Hoo's News

Updates from the world of Hoo's Herd - see more at www.hoosherd.co.uk

<p>“Fab roast leg of lamb for first roast of the season yesterday courtesy of Hoosherd” - a happy customer!</p>

“Fab roast leg of lamb for first roast of the season yesterday courtesy of Hoosherd” - a happy customer!

Posted 165 weeks ago

Sheep go walkabout...

One of our ewes & her lamb wriggled out of their Nettleden paddock last week & went for an explore…. After a pitstop at the St Margarets Buddhist Monastery, they made it as far as the Fourways Garden Centre before deciding that enough was enough…. Home now….

Posted 170 weeks ago
<p>Mum cleaning her 2013 calf whilst her 2014 calf looks on.</p>

Mum cleaning her 2013 calf whilst her 2014 calf looks on.

Posted 170 weeks ago

Well, this is going to be interesting....

2 injured bulls, from fighting - 1 with an injured shoulder, t'other with a strained back leg. Bed rest & separation required…. whilst our 12 month old bull (Hoo’s Herd Randy Newman) gets his day in the spotlight

Posted 170 weeks ago
<p>Surprise calf from 16 month old mother doing very well (as is his mum!)</p>

Surprise calf from 16 month old mother doing very well (as is his mum!)

Posted 171 weeks ago

Spoke too soon....

Just discovered a new calf, from one of our youngsters who (as far as we were aware) has not been near a bull since early 2013…. Baffling….

Posted 172 weeks ago

Last calf of the season, born last night

Last calf of the season, born last night, to #75 (Delyth or Ceinwen, can’t remember which is which). Looks like a heifer.

Posted 172 weeks ago

Bella's calf...

Born dead - either a overly-prolonged labour or something wrong with the calf. Sad but that’s farming….

Posted 173 weeks ago
<p>Bella about to pop! Her calf must be imminent…..</p>

Bella about to pop! Her calf must be imminent…..

Posted 173 weeks ago

Calf #22 born today

A beautiful little heifer calf, from mother tagged #72 (who is either Delyth or Ceinwen, I never can remember which….)

Posted 175 weeks ago

Hoosherd sheep seen in Nottinghamshire??

Laila and Mathew and fellow Indigo Braves have taken possession of 8 of our ewes plus lambs at foot plus some hoggets and Wallace the Ram. They couldn’t have picked a better home!

Posted 175 weeks ago
<p>Lambs growing fast!</p>

Lambs growing fast!

Posted 175 weeks ago
Posted 178 weeks ago
<p>Another calf! Details to follow</p>

Another calf! Details to follow

Posted 178 weeks ago

Dead lamb

Found a lamb last night staggering around - tetanus, had to be put out of its misery. Must get better at pre-birth vaccinating…. 33 surviving.

Posted 179 weeks ago

Snowflake's calf is a boy

Tagged #19

Posted 179 weeks ago

Lambing comes to an end for 2014

The final tally - 35 from 22, with 34 surviving. Seems to be more boys than girls.

Posted 179 weeks ago
<p>Another calf! Good ol' />

Another calf! Good ol'Snowflake, great mum.

Posted 180 weeks ago
<p>29 lambs from 18 ewes, 4 to go</p>

29 lambs from 18 ewes, 4 to go

Posted 180 weeks ago
<p>Calf #18, just over 24 hours old</p>

Calf #18, just over 24 hours old

Posted 180 weeks ago
<p>Great insight into the reality and history of British beef. Catch it whilst you can.</p>

Great insight into the reality and history of British beef. Catch it whilst you can.

Posted 180 weeks ago

New calf!

Born this morning, looks like a male.

Posted 180 weeks ago

Dead lamb

Found a dead lamb yesterday morning, no obvious injury - one of those things I guess.

Posted 180 weeks ago
<p>Bluebells in all their glory here @hoosherd</p>

Bluebells in all their glory here @hoosherd

Posted 181 weeks ago

Lambs - they keep on coming!

More lambs than we can shake a stick at…. Must be mid-twenties at least, over halfway. Still on a “no touch natural” basis.

Posted 181 weeks ago

12 lambs this evening

Another set of twins and a single.

Posted 182 weeks ago

First calf of 2014 is definitely a girl

Tagged this morning, number 17.

Posted 183 weeks ago

Popping out thick'n'fast

9 lambs in our first 24 hours, from 5 sheep. Go girls! So far, very un-Lambing Live (although Becca does have a passing resemblance to Kate Humble…), in the sense: no human intervention required so far.

Posted 183 weeks ago

And the second lamb joins its sibling...

Posted 183 weeks ago

And the first lamb of 2014....

Born today, poignantly from a ewe that we saved from death’s door last summer.

Posted 183 weeks ago
<p>First calf of the season! Amy is the mum.</p>

First calf of the season! Amy is the mum.

