I need a bigger hat!

Egg production is on the up, yesterday was our first 10 egg day!

We have had 12 before now but that included Lillie’s secret stash of 4 in the goats hay rack. Lillie is the Lilliput hen than Kazek gave us a month or so ago.

Mays total was 181 and believe it or not we consumed them all along with an extra 20 that the mother-in-law shipped in with two brother in-laws who visited for a week to help out with work on the upstairs.

Despite the loss of one of the older hens the first batch of pullets are coming into lay and I expect that we will top 300 eggs this month.

And to make sure we have a steady supply through the winter we purchased 10 more pullets, about 10 weeks old, which should start laying in September and brings our flock up to a total of 30. ‘Enough’ I say as Gosia sets about making yet another cake! Although I do like cake.

With young pullets only costing a couple of quid each it’s a no brainer, 20 eggs each and they pay for themselves, based on the cost of inferior the low cost supermarket eggs. Our running tally of 360 eggs so far covers the cost of the first 18 that we purchased back in March. It will be interesting to see how quickly they pay for all the other sundry equipment that goes into their care.

Omelette anyone?

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We are not vegetarians

But we do care for animals, so when we arrived at the farm to view the świnia złotnicka that we had found via an advert on tablica.pl we were a little shocked at the conditions that the animals were kept in.

I guess we were a little naive to expect anything else, but after talking to the farmer a couple of times on the phone to check various details we had expected something a little different.

The search for a traditional Polish breed had taken a while and we had expected to have to travel over 200Km to find some that fit the standard, but then eagle eyed Gosia spotted a photo of the desired spotted pigs on the website and we made the call to discuss purchase. We were assured that they were in fact świnia złotnicka and that they were kept on grass. This turned out to mean that the sow was a świnia złotnicka and that they cut grass and included it in their diet fed in a wheel barrow. Buyer beware!

Still we were here and the thought of a 400Km round trip didn’t appeal, plus we had the opportunity to liberate a couple of piglets and so grabbing them by the hind legs I popped a couple into the back of the van.

That was three weeks ago, time which has not been without incident. Initially you think that the electric fence that you put together is sufficient to hold the timid little souls, well it is until they get a bit of confidence and realise that the shock is only a temporary thing and if you are moving fast enough you hardly even notice it! Still no harm done and there is the outer perimeter fence that I put up for the goats to keep them in, the electric fence was simply there to divide the paddock. Um well lets just say that the standing joke now is that I have spent two days putting in fencing that it has taken two days for the pigs to work out away around, or should that be through! Thankfully they respond to my voice and the promise of food, so despite having free range pigs as well as hens I can get them all back in there respective areas with a shout and a rattle of a bucket, the latter more effective.

I know the standard advice is not to name anything you intend on eating,  and my bucket call remains ‘c’mon pigs’, but as our lunchtime viewing is often Postman Pat, Masha and the Bear or Peppa Pig it was inevitable that we had to bring Pinky and Perky up to date, and so Peppa and George it is.

Peppa took a turn for the worse on Wednesday, fading fast into Thursday with a high temperature, no interest in food and buried in the straw of the arc (ark?). Friday morning and she was still no better and all the reading I had done indicated something that would end in death unless caught in time and treated with antibiotics, so we called the vet.

Arriving an hour and a half later he immediately administered three injections and then by our request. although against our organic principles, a worming shot. He even left a shot for George as we couldn’t catch him at the time. 70 Pln, yes that’s about £12.50 or just shy of $18 for a call out and injections. A very small price to pay in the hope that she might pull through. His diagnosis was as vague as mine and he left saying that the next 24 hours would settle her fate.

Two hours later and she was running around like a mad thing, eating drinking, ploughing the field, smiles all round. I guessed one of the shots must have been steroids as later that evening she was back in the same state, although the panting had eased. Expecting the worse the next day we found them both happy in with the chickens (two fences away) and so again our hopes were raised that all was well, but then as the day wore on the same thing. Which brings us to today, and as we set off to serve breakfast to our long and short term guests we discussed the possibility of finding a dead porker.

I headed to the barn to get the various mixes ready for the guests with special dietary needs as I heard Gosia exclaim something that I won’t even type in Polish.

Needless to say that she had opened the back door of the stable to let the chickens out into the run only to discover that someone had come in with a rotavator over night, or should I say two happy brown snouted pigs greeted her with grunts of glee 🙂

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Talking of vegetarians, I stumbled upon Rabbit Food the other day whilst searching for goats! I think Corrie Louise may well fill the food blog gap that Food and Forage Hebrides left, well worth a look.

