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In my opinion you need two basic elements to successful hatching, firstly you need an incubator you are comfortable with and which is reliable, secondly you need a good quality source of hatching eggs. I will use this page to explain the different incubator types, sources of hatching eggs and the key steps to incubation.

Successful incubation relies upon stable temperature, good humidity control and regular egg turning, the type of incubator you choose will provide different levels of control you get, the more automated control you want the higher the cost of the incubator. Basic models require a lot more regular attention so you also need to consider how much time you have daily and the not just the cost.

Choosing Your Incubator

There are 3 main types of incubators for use at home;

• Manual control
• Semi automatic
• Fully Automatic

Manual control is the most basic of incubators with little visibility of what is going on, but they are the cheaper option and a good starter for home incubation. These will require regular attention to turn the egg 4/5 time a day, top up water levels and ensure temperature is level. Most manual incubator will have some kind of thermometer on display for you to monitor temperature. The types of incubators will start at around £50, but a good price for a first time Hatcher who has the time to regularly monitor the environment.

Semi-Auto incubators will generally have an egg turning system that requires you manually activate on a regular basis but you will not have to individually turn eggs and open the incubator to achieve this. Some also have humidity control but for the extra you pay for this you are better going to a fully automatic. These incubators start at around £100.

Full-Auto incubators are the Rolls Royce, these will turn the eggs for you, stabilize temperature and humidly and will have a digital display to show these values and often an alarm trigger to let you know when water is low or temperature falls/rises. However with this comes the higher price tag, these will start at around £150 but you can an r-com mini which is fully auto for about £85 but this will only house 3 eggs but is great for children or a classroom.

I started with a King Suro 20 which is a full-auto model which rocks the eggs hourly had a water pump to control humidly and alarms, this set me back £160 about 1 year ago. I also have an RCOM mini which the kids have used and a basic manual one. Its my recommendation you by the incubator which best suits your budget and the time you have to spare.

Where do I get hatching eggs?

I got my first hatching eggs from P&T poultry when i brought the incubator but there are many placed you can get hatching eggs from eBay to the roadside. There are two things I would recommend, firstly try to collect your eggs in person, postal services are very good these days, as are the packaging methods but the trauma from travelling across the country and varying temperatures will impact your success rate. From my experience the best I have achieved from a postal delivery batch is 50%. Secondly try to buy from reputable breeders/sellers, eBay’s feedback is a good source of indication.

Getting Started

Once you have your incubator and hatching eggs you need to make a few preparations.

• Ensure your eggs are stored somewhere cool with a constant temperature.
• If your eggs came by post ensure the rest for 24 hours.
• Give your incubator a good clean (even if new) with suitable disinfectant.
• Setup the incubator and get is up to running temperature and humidity for 24 hours before placing the eggs inside.  (use table below)

Incubation Times, Temperature & Humidity

TypeDays TurningTemperature (o/c)Humidty (%)Stop TurningTemperature (o/c)Humidty (%)
Chickens0-1837.640-45Day 1937.460-65
Ducks0-2537.655-60Day 2537.470+

Monitoring and Candling

Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch, during this time in your incubator you obviously need to maintain the conditions even if you have an full-auto a daily check everything is ok is very much advisable.  Its highly probably that not all of your eggs will be fertile of reach the full 21days, infertile or expired embryos will cause bacterial growth and if left unremoved can contaminate other eggs and even exploaded making a huge smelly mess. To circumvent this happening you need to candle you eggs at regular intervals and disguard any bad eggs. My embryo development section explains the eggs development over 21 day and what to look out for. I recommended you candle your eggs at the following intervals;

  • Day 7
  • Day 12
  • Day 17

Its also a good idea to number your eggs (with a pencil) so if you have a suspect egg you can make a note of its number and check in a few more days. Its good to keep a notepad & pencil by your incubator, so you can make note on what you see, this will be useful for future hatchings. Once you have hatched a few batches you should be able to indentifiy a fertilized egg at day 3-4.

