We are halfway through February already and it is a glorious sunny day here in North Devon. Our first guests will be arriving in March and we have been busy getting ready for another season of family-friendly farm holidays. The weather is improving, the days are lengthening and the grass is growing. The daffodils and snowdrops are looking spectacular and the ducks started laying eggs again by Valentine’s Day! Nature really is amazing. The geese may have started but if so I haven’t found eggs yet. I suspect that Moo, our miniature Shetland pony, who is about the same size as a goose, may have persuaded them to hide their eggs in the hedge or somewhere safely away from his inquisitive nose! Unfortunately that will allow foxes and badgers – and possibly Terriers and Border Collies – to steal them. I have modified the goose-house to try to make it Moo-proof so hopefully they will see sense and return to their regular nest-site. We can then steal a few eggs for our regulars, who like large omelettes, and leave enough for Hilda and Victoria to sit on! During the Winter months there is very little grass in the goose/pony field and they have become rather footloose and fancy free. Geese are great wanderers and traditionally would have been reared in East Anglia, fattened up on grass during the Summer and then walked down to Smithfield Market ready for Christmas ( …..Dinner! ). Sid, Hilda and Victoria are adept at swimming up the stream, squeezing under the fence, and marching off across the fields in search of grass…and adventure. We have had to retrieve them from half a mile away before now. Finding them is fairly straightforward. As soon as you or the dogs get close they start honking loudly and flapping their wings, as if threatening to fly away. Fortunately they are virtually incapable of flying. I have seen them get about three or four feet up in the air and glide into a reasonable headwind but trying to clear hedges would end in disaster. Usually they will return home at dusk by choice and they are reasonably good at fending off predators so we tend to let them look after themselves. Once the grass gets away from Meggie and Moo they will happily stay on their own pond and stream and settle down for the Summer at home. Who knows…. they may succeed in hatching out some goslings this year! The chickens are approaching their peak laying season. Usually the end of February is when they produce the most eggs. As the weather warms up they will start going broody and stop laying eggs, while they sit on clutches. Once they have hatched out chicks the hens won’t start laying again until the chicks are three or four months old and virtually independent. Egg production will drop off as Summer approaches. By then we will be waging war on buzzards and rats and stoats in order to keep young replacement pullets alive and thriving for our own benefit, as well as theirs. Some of the ewes are enormous now and struggling to get around in the mud, so the current warm, dry, sunny weather is very welcome for them. They will start lambing in a couple of weeks so we are all looking forward to fresh new grass growth. One of them has already managed to prolapse and is now strapped up securely with a retainer in place. Rodney the ram and Balti the Billy-goat are going to move down to the goose and pony field soon to give the ewes a bit of peace and quiet in the sheep shed. The boys will be happy to go off on their own for some R and R, but won’t be happy about losing their ‘pregnancy’ rations. They will be happier when the grass starts to grow again! We haven’t kept any pigs during the Winter but should have some weaners arriving soon. The freezers are full of pork and our Wild Boar X Gloucester Old Spots produced some very tasty sausages etc. last year, so we are hoping to get some more of the same again this time. We are also in the process of finding a replacement for Peppa the pony – watch that space.
We went to Rome, for a weekend of ‘romance and rugby’, a couple of weeks ago! We came home with blisters and shin-splints!! Rome is obviously a beautiful city with all sorts of fabulous historical sites and ancient monuments. We are regular walkers at home, with two dogs that we exercise daily, so we are used to walking on a daily basis, albeit on soft, muddy ground. However, walking around on pavements and cobblestones for seven or eight hours a day is a different matter. We were both virtually crippled when we returned. I came back through Cardiff airport with a boot on one foot and a shoe on the other. Trace had shin-splints on both legs and we are still suffering the after effects! Having compared stories with fellow travellers we would recommend trainers (good ones!) as ‘de rigueur’ to anyone following in our footsteps! The Italy v England rugby was a great excuse to sit down for a couple of hours and the system to enter and leave the Stadio Olimpico has been greatly improved, but there were no free buses to and from the stadium and the queue for the tram was ridiculous, so we walked!! All things considered it was a great, long weekend, but not the most romantic! Fingers crossed now for the Scotland game at the weekend.
The work on the Stables and Cider House is nearly up to date and outside repairs and maintenance are about to start, weather permitting. Short breaks and weekends are still available, around the school holidays, until May. Then we just do weekly holidays until August 31 when we start short breaks and weekend breaks until October half – term. If you are interested, contact Tracey to discuss options. Looking forward to seeing old and new guests soon, bye for now, Farmer Chris.