In her latest instalment first generation farmer Gala Bailey-Barker reveals some of the little pleasures of farm life at Plaw Hatch..
Farming constantly requires me to learn new things, it’s one of the reasons I love it. Learning to milk and having to think about every part of the process has reminded me of how I felt when I first learnt about feeding the chickens and pigs here. I was so caught up in remembering how many scoops of oats the piglets needed, remembering the water and the electric fences, that I wasn’t able to appreciate where I was and the animals I was caring for. Now I have finally got to the point with milking where I enjoy being with the cows and noticing all the little things about them in a way that wasn’t possible when I first learnt.
The way that we feed at Plaw Hatch is probably inefficient but it also allows one to be thoughtful and play close attention to the animals, which in my opinion helps us maintain a high standard of animal husbandry. We make up a bucket of oats and whey for each group of animals. The chickens get organic waste cheese from a local dairy when we have it and the pigs always get a little seaweed and veg from the shop. Once all the technicalities of feeding become innate you focus on having a chat to the pigs, giving the sows a scratch, watching the chickens chasing each other for cheese and enjoying the view as you drive the feeding truck round. I now take so much more pleasure in many aspect of my work than I did when I first started. We always have volunteer help at Plaw Hatch and when volunteers find feeding boring or difficult I try to get them to stick with it because when you come out the other side of that it is such an enjoyable job!
We’ve sent off quite a few pigs this month, some for sausages and some for cuts. It is really wonderful having our own pork in the shop. The meat is delicious and knowing where that pig comes from and having been around for its life is such a privilege. As we send our last pigs off to slaughter the time for the sows farrowing comes round and so the cycle of life continues.
The year I arrived at Plaw Hatch both our sows went together to the boar and they have stayed utterly in sync farrowing within days of each other. They are great friends and we keep them together all year round, but on Wednesday they started fighting. The trouble was May (sub dominant sow) was nesting and April (dominant sow) wasn’t happy to be thrown out of the spot where they usually sleep together. We separated them quickly as you don’t want stress for a soon to be mother, and being chased by your sister is not the most calming way to prepare for birth. Over the day May built herself a nice nest and when I walked down to check on her at 10pm she had just given birth to her first piglet. By the morning she had a little bundle of piglets and then by mid-morning, April started farrowing. Now we have a whole host of little piglets. People are alway eager to come and visit them and although the sows are very protective I think they enjoy being admired from a distance with their broods.
Other new lives are on their way, we had our 34 ewes scanned at the beginning of February. Malcolm Sweeney came to scan for the 3rd year running. He came mid way through a trench being dug up the main track on the farm. Luckily the workmen finish at lunch time of Fridays so they can get to their far away homes so the track was clear to bring the sheep up. My boyfriend George took a break from his studies in Architecture to help us. The sheep followed me up the track and into the race with no trouble. Scanning itself went pretty smoothly, we are expecting one potential quad, 7 sets of triplets and 8 singles and the rest will be twins. I’m starting to get the Green Barn ready, although we lamb outside its good to have a warm place to bring any poorly ewes and lambs into. It’s always been very dark so I’m replacing some of the panels with clear corrugate. I’ve still got 5 weeks to go until their actually due but I am already getting excited!
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