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Biodynamic journey

The Little Devonshire Victory Garden & Farm Animal Utopia Project is a member of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association which was founded in Great Britain in 1929 to promote biodynamic farming derived from Rudolf Steiner’s pioneering lectures in 1924 through which the whole organic movement began.

We use biodynamic methods on our smallholding, rejecting chemical pesticides, fertilizers and GM ingredients, while embracing everything that influences healthy growth. So, we plant, nurture and harvest every seed with love in harmony with the seasons, surrounding plants, insects, birds and even planets by making use of astronomical planting calendar to enhance health and vigour for farm and garden. Once it is harvested, our produce is processed in such a manner that its natural vitality and indigenous flavour is retained.

Recognising that biodynamics is one of the most sustainable and ethical forms of agriculture in existence, we are striving towards demeter certification for our expanding Utopia range of produce by 2012 growing season.

The practice of biodynamic farming and gardening is a continuing journey of discovery. Surprises and new ideas mark the route as we learn from nature and further develop our understanding of the symbiotic relationship between people, animals and earth.

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Making biodiesel

On our smallholding we are making biodiesel on a small scale, experimenting with a couple of oil drums, a pump, filter, copper pipe and plumbing fittings.

Oil is mixed with alcohol and potassium hydroxide (KOH), which acts as a catalyst. When the mixture settles the biodiesel is poured off the top, leaving a layer of glycerine (which is used to make soap and other useful products). The biodiesel is then finely filtered and de-watered, fueling the tractor and our field generator.

Our biodiesel is only made from used cooking oil. We don’t think it’s a good idea to take up more land to grow crops for vehicles when there are so many people in the world who don’t have enough food.  Some companies are now producing biodiesel from palm oil grown in huge plantations in West Africa or SE Asia. We think that biodiesel from these sources is environmentally damaging where orangutans and other species face extinction as their habitat is destroyed. For more information on this, see Biofuel Watch.

If you make biodiesel in the UK you have a responsibility to declare the usage to HM Revenue and Customs and to pay duty to them. The duty on biodiesel was reduced by 20 pence per litre in April 2002. The government hoped that this reduction will encourage the use of biodiesel on a larger scale. The duty was removed completely for small producers (2500 litres or less per year) from 30 June 2007, thumbs up!

The arrival of our 5 baby alpacas has been one of the happy highlights! You wouldn’t believe how cute they are, They remind me of Dr Seuss cartoon characters (of course no one here knows what I am talking about); so dainty and elegant and silly (kind of make believe looking), all at the same time. – Thanks to all the friends who helped in deciding on their names ♥

Their names are:

EVANGELINE, AURORA, VALENTINA, CORNELIA & LEONTINA

We had a bit of a scare as they have to be shorn in the summer. As you can tell, their fleeces are exceptionally thick and warm and there were a few scorcher days in May, so hot that I worried they were in real danger of heatstroke. Since then it’s been absolutely freezing and wet: for the 6 weeks up until last week, it’s rained quite a lot nearly everyday. Heh, this week it’s rained only intermittently everyday, but many days have still been like October. It’s our first time with alpacas and we didn’t know to tell the shearers not to come. It’s startling just how lean they are under all that fur (like gangly little foals) and they were all shivering very badly. I felt horrible – and very worried – that I let them be shorn in the cold wet weather. I thought it would be an idea to cover them with blankets or put sweatshirts on them – but they are extremely shy and become quite upset as I’ll mention later, so it wouldn’t have been possible. A few days later their shivering abated, but at least one of them had a poopy bottom.

BEFORE – Here are our little girls several weeks ago. I should have posted a photo sooner, but kept hoping for a better shot. I was disappointed. They are ever-so-curious, yet so painfully shy.

AFTER – here they are a few weeks after their 1st ever haircuts. I wanted to get photos right after, when they were all clean & nice – they LOOOOVE to roll in the dirt – but as usual they were too shy… not that they look any more sociable here.

