Thursday, 17 September 2015

A glut....

Well, after a lovely long summer holiday with the sproglets, the animals, festivals and socials it's a shock to be back to the school run. The summer has been interesting weather-wise up here on the Shropshire Hills and we've certainly had enough rain, unlike those who live in the south and east of the UK. That said, we've had stunning crops thanks to the warm weather, soft precipitation and, of course, Lou's Poo from the alpaca.

I turned my back for a few days to get set up for Glee at Birmingham's NEC, the UK's Retail Gardening Show and this is the result!! 14 courgette/marrow monsters. It must be 'Ratatouille Time', a favourite mid-winter, nice and hot with extra Tabasco and home-made caraway bread. Yum.

The figs are so plentiful this year as are the raspberries, there's nothing better than a raspberry smoothie for brekkie so I'm squirrelling some of those away in the freezer.

Soon it will be time for tupping so I must pop off today and get some extra lick buckets for the chosen ewes before the gass starts to lose its prime goodnes. Though lambing is hard work, there really is nothing like it on a cool early spring night, I think its the most wonderful experience and one this ex-Londoner is thrilled to be a part of.

Ah well, lots to do, Lou's Poo orders to pack, animals to feed, land to manage; must off, let's chat again soon....

Sunday, 5 July 2015

A normal day..... !!!!

So, it was a normal Saturday. The children got ready for school (Saturday school and sport matches being the norm for us...) The 12yo had a singing exam in a far off place, a mere 50 miles from home after dropping the 10yo to school, so off we went.

Exam went well (fingers crossed for good results) and by 1pm we Archers were all back home.

After a snatched lunch in the baking sun, it was time to see to the sheep. We rounded them up, stuffed them in the stables and brought them out, one by one, to a makeshift race where we each had a job: There were ear tags to clip in, worming injection to administer, feet to check and a spray paint brand to be given to the lambs who would stay on farm as breeding ewes.

It didn't all go to plan; two lambs escaped in the process but were eventually caught and sorted.

By 8pm family Archer had showered, (absolute necessity, in fact; thinking of burning the jeans I had been wearing!!!!) and were sat in the garden, surrounded by cats and chickens, consuming a take-out Chinese.

By 9pm my back insisted I go and lie down and so we all piled into our bed. I conked out, no doubt snoring over Harry Potter film, but all family members seemed quite happy.

This morning a cat, Tabby, woke me at 4.30am... Being as I'd slept from 9pm (a mere 7.5 hours) I was ok about this and duly followed him downstairs to give him biscuits and make myself a coffee. Turns out he was actually telling me (Lassie-style) that the sheep flock was in the garden eating my flaars!

In pjs and wellies I set about rounding up 30 sheep from the garden who had discovered that self-seeded rocket was delicious! Tabby looked on, not interested in auditioning as a sheep dog.

And now I am sat, coffee in hand, so many jobs to do: cleaning, ironing, washing, plant those blasted tumbling toms into the hanging baskets, check on the soon-to-be-mums in the alpaca fields, pack Poo for customers, water garden, pick strawberries before the blackbirds do, mend fence where sheep keep getting through, wash floors and bathrooms, finish a business plan, sort lunch for Grandma visit..... So many jobs, that I can't do any of them.

So I'll just sit awhile and watch the flowers grow.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Alpaca babies...

So, it's hot. The alpaca were sheared last Wednesday and just as well, as Bracken produced a stonking baby boy just three days later. Phew! (JIT: Expert planning obviously...... cough, cough)

Larches Enzo
Larches Enzo

Larches Enzo

He weighed in at 8.9kg and two days later was 9.4kg. Mum is happy and healthy and feeding him beautifully. All we need now is another few trainee Lou's Poo Producers playmates to be born.... keep your fingers crossed please.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Gardening in Pictures

Though the sun has been missing from this spring and the temperatures have therefore been reserved, the garden is still thriving thanks to Lou's Poo, Dried Alpaca Fertilizer and the lush rainfall. 

Our garden (ex paddock c1960 really,) has always been a tadge rough cottage garden; the grass is coarse and the moles have been very naughty. However, the Hubby is now an expert mole-catcher, ably assisted by the cats, and the mower is trying to tame the grass. In order to divert the eye from the rubbish lawn, I planted mini-meadows in wooden raised beds last year filling a metre square with our magical alpaca poo and tons of plants, mainly perennials or re-seeders. Eh voila! this year we have been rewarded by pretty mini-meadows that afford us tons of cut flaars for the house... win, win.

