Tales from Smith Hall

Tales from Smith Hall


Life on the FarmPosted by Mary Sun, November 05, 2017 20:45:26
The saga of our wayward sow and piglets has come to an end. For the past couple of months, one of our sows took her litter of piglets into the wood next door, foraging for acorns, crabapples and who knows what else. Perfect for pigs to fatten up for the lean winter, but not so good for our neighbours who could see the pigs on the footpath between the wood and their fields,with the danger of coming onto their fields and rooting up as pigs do.
The sow has been caught up several times and returned to us, minus piglets, but finally our patient neighbour caught her and seven piglets in his lambing pen. The outcome- they are keeping a fine sow and piglets, and will have bacon and pork in several months, once the piglets are weaned and fattened up! I took a bucket of apples and a sack of corn and we stood at the pen, marvelling at how well the piglets look, given that they have survived in the wood, without twice daily feeding. Real little porkers! In the New Forest, commoners have the right of pannage - allowing their pigs to roam and eat, just as ours have done over past weeks.
Tonight we have had our first fire - after an hour of sweeping the chimney. A little soot goes a long way!

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Mary from the Dairy

Life on the FarmPosted by Mary Sun, October 29, 2017 10:19:27
This summer became busy, not in an expected with the usual stream of markets, pork pie making and deliveries and naughty piglets, but because the lady of the house has bought a dairy. After 10 years of selling other people`s cheese at a farmers market, I am now making and selling my own! When I say making, this is meant in the loosest sense, as fortunately the dairy came with one experienced cheese maker and one very knowledgeable assistant. Since June, I have progressed from cleaning floors and making tea to milling and salting curds and filling muslin lined forms. Next week I shall be greasing rows of maturing cheese (it keeps the moisture in, should you ask), and piercing, to allow the blue veining to develop.

There is a magic about how cheese is made, from the arrival of the tanker which pumps in the cool swishing milk into our holding tank, to the pasteuriser starting up, and the milk transferring up to another tank where the milk is stirred, cultures added, and sometimes annatto, which gives a warm russet tinge. When the curds are dropped into the curd tray, whey is run off, and curds are stacked, milled , formed and pressed. It isn`t really as simple as that, but that will give you the general idea. Five weeks later we have a perfect cheese! The two maturing rooms are full of rows of cheese that we have made for Christmas,when everyone will get a much deserved rest. Me and the lads have been working long hours to keep you, dear reader, in cheese!

Meanwhile on the farm, life continues. The weather has been wet, although a dry day today, and there are lakes and pools where none have been seen before. As it is autumn and the season for laying down fat reserves, one of our big sows took her litter into the wood next door, where there are tasty crab apples and acorns- pig heaven, except the wood does not belong to us. So a task for today is checking fencing for gaps that must be repaired. In the meantime, himself is carting back bales of silage from the top field.

The explanation behind the title is that I go to a monthly farmers market near Nottingham, where the fish man sings the old Max Miller number to me`I`m in love with Mary from the dairy`. And now I really am!

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Our porky pies

Life on the FarmPosted by Mary Tue, May 09, 2017 08:21:42
We were overjoyed to hear that one of the pubs we supply pork pies to has been voted (or chosen) as the top micropub in the country. Well done Elaine and David of the Chip and Pin in Melbourne! It is fantastic to think that our pies are on sale there.
A pie and a pint or two is just the ticket!

Last night we went to a local twinning event,to see a French film, eat canapes, and find about the twinning process. It all began after WW2, to build links across Europe, and we heard tales of cycle tours, choir visits, and wine tasting. Himself and I want to join, but we need to think this out, as the pigs and cattle can`t fend for themselves. Unlikely we could take them too!

The dry cool weather is inhibiting the growth of grass. Looking around, we can see our neighbours are in the same position, so we are longing for rain. What was a muddy track a few weeks ago is now completely dry and dusty. The geology of the land is mud/sandstone with clay patches, so it is very free draining, with some very damp areas too. Wet weather is forecast at the weekend, but probably not enough to put matters right yet.

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April showers

Life on the FarmPosted by Mary Sat, April 29, 2017 07:09:11
Just as the bees are starting to buzz outside among the flowers in the garden signalling spring, we have had some interesting weather. Warm and sunny days followed by frost and snow. April is the cruellest month (literary quote- TS Eliot!) and I should know as I am particularly familiar with April, sharing a birthday last week with the Queen. We woke on Tuesday to see snow in the corner of the roofs of the farm buildings. A car covered in snow was allegedly seen in Wirksworth and we had several mornings of hard frosts. Subsequently a friend with heritage apple trees in her garden thinks may have no fruit this year.
Last week the swallows returned to their summer quarters in the rafters of the old cow sheds. In the evening it is a delight to see them swooping in and out of the buildings and across the yard. The pigs are slow to get up when it is cold, and so himself and I have a clear run across the yard on cold mornings, spreading pig feed, before we are ambushed. The cattle on the other hand move slowly up together from where they have overnighted in a frost free dip at the bottom of the nearest field, waiting to be fed the end of the cattle feed which we bought in to supplement the silage.
Last week we ran the cattle through to check on ear tags and trim hooves. - a right mucky job - and I can report we have a new black bull calf with a white star on his forehead.
In the meantime, the sows and their offspring have been let out of pens, and are busy finding their way around the general feeding routine. Piglet, anyone?

