Thursday, 28 August 2014

Thank Ewe for following!

I really appreciate the views, shares and followers, so would like to say a big THANK EWE!  

And keeping with the theme, thought I would introduce you to our flock.
There is nothing more calming than standing against a gate watching the content grazing of sheep in the sunshine. We have a bit of a Heinz 57 flock in that there is a right old mixture.

The main breed we have are Jacob sheep - who when shorn are goat like. We chose Jacob sheep to start our flock for a few reasons. A friend Helen who, apart from farming gorgeous oysters (, happens to breed Jacob sheep, and she told me that they are a very docile, gentle breed needing very little intervention, especially at lambing time - sounded like music to my ears as a towny!

She sold me a couple to start off with and we liked seeing them in the fields, so bought a few more. Then we got bolder and started breeding them. I spent a little time at Helen's farm watching in awe and then dived right in the deep end!

Now the thing about Jacobs is that they can jump. High. We got a phone call from another friend (who coincidently happens to be one of the very few other breeders of Jacobs) asking me if I had lost anything. Incredulously, one of our girls had leapt a fence, and made its way to the next Jacob flock some several miles away! She knew it was mine because we have to tag sheep to identify where they are from, and their flock number.

Anyway, Jacobs are one of the oldest rare breeds, and although small (so less commercially viable) their meat is absolutely delicious - lamb like nana used to cook. It has a very lean consistency, an earthy taste, and is suited to slow cooking where it falls off the bone.  Mouthwatering yet comforting at the same time!  We are so fortunate to have a talented local chef, Mick Holland, who has cooked for the rich, famous and royalty - Prince William no less - and now cooks for our guests. He takes our lamb (and Helen's if we have run out) and turns it into delicious Northumberland Fare "ready meals" for our cottage guests to order. Can you imagine a bracing walk on the beach and then coming back to just pop Jacob's Shoulder, Jacob's Rump or traditional Northumbrian Hotpot into the oven? (

There is lots of good advice out there for bumbling novices like me, such as the Jacob Sheep Society ( who are always keen to share their expertise. However, the best help I get is from my amazing friends and experts - people like Helen and Leigh. Leigh is a multi award winning Jacob breeder (amongst her many other gifts) and the provider of our rams for tupping each year - here she is winning Glendale Show Champion 2014 (her shelf is creaking under the weight of all her trophies):

We also could not manage without the always helpful Sinky - sheep shearer extraordinaire and Budle Bay Croft's master shepherd (he actually is the very effective manager of a huge farm but helps us out after work sometimes:

Apart from the Jacobs, our other sheep are all rescued lambs, bottle fed and hand reared so incredibly tame - they still feed out of little hands!  We have Texel, Mule and Suffolk crosses, all orphaned and nurtured to full strength by our cottage guests' bottle feeding from March to June.

The orphans are often very weak when they arrive, and we snuggle them, feed them, tickle them and keep them safe until they are strong enough to go into the fields with the other lambs.

At night we bring them back in, because they are vulnerable to attacks from foxes and badgers (did you know a badger can bring down a fully grown Ewe and start eating it alive - it has happened to us and is a truly horrible sight). So, into the Lamb Joint they go for the night, snug as a bug in a rug (well cosy straw anyway!)

And in the morning, you can hear the bleating asking "where's my breakfast?" One of us goes to let them out and they run across the field for a cuddle, then follow us back over to the Lamb Joint for their bottles.

There is something really heartwarming about sitting on a straw bale and watching the hungry lambs guzzle their warm milk down.

Well, I hope ewe found this blog of interest, but until next time, thank ewe for your time!

Lambing at Budle Bay Croft

Friday, 22 August 2014

Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick, Chicken….

It's a beautiful day today here at Budle Bay Croft.

Makes cleaning the chickens out so much better.

Not that it is such a terrible job really.

They all sleep on a perch in each of the hen houses, Shabby Chics, Clucks Away and Sleepy Hens. And all their poo drops onto the straw in a really neat line!

We have any number of random chickens on the croft, including two rather splendid cockerels, One-Eyed Sam (yip, you guessed it), and Suggs (he has fluffy legs that look like baggy trousers).