Room for two more? it’s just a couple of kids!

Gosia and I often talk of livestock; what to get and more importantly when to get it and with spring sprung the choice of young stock is at it’s height. We had some success with lambs a few years ago, but then we put things on hold as we put our energy into the house and of course Malina! Now we have the chickens and following the progress across at Farma Sadlowo we decided it was time to take the plunge. We have considered a cow for a couple of years, heading towards the Dexter as a more manageable breed with its diminutive size, but a cow is a massive investment and unless you have something to do with all the milk can they be a waste of valuable time and resources, and so, like Terry and Marta we opted for a couple of goats.

As heard animals you are advised to always get at least two, and as the future plan is to milk them it seemed like two young does would be the answer. We decided on young goats so that we can train and tame them to make life easier for us in the future. We will also be free of the milking task until next year, given us the much needed time to finish the house and open up for business. Well at least that’s the plan!

Checking the internet for likely orphans we soon discovered a spot selling goats along with lambs at a very good rate and a decision was quickly made to buy two of each, but not quick enough as the offer had expired by the time we made the phone call. Still we went for option two and managed to pick up two three month old kids for a knock down price. Both very similar to look at but from different mothers, which could work in out favour in the future if we start to breed (the goats that is, our breeding days are over!)

I had already taken the hammer, saw and cordless drill down to the stable and after explaining to the chickens what was going on they agreed to give up a section of the holiday let to some new guests. Six pallets, a set of hinges and an old Snickers (Marathon to me) display tray to catch any stray hay and we were in business to take in the new residents. A short drive, two dog leads and five bales of straw in the van and we shuck hands on the deal.

You may recall that the hens had already outgrown there purpose built enclosure so I was glad to give it a new purpose, and after the second day we let the little ladies out to take on the grass that the hens had refused or failed to eat.

And there you have it, two more mouths to feed, but they fit in well with the morning and evening ritual, enjoying extra treats of willow branches cut from any tree I happen to pass on the journey and a handful of oats first and last thing to help to make friends. They already come running when they hear my voice and Gosia and Malina have also bonded with buckets of fresh picked grass.

Goat update.

It’s almost two weeks since we picked up the goats, from this day forward to be known as Sunday and Monday. It should have been Sandy and Mandy, but I misheard Gosia (no she doesn’t have a cockney accent) and by the time she noticed that I had given them different names it was too late. Despite that I thought it would make naming the next five easier and who knows it could be the birth of the ‘Happy Days Milking Company’! Gosia didn’t get it either.

Anyhow, the update is to report that they too have outgrown the holding pen and after a weeks work, forty three posts, one hundred and thirty five meters of wire fencing and an additional gate, I released them onto the bottom pasture. Lots of lovely spring grass and weeds, wild raspberry canes, sloe and hazel trees poking through or overhanging the fence. A goats paradise? Apparently not as they found a gap in my yet to be fixed gate and headed off on a mission for some clumps of grass they spotted on an earlier bid for freedom. Thankfully a willow branch laden with fresh leaves and a ‘come on girls’ and they were back in the fold. Sometimes I wonder if these animals appreciate the work I put in for them!

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How do you fit eighteen into a double bed?

Of course I could go with the original title ‘chicken week’ but then it’s more than two weeks since we got our first batch of chickens and it may be another week before I publish this post and as it stands you may still be intrigued as to why I chose the title I did, despite the clue.

As our belt tightening increases as the excess fat we had falls away on showers, tiles, flooring, stairs and other such fancy things, we decided it was time to commit some time to generating some more of our own food. And with our appetite for eggs outstripping the mother in-laws supply, chickens seemed like the obvious choice. Low cost and low maintenance, once the setup is done, perfect if I am to finish the upstairs in the house this year!

We did experience some really good weather in the middle of March and this spurred me on to fencing an area off for the flock, eager to keep the cost down I used some of the willow I had recently felled for the posts. I’m secretly hoping that they may take root and not rot, fingers crossed of that one. All in all, using the barn as one of the enclosing walls, I managed to create an area of about 200 square meters for them to free range in. I may extend this in future but it seemed like a good area to start with and it used up a 50m roll of wire fence that we picked up cheep!

The old stable, our home for three summers, was the obvious choice for chicken house as we know that it is rat proof, fairly well insulated and provides plenty of space.

