The newest arrivals to the farm, three Berkshire weaners.
These pigs are tasked with clearing the farmstead we call 'Bethlehem'. Formerly a cattle yard and shed (hence the name), this area is somewhat overgrown - a des res complete with harrows, a seed drill, a plough and the remains of a cart used to transport casualties in WWI (so the story goes). We've cleared away all things sharp and nasty and today the Horkesley Porkers were released to dig and snuffle their way through the site. Free-range living at its finest!
The piglets are now happily ensconced in their new quarters - open plan studio apartment (ark) with uninterrupted views across the river to Nayland Airfield, cricket bat willows and general Stour loveliness. Ever considered living in a sty? I have.
This 'pig's-eye' view of the world shows how perfect the site is for the trio, but they'll have to work for that view. In fact, once they make it to the end of the track, they add Wiston Mill to the panorama.
To thank them, we generously removed the Take Put found beneath the brambles. And if you were wondering what this does, Dad's description "You take things, and put them somewhere else...somewhere you forget about them." is pretty accurate. He's been searching for this for some time, so has taken it...and put it somewhere else. Circle of Hell right there.
Thank you to Fryers Farm Shop for the huge quantity of windfall apples. Like ill-disciplined children, pigs like to play with food and are enjoying rolling them under the fence as an excuse to retrieve them. We believe they too may be trying to get to Wiston to play with Reggie.
Farmers' luck, calving started 20 minutes before we were due to leave for the carol service. Fortunately, 'No 1's Calf' is a pro and it was born and up within minutes, so Humph escaped to deafen the dignitaries of Colchester with a piccolo 'Top G' in 'Angels from the realms...A performance praised by the Mayor himself. It never ceases to amaze us that even after a lifetime of farming, with farmer hands hewn from endless baler twine knots, he is able to play the piccolo so well. To show our appreciation, when Humph's piccolo services are required, we briefly allow him to practise in the house, before realising this is a terrible idea (Farm Dog wails) and banish him to the barn - all a little Thomas Hardy until you catch a riff of a sea shanty amid the carols!
On the first day of December, a lovely heifer calf for the herd.
On the second day of December a trip to Mersea gave to me, three marvellous piglets.
On the third day of December, I drew the short straw when Dad said "So, you get in the muck spreader..." and wandered off to find tools. Ever wanted to know what the inside of a muck spreader looks like? Well now you know.
On the fifth day of December, 'Lord Sugar-beet' himself (Mr Brooks), had promised to send a smaller tractor to reduce the risk of barn-tractor collisions. Fitting Twenty First Century equipment into our "bijou" yard is, as so diplomatically put by the traumatized-looking youth driving the tractor, "quite hard work". Cue another 8 point turn.
And whilst I would have been most grateful for this, the harvester mined the sugar in record time and they'll be back at a later date for our other field...which requires drier conditions.
Clearly, this is shaping up to be a month of excitements. Perhaps by the 31st we'll have a new gutter and my definition of rain (water falling from the sky) and that of the Met Office will match up? Oh, we can live in hope...but too much excitement before Christmas is bad for a farmer.
It's time to catch up with our apple-mad pigs.
The pigs arrived the day before Open Farm Sunday, and refusing to sign an involvement contract, spent most of OFS hiding. Fortunately, pigs quickly learn that humans = food and if you bite that human, you get to the food faster as buckets fall and the air turns a little blue. So here are the big, bad piglets now...
They have (fingers crossed) literally grown out of their escape artist phase, but are still popular with walkers along the lane. Those who cry "Here Piggy Piggy!" on Water Lane are rewarded by our piglet display team performing a screeching, ear-flapping yet balletic sprint in the wrong direction - their echolocation is about as highly tuned as Humbug's, and they tend to head to the food bowl first. Something I can relate to. But all the exercise and snuffling makes for a tasty free-range pig, and at this rate, we expect a full complement of bacon, sausages, joints and gammon for Christmas.
Currently, they are guzzling their way through a vast quantity of apples. With competition in our little orchard from the chickens, help is at hand from the people of Nayland - in particular the magic porridge pot of apple trees in Fen Street. If anyone has any windfalls they would like cleared, we can put them to good use!
In other great news, it is finally dry enough (with a little rain-dodging) to muck out the barn. This window of dry weather has all the local farmers excited. For us, it means for the first time this year we can transport the muck over grassland without damaging the fields. We like the barn to be spankingly clean for the cows when they head inside for the winter and it's good to finally see that muck heading up the lane.
I am so thankful, I even papped a trailer load of manure. I'm off now to start writing a talk for the East Essex Food and Farming Group next week. I promise not to include the muck photo.
Here's hoping the apples distract them from breaking into their Eldorado, the hen run - clearly not that desirous of freedom. The heavy rain made this far removed from a city of gold and the hens have been whisked away in a professional manner (walked along the road) to higher ground and a deluxe new pen.
And GREAT news! We've got a new worker on the farm, pictured here during his JCB training.
...build it a nuclear bunker. Yep, the satellite may not have crash-landed in Essex, but we were prepared all the same! It's rare that a cow doesn't take to a calf straight away, but just occasionally they need a little time to get used to the idea. Our new micro-calf is quite small so probably popped out with very little fuss leaving one confused cow. We've been alternately feeding it on it's mother and bottle feeding. This means lots of time to sit and improve our mental state through meditation (or more accurately, falling asleep) as it slowly (very slowly) drinks a bottle of milk before waking you up with a headbutt to demand MORE FOOD!
Anyway, a cracking start to British Food Fortnight with the help of the Transition Nayland Food Swap Stall. I swapped an embarrassingly sub-standard marrow (compared to those grown by the great and good of Nayland) for a mountain of apple crushings. Feast day for the chickens and pigs!
Thank you to all at Transition Nayland for an excellent village event and for making the menagerie very very happy.
Further pig news. They are now free to roam and root in their own exclusive paddock! Pigs are very clean animals. They eat, sleep and poop in different areas. You can therefore guarantee that when you launch into a victorious try-scoring dive (think Brian Habana minus the accuracy or athleticism), you will land (faceplant) in the least favourable of those areas. It is only slightly less humiliating when you emerge holding a pig. The pre-faceplant catching is shown below.
That's right, I woke up this morning to an invite to the "Two Tonne Sow Event". I am trying not to take this personally, but whilst I struggle through the emotional distress and the postman's laughter, I bring you our vintage picture for the week...
Grandad teaching Dad the art of combining on our Massey Ferguson 780. We've still got the combine..."useful scrap".