Monthly Archives: January 2015

Windy weather and photographs


Windy today – most of the morning it’s been gusting between 19 and 35 kph – so it’s felt colder than the temperature suggests. As luck would have it we managed to have both doors open today at one time. Someone was holding the front door open to talk when someone else came in from the toilet and opened the back door. The result was a wind tunnel effect with instant temperature drop.

Before I had time to shout “Shut that door!” (or something similar but possibly ruder) I heard a smash as the vase of artificial sunflowers hit the floor by the front door. They’ve been an accident waiting to happen since they were put there (the blooms were too long and too big for the vase) so in a  way it’s a relief.

One group of piglets has been weaned this week, much to the relief of the mother, who was looking fit to fade away. We still have two more litters with the sow and another looking ready to farrow soon.

If a picture is worth a thousand words here’s the equivalent of a few thousand words for you, including porridge and the smoothie bike.



More breakfast

We had a new experience yesterday – five sample breakfasts for 38 pupils at the local school, followed by a vote on which they preferred.

We had:

English (toast and marmalade)

French (pain au chocolat)

German (cheese and sausage on black bread)

American (pancakes and syrup)

Australian (Vegemite and toast)

To be fair, we weren’t showing English and Australian breakfasts in the best light but we needed something that was easy to do.

The results were:

French – 12

American – 10

German – 8

English – 6

Australian – 0

It doesn’t add up to 38 but it’s close. As usual with these things the unhealthy options got the most votes!

For more world breakfasts click the link.




We had a simple breakfast this morning – just cereal and fresh fruit. It’s part of my new regime. It was a good thing I didn’t have too much because I ended up with a second breakfast as part of the National Breakfast Week campaign. The second one was porridge with fruit. I’m feeling quite virtuous at the moment. And full.

It’s a very important meal is breakfast, and it’s currently a political issue with Blackpool council becoming the first in England to provide free breakfasts for all school children. I’m not sure about this – I’m happy to see all kids getting a decent breakfast but I don’t see why the parents should be let off the hook. If you aren’t prepared to feed them you shouldn’t have kids. That’s just my view of course, not the farm view and definitely not the view of the touchy-feely modern world.


Here’s a picture of us eating porridge and a link to Mary’s meals to remind us all that some kids go to school hungry for reasons other than lazy parents.

Students again

We were greeted by the increasing guineafowl flock this morning, including the whites and the lavenders. They all seem to have left the shelter of the poultry field and be roaming round as a 30 strong pack making permanant alarm calls. We’ve now had several complaints from the farmer’s mum so Something Must Be Done. Just before lunch he reminded the lads they needed to catch a dozen to send to market with the pigs tomorrow.

You know what?

I can still hear them but I can’t see a single one of them. I know they can’t understand us so there must have been something in the body language that alerted them. Smart birds, guineafowl.


Apprentices 0 Guineafowl 1.

There’s a good coating of ice today and the group of students we have visiting find the first job of the day is breaking ice on the outside water troughs. I think it’s the first time that many of them have experienced the idea that water can’t be guaranteed. It’s more of a shock than the cold. To be fair to them they have all brought the right clothes for the day (unlike the Monday course) so the cold isn’t that bad. There is, as we always say, no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.

We won a prize for championing farming as a career two years ago. Not sure the weather is helping us today.


I’m currently wearing a short-sleeved shirt despite the ice, and I’m trying to look like I’m enjoying it. That’s what happens when you have several black and white checked shirts, middle-aged eyes and get dressed in the half-light without turning the lights on.

We treated ourselves to an extra hour in bed because we’ve been waking each other up with the coughs that refuse to go. That meant we had to rush out with no breakfast though we did find time to stop and buy some to eat in the car. You always do, don’t you?

That’s the 21st century – rush, profligate spending on poor nutrition and a general feeling that I could do better. I’ll have to do better on Monday – it’s National Breakfast Week! OF course, in line with modern marketing techniques it’s know as Shake up your Wake up!. It doesn’t even make sense. Grumble, grumble…better in my day…

On the positive side we saw goldcrests in the conifers by the chicken field yesterday. They are surprisingly common according to the figures but you don’t often see one. Normally you hear the high-pitched squeak they make but, likethe somg of the skylark the ability to hear goldcrests declines with age. I haven’t heard a skylark for ages, or a bat for 30 years,  and am now worried I may have reached the age where I can’t hear goldcrests.

