Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Mud, Wine and Piglets!

Dear Readers.   It's been one month, two weeks and three days since my last confession.. please forgive me.  

To be totally honest, it's been completely bloody manic!   As you know, Nelly's piglets arrived at the end of September.   They really were too cute - and continue to be so!   Also, after the lovely WWOOFer Steph left us, we took a few days off and went to West Wales.   First time that we've been away together for over three years.   It rained everyday, of course, but then again, it's Wales so you expect that.   We went on some spectacular walks, ate fantastic food from local producers and just chilled out - it was just what we both needed.

As with the rest of the UK, it hasn't stopped raining here since March.   As a result we are absolutely swimming in mud.   We moved Nelly and the piglets to a different enclosure shortly after we came back from Wales as the poor piglets could barely go outside for fear of drowning in the puddles and it was becoming more apparent by the day that dear old Daisy was also in pig and was going to be in need of the farrowing quarters herself.   This, I am sorry to say, was a completely unplanned pregnancy.  You know those escapee pigs I blogged about a few blogs back?   Well, they continued to escape on a regular basis and on one particular occasion decided to take all the other pigs with them.   Not only did they trounce their fence, but the fence of some Oxford Sandy and Black pigs we had too.   When I eventually herded them all back to their relevant pens, I noticed that Daisy had had company as there were some mud straddle marks across her back (about the only benefit of having a muddy summer that I can think of!).    Anyway, the boy in question was only four months old and it was doubtful if he could even reach, let alone have the ammunition, as it where.   So me, being me, dismissed it from my mind, did not record the date that this happened and stuck my head in the sand.  Brilliant course of action and of course, the absolute best thing anyone could possibily do... not.

As a result, we had no idea of Daisy's due date as, over the coming weeks, it became more and more apparent that the adolescent had actually taken full advantage of the situation.   I guessed at beginning to mid November, which needless to say, is vauge.   I spent the week before she gave birth checking on her at least four times a day and once at night, just in case she suddenly multiplied.    It was at one such checking that I got completely stuck in the mud.    We had some friends down from London and at the end of the evening, after a couple of bottles of wine, I decided to check on Daisy before tottering back to the house.   I crept up there and, as was the norm, all was quiet.   In my infinite, drunken wisdom, I decided to also check on Nelly in the next field.   I had a tiny hand torch with me that dimly lit the way.  As to be expected, all was well with Nelly too, so I wondered off back to the house, deciding to take a short cut across a REALLY muddy bit of field.  

I was fine for the most part, a little unsteady on my feet, but it was pitch black and very slippery so generally I was doing well.   Then I hit it.   The week before we'd been moving soil around trying to level the ground a bit.   The soil had not had a chance to compact at all and was, as I discovered to my peril, very deep.    My brain was not in full communication with the rest of my body and only registered the deep mud when my stride was brought to an abrupt halt but the cementing of my welly.   By this time, it was too late, I had already begun to take the next step and although both my foot and my brain willed my welly to come with us, it turned out it was finding the mud much better company.  I remember distinctly thinking "OK.  I'm going to have to walk through the mud in my socks - that's fine, I can do that.  I'll just come back and find my wellies in the morning."   I was tipsy enough to not even think that I might not stay on my feet, or even that it would be a problem walking the rest of the way without boots on.    Nor did it cross my mind that exactly the same thing might happen on the next step.    Needless to say, before you could say 'two bottles of Pinot' I had fallen flat on my face, elbow deep in mud.  It's cold...  really cold... mud.  It crossed my mind that people had probably died of hypothermia in mud before now - if anyone had been stupid enough to try and walk across it while pissed.   My husband, who had sensibly taken the normal, safe route back, found me.   He later described me as 'thrashing around' in the mud, when regaling the story to some friends.   We found my wellies and he led me staggering back to the house, whereupon he demanded I take a shower and go straight to bed.  Don't you love it when you're drunk and you stubbornly refuse to do anything anyone tells you, simply because they have told you.   Allegedly, I told my husband I didn't need a shower (!!!) but was frog marched anyway.   At 4am that morning, when I tumbled back into bed after another check up on Daisy, I found myself chuckling, uncontrollably reliving my mud thrashing moments.. much to the annoyance of my long suffering husband!

About five days later, Daisy gave birth to piglets.  I think she purposely chose the one night that Olly was away.   She started nesting at around 2pm and I knew I was in for a long night.   Already having the experience with Nelly was both comforting and stressful at the same time.  Comforting in that I knew roughly what to expect and stressful because, well, I knew roughly what to expect.   At around five, Daisy finally laid down and started her contractions.   I phoned my lovely friend Dee for moral support and bless her, she came up to keep me company.    By six, Daisy had given birth to a still born which had happened to Nelly too, so I wasn't too worried.  

