After a (few) glass(es) of apple juice and vodka I have been persuaded that it’s my turn to glob (oops sorry blog)…you might have guessed that its Kate here. We’ve just had THE MOST DELICIOUS steak and kidney with dumplings and a cabbage (donated by a customer who was going away for the weekend). If you have forgotten about dumplings, given up dumplings years ago because of health advice, or never made dumplings because you’re too meterosexual – GIVE DUMPLINGS A CHANCE!!! That’s my new mantra for 2012 – or is it “suet rules”? not sure ….any way you get the jist.
Any hoooo…I think I’d better give a bit of a “state of the nation” blogette here because it will probably be a number (between 12 and 18) of months before I blog again, so here’s Little Black Pig at Willow Farmworld from my point of view on 2 January in this new year of 2012.
Firstly and most importantly I want to thank all of you glob watchers for your support. Its been wonderful to receive your comments and even just track your hits on the blog. Ali does so much work for which she gets no thanks (from me): taking pictures and blogging regularly so that you all can get a glimpse of what its like on our adventure. Your hits are her thanks – and as you will have seen from the 2011 review – there have been plenty of them.
2011 – what can I say?
It started with the tail-end of the “big freeze”, but a relatively mild new year meant that the grass was growing by February. We had been feeding hay quite liberally in the run up to Christmas, and I was sure we were going to run out before spring. I bought in extra supplies in January that were never needed – no harm done – some of it went to help some friends keep their horses supplied, and the rest is being fed now.
January – March were dominated for me by our planning application. The consultation period (when neighbours and interested parties get to have their say about our application) was both tense and gratifying. Tense because the first response (from Ombersley Parish Council) was strongly against us, but gratifying because all the neighbours on our lane wrote in to the council actively supporting us. Without the support of our neighbours I don’t think we would have succeeded in being allowed to live at Willow Farm. We owe them all a debt of gratitude which I intend to repay by making our little venture a success and eventually replacing our (slightly ugly) caravan with something much easier on the eye.
March brought the Wychavon Planning Committee and a nail-bitingly close decision that we could move onto the farm in a static caravan and try to achieve what we have been planning for so long. In the future we will look back on this as the beginning of everything (its not clear yet what everything will be, but I believe it will be a good thing).
April was dominated by lambing and fox attacks and then May and June were really dominated by a 24/7 fox watch which had us both on our nerve endings every time a chicken moved quickly accross the field.
In May with the help of a farmer friend we drilled about half an acre of fodder beat. Once we got on top (sort-of) of the weeds, we’ve had a crop we’re happy with and are still feeding to the pigs.
The drought which affected everyone in farming hit our hay crop in June – which was so poor that we left it in the field (not being worth the cost of bringing it in). We are hopeful for next year… we’ve overseeded some of the bare patches and are planning an application of nitrogen rich poultry manure when the growing season starts.
July was when we started to question whether our pigs were getting pregnant – it took us until September to accept that they were not: we suspect that they had just got too fat..so diets were instigated and we are now hoping that we have turned that particular corner.
In August the drought broke for us here in Worcestershire, the grass finally started growing – and although it has slowed down it is ironically growing still!
The autumn has been wet and mild – very kind to caravan dwellers and farmers. Our pork sales have really taken off and in addition to freezer packs, sausages and bacon are selling strongly.
In our first year we have sold: 30 pigs as half pig freezer packs, sausages and bacon; 13 sheep as lamb or hoggett freezer packs; and a lot of eggs to our very lovely and loyal egg round customers.
Next year we are looking to nearly double our output – a challenge for both of us. We need to start putting systems and processes in place to ensure that everything works smoothly whilst retaining the friendly and personal relationship that we aim for with all our customers.
We have been experimenting with UPS delivery services and this will become the norm for our non-local customers in 2012 as they offer an affordable and very reliable service.
Next year we plan to do Christmas Turkeys – in our usual high welfare, free range way. So get your orders in now because we will probably only do around 50 birds for our first year.
We need 2012 to be the year of piglets! Buying in our weaners and raising them on has worked well but breeding our own will control costs and (more importantly) ensure we have more control over the finished product for you all. We are experimenting at the moment with crossing rare breeds to produce the finest meat for your table. We’ve tried Large White pigs crossed with British Saddlebacks and are just about to try Middle Whites crossed with British Saddlebacks. We’ll keep you posted on progress, but you can rest assured that we will continue to protect the rare breeds by finding a market for their meat.
We will be expanding the laying flock and the egg round in 2012. We currently have 150 laying hens and this will rise to 300 in 2012. We have been working on improving our egg packing station with a view to being passed as “Class A” egg producers and packers. This will allow local catering establishments to buy our eggs as well as our current farm gate and egg round customers.
2012 will also be the year that we start our rare breed hatchery. Over the last year we have created foundation breeding flocks of Light Sussex, Cream Legbar and Marran Hens. We will be hatching fertile eggs from spring time. The hens will be sold as laying hens for people who want a few chickens in their garden and the cockerels will be sold as meat birds.
We have eighteen ewes (hopefully) in lamb and this year’s lambing will take us through March and April. Unborn lambs are already selling fast, so if you are interested in autumn lamb or hogget in March 2013 let me know as soon as possible.
Avid blog readers will know that we recently bought an old Ferguson plough. I had started to dispair of our ability to cultivate the land ourselves due to a combination of having bought a cheap and (very) nasty plough with our tractor, this summers drought (and the effect it had on our land of turning it to concrete), and the audible sucking of teeth everytime I asked for advice from neighbouring farmers! You can see from the picture below why my spirits have been restored. With diligent enthusiasm from James and the help of messrs Ferguson I know believe we will be able to do some proper farming!
The other big project is getting electricity installed at Willow Farm. We had hoped to cover our south-facing barn roof with solar panels, but the current uncertainty in government policy and the market in this area have put these plans on hold. We have applied for a mains connection and hope to be “live” by spring. This will allow us to have refridgeration on site, which means we can sell more from the farm gate. It will also mean that we can hatch in incubators as well as using our lovely silky hen. All the domestics being “at the flick of a switch” will also make life a little easier here at Willow Farm.
Oh yes, and I’m looking for a little van. I have to have a big 4×4 vehicle because of the towing and heavy work we do. We really don’t like burning all that fuel when it’s not necessary and are looking for a little van to be more environmentally friendly on local runs.
Well the voddie has run out so its just apple juice for me now, and its been a real pleasure looking back and looking forward with you all. 2011 is a year in which we have made some big leaps forward as well as having a few hard (and not inexpensive) lessons. I am optimistic about 2012 and hope we have the humility to learn from our lessons and the audacity to try and push our project even further forward.
Well it only remains for me to wish you all the most fulfilling 2012 you could hope for. May your crackling always crunch!