I would say 'it's been one of those months', but really the universe has been defecating on us at every given opportunity now for about six weeks. I won't bore you with all the ins and outs, but suffice to say that things with a vanishingly small chance of happening seem to well...happen. I would say that buying a lottery ticket would be a good idea, but it seems that this kind of 'luck' is limited to only rubbish outcomes.One example. There's a 6% chance of a bitch giving birth to just one puppy. And, judging by the three ultrasound scans she's had, it seems like just that is going to be poor Bonnie's outcome. Singleton puppies can be hard to whelp as they grow so big, so there a 50% chance of our poor girl having to have a C section. If both she and the pup make it (even writing that makes me shudder as it means thinking about the possibility that they might not), then socialising a single puppy can be a lot of extra work. We just have to sit tight and wait and see what happens, I guess.
The builds on Orchard Barn and Mill Barn continue apace, but perhaps deciding to undertake a month long renovation of our kitchen, which sits square in the middle of the farmhouse, wasn't a good thing to pile on top of everything else. Not having a kitchen for a long period of time is strangely crippling. I never thought I would say this, but I miss cooking! We are living on microwave meals, the kindness of friends and family who are prepared to invite us over for dinner and eating out A LOT. The old kitchen had been in for thirty years and was reluctant to come out- especially the old green oil fired Aga. Seeing the empty space where it once sat was a bit sad.
One of the few silver linings in the last six weeks has also broken our hearts a little bit. Jon's wonderful young Shire cross gelding- Big Lad- simply wasn't getting enough work with us and it was increasingly difficult to justify keeping a huge pet. We had always looked at him and said how much he looked like he should be a police horse, so after a false start with the Northumbria force, we managed to arrange a visit from the head of the mounted division at Avon and Somerset, who thought he was wonderful and took him on a month long trial up at their base in Clevedon. He passed with flying colours, and will live a life like no other with them. The wonderful addendum is that is is written into his contract of sale that when he retires at age 20, he is returned to us. We are so proud of our ice cream munching comedian of a big horse and look forward to following his journey through the force's Twitter account.
It's at this time of year, when the anniversary of our moving onto the farm comes around, that I attempt to take stock of where we are and get somewhat philosophical. Often, we get frustrated by what we deem a lack of progress on the farm; we lose sight of the 'bigger picture.' I behold again the ugly patterned 1970s carpet that still lingers on the stairs, the rusted, cruel barbed fencing that needs replacing, the earth floor of the horse barn that is gradually eroding away into dust.
Whilst wearing the hair shirt of 'all that is not yet done', I forget that we've both climbed mountains, both in terms of what we have physically built here and how much knowledge we have acquired in these four years. Neither of us are particularly self congratulatory or boastful people and we struggle with those who are, preferring to frame anything we might have achieved in a 'well, anyone could have done it' manner. But perhaps not anyone could have done it. Maybe only we could have done what we have done here. We've launched ourselves into learning to 'farm' (whatever that means) and kept breeding herds of cattle, sheep and pigs thriving, with good standards of welfare. We are self sufficient in meat and can legally sell our quality produce to the public, though most of it goes to appreciative family and friends. How many hundreds of meals have been enjoyed as a result of our efforts?
The three barn conversions Jon and his team have built are really rather beautiful and are let to people who love the experience of living on the farm. We are halfway through another two-they're more technical as they are older and made from cob- but they'll be finished by the close of 2021. And though those retro carpets linger in corners of the main farmhouse, two thirds of it is 'done', with some spaces so good that they make us glow with pride every time we enter them. We've bred puppies, left jobs, got married in secret, knocked down walls both literal and metaphorical, been snowed in, flooded, baked in the sun. This month the house finally changed colour, from a nauseating mustard to a cool cream, with grey green windows, and it felt triumphant- like something fundamental had changed. The change of colour is so visible, so iconic. It's placing your stamp on a place in a very obvious and assertive way. I think that, and then of the numerous folk who have painted walls here (who doubtless thought they were also doing something momentous and lasting) over it's six hundred year existence and realise that we are a mere sniff of a moment in the life of this house. We are achieving everything, and yet nothing of note. It all depends on how you frame it, I suppose.
We've gone all 'pop' for week 5 of the build, with an appearance from our celebrity look a like concrete dude.
A bit of supercool r' n' b for week 4, when we have to draft in help from other areas of the project to help lay concrete, We also introduce the world's worst boyband....
We've upped the ante with week two, having realised that the team that work on site bear a striking resemblance to some of the characters from our favourite eighties film- Jim Henson's 'Labyrinth.' Throw in a bit of class American hip-hop and you have yourself an account of week 2. Definitely not Grand Designs....
If you like big yellow dancing diggers or the Wu Tang Klan this is your week. Watch Team Farrantshayes (with a guest appearance from Lewis, the man with a crush(er) mash up some concrete in noisy style...
Renovating three listed barns during a global pandemic? Well, we do like a challenge or three. We are going to keep a sporadic video diary of our progress. Watch this space!
The lockdown that dominates the headlines is allowing us to really immerse ourselves into farm life. It all feels rather surreal, if I'm honest and it's ironic that as we are all being told to stay in, the animals are all being liberated after a long winter indoors. The pigs went first, throwing themselves around enthusiastically, ears a-flopping. The really big day was letting the cows out- one of my favourite days of the year and a moment I always try to catch on camera.
