Monday, 6 September 2010

New alpacas

Here's Sebastian born on 7th July. He's a very cute and sturdy little chap. He gets into everything but is a bit of a mummies boy, though he seems very taken with Josie and follows her everywhere she goes.

This is Josie, the latest edition to our alpacas herd. That's two boys and two girls this year making our herd 13 strong now.

Josie was born very quickly. From start to finish the whole process, from first sign to taking her first drink, took only 35 minutes. The fastest birth so far.

Some of the females, including three of last years babies who are now old enough, have been mated with "Dud the Stud". He's an alpaca stud I found locally called Dudley.

Sunday, 15 August 2010


Pig moving time again. Jazz and Tallulah's piglets were ready for weaning today. Normally, we put the sows and piglets outside when the piglets are about three weeks old, but as we had a lack of space following our population explosion they had to stay inside until weaning time came. We have to carry the piglets from the barn down to the field. This is easy enough when they are three weeks old but takes a bit more effort by the time they reach eight weeks as the weight difference is considerable. So this morning we set about catching them one by one. We drop them into a hessian sack as this helps to keep them calm while they are carried to their new paddock as wriggly screaming pigs can be trick to keep hold of. This method has always worked well up to now.
The next thing is for them all to get used to the electric fencing. We use electric tape/wire around the bottom of the fences to stop the pigs digging under. Most of them touch it once or twice squeal and run about a bit (this looks like wacky races) and they soon get the idea. But there is always one that hits it again and again and again. We had one today that was "playing pinball". She bounced of one fence to the next and the next until she finally ran out of steam. You shouldn't laugh I know but it is pretty funny all the same. Most pigs are very clever and learn quickly but we always get one dim witted creature.
The last of the larger boys will moved back to the barn later today as they will be off to the abattoir over the next few weeks.

Friday, 13 August 2010


Jazz and Tallulah's piglets are ready to wean now and will soon be off into a paddock of their own. Ellie's and Portia's will only be a couple of weeks behind and will be able to rejoin their piglet pals.

As usual Tallulah has produced some hefty looking pigs though Jazz and Portia have proved to be very good mums as their first time litters have thrived. Ellie has been a bit grumpy this time, I think her piglets have been a bit rough with her.

Nobby will soon be busy again with his ladies, earning his keep.

I have recently started selling my free range pork products at a market. Here's my stall, shown above, set up in the barn. It was a bargain off ebay. The first market day was a bit rubbish but you can't expect to much straight away. I hope it picks up over the coming weeks once people get to know me.

I am trying to arrange mating for the alpacas at the moment and need to decide who to use. There is a lot of choice and a wide range of prices. Considering that seven matings are needed this year I need to think carefully who I want to use and at what price.

We desperately need some straw. The only straw available is at a ridiculous price and now it has decided to rain over the last few days new supplies will be delayed. I hope our supplier will have some soon. I am having to make do with shredded paper. I collected it from where I used to work as it is free. However in view of how many pigs we have at the moment it doesn't go far. Rain rain go away, well just for a little while anyway.

The fifty new hens we bought have started to lay finally. They are taking their time about it. Perhaps the slow start will mean a longer laying life for them, who knows.

The alpacas were sheared a while ago so my thoughts have turned to what to do with this years clip. Samples from last years babies will go for testing. This will give me an ideas of the fleece quality. Testing every year will determine the long term quality of the fleeces, however a lot of things can affect an alpaca fleece, diet and nutrition for one. I hope I get good test results.

Processing charges for fleece are expensive and it can take months to get back the yarn for garments so I have, along with my sister, decided to look into other ideas for the fleece and home processing. We have both started to learn to spin and Julie is very "crafty". We hope to come up with some of our own individual products to sell. More on this later.

It is throwing it down at the moment so like me the pigs have gone indoors, all comfy and warm on the new bedding I gave them yesterday.

Cup of tea time I think.

Thursday, 22 July 2010


Last week was trench digging week. We needed to put in automatic drinkers for the new pig paddocks. As 150m of pipe needed to be laid we hired a mini-digger for the job. It took longer than expected, as all jobs seem to, as the ground was rock hard. I left Neil to it in the drizzle as boys like their toys. I also asked him to dig a large whole in the orchard so I could put Smokey's ashes in it. (Smokey was my old horse). I'm sure I said a hole and not a bloomin' crater!

Over the last three weeks we have had 3 alpaca babies born. One girl and two boys. One one pictures is Merlin not long after he had first stood up.
We have 2 more due but not until the end of August.

We have also had a pig population explosion and now have an extra 29 piglets. The pig above is Portia after giving birth to 6 piglets. She ended up with eight and found the whole experience exhausting, not surprising as she gave birth on one of the hottest weekends. She took her time about it as well as it took her 4 hours. Tallulah, our Large Black sow, had the same number in just over an hour, though she is more experienced.

I recently went on a willow course at Rutland Willow which is at Ashwell, so not very far from me. I learnt to make a pheasant, a fish on a rod and a mini hurdle. The pheasant is shown above.
When the willow I planted, earlier in the year, has grown I will be able to make some more or that's the plan anyway.

