As we're coming to the end of the month, I can't help but reflect how quickly it's flown by, not least because I turned 21 but in the shortest month of the year, just so much has happened. To start with, we kicked off February with that all too familiar period of snow that is starting to become a staple of our yearly calendar. This year, however, it didn't take as many people by surprise and was over before you could load up your sledges and spend days behaving like a hooligan. Our favourite trick here is to attach a bodyboard to the back of the Defender and thrash it about the country lanes here, as we normally get a pretty thick coating, being in the foothills of Haldon Forest.
Once the snow had cleared, we finally had a chance to re-capture the infamous ram - "Kenton" as we called him or "E-type" as he was known by his breeders. The cheeky bugger had become quite the escape artist since we got him. I kid you not, within 2 days of receiving him, he'd decided he'd had enough of our girls and proceeded to vault the fence into the neighbouring field containing over 100 Ewes. It was clear that Kenton wasn't happy with a mere 2 girls but rather preferred to play the field and not be tied down, poor Frankie and Fenella. It was a stroke of luck that all the Ewes in that field were in fact already pregnant and so had in no interest in Kenton's flirting, in a way I felt sorry for him but it was amusing to watch him try. A few days later, farmer Tom did manage to track him down and return him, however, this success was short lived as Kenton decided that no farmer was going to keep him at bay and the very next day or perhaps at some point during the night, as not to alert us, he slipped over into the next field again. I spent the whole of the next day trying to herd him back using my motorbike but this was to absolutely no avail and Kenton, much to his smug delight, made me look like a complete amateur, which in fact I am, but still. It was at that point that we decided to leave him be and get him back when he was ready.
From then on it seemed that the next few weeks were fraught with sheep episodes, that reassured our status as a motley crew and added to the already legendary list of tales Frankie and Fenella are beginning to rack up. It started with a visit from the vet. Fenella needed a vaccination, this time we'd managed to actually trap them into the small enclosure that's fenced off from the rest of the field that was supposed to save us the embarrassment of trying to chase them in a big open field and failing so miserably as we have done on countless occasions, see we are in fact learning! Our plan was pretty airtight or so we thought, I would go into the enclosure and because they had less space to run, catch both of them with relative ease. To begin with, all was going according to plan and I was feeling rather pleased with myself. I'd manage to capture both sheep within 2 minutes and they'd both been vaccinated with no problems. It was just as we were leaving the enclosure that it all went pear-shaped. Frankie being the stubborn ox that she is decided that she couldn't let me have just this one small victory and proceeded to do a 180 and vault over the other fence and charge to freedom down the front drive. I was in complete shock for a second as I have never seen a sheep jump like this, I mean this fence is a good metre to a metre and a half high and Frankie had just vaulted it like she was an Olympic high jumper for God's sake. As if that wasn't enough she decided to have a little fun with me and make me sprint after her down the entire length of the front drive, each time I got close, she would power away from me, I could feel her mocking me, it was then I realised I need to do a few more sprint sessions! Thankfully the end gate was closed, preventing her from going out onto the road, but what a day that turned out to be.
Now you'd think that we'd have had enough adventures with sheep for one month, but no. Then came the mystery of sheep number 36. It was a normal afternoon when mum and I were working on the new website in the office and happened to look out the window to see a lone sheep and her lamb sunbathing quite happily, without a care in the world, slap bang in the middle of our front drive. It seemed they'd managed to find a hole in the hedge and decided that they wanted exclusive rights to this new found paradise of untouched grass, it was their little secret so we allowed them to enjoy it for a while. Over the next few days, they would pop back over and could be found casually strolling up and down the vineyard or in the orchard. Sienna would come in and say, "you know there's a sheep just in the garden" to which we'd reply, "Is it number 36" already knowing the answer, she seemed a little surprised and amused that this sheep could already have its own reputation. The lamb was very cute, Sienna fell in love instantly, it was hard not too, watching it relaxing in the sun. I have to say, it crossed our minds to capture and steal this lamb to keep for ourselves as we'd become attached to it, but don't tell farmer Tom that. Needless to say, we were almost a little bit sad when he came by and took them home, who knows when we'll see the now renowned sheep number 36 and her lamb again.
The middle of February brought with it a huge new experience for us as it was time to tackle the daunting task of winter pruning. You see pruning 15,000 individual vines seemed like an impossible task to us and not to say just a little bit tedious. Thankfully we hired in some professional help in the form of a Romanian team. Whilst they spoke little to no English, we got by on pointing, hand gestures and nodding. One of my favourite quotes from the movie Madagascar encapsulated it perfectly "Just smile and wave boys, smile and wave". I couldn't help but think of this line every time I tried to converse with them, so if you're reading this, guys, I apologise if it seemed I was smirking at you, I was in fact just laughing at my own jokes as I often do on the count of no one else appreciating just how good they are ... We kept them happy with a lovely fresh cake a day from the farm shop down the road and from what I can tell, this was much appreciated, the lack of cake the following morning would certainly suggest so.
This month also turned out to be the one where both Mum and I finally lost our minds completely and decided we're going to build a full-blown farm here. It's even crazier when you factor in that it took us all of one gloriously entertaining day to come to this decision as we are clearly such experts on keeping animals... how hard can it be. It started with a visit to a pig farm, yes you heard me pigs! Not just any pigs though, Tamworth pigs! I've always had a little soft spot for pigs and this was confirmed when we got to see all these Tamworth piglets running around, so happy and free it was a really liberating moment. Even the bigger sows, which Mum had had concerns about were loveably charming, they were playful and gentle despite their size. I love how a pig’s personality really shines through all on its own. Mum particularly liked the fact that they didn't smell, in fact, she described them as smelling positively pleasant. This was down to them being fed lots of fruit, prunes and dates etc... although I wouldn't have described them as smelling sweet, think she might be dreaming a little there. But the idea of feeding them fruit and veg, like the apples from our orchard, is one that we both fell in love with.
The Estate's expansion plan's continued further that day with our second farm visit, this time to see some Pygmy goats. I think we were there all of 30 seconds before Sienna said: "We're having some". They were incredibly funny, bouncing around like frogs at a disco and don't even get Sienna started on how cute the babies were, enough to bring even a grown man to sighs of affection.
To sum up our lunacy, we're expanding with pigs, Pygmy goats and some more of our beloved Swiss Valais Blacknose, which were recently named "the cutest sheep in the world" on This Farming LIfe. We have two more on order from the guys at Halsbury Valais Black nose and with a bit of luck, Frankie may be pregnant, either we're overfeeding her or she's carrying some precious cargo as she's looking a little bit porky at the moment. Fingers crossed we'll be hearing the sound of newborn lambs soon! Perhaps Kenton did his job after all. If not, then I'm putting Frankie on a serious diet!
Finally, to round off this month's newsletter, I'm pleased to announce that we concluded the month with collecting 700 new bottles of Hardcore Cider, the results of an excellent harvest last year. We've made it slightly sweeter than last year, without losing that iconic no-nonsense apple taste. Look out for it at some of the shows we'll be doing this year and of course, you can get hold of some online from our new website that will hopefully be up and running by the time this is released. On that note, we're going to have a little party to celebrate and enjoy this stunning weather in the last few days of February so cheers to that!
Cheers, until next time.
The Team at Kenton Park Estate.