Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Wor Horse - Jaspar's Carrots

You have met the sheep, the hens and the piggies. Now to introduce you to one of the most well loved croft animals, "Wor Horse" Jaspar the rescued Shetland pony.

Jaspar is like a great big fluffy teddy bear and a family and guest favourite. He loves cuddles and especially his top lip being tickled! He seems to grow through the winter when he gets his wooly bear coat, then slims down to super slinky Jaspar in the summer!

Shetland ponies are a small hard working breed that has been around for more than 2000 years.  For their size they are the strongest of all horse breeds and were well used throughout the UK, and especially in the North east of England as pit ponies. Thank you to the Shetland Pony Stud Book Society for the background to this remarkable breed - http://www.shetlandponystudbooksociety.co.uk/about-the-breed.

We are so grateful to have this little man. He was abandoned in a farmers field when the poor farmer went out of business. A passing vet pulled over a farm worker in a nearby field and asked if he knew who the pony belonged to because if he was not taken off the grass immediately he would die!  He was so fat and could barely move. Apparently (according to our farrier Mick) Shetlands will walk all day in their native country for a few blades of rough grass. When not in their natural habitat, Shetlands, with their barrel belly, are very greedy, and prone to obesity and laminitis. Laminitis is a nasty disorder for horses.  According to Wikipedia, laminitis is a progressive disease that can eventually lead to the horse having to be put to sleep. It does not just affect horses surprisingly, but any ungulates, although horses seem more prone.  For more information on laminitis, please check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laminitis.  In Jaspar's case, the kindly farm worker rescued him and took him off the field to his own smaller garden to graze.

As luck would have it, the farm worker was none other than our own guardian shepherd Sinky (of the Thank Ewe blog fame https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8040445772055115604#editor/target=post;postID=7016434076975598527;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=3;src=postname).

And as these things sometimes are destined to be, one time when he was tending our little flock, I mentioned we would love a small pony. So, off we all trooped to Sinky's garden to see the cheeky chap up close. And it was love at first sight.  Within a day or two, he was our latest addition to the croft.

He is such a nice natured Shetland - which I have since found out is unusual. He does however have their cheeky streak, and he does like to try to show us he is the boss.  But as with most Shetlands, Jaspar can be trained with food. We just shout his name and he knows if he runs over, he will be rewarded with a juicy carrot!

Jasapr was put on healthy diet, and given lots of exercise.

After a few months, we decided to see if he could be ridden. Off he went to a fabulous local riding school, Slate Hall (http://www.slatehallridingcentre.com) and the team led by Marion and Paula, worked their magic on Jaspar.

We went up regularly to help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPUYcpNav7Y&feature=youtu.be

From being a muddy field pony, he quickly became the heart melter for the pony club, and when ever we went to see him, he would be brushed to a shine, with hooves perfectly polished and pretty braids in his hair. He was transformed!

He was also broken in and we were told he was one of the nicest Shetland's they'd ever worked with, despite struggling to find a saddle and tack small enough! Check him out jumping here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VijwAo4gok&feature=youtu.be

It has turned out that our little Jaspar is bomb proof in all areas - riding school, jumping, grooming, transporting,  road and beach walking, even good amongst heavy traffic (well, bin lorries - there is not that much heavy traffic up here usually).  We would often see him being ridden around Seahouses by the pony club girls.  And he loved the other ponies' company too.

But we missed him. Terribly.

So, back he is, at the croft, and we are searching for a little field mate for him. He likes the pigs, ducks, hens, dogs and sheep, but he would love a pony pal. The search is on - in earnest - someone needs to share Wor Horse's carrots!

You can see more of Jaspar and his home at:

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Flying Pigs

Yay! The piglets have arrived!  We knew yesterday they would not be very long in coming because mummy had built a big nest to farrow in, and she just could not settle.

She kept coming up to us for back rubs; she made mud wallows; she paced the holding area; she stood up; she lay down; she stood up again, but nothing was comfortable for her, poor thing.

She had a huge feed last night and then this morning, when I crossed the field to the stables, I expected to hear her usual squeal for breakfast but all I heard and saw was Flossie. I quickly fed Flossie then ran into the stables to be greeted by 3 little pigs! They must have flown out!