Posted 183 weeks ago
<p>Happy calves</p>

Happy calves

Posted 188 weeks ago
<p>A rare dry morning!</p>

A rare dry morning!

Posted 190 weeks ago

Fresh lamb

We have some lamb back from the butcher, all vacuum-packed so fine for the fridge until 23rd Dec. Chops, cutlets, half-legs, and a limited amount of breast, kidneys and neck fillet - being Shetland lamb, that’s all the cuts available as they don’t put on enough weight until their second (hogget) year.

Let us know if you would like some. It’s also in the Village Shop.

Matthew, Becca and Fergus

Posted 200 weeks ago

Barry is officially a White Park Bull!

After a few nervous weeks (for us, rather than him), we heard today that Hoo’s Herd Barry is officially fit to be classified a pedigree White Park bull. Time to put him through his paces!

Posted 203 weeks ago
<p>A splendid specimen, we think. This one weighed in at over 320kg d/w. Now with @TheButcheryLtd</p>

A splendid specimen, we think. This one weighed in at over 320kg d/w. Now with @TheButcheryLtd

Posted 205 weeks ago
<p>Hopefully the next 2 bulls @hoosherd, just waiting to hear whether Barry has passed his test….</p>

Hopefully the next 2 bulls @hoosherd, just waiting to hear whether Barry has passed his test….

Posted 208 weeks ago
Posted 212 weeks ago
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Fingers crossed for Barry....

Waiting for official feedback on his genetics (checking for genuine White Park-ness) and measurements (does he make the grade to be a classified White Park bull?)….

Posted 212 weeks ago
<p>Dog attack victim: poor lamb the victim of a couple of nips from a walker’s dog which then developed into a maggot infestation, cheating death by a whisker. On the mend thankfully! Our 4th such victim, of which 3 died - keep dogs on leads near sheep, however well-trained…..</p>

Dog attack victim: poor lamb the victim of a couple of nips from a walker’s dog which then developed into a maggot infestation, cheating death by a whisker. On the mend thankfully! Our 4th such victim, of which 3 died - keep dogs on leads near sheep, however well-trained…..

Posted 212 weeks ago

The big day for Barry arrives....

Lawrence Alderson of the White Park Cattle Society arrives tomorrow to inspect Barry and check his genetics courtesy of his mum, Cadzow Amy. Hooves crossed!

Posted 213 weeks ago

Hoo's Herd Barry White - a bit more context

We’ve raised Barry White (so named due to his noticeably deep voice…) from when he was a few months old, arriving as a “calf at foot” with his mum Cadzow Amy. The breed standard is set and controlled by the White Park Cattle Society, and although bulls are in short supply, they are rigorously controlled to make sure they are big enough, and conform genetically as well as physically to the look that is associated with the breed. The aim is that the breed continues into the future with the right-looking, and healthy, blood lines.

As Barry is now just two, he is starting to mature physically and to compete with our existing stock bull (Smoile Norman) for the ladies. Sooner or later they will fight (probably next year as Barry is still a lot smaller than Norman), so they will eventually have to part company. If Barry is officially assessed as making the grade, then he will be instantly more valuable than as pure meat, and we then have a decision to make as to whether to keep him (and sell Norman) or sell him - or split the cows between them. If he doesn’t make the grade, then he will end up at the butchers - such is farming.

Like a typical teenager, Barry is oblivious to the impending examination which could determine, GCSE-style, his path in life, and is only interested in sex! Norman though is so far successfully keeping him at bay and leaving him very frustrated….

Posted 220 weeks ago
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<p>Final (heifer) calf of the year tagged #16, looking lovely this evening.</p>

Final (heifer) calf of the year tagged #16, looking lovely this evening.

Posted 220 weeks ago

Final calf of the year

Calf born this morning doing very well this evening. That’s it folks for another season!

Posted 220 weeks ago
<p>4 of this year’s calves, looking pretty damn fine this morning. I wonder what the collective noun is to describe a group of calves?</p>

4 of this year’s calves, looking pretty damn fine this morning. I wonder what the collective noun is to describe a group of calves?

Posted 222 weeks ago
Posted 222 weeks ago

Haylage Part 1

Happiness is seeing 1st 38 bales wrapped & stacked, tks to Mike Stevens. Another 120+ needed before we can rest easy for winter.

Posted 222 weeks ago
<p>Calf #15 successfully suckling, always a heartening sight</p>

Calf #15 successfully suckling, always a heartening sight

Posted 223 weeks ago

The Hoo's News Blog has moved....

June 24, 2013
For those of you following this blog via RSS or some other automated feed solution, I thought it polite to say that I've migrated to using Tumblr (for reasons of convenience, as it means I can update from wherever I am using a smartphone rather than being tied to a PC - plus I can route the updates to the Hoo's Herd Facebook or Twitter feeds at the same time).