The noises they make are unbelievable – not like anything I’ve ever heard!

So for their sickness, we had the vet out to give them medicines the other day and of course they did not like that. Now I don’t know any being (animal or human) that enjoys taking medicine, but… Aurora was especially upset and started “protesting”; kind of “squealing”, in a way that it seemed like the next noise she made would be to say “s t o p p p!   i t!”. Maybe their vocal cords are similar to humans(??), because I tell you they really make utterances that sound like they could come from a human child. It was the same thing when they were shorn a few days before. If Leontina would have shouted “You let me go!” I would have been only half amazed.

On Thursday, we had to rub them down with anti parasite treatment for all the horse flies that are attacking them.  They weren’t happy, but relatively easier to handle (and quieter) compared to the past two incidences, so that’s encouraging – hopefully the fly treatment works as well.

Apart from being so beautiful, they have such distinct and individual personalities.

VALENTINA is the calmest and most even tempered (and the most beautiful with her graceful extra long neck & legs,  butterfly eyelashes and long tufted ears), AURORA is the boldest and always takes the lion’s share of their daily treat, yet she is still gentle and even tempered – she is also the most vocal. EVANGELINE (the littlest one) is sulky and unsociable with humans and the herd; I’m sad for her, but when she arrived she used to try and bully the others – she’s the only one who refuses to take food directly from me. CORNELIA is the protector/inspector. She comes right up to you and looks authoritatively, as if to say: “Well then? Explain yourself.”, yet it’s kind of hard to take her seriously since she’s so adorably cute. She’s the only one who puts her tail up – at 90 full degrees no less – and also puts her ears back the most (a somewhat defensive gesture). I wish I could get on camera what “Corny” does. So funny: She comes up to me for her usual inspection and gets very close, smelling me delicately and precisely. So as not to spook her, I will stay perfectly still while she does this, even if the fine hairs on her muzzle tickle me. All of a sudden she will spring up from some imperceptible injury I have caused her and make a huge dramatic “scene”, bolting off hysterically, taking the rest of the herd with her who then also make a big deal of what I did(?)… It’s actually soooo cute and funny – probably another one of those things you have to see or yourself. LEONTINA, I can’t figure out – sometimes she is super frightened and stroppy and sometimes she is easy, confident and sociable. She has the biggest deer eyes of all their big eyes, so much so that it looks like she is wearing eyeliner and mascara. She also has a sort of mustache that none of the others have heehee.

I’m not holding my breath for any cuddles, but they are getting used to me, so that they will come when they see me and feed out of my hand… but I MUST NOT make the slightest movement, or else they will all bolt in unison!

We hope to send their fleeces to a local mill in the coming weeks to produce the super soft yarn (similar to cashmere), which we will use to produce our first SLAUGHTER FREE/ CRUELTY FREE / NEAR-ZERO CARBON… HIGH FASHION garments. 

♥ Tatyana

CORNELIA

Our uber-cute “Corny” (Cornelia). Putting her ears down in suspicion of the camera.

“Corny” (Cornelia) coming for her inspection. Isn’t she so adorably cute?.. I’m not overly happy that the sheerer left her cheek tufts lopsided though – next year her haircut will be perfect.

VALENTINA

I couldn’t get a photo of Valentina to show really how particularly beautiful she is. Valentina is the “princess” of the bunch: graceful, demure and diplomatic – well liked by all the others. You can see she and Cornelia have the same father from their tufted ears and similar facial shape.

AURORA

Aurora… She also has the same father as Valentina and Cornelia, although it is somewhat less apparent in her features – a little cutie all the same. Aurora is probably the alpha female (in a relaxed sort of way) and the most vocal. Her noises sound so much like a toddler before they learn to speak, that I honestly half expect the little darling to start speaking one day. She and Cornelia are the most intelligent.

