First Time Spinning

We’ve kept sheep on our smallholding for a few years now, and though they’ve helped to keep us well fed, they haven’t yet clothed us. So, we were delighted when my Mum bought us a day’s spinning class for Christmas from Woolshed31.co.uk.

We started out with an introduction to spinning wheels and how they work, then spent a bit of time practicing our footwork…..


…..before being let loose on some actual fibre. I found this to be confusing, fascinating, hilarious and rewarding in equal measure 🙂




The Shepherdess did a better job at controlling both her hands and composure, and was soon onto spinning a raw fleece taken from Bonnie, one of our Zwartbles ewes.




I, on the other hand ended up with something akin to a first attempt at woolly sausage making.


However, after a little coaching from Anne, I finally got the hang of it, in an over-twisted, wonky and oddly satisfying sort of way 😀


If you’ve ever struggled with a telephone cable tying itself in knots, try to imagine attempting to un-twist it whilst dancing a jig, rubbing your belly and patting your head simultaneously, and you’ll get the idea.

Oh well, never mind!


By the end of the session, we had each managed to fill up a bobbin with our own unique take on knitting wool design. As the finished yarn was wound off the bobbin and into balls for us to take home, it became progressively more variable, lumpy and twisted as we went back in time – we had obviously learned something!!




All in all, this was a great way to spend a day. Our sincere thanks go to Anne at Woolshed31.co.uk, for being such an enthusiastic teacher, and for letting us loose in her studio.



I’ve been playing about with grain feeders for our hens for a while now, and I think I’ve finally cracked it! 🙂


What I wanted was a feeder that only released small quantities of feed at a time, to prevent wastage and ensure there was no uneaten food hanging about to attract vermin. I remembered seeing a pheasant feeder once that had a ‘trigger’ hanging from a barrel that the birds would peck at to release feed, so that gave me this idea. I never looked to see how it worked, but perhaps it was something like this!!


I needed a way to hang the trigger, so I took a 15mm copper pipe-tee and drilled a hole opposite the ‘branch’, to accept a long 6mm coach bolt. I then screwed a nut on the end of the bolt and hit the tee flat with a hammer (very satisfying) until it was held securely.


I then drilled a hole in the bottom of a blue plastic barrel, dropped the trigger in and suspended the whole thing from the duck-run fence. The barrel will take a full sack of wheat, and I put some old paving slabs underneath to stop the area becoming muddy.


I had to make some tweaks to this along the way, so I’ll share them here to hopefully save you the experimentation if you fancy making one yourself:

1) The height is critical. Too high, and the hens won’t figure it out. Too low and they won’t go under it. I found I had to start with the base of the barrel about chook head height to begin with, so that when they walked under it, they nudged the trigger with their backs and grain fell out out ‘by accident’ (they then started wandering about underneath the feeder and looking bemused when it rained grain seemingly at random!). Once they’d figured out that they could peck at the trigger to get food, I gradually raised the feeder up until they had to stretch to get at it (this will hopefully keep it out of the reach of vermin).

2) The hole diameter in the barrel is very important. Start small and increase it if you need to. I did the opposite (oops), and had to reduce the size of the hole using epoxy putty as it was releasing too much grain at once, leading to wastage. In the end, my hole is about 10mm across, and releases only a few grains per peck so this might be a good starting point. It’s very important that it’s a little bit difficult for the hens to get at the grain. If too much releases at once, they get lazy and peck away until there’s a puddle of it at their feet, which then makes a mess. If only a few grains release at once, it’s easier to eat them up each time than keep pecking at the trigger, and it then works as intended. Obviously the hole size must be adjusted for different sizes of food and different trigger diameters.

3) The barrel has to have a watertight lid otherwise rain will leak in and the grain will spoil. That’s also the reason it’s hung the way it is, as I didn’t want to drill holes in the sides to mount legs if that meant water would get in. Eventually I’ll think of a more elegant way to support it, but that will do for now!

4) It seems to help if the end of the trigger is red. I originally had a piece of red tape on the end of the trigger which eventually got pecked off. Still, it seems they’ve got it figured out by now!



