Welcome to an increasingly 'occasional' newsletter. So much for good intentions and New Year resolutions; they didn't factor in 13 puppies. More of that later.
Meanwhile we have a new full time member of the farm staff to introduce. At 28 he reduces the average age of the team considerably and since joining in mid January seems to have coped well with working along side us oldies or zipping through his own tasks as he picks up the routine of stock work. The only down side is that he is also called Phil. Currently we have Phil 1 ( to whom I am married ) and Phil 2. No doubt at some future point I will give Phil 1 some lip and resort to yelling 'Phillip'.
Rosie and Dave Abbott, Phil 1 and Phil 2
Daughter Rosie is not on the farm team but was still prepared to brave the traditionally bleak weather to be found at the Doe Show - Does being a local farm machinery supplier. Of course they were only going for a look with no intention of purchasing anything, and of course they came back having purchased 'a bargain'. This time a hydraulic press for the workshop, apparently the must have tool for removing bearings. Phil 1 now has the excuse to acquire workshop equipment as it could apparently be useful to Abbott's Autocare. ( Quick plug : ring Dave on 077 888 58481 for vehicle repairs and MOT's ; easier bearing replacement now possible ).
Longer serving members of the team are Bob, who still has the energy to maintain a large veg plot and supply seasonal vegetables on request, and my mother Bobby. Though approaching 86, Bobby still feeds farrowing houses twice a day and most times stubbornly turns down offers of assistance.
Josh, the grandson of farming neighbours helps out on a Friday when he has no lectures at Writtle College where he is studying agriculture.
On the shop team I have a main right hand woman in Sarah who can be found doing the free local deliveries on a Thursday, labelling up in the shop ( open Thursdays 11 - 3pm and Fridays and Saturdays 10 - 5pm ) and helping out at Colchester Farmers' Market or other local events where WTM may have a stall.
My main back up shop cover comes from Jinny. Shop assistance does not normally require this dress code but we did have a wedding last year. Karina is first reserve delivery driver and general small animal carer. Both friends know that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Then there is me Kate, currently occupied mainly with Poppy's first litter.
OK, I got this far before the cute photo's. Strictly speaking not farm or shop news but they certainly will have occupied a lot of my time for an intense 8 week learning on the job puppy rearing experience. Poppy and I both being novices in this area. Phil made a wonderful whelping box copying a design used successfully by a neighbour and made out of wood rather than his preferred medium of metal. The carpet was fixed down when she had a discharge two days earlier than the expected 60 day gestation. Over an intense three and a half hours Poppy then produced 11 puppies, hormones taking over and she behaved like a pro with a lot of stimulating licking, consuming of placenta ( she has only just started to eat red meat again ) and sleeping while they suckled. We congratulated ourselves on the completion of a successful whelping only to have the next 5 hours interrupted by the arrival of three more pups. The last one was the smallest and born dead; it was interesting to observe how differently Poppy behaved with this one - first trying to eat it which was quite alarming as I didn't know it was dead at that stage and then doing some intense scrabbling to dig up the carpet in an attempt to bury it. Being an enthusiastic birthing partner all the puppies were weighed and given differently coloured velcro collars so I could check they all suckled and gained weight.
Poppy then basically slept, ate and suckled them for the next two weeks but would only consume chopped white meat sometimes needing to be hand served. Gradually over the next 5 weeks I have managed to reduce this level of service though she is responsible for consuming what would normally have been the WTM January sausage deal. There is an efficient conversion from sausage, to milk, to puppy growth as the largest puppies have gone from a birth weight of 300g to 3kg in 4 weeks. At two weeks the pups were still hungry after a feed so we started the messy business of introducing solids, and the time consuming process of split suckling so the smaller ones had first go at the milk bar. At three weeks they were introduced to the B.O.G.O.F section of the meat shop and the mincer brought into action. At nearly 6 weeks, Poppy still feeds them but chooses to stand and perfect her hang dog expression whilst a select few are allowed access and slurp and gulp with enthusiasm. I hadn't factored in how much time can be spent just watching them and sharing this with their many visitors but at least they go through the night now and I am starting to make progress on the backlog of jobs.
Meanwhile, outdoors wintertime is passing if not with expected winter temperatures, just the winter rain. The free range hens have made a great mess of their paddocks and we had to bring the ewes in because they were going lame with mud stuck between their hoof cleats and getting too fat as the grass is still growing. The plus side is that we haven't yet had a frozen water pipe which is usually a tedious winter occurrence as your average cow will need 10 gallons a day and a lactating sow 6 gallons.
It also means a limited opportunity for photographing picturesque winter scenes but Phil managed this one when the hoggets were still grazing outside. The cattle have been housed since November and Phil is enjoying pressing a button on the mechanical spreader bale attachment rather than hand forking straw to bed them down.
Phil has spent many an hour in the workshop completing the cattle handling system so they can be sorted out with ease, housed in different pens and fed according to body condition, so hopefully calving will not bring too many problems.
On completion of the daily routine stock tasks, time has been found to plant more hedge plants in the gaps and to do some hedging and fencing.
The concrete parts of the front wall on the grain store have been completed and here they are fixing the runner for the sliding doors to hang off. Half the contents of the store has been consumed by the pigs since harvest and unusually grain prices are lower now than at harvest, but as you may have
heard in the national news - so are the farm gate pig prices.
The ewes have been housed prior to lambing commencing on our usual date of March 25th. This year that date is also Good Friday so there will be
NO OPEN DAY ON GOOD FRIDAY
this year as there will be no lambs to see. However, watch this space as we will be doing tours in the second week of the school Easter holidays when Spring should have sprung and you should be able to see lambs, calves and piglets.
Since the new flock of hens came in December, the old ones have been indoors awaiting new homes. There are still 16 available at £3 each. There is no guarantee they will lay but I am getting 5 or 6 per day. Their shed will be needed for Bob's gardening activities in the Spring. Let me know if you are interested in taking any.
Next newsletter due in a couple of weeks to let you know of the fresh beef back on Wed 2nd March.
In the meantime there is fresh pork and lamb in the shop every Thursday, good stocks of beef and mutton, free range eggs being laid daily and weekly deliveries of chicken from Essex Birds.
Please call in on a Friday or Saturday 10 am - 5pm or on a Thursday 11am - 3pm or enquire about free local delivery.
For full details check out our website www.garrhousefarm.co.uk or give me a call on 07790 095 052
OK, just one more ...........................