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Just another Monday

Life on the FarmPosted by Mary Mon, April 03, 2017 10:45:17
Most Mondays, we are able have a brief lie in with no markets or baking to do. As I drifted into the bathroom at 7.30, I noticed to my horror that the yard gate was open and 20 or so small pigs were happily eating the fresh grass by the roadside. I called to the other half and leapt into jeans and wellingtons, grabbed a small bucket of feed and coaxed the escapees back into the yard, firmly shooting the bolt across the gate. We didn`t have a postmortem about who had left the gate open (probably himself), but I am sure I cut a fine sight in nighty and jeans to all those going to work along the lane. Farmers can get prosecuted for allowing their stock to stray on the highway, and our lane is fairly busy with traffic to and from the local works.

On the piglet front, one of our big sows has had a litter under the holly hedge by the bottom gate. Not so comfortable as straw, but safe from other pigs, and very snug, if slightly prickly! I went down this morning to check, and heard contented grunting. In other words, the sow was happily suckling the piglets.So some of our pigs are literally born in a hedge bottom!

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Ants in the Aga

Life on the FarmPosted by Mary Thu, March 30, 2017 20:55:34
For a couple of years now, I have noticed that a small colony of ants are living under our geriatric Aga. They are most visible in the middle of the night, if I sneak down for another hot drink, so with the silver fish, there is an interesting collection of insects in the kitchen, together with the very best collection of harvest spiders and cobwebs you can imagine. We have been extremely busy recently, and so usual kitchen tidying didn`t take place. Ants have now migrated to the work surfaces, foraging bread crumbs and I am having a debate with myself whether to buy some chemicals to kill the colony, or whether just to tolerate them!
In the past two week, both the JCB and our van have broken down, due to driving through lots of mud (JCB) and simple old age (van). The former is vital for carrying silage bales for cattle and pig feed, as well as clearing the yards. The van is less critical, but important for getting to markets and fetching animals from the abattoir. Fortunately a neighbour lent us a spike which fits neatly on the front of the tractor, and so we can carry on giving the animals silage. The weather has been mild and so grass is growing, and so the signs are we can stop supplementary feeding fairly soon.
Our alpha male boar, Mr Thorpe has developed the habit of hanging his 250kg bulk over the gates around the silo where the pig feed is stored. Quite intimidating when I am trying to fill feed buckets! Despite his size, he is very mild tempered, and a sharp shout will usually send him on his way.
Piglets are all doing well - the older one have bitten through my wellingtons!

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Shrovetide at Ashbourne

Life on the FarmPosted by Mary Sun, February 26, 2017 10:16:31
We live a few miles from Ashbourne, in Derbyshire, a small town that has retained many of its original buildings, independent shops, and even a small version of Derby`s well respected department store. Agricultural vehicles and lorries carrying Derbyshire stone still thunder through the town, past the cobbled market place and up the hill to Buxton. Ashbourne used to have a horse fair, which is of interest to us as at one time Smith Hall was a stud farm, although we only have a few horseshoes to remind us.

On Shrove Tuesday, the famous game of Shrovetide Football takes place. For the unbelievers, imagine a rugby game lasting 2 days, with 2 huge teams made up of inhabitants of different parts of the town, with very few rules, and a lot of beer. The aim is to score a goal for your side, (goalposts being a mile or so apart). The town closes down, shopfronts are boarded up, and sensible folk stay at home!
We are busy making porkpies for one of the pubs, to be taken with the many pints of beer that will be drunk over the 2 day period.

Meanwhile, everything is thriving on the farm. As we sail into March, the days are mercifully getting longer and warmer. We have now around 55 piglets of varying ages, still being carefully looked after by their mothers, although feeding time can be like a rugby scrum! This week I went to our local market with our meat and pies, and came back having sold 3 piglets - well, in essence, anyway. A surprising number of people keep a few pigs, so we are always able to supply weaners, at around 12 weeks old. These will be fattened up over the spring and summer, ready to be slaughtered in the autumn.

In mid April, the swallows arrive, and then we know summer is nearly here!

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Power to local produce

Life on the FarmPosted by Mary Sun, February 05, 2017 12:05:10
A fine bright morning today on the farm, with the possibility of rain later- farmers always keep a weather eye out, so outside work can be planned around it! We have fed pigs and cattle, had some sileage brought over, and after a late breakfast, it is my opportunity to have a lazy hour reading Sunday papers. Whatever your political shade, you can`t deny that current politics is fascinating, with Brexit on this side of the Atlantic and Donald on the other. Most farmers voted to leave Europe, even though Single Farm Payments which make up around 50% of most farm incomes, are not guaranteed after 2020. When farm payments in New Zealand were stopped several decades ago, many farms simply folded, and some moved into wine production. While some farms can adapt to changing economic conditions and survive, others won`t, and it seems likely that the UK government will link payments to wider environmental issues such as stewarding, or even rewilding. Whatever happens, there is a lot of uncertainty amongst farmers as no-one knows what the future will be. Lama farming and glamping - no thanks!

In the meantime, I opened the paper today to see an advert from one of the newer supermarkets offering fillet steak and chips for two for £8.70, in a price war with another supermarket. I am pleased to say that we beat them on price! Quite an achievement! Shopping locally works!

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