Winter Lettuce, Oriental Leaves and Lambs

Image: lambs on the HenSafe smallholding

Taking some time outside just to have a look at what’s going on out there on the plot. Lambs are growing well. Is it my imagination or does Brownie always look up when I lean on the gate? 
Image: winter lettuce on the HenSafe smallholding
Meantime in the polytunnel it’s lovely to see new crops growing and the bright green of these Cos lettuces have perked up an overcast morning. These were sown at the end of September but it’s not too late to sow winter leaves in the polytunnel or the greenhouse – seeds can be sown under cover at least a month after the last sowing date on the packet. Look for the packets that say "ready in 3-4 weeks" and try some mixed oriental leaves available from most of seed suppliers. These generally include Mustard, Mizuna and Rocket and have a lovely peppery taste. Don’t cut the whole plant but pick the leaves individually from January onwards (they take around 3-4 weeks) and you might get 2 or 3 pickings from each. Combine them with Cos or Little Gem lettuce leaves and eat with cheeses and pickles for lunch or wilt them down in a little butter as a hot veg with boiled spuds. Delicious!

Learnings & Tips:
*Don’t forget to sow winter crops in late Autumn in the Polytunnel: Salad leaves, oriental hot leaves, spring onions amongst others
*Polytunnel sowings can be done 4-6 weeks after the last sowing date on the packet at the end of the season, and 4-6 weeks earlier than the first sowing date at the beginning of the season.

The Quiet of Autumn

Image: Autumn on the HenSafe Smallholding

Just about had the last of the courgettes and beans and caught this cobweb at the top of the beanpoles this morning. One of those lovely, quiet mornings when you can feel the sun warming everything up. Time to harvest the rest of the tomatoes too. I’ve tried cutting off branches and hanging them upside down to ripen in the polytunnel but I have found it’s better to pick them all, bring them indoors (or into the potting shed) and ripen them off in trays. The red ones will ripen off the green ones eventually as they emit ethylene “the ripening gas”. They don’t give off huge amounts but it’s a naturally occurring process. Bananas on the other hand give off mega quantities of ethylene which is why you need to keep them separate from the rest of your fruit or it will all get squishy very quickly.

Learnings: The early bird catches the best cobweb photos

Pigs and the Chop. Or should that be Chops?

A look at the calendar, plus a lovely chat with Andy Case in Dorset (“Starting with Pigs” – if you keep pigs then buy it, read it, read it again!) meant that our 5 pigs needed to be booked in for their Final Journey. And so started the annual ritual of persuading the pigs that the trailer is really a nice place to eat. It starts about 3 days before the event, feeding the pigs in the trailer so they get used to it being a safe and lovely place to be. Sounds easy huh? Hmmph. Past years have been fine. This year was another story… 3 in 2 out, 4 in 1 out, and each time they were different pigs! Various gates were moved to create the ideal penning solution. The Morning arrived. We had our slot at Bromham. Got up early. Donned our pig gear. In theory as soon as we open the trailer back they should all rush in expecting food and we raise the ramp behind them. Not a chance! 2 hours later and we were losing the will to live. Eventually they obliged – we have the bruises to show for it, knees against the ramp trying to get the blessed pins in to secure it.  Victory! Next year we'll be back to normal, I’m reassuring myself.
image: HenSafe pigs deciding if they like the trailer
Pigs deciding if they like the trailer

Learnings: Note to self: read Animal Farm again. Start the trailer thing earlier. At least a week earlier.

Weddings and Weedings

Image: Lord Lambourne on the HenSafe smallholding
Lord Lambourne dessert apple

Gosh. After a fabulous family wedding in Dorset, lots of visitors plus looking after the craft section at the Cricklade Show, the house seems rather empty. Or rather it’s the calm before the “now let’s catch up on outside jobs” storm…! Wandering out to the veg plot to see what’s going on found a glut of tomatoes and courgettes plus a humongous number of weeds. Can’t even see the leeks properly for chickweed! Hangs head in shame. Apples are doing well though, ready for picking in a couple of weeks. As for the garden, well it seems to have survived fairly well for complete lack of attention – planting mixed borders and letting the shrubs and perennials do their thing has really made a difference to the weeding workload. However, nothing like putting on the gardening gear, rolling up the sleeves and getting to it. A couple of days solid on the job and we’re back on track. Tomato soup though – there are only so many ways of making it #needmorerecipes 
Learnings: Sow fewer tomato seeds next year!

Happy as a Pig...

image: pigs in the wallow on the HenSafe smallholding
The sun is shining and it’s hot and muggy here. Where better for a pig to be than flat out in the wallow? They have truly changed from delightful piglets into pigs with the most disgusting habits. Peeing in the wallow and then drinking from it is nothing unusual!  They are around 4.5 months old now and eating 8 or 9 scoops of pig nuts morning and evening. 
image: lambs on the HenSafe smallholding
Meanwhile the lambs are munching their way through the grass. So peaceful watching them wander round their paddock. Less inquisitive now but they do come and say hello when I’m working on the veg plot next to them. They’re starting to look like sheep now, rather than lambs, which is good. Brownie is still small, always will be, but that’s OK - he’s healthy.