 
Daisy Nesting

I had read that anymore than an hour between births and you should start to worry.   At twenty past seven I called the vet.   Daisy was shaking as the contractions got worse but nothing was happening.   'Probably need to do an internal examination,' said the vet, from the comfort of his sitting room.   From the tone of his voice, I knew he had no intention of leaving the warmth of that room.  'Have you ever done an internal examination before?' he asked nonchanontly.   'Eeer, no.'  I replied.   I desperately wanted to paint him the picture of my life.  I was not a hurly burly farmer, I was a wannabe, a townie who gave her pigs tummy scratches everyday and if it wasn't for her husband would probably bring them into the house to keep them warm.   But I didn't feel that would help my cause, so I kept schtum.   'Well, just get some lube on you and make sure you go in up to your elbow - call me once you've done it.'    Dee's pearl of wisdom was not to leave the disposable glove in Daisy.  

I found myself apologising to Daisy before sticking my hand up her rear end.   Not that she minded at that point.  Poor pig was obviously in agony.    And in I went.    Up to my elbow.    And I felt... nothing.  There was no piglet stuck, all pathways were clear.   I reported back to the vet who said that was it then.   If the boar missed his mark, she might have just had one piglet, which would have been the stillborn.    I politely agreed and put the phone down, not believing a word.   I know my Daisy, and she was goddamn pregnant with more than one piglet.   I decide to give it until eight fifteen and if nothing had happened by then I was going to call the vet and tell him to exchange his slippers for wellies and get down here.  

At five past eight the first live piglet came out.   It was a huge relief and Dee and I gave each other a congratulatory hug.   But here where the really stressful bit starts.   Daisy is a big old pig.   The piglets are tiny and not that quick on their feet at minutes old.   The piglets, without any intervention from Mum, find their own way round to her teats to start feeding.   Should Daisy rearrange her position at anytime, the piglets are in danger of getting crushed and it's a really easy thing to happen.   As a human, you feel the need to protect everyone, all at the same time and it's impossible... and REALLY stressful.    Especially as soon as you have a decent number of piglets all around her.   The thing is, if you do dive in and try and move them all out of the way when Daisy moves, you can make things alot worse.  Daisy was picking up on my stress and getting agitated herself, making her move around more and quickly too.   I was not helping.   In the end, Dee and I decided we'd be better off to go back to the house and have a cup of tea.   Daisy was coping well on her own and I was just flipping out.   

 
The first two piglets
 
Dee left at around nine and I carried on on my own.   The piglets just kept on coming!   By eleven, we'd reached ten and I was only going up to check on them every so often rather than hanging around stressing Daisy out.   At midnight I went up to check to find Daisy had inadvertently rolled on the biggest piglet and crushed it to death.   I felt awful.   Maybe, if I'd been around I could have saved it - but then I might have caused more stress causing Daisy to roll another way onto maybe two, or three piglets - who knows?  

I took the whole thing very badly.   I was exhausted and alone and felt totally responsible.   Farming was no longer the romantic notion of being outside all the time with chicks, ducklings and piglets at your feet in the beauty of a summer haze.   It was November, the middle of the night and I had a dead piglet that I had to deal with.   Farming seemed, at that moment, a life of extremes.   There are complete highs that little else can compete with and devastating lows.   It's all about life and death and both you deal with on a regular basis.   No wonder farmers get hardened to the fatalities of their livestock.   It's not because they don't care, it's because they have to in order to do the job they do.   And the job they do is absolutely essential.   Farming is essential (regardless of what the supermarkets think).  

I eventually got some sleep at 3am.   At 5am I got up again to check on everyone and then again at 7am.   I stayed up from there and stumbled through the next day in a complete zombie state.

The up shot is, we have nine very happy, healthy piglets and all are doing well.   They are now two weeks old and getting stronger by the day.

 
Nine happy and healthy piglets

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A Week with a WWOOFer

It's been an interesting week so far and it's only Wednesday.  It's strange, isn't it, when sometimes your path crosses with someone who shows you a different way of looking at things and who you know that even if your meeting is fleeting, they have made a mark that will linger for much, much longer.   And so it is with Steph the WWOOFer.   WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or, as Steph said, Willing Worker On Organic Farms and is a simple scheme whereby people can come and stay on your farm and work on the land with you in return for free board, lodgings and food.   We set ourselves up as a host farm earlier in the year and although we had quite a few people asking to stay I never felt it was the right time until I got an email from Steph.   Steph lives and works in Bristol, so is not a million miles away from here and, to be totally honest, that was part of the appeal.   I was quite nervous about having a complete stranger to stay with us so starting with someone who can easily jump in the car and be home in 20 mins seemed the best way to get used to the idea.   I think that the WWOOFer is supposed to learn a lot whilst staying with you, but I have to say I think it's been the other way round so far this week!

I guess by the whole set up of the scheme, you are going to get people who have a positive outlook on life, who like to live by organic and eco principles and who are hard working and Steph is definitely all of those things, but it's the things she does for fun that has struck me most.   It has struck me that her joie de vivre and her love of sharing within the community in which she lives, with no self gain or reason behind her projects, is part of her life force and makes her the positive person she is.  I don't want this blog to seem like a love in for Steph, but it has made me realise that as life goes on, it's very easy to keep on doing the things that bring you pleasure to a point where you stop doing new things.   For example, we love socialising with our friends, going to the pub and going out for meals.  So when we decide to have a break from work, that's what we do.  And I've stopped looking any further than that - to be honest, I'm usually to knackered to think any further than that.  But I think I may change.

