With Liz Shankland

LIZ SHANKLAND con­tin­ues to find new chal­lenges at her sec­ond small­hold­ing, but plans are tak­ing shape.

Country Smallholding - - Contents - Liz Shankland is the author of the Haynes Small­hold­ing Man­ual and teaches cour­ses in an­i­mal hus­bandry at Hum­ble by Na­ture in Mon­mouthshire. For more in­for­ma­tion about her pedi­gree Tam­worth pigs, visit www.big­gin­ger­pigs.com

Ican’t be­lieve how far I’ve come in just a year – and I don’t just mean geo­graph­i­cally, mov­ing from south­east Wales to a fairly un­heard-of vil­lage in the west. When I think back 12 months, I was still sur­rounded by card­board boxes, all la­belled for var­i­ous rooms, and it took me months to empty them and put ev­ery­thing in place.

My pri­or­ity, when I moved into my new small­hold­ing, was get­ting ev­ery­thing set up for the ar­rival of my an­i­mals, which had been tem­po­rar­ily housed with var­i­ous friends. Most peo­ple buy­ing a small­hold­ing, quite sen­si­bly, con­cen­trate on get­ting the house straight be­fore tack­ling what lies out­doors, but the house was way down my list.

I did, how­ever, start this year with a new roof on the house and a new wood­burn­ing stove. Those are the only real im­prove­ments I’ve made so far, af­ter spend­ing an arm and a leg on get­ting the barns suitable for far­row­ing pigs, wa­ter piped up to the woods, and thou­sands of me­tres of stock fenc­ing for not only the pigs, but to con­tain the ad­ven­tur­ous, Hou­dini­like Herd­wick sheep.

As you’ll know, if you’ve read pre­vi­ous is­sues of Coun­try Small­hold­ing, one of the bless­ings of my new small­hold­ing is the fact that, in ad­di­tion to the pas­ture land, I have sub­stan­tial chunk of na­tive broadleaf wood­land – per­fect, not only for the pigs, but also for keep­ing me in fuel for many years to come. Un­for­tu­nately, when I moved in, I dis­cov­ered that the wood burner which was al­ready in place was nei­ther ef­fi­cient nor user-friendly. And if I’m com­pletely hon­est, it was just down­right ugly and didn’t suit the style of the room it was in. It had to go.

Get­ting a HETAS-ap­proved wood­burner in­staller was vi­tally im­por­tant to me, be­cause I needed to know that the stove

It was a kind of ‘Eu­reka!’ mo­ment

be­ing in­stalled, and all the var­i­ous chim­ney para­pher­na­lia that came with it, met the re­quired stan­dards. I know some peo­ple who went down the DIY route, in or­der to save money, but who came a crop­per when try­ing to claim on the in­sur­ance af­ter a fire.

House in­sur­ance

A fur­ther com­pli­ca­tion for me was that, hav­ing a weird 1970s house with an un­con­ven­tional roof – one half with a pitch of just 20 de­grees over 4.5m and the other with an even more chal­leng­ing 7.5 de­grees over 11.5m – there was no ques­tion of sim­ply re­pair­ing or re­plac­ing it as you would with a nor­mal house.

Back in the 1970s, build­ing reg­u­la­tions were very dif­fer­ent. Af­ter sev­eral in­spec­tions, it was de­cided that the side with the higher pitch could be cov­ered in Welsh slate, in place of the heavy con­crete tiles which were deemed in­ap­pro­pri­ate; the other part had to be fit­ted with a mod­ern, high-tech rub­berised coat­ing – the kind of thing com­monly used on flat-roofed su­per­mar­kets or school build­ings. It was a fairly new prod­uct from the house insurer’s point of view, so there were nu­mer­ous ques­tions to be an­swered - all to do with the heat emit­ting from the flue and com­bustibil­ity of the mem­brane.