Lou's Poo

Lou's Poo, Dried Alpaca Fertilizer

Lou's Poo, Dried Alpaca Fertilizer

Lou's Poo, Dried Alpaca Fertilizer

Lou's Poo, Dried Alpaca Fertilizer

Lou's Poo, Dried Alpaca Fertilizer

Lou's Poo, Dried Alpaca Fertilizer

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Lambing 2015.. Almost half way

The Archers at The Larches Homes and Garden Products, naturally. Gifts for your homes from our Shropshire smallholding.

So, we have had the cades for 18 days now and though one or two were a likkle ikky for a day or so, I stood for no nonsense and everyone is now fit and well and looking like sumo wrestlers. We have found a need to put prison bars across the stable door where they all live; trying to escape from the little horrors after fueling them, was like a Keystone Cops movie; one in, two out, one between your legs etc. All 8 are eating creep (hard food) and drinking well from the milk bucket, though there is the occasional punch up for the best teat! As soon as I've finished lambing we'll get these ladies out to a paddock during the day, though I'll bring them in at night for warmth.

As you will see from the pic below, these cute lambs are savage. Peoples' coats, jackets, hair are  nibbled viciously and our wellies with the fasteners on the side, are the best chew toys on the market.

The Archers at The Larches Homes and Garden Products, naturally. Gifts for your homes from our Shropshire smallholding.
Vicious creatures....
Have I mentioned that Hubby is a genius? This year we have night vision CTV in the barn that links to an app on the iPad..... (I almost don't know what I said there but it has made life so wonderful.) There are 4 shots of the barn, all covering the various birthing stables. We can sit in front of the fire, even watching TV, only venturing out into the chill or rain to potter to the barn when there is a change in behaviour. It's wonderful.

At day 16 of the cades' life, our pregnant ewes decided to add to the baby ratio. Cocoa, a first-time mum, was first to birth, delivering 3 healthy good-sized lambs, albeit at shift change at 2am. I had to help a little as she presented the first with a head and just one leg. I almost called my neighbour, who is so kind to us, but in the end I trusted my instincts and delivered the lamb safely myself. I helped again with lamb 2, fearing it was dead. After clearing airways and giving it a bit of a swing, it gave a big cough and was with us in the world. Baby 3 was half in and half out when Cocoa decided to go for a walkabout. I held the lamb and out she came. In the end Cocoa had two girls and a boy. She nickered and licked and prodded them towards her milk. An instinctive, loving mum instantly.

The Archers at The Larches Homes and Garden Products, naturally. Gifts for your homes from our Shropshire smallholding.
Cocoa and Triplets 2015

Not so Bino, also a first-time mum, also of triplets. She birthed the first lamb and licked it clean, and as I lashed off to get a coffee, leaving the under-birther (12yo) in charge, Bino instantly expelled a tiny, weeny thing. The under-birther leapt the barrier and cleared the baby's passage way, checked it was OK and then bolted (she's fast) to the house to manically ring the front door bell - our emergency signal.

The tiny lamb was only about 1.5lbs and it was clear that even if she could stand she wouldn't be able to reach the teats. I whipped her up in my arms and looked about for something to wrap her in. 'Open your jacket and fleece' I said to the 12yo. She obliged and we popped the chilly, damp lamb into the warm pouch.

I'm very proud of both of our children, they are brave and kind and it's not many pre-teens who want a soggy, birthing juicy lamb down their jumper. Eventually baby lamb and girl moved inside to the sitting room and fire.

The Archers at The Larches Homes and Garden Products, naturally. Gifts for your homes from our Shropshire smallholding.
Intensive care
It was touch and go with this tiny baby but the 12yo had a steely look in her eye and assured me it would live. We milked mum of colostrum and fed it to all her babies.

In the end, Bino rejected baby number 2, preferring to raise just 1 lamb this first season! A week on and they are all are doing well. Mums and babies are in the field, rejected babies are thriving in the barn. We had to take one of the triplets from Cocoa before we turned her out, as her body conditioning wasn't good enough to care for 3, so now we have three new cades who will join our breeding ewes and live at The Larches full time.

Shrimp, as we've called the tiny one, Bee, her sister and Flopsy, Cocoa's triplet, are all doing well. A friend donated a doggie coat for Shrimp and I'm sorely tempted to get dressed up, pop her into one of those doggie carry bags and take her to lunch, just as the movie/pop stars do with their mini dogs. [I promise I won't.]

The Archers at The Larches Homes and Garden Products, naturally. Gifts for your homes from our Shropshire smallholding.