If you want to get a feed from our Tumblr page, then go to hoos-news.tumblr.com. The Tumblr updates still appear on the Hoo's Herd website in the same place as this blog.
 

What's been going on?

May 14, 2013
Firstly - apologies for being less than communicative on this blog for the last 2 months. Holidays were part of the reason, but also at times it's simply been quicker and easier to send updates on Facebook and Twitter (@hoosherd). Anyhow - here's a recap for those who have (perhaps sensibly) managed to resist the allure of social media:

 - the snows of late March claimed a sickly ewe and her unborn lambs. Our only casualty of what was a particularly nasty winter.
 - calf #10 born mid-April to Amy, another girl (heifer).
 - lambing took place the second half of April: 24 lambs from 14 ewes, another no-touch birthing process at least as far as us humans were concerned
 - we took some 8 lambs to slaughter and distributed those as half-lamb packs to people who had expressed an interest. Lean but tasty meat.
 - the young and non-breeding cattle were moved to fresh pasture down in Nettleden to fatten them up (and to move the females away from the attentions of Norman the Bull!)
 - fields harrowed and grass finally growing thanks to the plentiful moisture and warmer temperatures (albeit still at times unseasonably cool!).
 - calf #11 (the third of this year) born 1st May to the teenager from last year. A boy calf for once.
 - we took a couple of cattle to slaughter, 1 destined for Nathan at The Butchery Ltd in Bermondsey (a specialist in rare breed, high welfare meat), and 1 destined for our own customers. Nathan seems very happy with the end product, and we're expecting our one back from the butchers later this week.
 - we've agreed to supply the Little Gaddesden Village Shop, so watch out for signs advertising our meat later this week.

So busy times!
 

Mutton - Recommendation

March 18, 2013
I cooked mutton for the first time at the weekend, and quite frankly, we were all amazed at the flavour - even our relatively fussy 9 year old who declared it the best meat he'd ever had! I was expecting something tough/chewy and certainly gamey or overly-strongly-flavoured - but the flavour was more like lamb crossed with beef, and melt-in-the-mouth texture. Really, really good..... plenty more where that animal came from!

The recipe I followed was this one - using a leg in our case, rather than the shoulder that it describes. Don't be put off by the long cooking time - it is actually far less work than a normal Sunday roast, as you simply forget about it until it's time to serve up.
 

Weaning the Class of 2012

March 4, 2013
We moved the calves from last spring/summer away from their mothers this last weekend - albeit only into the adjoining field. The idea is that they are more than strong enough to cope without the milk that they are still getting from the cows, which, some 7-9 months post-birth, is tailing off in quantity and quality. The mothers also need a rest, to gather strength before this year's births - not least Amy who is waddling around looking like a Thelwell cartoon and reminding us that she will probably give birth in April. And by moving just a field away, the animal pyschology view is that this is kinder than carting them off to the other end of the village and forcing a clean break.

Most of the mums didn't seem to care much - and none of the offspring either. They went their respective ways to feed on their own piles of haylage, and occasionally returning to the fence to look at each other or nuzzle or chew the cud together. The calves are behaving quite like teenagers now - independent souls who hang out in a pack in their winter shaggy (trendy?) coats and look blankly (sullenly?) at us humans as we pass - a far cry from those cute little things "Daz" white back in the summer. I suspect their relationship with their mothers might be similar.

One of the cows decided however to spend most of Saturday evening and all of Sunday day periodically moo-ing at full volume through the fence, to which her offspring paid little attention - just the occasional nonchalant grunty moo in return, typical teenager! The noise certainly woke me up earlier than expected on Sunday morning (which wasn't welcome due to the wine imbibed the night before!) - and I guess the sound may have disturbed some of the nearby village neighbours too..... Sorry if you were one of them!
 

Jaw, Jaw ... Or Bore, Bore?

March 4, 2013

Hoo's Herd was invited to give a talk to the Gaddesden Society last week, about our farming activities - or perhaps more precisely, what on earth possessed the three of us to start in farming, given that we all have taxing day jobs. It fell to me (Matthew) to give the talk, and the audience numbered some 40 or so - all living in or near the village. I didn't detect any heads nodding, and there were a number of questions at the end, so whilst it was 45 minutes of "jaw jaw" from me, with some photos, I don't *think* it was "bore bore" for them - but then people can be very polite in these circumstances!

Fergus and I had expected criticism about "bolshy bulls" or the amount of mud we're creating in the locality, but whilst there was a comment or two in that direction, it was good to see people being realistic that this winter has been one of the wettest on record - and lots of people were very happy to see animals restored to what have been near-empty fields for years.

To finish off proceedings, Becca cooked a topside and a stew, keeping both relatively plain in flavourings so that our "old-fashioned" beef taste could shine through. The comments were very complimentary so hopefully we have persuaded a few more people to take an interest in what we're doing. There's certainly plenty to go around!

