We have often been asked what it is like to be Smallholders, so we have decided to add this page to the website to describe via a 'blog' the events of a typical day here at The Ark. This obviously does depend on the time of year, the type of weather and the breed of animals that we are keeping at the time, so this page will be updated to reflect each season as it changes. It is currently summer.
With everything that we have going on, we have to plan and manage as much of our time as effectively as possible, so we have a very large diary! If we want to go away on holiday or go out for the day, unless it is somewhere fairly local, this has to be planned around in advance, organising cover for the animals as necessary. It does sound like hard work, but it is a lifestyle that we both enjoy together, like anything it has its good and its bad sides; we are both constantly learning and it can be very satisfying and very rewarding.
Sunday - A Day of Rest? - 30/6/13 by Debbie Hillman
A 'day of rest in my eyes' very much depends on what you are doing, where you are, who you are with and whether you enjoy it!
I was up until 11.30 pm last night, completing an assignment for my marketing course. I now only have two more assignments to hand in by the beginning of September and despite feeling under pressure to get them finished in time, I think I am doing quite well time wise!
So my 'day of rest' started at 7 am when I got up and went out to let the chickens and geese out.
Our Daughter incubated and raised her first Embden goslings a couple of months ago and last night was the first night that they had spent in with a surrogate breeding pair of Dewlap Toulouse Geese. After spying on them all lying contentedly on the straw in their stable, I concluded that all was well and opened the door to let them out. I can't help admiring our surrogate geese for being so obliging by accepting the goslings at such a late age.
I purposefully left some of the hens in the large annexe pen that is attached to their chicken house as I knew that Pat would struggle to catch the hens with his bad back when the morning customers arrive to choose their hens. The others are already busy scratching around under the fruit trees in the orchard and excitedly running along flapping their wings in an amusing attempt to leave the ground!
The pigs (Berkshire weaners that are growing like there is no tomorrow!) are already squealing in anticipation of their breakfast and greet me with grunts of delight as I feed them. They seem to have cleared their woodland run of most of the forage at their height already, so I will let them have a run in the paddock later. I made a wallow for them yesterday and by the look of their mud caked bodies they have made the most of it!
After putting on Freddie the horses fly mask and feeding the cats and dogs, I settle down with a cup of tea and my trusty laptop (or my 'comforter' as Pat calls it!) to catch up on some work emails and to raise some invoices for next months bee keeping for beginners course'.'
Pat has some customers come up to choose chickens this morning, but he is already up and outside checking the little mating hives that he has strategically placed around the smallholding. He has been studying for this little project for some time now and to be honest I am astonished at how well he has done with it! 3 out of 4 of these little white nucs already contain mated Queens which he is planning on introducing to Queenless hives later today.
My lovely husband never ceases to amaze and inspire me; despite his day job, his number of projects that he always has on the go, our running of the smallholding business and looking after the animals here, he still manages to find the time to study and build on his knowledge of bees.
This afternoon after the last customer has been seen, we plan to take time out for ourselves and spend some time walking the dogs, perhaps along the canal, or to the beach. The sun is out today and the opportunity to get out and enjoy it can't be missed given the unsettled weather that we have had lately!
My 'day of rest' will be busy, but deeply fulfilling!
Spring has finally sprung! - 3/3/14 by Debbie Hillman
At last, after what seems like weeks of waiting, the signs of spring have finally arrived in the form of an array of dainty white blossom on the trees in the orchard, long pussy willows twirling around on the willow tree and the hum of honey bees greedily collecting as much pollen as they can carry in the 'bee baskets' on their legs! I can't help thinking that it always seems so much nicer up here on the smallholding when the weather is warm and dry!
This term I have visited Willesborough Infants School and St. Martin's School in Dover, where I talked a hall full of excited children through the process of incubating eggs and left them eagerly watching eggs developing within the incubators that I had left them. After three weeks, It was pleasing to find that all of the eggs had been fertile and all had hatched without any problem, giving the children and teachers a first hand experience of watching chicks hatch and caring for them during their first few weeks of life!
I am currently playing 'Mum' to 12 Crested Cream Legbar chicks of both sexes and of varying ages. Many of the older chicks are almost fully feathered now. I am looking forward to more warm, sunny days when I can get them out on the grass and acclimatising them to being outside in the fresh air. I have just started another 12 eggs off, which all being well will mean that I will have some more chicks hatching over Easter!
Over the past month I have been watching the Giant Dewlap Toulouse geese for any signs of courtship, having noted that 'Sid' the gander was becoming increasingly feisty and protective over 'Peggy' and 'Nancy' his mates and last week I found the first white egg in their pen - a sure sign that the laying season has started! It is now in full swing, with daily mating rituals in the ponds and both geese each producing one egg per day. I now have an incubator filled with goose eggs and having tested fertility, found that the whole clutch was 100% fertile - which is a fantastic result for so early in the season!
All of our Honey Bee colonies over wintered very well; we suffered no losses at all. We have put this down to the mild winter that we had, coupled with the fact that we ensured that they were all fed with a good supply of Bakers Fondant.
Pat is waiting anxiously for the results of the Bee keeping module 7 exam that he recently sat. He passed with a distinction on the last exam, so he has set himself a very high precedent to follow! I am certain that with all of the 'swotting' that he has been doing of late, that he will again pass with flying colours!
We both have a very long list of things that need to be done now the better weather has arrived. Yesterday, Pat set himself the unenviable task of clearing up the rotting leaves and fallen twigs in the paddock, before lighting a number of bonfires, which surprisingly lit without any problem, despite the fact that we have had so much rain over recent months!