The Archers at The Larches Homes and Garden Products, naturally. Gifts for your homes from our Shropshire smallholding.
Shrimp and Bee
This morning another set of twins were born at 4am and 5am... I was surplus to need I'm pleased to say. That makes 8 babies, just 1 boy among them. Wish I had that ratio with chickens! I'm tired but happy and there are just four more ewes to go. Fingers crossed.

The Archers at The Larches Homes and Garden Products, naturally. Gifts for your homes from our Shropshire smallholding.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Raising the Baaaaa......

I got the call and immediately mobilized. My friends, proper farmers, had located some cade ewe lambs for me to raise by bottle.

It's not that I specifically want to give myself the added expense in time and finance to raise baby lambs, it's just that by raising lambs by hand, you really bond with them. You get to know quirky personality traits and they get to know you, which seriously helps when they grow up and you need to move or manipulate them. My current ewes were all raised this way and they are the most biddable, loving, want-to-be-petted-like-dogs, creatures ever. It doesn't make commercial sense but it makes sense to me, (and saves me time in the long run.)

My 'big' girls were all raised by bottle and are so easy to manage. I don't have a sheep dog to round my ewes up, so, standing by a gate, I merely call them and they come running from three fields away. I'm the Barbara Woodhouse of sheep!

Dog crate in the boot of my car, my friend and I drove to a commercial farm where barns and sheds, and even a huge wedding marquee, housed extensive sheep maternity wards. Hundreds of sheep, hundreds and hundreds of lambs. In specially created hot boxes, (intensive care) we saw some tiny tiddlers, most seemed to be perking up and the commercial farmer assured us that most would survive to be raised by bottle. My lamb-dealer shook her head and we were off to shop for perkier lambs.

In hay filled pens, cades, (3rd and 4th sibling lambs or orphan lambs,) huddled together in the straw. Some of the long-term inmates, brave individuals, pottered over to sniff us through the bars of the hurdles. Suddenly a lamb was handed to me, then another.... then another. We were urged to follow the farmer who went pen to pen, handing us suitable babies, most taken from their mums who already had two healthy lambs to feed. All looked fit and well, all had clearly had an initial feed of colostrum, the essential protection for any baby.

We made mini trips to the car to pop warm, bleating lambs into the dog crate. I felt sad to have pulled them from their mums but also assured that they were due to be pulled anyway and besides, I'm a lovely mummy too and they were coming to a lovely home.

And so I've decided, in terms of shopping; lamb shopping is the best. You can keep your shoe shopping, the Manolo Blahniks etc and clothes shopping, you can even keep your make-up and jewellry style shopping, lamb shopping is the best.

Fourteen days on, approximately 672 feeds later, (1344 to go) and all 8 babies are drinking happily from the bottle, most have sussed that there is also milk in the free-feed bucket that is bolted to the wall.

Clockwise: Sproglet1, Smudge, Spots and Noche

It's not easy feeding 8 hungry lambs, fortunately I have had a multitude of volunteers and some who didn't volunteer (sorry Spanish guests!) It may not be easy but it is lots of snuggly fun.

As these baby girls will join our other breeding ewes in two years time, we have named them. (Also not very commercial) There is Una, Smudge, Blanca, Squeek, Nibble, Lady, Noche and Spots.  They join our original ewes: Snowy, Moon, Pink, Oreo, Bourbon, Cocoa and Bino.

Our proper lambing from our own ewes begins tomorrow for the next two weeks.... goodbye bed, hello night-shift!

Monday, 2 March 2015

Posh Pasta Purloined....

Benny the panther

I'm reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It is fan-bloody-tastic. (Now my second favourite book after The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx.) The honesty of Wild smacks you right on the nose and while I have few tales to match such a cathartic adventure, I have decided to bear my soul today and hang the consequences: (Probably no guests to the house ever again....)

This morning, after seeing to all the outdoor creatures, trudging through the snow with feed and water, my hat pulled down against the icy wind, I was very happy to be back in my kitchen. The log burner took the edge off the sharp day and a steaming cup of coffee soon had me toasty inside.

Unusually I listened to silence, no Radio 4, no podcast in my ears. That's why I heard the cracking sound.

At first I thought the broken window [daughter's football antics last summer!] in the dairy (the walk-in larder), 'mended' by Hubby, had become 'unmended;' the plastic sheeting crackling in the gale, but no. This noise was intermittent: teeth cracking on something hard?

I rushed to find a cat.

Back at the dairy door with a sleepy Benny, I waited to see if the noise was still a feature. Two seconds later and Benny was out of my arms, pushing the dairy door ajar. He was at once transformed into a panther. I slipped into the room behind him and closed the door.