However, it could just be that the skylark is down to a tenth of the population it had 30 years ago. That’s probably sadder than my toughts of deafness. And to round off with a strange coincidence – I’ve just had an email on my phone “Alzheimer’s Disease is now following you on Twitter”.

Not sure what to make of that.




New Arrivals

Arrived at the farm to find that, unlike Nottingham, there was no snow here and no sign that it had snowed overnight. That was a blow as I’d been hoping that more birds would be forced to use our food. As it turned out there was a flock of tits, finches and buntings feeding in the hedge and on the bird feeder. I actually had a long-tailed tit stand on the fence and watch me from no more than six feet away. Of course, my camera was in the car.

There was some sleet as we planned out the jobs for the day and went through a technical session on pigs designed by one of the group. It was mainly on terminology and I now know I should call a group of small pigs a litter rather than “sausages” and that a stag is not just a male deer or male turkey but a male pig that was castrated later in life. Seems a strange word to use in this context but farmers are a strange bunch.

One of the sows farrowed this morning. She’s called Ginger because she has a lot of Tamworth in her, though you can’t tell . The nine piglets are a strange spotted mixture – some ginger with a few spots and some black and white with lots of spots.








In the other half of the barn the new goats are settling in. A couple of them are pregnant, so with piglets and lambing and goats we’re going to be in for a lively time.



As you may have noticed, we are slowly adding new subjects to the site. We already have a section on the Ecocentre and a selection of photographs and yesterday added a book review page. I’m going to add some food and recipe pages soon but there’s a problem I need to overcome first.

I meant to do some food blogging while we were on holiday in the Lake District last year but I ran into two problems. One is that I’m embarrassed by my own odd behavior in taking pictures of my food, particularly when the flash goes off or a small child points out what I’m doing. The second is that I often eat the subject of the blog before taking the picture. The pies at Tebay services on the M6, for instance, are really good (though they are possibly kept in the warming cabinet a little too long). We had them twice, and both times I found myself looking down at the biodegradable packaging and a few crumbs. What was worse is that on the second occasion I had gone there with the intention of getting a photograph.

The same applies to cookery – there’s no embarrassment but I do still tend to eat things before remembering to take a photograph. There’s the additional problem of having no flair for food photography, but it can’t be that hard compared to some branches of photography. It doesn’t explode and it doesn’t bite so how hard can it be? I will just have to try harder.


That’s a cheese and home-made soda bread cob made from wheat that was harvested in the morning and eaten at lunchtime. It’s quite a good shot, but unfortunately it isn’t one of mine.


This is one of mine. It’s home-made piccalilli. The red bits are chillis because somebody told me it wasn’t spicy enough last year. Nobody has said that this year.

Birdwatching, students and politics (that’s in order of preference!)

Last Friday we had reed buntings at the bird table, which was a first for us as we haven’t seen any here in all the time we’ve been coming. They are a somewhat portly bird, as are most buntings, and radiate a feeling of cheery domesticity, so it was a surprise to read that they are apparently the most adulterous of all bird species, with over 50% of chicks in a brood being fathered by males who are not the male in the pair. I’d never thought of adultery in birds until I read this bit so it just shows what you can learn, and it will certainly come to mind every time a see a reed bunting from now on.

Things moved on today with a mixed group of buntings coming to feed – nine reed buntings and  three yellowhammers. With low temperatures overnight and light covering of snow on the fields they are probably finding natural food hard to come by, which is why we come into play. This is certainly the opinion of the BTO and they tend to know these things.

Apart from the birds we have a group of students from a local college visiting to gain experience for their animal health course. They are currently finding out how to put ear tags into pigs (we have some going to market tomorrow). You can tell this from the protests of the pigs – they aren’t keen on ear tags. Our normal Monday group is assisting, as they have now done this several times. It’s good for their self-confidence to be able to show their skills to the students. It’s good for the students too, because it shows them that people with learning difficulties are actually more skilled at some things than they are.


Johno will be giving a couple of presentations to the college later today but he’s fitting in an interview with the local press at the moment because he’s standing for the local council in the May elections.

Got to go – politics is making me lose the will to live…


This is the 50th post on the blog and I’m typing it under the handicap of having cut my finger. It isn’t a big cut but it’s right on the tip of the middle finger of my right hand and it’s painful to keep hitting the keyboard with it. I say painful but I suppose in terms of childbirth it doesn’t hurt much. However, it is irritating.