To give you an example of the type of things Steph and her friends do, how about making 1,000 origami paper cranes (the birds not the building equimpent) and stringing them to a public tree in the middle of the night so that when people wake up in the morning they have a beautiful sight to walk past on their way to work.   How about then putting a visitors book in the tree that people can write comments on.   Or, at New Year, making that same tree a Resolution Tree and stringing hundreds of luggage tags on to it so people can put their resolutions on and encourgage people to be positive in their resolutions, so instead of giving something up they take something up instead.  Or, and this is my favourite, creating an International Homemade HobNob Day where, on a set day, people make homemade HobNobs and give them out to passers by on the street.   This last one started with Steph and her friends and now has 200 likes on it's Facebook page and is carried out in continents all over the world.... How Cool Is That!!

I think the thing that I love most about the things Steph does is that not only is it for her enjoyment but she shares that enjoyment with total strangers and has the ability to make them smile.  Some of the comments in the visitors book she left are great and really show that people love and appreciate the things she does.   It's just brilliant and has really struck a chord.

So Kingswood and Wotton - if you wake up to a tree covered in paper cranes, or have a homemade biscuit shoved in your face whilst you walk down the street, you know who to blame!  (Steph - I got all my inspiration from her - not me.)

This is Stephs website

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Piglets!

OK.   Am not that impressed with Mother Nature.. she's not quite the lovely, all's fair, virtuous woman I thought she was.. the Indian Summer that I was sure she would deliver after such an atrocious summer has not arrived and time is running out.   It's the 25th September and I am sitting here in a massive fleece with the log burner going at full tilt.  We have had major flooding in nearby places over the last 48hrs and the wind is howling.  The sun makes fleeting appearances between dark, heavy, grey clouds and quite frankly, I'm bloody cold.    I realise I am just reinforcing my nations reputation for, one; talking incessently about the weather and two; moaning (mainly about the weather) but I do feel a little justified in this instance.  

However, before I rant on into the ether, I will tell you of some of the lovely things happening at the farm.   Firstly, Nelly has had piglets!   This will come as no surprise to those of you who follow me or the farm on Facebook or Twitter as I have been relentless in my documentation of the piglets first few days of life.   It was a nerve wracking few days leading up to her giving birth.   In my naivety, I assumed that since she hadn't had them when I thought she would (on the 8th September) then they would be 3 weeks later since that is the time lapse between when pigs come on heat.   With this in mind, I happily arranged things to happen on the farm for the following weekend, safe in the knowledge that the piglets were not arriving until the 29th September.   WRONG!!    In my infinite wisdom, I held an Open Day for our new vegetable venture (more about that later) on Saturday 15th and invited all and sundry up to our vegetable plot (right by Nelly's pen) to come and see what we were up to and whether they wanted to join for next year.   It was the day before the Open Day, when Nelly started lactating that I realised my error and that, in fact, the piglets were imminnent!  Not great when you have a really heavily pregnant pig and a VERY skittzy pig owner who doesn't know what she's doing.  As a result, I was so worried about Nelly dropping at any minute, that I didn't give the Open Day my full attention.    As it turned out, Nelly crossed her legs for the whole of the Open Day and decided to have them the day after, which was remarkably selfless of her and for which I am extremely grateful.



She started nesting on Sunday morning, which involved her moving around all the straw in her pen to just the way she liked it and bringing in other bits and pieces that she thought might make her more comfortable.   It's an amazing thing to watch as she brought in twigs and big lumps of grass and arranged it in a nice shape.   She did this for a couple of hours before finally lying down.   Being as close to Nelly as I am and using her pregnancy as a substitue for those I haven't had, I was determined to be there every step of the way.   I had compiled a plastic container of all the things I though I would need including sterilising fluid, iodine spray, antiseptic spray, clean towel, plastic gloves, bars of chocolate, pick and mix sweets and a Maeve Binchy paperback.   I nestled myself into her pen on a couple of bales of straw and opened the first bar of chocolate.   

The first two piglets that were born were still born.   I don't know why but by the looks of them they had stopped forming some time ago and were not fully developed.   It's a horrible thing to see but after reading up, it's not uncommon.   Luckily, the other nine (yes, NINE), were all healthy and born without complications.   They are very gorgeous and growing immensly by the day.  





Another exciting thing to have happened is that I no longer have a proper job!  Unfortunatley, the company I was working for in London needed to shed a worker or two.   It's probably more scary than exciting really, but when these things happen you need to look at the positives in the situation.  My London job was great as I worked from home, only having to go to London once a month, and got paid a good, London rate.  However, it took time away from the farm and allowed me the comfort of not having to worry too much about what the farm brought in financially and therefore didn't put me in a position to push the farm and find out what it really can achieve.   I now have that opportunity and I intend to put it to good use.   I am sure that what we have here is good.  The farm is a beautiful place, I think we have good ethics and believe wholeheartedly in what we are doing and most importantly, what we produce.  Our pork is second to none, the holiday let is lovely, and we are about to extend our vegetable plot to produce really good veg boxes to the local community.

