Video & Gallery: Smallholders’ Diary

ESSEX couple Steve and Jenny Mansfield moved to Ely 10 months ago to fulfil a life-long dream of owning and running a smallholding. Steve, a civil servant and Jenny, a teaching assistant, gave up their jobs and smart town house to get down and dirty in El

ESSEX couple Steve and Jenny Mansfield moved to Ely 10 months ago to fulfil a life-long dream of owning and running a smallholding. Steve, a civil servant and Jenny, a teaching assistant, gave up their jobs and smart town house to get down and dirty in Ely with pigs and chickens and a selection of root vegetables. The couple, who have two grown-up sons, have been rearing chickens for a few months and this week acquired their first pair of piglets.

Over the next few months Jenny and Steve will give readers an insight into the trials and tribulations of setting up and running a modern smallholding.

"The move from Essex to Ely is our dream come true. We bought a one-acre farm in Prickwillow and we hope that the two of us can use some imagination and a lot of muscle and turn it into a profitable smallholding. We brought a couple of chickens with us and decided that our first job was to build a big enclosure for them and buy a few more girls to keep them company. The ground was so overgrown with nettles that we had to hire some machinery to clear and level it. The easy bit should have been putting up the fence, but a six-foot chain link fence needs 8ft posts and handling the post-rammer was not easy. When you hire a post-rammer, they should tell you that you will need a six-pack to be able to use it and you may end up looking like Popeye. We did feel pleased with ourselves at the end result though.

Before we took on the pigs we did a lot of research about preparing the ground. We read a lot of books and did a lot of research on the internet, which was actually quite confusing. In the end we managed to find a local pig breeder who gave us lots of advice and guidance and also first pick of her large black sow's litter. Knowing how hard it was to put up the fence posts, we decided to check the prices for electric fencing, but being suckers for hard work and also wanting to save a few pounds we were soon out there with the post-rammer again, this time with one of our sons helping us. Once this was secured we felt happy that the pigs wouldn't be able to escape, until, that is, we went back to see Jane, our pig breeder, and we saw how far a pig is capable of digging down in an effort to escape! So off we went to buy more wire and wood and this time we buried it down further and sorted it...we hope!

Next: the prices of the huts for the pigs seems extortionate. So, we have decided to make it ourselves. It's a bit bigger than we anticipated, but they will grow into it and we could expand if things go well. We saved money on the feeder and water trough by buying second-hand from an auction. We are really getting hooked on these auctions.

Now to the planning: We have looked and dug around this vast plot and discovered that the most manageable soil is down at the bottom of the field. So we did some digging and used a rotavator (which we bought at auction) we spent the next few weeks trying to clear a nettle infested field. 20 sacks of nettles later we had only cleared three plots but it was a start. We used up the old corrugated roofing from the barn we barricaded it in to stop the pesky rabbits. Little did we know that there is something even more pesky than rabbits - wire worms. And then there's the birds and the mice. We used to moan about snails and slugs when we kept a garden in Essex, but that's nothing compared to this lot. We planted a crop of onions and couldn't understand why they were not thriving until we pulled them up and discover they were full of these horrible worms. We refuse to be outdone by the wildlife and we got some netting, plastic bottles, underlay and tins and we buried potato peelings in the ground which the worms will attack and then we get rid of them. We are hoping the potatos in the poly tunnel will be okay...or will the wire worms get to them...

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Next week: the day we brought the pigs home.

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