Hands-on learning at a celebrity-owned Welsh farm
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
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Clockwise fro Liz Shankland and Kate Hum teach beginne to live off the Tim Stephens a sheep; cute sleeping pigle