Which brings me nicely onto the other exciting thing!  EdgeVeg!   This is what the Open Day was all about.   As mentioned, we are looking to provide weekly veg boxes to the local community but with the added benefit that they can get involved in the growing of the veg if they want.   People can become members of the plot and can come and dig, weed, sow or just sit amongst the vegetables and chill!  We will have social events for members including BBQ's in summer, bonfires and such like so it becomes a real community, eating great food.   Hopefully it will prove popular, but only time will tell. http://www.edgeveg.org


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Escaping Pigs and Mother Nature

And so our attentions have turned to pork.  With the Good Housekeeping Award tucked under our belts we are doing our best to promote our fantastic pork and get some restaurants on board.  To this end I met with the lovely Nick and Christophe of the Cotswold Food Club last week when they came to visit the farm and meet the pigs.  Nick and Christophe own five fabulous restaurants, one is acutally a hotel too.  Each restaurant is dedicated to providing great local produce and the couple scour the county in search of the very best ingredients for their tables.  Regular guests at the restaurants can join the Cotwold Food Club, which for an annual fee, gives the member fantastic discounts in all of their restaurants and hotel as well as the ability to buy wholesale wines and meat to enjoy at home.  It's a brilliant concept and one which we are really excited to get involved with. To find out more click here

Other than that, we have two tiny trouble spots on our Park Mill Farm heaven.   The first one is pig shaped - in fact there's three of them - they just keep on escaping.  They don't seem to have any fear of the electric fence and are the 'hard nuts' of the pig world.  They 'eek' when they come under the fence and then 'eek' when they go back into the pen and just seem to bear out the short zap and braisen through it!   Yesterday, Olly called me to let me know they were in the front of the Cow Shed (a far distance from their pen) and needed me to herd them back in... easier said than done let me tell you!   When pigs don't want to do something there is little you can do to stop them.   It was when they started heading off down the driveway that I really started to panic!   Finally, we got in to a routine of leaving a trail of pig nuts for them to follow which eventually lead back to their pen - I have a horrible feeling though that this won't be the last time this happens and I expect to see them running up the driveway everytime I look up from my desk!

Our other little trouble spot is the weather - in fact, it's not really a trouble spot and there's little I can do about it so I really shouldn't worry that much, but I do feel a little cheated.   Living here can be a case of extremes.  In winter, life can be quite harsh with no central heating and a big old damp house.   The pigs make loads of mud and you constantly feel cold.   It's not easy sometimes, but the thought of life in the summer makes it all worthwhile.   In the summer, life at the farm is idyllic, it's absolutely gorgeous.  The farm is beautiful and alive with colour and life.  BBQ's are abound with our great pork.  We eat well, work hard and play even harder - it's great.   So when summer arrives and you are still knee deep in mud, still feel constantly damp, there are no BBQ's in sight and the flowers have been trampled on by the incessant rain you are bound to feel a little cheated.  Where's my pay off?  Where is the break from the mud?   I don't know Mother Nature that well, she's the sort of person I would greet with eye contact and a casual 'hello' at a party and be able to hold a conversation knowing her husband and childrens names but we wouldn't arrange to go and have supper together (do you see where I'm coming from with this analogy, because I have to say, I've lost myself a little here!)  What I'm trying to say is, I think she's a fair woman and I would like to think that because she is a fair woman we are going to have a beautiful Indian summer in September and October and I will no longer feel cheated..  What do you think?
May have to split this blog into lots of little blogs for fear of this entry turning into a novel.   It's just under a month since my last confession and there is so much to tell.  
Let me start with my proper job.  For the last four and a half years now I have been working for a company in London assisting with age related mystery shopping (not in person, I hasten to add, I look far too haggard to pass as a thirty year old, let alone an 18 yr old).  It has been a job which I have been able to do from home, in my own time with only the occasional trip to London for meetings.  In short, it has been a fantastic job and one which has allowed me to devote time to the farm and my family whilst bringing in a nice little earner...  The only thing is that it makes life 'comfortable'.   Although the farm still has to pay it's way in order for us to live here, my London income has made that quite easy.   It takes away the absolute need and driven hunger to survive that gives a lot of small businesses the edge they need to make them work.   We have spent the last three and a half years juggling both employed jobs and the farm in order to make ends meet but it is now time for the farm to spread it's wings and flutter it's way to it's first flight of self sufficiency.  To really mix my metaphores..  I'm taking the stabilizers away.   And I'm scared to death!  As from the end of August I will be working full time on the farm.  As I say the words out loud I am filled with an enormous sense of excitement and anxiety at the same time.   I know we can make this work but now I have to prove it!

