Simple? Course it is ....
PUBLISHED: 13:00 06 March 2013 | UPDATED: 08:40 28 March 2014
Mar 6, 2013: Plenty of advice in CS is aimed at the more experienced smallholder, but for the beginner it can be tricky working out what you want to do when you have never even held a chicken or met a pig! Abigail Price joined a Smallholder Taster Day at Mumbleys Farmhouse in South Gloucestershire to find out more…
I was a little anxious when I reached the delightful backwater of Mumbleys Farmhouse for my Smallholder Taster Day. What if the other students were so raw-keen and clued up on all the current smallholding issues that I would be left out? Despite growing up deep in the heart of rural Wales, I lack any smallholding sense! My anxiety, however, was for nothing.
Over tea and biscuits, I discovered that the others were all in the same position, wanting to know where to start – one couple were setting up their smallholding in mid Wales, near where I had grown up, and another woman was hoping to set hers up in France, whilst others were just dreaming and wondering if it could ever be reality.
The day started in the extraordinary strawbale classroom which Jules Moore (proprietor and our teacher for the day) explained they had built as part of a course in 2011. First off, each of us explained what are plans were and what we wanted to get out of the day. We discussed ways of making a smallholding pay, what to consider when buying land and how to make the most of that land when you get it.
Before long we were out of the classroom to meet the animals. We started with chickens, ducks, geese (and some gorgeous goslings) and learnt about the different needs of each and how to handle them.
Next up were the bees. We put our bee suits on and stood in a small, sheltered apiary beside the classroom. The bees were making the most of the good weather and the air was full of them, rushing back and forth. This can seem quite daunting, but the bee suit provided perfect protection and they were not bothered by our presence, even when we opened up a hive and lifted out a frame of honey covered in bees!
Lunch was next and it was exquisite. Mumbley’s chef, Helen Tucker, had prepared a banquet for us all. As Jules said: “We want you to have a delicious meal. Many of the people who come on these courses have had them given to them as gifts. It is a special day out and the lunch is a very important part of this.”
What did we have? Oh, freshly picked salad, homemade pesto mayonnaise, frittata made from the hens’ eggs, laden with camembert and local cheddar, homegrown ham, just-baked bread rolls…. the list goes on. Pudding was a tough choice between a chocolate lemon tart and rhubarb fool, both made that morning by Helen, so Jules encouraged us to have both!
Then we had to get back to work and the aptly named ‘Boring Bit’. There is a lot of red tape involved in keeping the larger animals, but it was also necessary and Jules knows a great deal about this sort of thing. She answered questions articulately and humorously and made it all seem quite easy.
And then it was back to the good stuff – the rest of the afternoon was spent meeting the sheep, cattle and pigs. Along the way we chatted about their various needs and Jules gave us lots of hints and tips and pointed out lots of things you just would never think of if you hadn’t been told. Jules specialises in native and rare breeds, which she pointed out are much more suited to the smallholder way of life than the more modern animals developed for large production farms. We learned so much about each of their habits just from being in there in the field with them, and they all had different personalities.
And then it was 4pm and new friends swapped email addresses and promised to keep each other up-to-date with their progress in smallholding.
Time to hit the motorway at Bristol at rush hour on a Friday afternoon and crawl all the way back home to Devon. Still, my mind was full of plans on how I could make the smallholder dream come true …
What do you learn?
Spending time in the company of the animals was invaluable and the most amazing part of the course. It gave us all the chance to see how they behave, what sort of accommodation, feed, and equipment they need and, most importantly, have a go at handling them. The pigs were the highlight of everyone’s day – such characters and very cheeky! We learnt about land requirements and how to get the most out of what you have, whilst giving the animals the most natural environment possible. We discussed the different breeds of each one and their advantages and disadvantages and we talked about practical matters such as transport, abattoirs and butchers. There is a lot to cover and so much you would never have thought of before. We went away feeling much more confident and sure of what we wanted to do and I would urge anyone thinking of starting a smallholding to go on a course first.
Does it pay?
Keeping a smallholding on its own will not make you money, and it is important to find a particular niche to help you to survive financially.
Course tutor Jules Moore said: “You can specialise in a number of things i.e. your own food, a particular animal, holiday lets. For me, it was teaching. People were always asking me questions about how smallholding works so, as I have teaching experience, I decided that I could combine these skills with telling people about smallholding.
“I am lucky enough to have the space here to have a classroom, so we ran a strawbale building course to get it built. That was quite an experience in itself!”
Fellow student on the course, Julie Homer, is hoping to set up a smallholding in France – and will use her new space to offer log cabin holiday lets and a refuge for injured Forces personnel.
Julie, who has raised money for Forces charities for a number of years, was inspired to provide a place of rest and healing after a son’s friend was wounded in battle.
She said: “I want to relocate to the Limousin area of France to set up a smallholding with a few log cabins. Some will be for holiday makers but one will be fully wheelchair accessible and offered to injured Forces personnel at a discount.”
*Also see the recent series in CS on Making Money from Your Smallholding.
A range of smallholding courses are offered by CS writer Jules Moore at Mumbleys Farmhouse in South Gloucestershire. See www.mumbleysfarmhouse.co.uk call 01454 415296
or email email@example.com
Other courses are advertised at the back of the magazine.