Mum was still uncomfortable though. She kept standing up, then sitting down, then lying down and in between pushing with her contractions. After an hour of watching her struggle, she finally delivered her fourth and last piglet, and compared to the other three, this one was much bigger.  So that would explain her distress!  What was especially sweet though was how, even as she pushed through the pain of her contractions, she was aware of her other babies and adjusted her tummy so they could still feed! Amazing instinct from this young first time mum!

Check out this You Tube video if you want to see the actual birth:


The piglets have soft downey hair, blue eyes, stuck back ears and the cutest little curly tails! They already know their mum's grunt and she knows their squeaks. When she lies on her side, they sometimes can't reach the top line of teats, so mum wriggles to reveal her lower row to save them stretching too far.

So, after an eventful few hours, and thanks to the grace of Mother Nature, we have Budle Bay Croft's first ever pigs born.  Mum is knackered. Piglets are greedily feeding. What is so adorable to see though, over and above the gorgeous little piglets and their clever mum, is Snooty's pal, Flossie, snuggling up next to them all and looking out for her extended family - so sweet!


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Pigs in blankets

Living on a bucolic small holding means we can move the animals around the fields according to the seasons, their needs and our fancy.  Yesterday we had a shift around for a very exciting event. Snooty, our rare breed Middle White pig, is due to give birth this week.  

Why we have a pregnant sow goodness only knows (whoever he is)?  We always said we would not winter pigs again after the desperately cold water 3 years ago when we needed to boil kettles just to give them drinking water because everything was so frozen. It was so cold,  Amazon couldn't deliver Christmas presents, and here on the croft, my hand even stuck to the food scoop!  But, when we searched for 2 healthy weaners to fatten for Christmas pigs in blankets and Nigella's Coca Cola ham (http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/ham-in-coca-cola-171), Stephen, The Kind Pig Farmer, said why not be brave, and have a sow and a weaner instead? 

The plan was to fatten the weaner, and then let her go on her festive trip after the sow had her babes, so that the sow would not be lonely (pigs like pigs company you see). Well here is the thing. Snooty is sweet and all that, but we have fallen rather in love with her pal Flossy (yeah, the festive feast, and called Flossy because a guest's toddler thought that she looked like fluffy candy floss). Well, looks like we will have 2 girls and a load of piglets at Christmas and a rude, undressed turkey!

Anyway, we have taken her out of the Hogswarts woods, emptied Pigglywinks and set up the nursery in The Lamb Joint.  Not because there is any special pig-ubator or anything in there - no - its just the pig ark is too low for me to stand up in, and if I am going to have to get involved in anyway, I need to be able to stand up.

So,  Jaspar the pony was teased with apples into the Haugh (that's the river meadow).

The Kune Kune pigs, Harry Trotter and George Kluney Kluney (the better looking one), were tempted with quince, hay and plums into the orchard.

And the sheep herded into the bottom field on the promise of some sheep snax.

Well, at least that was the plan. But anyone who has any common sense knows that working with animals can be unpredictable. So, Jaspar went to the childrens' play ground, the Kune Kunes got mixed in with the sheep. And the sheep in turn behaved more like cats when trying to herd them, with half the flock in the bottom field, almost all of the rest in the top field and 5 cheeky lambs in the orchard!

After much shenanigans, we now have the right animals in the right fields, and a pregnant sow getting bigger (and grumpier) by the day.  She has been taking herself off to the shallow parts of the river to lie down and cool off. And she is fighting Flossy for food, ensuring she and her babes get sufficient! 

 Middle Whites are an interesting breed, very docile, they don't root (which can cause havoc with fence posts) and they enjoy nothing more than being tickled to sleep.  This traditional English rare breed originated in Yorkshire in the late 1800's, and is an endangered line.

I am often asked how many babies our girl will have - truth be told I don't know for sure. Apparently she could have anywhere between 5 and 11!  I have absolutely no idea what I will do with 11 piglets.  I am assured by the kind pig farmer that people want to buy weaners to fatten.  I am equally assured by the kind pig farmer that people want to buy weaners to breed from. I surely hope so, or we will be having suckling pig for Christmas dinner, and not the traditional turkey.