Saturday, 17 July 2010


The route to obtaining planning permission for an agricultural dwelling is long, frustrating and expensive. We had hired an Agricultural Consultants to deal with the business planning and a Planning Consultant for the planning side of things.

We never imagined that to get planning permission in the open countryside for a new residential dwelling was going to be easy, but boy do you have to jump through hoops to prove your intentions are genuine.
The main part to the planning process was satisfying the Financial and Functional Test which is what is says it is. To obtain permission you need to be running, or intending to run, an agricultural business that is financially viable and you also need to have a functional need to be on the site. So financially the holding needs to support one full time worker in both time spent and annual wages. It's open to debate what exactly these are but we worrked on about 40 hours per week and wages of £18,000.
The council used there own consultant to assess our application and business plan, which don't forget had been put together by NewLandOwner who are experienced farmers themselves and have seen and helped many smallholdings like ours.
The council consultant judged that our business plan was not financial viable. He had used systems to assess the plan that are used for large automated farms where one man is able to look after lots of animals due to the systems used. We and NewLandOwner argued that a manual smallholding where no machinery is used could not be assessed in the same way but to no avail. After lots of correspondence we finally withdrew the application so we could reassess our position. We reapplied including our alpaca business in the plan. We had intended to breed alpacas later on after we had obtained planning permission due to the high cost of a starter herd however our hand was forced due to fact that the council refused to see our side and seemed intent on stopping our application. As far as we all could see we had covered all bases and done lots of research on other similar applications. We had spent thousands of pounds not only on the land in the first place but fencing, animal housing, livestock not to mention the consultants fees. They couldn't doubt we were serious, could they and that we were not speculators trying our luck. We really did want to work and needed to live in the countryside.
To cut a very long story short the application was refused by the planning officer, though it did take several frustrating months for him to come to that conclusion. So, we immediately made our appeal, which ended up being an informal hearing. I attended this hearing with "an army" of people. Two from the planning consultants, two from NewLandOwner and two the alpaca breeder where we have bought our herd from. Seven against two, we couldn't loose!
After a fairly intense morning of questions came the site visit. The inspector needed to see that we were actually keeping livestock and running a business. He couldn't fail to see that we were doing that.
After that we just had to wait for his decision, which could take up to eight weeks. But within a week we had it. YES YES YES we had won. We could hardly believe it. All the hard work and stress had been worth it and we could now really get down to business and not worry about planning details every day.
Basically, if you're serious about working and living in the countryside do your homework, expect plenty of knock backs and get the right help. Consultants might seem expensive but the right ones are worth their weight in gold. Don't give up and remember if it was easy everyone would be at it. You need to made of tough stuff to start a new countryside business and apply for planning permission all at the same time.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

How it all started

After deciding back in 2005 that I didn't want to continue working in an office, Neil and I started to look for some land to buy. After several disappointments, over the next 18 months, at auctions and losing out with closed bids I happened to see 15 acres for sale in Rutland. We immediately went to see it followed by a visit to the estate agents office to express our interest. After a couple of days we were advised that a closed bid would be required, which is what we did and to our surprise the land was ours. That was in October 2006 and just before Christmas the deal was done and we owned 15 acres with a large barn.
Once we new our offer had been accepted I set about deciding what it was were going to do with our new plot. I found on the internet and contacted NewLandOwner, a smallholder consultancy firm, giving practical advice to anyone new to smallholding including livestock, horticulture, legislation and planning issues. Visit
We attended one of their "Getting Started" weekend courses which gave us an insite into all aspects of smallholding and helped us decide where we wanted to start and what livestock to choose. We also used their planning consultancy service. They helped us throughout the planning process, but more about that later as that is a topic in itself.
Not shy of a new challenge we ploughed in (pardon the pun). Not only had we bought 15 acres but started a business we had no experience of and applied for planning permission for a residential dwelling.If we wanted to change our lives we might as well get on with it I thought.
So we bought 50 hens and 4 rare breed pigs, 2 young boars (Keith and Brendan) to fatten for pork and 2 gilts Tallulah and Lily for breeding. The hens soon started laying so we had eggs to sell and keeping pigs was fun as they can be very entertaining. Though they are not for the meek and mild as when you have 14 porkers in a paddock, as we have at the moment, they can be pretty boisterous at feeding time. Pigs don't have table manners and it is every pig for itself come feeding time.
To be honest as long as you have got some common sense keeping livestock shouldn't present any real problems. You just need to now the legal requirements and NewLandOwner were always and still are on hand if we need any help or advice.
By April I had moved my horses over as well which made life a bit easier though we still had to travel from Nottingham every day and at that time we were both still working full time as well.
In the meantime I had also found a good planning consultant that was willing to help us. I had contacted several but decided on Heaton Planning
I'd like to say they helped us glide through the planning process but I'm sure that is not possible. It's more of an uphill stony track with many pitfalls along the way.
Towards the middle of 2007 that's where we were, starting with our new venture and looking to put in a planning application.

Cosy Dub Farm

Over the next few weeks I will be starting to give details of what we have been up to at Cosy Dub Farm over the last three years, starting with our first contact with livestock, our long planning battle and how we started with 4 pigs and presently have 61.

I will also be giving updates of the weekly goings on at the smallholding.