We've always tried to think about how we can use the farm to help the wider community. Last year we gave a donation of meat to the CHAT food bank in Tiverton. I put a shout out to see if anyone was struggling because of the pandemic and needed a food parcel; we've helped a couple of local families in this way. We were also really proud to donate almost 10kg of our Ruby beef to Vitamin Sea, a newly opened restaurant in Cullompton whose owner Caley is cooking meals for the YMCA and Bread of Life outreach to distribute to those in need. Read all about it on the following link:
On 18th April it was resident 'golden oldie' Ernie's 25th birthday! It's a great age for a horse and several other Arabs of his age owned by friends of mine have recently passed on, so I'm aware that every day with him is a gift. He's a grumpy old cuss, but we love him dearly.He can still shift and loves to show off his turn of speed, reminding us that he was a winning racehorse back in the day! He enjoyed a birthday carrot or three....
Having waved our little herd of Mangalitsa goodbye (minus Tilly), we needed to shift our focus on developing our new breeding herd of British Lops. We had already bought two rather nice gilts from an established pedigree local herd several months ago and 'Vicky' and 'Jo' were well settled in at the farm. Their docile natures have shown them to be a credit to the breed and we were finding them very easy to handle and move around the farm. Those gorgeous floppy ears are rather endearing!
Of course we were going to need a boar. We toyed with the idea of using AI (Artificial Insemination) as we do with the cows but eventually decided against it, as you have to watch very closely for signs of heat in a pig. So we managed to find a strapping young man who was just about ready for his own ladies and travelled all the way up to the Highclere Estate (better known as the location of Downton Abbey) to collect the lucky boy, who we have named 'Duke'. Lady Caernarvon, who owns Highclere, is a big fan of these floppy eared pigs and her herd have even been featured on Countryfile.
Of course, the latter half of this month has been dominated by the lockdown happening a a result of Coronavirus. We are doing our best to keep all the animals safe and well, as well as making sure that we leave the farm as little as possible. We're lucky enough to have a new dairy set up down the road who are delivering beautiful milk, eggs, bread and honey. Work on the conversion of our annexe has ground to a halt. Our main concern is for the health and wellbeing of our family, friends and community- if you are local, read this blog and are in need of anything we may be able to help with then drop me a line on email@example.com.
Over the Christmas we made a bit of a decision. Having lovingly built up our herd of Mangalitsa over the last three years, we decided that it was time to change breeds. Whilst we were extremely fond of them as characters, we just didn't have the route to market (or time to work out the route to market, more realistically!) to sell the charcuterie, I was getting fewer and fewer enquiries for weaners and finally (probably most importantly) Jon doesn't actually even like charcuterie! We had had some wonderful times taking them to shows and meeting all kinds of people, but it was time to say 'au revoir'.
In addition, there had been very pleasing developments in the final stage of our marathon of planning applications. We had been granted permission to convert three of our old cob barns into holiday lets and the old cider barn into a small farm shop, from which we will be able to sell the meat we produce on the holding! We've been selling pork, lamb and beef to our friends and family over the last few years and one thing that has become increasingly evident is that classic, good quality bacon and sausage is what sells. Charcuterie is a far more expensive product (and rightly so - it takes fifteen months to bring on a premium charcuterie Mangalitsa) and therefore a harder sell.
Fortunately, within days of making the decision a community interest farm came to view the herd and last week they were all loaded into a trailer to begin new lives. They will be grown on to provide premium Mangalitsa pork for a very smart newly renovated hotel in Rock, in Cornwall.The head chef there has contacted me and is thrilled to be working with such an incredible and rare product. We have kept old Tilly, our first Mangalitsa, as a pet (sentimental, I know) and Jamie, the younger boar is still with us and looking for a new home. as the farm didn't want two boars. I will always look back fondly on our time with the breed; the picture on the left is of the day we brought Pumba the boar (left) and Tilly (right) home and I have to admit I cried my eyes out saying goodbye to Pumba, but fortunately we can go and visit the whole herd as their new home is open to the public.
Brr! We have had the most beautiful run of frosty days on the farm recently. I've just come in from giving Ernie, our old horse, some warm 'pony porridge'. His neigh of happiness made it worth venturing out in the cold.
We've applied for a grant from Devon County Council to plant more trees on and around the farm this year-specifically in this area picture on the left. We are already in the middle tier of the Countryside Stewardship scheme, an agri environment scheme run by the government. However, we want to do even more. Though we are only a small farm- tiny by commercial standards- we can all do our bit.
Earlier this month our three cockapoo puppies went off to their new homes, which was a bittersweet pleasure. We loved having them around and giving them the best possible start in life. it's now down to their lovely new owners to take over the mantle. We are looking forward to having them all back for a BBQ this summer and seeing how they've grown! Rearing a litter of pups is certainly not for the faint hearted- we only had three and were exhausted by the end of the process!
Rusty and Bonnie are certainly enjoying having a rest and all the extra attention!
All the cattle and pigs are inside at this time of the year in their new accommodation in the top sheds. Not only does this mean that they aren't poaching up the land and damaging the soil, it also gives us the opportunity to get up close to them and check them over thoroughly as well as AI (artificially inseminate) our female cows, Audrey, Petal and Marion as they come into season so that we have calves in ten months time.We don't have a bull, mainly because it's hardly worth it for just the three of them but also because of the extra dangers associated with them. We've certainly had some very nice calves through AI, for which we use a super bull- Forde Abbey Omega.
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