In other news, I was bemused a little when a book I ordered through Amazon came through the post the other day.  As research in how not to rear chickens for meat I brough a book called 'Planet Chicken - the shameful story about the bird on your plate'.    I brought it as a way to renew my vows to the high standards of animal welfare that we have here and to steel charge my resolve to not eat chicken from a restaurant,supermarket or shop unless I know how it was reared and where it came from.  You can imagine the irony when the book came wrapped in a Tesco bag!


 
Lastly, the end of June, and a small break in the weather gave us the opportunity to work with a local photographer to create a wedding shoot for country styled weddings.   The day was a huge success with the front orchard being turned into a perfect wedding venue - even the chicks got to play a role!  My friend, Kay, and I styled the event which was brilliant fun and we both giggled like typical 40 something women, when the very gorgeous, young, male model undressed in front of us!  We tried our best to concentrate on folding up the bunting but it just wasn't happening!!




Monday, 18 June 2012

Olly and I have just come to the end of a really busy few weeks and have decided to take the next couple of weeks to consolidate where we are and what we're doing.   It is a well needed task and there seems to be an absolute endless list of things we need to do just to keep treading water, let alone move forward.   I know I keep banging on about this, but I really can't believe that we're in June - not only does the weather fool you into thinking that it's earlier in the year than it is, but the passage of time seems to quicken to a frightening pace... I dare not blink for fear of opening my eyes and finding I'm 84.   Anyhoo, we are on day one of our consolidation few weeks and I have to say I seem to be swaying from being absolutely, and utterly daunted with the amount of things we have to do and achieve this year to being uber excited about all the things we have to do and achieve this year!   

The Good Housekeeping Award has really boosted my confidence as to how far we could go with the pork side of things.  Although you know you rear fantastic tasting pork it's not until you get recognition for it that you have confidence to believe you're not just being biased!  Sounds stupid when I say it out loud, but it's true.   When we had the visit from Raymond Blancs chefs at his Bath and Bristol Brasseries I promised to deliver them samples of our pork belly joints - a cunning plan on my behalf, as this will entail Olly coming with me and we might as well have lunch whilst we're there, surely!   In the same vein I am making a list of great restaurants in the area who may be interested in sourcing good local pork and have every intention on visiting them all for lunch too.   It only seems right, and is purely done in the name of research and definitely not done in the name of self indulgence!

I am also toying with the idea of compiling a book about life on our Gloucestershire smallholding.  I asked Olly whether we could keep bees (knowing full well that there would be no 'we' about it and I was actually asking whether he could keep bees on my behalf) to which he replied he would keep bees if I wrote a book.   Bit of an odd request, I thought.   But if it means I get to spread our own honey on freshly baked bread then I will certainly give it a go.   I mean, I've got three and a half years of blog entries under my belt so at least I have some point from which to start - I realise that an author that makes me not - but I'm willing to give it a go.   Writing it, I should imagine, is the easy part.. getting it published must be an entirely different matter!

The next lot of chicks have hatched and are a lively little bunch.   We've got nine and unlike the others these are all yellow.   Most of them are Light Sussex breed but there are a couple from our lovely brown hen and will be brown and white, I expect.   They hatched the day I got back from Greece so are now a week old and being very cute.   They keep jumping out of their box and having a little run around the edge and then jumping back.   They keep Olly and I company in our office with there continual chirping.   The other little ones are now outside full time and growing fast.   I think Pavarotti, our Light Sussex cockeral has very strong male genes as a greater than average number of cockerals seem to be coming through.  I would like these last lot to be not quite so male dominated but I don't hold out a great deal of hope.  Either way, they are very gorgeous - not great for increasing our egg laying capacity however!



It's now quarter to ten and still really light.   I love it when it's like this but feel cheated when I'm too tired to stay up until it's dark!  The chickens love the fact that they can scratch around until dusk which can be annoying when wanting an early night, although I do feel a bit of a light weight when even the chickens stay out later than I do!

And on that note, dear reader, I am going to haul myself off my chair, don my rigger boots and go and put the chooks away.  After that, I'm off to bed. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

It's in my veins!

Having a fabulous week in Greece! I know! Greece!! Who would have thought there is a world outside Park Mill Farm, but I assure you there is! News to me too! AND the sun does exist! It is not the mythical globe of fire that I thought only existed in dreams and legends - it's been here all along! Unfortunately, Olly still has to be convinced of it's reality as he remained in Blighty to look after the farm, and yes! I do feel incredibly guilty! And if the truth be known, missing him and the farm terribly! The farm has become such an integral part of our lives that I feel my right arm has been cut off. I miss the routine of feeding everyone each morning, of making sure all the animals are well and happy, filling up their water troughs and getting them ready for the day ahead. I miss the continual activities that need to be done, mowing, weeding, lugging bags of animal food around, all of that. It's nice to have a rest but has made me realise that there's no turning back from farm life now... It's well and truly part of me and life without it would be unimaginable... Can you tell I've been reading trashy novels??

Monday, 28 May 2012

Award Winning Pork!

