With Liz Shank­land

Liz Shank­land is feel­ing pleased with her­self af­ter mak­ing some sig­nif­i­cant changes at her lat­est small­hold­ing

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

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

for­got­ten about.

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.

Sec­ond jobs

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

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