Animal Farm

DSC01005We never intended to be quite so populous at Achray.  But one thing leads to another and we now have a small and mostly growing menagerie of producers and produce.

We have just had the first proper frost of the season, first-year autumn squash and veg are collected and tidy-up for winter continues, interrupted by a variety of beasts; the most recent arrivals have been the goats.

Goats

Pan and Ria – both dairy milkers and with the calmest of temperaments.  They arrived from Linlithgow last month and are consistently delivering 3+ liters a day each.

Milking started slowly, and at ground level, but with the collection of a milking stand from a handy Sheffield visit backs are less sore and goats more content. There is still some shenanigans but Nicola is becoming a champion milker. The white stuff is creating a small lake (or iceberg) in the freezer prior to new skills development (more later), medicinal use and feed.

Delightfully they are also fans of the rushes when out in the field, so after debilitating the apple trees we are getting some land strip grazed finally.

Pigs

Three new troublemakers arrived at the end of last month as 8-week old weaners.  Way more boisterous than our first two Oxford Sandy & Black they have also been rather thrown in at the deep end.  No cosy barn or dry sunny days for these hardy types, and hence goats milk supplement to feed is very, very popular.  I think they have learned to suck it up without breathing to ensure competitive consumption.

After several days of finding the wee guys trotting round the farm, we have also managed to block small holes and reinforce electric fencing, though it’s only a matter of time before they are big enough to create the next problem.

3Pigs

Ducks

The tiny runner-duckling we hatched and highland friends imported from Ardersier have all grown into beautiful birds.  Autumn has brought a close to open season on the pond and Bianca has been seriously ill – probably with Gape Worm (don’t Google Image search if you are squeamish!).  Panacur (for rabbits) along with 1:1 overnight vigils, warm baths and a fortnight in the house in front of the woodburning stove has brought her back from the brink a couple of times (image below from earlier in the summer).

DSC00780

Hens

Our new point-of-lay hens have taken an age to actually lay but in the last couple of weeks our egg ratio has increased from 8-a-day to almost a full-house from 26.  We lost one to the awful Gape Worm before diagnosis and treatment could be effective and so have now invested in treated feed.DSC00995

Vulpes Vulpes has been spotted trotting across the track and we have found two piles of tail feathers in the grass – amazingly the hen count is complete, but we know it’s a dangerous time of year.

Pork Life

Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as (Pork Life)
(apologies to Blur)

We haven’t spent much time on the blog talking about pigs, but we should.  They were the first animals to arrive on Achray Farm (apart from the cats that we brought with us) and have helped to set the scene for what we have thought about and planned since.

These are ‘Brave’ and ‘Red’ (or sometime ‘Napoleon’ and ‘Dynamite’, names that never really stuck).  They are Oxford Sandy and Black, or OSB for short.  An ancient line of British “rare breed” in all but official capacity (it’s complicated!).  They were recommended for their temperament and hardiness and have fitted in perfectly and been a pleasure to keep.

The boys arrived in the middle of April, when a keen wind could still blow up from the Loch and spent their first week heading out to the fields in the morning after overnights bedding  down in the straw in a stable.  After a week their “ark” a heavy-duty recycled home arrived from Solway Recycling and they moved permanently outdoors where they have remained.  It’s hard to imaging them now, the pair arriving together in one dog crate in the car — we’ve just invested in a small livestock trailer to move them next!

Running Achray Farm on permaculture principles means that everything has more than one purpose and each element works together.  Pigs are enormously powerful diggers and rooters and their job was to clear, and overturn rush-infested fields and fertilise at the same time – ready for planting.  That worked amazingly well in one paddock and we leaned that scaling the size of run to the animals is important to see results.  In their three fields the pigs have made dens, wallows and can run at some speed when an errant crow bugs them.  Below is Red enjoying a wallow they created whilst Scotland enjoyed a long dry, sunny May.

