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PAT & ROSS GRAY
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HILLASH DIARIES(click to enlarge photos)

August 2013

At last we have had some lovely warm weather, the foals are blooming. A couple of late foals looked so hot I brought them in for a couple if hours in the middle of the day. The foals are so friendly this year, they really are the most loving little bundles of fun. The really hot spell was broken by some hefty thunder storms which brought some really welcome rain. I know what you are thinking all that moaning about the rain a few hot days and we want rain again. We have made a lovely lot of really good hay, much more than last year and the silage should be really good quality. We are hopeful that we will get enough straw from our neighbour as this is likely to be short this year. I have decided to plough up one of the paddocks as after three years of spraying buttercups they still outnumber the grass, although they look pretty I detest them with a passion, almost as much as ragwort. We were given the use of a really rough field full of brambles and ragwort so I had to rely on my little helpers to come down and pull a mountain of the weed, as pulling ragwort with a bad back is not much fun. We have the addition of some adorable miniature Mediterranean donkeys, some of the ponies don't know what to make of them but other true to type haven't even noticed them. We have just ordered our microchips so we will soon arrange for the vet to come and put them in, then the foals will be registered and the next sage will be weaning the older ones.

 

May 2013

Well,the early Spring never came, one of the coldest and latest on record. The ponies started foaling in early April so they had to be brought in at night and when it rained which was most days. The only place we had any grass was on the lawns, so we had four legged lawn mowers when it dry enough. We lost one little filly foal to a first time mum, I.had checked her every hour but still managed to miss the start and the foal had died before we could get it out with the help of the vet at four in the morning. It has not been easy so far this year having to cope with all the trails and tribulations and having to wear a metal brace to support my back. I made the mistake of lending my stallion Squirrel Nutkin to a friend and we would have him back in time to run with my mares last year. She really let me down over the sale of another stallion we had purchased together as obviously money was of a higher priority to her, than a friendship that had lasted many years, although on reflection it was very one sided, and I bought several of her ponies to help her out over the years. Back to Squirrel, we went over and picked him up and he looked in good health and was duly given ten mares, but he only managed to get two of these in foal, so really not sure what had happened to him . The bad weather can't be blamed as my 23 year old stallion managed to get four of his mares in foal.

 

February 2013

Unfortunately I had an accident with one of the cows resulting is a fracture of the spine and a leg crushed under a gate. Luckily my two daughters and son, who all work full time and non living close to home rallied round and made sure all the animals were fed and watered, not to mention me. Not a bad time of year to be laid up as it has turned really cold and after a bit of dry weather in January, this month is cold and wet. What an awful year last year was with so much rain, the only up side was there was always plenty of grass, but we just couldn't get on the fields to get it cut. Hay and straw were particularly difficult to get dry. Hopefully we will have enough to see us through and we are hoping for an early spring and some sunshine.

 

January 2012

x   x

Happy New Year to all. The weather continues in a very mild note, ponies are being fed hay now but the grass is still growing. We had a flurry of enquiries in the last couple of months and have sold all the colts left over from the previous year and most of the foals; some have left to start a showing career, some as companions to either another horse or a human and some have gone as pets, but all have found individual pony loving homes.

With the New Year here we are now looking forward to spring, it is so much better than last year with all that snow, give me wet and mild any day. If it gets really wet the ponies come in on a concrete yard and have the use of a large barn.

I saw the first foal kicking a couple of days ago. The pony actually belongs to my daughter, she was given her a couple of years ago as the stud was re-locating, and as she gets laminitis, they were going to put her down. My daughter, Katie, always the soft touch, asked if she could have her, and as I said previously managing laminitis it not too hard. She will probably be one of the first to foal as she missed last year. I love watching the mares when they are resting as that is when you are most likely to see the foal kicking.

The first spring bulbs are coming out, crocus and some snowdrops and I saw a lovely bullfinch, hopefully the birds are having an easier time of it so far, they are certainly not taking so much food from the bird table and the blackbirds are still eating the crab apples.




October 2011

x   x

Foals are being weaned in really lovely weather, very mild and warm and more grass now than all summer. Some foals have been put up for sale and several enquiries are being received, and although prices have come back a bit there are still many genuine caring homes out there looking for that special little pony. We don't breed from every pony every year and have found that even ponies that have arrived here with a laminitic problem can be managed even when not in foal. If we can keep ponies fit and well when not in foal on the rich pasture we have here in Somerset, then everyone should be able to do so.

The garden is still looking really good, no frost as yet and most of the trees and hedges have yet to shed their leaves. The last swallows left a few weeks ago but there are plenty of bees still enjoying the sunny days. The cows are all back home now and being fed silage in the field, several have calved now. They and the ponies are not worried by the helicopters, we now get the Chinook was well as the Apache and Lynx, we are very close to the airfield where the Navy train their pilots.

We bought in plenty of hay, but the ponies are fine on just grass at the moment only the foals have some when they are shut in at night.



September 2010

 
Lovely green fileds back again   We don't mind sharing

The weather finally broke in the middle of August, just in time for the harvest. This really has been a difficult year weather wise, although there was rain about in July and August it seemed to go around us and our fields were very brown and dusty. It is quite amazing that the grass actually grows again, some fields are looking a bit thin but at least the grass is trying to grow. Luckily the little field we rented for silage has had more rain than we had here and we are hoping for a 4th cut next month. More hay has been bought in so the ponies will have plenty for winter.

