Bringing home the milk

Our first house cows; Primrose (left) and Sunshine (right)

Our first house cows; Primrose (left) and Sunshine (right)

It has been a few years now since we lost our house cows as TB reactors and they have been sorely missed. We have not been completely without cattle in that time, but none of whom have worked out as a bomb-proof provider of the household milk that we need.

The plan has always been to get another cow and after several failed attempts we decided to go right back to the start and go through what it was we need from a cow: a small breed of cow that does well on rough grazing, something hardy that can live out all year and a young calf who could fit into the family and our set-up right from the start.

To begin with I was very set on a Jersey or Jersey-cross as that is what worked so well for us in the past. There is something special about Jerseys too; the shape, feel and sound of them somehow added to the ‘real cow’ feel to me. However they don’t really meet all the requirements we have as they are not the hardest of breeds and don’t do so well on poorer grazing. Also for me personally the milk from pure breed Jerseys is too rich and so I can only drink it once it has been skimmed or cooked.

Dexters seem like the obvious breed meeting our needs but having had three different heifers plus followers since we started keeping cattle in 2001 I have come to hate the breed; they have an un-tame streak in them that makes them difficult to manage and seem to escape from anywhere and everywhere whenever they see fit (three or four times a day at one point when we had our first mother and daughter team). Perhaps one hand reared from a calf would be different but I felt I wouldn’t have the same enthusiasm for a Dexter calf as other breeds.

After mother researched a few breeds (I was still set on a Jersey calf at this point) she came across shetlands; who fitted all our needs being small, hardy and ‘the original house cow’ although nowadays are mostly kept for meat. So I was convinced to go and see a herd who had some six month calves for sale.

Red Shetland herd - July 2013

Red Shetland herd – July 2013

Red Shetland herd - July 2013

Red Shetland herd – July 2013

When we came away we agreed that Shetlands seemed right, although the ones we had visited weren’t the right ones for us.

Shetlands were originally classed as a dairy breed grazing in the harsh environment of the Shetland Isles were they developed as a breed on the isolated islands to provide milk for the Crofters even from it’s poor grazing and pasture land.  Shetlands became a duel-purpose breed when breeders where encouraged to cross them with meater breeds, and after the second world war the Government denied subsidies to breeders unless they were crossed with bigger cattle which caused the breed to become classed as ‘critically endangered’ in 1981 by The Rare Breed Survival Trust when little more than 100 pure bred cows and bulls could be found. Shetland Cattle are now kept mostly on the mainland and have crept up the The Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s  watched list to ‘at risk’ meaning there are 450 – 750 pure breed cattle that are known about.

We wanted a young calf to bottle feed, ideally about six weeks old however possibly as old as three months if nothing younger was available. Although Shetlands are a duel-purpose breed many breeder keep them as a meat breed as the tie of milking is too much for many people, this is something we have found with other cattle breeds and goats too.

After some searching we were pointed towards Epicure’s Larder who have a small herd of Shetlands (or possibly not now as they were moving to New Zealand) for cheese making. After contacting the herd owner they seemed like the prefect place and so an order was put in for a calf if a suitable one came up this spring.

At the end of March I got an email saying that two heifers had been born, and so a day trip to Yorkshire was arranged for the end of April. When the day arrived we hired a van and set off early, the drive took a good while with lots of road works. When we got there we made the final choice between the two calves opting for the ‘friendly and milkier’ breeding of the two.

Bridie Moo ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo ~ May 2014

After a day settling in we taught Bridie about bottles, something she picked up very quickly although we did need to use a lamb bottle with a softer teat for the first few feeds until she’d got the idea. Then a few days later she learnt about leading reins and then being tethering on the green outside and being brushed.

Bridie is very good about everything and takes everything in her stride, just what we’d wanted!

