Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas is coming and so are lots of Woolly Shepherd Courses! For example.....
15th Jan Hedgelaying for beginners 2 places left on the course with expert hedgelayer and qualified instructor Pete Grainger. 10 - 4 £35
18th Jan Dyeing for the terrified! Come and learn how to dye wool with natural and chemical dyes in the microwave, on the stove and in the oven! 2 places available. 10 - 4 £40
20th Jan Lambing and care of ewes and lambs, Get involved with lambing on the Blackdown Hills at the farm of Nick and Ruth Strange, especially aimed at beginners. 3 places available .10 - 4 £35
27th Jan Hedgelaying for ladies, an introduction to hedgelaying with a qualified LANTRA lady instructor!Come on girls show'em what your made of! 5 places available. 10 - 4 £35
Also courses in peg loom rug making, sausage making, permaculture, green woodwork, coppicing etc
Check out the website for more details
I was recently featured in Permaculture magazine in an article called 'Not so woolly thinking' written by Stuart Anderson of Permaculture in Brittany blog fame. Check out the article at the link on the blog and keep an eye on Stuarts blog......its very interesting!
We are spending New Year at the house in Brittany where the shutters will be going on and I will be taking a load more photos to put on the houses very own blog
It is now available to book for the spring and summer, its got all mod cons, having been beautifilly and sympathetically restored by a craftsman and has lime plaster walls, comfy sofa, lovely beds, amazing little shower room, and is situated 50 metres from the worlds best boulangerie and about 5km from the nicest restaurant in the area. Its £20 per night per group to book and sleeps up to 4........thats better rates than camping! Easter and witsun weeks are £250 per week and Summer £300 per week..........bargain!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Well its been wet and very windy and even the sheep are looking soggy!
We have had a garden wall taken down after part collapsed and this was done by our latest Wwoofer Mohammad from Birmingham who widened our cultural awareness being a devout muslim
I have been painting at my house in France
and had a very rough crossing both there and back when the journey took 20 hours! We spent the night using the Brittany ferries ferry 'Bretagne' as a floating hotel but whilst in Brittany visited some lovely people called Jenny and Mick Joseph who have a farm at Plouye called Le Coty
We also finished painting the walls and took delivery of a cord of firewood from a very nice local farmer. We will now be warm for our new year break.
Courses are booking up fast for the new year with hedgelaying for beginners and lambing for beginner shepherds proving very popular, check the website for more details of Woolly shepherd courses.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A great weekend! I spent all day Saturday and Sunday as a demonstrator of crafts at the Rural Living Show in Taunton. I sold quite a bit of wool, sari silk and several pegloom rugs and lambskins. I also took orders for fleeces, courses and even an order for some dyed wool for tying fish flys! Many people were interested in ordering pegloom rugs and I hope these become a reality. I chatted to so many people and renewed aquaintance with some I had not seen for years, all in all very enjoyable. I also met the mayor and mayoress.....!

Hedgelaying is now in full swing and we have several courses in the pipeline. The first of which is hedgelaying for beginners on the 15th January. If you want to come on theis course its £35 for the day..........very good value, even if I say so myself.
The pictures are of a Blackdown Hills hedge and from a hedgelaying course held for contractors last year

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Busy busy! Last weekend I attended the Hestercombe Christmas fair. What an event! Us stall holders had to be there Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday.....exhausting! But it was really good as I sold lots of wool, sari silk, banana silk and lambskins. I also took 5 bookings for peg loom courses. I was next to a stall called Plum duff & Stuff which sold home made Christmas puds......I can vouch for how good they are having sampled it liberally.
Yesterday I and several others of our group of women trainers GO12
were launched as part of the Women in Enterprise event in Taunton. I now have lots of enquiries about hedgelaying for beginners and hedgelaying for ladies as I am a trained and qualified hedgelaying trainer! My husband also teaches it as well as laying lots as part of his business. To book a course take a look at my website The Woolly Shepherd
I also sold three crossbred ewes today to a fellow smallholder who bought over a consignment of lambskins from his smallholder neighbour who raises all sorts of breeds of sheep and buys in others for rearing for the freezer. As a result he has a n amazing assortment of lambskins all killed and tanned in Somerset. I sell these along with those from my own lambs on line and at various markets and fairs....I am at the Rural Living Show just outside Taunton this weekend so do come along and say hello and browse through the skins they start from £45
Here are a selection!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

