>Westmeath Tasting Plate

>We are members of the Westmeath Slow Food Convivium, and on Friday last at the Hilltown New Music Festival we put put together a Westmeath Tasting Plate to showcase some of the local produce and producers in the County.

Beef from Joe Brady of Lough Owel Organic Farm
Smoked Mackerel from John Rogan of Rogan’s Real Smoked Fish. Tel: 043 76264
Gouda from Mary & Gerry Kelly of Moonshine Organic Cheese
Salad from Kevin Harmon (Castlepollard on Fridays, and Mullingar Farmers Market)
Breads from ‘Just Baked’ 29 Pearse St. Mullingar
All served with a delicious glass of Prosecco from Wines Direct in Mullingar
The Tasting Plates looked really well going out and we served over 70 music goers!
We were very fortunate with the weather, and everyone was able to sit outside and enjoy the atmosphere.
The music got underway later in the evening.
The courtyard or castle keep to the rear of Hilltown House made a fantastic venue for the whole event.

>Fencing – Stage 2

>Another gloriously sunny day, absolutely ideal and so back to the fence. I need to get it finished so the sheep can go back into this field during lambing which is only about 3 weeks away!

The next job is to make an ‘H’ frame at either end of the fence to support the strainer and stop it leaning over when the tension of the fencing wire comes on it. And it’s going to be under quite a lot of tension as you will see later.
Having secured it at one end, the sheep wire is then rolled out along the fence….
…..and attached to the tractor using my homemade sheep wire puller.
I asked a man once how tight the sheep wire should be pulled: “Well”, he said “I have a Massey 165 and I just pull until the front wheels come off the ground and put on the handbrake. That’s usually about  right!” (Health Warning: do not try this at home!) 
That’s the sheep wire up, and the hedge is now safe! I’ll put an electric top strand on later to stop the cattle and horses from leaning over and having a gentle nibble, but that’s for another day!

Close-up of sheep wire strainer as requested by farmersimonk

>Fencing – Stage 1

>Having planted our new hedge we have to put up a new fence to keep the stock away from it. There is nothing sheep like more than a nice tender, green shoot of new hedge even if they’re up to their oxters in grass!

The quad is one of the most versatile machines we have, and having loaded the trailer, I drove along and put out the posts in the line of the new fence.

 We have a tractor-mounted fence post driver, which makes very short work of putting in posts.
With a 7′ straining post driven down to about 4′ at either end of the fence, I run a line of wire between them and having pulled it tight, I have a straight line to follow when hammering in the intermediates.
Within reason, it doesn’t matter what angle the tractor is at because you can adjust the post driver to suit.
Nearly all in!
Included this because I quite like the photo. It also gives an idea of how the machine works, and when you consider that the hammer weighs 380kg it’s not surprising that it will drive even the biggest posts with ease!

>Snow!

>

It is unusual for us to get much snow this side of Christmas in Ireland, but we have made up for it this year. Westmeath has not been hit as hard as some parts of the country and we only have about three inches.
Knock Eyon with a light dusting of snow.
 Once the fields are covered with snow it is important to get feed out to the animals still outside.
Christopher puts out the round feeders and then places a bale of haylage in each for the ewes.
 Iota feeling very small in the snow!
  Iota and Smidgen following the quad tracks up to the bull.
McCabe and two weanling bullocks are still out, and quite happy as long as they have food and water.
Water does become a problem as all the troughs and pipes freeze. McCabe knows how to break through the ice and get to the water, however after a couple of days we have to break out all the ice and refill the trough. For the last fortnight the daytime temperature has not got above freezing, and at night our wall thermometer has read as low as minus 10 Centigrade.
The only outside tap still working is at the front of the house in this wall. Christopher has to bring a barrel in the quad trailer and fill it from this tap,
the water is then decanted by bucket into the various troughs. Alot of  extra work!
Some of the ewes being picturesque.
Knock Eyon, and the ewes eating their haylage.
The weather might be hard work, but it is really beautiful.

>Slow Food Pig & Lamb Roast

>

All the hard work paid off and we had a great day yesterday at the Westmeath Slow Food Convivium Pig & Lamb Roast. Hilltown turned out to be a fantastic venue, many thanks to Fionnula for allowing us to be there.
We supplied the organic lamb, and so it was up early to be at Flood’s Butchers in Oldcastle for 7:30 to collect both the lamb and Morag’s pig ready for TJ Crowe to start roasting.

The lamb ready to go onto the spit, having been hung for 2 weeks.

The lamb on the spit.

