It’s show time

Deb­bie Kings­ley takes us through the year on her Devon farm

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

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.small­hold­er­train­

Grey­face Dart­moors and their han­dlers at the Oke­hamp­ton Show

Show­ing Grey­face Dart­moor sheep at the Oke­hamp­ton show

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