Over the weekend I took the time to catch up with Annabelle, who at the age of 16 is the proud owner of White Tower Charolais. I have known Annabelle for years and shown alongside her for many, you couldn't meet anyone more passionate about cattle and it was a pleasure to spend the afternoon in her farmyard.
How long have you been interested in cattle and how did you become so involved with them?
I have been interested in cattle for as long as I can remember! My Mum taught me all the breeds when I was young and Dad supplemented this by taking me out in his lorry to the local cattle market and other farms, as well as letting me watch from the sidelines while he sorted cattle. Both my parents were very good at encouraging me to show cattle, and that is when I really fell in love with them; I loved spending time with them and building a bond and caring for them- it is an amazing responsibility!
Annabelle was encouraged to show cattle from an early age.
What made you choose the Charolais breed?
The Charolais always caught my eye in both the sale ring or show ring, they are full of character and presence. A key decider for me was the relationship between Charolais and the beef finisher, as primarily this is where the demand for the Charolais comes from - breeders will be selling the vast majority of their bulls to suckler herds that then breed the beef finishing calves. The Charolais cattle have always acquired a strong demand- they have fantastic growth rates so as a result finish faster, and also have excellent conformation.
Where do they originate?
The Charolais originate from Eastern France, specifically in an area called Charolles, in the region of Burgundy.
Little Darlin, one of Annabelle's Charolais heifers.
How many Charolais do you now have in your White Tower herd?
Currently, I have a stockbull, 6 breeding females and 1 calf.
What numbers do you plan to get up to in your herd?
Ideally, I would like to build up and have 15 breeding females, by retaining female calves that I think will breed bulls to meet the current trends in demand for Charolais, and also, when given the opportunity, buy new bloodlines to improve and compliment my breeding plan.
This year is the first year you have calved, have you found that the Charolais have calved easily and are the natural mothers?
This year, all that have calved so far are heifers, and two out of three calved unassisted. I think it is just a case of experimenting with different bulls and bloodlines for calving ease. All calves were lively and the Charolais are brilliant mothers, rearing them well.
2 week old bull calf Osias with his mother Cloybank Josie.
What do you plan to do with this years calves, do you plan to sell them on to other breeders or retain them for your own breeding stock?
The calves I had born this year so far were all bulls, and will be kept until I think they are at a suitable age and condition to be sold for breeding.
Inquisitive Osias, hiding behind his mother.
You show your Charolais, what do you look for in a show animal?
In a Charolais show animal, I look for breed character. A Charolais should look alert, have big ears, a wide muzzle, masculinity/ femininity depending on the sex, strong legs and good conformation. Alongside this, I also look for an animal that holds itself well and have presence.
What is involved in your show preparation?
My show prep includes training the hair in order to dress with soap, clipping to tidy and enhance features, and washing with whitening shampoo.
Annabelle and I winning the Charolais pairs in August 2017 at The Aylsham Show.
Why do you feel showing is important for you and your cattle?
Showing is important for me and my cattle as it gives me an opportunity to showcase my stock to people who could potentially become customers, and to get my name out there. It is also a good way to socialise with like minded people and it is good to see what is successful in the show ring to get an idea for what people look for – you nearly always learn something new at shows.
What is your favourite thing about owning cattle?
My favourite thing about owning cattle is breeding them. I love experimenting with different bloodlines to see what works. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing cows rear calves and watching the calves change and perform.
What advice would you give someone looking to get cattle?
My advice for someone looking to get cattle is to consider what purpose they will be used for as there is such a variety of different breeds doing different jobs. Different breeds perform differently under feeding also, so it is important to consider breeds that would perform and thrive on the feed you are looking to give them. However, if you are looking for cattle with the ability to finish quickly, that have an ever improving calving ease and super conformation, consider a Charolais!
If you would like to find out more about White Tower Charolais follow Annabelle on Instagram @whitetowercharolais.
After meeting Hayley and her prize winning British Lop and Saddleback pigs last week, I came back to the studio and started to do a few sketches from some of the photographs that I had taken and Hayley had kindly given me from agricultural shows. Hayley's pigs had so much character and personality and I really wanted to be able to illustrate these traits through my designs.
From the pencil sketches that I did of the pigs I then created handmade stamps from the shapes within my drawings. In the images above you can see some of the work in progress and the colour palette that I was using.
Here are the final prints that I created in response to all the imagery I collected from my visit to Hayley's farmyard. I learnt so much from my afternoon spent with Hayley and her pigs, it is so interesting to learn about other people's animals and find out what first inspired them to start out. I hope I have managed to capture a little part of Hayley's story through my new designs.
Keep an eye out for whose farm gate I will be looking over next.