And introducing Derek!! Here he is along with his new wife! He is about the height of my knees and very pleased with himself! He and the 3 others have all settled in well and have 2 small paddocks and a shelter for their comfort.............very pampered this as the only time my other sheep have a shelter is when lambing!
The other picture is some of my Dorset Down flock with Henry the ram ( re christened Gordon Ramsey by the family adjoining the field!) showing his raddle harness. All ewes now have blue behinds and he now has a green crayon attached so now we keep an eye out for anyone who is served a second time.
The weather here was warm and wet.....until last week when it suddenly froze, a bit of a shock but means beautiful days with wonderful autumn colours.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ouessant ram arrives!..........known as Derek he is very small, black with an impressive amount of both horn and wool for his size! I am now waiting for some sunshine to take his picture and post it on the blog..........!
Meanwhile as autumn continues to be rather warm I have just collected some veg from the plot. It looked so nice I thought you may like to see it, and theres plenty more despite the polytunnel looking a bit bedraglled nowand the beans having seen better days! We grow a lot despite being nearly 1000ft up on a north facing scarp! Also in the picture are todays eggs and some of the incredible amount of Apple and Blackberry jam and apple chutney we made, all with free fruit!
Yeaterday the rams were issued with raddle harnesses, (the big rams that is not little Derek) and now Stan the Shetland has a red crayon on his chest, Henry the senior Dorset Down a Blue and Harold the Junior Dorset Down a green. They have now been released with their respective hareems! The idea of the harness is that I can tell who has been served and when, I write this down and in 3 weeks time (the ewes oestrus cycle is 3 weeks) I change colours and wait to see if the ewes have held to the first service or have returned in season.After another 3 weeks I then change colour again and anyone with 3 colours on their bum is probably not fertile and will probably be culled. The rams stay in with the ewes for 10 weeks and then go back to their batchelor pad behind the local Suzuki garage!
Last Saturday we had a pegloom rug course here and some lovely items were started and either finished or taken away to finish at home. We have some super courses coming up so check out the Woolly Shepherd website for details!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Well I did say there would be a picture of our new Wwoof caravan and here it is! Its now a nice green colour and is situated at the top of our field with a superb view down to the woods. Facilities include a tiny woodburner, properly installed, a bed,a couch and cooking facilities, although I cannot see any reason for cooking as we feed our wwoofers very well!
We now have a large old shed base excavated ready for the rebuilding of a potting shed in straw bales.....a project for next year, the pig area cleared and refenced and lots of wool washed and carded ready for numerous projects such as wool stuffed cushions and pegloom rugs.
We are planning an introduction to permaculture course with qualified tutors for the new year so if you want to book watch this space for details!

Monday, September 18, 2006

The world is going a bit mad at the moment! I am being invited to have a stall at so many Christmas Fairs at the moment that I'm not sure if I'm coming or going! I'm starting a line in wool filled quilts for babies and will be interested to see how they sell. I am also going to be doing a lot of peg loom rug classes in the next few weeks and will be selling peg looms on line.
On the course front there will be some very interesting courses coming up so watch my website The Woolly Shepherd for more details. I have had several people request Permaculture courses and so has the local Smallholders association and to that end I am hoping to go on a Permaculture design course in the new year to enable me to teach the subject.
Our Wwoofers have been painting an old caravan that we have been given for accomodation......picture to follow!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Smallholding for beginners course - We ran another of the popular smallholding for beginners courses yesterday and whilst hectic it was very good! We had a tour of our woodland led by Pete and covering woodland management, fencing, hedges etc and talked about breeds of livestock, legislation and regs etc. We then visited Beech Hayes Farm run by the amazing Nick and Ruth Strange. They are full time small farmers with beef, sheep, pigs, poultry and assortment of other stuff! They sell all their produce direct from the farm or through the farmers markets. They work VERY hard! Tea and Somerset apple cake rounded off the day!
In the evening our shearer came to shear this years lambs before the weather gets too cold. This helps them grow and also protects against late fly strike this year and helps against early fly strike next year.
Needless to say we all slept well!
Picture is Ruth and Nick Strange