Below is a scan of the poster that was drawn up (the picture is by a local artist whose name escapes me), and if you would like to know more about the village and its activities, including those of the august body known as the Gaddesden Society, please go to www.littlegaddesden.com

 

In the bleak mid-winter.....

February 7, 2013
... a calf is born! A heifer, born to #75 (whose Herd Book name escapes me at the time of writing, but it's either Delyth or Ceinwen). Completely out of season - all her cousins or half-siblings were born May-July 2012, but the mother hadn't come into season like the others and the vet had had to kick-start her hormones with an injection back in January 2012. But - despite the cold, wet, windy and snowy weather over the last few weeks, the mother ended up pregnant to Norman and eventually picked a nice sunny day and a sheltered corner of the field earlier this week to deliver a decent-sized calf - here she is with her new-born:

But later on that evening, when the snow and rain started, she didn't seem to appreciate us moving her calf into the shelter of the cattle pen, refusing to go in herself and charging around in the dark trying to find her where she had left her. But with gritted teeth and patience, we finally got her to realise that the thing we were carrying was in fact the calf she had just delivered, and she calmly followed Fergus into the pen to join the new-born. I must do some research into whether cows can see in the dark, because she clearly had difficulty figuring out what we were holding in front of her.

Also alongside her in the maternity/hospital ward is Snowflake and her calf from last summer (the one who initially failed to thrive but who since has gone on to grow normally although way behind her peers in size). Snowflake was limping for a couple of weeks, and in the end, the vet had to be called. After the risky business of catching her, securing her in the crush, and then lifting up her feet with ropes, the diagnosis came in that she has a crack in her hoof, which gives her pain akin to a nasty in-growing toenail on us humans. Treatment? Keep her penned up and replace the poultice on her hoof every couple of days.... Easier said than done!

To finish off, here's a couple of pictures from the snows of last month. If you look carefully, note how shaggy the calves have got in their winter coats! You can really see the resemblence to their genetically closest cousins, Highland Cattle.

 

The Importance of Pasture-fed Animals

December 21, 2012
Here at Hoo's Herd, we feed our animals grass - year-round - whereas the vast majority of the beef and sheep industry relies on grain to feed the animals that produce the meat we see in supermarkets and at the butcher's.

There are well-documented issues with this mainstream way of production - mostly in terms of efficiency and environmental impact, requiring somewhere between 7 and 10 calories of animal feed to make just 1 calorie of food for human consumption; large areas of farmland are required to grow this cattle feed (whilst the animals themselves are kept in barns or yards!), to say nothing of the similarly inefficient use of the water, minerals and fossil fuels involved in such feed production. It's bad enough now, but wait until the world population hits the projected 9bn in 2050 - and switches to eating a Western-style diet!

At the same time, there is an irrefutable body of research that proves animals fed on pasture experience lower stress, increased longevity and increased fertility, and their produce, such as meat and milk, has proven advantages in terms of quality and nutrition - grass-fed beef and lamb is lower in the "bad stuff" and higher in the "good stuff" than their grain-fed equivalents.

Two-thirds of the farmed area in Britain is actually grassland and our climate is ideally suited to grassland production - and much of it can grow little else in the way of food crops. In addition, cattle and sheep have a unique ability to turn cellulose in the form of grass and other grazed plants into food and fibres (eg: wool) and at the same time, their grazing maintains the countryside in a way that would be prohibitively expensive to replicate by hand or by machinery.

Sooner or later, I believe that the laws of supply and demand will lead us to the obvious solution to meeting the challenge of tomorrow’s food production - returning to the "old school" approach of harnessing the ability of ruminant cattle and sheep to to get the best use out of grassland and using good productive arable land to grow crops such as wheat, maize, soya and pulses, not as cattle feed with all of its associated inefficiencies, but for direct human consumption.

But in the meantime, whilst we wait for the world to self-correct, Hoo's Herd is proud to be part of the "old-school" way of raising animals (albeit mainly by luck or happenstance as we're still hobbyists rather than fully commercial farmers!) and we think our meat is distinctive in flavour as a result. Hopefully you will agree!

To learn more, see http://www.pasturefed.org/ which is a newly-formed UK organisation - please support them if you can.

 

Disappearing cowpats

December 20, 2012
For months now, I've been puzzled by our cowpats. As you might imagine with 20+ head of cattle, we get a lot of the things, dotted fairly uniformly around the place, and they gradually seem to disappear. But I'd noticed that after a while of sitting there in their initial, very sloppy, "fresh" state, once dried out a bit, something appears to come along and rip holes in them. I had assumed crows, pecking at them looking for grubs or worms, until one evening when on an evening walk with the dogs, my torch beam picked up a badger scurrying from one pat to the next, picking out the living creatures from each one for his or her evening meal. Badgers get a bad press amongst the farming community, because of their apparent links to TB in cattle, but I've not been a fan of the idea of culling them - perhaps because Hoo's Herd is lucky enough to be in an area of low TB, or perhaps because I don't see how effective a cull would actually be, with my preference being to vaccinate badgers or cattle or both, as soon as vaccines can be developed or efficiently deployed. So it is nice to see badgers providing this farmer with a service, in the form of garbage removal!
 

