Back again

Well it has been a long time since I last wrote on my blog, since Christmas everything seems to have gone by in a flurry of feathers, fur and nappies!

My little family is keeping very well, my beautiful boy is now 2 years old and gets more energetic and entertaining each day!

We had a successful lambing season, all but one of our ewes took from the ram and we were very pleased with the results. Sadly we did lose a pair of lambs from one of our original Southdowns ‘Ingrid’. A mistake on our part not to keep a close enough eye on them and her, she had suffered with poor condition throughout her pregnancy and we believe she did not produce enough Colostrum for those vital first few hours, sadly the lambs passed away the first night. A silly mistake on our part but another lesson learnt. The lambs are now growing rapidly and running around the paddock, we will soon be tagging them and having the ewes sheared before separating the ram lambs and deciding what we will sell, what we will keep and what will go to slaughter.

On the Poultry side, Helly’s Hens is doing well! We have sold a fair amount of our homebred hens as growers and we killed 3 young cockerels for our own freezer – another smallholding hurdle overcome and lessons learnt with a tasty outcome! We have since had more successful hatches and currently have a variety of ages of chicks and growers for sale. Our breeding stock are doing well, although Keith our handsome Buff Orpington cockerel has picked a couple of favourites and they have lost a lot of feathers on their backs from his ‘advances’! However my ingenious husband and my mother have come up with a design for our own tweed poultry saddles which my Mum sewed and they are now in situ on our hens and very smart they look too!

It is our local agricultural show this coming Saturday, we are hoping to take our cockerel and a breeding hen to enter into the Poultry tent, as long as the preparation goes well we shall report back after the show! Fingers crossed for a nice day for all, it is such a lovely country day out and a vital part in the countryside social life. There really is something for everyone and it is reasonably priced compared to other events – http://www.caerwys-show.org.uk/

The sheep are currently grazing in a small paddock whilst we leave the larger field to grow and we are hoping to make our own hay later this summer – a very exciting and enjoyable prospect! Hopefully the weather will be kind and we will have bales of hay to keep our sheep fed through the winter which will be a great saving money-wise and also have some to sell which will be a welcome income and hopefully cover any costs of hiring a baler etc.

Apart from the show on Saturday, the next job on the agenda is to get our sheep sheared – they are currently looking like large bales of woolly straw! We are hoping to make contact this week with the man who did the job last year and set a date soon.

Well I think this is all for now, I will come back soon with photos of all our new arrivals and hopefully some of Caerwys Show.

I hope your June is turning out beautiful and peaceful xxx

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“Like a lamb to the slaughter’

Yesterday was a big day for us, a first for us and also a vital part in our ‘farming calendar’. Husband was working so with my dad and his trusty Landy as haulier I gently loaded our 5 crossbred lambs into our trailer. Our local abattoir is a small family run operation at the back of the butchers shop in the bottom of Denbigh town, only about 20 mins drive from our smallholding and they have a fantastic reputation. On arrival I left dad with the trailer and went to see where we needed to unload the lambs and deal with any paper work, on walking into the yard behind the slaughter house I have to say I was hit by the smell, it wasn’t hugely overpowering but I think the smell of death is a distinct one. I can’t lie and tell you it was an immaculate area because it wasn’t but it is a busy working environment and when dealing with animals and blood there is going to be a necessary amount of mess. I met the on site vet for the day who inspected our lambs and would oversee the kill. Dad then skillfully backed the trailer up to the yard and we unloaded the lambs into a holding pen, this was done very quietly and the lads working there were very nice and gentle with them. The lambs were immediately ushered into the back of the building and I stood back to wait to give my order for how we wanted them butchered. I didn’t see the lambs being stunned but I did see them hung up and go through on the conveyer belt type machine. From unloading to kill must have taken less than 5 minutes, I couldn’t believe how quickly and quietly it all happened, no fuss, no shouting, no sounds of distress just a quick and dignified end. I had a little bit of sadness in my heart saying goodbye to the lambs but I also felt a great amount of pride. Our hard work and determination has paid off, it’s not been an easy year with snow, fly strike and rain to name a few obstacles we have encountered but together we have achieved our goal. Producing our own lamb right from tupping to lambing to slaughter. We can now eat our roast dinner with peace of mind knowing we cared for our animals from birth until a very quiet and calm end.

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Randy Ram!

It’s been all go here at the moment, we attended a cattle handling course which I will write a post on later this week and also collected our tup for this year. A very handsome Southdown specimen, Dwalin who is now known by us as Dave is now taking up residence with our breeding ewes. Previously we have had an aged but experienced ram who got the job done but took his time, last year we had a ram lamb who was eager to get going but was a bit ‘all the gear and no idea’! This year we are in the presence of a professional! In just over a week he has served all but one of our girls, is ferociously protective of them (victims being our legs, buckets and dog!) and looks the part strutting round the field like a gooden! A ewe’s cycle is around 14-18 days long and so we will be changing the raddle next week to see if Dave has planted his seed on the first try or if he needs to serve them again. The fat lambs are still finishing, we are a little disappointed it is taking longer than we thought it would, however these older and more traditional breeds are known for not finishing quickly like the commercials and so we are sure our patience will pay off with tastey meat. It looks like we may have a choice of homegrown lamb or chicken for Christmas dinner!

