A short compilation

I feel a bit guilty; I haven’t really posted anything recently, at least nothing that follows the loose blog theme that I have.

I have had a few ideas, I even have a few drafts which explore some of the journeys that I have taken since I took up temporary residence in Yorkshire, but I just can’t seem to put it together in my head or on paper; albeit electronic.

It’s strange, but I have read quite a few of my favourite blogs and it seems to be a common affliction, even if the reasons behind the doldrums may differ for other bloggers; I’m wondering what the underlying problem may be for me in particular?

I started writing this last night and never got any further, but after my journey to the shops this morning I managed to clear my head;  helped by the blizzard conditions, change the title and came up with a structure for this post.

First off is Sedbergh, I have family there and I planned to meet my other sister as she was holding a pointer day along with my aunty. Our family have been involved in the breeding of pointers for over 80 years, which explains why they were holding a pointer day, although I have a distinct lack of pictures of the event, or Sedbergh for that matter; but I did stop and admire the views on route.

It was a great day out, especially if you like pointers and I got to see one of my cousins for the first time in over twenty years and we made the most of our time, taking a walk around the surrounding counntryside and catching up, as the dedicated pointer people talked about pointer things 🙂

I pass by Ribblehead Viaduct every time I head over to Settle or Skipton for shopping or other such adventures! So I thought it only right to take a few pictures of this outstanding feat of engineering. The local myth is that the foundations are built upon wool, litrially; although after a little bit of research I discovered that the viaduct is built from the money from the woollen industry. I love the fact the it was built with a curve so that passengers of the train could admire the structure as the passed over it; the link above is worth a read, although there are many other references on the web for more information if you’re interested. I remember seeing the Flying Scotsman on the Settle to Carlisle line, which passes over the viaduct, as a child and placing a 2p coin of the track so that the train would run over it and I would have a memento of the event; I have no idea what happened to it, but I remember the moment! As you head on down the road you get to see the impressive Pen-y-ghent, which I scaled several times during my childhood.

As you may imagine, if you are aware of the weather in the UK at the moment, many of these roads are now impassable due to the heavy snow fall of the last few days; which scuppered a few of my plans, including my trip to Wigan to attend a Straw Bale workshop. I really sorry I missed it as it would have been a great opportunity to meet new people and learn a some new skills, but for the record check out www.wiganallotmentnetwork.org.uk ; a fantastic organisation with lots of community activities going on.

snowed in 23rd March 2013 (2)Road to Ribblehead

That was the condition of the roads, never mind the path through the fields down to the village.

Once I got to the shops they had run out of bread, amongst other things and a brief conversation soon revealed that they hadn’t received a delivery in two days! Just as well I have plenty of flour in 🙂

I just hope it clears for next weekend as I head off to Holland to see my beloved Gosia; I’m so looking forward to seeing her again after almost three months of separation. Thank you to Lady Sighs for providing the perfect words for how I feel.

Hoping your all safe and warm, I know I am now that I’m back from my trip to the shops 🙂

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 🙂

 

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.

DSC03736 DSC03949

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!