All about the beef

Well, no, it’s not all about the beef, although that is our main croft income. We do have lamb, although I prefer hogget (1-2 year old sheep so better flavour), occasionally pigs, and every so often chicken when they have reached that time in their life when suited for the slow cooker. Meat is not the only thing, there is a vegetable garden, raised beds, a small orchard and a soft fruit area.

Last year while having my year long sabbatical I was able to do a lot more in the vegetable garden. In the past I left it to the Crofter; working a full week meant I had little ambition for tackling the garden, there were other things I enjoyed much more: flail mowing, brush cutting, probably a lot of things rather than gardening (but a lot of things you can’t do while the sole responsible adult of the Mini Crofter). And there was my problem. Vegetable gardening is much easier little and often, not one full day digging up a year’s worth of weeds. This means the weeds are still there, we are still at war with each other, but they aren’t winning as much. Last year was our best crop of vegetables. Which means the pressure is on for this year.

So, with the sun shining out I was for a quick stint in the garden. Which meant I made a discovery; we have a lot more vegetables still in the garden than I thought were left. Usually we have eaten the crop by mid winter. However there is still kale, leeks, cabbage, turnips, red onions, and even a couple beetroot.

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This means last year was our best crop of vegetables. Not a ‘must-enter-vegetable-competition’ success but a vast improvement. Aspiration to match it this year then…

I had been amazed at what grew last year, I’m now impressed at what remains. Although, it means I need to up my veg intake to be sure it’s good to go for planting vegetables this year. Otherwise, it will be all about the beef…

 

Chunky the sheep-sheep

Many will have heard of ‘The Sheep-pig’. I first came across it at Ninelands Lane Junior school, where I was brought up, when it was read to the class by our teacher Mrs Bracewell. It has been read multiple times since although not recently as it hasn’t been necessary. Why? Because I have a working ‘sheep-pig’ too, only ours is a ‘sheep-sheep’. Chunky is a cheviot wedded. He was destined for the pot early on. But, Chunky was a fast learner and quick to realise a whistle meant a bucket, a bucket meant food, and no need to fear the woman holding the bucket. He would be the first to arrive and would follow you about, at your heel, if you had any sign of food. So, he was christened ‘Chunky’. From a herd of twenty, the numbers were slowly whittled down as they were sent off to the freezer in the sky. Normally all sheep would be checked to see who was the fattest, although Butch and Skydiver were high up the list regardless of size due to their ability to either bully others or throw themselves over fences. Chunky was always just a wee bit thiner than the rest so saved himself on several occasions when I had been prepared for ‘Chunky nae-more’. But, Chunky came to prove himself when collecting in the breeding ewes last year. One wild bunch that would refuse to go through the gate to better pastures. Step in Chunky. Take him with you, following at your heels like a sheep dog and soon all the other sheep would be around him. Walk to where you need them with him right at your side, all the nervous ones following and firmly close gate. Who needs a sheep dog when you have Chunky?

Last week I had to get the sheep into a pen through a different gate then normal. All came apart from one. Never fear, get Chunky back with you, do a quick circle and remaining Blackface came following Chunky. He has helped bring in ewes for lambing and helped to get lambs into the trailer. He is now of too much value in terms of sheep handling. Even when we have got new sheep him, they trust Chunky. I know some farmers will throw their arms up and say I need to stop the attachment-disorder but, most of them have sheep dogs, quad bikes, or lots of time to collect their sheep. I don’t, so I’m more than happy to use Chunky with the bonus that I don’t need to take him on walks to make sure he has his exercise. Some people may think I’m hard as nails with naming all of our other animals and then sending them off for the freezer but in this case, Chunky will remain here on our croft as our working sheep-sheep.

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Feasts for the beasts.

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As the weather called for outside work (really, when does it not), I spent a little time with our Mini Beasts. The Three Stooges of the calving world. As they reach their first birthdays and the new calves will hopefully be arriving on the croft, handling them as much as possible moves higher up the priority list. Mini beasts growing to big beasts that are high strung are not high on my ‘ohh, what will I do today? I’ll go cozy up with a wild cow, I will’ list.  Having the handling facility makes it so much easier and gets them familiar with it. Less stress for everyone. Now, I did look at my nice clean cement flooring and wonder about getting them in but, staying on top of the mess and taking a shovel and brush after each stint is nothing in comparison to calm cows. And it wasn’t that long ago when Feonghall broke through my electric fence in a nano second as a high strung steer and I set his destiny with the stars (aka abattoir).

As it turned out they were not as calm as they looked. Soon after tucking into their buckets they started playing musical feeds, each pushing to their right. Eventually a bucket didn’t conform and will need a new lot in life. Grass it always greener…

Snow from the sky.