EVANGELINE

Little Evangeline… She’s usually sulking in the distance the poor thing, but today when I came with the camera, she was uncharacteristically forward & friendly (as she was when they first arrived). Maybe she just gets bullied when food is around by Aurora who takes the lion’s share of their daily treat… She and Aurora did have a power struggle (although I must say that I think it was started by the petite Evangeline – who I saw kicking her larger herd mate more than a few times when they were settling in).

LEONTINA

Enigmatic Leontina with her HUGE dark, doe eyes that look like she always wears mascara & eyeliner and her agitated “grin”. (Look at the moustache Heehee!) You can see her in the background of Aurora’s photo above; she is grinning a very defensive & nervous gesture. Leontina was actually 1st registered as “Beatrice”, because another fawn coloured little “girl” we originally chose turned out to be a boy, when the vet made the handover examination. Leontina/Beatrice was decided upon as a late replacement. She had been retained for our breeders’ show team and has a super soft fleece. She has the same father as Evangeline, but you have to be familiar with their faces to see the physical similarities.

It was a busy and difficult spring (I won’t mention the summer, as it seems it has not yet arrived here in North Devon!)… The terrible sadness of deaths and of infuriating fox visits, mixed with the joy of new arrivals and of all the many chores as well as copious amounts of new learning that comes with our young project, has kept me from writing as I would like. I know with running a smallholding I will have to come to accept the good with the bad sooner or later, but it is hard I must say; Ralph and Gisela both having had a much longer experience of this hard fact of life, with the many, many, animals they have given sanctuary to, previous to Ralph & I starting The Little Devonshire Victory Garden & Farm Animal Utopia Project.

It’s just heart wrenching when they become ill and we can’t save them. And then there’s the fox which has become very bold. It’s especially daunting since we already have several safety measures in place… We’ve been letting the chickens free-roam most of the “warm season”, but more recently have had a few bouts with a couple of girls go missing each time. So after the last attack a couple weeks ago, we finally decided we had to kept them in their enclosure (an area of field around their house made predator safe by a 100 metre electric fence),  letting them out only when we were nearby. This is actually a hard decision, because even though they are still free ranging inside their enclosure, the whole thing of getting *ex-bats is that we want them to have their liberty. They really, really, enjoy themselves when they are allowed to roam all over wherever they like – sadly it has come to “their freedom, or their lives”.

A few days ago after everyone was fed, I let the chickens out and sat under a tree reading a book, just a little way up the hill from where the chickens usually congregate. I was imagining a Rousseauian landscape for a moment, when I heard one of the chickens make a short, not unusual cackle only a few meters away. Not thinking anything the matter, I only casually looked down past a few bushes to see instead of my chicken, the small furry ginger animal (!!!!!!!!!). Fox?! Jumping up, I screamed at the predator as loudly as I could, hoping to frighten him. My chicken was now making alarmed calls and I saw her dash past through the bush. The fox was so bold. I really thought he would run away as I advanced, but he didn’t flinch. I thought surely my chicken had escaped with the fox being surprised, but as I came closer I saw he had something in his mouth. My heart sank. It seemed as though it was a small greyish bundle – one of our defenceless young call ducks!! “Oh my gosh I must have left the waterfowl enclosure open!”. (Later I found it was indeed one of our chickens and that I had locked the waterfowl enclosure thank goodness, or it may have been carnage.) It happened so quickly. He didn’t have the slightest worry about me running toward him, somehow he grabbed my poor girl and was off up the steep hillside in plenty of time, leaving me screaming bloody murder far behind him. I chased him in vain through the hilly woods, screaming and screaming at the top of my lungs, what I would do to him if I caught him; the alpacas standing at attention, looking quizzically as I rushed past gasping for breath.

I can’t believe he was not put off with myself right there, Conrad the cat nearby (a sweet but merciless rat hunter)… OK I know foxes are not afraid of cats, but Conrad is TOUGH and he was bigger than the fox; not to mention 5 Alpacas who inherently hate canines standing above. Alpacas are actually known to attack and trample foxes that threaten livestock, so are kept on some farms as guards. Ours certainly become quite agitated when Gisela takes her harmless geriatric dog Mausie on walks. However, they have not stopped the fox, at least on the several fatal run-ins we have had. A new lesson.