Kate Humble and Adam Henson - a plug

December 20, 2012
I'm not naturally a fan of the Telegraph, but I find Kate Humble's periodic updates (here) a good read and I'd love to be able to do something similar here at Hoo's Herd. This article in particular was very apt, seeing as we too are about to take delivery of our first tractor, an early 80s Massey Ferguson complete with loader and topper. I'm not sure who is more excited - Fergus or me, or my two sons (aged 8 and 11)! Becca just rolls her eyes, but I've urged her to read Kate's article for an insight into the male pysche in this regard....

And my other weekly fix is the Adam's Farm slot on the BBC Countryfile program, broadcast on a Sunday early evening. This is a proper farmer running a proper farm, but sharing his passion and his experience with the wider public in a way which should be applauded. I think it is this segment/program, perhaps mixed with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Landshare project, which first got me interested in doing something with the field at the bottom of the garden..... 
 

Heating issues!

December 20, 2012
In a departure from the usual subjects of the animals and the resulting meat, I thought I'd go off on a tangent for a bit and entertain (or bore) you with my heating system. Like most people who live away from mains gas, the choice of heating is usually one of oil or LPG. Rather than arriving quietly by pipes from the "mains", both are delivered periodically by tankers whenever one runs low, and as a result, one needs to remember to order a refill whenever one runs low (although there are electronic monitoring systems available for the more technically adept!). And Sod's Law says that the more disorganised of us will run low just before Christmas, and just when delivery leadtimes go from being within a day or two to being within a week or two, leading to a mad scramble to figure out how to have a cosy Christmas with no hot water or heating! I kid you not - it's happened to at least a couple of people I know in recent years....

Well - here at Hoo's Herd, we converted (some might say rashly) to biomass heating a couple of years ago. My main driver then was counteracting the increasing cost of oil, until I realised that our yearly oil consumption was similar to driving 120,000 miles a year - and then the environmental guilt kicked in. Tending to the geeky end of the human spectrum, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a good alternative that would lower the personal and planetary cost, and settled in the end on biomass, choosing a Guntamatic Powercorn boiler (courtesy of Treco down in Devon, great company!) which burns cereal grains or wood pellets. The upfront purchase and installation cost will eventually be covered by the fact that (even with grain prices being at record highs) the saving over oil is at least 50%.

But that has left me still with the issue of having to monitor my fuel store and proactively place an order when stocks are low. And yes - I left it too late this month, and found myself running around this week, trying to find a way to get a delivery of something to keep us going over the festive season. Imagine the reaction of my nearest and dearest!

Wood pellets have been my most recent fuel of choice, as the recent cost has been lower than grain, and the ash produced is minimal (meaning only having to empty the ash can once a quarter rather than once a fortnight with the equivalent amount of grain), but I've not really reconciled that with the feeling that wood pellets have more of a carbon footprint (longer carbon cycle, more production inputs), compared to grain which is only a one-year carbon cycle and relatively efficient to produce (albeit there is the "burning food" angle to consider).

But wood pellets proved impossible to get this week in bulk, so it was back to grain, courtesy of Timuss Grains in Wheathampstead (an aptly named location!). One phone call and Peter Titmuss had a lorryload of 4 tonnes of wheat ready to be pumped into the fuel store the next day. Great guys.

Memo to self - better forward planning next time!
 

Mud, mud, inglorious mud....

December 20, 2012
Once again, Somme-style mud has returned to plague the lives of all of us who spend time out in the fields. The cattle don't really seem to care that much, but the poor sheep's feet are suffering. At the weekend, we had to clip the feet of Wallace (our ram), as he was limping and a closer inspection revealing an infected foot where the hooves have gone soft yet continued growing, collecting mud between the hoof and foot and creating the ideal conditions for sore feet. I suppose something similar to trench foot perhaps! Once clipped and after a bit of antiseptic spray, he is back on his feet, limping a little less and back monitoring his harem which we assume are all now pregnant. We will see once spring comes.......
 

Getting stuck into fresh haylage!

December 17, 2012
Getting stuck into fresh haylage!
We delivered new haylage to the breeding herd this weekend - watching them getting stuck in (literally with their horns at times) is very funny!
 

Walking the dogs - ram included!

