Dan and I went up to Melton Mowbray for the annual Rare Breed Survival Trust Show and Sale. We hoped to buy a few more Portland shearling ewes to add to the flock. We arrived home…with two Hebridean Sheep!
Hebridean Sheep are the ultimate conservation grazer. They thrive on tough grass, weeds, etc. The breed is used around the UK on many conservation programs. They will suit our woodlands perfectly. And although Dan is calling them HIS sheep, I will look after them, as per norm. I wasn’t so keen at first, but they are certainly growing on me. They are curious sheep, very bright and alert and such a contrast in colour to my creamy white Portlands. And they rather suit the farm, with my other Scottish livestock, the Highland cattle.
If that was not enough of a surprise, we woke up on Sunday morning to find a NEW calf! Whoops, only five months later than the other calves. She was born to Karen, my elderly cow, who was actually destined for burgers and sausages in just a couple of weeks. I did not think Karen was in calf. Clearly I was mistaken. She has always had bull calves and this was no exception. This little boy is pretty and very white, with a pinkish nose and lovely dark eyes.
He hadn’t been long in this world when we spotted him and saw we needed to get get cow and calf moved to another field. The steers were being overly inquisitive and began batting him around a bit. I was able to coax Karen and her calf onto the bridleway and we walked them all the way down to the field with the handling pen. The two settled in quickly but the bull calf was not sucking. He tried and tried but as mum’s teat were hanging very low he couldn’t latch on. So later that afternoon we got Karen into the crush and shoved him on. It took a little while, some struggling (the calf) and swearing (me). But it worked and he actually fell asleep as he sucked. Full belly and happy calf.
That is enough surprises for now.
If you have been following my stories you will know that Dan’s bees and I are not the best of friends. They were relegated to the far end of the farm last autumn, after they took turns stinging me through the summer months.
But all is forgiven! We have our first batch of beautiful honey, 26 one pound jars in total. Dan has been a busy bee himself!
Dan has five hives but only two made honey. The others were either weak or had badly behaved Queens or some such problem. This has been a difficult year for bees and some of his expert beekeeping friends had a smaller crop of honey than expected.
Dan collected the special frames in the hives where honey has been left. The bees make wax which seals the honey in. He had a special ‘knife’ which he scraped along the surface of the frame to take away the wax. (The wax is saved).He then placed the frames in a honey extractor. The extractor spins round and round and all the honey drains to the bottom of the extractor. He then strained the honey into another container. Jars ready, tap open, and the honey flowed in and filled up the jars. I stuck on the personalised labels which I ordered from a bee equipment company. They look beautiful and the honey is lovely. Dan says next year he and the bees will triple the harvest!
The week before the Melplash Show is always hectic. Melplash is our local agricultural show and our favourite. It isn’t only about showing the sheep, it is an occasion where friends and neighbours come out to see us, too.
And this year preparation was a bit more hectic because we had a film crew accompanying us. A film company got in touch with me a few weeks ago and asked if they could spend a day on the farm and then follow us around Melplash Show. They are making a series of programmes, showing different aspects of farming life. I had to keep this all secret and I’m not sure I should be mentioning now. But the film crew were certainly seen by people at the show. They were a lovely bunch and worked very hard. I am sure the sound man had to have several beers at the end of the day, if only to forget the constant babbling he had to hear all day. I had a microphone attached and must have driven him crazy.
The programmes are scheduled for sometime in 2017. I simply hope they will show the viewers West Dorset is a beautiful place and farmers here care passionately for the landscape and their livestock.
We received a First for our Ram Lamb and a Third in the Group of Three. The best award of the day was winning the Best Small Farm for Conservation. We received a cup at the main ring, presented by the President of the Melplash Agricultural Society. All very satisfying!
Jo Stover has daily adventures on her small farm, together with her Highland cattle and Portland sheep, bees, a few hens, dogs, and some two-legged family and friends.