Chick Development inside an Egg

The table below show the development of a Silver Grey dorking i hatched in Feb 2010. You can see the clear chick development over the first 9 days of incubation. After day 10 due to the size of the embryo detail in candling is limited so i have not included this.


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Poultry Terms

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A glossary of common poultry terms;

Autosexing: Term used to describe chicks than can be sexed at hatched based on their colouring/markings. An example of this is the Cream/Crested Legbar (see picture above)

Broiler: A bird bred for meat, generally applied to those under 14weeks.

Broody: A female chicken that is ready to sit on/hatch some eggs.

Capon: This is a male chicken castrated before sexual maturity, use to raise bigger birds. This process is currently illegal under animal welfare standards in the UK.

Chick: a baby chicken, generally used for birds less than 4 weeks

Cock: A male chicken over a year old

Cockerel: A male chicken less than a year old

Dual Purpose: used to describe breeds that can be used for egg production or meat, the Ixworth is an example.

Fowl: General term used to describe domestic birds

Grower: A young chicken, typical lets than 14weeks

Hen: A female chicken older than a year

Hybrid: A bird bred from two (or more) different chicken breeds, sometime refereed to as Cross-breed

Layer: A Chicken used for Egg Production

Pullet: A female chicken under a year of age.

P.O.L: Point of Lay, term used to refer to a female pullet who is just coming into lay. For hybrids this is typically 18-20 weeks, often later in pure breeds. However this term is over used in poultry sales and applied to birds as young a 14 weeks.

Purebreed : A Chicken who’s parentage comes from the same breed line.

Rooster: Another term for a Cock, more wideless used in the US.

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Artificial Insemination of Pigs

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Sow with her Litter

On my holding near Boston in Lincolnshire I breed Oxford Sandy and Black Pigs for Breed preservation and meat. I tried several breed of pig before settling on the Oxford – although good registered stock is difficult to source around Lincolnshire. I have two Sow’s and a Boar – most smallholders will question the need for a boar, given the cost to feed such an animal on top of your existing costs.

I didn’t start out with any intention of getting a boar – but as ill explain later there is a method to what some might call my madness. Firstly let me tell you about our holding, we moved here in 2011 from the then of England – Kent, our venture started some 6-7 years earlier with 1/2 a plot on the local allotments, this grew to a few garden hens for eggs, to hatching chickens for meat and then waterfowl. The small seed planted back then has grown into a way of life today here on our 3 acre holding. We keep Pigs, Hebridean sheep, Mule Sheep, Goats, Poultry and dabbled with a fattening cows too. I now rent an additional 5.5 acres of local grazing to balance our stocking levels.

Provenance Jack 22

Provenance Jack 22

Having kept pigs for a while – like sheep, I wanted to breed our own pigs rather than buying in weaner’s every 4-5 months. So we brought in a couple of registered female weaners to rear for breeding. Without a boar, we had two options AI or sending my girls for stud. As someone who’s not scared to have a go. I spent a couple of months monitoring their cycles, then a few days before they were due in season I contacted Deerpark Pedigree Pigs in Northern Ireland and got some semen ordered along with some catheters. Having read and watched many article or video I could find on AI, I took the plunge.

The books, articles and videos make it sound and look easy, which it is once you’ve done it a few times, but daunting the first time – a bit like anything I guess. In short, her vulva should be slightly larger and pinker than normal, she should also stand still once pressure is applied to her back. Using Boar Pheromone spray, Vaseline, a catheter and a sample, I AI’d one of my girls 3 times at 12 hour intervals. Then comes the 3 week wait to see if you were successful – which I wasn’t. After another failed attempt I decide to seek a stud. I did note somewhere that AI is more successful on a sow who has already a ha litter.

Facebook is a good place for connecting with like minded smallholders, farmers and livestock experts. Through here I was able to find a boar my girls could go to, However at the time I didn’t have a suitable trailer, but the stud’s owner collected and returned for me – at a cost of course. Just over 4 months later out girls had their first litter.