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; bottle time with my niece ~ June 2014

Bridie Moo; bottle time with my niece ~ June 2014

Small notes on life

I’m always suprised at how fast the summer solstice comes around each year; this year being no expection. It always feels much to ealier in the year when everything seems to have just sprung into life for the year to have reached it’s heights and the idea that the dark shall be drawing in again seems absurd but never-the-less we now not only past have midsummer but are now at harvest time and Lammas… Although I still think it is only just acceptable to be at midsummer the seasons have other ideas

Life has thrown a few… what would you call it?? Kick up the bums my way lately and I’ve been forced to make some drastic changes I knew I needed and had decided were going to happen but was dithering about far too long. It’s been painful; I’ve had to rid my life of some people who should have gone a long time ago but I had been clinging onto in a cloud of illusion… I have moved (my god I hate moving) and sorting out making a home for myself is taken up much time and energy… and I have been truly blessed to be surrounded by so many amazing people who care and inspire me and are willing to help me move on to the next exciting chapter in my life



Sowing 2014

The veg garden has undergone a redesign during the early part of this year. Partly prompted by the back log of deep bedded houses to clean out and partly so as it is easier to manage with more defined growing areas and straighter, wheelbarrow friendly paths.

Raspberry bed with sheep sulk decoration. Extra yellow raspberry canes were added to the bed early in the year and a bag of daffodils to add some spring colour to the vegetable garden ~ April 2014

Raspberry bed with sheep sulk decoration. Extra yellow raspberry canes were added to the bed early in the year and a bag of daffodils to add some spring colour to the vegetable garden ~ April 2014

There is still some work to do including some refencing, the clearing of an area and the erecting of a small polytunnel we bought seconded-hand a few years ago and the clearing and reskinning of the 30ft polytunnel we bought with us when we moved from Herefordshire some 20 years-ago but we now seem to have a much clearer vision of what the end result should look like.

Seed sowing began last month and has reached the stage of the bath and shower being filled each night with plants that are spending their days outside and the windowsills have been filled with second or third loads of trays, modules and root trainers. This year the focus has been on using what we already have in readiness to buy ‘pure’ seeds; moving away from large brightly packed seeds from multinational companies with no ethical code or care for if the seeds are suited to back garden growing to plainer packets from small UK based seed companies and handwritten notes from people with a passion for what they growing.

Oca starting off inside; these plants have such lovely leaves at this age ~ April 2014

Oca starting off inside; these plants have such lovely leaves at this age ~ April 2014

Of course new seeds have been aquired; ‘at the till’ packets have been impulsivly bought, seed swaps have been attended and a few carefully selected packs have been picked out. The most noteable of these being Oca tubes from a seed swap, a plant which I have been wanting to try for a few years and Pumpkin Nut squash which I tracked down after reading about them on The Snail of Happiness’s blog last year. How they shelled the pumpkin seeds for eating had been something I had been pondering for a while and this provided the answerer!

Germation rates have been hit and miss as some of the seed is so old, some of it with sow by dates dating back to the early 2000’s from my dad’s boxes of seeds, and I haven’t been really keeping a record of what and how much has come up instead tipping half or whole packets into pots and seeing what happens.

I haven’t kept complete records of what has been sown either as I only started in March and had already sown some tomatos and started off onion sets in pots by then but from then it is roughly as follows.

Tomato seedlings ~ April 2014

Tomato seedlings ~ April 2014

March 9th: leeks sown

March 20th: Dwarf french been sown

March 22nd: Sweet dumpling squash, cauli, lettuce and cucumber sown

April 5th: Climbing french beans (purple), black cherry tom, goldena, zuchini, black beauty and tondo di piacenza courage, uchihi kuri and pumpkin nut squash sown

Pink Fur Apple potatoes planted out.

