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