OSB PIglet

OSB PIglet

Once piglets where old enough to leave mum, and had new homes a set again to try AI. At this time i was not aware of the fact – 5-7 days after removing the piglets from mum she’ll come back in to season. I started watching cycles again, and proceeded as before and yet again failed, so resorted to stud once more.

I started looking at costs – each sow cost £30 a time to AI and so far I had spent £150 without success. Stud was becoming expensive too, as they were gone for 4 weeks or so, so paying board, stud fee and transport each time was also costing around £160. When I put everything on paper I would be spending £300+ a year to stud and/or AI – which made me think, how much would a boar cost to keep. I worked out a boar would cost me a bag of feed a week (at £5.60 a bag, that’s £290 a year) It was looking cheaper to keep a boar, plus if I had a boar I could offer a stud service to help fund his keep.

Back in January I took the plunge a brought a registered boar from Suffolk, and one of my sows in expecting her litter the middle of June – but ironically, I tried AI – 5 days after removing piglets – and had success. She is due at the end of April.

When I reflect on my decision to buy a boar, I still believe it was the right decision. Firstly it’s natures way of reproducing, I don’t have to monitor cycles, order semen, be on hand 3 times in 24 hours to administer the AI. In addition there is no chance a video of me trying to AI a pig will end up going viral on the internet or being introduced by Harry Hill on ‘You’ve been Framed’. In contrast I’m not saying everyone should own a boar, they are a lot bigger than sows, significantly stronger and need a strong pair of hands to handle. That’s not to mention the pen, housing etc, I have had problem with my boar destroying automatic drinkers so now he has a Belfast sink. Start out simple then progress, find a local stud, or someone who has experience of AI to help you the first few times.

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Gape Worm (aka Syngamus Tachea)

Background: Gape worm mainly affects chickens but is also found in other types of poultry. Gape Worm infections are generally introduced by wild birds or by bringing infected birds into your stock. The gape worm itself is Y shaped and when fully grown is between 1 and 2cm in length. They lay their eggs in the throat of the birds which causes them to cough them out. The dispersed eggs are then eaten by other birds and thus spreads throughout the flock. Typical gestation is around 7 days from infection.

Symptoms: A Gape worm infection is often confused with a respiratory infection due to the nature of the symptoms (when i first saw these sign i suspected Infectious Bronchitis and treated with Tylan to no avail). An infected bird will gasp (or “gape”) for breath, shake it head and stretch it necks regularly, you’ll often here a gurgling noise from the throat and/or their calls will often sound croaky.

Treatment: In my opinion the best medication is “Flubenvet”, treat as directed for 7 days. I often repeat the treatment in 21 days to ensure the cycle is broken. You’ll generally notice an improvement in the birds symptoms after around 4days of treatment, but ensure you finish the course as directed in the instructions.

Prevention: To reduce the risk of infection, regularly worming your birds and moving the location of their run will significant reduce your chances of an infection.

Where to Buy: You can purchase “Flubenvet” from most agricultural stores or online, it comes in either 1% or 2.5% powered mixes or premixed 20Kg bags of layers feed.

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Female only hatching eggs – Myth or Fact?

There has been a lot if chatter across social networks and forums recently about hatching only female chicks. One entry, and one I responded too, asked, How can I hatch just female chickens? Whilst to the established breeder this appears a nonsensical question, however it has validity and mileage for discussion. Some of the responses, and I’ll cover these shortly, are based on myths. However do these myths hang true?

Firstly and most importantly we must understand the principal genetics which make up the resultant offspring. The germ(egg) and the sperm carry chromosomes which define the sex of fertilised germ. Unlike humans, where the sperm defines the sex, the opposite is true for poultry. All sperm carry the male (Z) chromosome, the germ contains either a male chromosome (Z) or a female chromosome (W).  The resulting fertilised germ will either be ZZ male or ZW female.

Sex Chromosomes

This is the only method that determines the sex of a chicken, environmental conditions, including diet, cannot change this! So why are there so many myths?