December 17, 2012
Some of you might recall from earlier in the year that we bottle-fed a ram lamb after his mother rejected him (the kids called him Rambo). Once weaned, he lived for a while in the garden, but he preferred the raspberry canes to eating the lawn, and after trying repeatedly to sneak into the kitchen to "snuggle" on the sofa, we had to move him into the field at the bottom of the garden.

The unforeseen consequence of his unusual upbringing is that he doesn't think he's a sheep, and prefers the company of our dogs (and us). Unlike Wallace the Ram (Rambo's Dad) who, when not with his ladies, is happy to hang out with the cattle with whom they share the field, Rambo keeps himself to himself - he doesn't seem to have any trace of a "flock" instinct. But whenever we take the dogs for a walk around the livestock, Rambo likes to tag along, hopping and jumping with obvious joy to be once more amongst "his own". This can be unnerving for visitors (particularly their dogs!), but even in the face of more aggressive dogs, Rambo more than holds his own, responding with a head butt if the jostling gets out of hand. And once the walk is over, albeit after a couple of sorrowful baas at the gate, Rambo seems content to go back to his solitary lifestyle - although our kids are always trying to sneak him back into the garden as they think he's lonely!
 

Recipe Recommendation - Roast Lamb

December 17, 2012
We cooked this from Jamie Oliver at the weekend - the salsa verde being a particular revelation. It worked as a nice alternative to the more traditional mint source - and don't be put off by some of the ingredients (eg: anchovies or cornichons), as they might be too strong in isolation, but as a combination, it just works!
 

The Weather

December 14, 2012
Spare a thought for Hoo's Herd in this particularly inclement weather. This week featured temperatures as low as -9 degrees celsius, but worse for us has been the consecutive days when the peak temperature has remained at or below freezing.

The animals themselves don't seem to be that bothered - the sheep have the most obvious insulation, with their thick woolly coats rendering them positively cosy, but even the cattle seem to be inherently hardy. Their coats go shaggy (not quite Highland Cattle-style, incidentally their closest genetic cousins), quite different from their summer-smooth hides, and they have a habit of tucking themselves into bramble bushes or right into the hedges to avoid the worst of the weather (disconcerting if you are trying to find them in the morning to check that they are OK!). Even the young calves frolic around in this weather without a care - much like our kids I suppose, impervious to the temperature.

But where we suffer is in trying to make sure they have a continued water and food supply. The water is the biggest challenge, as frozen pipes are inevitable no matter how well-insulated the pipes are, so then it's down to us to ensure the troughs are clear-ish of ice (at least thick ice, and overnight the troughs have been growing a 2-inch cover of ice which takes several blows with a metal spike to pierce) and when they are drained (cattle are surprisingly thirsty creatures whereas it is rare that we witness the sheep drinking anything), we drive around with a 1000 litre water bowser, topping up. That in itself is not as simple as it seems - the bowser tap has to be dowsed regularly with boiling water to keep it from icing up, the hose pipes have to be kept stored in a warm place so that they are ice-free when you need them, and the locks on the gates have an annoying of freezing solid, almost on purpose it seems. Still - these little challenges are part of what makes it interesting....

In terms of keeping the animals supplied with food, we have our plentiful stocks of haylage - but moving those big bales around is our current challenge, as the tractor is still in the workshop being fixed. But with a bit of brute force and a trailer, we've so far managed to move what we need to where it is needed. Can't wait for the tractor to arrive so we can do it a little more easily!
 

Poachers....?

December 11, 2012
It's never quiet in the sticks! Last night, we got a text around midnight reporting strangers with torches tramping around one of our fields. Well needless to say, I missed the action, as I slept through the text - but the next morning, upon further investigation, it appears that it wasn't rustlers but poachers, on the hunt (illegally) for local game, and were nabbed in the act by the local police, a rare success for the forces of justice! Thankfully, none of our animals was hurt, in fact, they seemed blissfully unaware of the drama that unfolded around them in the night......
 

Winter draws in....

December 10, 2012
We've started feeding haylage to the animals. Unlike last year, when we let them fend for themselves, living off the residual grass and the fat on their backs, we found ourselves able to make haylage in the summer, all 200 5ft diameter round bales of the stuff - way more than we need this year, so plenty for sale to local horse owners or farmers.

For the uninitiated (which included myself until recently), haylage is grass that's been cut when at its peak in terms of nutritional value, left to dry a little in the sun (more than silage, less than hay - hence the name), and then baled, wrapped tightly in plastic and stacked in a corner of the field or farmyard. The idea is to exclude oxygen and then let the contents "pickle" or ferment, thus preserving the nutritional value as well as allowing the farmer to store the bales outside rather than in a barn. In reality, despite 14 layers of plastic, there's invariably little holes caused by the odd stalk sticking itself through or (for some reason) by mischievous crows who appear to likely nothing better than landing on the top of the bale piles and popping the plastic with their beaks (our guess is that it is maybe like bubble-wrap to us humans, which cries out to be popped between finger and thumb despite there being no rhyme nor reason!).