A lot of our girls were rescued battery hens - arriving bald as coots and dis-guarded because their laying quota dropped.

What is really sweet is that with a bit of love and attention, the occasional worming and lots of fruity treats, they soon come back to full strength, and lay more than we can ever dip our soldiers in!

Hens are funny little things - they each have their own personality, and there is definitely a pecking order.  Any new chickens introduced have to "fight" for their position in the coop, and we always try to introduce more than one at a time, or we spray the coop with perfume so they all smell the same - co-co-rel chanel is the favourite!

Chickens eat everything and anything in sight - bread, worms, bugs, newly planted lavender even, and they have a particular penchant for last night's tea. Their main staple though is mixed corn.

Most of our chickens are incredibly tame, coming to greet you as you get out of the car, and even eating corn out of little offering hands.

At this time of year, the hens lay lots of eggs - more than we and our cottage guests' can manage!  We have all sorts of different sizes and colours of eggs. Blue ones, white ones, brown ones, beige ones, speckle ones even, and we often have a little joke with our younger guests - asking them to take part in a little "egg"speriment, to see whether the blue eggs have blue yolks!

Did you know that if you feed the chickens too much beetroot you can turn their eggs a pinky hue, and if they eat spicy food, they lay spice-laced yolks?

Normally, the yolks are a vibrant yellow, almost fluorescent, due to the large amount of grass and greens the chickens consume each day.

It is a firm favourite of our cottage guests (young and young at heart) to collect the freshly laid eggs each morning - sometimes so fresh they are still warm!

What cuts the egg yield down is when one of the ladies decides she wants to start clocking.

Clocking is when a broody hen sits in the nesting box on a batch of eggs, not always her own, and if fertilised (i.e. if you have a cockerel) after 3 weeks, in theory, they should turn into fluffy chicks.

They are usually such good mums - hardly leaving their post for 21 days. They do sometimes get confused about which eggs are the hatching ones though, as for some bizarre reason, other hens try to lay on the nest.

The hardest part by far though is when they hatch - trying to keep them safe from predators like buzzards, otters and weasels is a nightmare.

We sometimes put the hen and her chicks onto a guinea pig hutch or smaller run, but the mum can reject the young when moved, and without their mum around, they are not only vulnerable to being lifted, but they also don't know how to become a chicken!

One of the loveliest quirks about hens is that when they are broody, they will mother anything. We regularly have ducklings being reared by hens, and the ducklings really think they are little chicks until they reach maturity. So sweet!

Well, thats the Budle Bay Croft chickens introduced to you. Watch this space for hatching updates over the next couple of weeks, mother nature permitting!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a pig surprise.

Dreak day today on Budle Bay Croft - feels unseasonably autumnal. So thought you might like to meet some of the animals here on the croft as photos of wet mucking out are not that interesting!

Probably the cottage guests'  favourites are our rescued rare-breed Kune Kune pigs, Harry Trotter (the one with a Potter like flash on his head) and George Kluney Kluney (the better looking one).

Now there are many things we did not know about pigs when we became bumbling small holders. The first thing is that they eat grass - lots of it - they graze like sheep. We found this out when the neighbouring farm was sold and the seller left his herd of Kune Kune's for the new owners - surprise! Now, as equine folks, they wanted their land, purchased at market price, for pony grazing - understandably so!  You can imagine the shock when they wandered through their pastures to hear grunts and oinks looking for food!  

We agreed to take their pigs, thinking we had managed sheep so we should be able to manage pigs - I mean, how hard can it be??? Well actually it is very different. The first thing we noticed was they eat their weight in grass on a daily basis (it seemed so anyway). From a lush paddock, our bottom field became barren overnight.  So, after much re-homing advertising, and a trip to the abattoir (more about that later) for some of them, we reduced the herd down to our two pet pigs Harry and George.  

