Sheep thrills

Hands-on learn­ing at a celebrity-owned Welsh farm

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Britain & Ireland - LUCY GILL­MORE

WHEREthere’s live­stock, there’s dead stock. And mag­gots. Watch­ing ten­ant farmer Tim Stephens shear a sheep to re­veal a writhing mass of mag­gots eat­ing into its flesh might not sound like a pleas­ant way to spend your hol­i­day but learn­ing how to tackle fly­strike and other Alien- style in­fes­ta­tions def­i­nitely has the nov­elty fac­tor. Farm­ers have wo­ken up not just to the in­creased de­mand for farm-style glamp­ing but to our in­sa­tiable cu­rios­ity for all things agri­cul­tural.

Oink Cluck Baaa! is Bri­tish tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter Kate Hum­ble’s small­hold­ing course, a be­gin­ner’s guide to keep­ing pigs, chick­ens and sheep. It might sound like a day out with Old MacDon­ald but this is hands-on learn­ing. It touches on some of the harsh re­al­i­ties of farm­ing, with a slap-up lunch from Kather’s Kitchen and plenty of home­made cake.

Af­ter a hard day’s graft on the 40.5ha farm in the south­east Wales county of Mon­mouthshire owned by Hum­ble and her hus­band, TV pro­ducer Ludo Gra­ham, you can bed down in the pig­gery — or rather The Pig­gery. This con­verted cot­tage is Coun­try Liv­ing mag­a­zine style com­plete with wood-burn­ing stove in­side and a veg­etable patch and chick­ens out­side. ‘‘We want peo­ple to get a real idea of how it feels to live off the land,’’ Hum­ble says. ‘‘Even­tu­ally we hope to be able to of­fer meat from the farm as well.’’

Learn­ing how to make honey­suckle into sor­bet sounds far more ap­peal­ing than wrestling a sheep in the mud to cut its toe­nails, but hav­ing just bought 14ha of wood­land hill and boggy pad­dock in the Scot­tish High­lands, I need a few point­ers.

Liz Shank­land, an ‘‘ac­ci­den­tal small­holder’’, runs the course. Aone-time showbiz reporter, whose pig man­ual has been trans­lated into Ro­ma­nian, she and her hus­band bought an old farm­house 12 years ago on 2.4ha. ‘ ‘ I j ust thought I’d have a re­ally nice gar­den, but once you have got a bit of land, peo­ple start giv­ing you an­i­mals.’’

Shank­land started with hens, moved on to ducks and sheep and stuck at pigs. ‘‘They’re the big things in my life.’’

She now breeds and shows her award-win­ning Tam­worths. In the chicken en­clo­sures we check out the hen houses, from the high-de­sign Omlet Eglu with price to match (the plas­tic is easy to keep free from red mite, another in­fes­ta­tion) to DIY gar­den shed ver­sions, and the dif­fer­ent breeds, in­clud­ing a clutch of res­cue chick­ens.

Hens can live for up to 10 years but com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions change their birds af­ter about 10 months. The Bri­tish Hen Wel­fare Trust re-homes chick­ens that would oth­er­wise go from an in­ten­sive egg-lay­ing fa­cil­ity to the pot and gives them a few years of freerange liv­ing. For the small­holder it’s a cost-ef­fec­tive way to start out for a dona­tion of a few pounds per bird.

Stephens, the ten­ant farmer, takes over for the sheep. ‘‘First you need to be able to catch and im­mo­bilise your sheep.’’ He demon­strates how to turn the head, step back and swivel the lamb over. Then it’s our turn. The dark, greasy sec Flies lay their e gots and eat th wool and smea lamb with a bl Stephens spray nail cut­ting and

Pigs are nex about scratchin

Ludo Graha berry the Sadd if one of the B ground is chur — but there are Mid­dle Whites Shank­land say

Weend over day. I buy Shan Hum­ble’s hone

‘‘Guess wh Shank­land, cu in­sem­i­nat­ing a

That’s farmi

Lucy Gill­more w

Clock­wise fro Liz Shank­land and Kate Hum teach be­ginne to live off the Tim Stephens a sheep; cute sleep­ing pigle

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