April 13th: Yellow pear, yellow stuffer, black cherry, yellow tumbler and garden pearl tomatoes, firestorn runner beans sown

April 21st: Sunbaby, sweet million F1, darby striped and tiger tom tomatoes, Zucchini, golden and nano verde di milaon courgettes, greyhound cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, quick heading broccoli, magic mix and all the year round cauliflower, lemon cucumber and little gem lettuce sown

My chickens have been providing a more balanced end to the slugs and snail collecting I have done, using them as a tasty treat feels a more comfortable disposal than the dilemma I was faced with before

Lambing 2014

Lambing is all but over now and feels like one that should be noted as a success, with a few hiccups along the way the commons around our little safe-hold are green and lush with spring grass and ewes with lambs at foot finding their way around their new bright world.

Sophie and her lamb's first trip out after being kept in together to form a 'mother and daughter' bond ~ 9th ‎March ‎2014

Sophie and her lamb’s first trip out after being kept in together to form a ‘mother and daughter’ bond ~ 9th ‎March ‎2014

Lambing started again sadly with Sophie giving birth to another dead lamb on the 4th of March. This is the third year she has had a stillborn lamb and the last that we will put her through. No more ‘one off’s’ or ‘terrible lambing year’ after three times we think it is fair to say that there is something that is causing her to be unable to deliver a healthy lamb and it is not fair to keep putting her through the heart ache. After over a day of searching both by us and a grieving ewe we found a farmer with a set of triplets and bought the extra lamb home for Sophie who, in spite of the many words of warning that it had been too long and she was unlikely to take to her new charge, adores her bundle of joy and took to her straight away.

The next part of lambing past by more or less uneventfully and happily enough with three sets of twins and three singles arriving, mostly on days when I was at work!

Common of ewes and lambs ~ April 2014

Common of ewes and lambs ~ April 2014

My main lambing day was the 19th of March when I was ‘it’ whilst mother was on a course and sister was busy with my niece for the day, thankfully I had help from a friend as the day was busy; it started before I arrived back from work after a sleep-in with a text to say that Pixies’ water bag had appeared but there was still no sign of any lambs and could I get home as quickly as possible*. When I arrived back and checked her over there were no real signs that she was lambing or that something was wrong as there should have been that long after producing a water bag. So after checking the pen over to see that she hadn’t given birth to a stillborn lamb and walked off and left it we took her to the vets who diagnosed ring womb. After a short time our vet delivered a limp and bright yellow ewe lamb, lambs come out yellow when they have become stressed during labour. For a minute or so it was unclear if the lamb was dead or alive but a heartbeat was found and the lamb coaxed into life and then another, seemingly unstressed at all ewe lamb was delivered by the vet. Pixie was very good and did what she could to clean the lambs up in the space she had before we took her home and put her in a shed. The first lamb to be born was notably weaker than the first and Pixie was tired, sore and didn’t have any milk.

Maizie's-white-faced-lamb with her one day old lamb ~ March 2014

Maizie’s-white-faced-lamb with her one day old lamb ~ March 2014

I was on the phone sorting out what would be the best feed to give them when I spotted Nesta, one of our older and experienced ewes, lay down in the hedge line and begin pushing. The problem of Pixies’ lambs first feed was sorted and so we stopped and watched whilst Nesta delivered a white ewe lamb. Nesta began the job of cleaning up her new change but was quickly interrupted by a yearling (known as ‘maizies white faced lamb’) whose water bag bust as she ran up to inspect the new-born. It was clear she thought that taking on this lamb would be a much better idea than going through the ordeal of giving birth to her own and I can understand why as when we stepped in to deliver her own lamb I thought its head would never come out it was that big! My friend managed to deliver a very large ram lamb whilst I went off to fetch a more experienced shepherd neighbour.

During this time Nesta delivered another ewe lamb, this time the first and to date the only coloured lamb of the year, with little fuss or strain. We moved both ewes as far apart along the green as we dared as the yearling was still very interested in the first ewe lamb to be born and allowed them both to clean up and feed their charges before moving them to the lambing sheds and pen. Once their I used Nesta to give Pixies’ lambs a first feed, much to her disgust but then she knows her humans have funny ideas sometimes. I later topped them up with a feed of powdered colostrum and Pixie took over feeding them after a day or so of topping them up with bottles until her milk came through.