I was very excited last week when Hayley, who lives in the next village to me, kindly said I could meet her pigs. Especially when there was a mention of piglets! Hayley has had great success with her pigs in the show ring, winning multiple championships over the years. Most exciting of all is that Hayley and her pigs recently featured on the BBC's new programme 'The Farmers Country Showdown'. I spent a couple of hours with Hayley in her Farmyard to find out more about her pigs and where her passion for them began.
How long have you had pigs for?
I have had pigs in my life as far back as l can remember as my grandparents used to have them on their farm but Dad and l have had pigs around 38 years!!!!! God l sound so old,,,,,,,
How did you first become interested in pigs?
My interest started with my Grandad's pigs, l used to go and just sit watching them in their pens, l would just love going to see them. When l knew there were hopefully going to be piglets arriving my Grandparents always knew where to find me, then the passion for them just carried on.
Hayley holding a 3 day old British Lop piglet.
Which breeds do you have?
The breeds l have are pedigree British Lops and pedigree British Saddlebacks.
How many pigs do you have?
At the moment we do not have very many, only 2 British Lop sows, 1 British Lop young boar and around 3 British Lop July gilts. In the Saddleback section have 1 sow and 1 July gilt but at the moment we do have piglets arriving.
Why did you choose those particular breeds?
We have had quite a few different breeds over the years, but we chose these breeds as my Dad has always liked the Saddlebacks and I just love the British lop for their temperament. I think they are a very beautiful pig and the British Lop are on the endangered list of rare breeds and l would absolutely hate to lose this beautiful pig.
Hayley feeding the Saddleback and British Lop gilts in the snow. (A gilt is a young female pig).
How many litters of piglets do you have a year? How many piglets does one sow have on average?
On average we usually try to get 2 litters a year but we like to follow the sow and see how she goes. If we find that a sow always tends to have big litters and the piglets pull her down to much weight wise then we just let her have one litter a year. However, some sows seem to bloom from litter to litter so we just let them carry on being a mum while they can. Litter numbers can vary from 1 piglet to 17/18 but ideally around 9 to 13 is ideal as a nice big sow can cope with 13 piglets, it is a guessing game every time a sow farrows.
Jilly, a British Lop sow, feeding her 4 piglets which were 3 days old.
A couple of 2 week old British Lop piglets (from a litter of 6) who are being hand reared as their mother, Nancy, sadly had a large cyst on her underline and could no longer feed the piglets.
When are the piglets ready to be weaned off their mother?
Weaning takes place usually around 7/8 weeks but if the sow is feeding quite a few and they are pulling her weight down, then we have to take them away sooner to help her get back into condition again.
Hayley holding a 3 week old British Saddleback piglet.
I was very excited to be able to hold a piglet!
You have had great success in the show ring with your pigs. What do you look for in a prize-winning pig?
A prize winning pig is always a gamble, the first thing l do is look at them for the first time when they are 3 days old when l give them an iron injection. l turn them over, have a look at their teats and see if they have between 12 and 14 evenly spaced teats and no blind ones. Then at 1 week old you can roughly see by the ears if they are the correct size and position, hopefully they are not to big and facing towards their nose but covering their eyes, not going down the sides of their faces. Then l will tag and tattoo them at roughy 3 weeks old, then I just watch them as they grow to see if anything changes for example walking square with good shape to their body.
What is involved in your show preparation?
Show preparation starts long before the shows, l try to get the piglets friendly at a very young age . They then seem to love having the attention which is half the battle, roughly a month before my first show l will start to soak the pig skins in baby oil nearly every day to get their skins really soft with no dry skin patches. Then I begin bathing them 3 weeks before the show to get them used to it and brush them every day to remove dry skin.
Are pigs easy to train to be guided by a board and a stick?
Some pigs can be trained very easily and some hate the stick or can be bit scared of the board but they usually always soon get the idea. I always talk to them all the time and they do get to know the words walk on! Slowly! And don’t be NAUGHTY! You don’t hit them with the stick you gently stroke it along near the jaw and they will turn their head towards you and walk in that direction. To turn the other way you use the board against the jaw area and they will turn away from you (well you hope that’s what they will do!!!!!).
Hayley in action at local agricultural shows.
What advice would you give someone looking to get pigs?
Advise... I am not sure but pigs are very intelligent and strong but they can be very nasty if something upsets them. They are very hard work, as pigs can be great escape artists but they give lots back in affection.
What is your favourite thing about owning pigs?
The best thing about owning pigs is you can build great relationships with them. They can really give you a warm loving glow with just being around them and then you realise they have got into your skin, all you talk about is pigs to everyone. I would never want to without one in my life .
