The dogs had a fabulous Christmas when the heating pipe that carried hot water around the house sprung a leak right under their kennel. I couldn’t understand why three dogs with little affection for each other were unusually crowded into the same dog bed. It got even better once the leak was found - the kennel was dug up and all three dogs, after a quick bath, were moved into the house.
And the happiest person in the family was naturally our granddaughter, Summer, who with three wagging tails to chase, three lots of face licks to avoid, and three sets of ears and eyes to check, it was constant activity - and luckily it kept little Summer warm, as no heating in the house for Christmas and New Year meant constant activity was essential! And if the dogs ever got boring - like when they slept - Elspeth the sheep was always happy to join the party.
Elspeth joining in
Sadly, the dog on wheels which was kindly lent to us never got out of the starting blocks.
But how lucky were we to all be together, with plans cancelled home was the only place to be. Hearing of so many families spending so much time apart, we never stopped appreciating the unexpected bonus of the moment. And another bonus of a small quiet Christmas was a family walk on Christmas Day. With staff unable to get away, I even had help on the animal feeding roster for the first time.
My shifts on the farm were made more interesting with my fourteen-month old helper. Maybe it was the pounding from the dogs in the morning that toughened her up, but Summer seemed totally at ease with llamas feeding from her pockets, cows helping themselves to hay from her wheelbarrow, deafening pigs demanding food and chickens at head height.
Despite the "training" before the impending visit, not all the team covered themselves in glory - my poor daughter was nipped by one of the mini mangoes, I have never trusted animals with black eyes.
Rolo, the Shetland pony, was far too energetic. Luckily, the more Rolo bucked and shook, the happier the jockey was.
Rolo bonding with his jockey
Rolo is now coming with me on the dog walks, escorted by his two sheep friends, Harry and Elspeth. It's quite a crowd, but important to get everyone walking in a straight line and in control.
With the white hyacinths turning brown around the edges and the 'Happy Birthday' balloon sinking nearer to the floor, it is definitely time to draw a line under the holiday and start regrouping. We are missing the constant family chat, though - and sad to see the little socks still in the washing.
My daughter quite rightly wanted to know what my goals were for our third lockdown - although I never notice a lot of spare time, it's amazing how you can still fill your day with less to do. But having watched the speed with which Summer demolished three sausages for her breakfast, I have decided to start a sausage business. With restaurants closed, there is little appetite for rare breed pork, so I am going to put the whole pig into the sausage and hopefully make enough money to pay for the pig feed - it would give me purpose to do what we enjoy doing, which is having pigs at Swinithwaite - more on this later.
Continuing with pigs, we sadly had to let Sherlock, our boar, go. He has produced hundreds of wonderful piglets - and his last litter due at the end of this month will produce our next boar, so his line will continue. Manfully, Fluffy, our new white boar, will fill the breeding duty schedule in the meantime.
The next job on the farm will be to wean Locky, the young Highland calf, from her mother, Blondie. When this is done at the right time, the mother cow is very happy to see her calf going so she has a few weeks to build up strength and condition before the next calf is born.
Highland herd together
And with the breeding cycles continuing, the scanning of the sheep starts this week. With ever more progressive technology, we even have an aerial on the cow sheds that tells the farmer when his cows are cycling and potentially not in calf. The cow wears a sensor on her ankle that picks up increases in her activity levels - like a Fitbit® for cows - and these signal when she is in heat - hopefully this technology is kept to the cow sheds!
Aerial on the cow shed
Cows with ankle technology
We have enjoyed watching the filming of Anne Boleyn at Bolton Castle from across the dale, with marquees and bright lights. There were hopefully some heaters, too, as the setting will have been testing for the actors. We look forward to viewing the finished product this Autumn. We have been keeping warm with Fairhurst's at Berry’s hot chocolate takeouts - no marshmallows with the calorie counting. The farm shop is doing a good trade with produce and ready meals, which are delivered locally.
We continue to work with the National Park to plan and organise some farm open days when restrictions are lifted and keep our farm experiences relevant and informative. It’s difficult to be bored on a farm, but the aim is to hit the ground running when we are released and jabbed and safe again.