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A quick read through a couple of books, plus a scan on the interweb and I concocted a plan for the perch and nesting area. The perch is made up using the willow that seems to be strewn across the land at the moment and is attached to the wall with a handy hinge so that it can be lifted and secured when I do the muck out. Thank you http://www.raising-chickens.org the idea.

As for the nesting boxes, well that’s when the old head and foot board came into play and our double bed was cut up to create eight nesting boxes. By rights you need one box for every four chickens so that’s accommodation for thirty two sorted out, but as the title suggests we ended up with eighteen chucks.

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It could well have turned out differently as we met the man with the chicken van outside the local church to make our purchase, astute as he was, spotting my English accent, he began to pass startled chickens out of his aromatic van counting out the ten layers (ex battery hybrids) and five 3 month old pullets (mixed breed) that we requested. He then added four more layers and five more pullets, mumbling something that Gosia understood to be ‘these ones are on the house’ alas when it came to paying he expected payment for all! Imagine his surprise when Gosia announced that we didn’t have the money for the extras, and so he proceeded to taka back the extras that we couldn’t afford declaring that he didn’t believe that an Englishman didn’t have any money! Still we ended up with three extra at a reduced price and we are now the happy feeders and collectors of ten layers and eight pullets.

By sheer coincidence, as the deal was going down, a police car pulled up and parked within 20 meters of this shady avian exchange and as we set off back on the road we were hailed and waved to a stop. Perhaps there is a law against the trading of chickens within sight of a church? We had seen some curtains twitching when we first arrived and news travels faster the village than by satellite.

As it happens there was a wide load coming through the village (a temporary shop by all accounts) and the police were directing traffic to take an alternate route, so our slate remains clean in the eyes of the law and God, I think!

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Dorrota and Steve, our friends from across the valley,  have built up quite a flock themselves over the last year or two were kind enough to donate a cock and lots of out of date bread to supplement our chickens diet. The bread needs to be dried first and then soaked as required before adding to the grain mix that we have a plentiful supply of. Having under floor heating helps with the drying process!

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So as March ended we reached a twelve day tally of thirty-nine eggs, just about enough to keep me eating the diet I have become accustomed to, although in April we had to ask Gosias mum for an egg injection to get us over the Easter period and the additional salads and cakes that are an expected part of the celebrations in Poland. Still we are averaging about four eggs a day, not bad considering the cold and snowy weather we are having at the moment, roll on this week as the temperatures are supposed to rise. The outside jobs are mounting up and we need more eggs to keep me going 🙂

Teraz terrace

I’m looking out of the window, just back from walking the dogs, happy that I made it before the storm that is now upon us. After a week of temperatures close to and exceeding 30 C it’s almost a relief to hear the crack of lightening and catch the cooling breeze through the open window; the crops will certainly benefit from the rain and if the forecast is to be believed then we should have a cooler week ahead to look forward to.

It’s been a hectic week or so as our friend Slawek came over to help out with the building of the terrace, working to the suns schedule we put in some serious time and have achieved a great deal, but it has made us realise that when your building a house you have little time for anything else. So we finally made the decision that keeping livestock this year is no longer an option, I think we knew this already and as time has gone by the inevitable conclusion had to be drawn; after all we have struggled to look after the garden this week and forgetting to water  your pigs is a little more serious than neglecting to the water the tomatoes; there’s always next year 🙂

Monday 17th June:

After a trip to the iron mongers to stock up on nails, nuts and bolts we started building the terrace.

Tuesday 18th June:

Building the terrace

Wednesday 19th June:

Building the terrace

Thursday 20th June:

Building the terrace. Emptied the composting toilet! And for those of you eagle eyed and interested people out there who noticed that it has lasted a long time then I can assure you that I have emptied it on two previous occasions, I just forgot to add the date to the Composting Toilet Diary; shame on me.

Friday 21st June:

Building the terrace

Saturday 22nd June:

Building the terrace

Of course it was all a little bit more involved than that and Slaweks woodworking experience shows as he has notched joists and created large scale mortise joints for the supporting posts; no metal angle brackets on this build. Meanwhile Gosia has got to grips with the plainer that we have borrowed from a family friend and the piles of wood shavings are testament to the many cubic meters of wood that have made it past the spinning blades; very sharp blades as the cuts on the back of my fingers prove after slipping when installing new blades. Mind you when you consider the lack of guards and the exposed mechanics of the home made machine then a couple of nicks are needed to earn respect and avoid more serious injury.

Respect
Hard to believe that this plainer thicknesser was hand built during the communist era; if you wanted something back then you built it! And it works a treat.

