The summer months have flown by this year - I sit here and wonder where the time has gone our little baby Moss is already crawling and babbling while Fergus continues to grow ever more independent shouting commands at the dogs as they work but much to his frustration they ignore the calls of “come by” and “stay”.
We have focused on our diversification plans for the farm over the summer, developing our courtyard area. We want the business to keep the farm as a key element to the diversification and this has helped map where we go. So the natural step seemed to be to head towards promoting our food.
After some cider filled summer evenings last year with friends we developed our pizza oven plans and it has grown from there, we were a month behind schedule opening in July and as ever it was a last minute dash to complete for our first night. We wanted to create something rustic where everyone could feel comfortable and your not afraid of your children destroying the place but then maybe this is just a personal fear with a crazy two year old.
Utilising our Courtyard for a Farm Lunch and Tour
Fergus testing our first Pizza
The build up of mud, muck and grass on the courtyard took us over 7 days to clear including help from Kingsmead school students for two additional days, but what lay underneath was a beautiful cobbled courtyard. We have laid new concrete, scrubbed, pressured washed and painted for what felt like weeks to be ready for our farm tour and lunch for 70 people back in May and then we continued on installing our pizza oven ready for our July opening.
We focus on in season produce on our pizzas and we try to focus on British produce wherever possible and it has to be European if not, to ensure there are no air miles, of course we honour the Italian heritage with special Italian Pizzeria flour because it makes the best pizzas!
This has also lead me to make a commitment as a family to buy British in season produce and I would say we now as a family achieve this 90% of the time, we felt we couldn’t make calls for people to support British farmers if we weren’t doing so ourselves. I still have the occasional chocolate bar but we are now eating the majority of our food as locally as possible and it is allowing me to cook with more thought.
The Livestock have been doing really well this year, we have had the occasional usual problem but we have been focusing on watching our livestock and learning from their behaviour the pattern of movements in our rational grazing plan. The cattle we find suit grazing extensively and moving within one to two weeks where as the sheep like to move every 4 – 7 days dependant on the field sizes, in fact they have become so used to our system, they now crowd around you at the gate if you dare leave them in a field they deem unfit for an extra day.
The ewes on the whole have been holding their weight better this year while still producing good lambs, we also have continued to focus on our clean grazing system in regards to worms and this year we didn’t need to treat for nemotadirus in our lambs, I worked out recently how much money we have saved over the past two years through FEC testing and it amounted to £800 and 64 man hours, for us this is a serious time and cost saving as a business.
The Cattle have been as usual a happy bunch however our plans to start our Shorthorn herd this year were thwarted with a TB failure in our cattle herd, so one of our beautiful Angus x heifers was taken and were then immediately put into shut down for both our Cattle and our Goats, and we are now into 60 day testing for both herds but we were very happy to pass our first 60 day test a few weeks ago, so fingers crossed it will just be another 60 days before our plans are back on track.
Unfortunately still rumbling on in the background is our battle with business rates, as I explained in the last blog we are being charged for running a riding stables. However as everyone is aware we are most definitely not doing this and in fact this is written into our tenancy. Unfortunately despite significant efforts to contact the Valuation office and follow their online procedures we still seem to be no further forward. In fact it recently reached a high when we were sent a magistrates summons for non payment. So off Moss and I went to the magistrates court, where we were taken in to a side room and asked how much money were going to pay that day by two council officials. I yet again explained I was not paying business rates for running a riding stables. It was agreed eventually they would put a hold on our account for 6 months while we continued our dispute with the Valuation office but it has been extremely stressful. That day I sat there in the court side room close to tears again when I should have been checking my livestock, it brought to me to stark reality of the stress of farming and the pressures from so many different elements of the business. We even wrote to our MP as a last ditch attempt to get help but unfortunately no reply was forth coming.
This year Mark and I have felt inspired to push forward with our plans for the farm feeling more confidant in our choices in our farming methods, for me this was helped by heading up to the Ethical Farming Conference in Dumfries and Galloway, where it was great to meet those who were looking at food production in a different way and how we can make changes as farmers to our environment and our livestock while still remaining productive, so this winter we are now looking forward to a winter of planting 550 metres of new hedgerow, silvopasture creation and our first Autumn Feast Evening to celebrate great food using our own farm produce and local seasonal vegetables.
Herbal lay haylage