Enjoy the tranquility of summer and take time to watch.
Always best to stand back when the pigs climb out of the wallow, before they start to shake the "mud" off in all directions.

The First Glut of Courgettes

image: courgette and tarragon soup on the HenSafe smallholding
Yellow Courgette & Tarragon Soup

Now is the time I think, “why on earth did I plant 4 courgette bushes…?”, but this soup is a winner and takes only 40 minutes to make. Here is my recipe for:

Courgette & Tarragon Soup

2 onions
8-10 yellow courgettes
4 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons of dried or fresh tarragon leaves
1.75 pints of milk
1.75 pints of veg/chicken stock
Extra vegetable bouillon powder to taste
Black pepper & salt

What to do
Peel and roughly chop the onions and soften them in the olive oil. Add the courgettes and herbs and stir. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the courgettes are soft, then blend until smooth.
Add a swirl of cream and some more fresh tarragon to each bowl if you like. Easy peasy!

Serves 6 to 8 people and freezes well.

And they're off...

Image: Swallows have flown the nest at the HenSafe Smallholding
Our swallows have flown - wonder which are ours?

Mixed feelings today. It’s been fantastic to see the swallows develop and find their wings, watching them have flying lessons and getting braver and higher every day. Now they’ve joined a larger flock we’ve lost them to nature and they’re no longer “ours”. On the other hand we’ve had the privilege of helping to raise them by providing a place for them to nest and plenty of mud from the pig pen to help them build it.

“Build it and they will come”: a ledge in the right place will encourage swallow nesting.
Watch their behaviour to see which sites they favour, then give them space to raise their family.

Learning to Fly

Yesterday saw our 3.5 week old swallow chicks take their first tentative flight – about 2 metres to a beam in the barn… but hey we’ve all got to start somewhere! Still being fed by mum and dad. They went back to the nest for the night - everything’s a bit new and scary out there.  Maybe tomorrow they'll go a bit further.
Image: First day out of the nest for swallow chicks on the HenSafe smallholding
First day out of the nest for the swallow chicks

Four Swallows Make a Summer

Our Swallows are growing fast and becoming ever more demanding of their parents. It’s a real treat to watch the comings and goings and to see the chicks develop day by day. Getting a bit tight for space in the nest now, especially when they stretch out their wings for size. Surely it can't be long now before they take their first flight?

Image: Swallows nesting on the HenSafe Smallholding
Feeding time at the Swallow Nest

Swallow Chicks!

image: swallow chicks a couple of days old on the HenSafe smallholding

Four swallow chicks just a couple of days old, being fed by very busy parents!

Swallows in the Barn

Image: Mrs Swallow sitting on eggs on the HenSafe Smallholding
Mrs Swallow sitting on her eggs

Meet Mrs Swallow. Sitting on eggs in her perfect nest on a ledge in the barn. We watched them building their nest, very precisely, with bits of grass and feathers, held together with mud from the pig pen. She's been sitting for about a week.
image: Swallow cam on the HenSafe Smallholding
Nest Building at the end of May

It's Official. Lambs like Grapes!

image: lambs on the HenSafe smallholding
Found some shrivelled up grapes in the car that we’d got to nibble on a long journey. Decided to see if the lambs were peckish - and got mobbed! By Brownie, of course :) Never would've imagined it. Tomorrow... strawberries?
image: lambs on the HenSafe smallholding

image: lambs on the HenSafe smallholding

Never say never!
But always remember that food from your kitchen must never be given to your livestock.

Mud and Muck

The black piglets are 12 weeks old today. Tan piglets a week behind and growing fast. Took this pic of them this evening munching their way through supper of 4.5 scoops of pig nuts. The reflection of our aged JCB in the wallow rather nice I thought. Pigs now not piglets methinks - the difference in size in just a couple of weeks is amazing.

The contrast in our weather and the mud is huge compared to this pic from 18 May. Does he know his tail is perilously close to the electric fence? Wait for the squeal...

Discovering the Wallow

With all the rain we’ve had – and the forecast isn’t much better for the weekend – the piglets managed to find a little bit of sunshine to discover the wallow. Mainly for drinking, of course. Oh, and peeing in. Why would they bother with their fresh water trough when they can sample the wallow and all its delights? They’re not venturing in too far. Probably because it’s around 2 feet deep and a quagmire! Maybe when they’re older, oh yes that's when the fun starts – watch this space. 
Image: HenSafe Piglets discovering their wallow
Piglets discovering the wallow

Learnings: Piglet watching can waste an inordinate amount of time, especially with a beer at the end of the day.

