Muriel Naughton with her husband Cameron, rents 800 acres from the Crown Estate in Wiltshire. They have 500 outdoor sows on a three-week batch production system. Weaners are liquid-fed to bacon weight in straw yards and then sold through Thames Valley Cambac
After I’ve checked the lambing sheds in the morning, fed the bottle lambs, and let out the poultry, I have a very tricky job.
It involves carefully and quietly opening the door, reaching in and removing all the empties and replacing them with full plates. Sometimes nothing stirs, but sometimes I’m rewarded with a baleful glare from the bed. I have yet to receive any thanks for my efforts.
This isn’t about Cameron recovering from his skydive and neither is it a strategy to get our teenage daughter to study for her A-levels (she would be outraged if she thought I were making any comparison with the terror of entering her bedroom).
No, this is a new resident of the farm, a feral cat and her kittens, set up in a temporary maternity suite in an outhouse. Actually, we currently have two such mothers and babies. For a while we had four, and they do require very quiet tending – and always ensuring doors are shut immediately and firmly.
Along with all the other stupid things we’ve been doing recently, like jumping out of aeroplanes, we’ve been working with the RSPCA to catch and neuter a colony of feral cats that live in some buildings adjacent to some we have recently started renting.
This is an entertaining process of setting two traps each night and then ferrying the prisoners to the vet in the morning. Inevitably several of them have been heavily pregnant – then what to do?
So, we set up our cattery, fearing we would be overrun with kittens. Fortunately, the cats have had only small litters. Once we’ve weaned the kittens and neutered the mums, we’ll have to set up a kitten crèche and do our best to handle and socialise them before they go to their new homes. I hope they’re less wild than some of the adults who can do impressive feats of wall climbing.
Two young cats we re-homed were quickly named Lily Savage and Oscar Wilde by their new owners. I have a new respect for our local catchment sensitive farming officer – her gloves were no match for their teeth!
As a result of all these distractions, I’m behind with the pig records, I haven’t started the SPS forms and, as for the farm budget… don’t even ask. However, being late with the budget has given the opportunity for Cameron to suggest about three major schemes in as many weeks.
Change genetics to combat gilt aggression, depopulate to tackle meningitis, build new sheds, rent other sheds. Perhaps I’ll delay working on the budget until he makes up his mind about which, if any, he wants me to tell him he can’t do.
After all, he needs to remember that new projects have a funny way of biting you!