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Busy week this week! We have a family staying who are wwoofing around the country with children aged 2 and 4 They have been all over the UK since March. Also staying has been a young man wwoofing his way by bike from Shropshire to Lands end! They have so far done loads of vegetation clearing, washed loads of fleeces ready for rug making and dyeing, balled loads of balls of wool andpicked 3kgs of blackberries and we have all scrumped several kilos of apples and plums from an abandoned orchard.........we now have several years worth of jam and all for free!
The Ouessant sheep have been booked from their breeders and a ram will be arriving in 2 weeks and a ewe lamb, a shearling (one year old ewe) and a wether (castrated male) will be arriving in October. Also I have secured a supply of over 20 fleeces from Ouessants for next year. The picture shows some Ouessant sheep with a Wensleydale which is one of the larger sheep breeds.....certainly gives an indication of size!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Picked up 14 Zwartble fleeces today plus 2 sacks of Zwartble lamb fleece. This wool is very fine but being black/brown the British wool marketing board will pay the flock owner a pittance....probably less than 20p per kg for it. I pay a little more and will be using it for felt and rug making, I will post a picture of a rug when I have made one so you can see what it looks like. I am making some coloured peg loom cushion covers as well today having been dyeing Grey face Dartmoor and alpaca fleece pink and orange!
When we were shearing we had photographer Anita Corbin from Corbin O'Grady studios spend several hours photographing me and the sheep for a 'women in non traditional industries exhibition' sponsored by Somerset strategic partnership. I have just got to see them and the picture is one that she took.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Today I finished compiling the September - October edition of the Somerset Smallholders Association newsletter and started thinking about buying some paint and some more sheep both with a Brittany connection.....Confused! Well I have bought a small house in Berrien a pretty little village in the heart of the Armorique National Park near the lovely little town of Huelgoat. It is being totally renovated at the moment and will be brand new from the roof down when finished but keeping features like its traditional Breton fireplace and stonework. I am looking forward to the occaisional break as its only 30 minutes from Roscoff. I am also looking to buy some rare Breton sheep called Ouessant sheep which are very tiny but produce an amazing amount of fleece for their size. They originate from the Isle de Ouessant off the west coast of Brittany. The picture is my windows but not yet a new door taken in March.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Spent last weekend at the Beautiful Days festivalwhich was wicked!The Levellers are indeed the ultimate festival band and with a fantastic appearance of Seth Lakeman on stage with them made for a magic finale. Bertie who is 13 and an avid juggler and practitioner of poi, devil sticks and staff took part in the fire show during the Saturday evening.
This was our annual holiday....we don't camp there with the crowds but go home ( about 12 miles) to sleep at night and check the animals each morning before returning! The festival is held in the wonderful setting of Escot Park near Honiton. The photo is of the 2005 Beautiful Days festival which we also went to.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I will be sorting out sheep today and moving some of them to new grazing. I will also be sorting out the ewes and deciding who will be sold in the cull ewes at market, always a hard and sad decision but I cannot keep ewes that are so old they have no teeth nor those that either did not get in lamb last time or who are unlikely to get in lamb this year.
Pete is coming back from visiting friends today with a new welder to re do our charcoal burner which is made out of an old domestic oil tank. We have another tank to join it in our woodland when finished. The picture is of the charcoal burner just before shutting it down to cook.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Thought you might like to see a few of my sheep!
The ones that are white with brown faces are Dorset Downs and the larger group are some of my Shetlands along with a few crossbreds.
The black and white together are crossbred lambs.......aaaah!

What a weekend!
I ran a meat preserving course over the weekend with Simon and Nicky Gibbard who have a nice herd of large black pigs on Exmoor.
Using large black meat we cured bacon by the quick and the traditional methods, built a smoker outside and smoked some. We also made sausages by the dozen in a variety of flavours by machine and by hand. While the smoker was going cheese and eggs were smoked too.
On the second day we all cooked and tased some and delicious it was too! The participants had a great time as can be seen from the photo!
Courses on meat preserving and sausage making also a cooking course from 'pig to plate' will follow over the winter. Keep an eye on my website The Woolly Shepherd for more details

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I have had a very exciting week! I have a lot of the wool from my sheep contract spun into knitting wool which I hand dye and then sell through farmers markets and craft markets locally. A picture of my stall will be coming soon! I also take in a lot of wool from other speciality producers locally who do not have a market for their wool and often burn or bury it!! I then wash and sometimes dye the fleece and make pegloom rugs and cushion covers. Well on Sunday whilst selling wool on my stall at the Westcountry heat of the 'Village Show' a new programme being filmed by the BBC, Alan Titchmarsh, who was presenting it, came over to my stall and bought a wool filled cushion!!...........I can now say by 'royal appointment'!!!! He was very nice, I was very shocked!
I have also been asked to stock not one but two speciality wool shops so its a good week for local produce.
We have a courgette mountain on the veg plot at the moment and the kale looks good too. We are Wwoof hosts and have some nice German students staying at the moment and we have put up the frame of a large second hand polytunnel, which will be covered to half way down the sides with white polythene and the bottom bit will be a green mesh for ventilation. This will be used as winter quarters for some of the sheep who will be lambing early.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Hello all and welcome to my new blog page
My name is Val Grainger and together with my husband Pete and sons George, Bertie and Charlie live on a 9 acre holding on the northern scarp of the Blackdown Hills in Somerset, of which 7 is ancient broadleaf woodland, we also rent about 25 acres of grassland nearby. I keep pedigree sheep, mainly Dorset Downs, and also a small flock of Shetland sheep renowned for their fine wool.
Both these breeds of sheep are rare or minority and the Dorset Down is the traditional breed of this area of Somerset and was once numerous with big flocks grazing the hills, downs and valleys of Dorset and southern Somerset, often penned at night into traditional wattle hurdle sheepfolds and watched over by a shepherd with his traditional cast iron hut. We also grow veg which is a challenge as we are 300ft up on a north facing slope of greensand becoming clay further down!We keep hens for eggs and from time to time raise pigs for pork and bacon. We try to run our holding along permaculture principles.
Pete is a qualified tree surgeon and also an ecologist, he runs a countryside management business. I run my business The Woolly Shepherd from home, check my website for more details Woolly Shepherd