The next thing we noticed was the massive amount of red tape associated with keeping pigs following the 2001 disastrous foot and mouth disease outbreak, which was started by pigs being fed untreated catering waste. 2000 farms were affected by the epizootic, with 10 million sheep and cattle killed in attempts to curb the disease. It was estimated to cost the UK £8bn, massively affecting the animals, the farms and the agricultural and tourism industries.  So, to keep pigs, you have to have a County Parish Holding number (needed for sheep too); a herd number; be available for unannounced DEFRA inspections; keep a medicines record; have a licence to transport them; tag them; and ensure they are fed only what they need to be - professional animal feed mixes and domestic raw fruit and vegetables, but not anything that has been stored in a fridge with meat in it. Phew! 

However, you also need a sense of humour (ever tried to catch an escaped pig? You need to chase it, catch it, put it into a handstand and walk it back to the paddock - sight for sore eyes…), tickling fingers (do you know you can send a pig to sleep just by tickling them?), long wellies (they make a right muddy mess in winter) and plenty of grazing land. Pigs love the grass but they equally enjoy rooting through the woods too. In fact, woodland is the pigs' favourite. Our pigs roam free, creating new paths through the magical maze as they munch their way through the ground cover.  Pigs also like free running water, and our two enjoy slurping in the burn. Which is usually fine. But requires me to wade in up to the waist, with a rope lasso and a couple of burly farmers to help get them out when there is sudden torrential rainfall...

Now back to the abattoir. We did not have enough land for all of the abandoned pigs due to the number of sheep we had at the time.  We could only re-home a couple of them as these lovely natured animals are not commercially viable for pig farmers - they are too fatty for the current UK palate.  So, off some of them went on their final journey, transported by a dear friend with a licence, and brought back to us in the back of a pick up.  All jointed but not bagged up, the boxes of pork started to ooze blood. My dear friend reversed towards our house and our big freezer just as new cottage guests arrived, who immediately gave us very scared glances. Picture it, if you will. The wind was blowing a gale. The rain was lashing down - well actually it was almost horizontal. It was a very dark winter evening. It probably looked like a scene from the Hillbillys! Still, there was so much meat, the local villages were fed free of charge for 3 months!

Would we eat Harry and George? Not a chance - they are our pet pigs and will gracefully see their (balding) days out on the croft, enjoying pineapple, peaches, broccoli (in-fact anything but Brussels sprouts - they hate Brussels sprouts) and tickles. We will however probably eat Snooty and Flossy - our meat pigs in Hogswarts that sleep in Piggleywinks. But you can meet them properly another time.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Wooooah!  What a day!

Well, all I can hear in my head is Pitbull and Ke$ha singing:
"It's going down, I'm yelling timber! You better move, you better dance!"$ha-single/id773192301

The old country saying of "Make Hay in the Sunshine" was the order of the day today at Budle Bay Croft - except it was not hay we were making, but the promise of cosy evenings in our cottages, with seasoned logs for the burners. We have a sustainable woodland policy on the croft - we bring trees down that are dangerous and plant new ones for every one felled. We also have the (mistaken) belief that if we have assets on the land we should use them wisely to save us money - logs cost lots of pennies in winter and our 5* cottages get them for free from us.  So, having planted lots of cherry and hawthorne trees in the spring to compensate for the older trees that needed felling last winter, the older ones were sufficiently seasoned to make logs from -  smug, warm, money saving glow type of feeling going on inside my body. Today's job was to shift 2 huge, old, felled willow trees that had started to split due to their age. They must have been 100 years+ or so because they line the old mill race and they are enormous - a real characterful shape on the local landscape. But, in the heavy winds of last winter, two started to split and were in a dangerous state so down they came. Not that we did it mind - needed an articulated cherry picker and some very nimble and agile young men (awful to have to watch I know).  Still, "timber" came the cry, down they fell and when they priced for felling and chopping up, we imagined nice neat logs sizes ready for the burners. Naive I know. This is what they were left like: 

Why do it now? Well, the trees that had to be felled were inconveniently at the other end of the croft, which in winter can become a quagmire, making it almost impossible to manoeuvre a tractor to go and get the wood.  "It's a lovely day - should only take a couple of hours" said "grumpy pants" hubby. "If we all get stuck in, we can go out for lunch".  So, motivated by the promise of a crab sandwich from The Ship Inn at Low Newton (accompanied by a cheeky glass of their infamous microbrew), off we all set along Woodland Wander, on Timmy the Tractor to chop the wood.  Started off we'll enough - kids promising to help in exchange for technology time and sweets.  Dogs even behaved themselves, not chasing a rabbit into neighbouring fields. However, after an age (well 10 minutes) the usual debacle that is our lot apparently pulling together to do the chores (not) occurred and it was myself and "grumpy pants" left lifting the load.  