As ever, this design could be modified or made in all sorts of different ways (for example maybe an old fork or spoon could be used as the trigger? I see no reason why not!).

So, apart from giving the barrel a quick nudge once in a while to make sure it’s still full, I hardly have to worry about the hens any more. Now if only they’d tell me where they’re hiding their eggs!? 🙂


By the way, if you liked this post, check out my idea for a home made chicken drinker.


This one started when a friend of mine was scrapping a rusty old box trailer. However, since we also needed a new shed to house our next batch of meat chickens, a project was born!


The original idea came from this rather fantastic commercial setup which I’d originally seen on Youtube, though naturally my budget doesn’t quite stretch to one of those!


Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos before I began, but the trailer I started with looked pretty similar to this, only in much worse condition:


Whilst the plywood floor and walls were completely rotten, I  was surprised to find that beneath fairly serious layer of rust, the structure was actually still pretty good. So, armed with an angle grinder and wire brush attachment, I stripped everything back to solid metal, treated with ‘krust’ and welded on some uprights and roof supports. (There would have been other ways of doing this of course, but I was looking for an excuse to use the stick welder I got for Christmas!). After welding and painting the frame, I cut plywood sheets to go inside the frame, treated them with woodstain and simply bolted them to the metalwork.


The end result is fairly self-explanatory, but it does have a few tricks up its sleeve:

  •  The floor is lined with lino, picked up cheap as an offcut from a carpet showroom. I’m hoping that this will make cleaning out nice and easy (NB, I still need to take a plane to the perches to round off the corners a bit).


  • The perches hinge up out of the way for cleaning or when not required (the rope goes through the side panel, so you just pull it up and cleat it off).


  • I also put a hinged trap-door in the far corner. The idea of this is that the dirty bedding can just be swept straight out and onto the ground. From there it’s pretty easy just to shovel it into a wheelbarrow, or more likely just spread it about with a rake before moving the house and its inhabitants to a new area. (We use Hemcore horse bedding for chooks, which composts pretty rapidly)
  • There is a really wide pop-hole made out of a spare “eternit” roofing slate we had lying around. This is important because firstly Hubbards are big birds and secondly they are really stupid. It’s also quite likely we’ll use this house for a small number of turkeys next year.



  • The ramp at the back hinges up out of the way so the house can be moved. The same rope that’s used for opening the pop hole also secures the ramp in the up position.


  • There are large grilles on each end for ventilation. This is very important for keeping poultry healthy.
  • There is a small hatch cut into one of the walls just below roof level. This is for feeding an electric extension cable through, for powering brooder lamps etc.
  • The window is just a perspex sheet robbed from an old caravan which was being scrapped (more wombling! :-))
  • All the edges where the wood meets the metal are sealed with “sticks like sh*t”, which is absolutely marvellous stuff. This will hopefully stop rainwater from getting into the edges of the ply and causing them to rot.

So there you have it. I have to say it was not the cheapest of projects, since despite getting the trailer for free, I had to buy the plywood, angle iron, paint, new inner tubes for the wheels, roofing felt etc, at a total cost of about £250. Given that a supermarket chicken currently costs about £5, this tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the economics of raising your own meat at home. However, I’m hopeful that it will last a good few years, and will be a useful addition to our smallholding.

Quite how I got myself into this one I’m not really sure, but back when I was cycling a lot, I always fancied having a go at a triathlon……. except my swimming was a bit ropey and I couldn’t run for toffee. I then made the mistake of entering a 10K cycling time trial, but ended up so far off the pace of the rest of the pack   I never dared to show my face again.  So, if you can’t swim fast, bike fast or run fast, there’s not much point in stringing all three together, right?