You may guess that this is a big job and we were happy to have achieved the lower level and get the joists down ready for the decking next week; unfortunately the modrzew (larch) that we are using for the planks is very hard on the blades, as whilst the pine that we have used for the framing gave up it’s outer layers without too much fuss the boards require a little more attention, consequently we have had to order a new set of hardened steel blades. Lets hope they arrive in good time next week.

As I mentioned in my last post the horseflies are having a feeding frenzy and you have to be quick if you want to avoid making a blood donation to the insect world, thankfully we had the help of the yellowhammer. For some odd reason, possibly just because we are there, the horseflies are attracted to the white walls of the building and fly into them kamikaze style; dazed and confused by the sudden interruption in their flight they then fall to the floor and this is the point that our little yellow friends step in and are quick to take advantage of an immobilised lunch. I’m not sure if it’s learned behaviour, but a pair of birds have remained with us all week and they are happy to come within a few meters of us as we worked and of course we are happy with a reduction in the blood sucking insect population.

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Our little yellow friends

It’s easy to take all the wildlife for granted as you get used to seeing the newts, lizards, slow worms and toads, all good food for the visiting stalks and our resident buzzard who has happily started to announce his presence once again after a worrying mute period. Sadly none of these wondrous creatures eat the potato beetle and as the lave that missed our inspection start to grow the potato’s are starting loose a bit of foliage; lets hope this wont affect the crop too much and that our efforts of hand picking pay off. It’s a little disheartening as you see the farmer next door spray his crop, eradicating the pest almost over night; such an easy solution, or is it?

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Our potato patch

One final note, as I took a quick photo before we left of Saturday, the tomato experiment is starting to show results; the plant on the left seems to be developing a little faster than that on the right, contrary to the result I was hoping for as the plant on the right is the one grown in the humanure mix. Still it’s early days and it’s quite likely that I used two different plant varieties such was my attention to detail when I set up this highly scientific experiment. I only remember which one is which by remembering what right rhymes with!

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Humanure challenge tomato plants

150 Kg P = 900 M²

The equation for chips with everything! Or at least the start of the formula that will be expanded upon as time goes by, ah yes time; x T 🙂

Well maybe not chips as I can only recall having them a few times last year and only twice so far this year when I was in the UK, but it’s certain that we will be eating potatoes in some variation on a fairly regular basis once our crop comes through.

So let me explain, we (Gosia) planted six 25Kg sacks of seed potatoes on Tuesday the 23rd, covering an area of approximately nine hundred square meters, I would have loved to have helped, but as ever I just happened to be doing something else 🙂 Although, with the aid of Kazek, his son Pawel, a tractor and a planting machine the work was done in a little less than an hour. Unfortunately for me the deal is that as I missed the planting I’m now in charge of weeding and pest control!

It has to be said that as the ground hasn’t been worked for over 12 years and with the minimal preparation that we have done, it was considered ‘not too good’ for planting potatoes. However I insisted that we plant as I have read in the past that spuds will dig the land for you; something that my Uncle backed up as he has memories from his childhood on a post war small holding that concur; the best way to bring old land back into play is to plant it up with potatoes; we will see.

This left quite a chunk of land, so we set aside about 1000 M² for vegetable crops and the following day, the 24th, set about broadcasting 150 Kg of oats we had on the remaining 7000 M². Once again I was busy with something else and Kazek and Gosia paced the field for a good couple of hours scattering the seed as they went; I did get involved in setting up top-up points throughout the land to enable easy refilling of buckets, but other than that my input was minimal; thankfully it’s not a crop that needs weeding!

Broadcasting the oats
I was busy taking a photo 🙂

The primary reason for oats is to provide food for livestock in the future; it is also a very easy crop to grow and should do well without any further intervention, even on our heavy clay soil. As a reminder for myself, it is not recommended to grow oats on the same land in successive years, so I will have to investigate what we do next year; but that’s a long way off 🙂

One final note, again to myself, the potatoes were free and will provide any future seed requirements, the oats came in at 100 Zloty (£20) and fuel costs so far 450 Zloty (almost £100). We have of course more fuel cost to come at harvest time so that will have to be added to the equation, but if fuel costs keep going up like this I can see that we will be giving up the stable for a few horses, we should at least be able to feed them next year 🙂

Blogging: real-time education.

I occasionally search for other blogs with a similar subject matter to my own and I was rewarded in the last couple of days when I found http://vibrantenergies.wordpress.com/ an inspiring site for anyone who has an interest in straw bale construction. The detail provided expands upon my own write up of our straw bale house and the I have nothing but admiration for the team as they have built without plans and no real assistance from outside contractors; a true inspiration.

