Tony set off at the brain-crunchingly early time of 0130 am,
for a day’s standby at London’s Heathrow airport; but shortly after reporting for duty ended up flying to Edinburgh & back with what must be a record time to turn round an Airbus A321 – 25 minutes!
Today we had a fact-finding visit from some downshifting, start-up smallholding friends hailing from Kent. After a general ‘meet & greet’ of all the livestock before the rather misty morning gave way to gloomy drizzle, we enjoyed an informal discussion about what we’re doing here at the Dairy; & with their more general concerns about setting up & starting a smallholding from scratch.
Basically (& based on experience!) we’d recommend learning to walk with confidence before attempting to run: I started in my youth, helping on local arable farms which also bred beef cattle & diversified into soft fruits.
A fair few years later, & before I’d even met Tony, I owned a very modest patch of ground (basically a generous garden on the edge of a rural village) & it was there I started my agrarian adventure with a couple of Call Ducks kept in a small ark. As an experiment I hatched & reared a couple of Aylesburys & graduated them all to a larger pen; added an Indian Runner & a substantial pond; then shortly after meeting & marrying Tony was relocated with my job from the Cotswolds to Cambridgeshire, & heartbrokenly had to rehome the lot.
My return to the Cotswolds heralded the arrival of a small flock of six Black Rock hens & a hybrid cockerel alongside a productive vegetable garden & some interesting, diverse tree species (including a graceful Indian Bean Tree, a quercus rubra (red oak) from Westonbirt Arboretum; & four exquisite betula jacquemontii – white-barked Himalayan birches which were a gift from my parents); & then the Shetland Ponies arrived……
And thus after a year or so we felt we’d well & truly we’d outgrown what we had; the ponies were at livery & we really wanted to have them closer to home, on our own turf. So the search for a suitable smallholding began….albeit, originally, our needs were simple: all we wanted was a couple of acres for pony paddocks, our hens & a veg patch. The first property we viewed – an old oast kiln – with just over two acres, including stables, an orchard & far-reaching views, seemed perfect; however it wasn’t to be as unfortunately the owners withdrew the property from sale because they couldn’t find anywhere suitable for their own needs.
However in an odd sort of way they did us a favour, as this embarked us upon a voyage of discovery & many, many diverse property viewings around the UK; leading ultimately to our change in life’s direction, leaving the RAF & setting up our Dairy, & here, to this place we truly appreciate as Home; we simply would not wish to be anywhere else.
When we started on our 36 acres, it was just a case of managing our hens & ponies as we were still commuting to respectively Gloucester & Wiltshire, a daily round trip of six exhausting hours each; so the veg patch had to wait a few months. The former resident kept her sheep on the land for the first few months until settling elsewhere; which proved fascinating as their lambs were born here, & we learned much from the experience.
After living on the Ffarm for a year we rolled up our sleeves & managed to get stuck into the veg garden; added some more diverse species of fruit trees to the orchard; & gradually accumulated more in the modest meangerie with ducks, geese, weaner pigs, horses, a small flock of sheep & – of course – our pride & joy: the foundation herd of 21 lovely pedigree British Toggenburg goats…..anyway if you want to know more about our eventful journey please turn to the ‘Us’ page; although my apologies, it’s still under reconstruction since it crashed recently – & finding the time to rebuild it isn’t proving easy as you can imagine!
Anyway; bearing in mind our friends’ modest knowlege & experience of keeping livestock, I feel they are extremely brave to contemplate such a venture; especially as they’re intending to take a plunge into deeper waters than we’ve so far mustered enough courage & indeed time to tackle.
Essentially, they’re intending their first foray into farming, to be with cattle – probably Dexters; a small, dual-purpose breed originating from the hardy mountain cattle of Southern Ireland who more than make up in personality & pluckiness, what they lack in size. What with TB & Brucellosis testing, the paperwork minefield of cattle passports, & the challenge of handling larger livestock from the outset, I certainly wish them luck!
However, whilst it might be considered a gamble starting with bigger, more powerful animals before ‘cutting your teeth’ on smaller, manageable species such as sheep or goats, I know others who have successfully embarked on similar ventures; although I would caution anyone contemplating such a move – & indeed even if you’re only considering purchasing some land at this stage – to make sure you know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for, before you do so; preferably by undertaking a formal training course organised by a company such as NewLandOwner or by your local agricultural college, or perhaps gaining some practical experience working with a local breeder of the stock you’ve chosen, for comprehensive herd management training if the course option is not possible. But please, make sure you do so, BEFORE buying a smallholding & /or animals of your own…..that way, nobody gets hurt – especially the innocent & unwitting livestock concerned.
Meanwhile in terms of another little Gamble, there has been some worrying news: our newborn nephew Hamish out in Brunei, hasn’t been well having spent three days being cared for by his Mum in an incubator in their local hospital. Thankfully (& it would seem thanks also to his mother’s professional nursing skills) he’s back home & hopefully well ‘out of the woods’ now….anyway we’re keeping our fingers firmly crossed for the handsome little lad & wish Julie & Stuart our love & support – with the comfort that Hamish couldn’t be in better hands.