Let’s consider the artificial incubation environment factors which effect the success of a hatch. Temperature will affect the duration of a hatch, slightly high, chicks hatch early, lower and they hatch later. Obviously extremes of each will result in death of the embryo/chick. Humidity also impacts success, as well as good air flow.

Egg validity also key, shell quality, egg shape, egg size and egg structure are also factors, and let’s not forget sperm viability. Any significant deviation of the above will reduce the success of the hatch. Many of these factors will be influenced by the birds health, environment hygiene and diet. If we consider all the above we can understand the results of our hatches.

Cayuga Egg, Male or Female?

Cayuga Egg, Male or Female?

As I stated earlier sex is determined by chromosomes, however a myths exist about varying incubation temperature can change the sex of an embryo, We know is not true. But if we consider environmental factors, is it possible for temperature to influence the success rate of a particular bird sex. I.e if we turn temp up by 1 degree, could this kill off the weaker males and favour the female? Very unlikely but feasible. There is no research to support such a claim. If this were possible there is no doubt the hatcheries would have found the key and we wouldn’t kill 100,000’s of unwanted male chicks everyday.

A breeder claimed they set 12 eggs and incubated at a higher temp and got 8 females and 4 males and used this to support this myth. Research to support this would need to be conducted with 100,000’s egg in various hatches over the world to get some valid data. I draw on my previous statement “there is no research to support such claims.”

Male or Female?

Male or Female?

The second myth, hatching only round bottom eggs will result in females only. One breeder claimed he had worked in a hatchery for many years and found this method 99.9% successful. There is no link, logical or otherwise between the chromosomes in the fertilized germ and the shape of the egg. It’s the environmental factors and hen itself which shape the egg. A stressed bird or birds who are overstocked are more likely to produce misshapen eggs – fact.

Other breeders have claimed they have hens who produce female only off spring. This has far more merit, we know sperm only caries the Z chromosome and does not influence the sex, so it is feasible through genetics that a hen could produced female germs with only W chromosomes. The resulting offspring would all have ZW chromosomes and be female. Occurrence of such hens are few and far between, but not statistically impossible

Some will still doubt this and revert to the myth, what qualifications does a man from Lincolnshire have to write this? So, I don’t have any formal poultry qualification, But I do have an honours degree in Biology. I have studied chickens through breeding and rearing for the past 8+ years, and I can apply my cell biology and genetics knowledge to such a topic.

I thank you for taking the time to read my blog on this widely debated topic, as alway I value your opinion so please feedback to me.

thanks Andrew

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Like Clockwork….heeeeeelllllppppp!!!

Hello, welcome to June’s blog from us here at Slate House Farm. As usual lots of things to update you all on, and its where to start.  Well as you know from my previous blog we were hatching some peafowl. Back in May we set 6 eggs from a local breeder of Indian Blue peafowl eggs. Like clockwoPea Chickrk on the 16th June, the first little peachick made its way into the world with little fuss. Number 2 also looked well underway, but sadly gave up and never made it into the world. Numbers 3  and 4 made in safely into the world too, but sadly number 3 only survived a few hours :(. With anticipation we watched the last 2 eggs, but nothing ever happened.  Whilst now a huge success, we have two healthy pea chicks making there way into week 3 of their life’s.

Sorry about the poo in the pic, but this is the best pic I have taken thus far. They are feisty little things, full of courage and inquisitive ways. They were a sod to get eating, having to moisten food and let them peck it off our fingers, but they’re feeding well now.

Our next lot of hubbards are ready for the table, ill be using a few of them on my out poultry course on 6th July. The next lot of little chicks are due to arrive the week commencing 8th July, along with 30 turkeys chicks too 🙂 have to start thinking about Christmas dinner, despite summer loosing it fight against the weather.

We’ve also added a trio of pheasant to our stock list, they are only a couple of months old, but we hope to be able to tame them a little with the hope they’ll breed next year fingers crossed.