If you want to find out more about Hayley and her pigs take a look at BBC iplayer on 'The Farmer's Country Showdown' >>> https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09pv1cy/the-farmers-country-showdown-series-2-15-gransden-pigs
Keep your eyes peeled to see how Hayley's pigs have inspired my designs...
One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was to get the chance to talk to as many people as I could within farming, find out about their animals, passions and interests. Most of my designs are inspired by farm life, the animals and surroundings here on my family farm, but I saw the blog as a chance to collect inspiration from other peoples farms and hobbies.
After speaking to Cecily, I came back to the studio with some great images of her chickens. After telling me that the Buff Orpington's were her favourite breed, I knew that I wanted to do a print inspired by them. I also really love the light sussex and thought that they would work really effectively as a simple print with their monochrome colour palette.
These are some very quick sketches that I did from the photographs that I took of the cockerels. From these sketches I then create my handmade stamps.
Here are a couple of the final prints that I created in response to all the imagery I collected from Cecily's chickens, It is really important to me that all my design's have a 'story' behind them. I am very excited that through this blog and my designs I will be able to tell other people's stories.
Introducing...my little sister Cecily, 20 years old and the brains behind 'Chicken Corner' based here on our family farm. Cecily has had chickens for most of our childhood and they have rather taken over the farmyard over the years. I took 5 minutes to have a quick chat with Cecily to find out why she is quite so passionate about Chickens!
How long have you had Chickens?
I have kept and bred chickens since I was 7, so this year marks 14 years. My first breed I had were bantam buff Orpingtons, since then I’ve had a number of different breeds from Cochins to Japanese frizzles.
How did you first get into them?
You (Izzi) started with silkies and so I was inspired to get some of my own!
What is your favourite thing about chickens?
I like to watch them potter around the garden because it’s funny watching them interact with one and another and the world around them. From a cockerel’s fascination with a twig to a hen chasing the black birds at feeding time, they really do have amazing personalities.
What breed is your favourite?
My favourite breed is the large buff Orpington. I recently expanded my stock when I purchased a quartet (1 cockerel and 3 hens.) They have very beautiful orangey-gold feathering. They grow quite large but generally maintain a stocky-looking figure. I like their inquisitive yet laid-back nature. A close second, is the Light Sussex that are a similar build to the Orpingtons but slightly leaner. Again, they are very pretty with white feathering and black-laced neck and tail feathers. They are a very sturdy breed, keeping themselves to themselves, but once they know you they are very friendly.
Cecily with her Buff Orpington cockerel and Light Sussex cockerel.
How many different breeds do you have?
At Chicken Corner, there are five different breeds, we have Pekins, Gold Silkies, Buff Orpingtons, Light Sussex and Lavender Araucanas.
What would be your top tip for someone thinking of getting chickens?
Check your breed- generally they are all quite passive and happy-go-lucky creatures; but there are the odd breeds that are notorious for being flighty and not recommended for beginners such as Sumara, Asil and Lakenvelders.
Ensure you give your chickens as much as space to roam as possible because they really do appreciate having the opportunity to explore and peck about. If you do have limited space, maybe consider a bantam breed such as pekins because the world seems bigger to them anyway. Also…there is no need to dose them with healthy supplements, because they will find what’s good for them by pecking around in their environment. A happy hen is a healthy hen.
Cecily holding a Light Sussex cockerel and hen.
Key facts from Cecily that might interest you.
Key chicken terminology, you’ll need to know
Cecily holding her Light Sussex cockerel 'Zuccubar'.
If you would like to find out more about Cecily and 'Chicken Corner' then take a look at her blog >>> https://chickencorner.wixsite.com/chickencorner
Keep your eyes peeled to see how Cecily's chickens have inspired my designs...
Welcome to ‘Over the Farm Gate’… My name is Izzi, as well as being a textile designer for IzziRainey, I am a farmer’s daughter. Having our studio based in the farmyard means I am still very much involved with day-to-day farm life.
Growing up on a farm, for as long as I can remember I have loved being involved with the cattle and helping my Dad out where I can. I now have 12 of my own Highland cattle and last year, with my sister Cecily, we bought our first three Lincoln Red heifers to start our own separate beef herd. As well as cattle, I am interested in all farm animals and one of my favourite things is talking to others who also share the same interests. I am hoping that through this blog I will be able to share other people’s stories and passions in the fields and over their farm gates.
I am Izzi, farmer’s daughter and textile designer at IzziRainey. If I am not designing or sewing you will find me out in the farmyard with my cattle. I am constantly seeking inspiration for my prints, not that I have to look very far. Growing up on the farm, I have always been influenced by my surroundings and this combined with my passion for farming is what inspires my designs. I love spending time on the farm but I also enjoy learning about other people’s animals, passions and stories, which are also influential to my design process. I hope you enjoy reading ‘Over the Farm Gate’