Jan 30 2006

It’s ……January Again!


Flanders and Swan’s wonderful old “Song of the Weather” was more direct! I try not to agree but these January days are so short, so grey, so cold. Well, no, not really so cold I suppose, this is South Devon! But sharp, dark and sad, frosty, wet, muddy, slow and oh, so heavy. It all seems such hard work at this time of year. We climb out of bed and struggle reluctantly out of the house, tramping up to the yard in the dark and dreaming of sunshine, lambs, fresh grass and spring.  Not long to dream now, snowdrops are beginning to take hold, but it is much colder than usual this year which means so much more feeding up both morning and evening.


Eeyores fill the valley as hungry donkeys protest about the lack of grass. I have a fine new system for moving hay and straw. An old bathtub, gifted by a friend, now acts as a trough, much easier for the donkeys to reach than the old hay rack. We have placed it in the big shed and now, with the aid of a large builders’ dumpy bag, I can drag large quantities of hay and straw across the yard for them with ease. They are ecstatic, well I think so, but, OK, may be enigmatic would be more accurate! Full, any way! I’m certainly happier; it’s so much lighter than the wheelbarrow.


And there is another very strange new development; bantam hens are hiding away and sitting on eggs in January. They keep appearing suddenly from some secret corner with a crocodile of tiny chicks rushing behind them desperately trying to keep warm. It is quite the wrong time of year for their arrival and many perish despite my best efforts. I have small crèches with lamps or heaters in all sorts of corners of sheds. Once hatched I cannot bear to see them die! Of course I will shortly be overrun with a small black, feathered army, far too many cockerels and quantities of tiny unmarketable eggs!  I cannot understand why hens are sitting in mid winter.


As the dogs and I take our usual turn across the hill to check the sheep, ewes follow asking for more food.  Some bold old timers even come right up to me nudgingly saying “come on, we’re in lamb, you know how hungry we get” Up we go again each evening to top up with haylage and malt shreds. Oh, when will the grass begin to grow again?  Phil’s sheep stare at me over the gate just the same; “he’s on his way” I say to comfort myself!


There are visiting rams to feed too. As a result of the devastating Foot and Mouth out break which ravaged flocks and herds across the country a few years ago, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has launched a regeneration appeal. The governments’ National Scrapie plan has made this even more urgent. All rams are being compulsorily tested for scrapie and categorised. Around 40% of all rams in our breed fall into groups 4 and 5 and must be slaughtered by next year in a bid to eradicate scrapie from the national flock thus depleting the breeding stock even more dramatically. Scrapie, of course, has been in sheep since time began. It is only since the recent BSE outbreak caused by the now illegal feeding of animal remains to herbivorous cattle that this anxiety has been aroused.


Our Junior is thankfully a Group 3 fellow so, although an old ram, has been selected to donate his sperm for posterity. He, together with a beautiful ram from north Devon and a handsome chap from Dartmoor will travel north on Friday to ensure the future of the breed. Both visiting rams have lodged here for a while  because of the six day movement rule. Six days must pass between any movement of any animal on any farm. Another foot and mouth safeguard. Still the images of those awful days haunt all of us who farm, so any precaution is welcome.

Gradually we work our way through the list of winter tasks; new fencing here, a hedge planted there. Plans for the pond are taking shape and the lambing shed is being prepared once again. Soon it will be spring.

Meanwhile I paint the house and dream up comforting meals to shut out the biting north wind. Not for me the post Christmas frugal fare, much too much physical work for that! Having said that, a high fibre diet, low in fat with lots of our own fresh vegetables and fruit and plenty of protein keeps us pretty healthy all year round. A high energy diet is what we need!


3 responses so far

3 Responses to “It’s ……January Again!”

  1. Tanaon 30 Jan 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Hello, Sally,

    I am such a fan of your blog. This is a lovely entry!

    Perhaps when I get to England, I can visit. I don’t know when that will be, but your farm looks so wonderful.


  2. ali & rog & winnie & harryon 31 Jan 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Still sitting in doors on my sick bed, thinking of spring and it’s delights.
    Your log has given me lots to think about, and dream about !!
    Lovery photo’s of your valley. Can’t wait for your next log … so intersting.
    regards ali x

  3. Coqcoon 08 Feb 2006 at 5:24 am

    I enjoyed your blog so much that I’ve added a link to it on my site. I hope that you continue to write. This is lovely!

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