I am also often asked whether pigs need much intervention when they have their young. Again, truth be told, I have absolutely no idea. I have been reading up on the matter (google is a Godsend) and asked around. It does seem like they are similar to our Jacob ladies and just get on with it. But, if there is a problem, they will need some help. And here's my next concern. Is it the sort of help the ewes need, i.e. put your arm in, maybe move the lamb about a bit and then pull it out in a downwards direction with a contraction? Or is it something even more technical altogether? According to The Kind Pig Farmer, they should just pop out like shelled peas.  There might be one that's "sheeted" but apparently I just pull it off (yuk). Some of them might have long umbilical cords too. Now sheep umbilicals just snap off when they are born, and with a drop of iodine, the lamb is protected from infections. However, it seems that with pigs, I might need to cut the cord to 6 inches with scissors and then treat with antiseptic.  Now that sounds all fine and dandy, but The Kind Pig Farmer also went on to advise me that they are slippery little blighters (the piglets, not the cords), so I have to make sure I don't launch them across the stable when I first pick them up!  As it's Snooty's first litter The Kind Pig Farmer said he wouldn't expect a huge number of piglets, probably 7 or 8 absolute maximum and that she may need help at the beginning to get them latched on to the teats.  He went on to say that I shouldn't be surprised if I get stillborn ones at the end, as it's quite normal. I think we will cry. 

So, several times a day, I am up there, checking her over, looking for signs that she has started to build a big nest with all the straw bedding around. When I see this, apparently she'll be farrowing within 12 hours or so.  And then I will be needing to do need lots of checks. I think our guests will want to see this miracle happen - and it will certainly make their holiday more memorable. The guest who come at Easter time are always enthralled by the new life from the sheep (http://budlebaycroft.co.uk/experience) - such excitement to have it at this time of the year with the pigs!  Let's hope I don't make a pig's ear of it. 

For now though, until there is news of the arrivals, the kettles are a-boiling and the blankets are a-warming.  I just need the piglets! 

For oink-ernaty updates, watch this space, or check out Budle Bay Croft's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/budlebaycroft)!

More information on, and images of, Middle White pigs, please check out the Middle White Breeders Club (http://www.middlewhite.co.uk), Tedford Cottage Farm (http://www.pigkeepingcourses.com/Pages/PigKeepingCourses.aspx) and Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_White). Thank you for your images, invaluable tips and advice!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Thank Ewe for following!

I really appreciate the views, shares and followers, so would like to say a big THANK EWE!  

And keeping with the theme, thought I would introduce you to our flock.
There is nothing more calming than standing against a gate watching the content grazing of sheep in the sunshine. We have a bit of a Heinz 57 flock in that there is a right old mixture.

The main breed we have are Jacob sheep - who when shorn are goat like. We chose Jacob sheep to start our flock for a few reasons. A friend Helen who, apart from farming gorgeous oysters (http://www.lindisfarneoysters.co.uk), happens to breed Jacob sheep, and she told me that they are a very docile, gentle breed needing very little intervention, especially at lambing time - sounded like music to my ears as a towny!

She sold me a couple to start off with and we liked seeing them in the fields, so bought a few more. Then we got bolder and started breeding them. I spent a little time at Helen's farm watching in awe and then dived right in the deep end!

Now the thing about Jacobs is that they can jump. High. We got a phone call from another friend (who coincidently happens to be one of the very few other breeders of Jacobs) asking me if I had lost anything. Incredulously, one of our girls had leapt a fence, and made its way to the next Jacob flock some several miles away! She knew it was mine because we have to tag sheep to identify where they are from, and their flock number.

Anyway, Jacobs are one of the oldest rare breeds, and although small (so less commercially viable) their meat is absolutely delicious - lamb like nana used to cook. It has a very lean consistency, an earthy taste, and is suited to slow cooking where it falls off the bone.  Mouthwatering yet comforting at the same time!  We are so fortunate to have a talented local chef, Mick Holland, who has cooked for the rich, famous and royalty - Prince William no less - and now cooks for our guests. He takes our lamb (and Helen's if we have run out) and turns it into delicious Northumberland Fare "ready meals" for our cottage guests to order. Can you imagine a bracing walk on the beach and then coming back to just pop Jacob's Shoulder, Jacob's Rump or traditional Northumbrian Hotpot into the oven? (http://budlebaycroft.co.uk/experience/taste-of-northumberland)