You’ll be surprised to here this, but the incubator is almost empty, and ill be turning it off in a week or so after the final hatch.  Hatching seasons not over, but there is enough stock already. Ill run another hatch of Light Sussex X Ixworth later in the year to replenish some of the layers who’ll go into retirement this winter.

The next job on our agenda here, well there are two, cutting the hay and building a clay/brick oven. Both are dependent on the ever reliable British weather.  The hay has to come first, its rained heavily today, but the forecast is good into next week. The plan is to make a start tomorrow, providing it drys out enough to cut. Finger crossed. unlike most farmers, we’re cutting out Hay by hand, it barely an acre, but still takes a lot of doing 🙂

A local farmer is donating some bricks for the oven in exchange for a few Hubbards and some duck eggs. There’s little (if any) money being a smallholder, but you can barter your produce for what you need. I find this makes it all the more enjoyable and satisfying. Hopefully in July’s post we’ll have a pic of the oven to share with you all.

Finally, it time for some more pork, the freezer is running very low indeed. We’re trying a smaller/private abattoir this time, purely for the assurance we will get what we want. The main stream abattoir is very good and I have no qualms with them. We are not sending them all off, I’m keeping a couple for breeding our own pigs. No bore will be involved, we’re having a go with AI, this won’t be until November time when they are old enough, but I’ve started to track their cycles so I can know when the time is right 🙂

PiggiesFinally, the swallow in the barn has successfully hatched all 4 of the eggs she layed. It’s amazing how fast the grow and how big their mouths are. I’ll post some pics next time. Until then TTFN.





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Do what you can, with what you have, where you are!

Theodore Roosevelt can be quoted as saying “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”.  I feel with is apt for us smallholders, allotmenteers, veg patch growers, chicken keeper etc etc. Quite often we can bite off more than we can chew, I know this is very much true of me. We’re now in out 18 month as small holders and having many many breeds of poultry I felt that maybe I was growing to fast and not able to give all the birds the attention they needed. So I have said goodbye to a few breeds, I hope this to be a short term change, but one I need to, given time and feed costs etc. So I sadly said good by to the La Fleche, Barbu d’Anver, Sicilian Buttercup, Salmon Faverolle and Croad Langshan. All stock have gone to new homes around the county. My focus for the rest of this year will be with bantams, especially the Dutch Owlbeard.

Dutch Owlbeard Bantams Dutch Owlbeard Bantams (Chamois, and Gold Spangled Moorshead)

Surprisingly Lucy our Pilgrim goose is still laying an egg almost every day. She has been laying since early February. The average goose will provide around 30 eggs a season and shut up shop late April to early May. I’ve has over 40 eggs so am really impressed. Sadly though the fertility has not been there this year. Lenny the Embden gander hasn’t been overly active but this is only his first season.

SONY DSC Lenny and Lucy

The Lambs have been separated from their mums and are doing strong by themselves. There were a couple of days/night of lambs and mum calling for each other, but they soon settled and are putting on weight well in their own paddock of fresh grass. Missty (British Toggenburg Nanny Goat) has said good bye to her three offspring. We said goodbye to them last weekend as the headed to the Scottish borders with their new owners. We still have Willows two kids left. I have not managed to sell them yet, and am now debating on keeping the nanny for breeding and the wether to raise on for meat.

The Oxford Sandy & Black weaners will be ready in the next 6-8 weeks to go off for meat. We have the 4 weaners, I haven’t decided 100% yet, but I think we will keep 1-2 of them for breeding and raising our own weaners 🙂 time will tell, nothing is set in stone. I knwo my kids would love the idea of some piglets.

On the grazing front, I have had trouble in one of my field with nettles and thistles, to the point they are occupying 30%+ of the grazing. After consulting a local farmer, they suggested a product called Graze-On. Its not cheap about £50 for 1 litre, but 60ml makes up a nap sack and that treated the field (1/3 acre). Its selective on plants, and the land is safe to graze on again in 7 days. I’m not a huge fan of chemicals, but with such a large problem it seemed the most sensible solution.  If other have used this product or have alternatives it would be nice to hear from you.