07A71605-B331-4A86-997B-5A5D02DB3BC1.jpegBeast from the East? No, it’s called snow from the sky. Sorry to freeze your spirits, this isn’t Hollywood and winter doesn’t need to sound like Armageddon and a blockbuster horror movie. Yes, snow can be pants (believe me, I know), but I really don’t need the weather named. Did you get Snowflake Stanly today? How’s Cloud Colin affected you? Sunshine Susan looking good? How’s Windy Wilma, Breezy Barry, and Gusty Gus where you are?

Maybe I shouldn’t be so judgemental. But it does seem if weather hits some people they can name it, moan and tell us it’s horrendous because they have had to scrap ice off their windscreen (I listen to too much radio). Shock, horror. Ground all form of transport! On the other side you have people getting themselves stuck on roads causing emergency services and volunteers to rescue them.

Having a weather warning of ‘be prepared’ is a fascinating comment. Should we not enter all of life like that? Is it just being in agriculture that has formed that mentality and would I think differently if I relied on others to keep roads clear, etc? For me, the weather forecast is studied meticulously each night to prepare for the following day and week. Will I be feeding cows late at night or during the day depends on the forecast (risk of ice, do it earlier to avoid any idea of getting the tractor stuck!). Do the sheep need extra? How high I fill the water trough depends on the temperature forecast (will it freeze before they get their water, will I need to add more to a block of ice). Do I pull up my mole traps and suspend the war on moles if the ground will freeze?

Because of these comments I now expect the sky to fall on my head. Or more realistically, absolutely no help the next time I’m snowed in, my pipes burst or I struggle to get to the shops for food for the Mini Crofter. Never mind, my replacement snow shovel just arrived and I’m waiting on my grit order to come. Women with grit and shovels can master the world AND feed the beasts (as in cows, not the clouds in the sky…).

Delivery dudes and directionless combo.

East Coast Viners, a company that supply animal feed. Oh how they have just reached the top of the ’worst deliveries ever’ in my list (as it was one of their own dudes and not contracted out before anyone starts sticking up for them). Was the delivery supposed to be yesterday? Yes, but they called Wednesday to say they had no forklift deliveries in my area. Were they supposed to give 2 hours notice? Yes, but never happened. Did anyone call? Yes, but never left a message. Did ECV’s leave a message? Yes, and I got back to them in 10 mins. Did they ask for directions? No, so I prompted them. Did it take them forever to find us on a map? No, under 5 mins the man could see. Lovely dude, real lovely.

If this was 1st April I would have thought they were having a laugh…but sadly no. Because a delivery person (I will not judge) didn’t ask for directions, Mini Crofter and I will be taking an adventure with the trailer tomorrow to go pick up 1 ton of cow, sheep and chicken feed that I paid extra for a fork lift to off load into our shed. Not only have I had to ring a random bloke tonight (I hate phones), I will have to go pick it up from a random estate and I will have to off load the luggage by hand. 25kg sacks are not the lightest to say the least. But hey ho, I have my trailer license, the weather isn’t forecast for rain or snow tomorrow, and I should have two hours during the Mini Crodter’s nap to off load it when I would be, oh, probably just sat painting my nails and watching soaps on TV…oh aye, we don’t have a TV.

There is due to be several seminars in Scotland for Women in Agriculture. I would like to find out how other woman manage when agricultural companies and delivery drivers give them a run for their money. Sadly, the seminar I signed up for will have to be cancelled. Why? I have no childcare for the Mini Crofter as the Crofter just got told he’ll be off shore for another week (making it 5 weeks). So, if any women are going, can they ask if they can set up a crèche the next time? And how should you respond to an agricutural company that thinks you can just ‘collect’ a delivery to the wrong address.

Any body builders needing a workout? Looks like episode two will be continued tomorrow…

Wind in the willows

FCBBF1D4-32F0-4360-A568-688016C7EE8C.jpegWell, maybe not wind in the willows but willows to help keep the wind down. Aye, 50 in total, all along the orchard (don’t think older trees laden with fruit but gawky, teenage fruit trees that are still trying to figure out their lot in life). Fruit trees that get hammered by the wind whistling off the hills (aka mountains but having been to   Switzerland I’d call them hills although they are just a tad bit bigger than your hills in Norfolk…). So, several year ago a few willow and hazel got planted along the wind pervailing side to try and offer a bit more protection for the trees. These are,on the whole, looking good but just not enough. More recently I was lookin at fancy willows under categories of basket weaving and winter colour and decided to go for it. 50 trees later with them all marked on a ragged piece of paper that looks more like a map of secret treasure, I envision a lovely hedge which I can coppice for making baskets. Reality set in with a sudden drop in temperature (Beast from the East? No, just very cold here). Guess we’ll see what survived later on in the year. There may just be wind in the willows…which I could go watch, then I wouldn’t need to read it…