With Liz Shankland
Liz Shankland is feeling pleased with herself after making some significant changes at her latest smallholding
When I first moved to my new smallholding, it seemed like my builders had taken up residence, too. They were barely away from the place, working from 6am to late into the night, in an effort to get the barns and paddocks sorted, so that I could get the pigs and sheep back from their temporary homes.
There was hardly a day when they weren’t here, digging, demolishing, building, or fencing, and it was fascinating to watch what had been a rather neglected farm being rejuvenated and turned into the kind of usable accommodation of which I’d always dreamed.
Then, several months down the line, the work slowed down; with the first phase of major projects complete, the builders moved on to other jobs. There were still plenty of things that needed finishing off, but they had other, bigger contracts to be getting on with, and persuading them to come back for more than the odd day became increasingly difficult.
When you move to a completely new area, it’s often difficult locating reliable tradesmen, so when you find some, you stick with them. I’m not a particularly trusting soul, and I didn’t want to look elsewhere for new builders, so I decided to wait patiently for Roger and his team to come back as and when they were able.
My patience has been rewarded, and, bit by bit, they have almost completed my new livestock handling area – a secure, concreted pen with access to two big barns which will come in handy for a variety of jobs. The importance of having a safe and escape-proof area for carrying out routine husbandry tasks – or for simply holding animals in one place – cannot be underestimated. On my last smallholding, I had nothing of the sort, so temporary solutions always had to be found when anything needed routine treatment or veterinary attention.
Shearing time, for instance, always meant running around the holding, rounding up all the missing sheep hurdles - which were inevitably dotted about the place after being pinched to block up gaps in hedges or under gateways and then
Sheep – unless they are completely bonkers, like some of the wild, free-spirited Welsh Mountain ewes that I one had - are fairly easy to contain. Pigs, however, are in a completely different league. If you think hurdles are going to bother them, think again. A panicking pig with a strong snout can easily toss such a barrier in the air, while smaller pigs simply wriggle underneath – or, annoyingly, get their heads stuck between the bars.
A crash pad
With this in mind, I always had a plan in my head to eventually build a super-secure area from which I could be sure nothing would escape. Finally, I’ve got one. You may remember that, a few months ago, I sold an old railway carriage which I didn’t really need. Getting that out of the way left a sizeable space outside two of the barns, and the money I got for it paid for a lorry load of concrete and a lot of other useful materials. I thought, initially, about just having the area stock-fenced, but eventually decided to spend a bit more and go for something far more secure – motorway crash barriers. My non-farming friends were a bit baffled when I tried to explain that these big chunks of second-hand metal are quite sought-after, and that there’s a fair bit of money to be made by re-selling what is, basically, a scrap product. If you doubt this, take a look when you pass some local farms. Cattle farmers are particularly fond of the barriers because, once bolted in place, nothing is going to shift them. They are often used to make a secure crush or race, to build silage clamps, and I’ve even seen entire walls constructed from them. Down this way, the going rate seems to be around £ 25 to £ 30 each for a 12ft length, but they do occasionally pop up on eBay and on the local buying and selling pages on Facebook. I’ve become a big fan of Facebook lately, largely because of the pages set up to trade unwanted stuff. The social media site appears to have taken over from eBay in many respects, particularly since the auction site decided to hike up its seller fees and charge a huge amount of commission on final values. Every town and village down here seems to have its own Facebook page for users to advertise their goods, ranging from furniture to livestock. What’s nice – apart from the obvious bonus of it being completely free to advertise – is that your buyers are going to be local, so they are likely to collect fairly quickly, unlike some eBay buyers who keep you hanging around because they can’t make the journey for a few days. The pages are also a great way of finding tradesmen, suppliers of livestock, as well as animal feed, straw, hay, and machinery items – and someone to fix them when they go wrong.
I turned to the pages when I needed a roofer, a computer expert, a car mechanic, a plumber, and, more recently, a shearer. Everyone down here appears to have a second job or some kind of skill that they use from time to time to make a bit of extra cash. One of the regular postmen makes wedding cakes in his spare time, while the other one is a painter and decorator. Another example is the man who came to shear my sheep; he works in the local abattoir, but travels around shearing small flocks after finishing his shift. He turned up with a nifty rechargeable shearing unit and sorted out my ewes in less than an hour. It was such a relief to get them shorn as the weather hotted up. Despite using a pour- on every year as soon as temperatures start to rise, there is always the nagging worry at the back of my mind that one or two might get flystrike. Maggots are my worst nightmare; if they put me on one of those reality shows and gave me a challenge involving maggots, I’d be out in seconds. Like anyone who has had to deal with a sheep with strike, I’m always paranoid about it happening again, and I always try and get them shorn early if I can. This year, I was much later than usual but, happily, there wasn’t any evidence of strike when the heavy fleeces came off. The skilful the shearer didn’t nick any, so there was no need for purple spray and the lambs didn’t get confused about which ewe they belonged to, either. Happy days. Liz Shankland is the author of the Haynes Smallholding, Pig, and Sheep Manuals, and teaches courses for smallholders at www. humblebynature.com
‘My non-farming friends were a bit baffled when I tried to explain that these big chunks of secondhand metal are quite sought-after’
MAIN PHOTO: Liz using hurdles as a temporary wash pen inside her new enclosure INSET TOP: Using old motorway crash barriers ABOVE: A queue of shorn sheep
Retired railway carriage being put to use