The poly tunnel is looking great, as are the fruit cages. Tomato’s, Cucumbers, Squashes, Beans, spuds, Chard, Carrots, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Onions and more are growing well. I am hoping for a bumper crop this season, time will tell. I have been late starting with the veg, not out of choice, out of time, but I think its paying off in the long run given the winter/spring we have had. The orchard has been in full bloom. A couple of fruit tree’s we purchased last year from Homebase (2 for £20 deal) haven’t survived, wood all dead. The stock I got from fruit tree specialist are thriving especially the Damsons. It just goes to show you what the deals are, I might as well of burnt £20.

SONY DSC The Spuds in the polytunnel

On the wildlife front, we have been lucky to have some bird using one of the nesting boxes, the kids and I built when back in bexleyeath. I have not be able to determine yet exactly what kind of tit is using it, but there are some eggs inside 🙂 . We also have some swallows building a nest inside our duck/goose shed. they started a couple of days ago, but are making good progress 🙂 have a look below.SONY DSC Swallows Nest

Before I go, something I should have mentioned when speaking of poultry, but I have 6 Indian Blue peafowl eggs in the incubator. All 6 are fertile and are due to hatch on the 15th June, so ill have news on the hatch in my next blog. Until next time all the best and thanks for taking the time to read :)…. Andrew

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Old Mother Hubbard……

We are well into spring now, I spotted a Mallard duck with 7 little ducklings yesterday morning swimming in the Beck behind us. They can not have been more than 2-3days old, but were bombing along with mum. The daffodils are in full bloom and there are signs of the tulips making an appearance too. We must not forget the lambs in the fields and the egg shells discarded from nests way up in the trees. The grass is growing and thus are the ever persistent weeds. I think we can safely say spring is well and true sprung 🙂

Here at Slate House Farm, we are hatching weekly and have had great success so far this year with our duck hatches, lots if little Cayuga’s waddling around. We have some Call ducks in the incubator due in a couple of weeks, and as i write this post we have some Swedish blue’s making their way out of the eggs :).


We’re starting to think about Christmas here, I know its extremely early, but we raise our own birds for the table here, so need to plan dinner 🙂 I’m using Cyril bason ( for my turkeys this year after last years not so great results with eBay eggs, from low quality eggs. I used them today for my meat birds (Hubbard’s), I have 40 or so delivered every 10-12 weeks. The Hubbard is a free range version of your common supermarket/broiler type chicken, only the grow at a slower rate, and thus grow healthily without the added complications the broilers face. I have been very satisfied with the results from the Hubbard’s so far, the average breast weighing 250g+. Back to the turkeys ill be ordering a number of Bronze and Norfolk Black, more than what I need, but i’ll sell some on at 5 weeks to cover my own costs :).

The kid goats are doing very well, 5 weeks of age now, the weaker one which caused us some concern for the first week or so, is now flourishing, albeit slightly smaller than the others, but full of energy all the same. They we’re moved to their outside pen a couple of weeks back, they have a couple of shelters to cover from the elements, but the kids enjoy the freedom, sun on their backs and fresh air 🙂

2013 offspring

The Lambs are track, a good size and much has been doing a great job with them. They’re almost 6 weeks old, and it will soon be time to think about weaning them off mum, getting them tagged and give them their first vaccine booster. With 7 to do (2 lambs, 5 kids), im trying to find something that is suitable for goats and sheep, but covers the key vaccines and Pasturella.  Pasturella is not so critical for goats, but key for the sheep, from reading around I expect I’ll end up buying two, which will double my costs, but the animals welfare is paramount.