WE'VE WON AN AWARD!!!!!!.. and I'm just a little excited about it!   Got a call from the Food Editor of Good Housekeeping magazine on Wednesday saying that she's really sorry but had sent the invitation to Good Housekeeping Food Awards to the wrong address and only just realised... could I be up at Lancaster House in London that evening to accept an award from Prue Leith?!   'Hell yes!' was my reply.   Donned my party frock and off I skipped!   Unfortunately, at such short notice, Olly couldn't come with me which is a real shame.   It was really nerve wracking walking into such an amazing venue on my own with all these foodie celebraties there!

It all started around early March when I got an email saying we'd been nominated for Best Small Meat Producer at the GH Food Awards 2012 by Slow Food UK and would we mind terribly sending some sausages and pork chops up for the lovely people of GH to taste.    This I did and then heard nothing, until Wednesday!   How cool is that??    Of course, Olly and I cannot take all the credit.   The pigs are the real winners but it is great to be recognised for high welfare standards and great tasting pork.   To quote the July issue of Good Housekeeping 'Hand reared to the highest welfare standards, these pigs lead a happy life in an orchard with plenty of space to forage and root around.  And wow, does the meat taste better for it!'



In other news, the farm is certainly hotting up!   We've had a magnificent bout of sunshine and we seemed to go from torrential rain to blazing heat in the blink of an eye.   Quite bizarre to wade around in a quagmire of mud one week with the rain hurtleing at you sideways to go to really strict water management and watering wallowing holes for the pigs the next.   However, after all that rain the fields are looking amazing with the grass tall and lush and the buttercups at their peak.




The chicks are also doing well.   With this weather it's great not to have to worry about them getting too cold and they stay outside from dawn til dusk.   I'm still bringing them into the house at night though but hopefully they can live outside sometime soon.



Life just seems to be a continual rota of weeding and mowing to keep the farm looking good.   It's exhausting but it really is the most brilliant place to be when the sunshines!!    Long may it continue (with occasional rain showers to fill up the water butts!)

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Sunshine!!!

Hoorah!!  Sunshine!   And lots of it.  It is amazing how fantastic this place is in the sunshine... I LOVE IT!  All the animals seem happier - no one more so than the pigs.   Their pens are drying out and they no longer have to slop around the place, although there are patches where it is still quite quagmireish and it catches you unaware when you are feeding them.   All of a sudden you sink and at the mid point of drying out the mud is really sticky.  I had to physically try and lift my foot out of the mud with my hands yesterday evening and let me tell you, dear reader, that's not as easy as it sounds when you have a 80kg Large Black bearing down on you wanting her supper!

The grass is that illuminous green that it becomes when it's been well watered and happy - you can almost see everything growing before your eyes - it's great.

We also have the chicks, who, like the grass, seem to sprout wings and feathers overnight.   The big chicks that hatched a couple of months ago are now big enough to go free range around the farm and are loving the freedom.   The grass is as long as they are big and it's great to see their bright red combs bobbing along amongst the buttercups and lush green sea!   Unfortunately, the batteries have gone on my camera so I haven't got any photos to show you but I will get some and post them later.

Monday, 7 May 2012

When will it ever end???   The rain, I mean.   Here we are at the beginning of May with no end in sight!  April wasn't too bad as you could put it down to April Showers and for once the climate seemed to be doing what it was supposed to and when, but now we're in May and it's still bloody cold.  It just seems wrong.   I really don't mean to moan - especially about the weather - we Brits seem to be a little too good at that, but come on!  And when you have pigs as well, it makes for a lot of mud.   When I go to feed them now I get fully kitted up with waterproof trousers, coat, wellies and gloves and with good reason - I come back absolutely covered!   Having said that, it is fantastic exercise and I am sure I will be able to crack walnuts with my inner thighs soon.  Wading through mud trying to dodge 8 hungry pigs who'd sooner trample you down face first to get to their food than look at you is a fantastic workout.. especially when your wellies get stuck in the mud and no amount of lifting will release the suction made in the ankle deep quagmire you are in.   It's at that point that the pigs come bearing down on you in search of the contents of the bucket!  

We had Walter arrive at the farm today.   Walter is a very handsome Oxford Sandy and Black boar who has come to visit Nelly for three weeks.  I'm not sure Nelly is that enamoured at the moment and thinks that Walter has no use except to be a minor irritant at feeding time when she's trying to ram as much food down her throat as she possibily can, but I am hoping that her feelings towards him will change as she gets used to having a man around the house.   We have put Nelly and Walter in a seperate enclosure right near the house, mainly so we can keep an eye on them but also to keep Walters keen sense of smell away from Daisy, who is our other gilt who will also be coming into season at some point over the next three weeks.  I'm nervous enough about having one pig 'in pig' but to accidently get them both pregnant at the same time would be a handful to say the least.   Daisy is not amused that she's been left in Sunset field with other six little pigs that we've got - I get the distinct impression that she finds them extremely immature and just a little rowdy for her.  However, I know she will see the benefit of Nelly being elsewhere when supper time comes around and she won't be bolstered out of the way like she normally is.

Walter giving Nelly a kiss!


In other farm news, my favourite apple tree succumbed to the storms last weekend.   It was such a shame to wake up on Sunday morning to the sight of it twisted and knarled and on the ground.   The blossom was just about to come out too, and it would have looked beautiful.