There is lots of good advice out there for bumbling novices like me, such as the Jacob Sheep Society (http://www.jacobsheepsociety.co.uk) who are always keen to share their expertise. However, the best help I get is from my amazing friends and experts - people like Helen and Leigh. Leigh is a multi award winning Jacob breeder (amongst her many other gifts) and the provider of our rams for tupping each year - here she is winning Glendale Show Champion 2014 (her shelf is creaking under the weight of all her trophies):

We also could not manage without the always helpful Sinky - sheep shearer extraordinaire and Budle Bay Croft's master shepherd (he actually is the very effective manager of a huge farm but helps us out after work sometimes:

Apart from the Jacobs, our other sheep are all rescued lambs, bottle fed and hand reared so incredibly tame - they still feed out of little hands!  We have Texel, Mule and Suffolk crosses, all orphaned and nurtured to full strength by our cottage guests' bottle feeding from March to June.

The orphans are often very weak when they arrive, and we snuggle them, feed them, tickle them and keep them safe until they are strong enough to go into the fields with the other lambs.

At night we bring them back in, because they are vulnerable to attacks from foxes and badgers (did you know a badger can bring down a fully grown Ewe and start eating it alive - it has happened to us and is a truly horrible sight). So, into the Lamb Joint they go for the night, snug as a bug in a rug (well cosy straw anyway!)

And in the morning, you can hear the bleating asking "where's my breakfast?" One of us goes to let them out and they run across the field for a cuddle, then follow us back over to the Lamb Joint for their bottles.

There is something really heartwarming about sitting on a straw bale and watching the hungry lambs guzzle their warm milk down.

Well, I hope ewe found this blog of interest, but until next time, thank ewe for your time!



Lambing at Budle Bay Croft

Friday, 22 August 2014

Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick, Chicken….

It's a beautiful day today here at Budle Bay Croft.

Makes cleaning the chickens out so much better.

Not that it is such a terrible job really.

They all sleep on a perch in each of the hen houses, Shabby Chics, Clucks Away and Sleepy Hens. And all their poo drops onto the straw in a really neat line!

We have any number of random chickens on the croft, including two rather splendid cockerels, One-Eyed Sam (yip, you guessed it), and Suggs (he has fluffy legs that look like baggy trousers).

A lot of our girls were rescued battery hens - arriving bald as coots and dis-guarded because their laying quota dropped.

What is really sweet is that with a bit of love and attention, the occasional worming and lots of fruity treats, they soon come back to full strength, and lay more than we can ever dip our soldiers in!

Hens are funny little things - they each have their own personality, and there is definitely a pecking order.  Any new chickens introduced have to "fight" for their position in the coop, and we always try to introduce more than one at a time, or we spray the coop with perfume so they all smell the same - co-co-rel chanel is the favourite!

Chickens eat everything and anything in sight - bread, worms, bugs, newly planted lavender even, and they have a particular penchant for last night's tea. Their main staple though is mixed corn.

Most of our chickens are incredibly tame, coming to greet you as you get out of the car, and even eating corn out of little offering hands.

At this time of year, the hens lay lots of eggs - more than we and our cottage guests' can manage!  We have all sorts of different sizes and colours of eggs. Blue ones, white ones, brown ones, beige ones, speckle ones even, and we often have a little joke with our younger guests - asking them to take part in a little "egg"speriment, to see whether the blue eggs have blue yolks!

Did you know that if you feed the chickens too much beetroot you can turn their eggs a pinky hue, and if they eat spicy food, they lay spice-laced yolks?

Normally, the yolks are a vibrant yellow, almost fluorescent, due to the large amount of grass and greens the chickens consume each day.

It is a firm favourite of our cottage guests (young and young at heart) to collect the freshly laid eggs each morning - sometimes so fresh they are still warm!

What cuts the egg yield down is when one of the ladies decides she wants to start clocking.

Clocking is when a broody hen sits in the nesting box on a batch of eggs, not always her own, and if fertilised (i.e. if you have a cockerel) after 3 weeks, in theory, they should turn into fluffy chicks.

They are usually such good mums - hardly leaving their post for 21 days. They do sometimes get confused about which eggs are the hatching ones though, as for some bizarre reason, other hens try to lay on the nest.

The hardest part by far though is when they hatch - trying to keep them safe from predators like buzzards, otters and weasels is a nightmare.