Days totals: 4 ewe lambs, 1 very large ram lamb, 2 happy ewes and 1 tired and sore ewe.

All went quiet for a week or so until Lucy gave birth to a ram lamb on the 9th of April. Lucy is always a ewe we watch closely especially at ‘stressful’ times of the year. Lucy was born within our flock and when she was around six months old was run over and broke her leg which we nursed her through and put her back out with the flock again only to be hit by a car and break another leg!! I can’t remember if it was a front leg that was broken first or the back but she recovered well and most of the time you would never tell she has ever had anything wrong with her but sometimes when she is heavily pregnant or shearing is due she will limp and become unsteady on her back end.

Later that day a yearling also lambed; a very large ewe lamb that had to be helped out. The size of the lambs we have had for the last few years has made us question replacing our ram with a smaller breed. Bailey is a lovely boy and stunning as far as a sheep can be but Cotswolds are a large breed which doesn’t seem to make such a difference when a ewe has twins but the single lambs are very large and this seems to effect the first time mothers most of all.

Yearling with her lamb at about 10minutes old ~ April 2014

Yearling with her lamb at about 10minutes old ~ April 2014

When a ewe has problems lambing it can cause problems with them bonding with their off-spring which is not a trait we want to encourage. With this last ewe she walked off as soon as the lamb had been pulled out and didn’t take any notice of her lamb until it was placed in front of her much further down the green. With the yearling on the 19th of March we also had to intervene to ensure her lamb got the attention it needed after it was delivered.

It is also harder to spot problems with first time lambers. We know our flock both as a whole and individually; we know each ewes family history, where they are likely to lamb (normally as close to where they were born as they can get), in roughly what order they lamb in (Sophie has been first to lamb for the last three years, the year before that it was her half sister Charlotte. We know ewes in that line normally lamb early in the year) and what problems they have and what to watch for (Lucy becomes unsteady on her feet when she is close to lambing, Lily had a funny shaped pelvis which meant the left leg of her lambs had to be pulled first when she was giving birth).

An educated guess can be made for some of these things but others are completely unknown and so problems that effect yearlings are more pressing. Changing to a smaller ram may tweak this problem and mean less intervention on our part.

We have found Sophie and her lamb, named Saddy by her new keeper, a new home with a pet flock belonging to a friend who keeps them for their fleece and to manage the land she has. Her flock are not bred from and so there is no worry that Sophie will keep having still borns year after year and will still have a useful and productive life a head of her.

Saddy bought in an eye infection with her that we have had to treat and has meant some ewes have had to stay in off the grass longer than normal until their sight has returned to being 100%. Thankfully this doesn’t seem to have had to much of an impact on the condition of the ewes or the growth of the lambs although we have had to keep Lupin in for over a week now as she still doesn’t seem able to see clearly. Lupin is still one of the few ewes we are still waiting on to lamb and then it will be another phase of the year complete.

*This is why wise sheppardess name the sheep in their flock, so as it is easier to communicate what is going on. Oh how we are laughed at and seen as ‘soft woman’ by many for this but I would never give up the knowledge of knowing each sheep personally even if they are destined for the dinner table 

First snow fall for the year

On Sunday night the rain and the cold met and formed the first snow fall of the year. It wasn’t anything to write home about and as quickly as the large white flakes had settled they disappeared leaving just an icing effect to untouched grounds…

The day light had already faded before the flakes began to fall so I only have a few photos of the garden taken under the flood light;

Snowy icing over wallflowers - 26th January 2014

Snowy icing over wallflowers – 26th January 2014

Night time snow fall - 26th january 2014

Night time snow fall – 26th January 2014

By the morning the snow was more like a thick frost and the roads and paths had cleared under the weight of morning traffic and walkers. It’s now back to the wet greyness that has mostly been this year

So, it’s 2014 is it?