I would not have said, until this morning, that I used it for typing much. I’m still convinced that I use my index fingers for most of my typing, but once you put a plaster on the middle finger it seems to become dominant. Maybe I’m actually a three-fingered typist and have only just realised.

Anyway, apart from moaning about my cut finger and making tea the first job of the day was goose herding. They stay in the barn overnight and we bring them across the yard to their pen for the day. I’m not sure they are always grateful but it was a nice bright day today so it didn’t trouble my conscience. As you can see, it’s a team effort.


Before the days of lorries this used to be the way that all large poultry were moved.

Traditionally geese are ready for market by Michaelmas (29th September), which marked the end of harvest and the start of the new farming year. People who could afford it would have a goose for Michaelmas. and it was the traditional Christmas fowl.  Approximately 20,000 geese a year were driven to Nottingham from Lincolnshire, entering the town through Goose Gate and ending up at the Goose Fair in the market place. In those days they used to apply tar to the feet of the geese to help them complete the long walk. Ours only have to walk a few yards so we don’t need to bother with tar.

This sounds impressive but set it against the estimated 250,000 turkeys that walked from Norfolk to London in 1720 it seems quite small. There were so many turkeys walking to London by the 19th Century that there were actually traffic jams of turkey flocks.

If only I’d known this before Christmas while it was still topical!




Locks, keys and luck…

The pin tumbler lock was probably an Egyptian invention, though it’s better known as the Yale lock these days. It’s not the world’s greatest lock but it’s widespread and convenient. If only the keys were as durable as the lock…

Yes, after watching my key bend a little more each day I really should have had a new one cut a couple of weeks ago, but you always think you can push it one more time don’t you? Well, I do. We don’t have many days off and when we do I never feel like going to a key shop.

It took surprisongly little force in the end. I was in the car, realised I had forgotten something and quickly went back to the house to get it. A quick twist of the lock and, with only about the force needed to break cheese, I had part of a key in my hand. And part of a key in the lock. Not a problem for me, just put the broken bit in and I was OK. However, you can’t really expect everyone else with a key to cut theirs to match so I had to do something.

Tweezers didn’t work and nor did a bent paperclip, banging the lock on the floor or swearing at it. Just as I was thinking of going for a new lock, and quite a lot of new keys, I saw what I was looking for. There was a small hole at the back. I’m not sure if it had always been there or if I revealed it in my attempts to dismantle the cylinder, but whatever it was, it was a life-saver.

Reapplication of the bent paperclip popped the broken piece out.

I’ve not had a great week so far but at last things may be looking up.

Hectic Day

It’s a windy day and the first thing we had to do on arrival was put chickens back in one of the coops where the top had blown off. One had managed to get 200 yards away. Then we had to drive the guinea fowl of of a neighbour’s garden where they had taken shelter from the wind – not everyone likes guinea fowl as much as I do.

They are currently hidden out of the wind somewhere in the trees behind the pizza oven. That’s not the best place for them because the trees are meant to conceal us from the man across the road who keeps complaining about the noise. Twenty guinea fowl calling and a howling wind will not be improving his day, or his thoughts about the farm.

After that it was time for a cup of tea, taken in a miserably cold centre. I suspect someone left the doors open this morning because thelights were on and the temperature was only 4 degrees higher than outside (14 degrees C compared to 10 outside). Normally you’d expect 18 – 20 degrees, which is a good temperature to work in. We used the boost, and the fan heater, but it took four hours to get up to 18 degrees.

The insulation is so good that although we have now had the extra heating off for three hours the temperature is holding, despite the outside temperature dropping. That is despite us opening the door around a dozen times – as long as you are quick about it there is no significant loss. In colder parts we’d have to have better arrangements but it’s OK for an English winter.

Strange as it sounds we were warmer in the barn wire-brushing an old fertiliser spreader we have been given. It’s going to make a grand centre-piece for the entrance. Current plans include flowers and a sheep sculpture. If you say it quickly it doesn’t seem difficult. If you say it slowly the flowers don’t sound difficult, but I’m not so sure about the sheep sculpture. We saw some great ones when we were in the Lake District in autumn, but most of them were inside. The only one I recall seeing outside was made by putting pieces of stone together, but we don’t have much stone round here. We have bricks and wood and willow.

I can’t see bricks being successful, though they do make a superb train in Darlington (admittedly one that doesn’t use many curves) and my attempts at a wooden reindeer were unimpressive so it looks like we will need to source some willow. On the other hand, I’ve just looked up “brick sculpture” and find myself thinking of LEGO…