Here’s hoping everyone had a great Christmas and New Year! It’s been nice to have some quiet family time over the festive period and bounce back with new ideas and enthusiasm for Indie Farmer, and I’m looking forward to my first full year as a beginner farmer on the family farm. Speaking of new ideas I’ve just returned from spending 2 days at the Real Oxford Farming Conference held at the Town Hall this year, those of you on twitter or following the hashtag #orfc15 may have noticed a spike in my tweeting activity, and I have to say it really was an incredible couple of days of listening to speakers and networking. Everyone I met – which included new entrants, smallholders, family farmers, soil experts, economists and journalists seemed upbeat about the future of UK farming and confident we can start to lead a more sustainable approach to farming and food production.
I’ll be posting in more detail on some of the sessions later in the month. In the meantime here’s a quick run down (in no particular order) of the last few weeks on the farm and some outline plans for 2015…
Birthday calf and back troubles
Turning the ripe old age of 35 on December the 30th my first task of the day was to help calve down one of our veteran British Blue cows (who was also 2 weeks overdue). Dad picked up on signs she was ready to calve and we penned her the night before. Not having progressed by morning (which seems to have been a trait this year – any ideas other farmer readers?) we decided to intervene and checking the calf was properly presented I attached a calving rope to each front foot and a head rope for good measure. Applying a little bit of gentle pressure on the ropes – the cow sprung into action, pushing herself and before long we had a healthy new born bull calf.
Unfortunately the day then took a turn for the worse – the calf whilst born alive possessed zero get up and go and with no inclination to stand or suck his mother we decided to milk out some colostrum from her teats by hand – the old cow had other ideas and after receiving a few kicks we abandoned plan A and de-thawed some emergency colostrum from the freezer instead. We then drench fed the young chap (put a tube down into his stomach) to keep him alive.
Later that morning I felt a mild twinge in my lower back and the pain went from a dull ache to sudden burst of agony whilst bending to negotiate my way out of our barley feed bin moving from one ladder to another. Exiting the grain store I then shuffled at snails pace back to the farmhouse and managed to lie down on the sofa. Mum rang the house and trying to move from the sofa wasn’t a good idea and I ended up in agony again but this time on the floor! Eventually she came down to investigate and found me midway to the kitchen phone and feeling a tad sorry for myself.
Suffice to say I have been out of ‘farm’ action and dosed up on a cocktail of painkillers this past week and a half – on a more positive note after a couple of acupuncture sessions at my local Chiropractor things are improving but it’s a slow process. The good news is that our cow and calf are now getting on better and Mum and Dad are just about coping without their apprentice so far! So from active new kid on the block to recovering back patient! If any farming or non farming readers out there have any recovery tips I would love to hear from you!
Pre injury – Sheep lookering..
Keeping tabs or ‘lookering’ our flock of sheep is a big part of my daily routine. At this time of the year our lambs are particularly exasperating doing their best to get hung up in hedgerow brambles or falling into a ditch. My job is to rescue these damsels in distress, which generally involves a mixture of untangling brambles from wool and pulling them away from the hedgerow or ditch.
A new species of water lamb…
Luckily I have honed my sheep rescuing skills (note clever tree bracing technique) and subsequent happy ending
Reunited with the rest of the flock we then walked them up the road to fresh pasture.
Indie Farmer Road Trip Campaign Rewards
Some of you may have received a brown parcel in the post over the last couple of weeks or so as I finally got round to dispatching hampers, tees, totes and pins to all the lovely people who sponsored my road trip back in the summer! As I mentioned the print journal is still a work in progress and I am planning to get them dispatched in the next couple of months and will be keeping you updated with my progress.
Direct Meat Sales Update
As I mentioned in my last beginner farmer update we recently took two of our fat lambs down to our local abattoir in Heathfield, where they were slaughtered moments after being dropped off and then hung for just over a week.
Keen to build on my two day butchery course at the School of Artisan Food earlier in the month, I asked my local craft butcher if I could help with the cutting up process. Both the lambs were on the heavier size weighing in around 33kg dead-weight each (the lambs we send to livestock market can weigh from around 45-60kg liveweight so these two must of been closer to the 60kg mark).
Here I am sawing one of the legs in half – which is quite commonplace on larger lambs to make the joints more manageable. We tried a half leg of our own Hockham farm lamb on Christmas eve which was…sensational and I was delighted to receive more positive feedback from a couple of other friends and family we supplied boxes of half lambs to.
So with a successful pilot under my belt the next step is to start marketing our lamb direct to homes and small businesses in the local villages and towns to the farm.
Quick Tilley Update
Our young springer spaniel pup is really finding her feet and loving life on the farm almost as much as me!
Plans for 2015
First up is the Oxford Real Farming Conference (6th and 7th January)
Having attended last year’s conference and recently interviewed author and founder Colin Tudge (which you can read HERE) I will be posting more about ORFC15 later in the month.
Indie Farmer Meat Sales
High on the agenda is to sell as much of our Hockham Farm produce direct and locally as possible. We still have a good number of lambs on the farm and I am keen to sell as many of these direct as possible. We raise our livestock to a very high standard and believe that you really can taste the difference!
We have teamed up with a local craft butcher who will be doing the hanging, cutting up and boxing of the meat on our behalf. I’ll be handling the sales and delivery of the meat and would love to hear from home buyers and chefs interested in buying half and whole boxes from us..
Indie Farmer Road Trip Print Journal
Also high on the agenda is to finish editing the content from my Indie Farmer Road Trip journal. I then need to print the journals and to help cover as much of the upfront cost as possible am planning to run a pre-purchase campaign. The more I can order the lower the unit cost so stay tuned for more information over the coming weeks – I’ll also be sharing more of the content from the trip via the website and will get a pre-purchase facility live on the online shop too. If you would like to learn more about the journal please get in touch!
Publish more stories and content online
I would love to build on the momentum of 2014 and publish as many inspirational farming and food stories on indie farmer as possible – to do this I need your help and want to hear from budding writers, bloggers, photographers, illustrators who would like to contribute content or anyone looking to gain some work experience – please get in touch!