As anyone who reads my blog you will know, I tend to go beyond the subject of straw bale and as our future plans include the running of a self sufficient small holding, with bed and breakfast on the side, my search for relevant blogs stretches far and wide.

One site that has really caught my eye is the great Sugar Mountain farm, the livestock farming methods described are fascinating and I would love to go down the route of pasture pigs (sheep and chickens) as it will reduce our reliance on commercial feed; something that we would like to avoid altogether. The detailed information provided on the methods used and the reassurance that they have to deal with very similar climate conditions to those that we experience in Poland has convinced me that this will be a route that we take once we have completed the house. It will certainly raise the eyebrows of the local farmers who still marvel at the fact that we kept our sheep outside last year, never mind pigs!

As you would imagine there are a number of blog sites dedicated to running smallholdings and crofts, growing crops, animal husbandry and self sufficiency in general; many of which I subscribe to. In doing so I have access to so much valuable information that is written from experience rather than the prescribed methods set down in the many text books on the subject; and for me this a great example of the power of the blog. Of course this is in turn powered by the internet, but as we all know the internet in itself can be very confusing and provide conflicting and somtimes out of date information; what the blog format brings is real-time information from real people and as a rule you can get in touch with the author and ask them questions. I cannot think of a better format to educate oneself in your subject of interest and expand your knowledge further as you are drawn to the comments of others and invariably follow the links to the commentators own blog. My understanding and growing interest in permaculture has evolved as I have followed the route above and an honourable mention has to go to Deano at the sustainable smallholding; he provides detailed guidence as he journeys through his permaculture diploma. His dedication, enthusiasm, willingness to try something new to satisfy his own curiosity and the fact that he has spent the time to share his experience make this a must read if you want to explore the subject further.

It is also good to see that many bloggers decide to go that extra mile and I was pleased to see that Under the Linden Tree is involved in the creation of the Sanctuary Network, although it is still in its infancy I hope that its membership and ethos can spread far and wide; why not sign up and join in, the more the merrier 🙂

There are of course many other blogs which I follow and read, often making my laugh, cry, cringe or contemplate; I have listed a few of my favourites in a previous post so make yourself a brew and take a look, you may be surprised on what is on offer.

It was that cold my MP3 player stopped working!

It’s not actually that cold, but it is true that my MP3 player stops working when the temperature is below zero. It took me a while to work it out as I thought the battery was on the blink and the unit was no longer holding a charge, but then after several experiments it appeared that I could get my player to work if I held it in my gloved hand. Strange but true! I’m glad I solved the problem before the Archers omnibus on Sunday.

But that’s not the reason for this post, in fact there is no reason for this post; it’s just a bit of a ramble.

Gosia seems to be doing well in Holland and the work isn’t too hard (maybe it is, I’m making this up), if anything I think she would like to find another job to help make the days pass quicker; I have of course reminded her that I’m still waiting for her to make my crocheted underwear in the hope that would distract her for a while and keep the hooks in motion, but it seems she can’t find a coarse enough yarn for the purpose! Although I understand that as the cold weather hits Holland she has being busy crocheting hats.

To her delight she has discovered that the largest covered market in Europe is on her doorstep and the Turkish market in particular is full of wonderful foods and spices at a remarkably low price, so fresh fruit and veg is the diet of choice; so much for my objections to globalisation! I pointed her in the direction of Food and Forage Hebrides for some great spicy recipe ideas.

I’m looking forward to visiting her as soon as the opportunity arises, I spend my days thinking of excuses so I’m sure I’ll come up with a plan soon:)

My earlier thought about knitted underwear reminded me of a great film that I watched recently ‘The Hairdressers Husband’ which then reminded me to tell you about Beetlypete again, who has started a fascinating series of posts on great films from around the world, which in turn has led me to try and discover some of the wonder he has found in the many titles he recommends. Well worth a look, even besides the film reviews.

As it is Friday today meat is off the menu, a tradition that is rooted in the dominant catholic religion of Poland, not that I mind this at all as I can quite happily survive on a vegetarian diet; only occasionally getting the urge to eat red meat! But I do get this urge and that is why we intend to keep animals for meat in the future, not so that we can gorge ourselves silly with fistfuls of blood dripping flesh, but so we can have a controlled and balanced diet; knowing where our food is from and knowing how it was treated before it reaches our plate is something we want to achieve. We experimented with lamb this year and even though the slaughtering was a little traumatic we needed to go through the process to make sure it would be a viable idea for the future. Gosias family is already converted to this strange meat so I can see a small flock developing this year.