We also moved the chicks that hatched earlier this year to a bigger enclosure.   They are loving their new spot and the inside of their shed looks like a proper front room!   We put some old garden furniture in there for them to roost on and it looks very homely!   Unfortunately, out of the 16 chicks that hatched 11 of them are cockerals!  What are the chances??   At least it means we'll have great chicken as well as pork in our freezer this year.    The next lot of eggs in the incubator are due to hatch over the next couple of days so I'll post pictures as soon as they've hatched.  Hopefully the boy to girl ratio will be a little more even this time!

The Chicken House

Monday, 13 February 2012

We are what we eat

I was all geared up to write another happy post about life on the farm. The hilarities of trying to get our gilt ‘in pig’ and the hatching of 14 and counting chicks over the last seven days. But something has halted me in my tracks.

Whilst trailing through the tweets of time on Twitter I came across a really disturbing video. It was harrowing. I could not even watch it all the way through. Once I clicked ‘stop’ I then sat with the images in my head for a while wondering what to do with them. I am not a ‘scare monger’ and do not wish to shock anyone but what I saw is a story that must be told and, I am sorry to say, one that is repeated everyday, in this country and all over the world time and time again. I almost implore you not to watch it… I hate things like these.

The video shows the workings of a pork farm in Norfolk. I beg you, even if you cannot watch it, to really think about the next piece of meat you take off the supermarket shelf. Read the label, ask the question. The farm in the video is a ‘Quality Assured’ Red Tractor farm. This symbol is not enough. I cannot stress to you more, the importance of buying meat from small producers who love and respect their animals. Whose animals are kept in a natural environment with land to roam and sun on their backs. Who are cared for and nurtured, and most importantly, where YOU can go and see them, should you so wish. Reconnect with your food. We are in the middle of a food revolution in this country, and you are never far from a really good meat producer or from an outlet that stocks their meat.

Think about what you buy and where it has come from, even if you don’t want to because it’s uncomfortable. Just try. It maybe a little more inconvenient. It may be a little more expensive (although not always the case), but can you really stomach the alternative? Picture the animal whilst it was alive and think about the producer you’re buying from, and the retail outlet. Put these words in your head as you reach for that packet of sausages, or Sunday joint… Do you know where it’s come from?

I don’t mean to be dark and sinister about this. After all, when you do source happy meat from well looked after animals the difference is easy to spot. It tastes fantastic!!
Watch if you want.. it’s not pleasant viewing..

It’s now the 14th Feb.. the following day after writing this blog post. I have decided to take off the video showing the pig farm in Norfolk. It’s too disturbing.. if I cannot watch it then why should I ask other people to. For those of you who want to watch it I’m sure you’ll be able to tract it down, for the rest of you, you can imagine the sort of video I’m talking about.

It is not something I want Park Mill Farm to be associated with at all, even if it is pointing out the other end of the spectrum to how we think. I firmly believe in the values that we have here at the farm and am totally dedicated to ensuring that not only does the produce we grow and rear here taste fantastic but that every animal on the farm is treated with the utmost respect and love. I care. I never want to stop caring. I never want to eat meat from animals that have been subjected to cruelty, pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones or kept from roaming free. I refuse to buy something that I disagree with purely because it’s convenient and been wrapped up and glossed over by a massive corporation. Human beings are blessed with being the most powerful species on the planet, we total abuse that power when we commit atrosities like these. We are, in this country, priveledged enough to choose what we put in our mouths – and that goes for everyone.

Whilst I don’t expect everyone to be able to change their shopping habits very easily, it would be really great if everyone just thought a little more about what they are buying. Think about whether, in their heart of hearts they can justify the journey that that animal took to arrive in their hands. If you can, it’s your choice and is to be respected. I’m not here to dictate or judge. Merely to point out there is a choice here and as with all choices you need to have all the information at hand to make the correct one.

Here endeth the lesson…

Monday, 23 January 2012

I can noticeably see the days lengthen now. Whereas a month ago I would have to feed the pigs before four to give me a fighting chance of wading through the pig enclosure and being slimed with mud from eager snouts in daylight, I can now have the anticipation of that pleasure until at least five. It’s a sure sign of things to come and my optimism and energy that I had with the turning of the year has not abated… not one bit! In fact, and I don’t mean to be sickeningly smug, but I am positively buzzing with everything that’s going on around here.

Nelly, my lovely Gloucestershire Old Spot gilt will be coming into season in just under two weeks time. This will require a swift call to the Artificial Insemination place in Northern Ireland who supply the largest variety of rare breed predigree semen, to get a Class A grade batch to be sent PDQ. I know! I can hear you all say it! Why, oh why don’t you let Nelly get some real action? Well, the answer, dear reader, is simple. I can’t find a boar good enough for her who’s near enough to come and visit (or visa versa). So, I’m afraid, I’m just going to have to do. Be under no illusion that this is a process I’m looking forward to any more than I’m sure Nelly is. The thought of sticking a plastic tube up a pigs behind is way more than I ever thought I would ever do. But I’m up for the challenge and with a very healthy dose of luck behind us we may even have our first litter of piglets by the end of May. Fingers crossed everyone!