North berwick bike park

So like I say, I’m still not sure why last Sunday saw me racking up my bike ready for the annual North Berwick Novice Triathlon. My feeble efforts at preparation involved an eight week novice training schedule downloaded from the web, but with the first two weeks deleted (I only had six until the event). The results were steady if not dramatic, going from “four lengths of the pool and knackered”, improving to “ten lengths in 5:30”, and finishing with a PB of “ten lengths in 4:20”, aided and abetted by £3 worth of cheap budgie smugglers from Sports Direct (“He was afraid to come out of the water, he was afraid that somebody might see”). These alone were responsible for knocking 25 seconds off my 250m time when compared with my old football shorts!


My ego was not helped the week before the event though, when I went swimming with my Mum, who remarked “You’re still quite podgy, aren’t you?”. Then, two days later my 19 year old neighbour watched me come back from a bike ride and reportedly remarked “I really need to go to the gym – I can’t stand the thought of old people being fitter than me!”.

So, officially old and podgy, it was with some trepidation I racked my bike up ready for the start of the race and collected my race number: 42 (Blimey, I really HOPE the meaning of life isn’t triathlon, or I’m really stuffed!).

Northberwick bike park2

The swim went off in two heats, with one swimmer starting every 10 seconds, in order from fastest to slowest, according to the expected times we’d confirmed the week before. The drill was to swim up the left hand side of the lane, back down the right, then at the second turn, duck under the ropes and into the next lane. This system worked remarkably well, and I didn’t spot any crashes or pile-ups. Essentially everybody zig-zagged down the pool until they got to the exit, then amid cheers and clapping from the spectators, it was out and onto the bike!

 The cycle was hard work, since the first uphill section was extremely windy, but I managed to overtake at least as many folks as had overtaken me on the way round.

Unfortunately when I started the run section, my calf muscles started to cramp up quite badly, but I ran on through the pain, and it eased after a few minutes. I was not quick on the run however, and many people passed me – more training required methinks!  One nice feature of the course was that the run was ‘out and back’, which meant that you saw just about everybody else at some point on the course.  The fact that we’d set off in number order also made it easy to see roughly how you were doing in relation to the others. Basically if somebody with a higher number than you was ahead of you, it meant they were definitely beating you, but of course the staggered swim start meant that you might still be in front of some of the people in front of you, if that makes any sense!

After the swim and cycle, the run seemed to be over quite quickly, and I was soon attempting a very slow sprint to the finish. The atmosphere at the end was great, with an army of supporters cheering all the runners home. Overall, I came in just outside the top 2/3 of the men, and in the top half overall, so I was pretty chuffed with that.


So, if you’re thinking of having a go at an event like this, I’d I really recommend you do. After all, if an old podge like me can manage it, so can you! 🙂


Blackcurrant Schnapps that is.  One made very simply with just 50% blackcurrants and 50% cooking vodka, and the other with 1/3 fruit, 1/3 sugar, and 1/3 vodka.  I’m really hoping that these work out, as they’re so simple to prepare…… won’t know for another few months though unfortunately!

Since the spring, we’ve tried to eat at least one thing we’ve grown ourselves with every meal. However, lots of the veg are coming into season now, and we’ve managed a few meals now that have been almost entirely home grown.

We had one of them on Sunday – Coq au Vin, featuring a load of veggies from the garden and polytunnel, and once I’d managed to actually catch him, the meat from an (unfortunately for him) male Welsummer chicken who we hatched in February.

OK, so we cheated a little and used shop bought wine, onions and mushrooms as well as the home grown stuff, but it’s still not a bad start – we’re not deluded enough to think we could ever be truly self sufficient. And yes, I know you would expect me to say this, but it was absolutely delicious too.

Home Made Ribena!!

The blackcurrants were really good this year, so I was struggling to think of something good to do with them all. No time for jam or wine, but a quick search of the interweb gave some interesting ideas, including this recipe for homemade blackcurrant cordial, which is simplicity itself.


Basically you just simmer blackcurrants and sugar together for a few minutes, then add a chopped up lemon, and simmer for a bit longer, before straining, and pouring into re-used wine bottles, and chilling in the fridge.

The colour is amazing, and when diluted with water (about 25%:75%), it really does taste just like a supermarket ‘Hi-juice’ squash……. Only so, so much better!  🙂