Having conducted a bit of research yesterday following the ‘My Lidl Pony’ scandal I was shocked to find that many small farmers, crofters, smallholders and even some of the bigger players in the market have culled their herds of pigs this year as the cost of feeding is now greater that the price offered by the supermarkets. This article on the animal slaughter, brought to my attention by Stonehead provides more detail, but with an expected pork price rise of between 15 and 50% predicted for next year I’m hoping to buy some good breeding stock to help support my Polish family as pork is by far the most widely eaten meat in this part of Europe. Mind you hopefully one of the consequences of this drastic action will be that pork is produced and sold at a more realistic price in the future, at least it may give some of the smaller free range breeders a chance to sell and make a bit of money for a change.

Mind you these things are all a long way off and I need to get off my lazy backside and get on with the house before I have any time for all this animal husbandry, never mind all the other plans that seem to be floating around in my head. Unfortunately the ten day forecast and predicted low temperatures are still putting me on hold; along with my Walkman 🙂

 

Preperation

Preparation for next years kitchen garden.

Deciding what to do when you wake up in the morning can be a difficult decision,  not because we are short of ideas; far from it, its because we have too much to do. First of all you have to consider the weather, if it’s sunny then an outside job is on the cards, but if it’s too windy we are unlikely to traversing the scaffold and if it’s raining then we will probably want to work inside the house. Then of course you have to prioritise the work, if you have run out of wood then chopping more is a good idea, but then finishing the soffit and starting to mark out the internal walls in the house are becoming more important. Luckily for me I have Gosia, who has the ability to assimilate all of the information and decide on the days action. Of course I put up a bit of a fight if I’m not keen, had one two many beers the night before or simply disagree with the whole plan, procrastinate as I do, nine times out of ten you can be assured that Gosias plan is by far the best and most sensible and becomes the course of action for the day (I don’t know why I’m writing this, she never reads the blog!)

Gosia working hard as ever.

Anyway as we have had such good weather, cold but dry and sunny, we have turned our attention to some outdoor tasks and put in some time creating our veg patches ready for next year. Steve was good enough to pop over with his tractor and rotavator and turned over two areas of land that we have earmarked for cultivation. I had laid down old straw over the summer along with the muck out from the lambs shelter, most of which had rotted down over time, and this was chopped up nicely and mixed with the soil as Steve gave three or four passes on the tractor. Once completed we laid even more straw on top to suppress any weeds that may want to break out and in the spring we intend to rotavate it all again a couple of weeks before planting. The two areas cover about 70 square meters and will be primarily used as our kitchen garden. We have also ploughed the ‘top field’ by the house, around 900 square meters, for our main crop of potatoes, grain, beet and other crops for animal fodder. The exact distribution is yet to be decided, but animal feed is the main goal. As we hope to gain organic status in the future we have to consider what we plant and how we fertilise which adds a degree of complication, but we have contact with a local organic farmer and hope to visit him soon to discuss the best way to achieve this given our type of land.

Top field above the house
Top field above the house.

Earlier in the year we had prepared a couple of raised beds and a couple of terraces; these were initially planted with beans, of various varieties, and peas; the idea been to get some nitrogen into the ground (peas and beans fix nitrogen in the soil). Everything cropped well and the dried beans will provide many a meal more over winter time; sadly the peas, fresh and frozen, are all gone, they were so good that they have all taken an indirect route to the composting pile 🙂 The terraces were replanted with around 30 strawberry plants in September, all of which seem to have taken well and we added 20 black current bushes to the surrounding area. The black currents were pruned hard back, leaving just three buds, the idea here is to encourage root growth for a good crop in two years time. We have existing black and red current bushes along with gooseberry and masses of raspberries that spread through the orchard; Gosia spent over two days pruning these back after this years crop, so you can imagine the quantity we have, but even with such a large quantity nothing went to waste as we have jam, cordials and liqueurs from the spoils not to mention all that were eaten fresh or given away; we hope to plant some late fruiting varieties in the future to extend the glut even further. We also have the future task of spraying the fruit trees with a bordeaux mixture as we suffered from quite a bit of fungas related disease and bordeaux is a good organic solution; copper sulphate was ordered over the internet and we have plenty of lime left over from the render, so all that remains is to mix and spray; maybe a task for next week once I check the required ratios again 🙂

Of course you don’t think for a minute that Gosia would let me get away with doing nothing on the house do you? Just because external work is now on hold we still had the task of clearing the site and re stacking the wood that we have for the construction of the terrace; taking a note of dimensions so that we can refer back to the plans and order any wood required so that it may season over winter. We have also decided on a wooden decking for the terrace so this needs to calculated and added to out wood yard shopping list. Incidentally we cleared up all the tin off-cuts from the roof and weighed it in at the scarp yard, another 100 pln; which just about covers the cost of the bath. Now to find some taps and sort out a water supply!

