Learn­ing the ba­sics

THIS MONTH: River Cot­tage – small­holder course

Country Smallholding - - New Series! -

T o launch our new se­ries on train­ing cour­ses, where bet­ter to start than with the brand based on the TV show that in­spired my­self and many oth­ers to make a move into smallholding in the first place. Hugh Fearn­ley-Whit­tingstall’s en­ter­prise con­tin­ues to thrive and of­fers a range of cour­ses all of which have the pro­duc­tion of good qual­ity food at their heart.

That said, their small­holder course was set up to en­able oth­ers to get a taste for what goes on at River Cot­tage HQ out­side of the kitchen and to pro­mote their ethos of pro­duc­ing food to high wel­fare stan­dards. It pro­vides an in­for­ma­tive in­tro­duc­tion to ev­ery as­pect of run­ning a smallholding, cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from choos­ing and rear­ing chick­ens, to how to trim a sheep’s feet, as well as the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing over­all an­i­mal health. Teach­ing the ba­sics of an­i­mal hus­bandry, it also en­ables peo­ple to put the the­o­ries into prac­tice with lots of op­por­tu­nity to get hands-on with the pigs, sheep and poul­try on the farm.

Dan Pow­ell has been farm­ing since 1982 and run­ning the small­holder course here since 2013. He told me that often at the be­gin­ning, peo­ple say they wish to keep sheep, pigs and chick­ens… a horse, a dog and a few goats. How­ever, by the end of the course, they are much more re­al­is­tic about what is achiev­able in their sit­u­a­tion. In par­tic­u­lar, he re­ally en­joys the dis­cus­sions that arise on sub­jects as var­ied as pre­vent­ing fox at­tacks on chick­ens to the eth­i­cal is­sues sur­round­ing slaugh­ter and eat­ing an­i­mals that have been reared at home.

Dan’s day long course for rookie small­hold­ers starts in style with a tractor and trailer ride to River Cot­tage HQ, where guests are wel­comed with a morn­ing tea or cof­fee and tasty treats. As you would ex­pect, food is a strong fo­cus, with lunch a main event in be­tween the op­por­tu­nity to swot up on the skills, equip­ment and knowl­edge needed to raise the most com­mon live­stock. Warm­ing up with a look at how to choose your site and what ‘or­ganic’ and ‘free-range’ ac­tu­ally mean, Dan then shares his knowl­edge on the ne­ces­si­ties of poul­try-keep­ing, often the small­holder’s first choice.

Af­ter lunch (which is pre­pared by River Cot­tage chefs us­ing pro­duce from the farm) comes a ses­sion on the small­holder’s best friend, pigs. Dan cov­ers ev­ery­thing from breed­ing and grow­ing pigs, dif­fer­ent breeds, health is­sues, hous­ing, feed­ing, han­dling and trans­porta­tion. This is fol­lowed by a fo­cus on sheep, the gen­tle com­pan­ion to the pig, where at­ten­dees will learn all about breeds and breed­ing, lamb­ing, hous­ing, health and how to choose when lambs are ready for slaugh­ter.

There is just time at the end of the day to ask any fur­ther ques­tions of Dan, meet the River Cot­tage team and take a fi­nal look at the idyl­lic sur­round­ings be­fore be­ing whisked back up the hill by the tractor and trailer. Af­ter a day of swot­ting up and muck­ing in, the team hope to leave their pupils burst­ing with ideas for their own smallholding ad­ven­ture ahead.

The team hope to leave their pupils burst­ing with ideas for their own smallholding ad­ven­ture ahead

Dan on the farm In­set: A de­li­cious River Cot­tage lunch

Dan Pow­ell

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