Thank­fully, all of that stuff is sorted now, so I can fo­cus, once again, on get­ting the farm or­gan­ised. The four pens my builders con­structed in the main barn have proved in­valu­able, both for far­row­ing and hold­ing wean­ers prior to col­lec­tion by cus­tomers. Even so, I’ve found my­self in the same predica­ment as some­one who buys a shed or a green­house – I’ve re­alised I need more space. Yes, it’s won­der­ful hav­ing acres of wood­land and grass­land for the pigs and sheep to ex­plore, but I need more in­door hous­ing as a Plan B when the weather turns re­ally bad, or when I need to rest the land for a while.

It was only to­day, when clean­ing out a big Dutch barn on the main yard, that I re­alised how much I was wast­ing the ex­ist­ing space. The cav­ernous barn is solid and bone dry, with per­fect ven­ti­la­tion, and I could eas­ily house 50 sheep or grow­ing pigs in it at any one time. But it’s a huge, wasted space, as it is. Split it into two and put a run of four pens both sides and it would be per­fect for far­row­ing or lamb­ing. I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to re­alise the po­ten­tial! It was a kind of ‘Eu­reka!’ mo­ment. So my next chal­lenge is to find some­one who can fab­ri­cate some pens and set up live­stock barn num­ber two. More cash out of the cof­fers, but it will, hope­fully, be money well spent.

Un­ex­pected vis­i­tors

I’ve never be­fore had to share my land with badgers. At my last farm, there was no sign of badger ac­tiv­ity, but there’s plenty of ev­i­dence of it here in west Wales.

I didn’t re­alise there were any on my own land un­til au­tumn, when I started won­der­ing why my sheep kept dis­ap­pear­ing. It wasn’t un­usual for them to wan­der off into the wood­land and the pad­docks beyond, graz­ing con­tent­edly, and they al­ways came to me if I shouted for long enough. Then, one day, they didn’t re­spond to my call, so I went search­ing for them. Look­ing over the fence into my neigh­bour’s field, I could see them in the dis­tance - their dis­tinc­tive shaggy grey bod­ies dot­ted amongst dozens of neat white com­mer­cial ewes.

Herd­wicks are no­to­ri­ous es­capol­o­gists, and will take ad­van­tage of any weak, sag­ging, or dam­aged bound­aries, so I be­gan check­ing the fence­line. Pretty soon I found some wool-cov­ered wire which had been pushed up to pro­vide the es­cape route. I knew my sheep were clever, but they’d never man­aged to bur­row un­der a fence be­fore that. Then I spot­ted, just a few me­tres away, a well-worn track in the grass lead­ing from the fence to the wood­land, a sign of the real cul­prits – badgers. Fol­low­ing the track into the trees, I found a badger la­trine – a spe­cially-made dung pit. If you find one, there’s cer­tainly go­ing to be a sett nearby.

It ex­plains a lot – and not just the dis­ap­pear­ing sheep. I got a call from the man who did my fenc­ing re­cently. “Have any of your pigs es­caped?” he asked. “Be­cause your neigh­bours field looks like some have been root­ing about in it.” I had a look and, yes, it def­i­nitely had been turned over by some strong snouts, but not gin­ger ones, be­cause my pigs were still safely be­hind the fence. Badgers will dig just like pigs when they are look­ing for food. In fact, the Welsh for badger is ‘mochyn daear’ – ‘earth pig’ or ‘pig that lives in the ground’.

The up­side of badgers wreck­ing my bound­ary fence is that my ewes have been able to have a good feed on my neigh­bour’s grass, which is much bet­ter than mine, but the down­side is that, when they came back, they brought with them one of the neigh­bour’s tups. I hadn’t planned to lamb this year, but it looks like I’m go­ing to be ex­pect­ing a few Herd­wick x Texel ar­rivals pretty soon. I need to fix that fence.

Sort­ing out a home for her pigs was the first pri­or­ity for Liz

This randy ram will be a dad in a few months’ time

One of the un­ex­pected vis­i­tors

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