The lure of livestock
PUBLISHED: 08:11 28 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:41 28 March 2014
Dec 11, 2013: Kate Humble talks about her smallholding journey
It quickly became apparent that keeping livestock is not without its pitfalls, the main one being that, once the initial leap has been taken and you have a few chickens pecking happily around your kitchen door, it is almost impossible to stop there. Despite Ludo’s protestations that neither the hens nor we were going to benefit from a cockerel, it seemed churlish to turn one down, particularly as he was being offered for free.
Paul lives across the other side of the valley and had been recommended as someone who could help us fix up a dilapidated barn and patch up some of the fencing. Quietly spoken, endlessly practical and resourceful, Paul is also, I told Ludo, almost breathless with admiration, ‘a smallholder!’ With his horticulturalist wife Kim, they had carved a prolific vegetable patch into their rugged square of land and also kept chickens, geese, a couple of pigs and some goats. “I’ve got two cockerels that have started fighting,” Paul said. “I can’t keep them together anymore, but apart they’ve both got lovely temperaments. Would you like the youngster?”
He brought him along the following day. With his bright red comb, fearsome spurs and fountain of tail feathers he looked like a poster boy for the French rugby team. We called him Roger, and, as Paul promised, he proved to be a true gentleman and our three hens took to him immediately.
It seemed equally churlish to turn down Paul’s offer of a gander and a couple of geese, particularly as it was coming to the time when they would start laying. “They tend to start around Valentine’s Day,” said Paul, as we watched the gander – or Gary, as I decided he was called – and his two ladies take stock of their surroundings. “I’ve never eaten a goose egg,” I confessed. “What are they like?” “Best for baking, really,” said Paul. “Kim says they make the best Victoria sponge.” Ludo was unimpressed. All he could see was more work and more expense for very little gain. “They sell goose eggs in Selfridges for six quid each!” I said. Ludo gave me an arch look. “Is there a branch of Selfridges planned for Chepstow?” I had to concede that, as far as I knew, there wasn’t, but Gary stayed and we had our first goose egg just a week after Valentine’s Day.
“That’s it now,” said Ludo, firmly. “No more animals.” And I agreed, but that was before we went to have supper with our new neighbours. We had moved to Monmouthshire knowing no-one and were delighted to accept an invitation from the family who live 20 minutes walk away across the fields. It was the perfect kitchen supper, with a few other locals and a host who would never let a wine glass get anywhere close to empty. Before we knew it, it was 2am, and we reeled out of the door, realising, as we got half way across the first field, that we had no torch and weren’t entirely sure of the route home.
The next morning, as I was trying to drown out the effects of too much wine with a third mug of tea, a text message bleeped through. ‘Lovely to meet you last night! I’ve phoned my friend about the piglets and she’s reserved you two. She’s around at the weekend so you can pick them up then. See you soon!’ I gulped. Piglets? Had I really agreed to buy two piglets? I had no recollection of the conversation whatsoever and even less idea of how I was going to break the news to Ludo…
Kate's website is: www.humblebynature.com
Kate's book about her smallholding life, Humble by Nature, is published by Headline, priced £16.99