Sheep, mutton, hogget and lamb.

Our first attempt at keeping livestock

As I mentioned in Ba ba Black sheep we kept a couple of lambs over the summer to fatten up for the freezer and we intend to do the same again next year, possibly keeping a couple of ewes long term, I thought it would be a good idea to document things in a little more detail.

Armed with a book I found a book on ebay a couple of years ago ‘ Backyard Sheep Farming’ I thought we had enough information to get started; first things first though, lets look at the equipment list:

  • Fencing: We decided on electric as it was cheap and flexible, very important if you intend to move your sheep about. We managed to pick up 500m of wire, 100 insulators and an energizer that can be powered by battery or mains for less than £60. We had wooden posts left over and reclaimed from when we set out our batter boards marking the house foundations and I utilised the orchard trees if they formed the perimeter of our paddocks. I also just happened to have a couple of old spare car batteries that I have kept in cold storage, just waiting for a purpose. Once charged up I alternated the two batteries once a month to keep the system live.
  • Housing: As a Yorkshire man I had not imagined keeping the sheep indoors, even if that’s what people do in Poland, however it does get hot in the summer so I knocked up a shelter against the side of the old house to provide shade if required. The shelter is about a meter and a half square made from old shuttering planks and some ashfelt left over from the foundation damp course, all very thrifty stuff.
  • Food: What’s green and grows all over the place? Grass, and we have plenty of it; although I had read that sheep don’t like long grass, so I topped the long grass in the orchard with the tractor a couple of weeks before the lambs arrived. We also invested in a ‘salt lick’ which supplements the trace elements if they are not present in the normal diet. The salt lick was placed in the shelter. We also used a bucket and plastic trough for water, both positioned in shaded areas to stop the water heating up in the sun. We did splash out £10 on the trough, but it later became one of our mixing bowls for the earth plaster on the house, no doubt it will be a trough again in the summer 🙂
  • Lambs: Apparently you are able to buy lambs on the black market in Poland if you know the right people. We bought two and completed all the paperwork (which I won’t bore you with) They were about 3 months old and weaned. the lambs cost around £120 for the pair, although this cost was shared with our friends Steve and Dorota; the deal being that we would keep them as long as they arranged the slaughter; a deal which worked out well.

I initially set out the fence with two wires spaced at 30cm and 45cm from the ground, providing about 150 square meters of grassland around an old wild plumb tree for shade along with the shelter that I had built; this took me about 3 hours to complete.  After the short journey from their previous home, quite stressful for all I think, we reversed the van to the paddock, let them find their way out and closed the fence behind them; easy!

I did stay and observe them for some time to check on their general well being and to make sure that the fence did the trick. I have read in several books that electric fencing is not the best solution for sheep as the wool can insulate them, the one thing that isn’t often mentioned though is that sheep are quite intelligent and once they have had there first shock (about 30 minutes after they arrived) they stayed away from the fence; or at least for the first month or so 🙂 I did become a little worried in the first week as they didn’t appear to be drinking, but then the water level started to slowly go down, I did later read that they get most of the water they need form the grass, especially when its freshly grown. However we still provided fresh water on a regular basis and if you watched them for long enough you would see them taking a slurp or two. As they lived relatively close by to the stable they were checked every day at least once, more often than not several times a day. They became quite a draw for any visitors, especially if they had children; many a time I made the mad dash to turn off the electric fence before a small hand reached out to touch the sheep:) Unfortunately I didn’t always remember to turn it back on again which may explain the few times that an escape took place.

After about 10 days I decided to expand the fence to cover the entire orchard, splitting it in two to create a second paddock. The intention was to graze them in one half, then the other, to prevent the build up of worms and parasites; in reality this never happened and they ended up with around two acres of grass and orchard to charge around in, more than adequate I thought, but I will plan better next year.