Work with the fruit and veg is also underway, but not without it problems. Due to my own error, I lost 50 of my tomato plants and all my chilli plants to the frost. They were in propagator in my poly tunnel which has a thermostat, but i unplugged it for something and forgot to put it back 🙁 So I have reverted to some plug plants to get me going again). I didn’t need all i had sown, but the plan was to sell a few from the gate to help cover my costs. The fruit tree’s are starting to blossom, after last years poor crop not helped by the weather and more so the bugs and fungi making a mess of the rest I will spray my tree’s this year. Copper sulphate and Limestone (Bordeaux Mix) seems to be the favoured option on the interweb, so I’m going to have a go at knocking up my own. Garlic spray was also mentioned, if anyone has used Garlic Spray before I would be interested in your feedback.  The spuds are also in, I only grow some Charlotte salad spuds here, living in arable country a sack of spuds from the local farmer is great value for money, and given time and space its not cost effective. I know it goes against the self sufficient model, but i can barter my crops, eggs, meat for other veg i don’t grow:)

We’re running a Field to Plate course this weekend for those interested in dispatching and dressing their own chicken. We’ve a few people coming, not as many as I would like, but start small, then grow :). I ran the course for the Lincolnshire Smallholders and Self Sufficiency club last, year and it was a great success, so hoping to build on it this time.

OSB Weaners

The pigs are doing great, such fab characters, the first will be ready in a few months to go off for the table. I am hoping to get a slot at a local farmers market and try to sell some of the pork, our eggs and some of our veg produce when the meat is ready 🙂 Once the Goats have been weaned, we’ll have our supply of fresh milk back :), time for some cheese again me thinks. I can’t sell the cheese (or the milk), but we love it.

I think that’s about it for April, until May’s update I wish you all well. Andrew


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A Watched Kettle…..Does Boil….in the End.

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March’s blog is a little later than usual, I apologise for that but I have good reasons 🙂 firstly lambing/kidding was longer than I anticipated and secondly I knew you would want details and pictures. For simplicity the term ‘lambing’ in this blog post refers to both lambs and kids.

Picture library can be found on my Facebook page here

We had three mothers to be, Dora a first time Ewe, Missty and third time Nanny and Willow a first time nanny. I knew for sure Dora was tupped on be 19th October and thus would be due on or around March 13th. The goats were a little harder to pin point, I hadn’t used raddle marker so based my math on the Billy’ activity and placed Missty on 12th March and Willow somewhere around the 20th.

Us, the midwives, we are/were first timers which as you can imagine caused some anxiety. I thought kidding was about to start a couple of weeks ahead of the dates I had calculated, but these were false alarms. You can read many books, web sites, blogs etc but all the theory leads you to look for signs. Simetimes you look so hard you can see something thats not there :). Despite what turned out to be false alarms, we checked the goats/ewes every few hours around the clock. Now we’ve been through it, we can spot the signs, I don’t think we will avoid the false alarms, but with time we will get there 🙂

I note sheep are easier to spot the signs, unlike goats they loose their appetite in early labour, a trigger I spotted on Saturday 16th march at breakfast. Dora didn’t come up to the on gate for breakfast as usual, she just laid at the back of the pen glaring at me, showing the odd lip curl (a good sign in sheep). I checked on her mid morning, she was still in the same spot, looking restless and doing her Elvis impression. Just after twelve whilst I was preparing lunch I got a sense things were progressing, I asked my wife to go check on her. Several minutes later she came running back in, with her phone in hand and a picture of a black lamb. I dropped lunch and flew out to the barn to catch the second lamb, white, being born. An amazing experience to watch, Dora seemed to deliver her lambs with little stress.

Both lambs were Rams and are doing great, we’ve named them Salt and Pepper. Dora only seemed to have milk in one udder, which was a concern, and we suspected Mastitis. However I’m pleased to say the milk in her other udder kicked in after a couple of days. Salt and Pepper are now out in the small paddock with mum. The recent snow was not a concern given we have a shelter there 🙂

That Saturday evening (16/3) on the Rounds I noticed a change in Missty, she was laying down with her tail up. I noticed her Vulva seemed pinker and longer than the day before. I had been looking at goat vulvas for the past few weeks, so knew there was a difference. However night visits saw no change. At breakfast I spotted a show of mucus, I would check in an hour or so. Just before ten my daughter came in saying Missty was in labour, I was dubious, but I checked on her, and as I approached the barn I could heatMissty, not a normal noise. Well, Missty was in labour, I could just make out a nose. Within five minutes the first was born, shortly by a second and minutes later a third. Two girls and a boy, although one of the girls was a little weak. We paid close attention and administered some colostrum. Within 24 hours she was fine and you wouldn’t have known much had been wrong.

