Solo small­hold­ing

Man­ag­ing sick­ness

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

Iknow that there are solo small­hold­ers out here and this is a trib­ute to them, he­roes all. If it’s sum­mer, with long dry days, ac­com­mo­dat­ing ground and the only thing that needs ex­tra at­ten­tion are the de­ter­mined weeds in the veg patch, those of us who do our small­hold­ing or small scale farm­ing as a duo or fam­ily, can pretty eas­ily ac­com­mo­date one man or woman down, whether it’s a bro­ken bone, a dose of sum­mer flu or an ex­tended time away from home at­tend­ing to other busi­ness.

But this Jan­uary, hus­band An­drew caught the un­pleas­ant flu bug that’s been do­ing the rounds. He was knocked side­ways and com­pletely un­able to get out and about.

No prob­lem, I thought. We nor­mally al­ter­nate our rou­tine farm chores: one day I’ll do the pigs, poul­try and sheep, the next day the cows. On a week­end if we’re not run­ning a course, one of us will do ev­ery­thing on a Satur­day which means you get the lie in on Sun­day, or vice versa. It’s not as if I’m un­able or un­used to tak­ing con­trol of the whole she­bang.

Morn­ings are the big deal. Pigs first, in par­tic­u­lar feed­ing Poppy the sow be­fore she tries to break down mul­ti­ple gates and help her­self to what­ever porcine buf­fet takes her fancy. This Jan­uary had been out­ra­geously wet, so her five-month-old wean­ers were in­side to let the ground in their pad­dock re­cover and give them a break from the per­ma­nent down­pours which they re­ally weren’t en­joy­ing. Now that they’re in a barn, in ad­di­tion to the nor­mal feed­ing there’s twice daily pig muck­ing out too. Next the mul­ti­ple geese, ducks and hens to let out and feed. Then two cow­sheds to

muck out – with put­ting down fresh straw and fill­ing their racks with hay­lage, the cows alone take me an hour and a half at a trot. To the sheep, at the far end of the farm where the ground is firmest, I have to walk round them all and feed those ex­pect­ing twins – a 25 kilo bag of ewe nuts to share among that bunch.

By now I’m a lit­tle weary but there’s empty feed sacks to fill with logs for the fire and any num­ber of small tasks – re­mov­ing the wodges of dead leaves from the down pipes to stop the gut­ters over­flow­ing, re­fill­ing feed bins, clean­ing out a bird hut or two. You know the kind of thing.

I’m an ev­ery­day user of the skid­steer which we use to muck out the cow­sheds, but al­though I’m happy to drive the trac­tor and trailer when hay mak­ing or col­lect­ing logs, I am not, to my shame, a daily trac­tor user. I have ab­so­lutely no idea how to use the front loader, so can’t pick up and shift large bales of hay or straw (we’re talk­ing a third of a tonne or more here, so wheel­bar­rows don’t cut it). I don’t know how to use the rear hitch to at­tach the trailer, nor how to re­verse it when at­tached (arghhh!) or empty the tip­ping trailer when full of muck.


Af­ter three days of hus­band out of ac­tion I’m stymied. I’ve neatly stuffed the muck trailer as full as pos­si­ble with the bucket on the skid­steer, and now it needs emp­ty­ing onto the muck heap. I’m about to run out of hay­lage bales for both cow­sheds and can’t use the spikes on the front loader to pick them up or place them neatly, as An­drew does, ex­actly where needed. A new large bale of hay needs driv­ing up to the top of the farm for the hoggs (the year old lambs). A mas­sive straw bale needs put­ting into the lamb­ing shed so I can scat­ter it about and bring in the ewes ex­pect­ing dou­bles.

Luck­ily, very luck­ily, a friend comes in re­sponse to my call and does a cou­ple of hours of im­pec­ca­ble trac­tor­ing about for me, and we get ev­ery­thing done in­clud­ing bring­ing in the ewe dou­bles. Their field is start­ing to get trashed and it’s much eas­ier for me to feed them near the house. The ewes ex­pect­ing sin­gles will sim­ply have to wait un­til An­drew is bet­ter as the barn they are go­ing into is full of ma­chin­ery that needs, you guessed it, a trac­tor to re­move it all out.

Af­ter a week of this, to say I’m tired out would be on the money. The dif­fer­ence be­tween solo small­hold­ing and shared ac­tiv­ity is mas­sive. As any em­ployee in a down­sized (ghastly term) com­pany knows, it’s sim­ply not pos­si­ble to do the work of two peo­ple, if you’re al­ready a busy, stretched worker, over an ex­tended pe­riod. Not un­less you get fit­ter and younger ev­ery day. There’s a clear mes­sage here for small­hold­ers do­ing this on their own – don’t take on too much, or the plea­sures can turn into pains. For ev­ery­one, you need a net­work of skilled friends and neigh­bours who can help out when you’re in a jam, or de­tails of pro­fes­sional con­trac­tors who will re­spond quickly and ef­fi­ciently to your call for help (and some cash to pay for it). As much as I adore and need peace and quiet, I cer­tainly wouldn’t want to be in splen­did iso­la­tion, away from any pos­si­bil­ity of kindly aid.

If it was sum­mer and the cows out­side, this solo re­spon­si­bil­ity would have been a dod­dle. If the ewes weren’t ap­proach­ing lamb­ing, I’d have sim­ply taken the dogs for their daily stroll across the farm, to check all was well. But no. It’s Jan­uary, hor­ren­dous weather con­di­tions, a huge per­cent­age of the live­stock are in­side with all the ad­di­tional man­age­ment that en­tails and the trac­tor work is full on, and I am ill-equipped, trac­tor-wise.

This makes me ashamed, to be frank. We have heaps of jobs that we share, from run­ning the cour­ses to the daily live­stock chores, but in ad­di­tion we have very spe­cific, com­ple­men­tary roles. An­drew does fenc­ing, ditch­ing, mowing, top­ping, and all things trac­tor. I do ev­ery­thing re­lated to sell­ing our meat, lamb­skins and cour­ses, deal­ing with the abat­toir, the butcher, the tan­nery and our cus­tomers. I do all the pa­per­work, An­drew does the ac­counts. It works well, but this bout of flu has put my knowl­edge gap un­der a daz­zling spot­light. I’m go­ing to have to bite the bul­let and learn how to do the trac­tor­ing stuff. Dur­ing this time, a steer was booked in to the abat­toir and it was oblig­ing friend to the res­cue again. My first task will be learn­ing how to hitch the 4WD car to the live­stock trailer with­out bash­ing a hole in the bumper, and then re­vers­ing the whole rig round cor­ners. Heav­ens save us!

The dif­fer­ence be­tween solo small­hold­ing and shared ac­tiv­ity is mas­sive.

Deb­bie’s hus­band An­drew on the trac­tor

With the ewes

In the cow­shed

An­drew Hub­bard and Deb­bie Kingsley at their small­hold­ing in Devon

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