Deb­bie’s Di­ary

Deb­bie Kings­ley takes us through the year on her Devon farm

Country Smallholding - - Welcome - Deb­bie Kings­ley and hus­band An­drew Hub­bard run small­hold­ing cour­ses on their farm in Devon www.small­hold­er­train­ing.co.uk

Back to the be­gin­ning

Oc­to­ber means the ar­rival of au­tumn and, in many ways, the be­gin­ning of the farm­ing year. Come Oc­to­ber 15, the rams go in with the ewes – and it’s tup­ping time. Our four flocks are sep­a­rated out, given a fi­nal once over, with any foot is­sues given par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion, and the tups are put in with their own breed of ewes, and shep­herded into their se­lected fields. Wher­ever pos­si­ble, we aim to keep each flock at least one field dis­tance from each other to avoid ram on ram head bang­ing ses­sions through the gates. We take special care over feet be­cause, for the next five months, dur­ing their preg­nancy, we aim to han­dle the ewes as lit­tle as pos­si­ble, min­imis­ing stress. We’re a bit hit and miss about rad­dling the rams, but do try and smear great oily gobs of colour onto their briskets at the end of the month to see how many ewes are be­ing served a sec­ond time.

There’s some­thing par­tic­u­larly sat­is­fy­ing about see­ing a flock of one spe­cific breed graz­ing in a field. It gives me a chance to take stock of how that breed group is do­ing, whether the sheep are up to scratch, need some new blood in fu­ture years to lift the qual­ity, or are sim­ply pleas­ing to the eye. This year, the shear­lings (ewes in their sec­ond year) of all the breeds have been some­thing of a hit, and now they are go­ing to the ram for the first time.

To the abat­toir

While we are en­abling new life, it’s also time for this year’s lambs to go to the abat­toir. They go in sev­eral batches, two to three weeks apart, to keep a flow of lamb boxes for our meat box cus­tomers. Sev­eral peo­ple want more than one lamb box, but don’t have room in their freez­ers to take it all at once, so this drip feed ap­proach works for us, the butch­ers and our cus­tomers. A cou­ple of steers are also ready to go for beef boxes, so the Oc­to­ber di­ary is rather full of trips drop­ping off an­i­mals and pick­ing up meat boxes. If ever my hard-earned project man­age­ment skills were needed, it’s now.

The day be­fore the tups go in it’s our an­nual Ap­ples and Cider Day, the course where every­one gets very wet and rather sticky. We pick and wash ap­ples in bar­rels, mill and press the pulp, pro­duc­ing and drink­ing jug­fuls of won­der­ful juice. We dis­cuss and taste cider and cider vine­gar, chut­neys and jams and hope peo­ple are in­spired to cre­ate or re­store their own or­chards. Han­dling the vine­gar mother al­ways causes a stir. Few peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with this ex­tra­or­di­nary nat­u­ral cel­lu­lose sub­stance that looks and feels like a de­mon from the deep seas and con­verts al­co­hol to vine­gar; a be­nign sub­stance if vine­gar is your goal, a ver­i­ta­ble men­ace if not. Every­one goes home with juice and a jam jar of mother, and a bel­ly­full of home grown food and a Devon cream tea.

This month I drive across Devon to Bic­ton Col­lege, where lucky stu­dents go to study all things coun­try­side and agri­cul­tural, for one of my reg­u­lar ses­sions for the char­ity HighGround. I get to talk about the ins and outs of small­hold­ing with vet­er­ans and those tran­si­tion­ing from the mil­i­tary into the land based sec­tor; ex-mil­i­tary make ex­cel­lent small­hold­ers, in my ex­pe­ri­ence.

Come Oc­to­ber 15, and the rams go in with the ewes

Deb­bie’s hus­band An­drew press­ing ap­ples

Ready for the Ap­ples and Cider Day

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