We sometimes put the hen and her chicks onto a guinea pig hutch or smaller run, but the mum can reject the young when moved, and without their mum around, they are not only vulnerable to being lifted, but they also don't know how to become a chicken!

One of the loveliest quirks about hens is that when they are broody, they will mother anything. We regularly have ducklings being reared by hens, and the ducklings really think they are little chicks until they reach maturity. So sweet!

Well, thats the Budle Bay Croft chickens introduced to you. Watch this space for hatching updates over the next couple of weeks, mother nature permitting!


Thursday, 21 August 2014

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a pig surprise.

Dreak day today on Budle Bay Croft - feels unseasonably autumnal. So thought you might like to meet some of the animals here on the croft as photos of wet mucking out are not that interesting!

Probably the cottage guests'  favourites are our rescued rare-breed Kune Kune pigs, Harry Trotter (the one with a Potter like flash on his head) and George Kluney Kluney (the better looking one).

Now there are many things we did not know about pigs when we became bumbling small holders. The first thing is that they eat grass - lots of it - they graze like sheep. We found this out when the neighbouring farm was sold and the seller left his herd of Kune Kune's for the new owners - surprise! Now, as equine folks, they wanted their land, purchased at market price, for pony grazing - understandably so!  You can imagine the shock when they wandered through their pastures to hear grunts and oinks looking for food!  

We agreed to take their pigs, thinking we had managed sheep so we should be able to manage pigs - I mean, how hard can it be??? Well actually it is very different. The first thing we noticed was they eat their weight in grass on a daily basis (it seemed so anyway). From a lush paddock, our bottom field became barren overnight.  So, after much re-homing advertising, and a trip to the abattoir (more about that later) for some of them, we reduced the herd down to our two pet pigs Harry and George.  

The next thing we noticed was the massive amount of red tape associated with keeping pigs following the 2001 disastrous foot and mouth disease outbreak, which was started by pigs being fed untreated catering waste. 2000 farms were affected by the epizootic, with 10 million sheep and cattle killed in attempts to curb the disease. It was estimated to cost the UK £8bn, massively affecting the animals, the farms and the agricultural and tourism industries.  So, to keep pigs, you have to have a County Parish Holding number (needed for sheep too); a herd number; be available for unannounced DEFRA inspections; keep a medicines record; have a licence to transport them; tag them; and ensure they are fed only what they need to be - professional animal feed mixes and domestic raw fruit and vegetables, but not anything that has been stored in a fridge with meat in it. Phew! 

However, you also need a sense of humour (ever tried to catch an escaped pig? You need to chase it, catch it, put it into a handstand and walk it back to the paddock - sight for sore eyes…), tickling fingers (do you know you can send a pig to sleep just by tickling them?), long wellies (they make a right muddy mess in winter) and plenty of grazing land. Pigs love the grass but they equally enjoy rooting through the woods too. In fact, woodland is the pigs' favourite. Our pigs roam free, creating new paths through the magical maze as they munch their way through the ground cover.  Pigs also like free running water, and our two enjoy slurping in the burn. Which is usually fine. But requires me to wade in up to the waist, with a rope lasso and a couple of burly farmers to help get them out when there is sudden torrential rainfall...

Now back to the abattoir. We did not have enough land for all of the abandoned pigs due to the number of sheep we had at the time.  We could only re-home a couple of them as these lovely natured animals are not commercially viable for pig farmers - they are too fatty for the current UK palate.  So, off some of them went on their final journey, transported by a dear friend with a licence, and brought back to us in the back of a pick up.  All jointed but not bagged up, the boxes of pork started to ooze blood. My dear friend reversed towards our house and our big freezer just as new cottage guests arrived, who immediately gave us very scared glances. Picture it, if you will. The wind was blowing a gale. The rain was lashing down - well actually it was almost horizontal. It was a very dark winter evening. It probably looked like a scene from the Hillbillys! Still, there was so much meat, the local villages were fed free of charge for 3 months!

Would we eat Harry and George? Not a chance - they are our pet pigs and will gracefully see their (balding) days out on the croft, enjoying pineapple, peaches, broccoli (in-fact anything but Brussels sprouts - they hate Brussels sprouts) and tickles. We will however probably eat Snooty and Flossy - our meat pigs in Hogswarts that sleep in Piggleywinks. But you can meet them properly another time.