully the last of the winter storms is causing havoc outside. The poor newly planted trees have been getting a right battering. But there was evidence of spring this morning in the woods at Tintern and some lesser celandine peeping through the newly emerging wild garlic and bluebells.

Lesser Celandine in Tintern

Last week I collected the lamb from the butcher and tasted it and have to say it was delicious but surprisingly lean. I still miss the sheep and am already looking forward to getting more, this time at least one female to keep.

Lean chops

The goats have been curiously subdued since they left and have been hanging around their shed most of the day only venturing out into the pig field when the pigs do. Have to say I’ve been surprised by this as they seemed to just “argue” all the time with the sheep.

My new Workaway helper is great. I decided to switch from Wwoof as was advised the people coming through Workaway are generally older and more useful. It’s just a shame the weather has been so abominable since she arrived, it’s made working outside virtually impossible. But we’ve had a few good days and last Sunday actually lay in the sun up on Baginbun and inhaled the glorious salty air.

Saltees in distance from Baginbun

It’s right about this time every year when the days begin to lengthen that you long for spring and warm summer days. They can’t come quick enough this year.

The Deadline

For most of the last two weeks it’s been a race. A race to get stuff done that should have been done or at least organised weeks ago.

The sheep should have been long gone but finally the withdrawal period was up and I rang the abattoir to book them in. I got asked could I bring them in that evening because they had an inspection on their normal killing day.

I had to jump to it, hook up the trailer, get it into the field, lock up the nosy goats etc etc. Except when I went out to the fields there was no sign of goats or sheep or pigs.

I found the goats lying down in the middle paddock with the pigs but no sign of the sheep. I called them. Nothing. Bear in mind the sheep have never gone missing, ever. Panic began to well. I ran around like a mad woman calling them. Then went to check the third paddock where they were only ever let into. Low and behold they ambled up to the gate followed by a stray pony….. The relief.

Did they have some sixth sense? I don’t know because I didn’t even know they were going. But for a couple of weeks beforehand they’d become a right pain. This always happens with pigs and pig keepers often use it as justification to make the deed easier. But, they were constantly knocking me over when I went to feed them or getting in my way and I was beginning to lose patience with them.

Anyway I got them back and locked the goats in and was just about to try and get them into the trailer when my neighbour pulled up at my field gate to have a chat with a passing tractor. I called him to ask would he give me a hand. Luckily I did because otherwise it would have taken me ages to get them in. We had them loaded in a few minutes.

I had my shiny new triplicate Dept of Ag. sheep movement book and it needed ear tag numbers which are about 24 letters and digits. How the hell do you hold a sheep long enough to read that melee? I told the abattoir I couldn’t manage this on my own and they said don’t worry they’d read them there.

When I arrived they opened a pen for me and two men helped me unload them and then calmly and gently held each one so we could get the numbers. I have to say I was really impressed at how gentle they were. The sheep were relaxed and were occupied looking at a couple of pigs in the pen beside them. THE most important thing to me is that animals I rear are not stressed or badly treated at the end. If they are it totally undoes all my work.

I had to drive back up the next day for the skins. I had decided I would get them back and send them to a tannery in Wales. I made several phone calls to the veterinary department in Wexford and they were helpful but, what they wanted me to do was beyond ridiculous. Pack them effectively in a coffin sealed for no leakages. Traipse back to the abattoir with them in said coffin for them to open and inspect and slap a Category 3 label on it to scare the bejaysus out of a courier who had to collect them from there and take them to Wales.

I thought to myself what a load of nonsense. I know they have to be careful but honestly they go so over the top here they drive people underground so it utterly defeats the purpose.

I decided to ask my Scottish neighbours to take them over and send them by courier from Glasgow but on my way home began to think about doing them myself.

I started today by salting them and removing some of the fat and tissue.

Then as luck would have it got sent a video which makes it seem unbelievably easy. I just had to order oxalic acid on line which I’ve done on ebay.

Honestly all this sort of stuff was done years ago by every small farmer before Internet or YouTube so how difficult can it be? Well I’ll soon find out.

I asked the abattoir to send me the weights because yesterday Betty, the owner took me into the chiller to show me the carcasses. She was amazed at how big they were but yet not a scrap of fat. She told me a very good weight for a lamb is 29kgs. Mine were 36.6 and 36.7kg respectively. She didn’t believe that they had never had a single sheep nut.

New trees

Before this I’d actually done what I’d been procrastinating about for over a year and ordered some trees from Future Forests for planting in my third paddock. I planted 28 native whips including birch, hornbeam, willow, oak, crab apple, hawthorn, hazel and cherry. I was so thrilled when literally every sod I turned had at least one earthworm and some several. A sign of really healthy soil.

Then I ordered fruit trees from Heritage Nurseries and today planted 5 different apple varieties, 2 different plum and 2 pear varieties. It’s so easy now ordering trees from these sites and Heritage in particular I found really brilliant to deal with. He rang me and asked me all about my location then sent me a list of suggestions of species suitable for wind.

I also ordered a proper polytunnel. So no more Mickey Mouse tunnel which had my heart in my mouth every time there was wind which is basically 350 days a year here. I had to put him off until February 12th because I wanted to get posts put in for a fence first. The posts are in now and then my neighbour who had been promising horse manure all last summer arrived this evening and dumped several loads by tractor. So I am all set now for when they come to put up the tunnel.

I sowed some tomatoes, cucumber, chilli and spring salad yesterday. I can’t wait to get growing and there is already a real feel of spring in the air.

In a couple of weeks I’ll have my lamb back. Believe it or not they are still considered lamb because they are under one year of age, just.