Apart from a number of cats, dogs and ferrets living at Pool Cottage over the years, the first farm animals to arrive were the chickens: Hugh, Pugh, Barney Magrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub. We have kept a range of different poultry varieties since and they keep us well supplied with beautiful fresh eggs all year round. We now supply trays of eggs to friends in exchange for produce, such as prime highland beef. We currently have a variety of breeds including Light Sussex, Amber, Welsummer, Cheshire Blue and a couple of rescue Warrens, all producing a range of wonderfully coloured eggs.
W often hatch out our own birds, either naturally under a broody or using an incubator with reasonable success. We have also reared meat chickens at Pool Cottage. We keep them for approximately 70 days then they are dispatched, plucked and dressed for the table. They generally weigh in at 10-12lbs, enough for many meals. There is no waste as even the cooked carcass is used for either soup or stock.
We have always enjoyed good food at Pool Cottage and the pigs provided us with a whole new avenue of producing our own. Being able to make your own bacon and sausages is wonderful and it's amazing how many friends you have when a new batch is ready! We don't believe in waste when it comes to our pigs and nothing is wasted. Apart from the obvious joints, bacon and sausages, we use the head, trotters and even the tail to make the most delicious terrine. The kidneys, liver and heart form the basis of our pate and whenever possible, the blood and excess fat is used in making black pudding. The only thing we don't use is the oink!
We have had a number of different breeds of pigs on the smallholding; our first pair of weaners were Saddlebacks and these were ideal pigs for us as novice pig keepers. The following year we had Berkshire's, these prick eared pigs were mischievous but huge fun. We kept them right through to December and they enjoyed all the windfalls from our orchard. They tasted so sweet it was almost as though there was apple sauce running through the meat. Over the last few years we have had a number of Oxford Sandy & Black weaners and yes they all had names. They just loved to run, they also enjoyed a game of football, though they seemed to prefer the rules of rugby.
The first ducks to arrive on the smallholding were a trio of Aylesbury's, which were bought at the local poultry auction. These were followed shortly after by a pair of Buff Orpingtons. The incubator was pressed into service once again, producing even more stock. Currently we have 9 ducks. Our duck eggs are just great with a few rashers of our bacon, a couple of our sausages and a fried tomato straight from the polytunnel, all mopped up with fresh warm bread from the oven. That's what we call self-sufficient heaven at Pool Cottage.
Then came the geese. These weren't planned, but we couldn't refuse when a mating pair were offered to us. They are wonderful characters and, as well as acting as guard geese, they have proved to be great lawnmowers. Mummy goose hatched out her first offspring the following spring and Dad was so proud of his boy. Junior is all grown up now and lives near Manchester with his own mate. The following year we decided not to have any goslings and collected the huge eggs for ourselves. However, Gertie managed to hide a clutch of fertile eggs late in the season and hatched out 4 beautiful goslings. Three of these went to new homes, but Jasmine (Jazz) never left and is now happy living at Pool Cottage. She hatched out another 2 goslings in 2016, but sadly these pair fell foul of mother nature and a buzzard. In 2017 she hatched out another 3 goslings who survived and went off to a local farm.
Our experiment with sheep in 2014 was a great success, Mork and Minty were huge fun following us around the smallholding on the scrounge for a sheep nut or two. After our initial reservations on the sheep front, we were sad to see them go, however, the meat that we picked up from the butcher was out of this world, receiving compliments from all who have sampled the joints, chops, sausages and burgers, the latter being made right here at Pool Cottage. Following on from them, we have expanded up to a maximum of 4 sheep at any one time (New Zealand beware!). Currently we have 1 ewe in lamb courtesy of our neighbours tup, another older ewe and 2 lambs who will all go in spring 2018.
We have had springer spaniels and lurchers over the years, but at the moment we have a retired greyhound. Louby Lou, is a bit of an 'airhead' and has the looks to match. She would like to help eat the ducks and chickens, but particularly loves to greet the pigs and catch up on the days piggy gossip. Her main duty is to act as the morning alarm call, often barking at first light, much to our joy!
Until recently we also had another greyhound who sadly left us for the great greyhound track in the sky. Chucky took his oven guarding skills very seriously, he could often be found with his head as close as possible to the oven door, and seemed to be more attentive when there were cakes in the oven. He was also the most accomplished 'unpack hound', his ability to unpack the shopping is now stuff of legend at Pool Cottage . He was also partial to apples and tomatoes and often helped himself from the orchard or the poly tunnel (as well as the fruit bowl).
His ashes are buried in his favourite spot in our field, along with his best monkey toy, an apple and a tomato, bless him.
We love all our animals and they are treated as part of the family while they are with us. While everyone tells us not to name them since we will get too attached, many of them do have names. We feel that we become closer to them if they are named and surely, calling your pigs, "Jake and Elwood" or the latest lamb "Little Sheepy" is better than pig 1 or sheep 2? Anyway, whatever your view we have great animals and fun times on our smallholding, and they also taste good! Some of our animals are shown below and you will discover more of their character in our blog.