And some time later, cooked to perfection and ready to be carved.

TJ Crowe and his assistant preparing the pig

On the spit ready to roast

Spit roast pork with lots of delicious crackling

The scent of pork & lamb is in the air and the crowd are getting hungry!

The meat was served in delicious baps made specially by Louis Peppard of Lilliput Loaf Co.

Following the meal Una gave a talk on The Slow Food Movement, it’s intentions and ideals, and Terra Madre which is the world network of food communities.
She then introduced the 2 speakers for the event.

First up was Morag Newman who gave a very interesting and passionate talk on Rare Breed Pig keeping especially the Mangalitza from Hungary, and keeping pigs on a smallholding.

Next up was Christopher who gave a talk on conversion to organic sheep farming and an insight into what’s involved in producing a lamb.

Eating their roast pork and lamb, and enjoying the talks.

Paddy Keogh from Wines Direct very kindly supplied some very enjoyable Prosecco

Not much was left at the end of the day!

>Lambs

>We check our livestock every morning, to make sure everything is the right way up and that all is well! So this morning I took my camera with me and photographed some of the sheep.

The cold spring followed by a very dry early summer has meant that grass growth was well back on previous years. Consequently lamb growth has been slow, but as you can see they are looking well!


We weighed a few to check on progress. This fine specimen weighs 40kg, but at the moment he’s the only one, with the rest averaging 34 to 35 kgs. So we should have lambs fit in another 3 to 4 weeks!
Our lambs this year are Full Symbol Organic Lambs, and we hope to start selling some of them direct to the consumer ready for the freezer. So if you are interested drop us a line!

>Shearing

>Now that the weather has warmed up it’s time to get the wool off the sheep. Christopher does the shearing himself and does them in batches of 20 to 30.Shearers charge €2 to €2.30 per head, but the fleece is only worth about €1.50, so the price of wool does not even cover the cost of shearing.

Close-up of the handpiece.
Quite a vicious looking piece of equipment, anything that goes between the teeth will be cut. Shearing therefore involves controlling the sheep in such a way that you present a smooth flat surface to the handpiece.




The preferred technique was developed by Godfrey Bowen in the 1950’s. Hand piece held in right hand, left hand keeps the skin tight, feet, legs and left arm manoeuvre the sheep around so that the fleece comes off in one piece ready for rolling and packing into the wool bag.
When all goes according to plan I can shear a sheep in roughly 2 minutes. However I was at the Shearing Championships in Portlaoise yesterday and saw Ivan Scott from Donegal shear 10 sheep in 8mins 2sec. He also holds the World Record for shearing 736 lambs in 8 hours. Quite a feat!

>New Recommendation for Lough Bishop House

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Exciting news on the Bed and Breakfast front!
Following a successful recent independent assessment, a recommendation for our house has now gone up on the Georgina Campbell website.

Follow the link and see what she has to say about us!

>Lambing almost over!

>Just 12 stragglers remain. Actually make that 11 as one is lambing as I write!

We have been extremely fortunate with the weather, just 2 or 3 wet days at the the beginning then dry for the remainder, and at long last the grass has started to grow.

Quad bike and trailer, essential kit for lambing!

The trailer can carry 4 ewes. Their lambs go in the front section so they don’t get squashed.
Then it’s off out to the field.

They have quite a nice view!

>Lambing is progressing nicely!

>I am frantically searching for a piece of wood to touch because a statement like that usually spells disaster!

The improved weather means that grass is starting to grow and the sheep are lambing in warm sunshine, an ideal start for young lambs. Long may it continue.
We lamb our sheep outdoors. I drive round the lambing field on the quad bike every 2 to 3 hours during the day depending on how things are progressing. The last round of the day is at 10pm. I do one check during the night at 3am, and then start again at 7 or sometimes 8 if I don’t hear the alarm and Helen doesn’t wake me!

Any ewe that has lambed is brought inside to an individual pen where she can bond properly with her lambs. This means that I can check her for milk and ensure that her lambs get adequate amounts of colostrum. We also spray the lambs navel with an iodine solution to help it dry up quickly.

A warm bed on a cold morning
After about 24 hours inside the ewes and lambs go out to fresh grass. We always put numbers on so that we know which lambs go with which ewes, if there is a mix up or if something goes wrong.
Who ever said sheep are stupid? The above photo is not an uncommon sight, especially on a cold morning or, if it is very windy, you will often find lambs tucked in tight against the leeward side of their mother, warm as toast and completely sheltered.
Right, it’s 11pm and time for some shut-eye before the 3 o’clock alarm.
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