We then settled down to a long hot summer and with the generous help of our neighbors added beat leafs and oats to their diet, only a fist or hand full each day. They also enjoyed a couple of young fruit trees that I had inadvertently left within their reach along with windfall apples and plumbs; seeing the plumbs go in and the stones spit out was funny to see. We also discovered that they had a fondness for dried bread which then became the treat food that they would follow you anywhere for. In the end we could call them from over 50 meters away and they would come running (bouncing) towards you for the promise of a little dried morsel. This allowed us to open the fence up every now and again and let then run free around the barn and stable and the greener grass on the other side; I even took them for a walk to see the house and surrounding area, well over a miles walk!  I have since read that they are as intelligent as dogs (don’t tell Jackie and Scooby) and can recognise faces, which goes some way to explaining their tame behavior  Incidentally the dogs showed the lambs no aggression and we had a few entertaining face off’s between them and the young male who always seemed to chase the dogs off in the end 🙂

In the end though we knew they had to go, it was something that we had planned right from the start and especially as the male was starting to get boisterous;  I was worried about my ability to handle him anymore, even with a loaf of dried bread to hand 🙂 I wont go into detail of the slaughter as there is not much to tell, it was over and done with quickly and we split the carcasses so that we could share out the meat with Steve and Dorota. We did our own butchering and have enjoyed several glorious meals to date; a couple of roasts, a curry and a shepards pie; the meat is sweet and tender,although I would like to hang the carcass next time to improve the flavour and make butchering easier.

For the record we collected over 50Kg of meat, for £120 plus capital expenditure of say £80; which should be be spread over say five years; £16 per year, so 50Kg for £136 = £2.72 per Kg. The cost to cure two fleeces was around £38 if you include transport costs.

Lessons learnt and plans for next year

  • The electric fence works well, but can be breached if they really want to, so keep your sheep tame(ish) and they will be less likely to go too far if they break for freedom. You could of course build an expansive fencing system.
  • Make sure that you have separate paddocks to allow the movement of the sheep to prevent worms and parasites; I have further reading to do on the subject but the principle should be followed.
  • Buy some Verm-x, organically certified worming treatment.
  • Make sure that any male lambs we buy are castrated and the tails docked (male and female)
  • Buy two ewes from a registered source for future breeding, preferably a recognised rare or traditional breed.
  • Use an abattoir for the slaughter and slaughter later in the year, November onward. Consider keeping one on as a Hogget (12-18 months old) before slaughter.
  • Make sure the carcass is whole and hang for a least 10 days, as long as the slaughter is done later in the year it should be possible to do this at home.
  • Keep the fleeces, I want that jacket Gosia 🙂

Anything to add? Any pearls of wisdom will be received with gratitude, especially if specific to Poland and in English 🙂

And if your interested and want to read more there are some great things on the web as well: The Accidental Smallholder  is a top read covering a wide variety of smallholder subjects.

Tales from the village

Believe them or not, everybody has a tail to tell and todays story of sheep transported via the local bus service compelled me to let you know about the best I’ve heard yet. Regarding the sheep, I did enquire if they went half or full fare; but of course they went free as they where under two years old!! This was back in the communist 80’s

But imagine a poor farmer who’s cow suddenly dies during calf birth and he doesn’t have insurance to cover such an event; what do you do? Speak to a friendly neighbour who has insurance and ask to swap cows of course; what a great idea. But what if your cow is a completely different colour? Not to worry, there is someone in the village who can change the identity of your cow with the aid of boot polish, spray paint and no doubt the gift of the gab. All for the price of a flaszka (bottle of vodka)Smile

Ba ba black sheep

Well not anymore as we picked up our two sheep skins from the tannery, all soft, white and fluffy.

If you didn’t know we kept a couple of lambs over the summer as an experiment on ourselves to see if we could keep and kill animals for our own use; all part of the future self sufficiency dream ….or necessity.

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We fed them well; beet leafs, grain, plumbs (as they fell from the trees) not to mention the apples, all supplemented their usual diet of grass; they had the run of the orchard. We even discovered that they were very fond of dried bread, which was handy as it allowed us to call them and move them about quite easily; even to their eventual journey in the back of the van to see ‘the man’.

They had a good life, no doubt longer and happier then they would have had otherwise and in the end we have and have had some great food, and as of today two lovely sheep skins. I think Gosia has her eye on one of them to make a hat and maybe some slippers, I wonder which one I get for Christmas Smile

It’s not a very popular meat in Poland, it seems to have gone out of fashion quite a long time ago, and peoples memory is of a very strong tasting meat; no doubt from mutton. Mind you, slow cooked in red wine with some garlic and rosemary and we have managed to convert Gosias family; we have orders for next years flock already, so don’t be surprised if you see me in a sheepskin coat next year!