But although horses don't like the slightly mouldy bits that result from these holes, our cattle and sheep certainly don't. It's quite a sight to behold when the cattle realise that feed is on its way - they come careering across bucking and rearing like the proverbial bronco, and they can barely wait for the plastic to be cleared out of the way before they get stuck in. And it's quite a sight once they do get stuck in - horns get rammed into the bale and shaken around to loosen it up, and often the bale itself ends up being pushed along the field, unrolling in the process. But after a few minutes, it settles down to a happy chomping and within a couple of days, there's just a carpet of left-overs which they seem to prefer to sleep on rather than eat.

On a different note, the cold and clear nights have been leading to some stunning sunrises - see this picture across Hoo's Herd one morning earlier this month.
 

Promotion!

September 25, 2012
We decided to promote one of our heifers from the "meat locker" to the "harem", as she's about the right age for breeding and a nice specimen. So Saturday saw us rounding her up (along with her cousins) in the Nettleden field and taking her to join her aunties (and Norman!) up in Little Gaddesden's Hoo Field. That gives us now 8 breeding cows for next season, and 2 remaining animals for slaughter over the next year until our own home-grown stock comes of age this time next year.
 

August Update

August 23, 2012
Well - an eventful July and August!

The heifer we took to slaughter in late May came back from the butcher's (Reg Cornthwaite) and we sold about two-thirds, so the rest is in the freezer and available to those that want it.

On the birthing front, we're now up to 6 calves, with 4 born in July, all heifers bar the first one in May. 1 was a surprise from a "teenager" that Norman the Bull must have "got to" in the 2 days that he shared a field with her. She's turned out to be a great mum, a full year earlier than would ordinarily have been the case. And 1 almost didn't survive - after the first couple of days, she went rapidly downhill although the vet couldn't find anything wrong with her, but after 2 weeks of regular bottle feeding and some nutrient supplments, she pulled through and is now very happily gamboling about the field with the other calves - but very obviously more scrawny.

After last year's birthing issues (2 breach births which didn't survive), and infected castrations (wince!), it's been nice to have a summer of no-intervention births, and only one bull calf who we castrated the easy way (for him and us) with a rubber band within a couple of days of birth. But life as a farmer is never straight-forward, so this month's trial-by-ordeal was 2 cases of mastitis. Both now sorted, but a learning experience for us all.

We also decided to cut our own winter forage - so 16 acres were put to one side, and on one of the only hot days in July, it was cut, baled and wrapped very expertly by a local contractor - and the tally was 198 5-foot round bales of haylage! Way more than we need ourselves, so I'm on the lookout for local horse stables who might want to take some. Fodder purveying is the next string to add to our bow.

Latest excitement is the impending arrival of our tractor courtesy of Oliver Agriculture Ltd. A 1980s model with loader and topper, so we'll be able to do some of our heavy-duty chores ourselves from now on, rather than contracting out everything.

Below is a picture of Norman and his ladies, and their offspring. Obviously a tough life!
 

Calf update

June 29, 2012

No more calves quite yet, but here's a couple of pictures of this year's first couple of calves - amazing how quickly they grow.

 

Wallace gets a haircut

June 29, 2012
We finally managed to get Wallace our ram to take a haircut. After a winter and spring running wild on his own (apart from the cows) and away from his ladies, it was unsurprisingly difficult to catch him. It took a couple of hours of running and driving around the field on Sunday to wear him down enough to be able to tackle him to the ground, and after 24 hours to catch his breath, Fergus gave him a pretty neat trim and this is a picture of him glaring at us straight afterwards!
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2nd Calf of the season arrives! Our first heifer....

June 29, 2012
We're just thinking of a name, as this one will almost certainly be future breeding stock. Mother in this case is #72 who is either Delyth or Ceinwen (can't remember which without checking the records) and sired by Ash Michael through artificial insemination. 9 months to the day!
 

Calf number 3 for Amy

June 19, 2012
Calf number 3 for Amy
 

Next Beef Sale - and our first calf of the season

June 19, 2012
Fergus and I took heifer #23 to slaughter at the end of May, and after 28 days in the cold store, she'll be expertly butchered and packed by Reg Cornthwaite over in Gaddesden Row and delivered back to us for sale on Saturday 7th July, on a first-come-first-served basis like her older sister #21 last autumn (if you are not already in contact with us by email, please use the contact page on this website to get yourself added).

And the cycle of life continues with their mother Amy giving birth a few weeks ago to Calf (bullock) #3, a picture of whom will follow. More of those to come as the other 5 cows (hopefully) give birth in the coming weeks.
 