I’m not really sure where to start this year off…

The year began with such a bang of drama and craziness that all idea of time to reflect and plan got pasted by. None of the drama was my own but for those I care deeply about, and it was badly timed with some overtime shifts which left me feeling completely useless and unable to help.

Still standing back now and counting my blessings reminds me that I have come some way in gaining a work life balance as this time last year if I had been at work I would have been there for at least a week which seems like a life time compared to the day away I was…

The swollen river Wye last week - 17th January 2014

The swollen river Wye last week – 17th January 2014

The swollen river Wye with the first signs of spring: catkins - 17th January 2014

The swollen river Wye with the first signs of spring: catkins – 17th January 2014

The weather this year has started off rather wet. With a second year of flooding over the festival period. Again this was not really something that had any major effect on me personally but it’s something I feel it’s important to record.

There were not really any frosts until after the New Year and even now most mornings are wet and cold instead of cold and frostie. The ‘snow’ word has been mentioned but I am still to spot any on the forecasts for the area; a contrast to this time last year when we had a few feet of snow. This year the ground is just water-lodged.

23rd January 2014

23rd January 2014

I have lots of plans again for this year and will hopefully be able to put them in some order, before sharing them over the year here.

Lambing will be from the end of February… kidding will be in early May… seed sowing with start soon enough.


The bees have been some what neglected this summer and have more or less looked after themselves.

Our home made bee hive with feeder outside; November 2013

Our home made bee hive with feeder outside; November 2013

We carried on feeding them late into the year because of the prolonged cold start.

The hive decided to swarm mid-July: on a very rare day when both me and my sister were unavailable to help collect the swarm from the tree they settled in before leaving never to be seen again. The hive was a little quiet for a few days but soon became active with no noticeable effect on numbers.

With the change in the season it has been time to think about supplying them with a little extra to keep them going through the cold winter months.

Bee syrup

  • 1 kilo sugar
  • 1 litre water
  • 1 spoonful cider vinegar

Add all the ingredients to a large pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool and place in dishes for your bees, adding small stones or gravel will help stop bees from drowning when they collect it up.

Sun hive

Back in the summer I was lucky enough to be taken to see a Sun Hive that was being built on landed belonging to a Camphill Community near by. The hives are similar to top bar hives but are built from reed baskets. The photos are not the best as I had my camera stolen soon after the visit but have managed to find a few to share

Sun hive: July 2013

Sun hive: July 2013

Sun hive: July 2013

Sun hive: July 2013

Sun hive: July 2013

Sun hive: July 2013


The seasons have slide their way smoothly from one to the next here; the mornings have a chill to them and I had began leaving for work in the dawn light before the clock change. The harvest moon bought with it heavy rain and winds to bring down the first swirls of bright yellow, orange and red coloured leaves and since Samhain some of the dark evenings have held the promise of bright frosty mornings but as yet first light has only revealed rain soaked grounds or views hidden beneath a layer of mist.

Changing forest; October 2013

Changing forest; October 2013

The sheep have busied themselves searching out acorns before the wild boar begin to creep closer to the village edge in search of easier foraging and trips out with the goats have been spent underneath the sweet chestnut tree searching out the larger nuts before the goats snaffles them up. Sweet chestnuts are my old nanny’s favourite autumn treat.


At the end of September I spent some time reorganising my front garden to make it more of a usable space instead of an ‘unfinished projects’ staging area. I cleared the spreading mass of alpine strawberries, cut back bushes and removed a compost bin from the only area of soil and found space for two raised beds. These were filled with home made compost, leaf mould and well rotted manure from the patio’s potato buckets and now boast a mixture of cauliflowers, purple sprouting and leeks. On the table in the kitchen there are paper bags of onion sets to fill in the gaps.