The Gorgeous Nelly

It’s also the time of the year to plan the vegetable garden. I always love doing this as it holds so much promise, but this year more than ever. This year we plan to grow enough veg to start a small veg box scheme in the village. Our egg round has proved very popular and we think this would be good extension to it. To that end the seeds have been arranged and placed into envelopes labelled with the weeks they need to be sown, succession weeks have been booked in to ensure a steady flow of veg and as it’s been so mild, I’ve even started sowing a few. Monty Don doesn’t sow anything until 13th Feb but I just can’t wait that long! I’m hoping with the help of a little heat from our garden heater the seeds that I’ve started will germinate to get the growing season going. As for the patch itself, well the pigs are working that at the moment and are being very productive with their rotorvating and fertilizing. We’re going to be moving them to new pasture on Saturday so that we can start marking out beds and making paths.


The Seed System

I’ve also got an incubator full of eggs from our chickens. I’m not sure how many will hatch as Pavarotti, our resident cockerel, doesn’t seem to have the sexual prowess that is often needed in the wooing of young hens! The girls are young and this will be their first Spring but if some of them do hatch out then it will up our egg production for the year ahead which would be brilliant.


Ever hopeful

So, all in all, we’re gearing up for a fantastic Spring. Piglets, chicks, seedlings, blossom and bloom. Here’s hoping for a ‘Baby Central’..

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Resolutions

New Years Resolutions..
1. Be more organised
2. Loose weight
3. Stop faffing (although 1. should sort this out)
4. Keep up to date with blog
5. Make time for everyone, from helping little old lady cross road to ‘quality time’ with husband..

…. Wait… Stop (sound of needle being ripped from record player – for those who can remember that far back).

I seem to be trapped in some sort of annual Ground Hog Day. These are all nothing new, they are all exactly what I said last year, and the year before that and, more than likely, the year before that. I think each time they last until about 20th Jan (the loosing weight one, 4th Jan) and then I wander back to my usual state whereby my perception of busyness out strips my actual getting things done at a ratio of approximately 100:1. So maybe it’s time for a proper change, not just meaninglessly writing a list of things you’d like to be knowing that the liklihood of you getting there is slim to never. Maybe it’s time to have a bit of a rethink about where we are and where we would like to be. I saw a fantastic ‘tweet’ over the Christmas period from a friend of mine. Ed Dowding, I apologise profusely for this blantant plagerism but what you said struck a chord… and I quote ‘How can leaders warn of a grim 2012? We have people, resources, need, opportunity and desire… what are we lacking exactly?’
Over the last couple of weeks, if anyone has mentioned 2012 to me, I have responded in a cautious tone, sometimes even dodgy builderish in fashion, with a sharp intake of air through my teeth…’it’s going to be a tough one’ I would say.. ‘not going to be easy’. But surely by having this perception of making it difficult I have given myself an uphill slope before I have even began. We are extremely fortunate. We have people (albeit just the husband and I), we have resources, we most definitely have the need, opportunity and desire. There should be nothing stopping us. Whilst I admit that we are no longer in the land of milk and honey, we are certainly not on our uppers yet. We have the most amazing opportunity to share our good fortunes of where we live and the fantastic food we grow and rear and people want to share it with us. The fact that we sold out of our Christmas pork and had lots of lovely people visit us last year is testiment to that… and above all, above the fact that we are not ‘rolling in it’ and we work really hard… we love it!

This morning a tree fell down at the top of our driveway in the strong gales. It’s not our tree and it didn’t fall on our land however, to be out there with chainsaws in the driving rain throwing massive lumps of Ash tree into the back of a trailor was brilliant. It’s farm life at it’s more ragged edge and to help friends and be part of the community is brilliant. To be honest, I couldn’t think of a better way to start the year… I could think of warmer ways and possibily nicer ways but better ones would be hard to beat.

I think this could be said for the state of Britain in general. Waking up to the Today programme on Radio 4 is beyond dismal. News is bleak and before you’ve even made it to the bathroom you are ready to pack it all in and go back to bed. Yet could you imagine the difference in Britains state of mind if for one week there was nothing but good news to be reported. Instead of Auntie and the rest of the media gang telling us we are all in for it and life is only going to get worse, wouldn’t it be great if they tried a little reverse phsychology. Could you imagine John Humphreys telling us not to worry and it’s all going to be OK, cracking a little joke and interviewing Miranda Hart instead of some dodgy politician whos hell bent on slagging off the opposition rather than telling us what their policies actually are. You could take it one step further, you could make it law to smile at everyone you see, banish road rage and make it compulsory for bus drivers to wait whilst you run down the street after them. By creating a positive mental attitude in people surely it would make 2012 a better year.. who knows.

So my New Years Resolutions for this year? Let me rewrite the list..

1. We have people, resources, need, opportunity and desire…. go get ‘em!!

Happy New Year
x

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