Lamb Weaning and The Porking Order

Image: HenSafe Lambs having their last bottle
Last milk feed for 4 of the lambs
Monday 12th was weaning day for 4 of the lambs: At 6 weeks old White Face, Red Dot, Dappley and Number 7 definitely didn’t need milk anymore – full round tummies and happy on grass and creep. 
Brownie's still on the bottle
Brownie was another story so he stayed on milk until today. Abrupt weaning is recommended so as not to cause stomach upsets but it’s difficult to ignore the lambs yelling every time we walk past them!
This afternoon we collected our last 3 weaners for this year. They are Oxford Sandy & Black (sow) and Duroc (boar) cross and a lovely tan colour with a few spots. They’re 8 weeks old and been away from the sow for 7 days.  Our black piglets soon came out of the arc to see the interlopers and fisticuffs ensued on and off for an hour or so until the male black piglet was established as Top Pig in the porking order. A couple of bloody ears but nothing major. 

Now there’s more competition for food they are keener to come to the trough at feeding time! We’re following the “all they can eat in 20 minutes” rule from David Norman at The Ansty Herd. At the moment it's around half a scoop per piglet - early days!
Image: Duroc x Oxford Sandy & Black piglets at the HenSafe Smallholding
New piglets: OSB x Duroc

Two Little Piggies Went to Market...

... and came home with us!

This year’s pigs will be coming from a different source than usual so we thought it an ideal time to try different breed combinations.
After much ringing around and reserving 3 from a local breeder (more news on that when they materialise) we decided with some trepidation to venture to Cirencester Market. We’d looked online at the market reports and done lots of research but it was just a trip out, you know, just to see what was there and how it all works…
Arriving at 10.30 we saw the end of the sheep auction and the start of pigs being unloaded by their sellers. A real mix of sizes and breeds including around 8 pens of piglets to be sold in 10’s, 6’s and 5’s. Some were quite lively, others dozing in a huge pile, one with a wound to its leg (make a note of that pen). Difficult to tell which breed they were so made the most of listening to the farmers and sellers.
We watched as 10 more arrived, were unloaded and split into 2 pens of 5. They looked healthy and lively although one of the white ones was very small. We chatted to the breeder when it was a bit quieter and she told us they are 8 weeks old and all from the same litter, in spite of 5 looking like Gloucester Old Spot, plus 3 white and 2 being completely black! They are a mix of Oxford Sandy & Black and Middle White, with a Gloucester Old Spot grandparent. This all felt good so we talked to the auctioneer about splitting pens so we could bid on 2… so much for “just seeing how it all works”… and 1 hour later we were the new owners of 2 black piglets heralding from Allengrove Farm at Luckington. 
image: new piglets on the HenSafe smallholding
They are a wee bit timid at the moment but within 30 minutes they were digging around before sussing out the arc for their afternoon nap. Hopefully when their mates arrive, next week we hope, they’ll settle down and we can waste some time pig-watching.

1. Do The Research: Get to auctions early to see the animals unloaded. Talk to the sellers, chat to the auctioneer if need be.
2. Look carefully at the animals in the pens. Watch how they move, breathe, behave and be prepared to walk away.

The Big Sleep-Out

Lambs are just about 5 weeks old now – time is flying by – and they’ve been happily munching on grass in between bottle feeds. Over the last couple of days if we hadn’t done the middle 3pm feed they probably wouldn’t have noticed (provided we avoided going out to see them!) so a move to 2 feeds is imminent. Yesterday we introduced them to the wide open space that will be their permanent enclosure during the daytime. Tonight is their first sleep-out so now the temporary knitted fence can come down and the barn corner cleaned out. 
image: HenSafe lambs exploring their new enclosure
Exploring the new enclosure... very slowly and carefully

They seem big enough now to be safe from predators and they have a 3-sided shelter facing away from the prevailing wind (and the rain that’s forecast). From under my duvet I watched them settling down for the night on SheepCam :)

3 Weeks Old

Today they are between 3 and 3.5 weeks old. After advice from Jenny we’ve increased their milk to on demand and at least 500ml per feed – thanks Jenny :)
That and moving to 3 feeds a day for those that can take it. Brownie is coping well with the new regime and he really seems to have turned a corner, taking up to 1.75 bottles which is around 450ml per feed. Meanwhile the rain has well and truly arrived so they have a new shelter on wheels so we can move it around out of the puddles.

Lambs in their new shelter on wheels, out of the puddles!

Try to find bigger bottles! We’re using baby bottles at the moment fitted with sheep teats. It was OK in the early days but having to refill them for these larger feeds is a pain. Whenever we go into the local agri/country store they never have screw-on teats in stock… must look out for them this winter so we can use squash bottles.