Ralph is more philosophical about it: “the fox needs to eat”… I am categorically in the other camp: let the fox dine elsewhere. Now I love foxes, they have a right to live and I am certainly not in the hunting camp. I cannot stop him from eating wild animals and how could I begin to want to if I believe he has a right to life? In fact our dear little friend Albert, a wild pheasant has disappeared and I am sad as I feel certain Albert has been eaten – but I do understand it is part of life. Yes, I love all animals with a strong unshakable devotion, but I love MY animals more. Part of my strong beliefs on domestication of animals is the responsibility to those specific animals we keep, to protect them from harm or hardship (at utmost cost), in return for the products they give us – which of course make our lives easier and more pleasant. Yep, it’s war!

*all of our chickens are rescued Ex-Battery hens from the commercial egg industry – bar “Georgette”, an absolutely huge white meat chicken saved from our builder’s dinner plate during a moment of weakness; both his and ours… and “Walter” a leggy white cockerel {with too long a story of how he arrived here}.

♥ Tatyana

So we can reduce our electricity cost on the smallholding, we are evaluating some small wind turbines with initial test installation of 800W Falcon wind turbine on the roof of one of our barns located in the valley area of our smallholding.

Many of the small wind turbine suppliers will try and impress you by showing you graphs and videos of their turbine’s voltage, or amperage when the wind gusts, or how fast the blades spin. From our experience there is only one performance metric you need to be concerned with which is power output (watts) vs. wind speed (mph). You need to establish what the average wind speed is in your location and only then can you decide if a wind turbine makes sense. You don’t need gusts of wind, you need steady wind to enjoy free and clean energy.

For more information on this, see green spec small wind turbines.

In the UK, static wind turbines need explicit planning permission so it is advisable to discuss your plans with your local authority before committing to the project. However, in July 2006 the Housing Minister, Yvette Cooper announced that from 2007 changes to planning laws will allow householders to install small scale wind turbines without planning permission – as long as they do not impact on neighbours. It seems that since then, guidelines published through government planning portal for England and Wales is just producing hot air.

It makes sense to develop a certification scheme for micro generation of renewable energy that covers both standards for wind turbine products and their installation but the government needs to step up and create real incentives and not burden the industry with confusing rhetoric.

Launching relic greeting cards from UTOPIA product range, designed by Tatyana Valda Belinda Hill.

More charm & good looks with a great purpose. These darling greeting cards are one of the alternative ways we have found to keep our flock nourished on the expensive organic feed and protected by equally pricey vet visits we provide them, while supporting ourselves too.

FEATHERS on our cards are naturally discarded keepsakes from our little flock on our beautiful smallholding in Devonshire, England. Each one in our group is loved and valued as an individual. * Feathers are also occasionally from members of our resident wild flocks. Regardless of origin, all the feathers are dropped naturally from live birds.

*we are considering printing a health warning on all the greeting cards for people with feather phobia (pteronophobia:-)

Cards are blank inside and come with a white envelope, direct from our Tiny Little Farm Shop.

From our honesty shop people can select their own produce and paying accordingly, leaving their payment in the box provided. The shop is stocking a range of fresh produce and preserves from our smallholding.

ALL NATURAL produce & HANDMADE things
Organic & Homegrown or Local where possible.

Our 5 fluffy baby alpacas will shortly be arriving at the smallholding. 3 white and 2 fawn (camel) coloured ones – all girls. Because these are such special animals, I am leaning toward ancient Greek & Roman names – mythological or historical… Difficult choice! Please help us to choose.

 photo from Classical Mile End Alpacas (some beauties from their herd)

Take our Facebook poll to help us decide, thank you!

Tatyana

PS… It was hard to decide which poll app to use, since this is our 1st one. If it’s hard to use, please let me know.

photo from Classical Mile End Alpacas

photo from Classical Mile End Alpacas

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