Wallow

Pigs are also renowned escape artists and one evening, 24 hours before leaving the farm with sitters for a break, we came home at dusk to see a mislocated shape munching in the duck pen.  All gates appeared secure and a frantic coaxing with the feed bucket in the dark brought Red back into his field. The next morning, a stockfence post was discovered loose from scratching and we worked out he had trotted through the polytunnel and veg garden without destroying anything on the long way round to snack on the duck feed.  Very lucky!

We’ve loved our boys and leaned a lot – including how to weigh a pig who really won’t stay still!  Now, in September, the story comes to another chapter.  It is time for the beasts to go to market before they become too big for the abattoir.  This is a difficult time, our first and we are feeling pretty conflicted. We know they have had a great outdoor life and we have shown that we can produce high quality welfare food for the local community visitors alike.

If you are local and are interested in our food supplies, you can find Achray Farm produce in fantastic local food establishments such as Nature’s Corner, Callander, or contact us directly via this website or the Facebook page.

Duck Buddies

Life and death in the Big Brooder House.

Our Indian Runner Duck eggs hatched last week and we had two chicks survive the difficult and traumatic hatching process. Of the other four eggs in the batch, two did not survive hatching and two appeared infertile.  Sadly, after the enormous effort of emerging to a living & breathing world one of the living chicks also passed away after 24 hours so we needed to get a pal for our wee survivor.

Smallholding isn’t all blue skies and fluffy ducklings, it’s an emotional coaster too. Here is the first few days of Sharoo:

So this week, thanks to Google we identified another solo Indian Runner duck of the same age and headed off to glorious Ardersier to bring the buddy back.

The new duck on the block is nicknamed ‘Duckzilla’ as she is a monster compared to Saroo, but they get on amazingly well and are fun to watch racing around their room together.

D6733029-81A9-4D75-BC68-7C7F033B52DE

We also came home with two slightly older birds – more on them in another post.  I will end with the sad news that a few of our beautiful hens from the last blog were snatched by foxes this week, literally from under our noses outside the study window before being chased away.

Loose Ends

 

The mornings are getting busier on the farm now with the arrival of another 8 mixed hens to join our 7 Isa Browns.   The new girls have just started to lay pullet eggs after two weeks.  Though it seems a bit cosy in the Solway hen house, everyone seems to get on OK now.

Breeds include Speckledy, Blacktail, Silver Sussex, Sussex, Bluebell and Rhode Rock.

They all currently enjoy a run with the shelter of the Bothy on one side and a fenceline on the other, providing shelter and security, but without the possibility to create variations on the chicken run. The plan is to move the run adjacent to the new vegetable beds as the birds show little interest in the greens but love the seeds of invasive grasses, as well as the slugs.  Within the new field we can also alter the fence to make rotating “teardrop” shapes and fertilise new beds whilst also permitting free roaming when we are around.

Of course the daily result of feed and water (those girls drink a lot!) are beautiful fresh eggs, prefect for poaching.  Local human-powered food mile supplies by bike from eggs@achrayfarm.co.uk

Finally, in egg-related news, we now have six duck eggs in the incubator and expecting new arrivals this week…

Busy week -for some!

This week we planted 30 squash plants into their new beds, along with French bean, lettuce, chard and kale. Time will tell whether the new raised beds will work! Chickens attempted to help whilst the pigs bathed in the warmth of the day. The new hens are starting to settle in, (a lovely mix of hybrids; Bluebell, Speckledy, Rhode Rock, Sussex, Blacktail and Silver Sussex) although are still being rather hen pecked  by their longer standing “sisters”.

First blog post

The first blog post!  Nicola and I have been at Achray Farm since December 2016 – six months and a lot of planning, planting, painting and now poultry and pigs.

As we grow our ideas and vision, stock and crops we plan to share the journey here.  Next up will be our current farmyard of pigs, chickens and duck eggs in the incubator.