Lots of moans about "needing to have the right gear to be a small holder" and questions about whether I had seen the latest fantastic piece of essential equipment - "ride on mower come chainsaw come strimming hedge trimmer that also generates electricity incase of a power cut thingymybob" and "we could get this lot shifted so much quicker if we had one" type of discussions going on.  Several hours later, we had moved all but the largest 4 pieces.  I looked over at "grumpy pants", feeling every single day of my 49 years, with nettle rashes, bark cuts and spelks in orifices I didn't evenknow I had. He had that "I told you so" kind of face. 

Sthil (see what I did there?), alls well that ends well, and we now have lots of logs for our cottage guests come winter. And it looks like a 100 mile round trip to the "ride on mower come chainsaw come strimming hedge trimmer that also generates electricity incase of a power cut thingymybob" shop tomorrow.  Wooooah!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

JibberJabberUK: A taste of Northumberland

JibberJabberUK: A taste of Northumberland: Can't argue with any of these! Seahouses Fruit and Veg shop also great, and for meals out, we have been really impressed with the Tree House in Alnwick, The Mizen and Lord Crewe in Bamburgh, Elan's Pizzeria in Seahouses, The Waren House Hotel in Waren Mill, and The Barn at Beal - all serving locally reared, freshly prepared delicious fare!

Hello World from Budle Bay Croft!

Well, finally did it - after much arm bending, I have started a blog. I have absolutely no idea whether there is anyone in the world who would be even remotely interested in what I am going to blog about, but hey, you just never know!  

So, this is me, Allison - AKA Farm'stress and General Dog's Body of Budle Bay Croft (BBC). The two people in the back were forced into climbing aboard and smiling for the camera - holiday makers at BBC, and bribed with cake and sweeties in the "Ve have Vays of Making you Smile" type of plea. Not sure if they could sit down for a week afterwards because I forgot to put the straw cushions down...

So who is Farm'stress Allison? Well, naturally (dyed) blonde hair, not yet 50 years old (though goodness knows I often feel more than that), mother of 2 under 12's (see previous), wife to "grumpy pants", sorry, darling hubby, for last 27 years (yip, still see previous) and stumbled into being a bumbling small holder on the breathtaking Northumberland Coast. 

How did I get here?  Goodness knows - one of those mad ideas 9 years ago after too much wine one Friday night. You know the type of thing - "What are we going to do with our lives? We are not getting any younger you know! Fancy moving to the country and raising chicks" sort of discussion. I took that to mean the fluffy chirpy type (and hubby never corrected me otherwise), so when we woke up on Saturday to the Newcastle Journal Homemaker (came from the bright lights you know) and fell in love with the wreck that is now Budle Bay Croft, it seemed to be a sign.

And what about Budle Bay Croft? Well, its rather sweet as small holdings go. Little river flowing with wild ducks, swans, herons, otters, king fishers and sea trout amongst others. Small woodlands filled with hidden deer, badgers, foxes and buzzards. Wee paddocks grazed by often rescued animals -  currently 22 sheep, a Shetland pony who eats too much, 4 pigs, 10 ducks, 13 chickens, 2 dogs and a cat. We have a couple of veggie plots too, but seem to be better at growing slugs and greenfly than anything else.  Budle Bay Croft is one of those places where everything has a name - even down to the lambing shed.

Well, novice I am at this malarky, and many rules I have probably broken on this first ever blog, but I do seem to recall an expert once telling me to keep things short and sweet.  So, for now, if you are still (amazingly) reading this, thanks for your time!  Let me know the sorts of things you want to hear about and over coming updates, I will share more about life down on Budle Bay Croft.