Autumn on the farm

Deep thoughts come and go, but life on our smallholding keeps going on regardless, so I thought I'd write about that: a pragmatic post.

We have borrowed a herdwick tup (male sheep) from a local farmer for four weeks in order to mate with our herdwick ewes. Hopefully he'll do his work, and we should expect lambs at the end of March/the beginning of April. Ewes have a 17 day cycle, and are only on heat for one to two days, so he spends a lot of time smelling the ewes to see if they are on heat yet. He is much calmer than the tup that we bought and sold last year (Stan!), and as he is only a shearling tup (approximately 18 months old) this is probably his first time coming into contact with ewes for procreation. I have become aware of how instinctual it is for him: he doesn't need to be told how to do it, nor does he read it in a book, or see a film. He just knows. Innate knowledge or maybe instinctual drive.


We have put this year's lambs in a field out of the way of the tup, as he will, if he smells females on heat, jump over any wall or barrier to get to them, regardless of age. So, our young female lambs are safely out of his reach...hopefully! We are also getting ready, emotionally, for slaughtering our first lamb - George. He is the second oldest of the lambs, and we castrated him a few days after he was born, as per regulations, as we did not have the space then to separate male from female lambs, and did not want any female lambs getting pregnant. So, all the male lambs were castrated. (As a man, I did feel for the poor sods. They looked in pain for a couple of hours, but within a day they were back to their spritely selves. Non-human animals do seem to deal with pain differently compared to us.) So, I'm not looking forward to slaughtering George, but I am looking forward to eating lamb. He is a lovely character and we spend much time with the lambs, so it will be hard. The other three boys will be slaughtered over the course of 2016. Well, depending on how we feel after George.

Winter will also see us slaughtering two pigs again, like last year: Raymond and Kevin. Just like George, we will do it ourselves as they eat their breakfast. It's the way I'd want to die, really: not being aware of it coming, and enjoying food. I'm still not sure it feels ethically right, but it is the best way for them to die if we are choosing to eating meat. Without a doubt.

The chickens have started to lay again after a sporadic break from August onwards. They moult and lose a fair load of their feathers, and then expend a lot of energy growing them back again for winter. They look so ill when they moult, but look healthy now, thankfully. Each year when the first of them moults I think "Oh no, what's wrong with her?", only to remember, as another one starts to moult, that it is just part of their yearly cycle.

As the nights draw in, the animals spend a lot more time sleeping. Yet we humans continue with our 9-5 attitude, regardless of the long nights and change of season outside. It always takes me time to adapt to winter, and to change my mindset and approach to life. In winter I have more time to contemplate, write and read, as there is simply not enough light to do any big projects on the farm. How does the change in season affect you and your life?