It’s show time
Debbie Kingsley takes us through the year on her Devon farm
In August the big bold circle in the diary is for the Okehampton Show; a day out to admire livestock, congratulate friends on the rosettes draped across their sheep and pig pens and cattle areas, rub hands over the shiny tractors and implements, eat ice creams and seek out the best native breed beef burger or hog roast special.
It’s only a few miles down the road from our farm and you can see the marquees starting to go up as you drive past in the weeks leading up to the big day. Normal wear is shorts, sunglasses and wellies – it is usually hot, and often showery – with every kind of dog imaginable completing the holiday ensemble.
It’s Andrew’s opportunity to buy a muchneeded new pair of farm work boots, and when we leave, our bags are usually full of locally-made pies, cheeses and other artisan comestibles.
The young handler’s competitions are always fun – tiny children wearing white coats, looking like mini versions of their proud parents, holding onto huge sheep. I love the cattle parades of bull, cow and calf; the women riding side-saddle; shire horses pulling brewery drays and others being ridden at a slapping pace, covering the ground in seven league boots.
Smart donkeys, shining pigs, brushed goats and shampooed chickens are all on display. You can’t turn a corner without meeting a friend or glimpsing something interesting. Beekeeping displays, falconry, dog shows, green woodworking demonstrations, show jumping, ferret racing, alpacas fluttering their eyelashes, cakes and bread competitions, beer tents and food fayres, sweaty shearing contests, vintage tractors and steam engines, and every local agricultural merchant, insurance company and farm supplier out in force.
Now that the lambs have been weaned, those allotted for sale are collected by their new owners.
I’m always thrilled that people want our stock, particularly to start new flocks, and having four different breeds means some want a particular type, and others want a pretty mix.
Inevitably there will be some first-time keepers taking their new sheep home and I get a flurry of follow-up questions and requests for advice and reassurance. Best of all, I get sent photos of the sheep in their new homes – I always love that.
It’s prime cow insemination month, anticipating May-born calves, so I continue to watch the herd like a hawk, not that a bulling cow is subtle in its behaviour.
The steers are big and bold enough to follow the cows coming into heat, laying their heads on their rumps before leaping on top of them, thrusting away to no purpose other than letting me know it’s time to call the AI man.
August is when we hold our annual, practical fun on the farm smallholding weekend for folk who don’t necessarily see themselves getting a smallholding but want to come and experience the life in a really hands-on way.
We weigh lambs, clip chicken bums (we have very fluffy birds), make poultry huts and runs, feed the pigs, check the cows, muck out whatever needs mucking out, make bread and pizza in the cob oven, harvest veg and make blackberry vinegar. It’s a change from our more carefully structured smallholding courses and everyone helps with whatever needs doing on the farm. Often there will be volunteers to clean out the bird huts, even if I haven’t asked – who’d be silly enough to refuse? Debbie Kingsley and husband Andrew Hubbard run smallholding courses on their farm in Devon www.smallholdertraining.co.uk
Greyface Dartmoors and their handlers at the Okehampton Show
Showing Greyface Dartmoor sheep at the Okehampton show