After more alpine strawberry clearing I have managed to turn the rest of the ground I have between the steps and the patio into two separate-but-connected areas; one has been planted with kale (which I hope will recover from the caterpillar attack) mixed with wallflowers and I shall add garlic to the area. The other patch is defined by being between a winter flowering heather and the new raised beds; this area I have added spring bulbs to borage and self-seeded feverfew amongst a few paving stones I have added for access. In the spring I plan to sow poppies, sweetpeas and sunflowers and hope some of them survive the slugs.


During the summer we have downsized on the number of goats we have and thankfully have managed to find lovely homes for the three ‘rescue pet’ goats we had. We now have our six breeding females and a meat wether. It’s so nice to be able to spend time out on the greens with them without having to arrange for two people to be there. The reduced feed cost has also meant that we have been able to think more carefully about the feed we use and have changed to a goat mix that has no GMO ingredients; something we are trying more and more to be aware of in all areas of our purchases.

Bella and Broiny grazing the green back when with had some sun: August 2013

Bella and Broiny grazing the green back when we had some sun: August 2013

Earlier in the year we had scab in our flock of sheep, the better summer we have had has helped them recover but it has meant that none of the fleeces have been suitable for sending off to be tamed and so we are keeping everyone on for this winter. (Fingers crossed it will be mild and they won’t need too much extra feed.)

My new chooks; roosting for the night: October 2013

My new chooks; roosting for the night: October 2013

During some time off work in September I also got myself some chickens for the garden at my house. I had been toying with the idea of getting myself some hens for a while, there is nothing like collecting your own eggs from your own garden. Me and mother had gone to collect some hens for her and in amongst the barn of fowl to be rehomed were three small black chicks. I wanted them as soon as I saw them and so they also came back with us.

They have already grown a lot since I first got them and are much more use to people, where they came from was an amazing place where the chickens were safe to just run free (seemingly no fox problem there) and in the spring a lot of the hens had gone off to nest and returned with their chicks in tow a few weeks later. The fourth hen I have I don’t think has anything to do with the  chicks but they were quick to follow her lead and she is very pretty.

The cupboard was bare…

I’m sure that to almost all reading this self-sufficiency and gardening are subjects close to your heart. It’s something I am always striving towards in any small way I can and am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

Home grown courgettes; possibly the only vegetable that is producing anything in my garden. August 2013

Home grown courgettes; possibly the only vegetable that is producing anything in my garden. August 2013

On Wednesday I found out that ‘the country’s cupboard was bare’ – if all of the harvest grown in Britain was stored and started to be eaten from January 1st we would have run out on Wednesday meaning the UK has to import over a third of the food we need, an increase on the amount of food that we had to import 1991 according to the NFU*

As the NFU has worked out these figures I don’t think it will include freshly picked, home grown, back garden food which shows that even so long after the the original ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign growing your own is still am important part of this Country’s ability to provide for it’s self.

The government last month announced that it is investing 160 million pounds in farming technology to help make Britain a “world leader”. I really hope that some thought has been given to sustainable methods and won’t just be ploughed into GMO’s, pesticides and fossil fuel hungry machines.

* The radio 4 report I heard on this did not give exact figures for the increase just that in 1991 Britain produced 3/4 of it’s own food and that this figure has now fallen to just 62%

Round beds

Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre Garden; August 2013

Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre Garden; August 2013

This bed is in the garden of the Visitor Centre in the Brecon Beacons and it struck me as an incredibly valuable growing space.

I could easily reach to the middle from the edge so guess it to be about 2.4 meters across. This bed was planted with herbs but could have easily fitted a wig-wam of beans, a squash plant, salad crops and some brassicas and with thought to the varieties used still remained a decorative focus for the garden.

A perfect one person, low maintainance vegetable garden.

The bed was in the middle of a average-ish sized garden (as far as I can tell, I certainly wouldn’t be happy with anything smaller but might be a little spoilt when it comes to garden size) with borders around the edge and lawn to enjoy the outdoors on.

Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre Garden; August 2013

Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre Garden; August 2013

 The round shape of the bed seemed to help the whole garden feel bigger than it was as it fitted so nicely into it with no harsher edges.