We worked as a team, he searched an area, looking at me to move a shelf, box or tin. I noticed that a brand new packet of posh pasta, purchased in France and saved for a special occasion, was now open, a hole gnawed in its shiny wrapper. This was war. I slowly pulled out each drawer of the tall, wooden apple store and Benny and I were rewarded with the sight of a long, slender tail disappearing behind a small shelf.

By emptying the shelf of foods and then slowly tipping it towards me, I created a gap. Benny leapt into the void and after a second or two of invisible scrabbling, appeared holding a fat house mouse, its head engulfed within Benny's dark mouth. Jumping to the floor Benny stood by the dairy door. My task as doorman complete, the panther exited into the kitchen proudly, disappearing with his catch through the cat-flap.

Poor mouse but hey-ho, nobody but me gets to open the posh pasta!

To those invited to stay over/to dinner etc any time soon....

  1. I understand if you cancel 
  2. I can promise that we're not having the remains of that pasta for dinner..... mind you, with lots of salted, boiling water..... snigger... 
So, though not as Wild as Cheryl, I feel like a slovenly housewife and that's all I'm revealing for now... 

Saved by a cat. Yay!

Another catch brought in by Benny (from outside this time) in 2010.... ughhh!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Easter Holiday Ideas. Save 20%.

From famine to feast!

There was a definite temperature lift this morning and a smell of spring. Partly this was due to my daily faceful of hay as I fed the pregnant sheep and alpaca at the crack of dawn, but mainly life just felt a tadge different. The chickens have finally started laying and now from a famine, I'm in feast mode desperately thinking of what to cook next! [Never happy, me]

In the greenhouse my dahlia seedlings are happy and alert and throughout the garden, stuff's emerging. Love it. 

In an effort to be organised I've looked at my yearly diary and planned ahead. Circumnavigating lambing and alpaca birthing carefully so as not to cause an issue, I have booked a holiday with the sproglets. Dad, unfortunately will be promoted to Director of Farming while I'm away, though he has kindly declined the role of Head of Poo! (Drat!)

Crabbing at nearby Padstow

So, early summer we three and mates shall depart for our favourite spot in Cornland..... (Cornwall to you) Trevella Park near Newquay. Last time I stayed with Trevella I confess that it was as the guest of the Park in return for my bloggy opinion of their service, facilities and accommodation. It was a dream assignment - we loved it and the kids (aged 12 and 10) have nagged and nagged to return (at our own expense I hasten to add) ever since. 

Wonderful Eden

I've been thinking about what makes Trevella so special and here are my top banana bullet points. 
  • The site feels safe
  • The site has interest for the smallest child to the biggest child (me) with fishing, pond dipping, games room and tons of space to play outdoors. 
  • The caravans were spotless and roomy and warm, with all mod cons. We were last there when it was rainy and muddy and we still had a ball. 
  • During the rapidly approaching two-week school holiday break 3-17 April 2015, Trevella are offering free Park Ranger Adventures, with guests challenged to discover local insects and wildlife, learn to fish and develop their survival skills. 
  • Also this Easter Holidays on offer are night-time moth and bat walks, insect hunts, rockpooling, shelter building and map reading. [Hopefully the little darlings will be exhaused after all that, leaving parents to sip a wine on the balcony in the evening.... ahhh bliss...) 
To watch a fab video of Trevella click here 

NB. Savings of up to 20% are available on Easter holidays for bookings made and paid in full before 28 February. Prices for a four-night midweek break from 6 April start from £196 for up to four people sharing a static caravan.

Contact Trevella to book your own adventure or call 01637 830 308

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Archie. RIP.

When Archie was a boy!

On 10th November 2010 Archie Archer was born. The only chick hatched from a brood of 6 with an adopted broody mum, Archie was our first ever hatchling, one of many but definitely the best.

I'm not sure when he turned into a she, probably when she laid her first egg! We were so ignorant in those days (not so bright nowadays either come to think of it.) She was a miracle in my eyes. She was always bonkers; I'll miss searching for her on warm summer nights when she'd rather climb into the rhododendron to sleep than the boring coop. I always put her to bed, climbing the old gnarled trunks to carry her down from her perch and off to her usual bed, while she gently chirped her annoyance at my ruining her fun. I kept her safe, well fed and happy, till yesterday.

She was a splendid mum and a wonderful nosey-parker, especially when I was gardening. I'll really miss her, as will all our visitors I'm sure.

She'd not felt well for a week or so but every time I thought she may not recover, she rallied. However, I think the combination of the cold, the sharp wind and her underlying ill health got the better of her and she passed away yesterday.  