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Humble By Nature

Earlier this week me and Mum travelled to Chester to hear Kate Humble talk about her new book, as part of the Chester Literature Festival. Held in the beautiful town hall we arrived and managed to get seats on the front row. Kate Humble, a BBC presenter of well known programmes such as Spring Watch, Autumn watch, Animal Park and Lambing Live was a very eloquent speaker of course but also very relaxed and engaging. Her newly released book ‘Humble By Nature’ tells the story of her life within the countryside and making the move from the big smoke of London to the beautiful Welsh hills. She spoke about how she has never really felt a belonging to any of her homes until she moved to Wales and described the different places she had lived and travelled too. Hearing her determination to escape the city life and set up home in the countryside really struck a cord with me, of course I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful very small town in North Wales but I too have a desire to immerse myself further into the countryside, nature and of course farming! The Audience were invited to ask questions and after a rather dismal start to the questions I decided to give it a go and popped by hand up! Along came a microphone and I stammered out a question “I own a small flock of sheep and having lambed this year we are due to take 5 lambs to slaughter very soon, I was wondering if you (Kate) have been in to a slaughter house and if you would advise whether I see the process myself, seeing the whole cycle of ‘lambing’ to the end’. Kate gave a fantastic answer, telling us about the experience she had when she did in fact see what happens within a British slaughter house, she told us how quick, clean and dignified the process was and that the animals really didn’t suffer. Both me and Mum were really impressed and reassured by her answer and so when we take our lambs to slaughter later this month I plan on asking if I could see the process. I doubt they will want me in the way as it is a small but very busy slaughter house but maybe at some point they might be able to show me how the animals are slaughtered. I know some people will be pulling faces and seeing me as some sort of sicko but I beg to differ. We look after our sheep 365 days a year, we bring in a ram to impregnate our ewes, we then keep them well fed and comfortable throughout the winter months before assisting them and supporting them through the lambing period. Both the ewes and the lambs then have a lovely summer, grazing on our lush pasture (too lush for sheep really!) and lazing about in the sun before the autumn time comes and the process starts again. Of course we breed our sheep to increase our flock, sell to other breeders but also for meat as we are a meat eating family. I believe that following the love, care and attention we give our sheep through the year I also need to ensure their welfare right to the end, this time being in a slaughter house. I am sure I would have a tear in my eye seeing our lambs killed, however if I am prepared to eat meat and breed animals for this purpose, I feel I have to be prepared to see the reality of where our meat comes from. I get accused of being hard or cold hearted for being able to send my own animals to slaughter and yet I just can’t see this mind set at all. People are conscious these days of buying clothing made by people living in poverty, being underpaid and working in horrendous conditions and so with buy ethical products or fair trade products, and yet often these same people will walk into the supermarket, grab a pack of lamb chops or chicken breasts off the shelf and not think twice about where this meat comes from, how it was raised or how it was killed. I have much more respect for vegans or vegetarians who decide to remove themselves from the equation at all. Now I’m not preaching that everyone should raise their own animals, kill their own animals or even have to go into a slaughter house to see it being done, but just acknowledge the fact that meat comes from animals and can only be produced as a result of an animal dying.

Anyway enough with my ranting, and back onto Kate Humble. The talk ended on a lovely note with Kate describing her connection with food and nature and how we all need to get back to that mindset. We then had our book signed by her, and after briefly telling her about our plans to go into farming full time she left a lovely message in the book.

If you are interested this is Kate Humble’s website: http://www.humblebynature.com/

http://www.chesterliteraturefestival.co.uk/

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Chick update!

Our home bred chicks are coming on well along with the two we bought as fertile eggs, tho not too sure their breeding is as specified as they look very much like light Sussex to us :-/
2 of the buff Orpington chicks have been reserved already, if you are interested in owning some beautiful buffs please get in touch. You can also check out our website http://www.hellyshens.weebly.com

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Bye bye Wern Bach Morgan

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Wern Bach Morgan

Apologies I have been a bit quiet on here lately, the same cannot be said for the real world! Latest news on the sheep front is that we have sold our handsome ram lamb – Wern Bach Morgan. We decided he was too gorgeous to go to slaughter and so would be best used for breeding, however of course he was too closely related to our girls and so a nice couple from Yorkshire bought and collected him a fortnight ago. We are really pleased he has gone to a home where he will be able to ‘do his job’ and hopefully produce some lovely Southdown lambs. We felt a real sense of achievement too sending him off and counting the cash in our hand. 

The lambs we have left are all set to go to slaughter apart from a purebred Southdown ewe lamb who is again too good looking for the plate and also being a purebred is a good addition to our breeding ewes. The others, 3 ewe lambs and 2 ram lambs are all crossbred and we are really interested to see what their meat is like. The Southdown is a very old traditional British breed, short in stature but stocky in build and is known for producing quick finishing fat lambs. They decreased in popularity as their meat was a little fatty and the trend turned to very lean meats in recent years. However within that fat is vital goodness and I think people are beginning to appreciate that again. The Greyfaced Dartmoor (the other breed we keep) is a much larger framed animal but with far less covering, they are slow to mature and have a much more docile nature. Their lambs are slow to finish and don’t carry much fat, so we are hoping that the outcome of us crossing these traditional British breeds will be flavorsome meat with a nice amount of fat. The only frustration we have at the moment is waiting for the lambs to finish, however I think this is us being impatient and it won’t be long until we will be taking them on their final trip. 

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