Willow was the last to kid, this past Wednesday about 8pm. She had a boy and a girl, the girl was first. The boy was slow to move, and after 5 mins I decided I should intervene. The kid was head first but only one leg, the other bent back. The kid was a way out so pushing him back to represent didn’t seem an option. I gloved up and with some pulling and twisting the little fella came out.

All kids and lambs are doing well, Willow is suffering from a case of mastitis which we are treating with antibiotics, and we’ve had to substitute some milk for the kids.

It’s been a very very tiring few weeks, but a very enjoyable and rewarding time. Our children have loved the experience and been hands on. Something I’m sure any child would love to experience 🙂

Over the next few weeks we’re focusing on hatching ducks, goslings, more chicks and finally making a start with the veg for 2013. More news on this next time, thank you for taking the time to read the blog. Until next time, take care.




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The Snow Hath Melteth

I am happy to say the snow has gone, thankfully. Whilst snow make the landscape glisten, and is fun, that novelty quickly disappears. Whilst living in the Bexleyheath with a few chooks in the back garden the snow didn’t really cause much of a problem. However now in Lincolnshire with a 3 acre small holding that picture changes, and your soon praying for sun or rain to take the blooming stuff away. From frozen drinkers and ponds to lack of feed for the sheep snow just gets in the way.We’re in mid February now and I’m hoping we have seen the last of it this side of winter , but I wont hold my breath.

So what happening, well first are foremost we are just 4 weeks from lambing and kidding. Having used raddle marker and only have the one Ewe to breed this year I know due date is 15th March (with a few days either way). The goats on the other hand are  a little less precise but im expecting the goats to kid with Star on 9/3 and Willow 25/3.  I have watching (for the 3rd time) Program 3 (of 4) from the smallholder series “Sheep on your Smallholding – The Breeding Flock” I have all my essential lambing equipment ready. As you can see from the pic below, I’ve buckets, latex gloves, bottles, syringes, lambing rope, Iodine, surgical scrubs, colostrum, colostrum tube/feeder, castration rings and pliers. They have also been vaccinated and Ive wormer and the ready too.


The sheep (all two of them) have been brought into the barn now until she lambs. She is not on here own, she has Nigella our cade lamb for 2012 with here.

Poultry hatches are going well, all but a couple of breeds are in lay and producing fertile eggs, once the numbers ramp up we will have hatching eggs available, so if you’re interest in any of our breeds drop me a line 🙂  .We also have 30 Hubbard chicks I ordered from Cyril Bason, they are now 3 weeks old, they are growing fast and will soon be off heat and outside to a free range system 🙂


On Friday we are taking delivery of 4 Oxford Sandy and Blacks weaners from Alder Lodge Farm  this is the last of the rare breeds we want to try before selecting a breed to keep to raise our own. At the moment the front runner is the large black which knocked the Gloucester old spot of the pole position. We’re looking forward to rearing pigs again, its been 3 month since our last went off to the abattoir.

There is plenty more I could bore you with, but ill save that for a rainy day. Watch out for news on twitter for lambing/kidding progress. In the mean time I wish you all well.




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1 year ago

More new life on the farm today, single (very large for pedigree Hebridean) ram lamb.

1 year ago

Authentic Pedigree Hebridean Hogget (Lamb)

Hogget applies to animals that are a year older than conventional lamb. This extra time allows for unhurried growth through pasture grazing.

The attached ... See more

1 year ago

Hoping this short video of the ewes and lambs brings a smile given what's going on.

1 year ago
Photos from Slate House Farm's post

Productive night lambing. Single pedigree Hebridean ram lamb last night, and twin pedigree Hebridean ram lambs at sunrise. All doing well. 6 down 10 to go :)

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