So long little friend.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Romantic Bedding....Would you like a tiny sample?

Valentines Day is just around the corner and I've noticed a spike in demand for one of my products on the website: the alpaca bedding is flying out the door.... whooooosh!

In particular the alpaca pillows are the most popular with customers choosing to change from standard pillows (filled with feather or synthetics) to luxury alpaca fleece. Turns out there are a range of reasons: Many customers are telling me that they are beginning to have issues with allergies or sore throats in the mornings and are changing to alpaca fibre products due to a friend's recommendation.

I confess I was a tadge skeptical about the hypoallergenic qualities of alpaca fleece so I decided to carry out my very own tip-top scientific experiment to test the theory. First I hunted down three itchy, scratch, allergic-type people.... one a lovely builder, one a gorgeous farmer, one a wonderful (though sneezy) sister. I forced them to place raw (unwashed) alpaca fleece next to their skin to see what would occur....[Evil me!] Boringly nothing happened; no spots, sneezing or itching took place. All were gob-smacked. All are converts. I am convinced.

If you feel you'd like to put the allergy theory to the test contact me at and I'll send you a tiny sample of alpaca fleece that you can keep close to your skin. Maybe an alpaca pillow would suit you or another family member. It's certainly a gorgeous Valentine gift for a loved one.

Other customers are telling me that they are changing to alpaca just for the luxury. Even my 10yo sleeps better with his alpaca pillows because they are firm yet so, so soft.

Happy sleeping.....

Monday, 26 January 2015

Learning to blog again.....

If you don't use it, you lose it.....and it is with these words ringing in my head that I will now attempt to blog a post or is it post a blog?

It's not that I haven't anything to say, anyone who knows me is patently aware that I can't shuddup! No, it's time; it keeps escaping me. In the early days of this blog, when I managed to write quite often I was busy too but it was a different kind of busy. I mended fences, painted walls, created gardens, pruned jungle..... if I didn't do these jobs, no one died, no one really suffered, lives were not desperately affected. Sure, there were a few well-loved chickens pottering around the property that I cared for, a couple of rat-catching cats and two lovely sproglets I was obliged to feed and clothe (kids not cats), but now there are many more mouths to feed: Pregnant ewes and alpaca insist on love, attention and a good feed at least daily. They look at me reproachfully if I'm late and I put myself under pressure daily, trying to keep up with PB of twice daily poo picking! (Sad.)

Spring 2014

2015 should be good for increasing my workload. Our ewes have all been scanned and all are carrying lambs; most are carrying twins, though there are a few triplets on first-time mums so I'm a little nervous for them about that. They are all healthy and so far we have had minimal poor weather with odd days of snow (I may regret that statement,) and the girls are therefore all fit and well. We're also hoping the alpaca have gorgeous cria in late summer.

Fitbit Flex

I recently gained a Fitbit thanks to a change of phone. The Carphone Warehouse in Malvern couldn't have been kinder btw and this free technological bracelet came as part of the package. It's amazing to track your life while merely wearing a bangle (and without committing a crime) the thing interacts with the computer and tells me the steps I've taken during the day (generally 10,000+) how much undisturbed sleep I've had (not enough!) and whether my BMI is any good (not so much!) It tells me that I tend to fall asleep within 6 minutes of hitting the pillow, a record I'm rather proud of, though hubby's less keen if I conk out before him, then snore. #sorryhubby. Anyhoo, I think the 6 mins illustrates that I've generally had a busy day.

My website is doing well with plants, alpaca bedding, knitware and more all selling well. Sales of Lou's Poo, Dried Alpaca Manure exceeded all expectation this Christmas. Merry Chrimbo to you if you got a bag this Chrimbo.

If you'd like an idea on how to use the product, look no further. I've just started sowing seed for this year's flower display and have sown trays of dahlia seed (as I'm too mean to buy or overwinter the corms and I love the fact that I can get many more plants flowering by using seed.)  Dahlia are hungry critters so as soon as I'm ready to pot them into their final containers - probably June, I'll pop in a good handful of Lou's Poo Dried Alpaca Manure to their planting hole, and this will help keep them fed for the season. If they flower well I'll also treat them to a Lou's Poo Tea! Deeeee-lish.

2014 Toms

If you'd like to purchase some Lou's Poo either use the website or toddle off to your nearest retailer. (More retailers joining the throng next month):

BTW If you think you know of a retailer near you who'd like to sell Lou's Poo! Let me know and I'll ask them nicely. Ta.

The Archers at The Larches

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Snowy and Moon

Snowy and Moon