My first spring at River Cottage as farm manager has started with quite a lot of rain but as I’m writing this now, the sun is shining brightly, the grass is growing and all the birds are chirping.
We’ve had some new arrivals on the farm in the adorable form of piglets! From our then gilt, now sow, first time mum, Lucille. Lucille is a British Lop x Oxford Sandy and Black. So far, she has been a fantastic Mum, having a very healthy good-sized litter of 10 piglets. They are of course the same breed of pig as Lucille but also with a bit of Pitrain in them from their father’s side. A mixture of white, and white with black shading over the face and body is their colouring. They are now over a week old and doing very well!
We also have some 12-weeks-old grower pigs on the farm, also a British Lop x Pitrain mix with one Oxford Sandy and Black in there as well - just because I love the breed and wanted one to keep back to breed from.
Our store lambs are no longer lambs, they are now hoggets and enjoying their fresh growth of spring grass. Mostly Lleyn’s with a little bit of Scottish blackface in there. We haven’t lambed any this year but towards the end of the year we shall have some ewes ready to see the ram and we shall see what next spring brings us!
Our lovely laying hens are unfortunately still being kept inside due to avian influenza restrictions still being in place, but touch wood they’ll be lifted this month, perhaps early May if we aren’t as lucky. As soon as they are lifted our hens will have some lovely orchard space to roam.
We are just starting to see buds on our fruit trees that will soon be in blossom, which is always a beautiful sight, we shall see what else spring brings us! Summer will soon be here but as this is my favourite season, I’m cherishing these moments.
I’m looking forward to teaching our new Smallholder courses at River Cottage this year – I’ve listed a few of my top tips and things to consider if you’re looking into starting your own smallholding below:
1. Livestock are a big responsibility and will dictate how your life works so make sure you are confident you have the time, space and budget to provide them with the best rearing possible.
2. All stock are cute and somewhat cuddly when they’re young, but they don’t stay that way forever. Have a plan for what you would like from them. Be that eggs, meat or milk. Plan every aspect of their time with you, from picking them up to whatever your end goal may be.
3. Don’t take on too much at one time. Start with one species; do everything you can to prepare for them, have them for some time until you’re comfortable with them, learn their behaviour and what makes them happy. Perfect your system as much as you can for that species before moving onto another. Last thing you want is to be chasing a sheep around because you didn’t spend enough time doing your fencing whilst your chickens are down the driveway, and your pigs are next door in the neighbour’s garden scaring the life out of them. Trust me on that one!
Some key takeaways you can expect from my Smallholder course:
- A good knowledge of the species you’re interested in rearing, and also some on the species you weren’t thinking about, but perhaps now are.
- The right mindset to get going, with a realistic expectation for what you can achieve with your own situation.
- The motivation, knowledge and ability to start something new with your existing smallholding, trying a few meat birds next to your layers flock, a couple of pigs etc.