Saturday, May 20, 2006


It's an odd word, smallholder. It sounds a bit like the fist of a tiny child, clinging on to its father as it totters through a crowded supermarket. But no, your average Welsh smallholder is a lot older than that - a seventies drop out who came west to settle in a draughty old farmhouse and now ekes out a meagre living from six acres, three pigs, a dozen sheep and a cow with only three udders.

I had to get up way too early this morning because of smallholders, so I'm not especially endeared to them as a breed at the moment. The Horse Doctor has a stand at the annual Smallholders Show at Builth Wells today and tomorrow, meaning she had to be there at crack of sparrow's fart with her sheep, Billy the Bowmont and his friend.

Billy the Bowmont SheepBilly the Bowmont Sheep

Billy is part of the experimental Bowmont flock, a cross between an Australian Saxon Merino and a Shetland. He has very soft wool, which gets all the spinners and weavers in a tizzy. The project was on display, along with Billy and his friend, as part of the Wonder Wool Wales exhibition (I kid you not - that would be goats), and the Horse Doctor had to be on hand to field awkward and embarrassing questions during the event.

I didn't go to the show in the morning - I reckon about an hour and a half of smallholders is at least an hour too much - but such is the division of labour around here, I still got kicked out of bed at six. Still, on the plus side it meant I got my writing quota done by lunchtime.

brecknock hill cheviotSome people think these are attractive

In the afternoon, however, I was forced to the show, otherwise the Horse Doctor would have had to stay there overnight. With Billy and Friends.

For whatever reason, today I was not in the mood to do crowds. Actually, most days I'm not in the mood to do crowds. I hate places where too many people crowd together and mill about with no purpose. At the Smallholders Show it was even worse, since it had been raining steadily all day and there were too many people milling about with no purpose and umbrellas.

A surprising number of people seemed to have bought chickens - apparently the identity badge of the wannabe smallholder (my brother keeps three chickens in his half acre garden). Most of these chickens were being taken back to family saloon cars in cardboard boxes with 'This Way Up' printed on them and an arrow pointing resolutely down. Small children scampered happily around the feet of their indulgent parents, excited at the thought of fresh eggs. When, as happens all too often, they realise six months into chicken ownership that they're no longer shovelling any dog pooh off the lawn, I suspect the excitement of fresh eggs will begin to lose its shine. I didn't buy chickens, though I'd really like some - I hate shovelling dog pooh off the lawn. Instead I sat in on a talk by the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales all about avian flu.

My only task at the show (apart from picking up the Horse Doctor) was to find something for supper. So I headed on over to the pig hall.

Gloucester Old Spot PigletsGloucester Old Spot Bacon

They were doing a strange show called 'The History of the British Pig', which basically involved wheeling all the strange pig breeds they could find into a ring, each one representing a different era. For each era, the handlers were dressed in 'authentic' costume, although the caveman who came in with the wild boar rather ruined things with his Jarvis Cocker spectacles. It was quite interesting, really (though an easy target for sarcastic wit), and a good opportunity to get some photos of rare pig breeds.

Wild boar ribs

Photos are just about the only reason for going to the smallholders. They have almost every type of sheep there you can imagine (and some even I can't), also goats, though this year it was mostly angoras, which was a bit dull. And then there were the camelids.

alpacaTeddy bear?

There's nothing quite so stupid-looking as an alpaca - they warm the heart of the most jaded and cynical. Quite simply, it's impossible to look at them and not have a smile come to your face, which is probably why they're on this earth, since there's bugger all financial sense in keeping them.

another alpacaWhy the long face?

When they're slightly nervous, they make ridiculous noises too.

We escaped the Smallholders Show with our sanity more or less intact. It's on again tomorrow, but there's not enough tea in China, let alone money in the project budget, to persuade me to go back. Time was I quite fancied the life of a smallholder, manfully growing my own food, milking my own cats and making my own cheese. Reality is more painful. You can't make a living out of some toothless old sheep and a cow with a gammy leg. Six acres isn't a farm, it's a liability.

But I'll probably go back to the show next year.


Blogger Stuart MacBride said...

Ha, we’re getting chickens! Well, I’m getting chickens as a birthday present from the MacBrides senior, but it amounts to the same thing. I’d hate cleaning dog poo off the lawn too, but we don’t have a dog, so it’s not really a day-to-day issue. Instead they’ll have to live on bugs and worms and grass and stuff. And when they’re not looking we’ll live on them.


May 21, 2006 9:54 am  

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