Lambs - the final 2012 tally

April 23, 2012
We ended up with 31 lambs from 22 ewes - less prolific than last year, but about a third of the ewes were first-timers, so to be expected we believe. All bar one are frolicking around in the field with their mums, ballooning before our very eyes. Great fun to watch.

The one that is not frolicking around is "Rambo", our abandoned ram lamb mentioned in an earlier post, who has taken up residence with us, spending his nights in the garage in a crate, and his days under an apple tree in a little pen - when he is not running around the garden playing with the dogs or making himself at home in our kitchen or in the dogs' bed! Once he is weaned, he'll earn his keep mowing the lawn, but in the meantime, he has given us a lot of fun with his antics, and even after 3 weeks or so, he's more obedient than the dogs, and already starting to hold his own in their more boisterous play - headbutting being his favoured response to any over-the-top rough-and-tumble. Interestingly - he is not as big as the other lambs, so he's either a runt or the litre of artificial milk he gets through each day is not as good quality as real milk from a ewe! I still find it amazing how sheep and cattle can turn mundane grass into the meat and milk that graces are tables as well as offspring, but comparing Rambo to his siblings is a reminder of how well-tuned Mother Nature is in this regard.
 

Tempting fate!

April 4, 2012
Well - 19 lambs now, from 12 ewes, so lower returns than last year, but respectable considering the lack of rain over the summer/autumn and harsh winter. But - first for us - we have an abandoned lamb tucked up in a crate in the garage under a heat lamp. We think it has had a couple of feeds from his mum, but isn't yet overly interested in the bottle of milk we've offered him. More news to follow.....
 

New lambs!

April 4, 2012
The crop of 2012 has started arriving, with 14 born at the time of writing. The approach we take is to leave the ewes to it - they are all naturals at it, taking themselves off to a quiet corner in the field, usually hidden away behind a bush where they silently do what they need to do quickly and efficiently, normally with zero intervention. Within minutes, the new-born single or twins (we've had predominantly twins last year and this year to date, averaging just under 2 per ewe) are on their feet and feeding before trotting off with Mum to gradually join the rest of the flock - new Mums tend to stay on the edge of the main flock for a couple of days until their offspring are robust enough.

There are obviously some risks with the above - even the best-trained dogs (our own included!) not on the lead go mad for the smell of the afterbirth and cannot resist getting too close or even attacking the ewe or new-born; ewes that get into trouble (breech delivery for example) might not be found by us for a few hours; new-born lambs rejected by their mother will die from the cold if not picked up by us within the first hour or so. But we firmly believe that leaving the birthing process to nature is the right approach for this breed, and so far the results have been worth it. And we've been helped by attentive passers-by who ring us if they see anything untoward, and long may that continue as it's great to feel that we can share what we're doing with others as it is a truly wonderful natural process.
 

Hoo's Herd expands

March 16, 2012
We've recently bought with friends some more land at the other end of the village, or more precisely on the edge of Nettleden - a 41 acre section of the Golden Valley and I'm convinced that the stunning scenery will make a difference to the meat quality! All our edible beef stock (or "finishers" as I think they are known in the farming business) are down there, ranging from heifer number 23, the oldest and therefore next for the table, down to the 5 born within the last 12 months. That leaves our breeding stock and their soon-to-be offspring (see below) up at Little Gaddesden in Hoo's Field and the neighbouring field. Bring on the spring grass!

And we're expanding in another way, with 22 ewes ready to pop within the next 2-4 weeks - hopefully as easily/"low touch" as last year - and 5 out of our 6 cows confirmed as pregnant too, due between April and July we think.
 

Lambs!

February 23, 2012
We finally sampled our first lambs this month - 9 ram lambs (uncastrated) were sent via Reg Cornthwaite of Grove Farm to be slaughtered and butchered and came back after a week ready for the pan in the form of 18 half-lamb packs. Lovely and lean because of the time of year and our laisser-faire attitude to supplementary feeding (only if the grass is covered with snow or very clearly limited), I have tried both the chops and the kidneys and Becca and I have the rest of one half lamb tucked away in the freezer.

Surprising size too - about 12 kilos of meat, plus the offal, which considering the breed ("primitive" rather than a commercial cross-breed) and lack of supplementary feeding, is not a bad size, yielding shoulder and leg joints of 2kg+ each.

Now we await our flock of 22 ewes to start to deliver their next brood - for 6 of them, probably early March as they joined us only recently and came already in-lamb (we think) whilst the rest were serviced by Wallace (our resident Shetland ram) early November, which points to an early April lambing. Fingers crossed that this year's crop is as abundant and easy-lambing as last year's.....
 

First meat ready to buy!

November 8, 2011
Heifer 21 is due back to us on Saturday 12th November, having been hung and dry-aged for 28 days, and then butchered and packed by Goddens of Chesham.

We'll be selling what we can on a first-come, first-served basis from 9am. Can't wait!
 
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