The first foals are being micro-chipped and weaning will start at the end of the month. A couple of the older mares are looking a bit thin, but this will soon change when the foals come off and they have more grass, we will then be trying to ensure they don't get too fat!

My apologies for going on and on about the weather in these notes but it really does effect everything I do, it is the one thing we cannot control, we can only try to anticipate its effects and deal with it, as for the supposed weather forecasters, don't even go there, I don't think they should be paid when they get it wrong so often.


May to July 2010

 
Where is the grass...   We found some!

Spring months were very dry and the early foals have enjoyed the weather- it has certainly been a lot easier being able to leave them out and not worry about them getting wet and cold. We installed some cameras this year so I could watch the mares, each night we picked out the ones that looked most like foaling and I dozed over the monitor all night, on letting them out in the morning foals popped out all over the place, not one was born in the stables with the cameras on! Having the cameras sort of worked as it put the mares off foaling indoors and I saw most of the foals born in the daytime.

We lost the use of a piece of land we rented, about 35 acres just up the road. It's where we made most of our silage and then put the cows on it until October and then ponies for the winter. We have managed to rent 5 acres quite a distance away and it’s not fenced, so is unsuitable for stock, so most of the cows and all the ponies will have to stay here. Unfortunately the dry spring has turned into a dry summer and forage crops are a third down, meaning we have had to feed hay bought in the winter. Even though grass has been in very short supply the foals are doing very well and mares seem happy. The ponies and cows always do well when it is dry and sunny and don't seem to eat as much as when it is wet.

All the foals have moulted their baby coats and for a couple of weeks looked very silky, they are now starting to grow their fluffy winter coats. The older foals are getting very friendly and really love attention; they really are a lovely bunch, some gorgeous colours and again more colts than fillies. Five have had their first foals this year, one of these Rebel's mum Lucy locket is 8 years old and decided this year to have a foal! The mares run with the stallions for 2 months each summer, some get in foal every year, some miss a year, and some only have a foal every 2 or 3 years. I am not sure if the weather dictates their fertility or if its their diet, or if some just don't like the stallion, but like us they are all different. You can often tell if a mare is not in foal for the next year when you wean her baby, she knows she is not in foal and gets more upset when the foal is weaned, whereas if she is in foal she is quite happy to leave it and often weans it herself.


January 2010

Happy New Year to you all.

Lets see what this year will bring, already the Shetland Society has increased all its fees for registrations, change of ownership, D.N.A. tests etc, this on top of the extra cost of having to get all the foals microchipped, not really the best news in a recession Unfortunately some studs will inevitiably put more foals down, a practice I have never and will never agree to, as I believe every life is special, and if we bring them into the world we should do our best to find them homes.

Most of the ponies are now in their winter quarters; a covered yard with an outside concrete area where we feed them. They have two round feeders, one with hay and the other haylage, which is really just dry silage, most prefer the haylage but a few just like hay. We do this more to save the fields than to keep them warm as they are quite happy outside. They often still stand out in the rain instead of going into the barn.

Some of the ponies are looking quite large, I have tried with a pregnancy scanner, which works on a doplar system, but as the ponies are so hairy it is difficult to get good contact, but I have seen a couple of foals kicking, this still seems the cheapest way of seeing who is in foal.

The cold weather has caused a lot of extra work, feeding is not a problem but getting water to the troughs is very time consuming, as all the pipes were frozen so we have to rely of hose pipes, but when it is very cold we have to bring them in as soon as you turn the water off as the water freezes in the pipe. Luckily the ponies do not drink much, but the cows drink gallons, especially as most have calves and are milking well.

The wild birds really struggle when it is frosty for too long. We had a flock of redwings and fieldfare for several days eating the fallen apples in the orchard, when they were nearly finished I bought some cheap apples to keep them going. The bird table is a hive of activity, as well as the usual birds, we had some bullfinches, a woodpecker and even a moorhen. The little flock of long tailed tits usually feed when the starlings have left, they always seem such happy little birds, unlike the starlings and robins that are always squabbling.

Roll on the Spring, we have a few snowdrops trying to make an appearance but on the whole most things are still asleep.

August 2009

End of August already and the autumn weather has already arrived with some very stormy weather. Summer was a non-starter again, but the foals do not seem to mind. They are growing really well and only a couple still have their foal coats; one of which was born on the 4th July- a lovely grey roan filly. She has so much presence and is always on her toes- you can't take a bad photo of her, unlike a black filly, Polly. Black foals are always hard to photograph at the best of times, but Polly still has some matted foal coat, so she could look better!

All the shetland foals have been micro-chipped. It went really well considering we had to temporarily take the foals away as we do not have the enough room to keep mum and foal in a separate stable, and the vets charge for the amount of time they are with you, so we thought it would be quicker to have all the foals in the stable waiting for the vet, instead of having to catch them whilst he was waiting. Only Bunty got upset, who's Polly's mum so she obviously loves her! Jovina though thought great they have taken him away to be weaned, only to get him back a bit later!

I think micro-chipping would be a good idea if all the markets and authorities have a reader and check the details against the passport, but unfortunately it seems this is only being done so our European counterparts will know if the pony has had any recent medication, so it will be safe to eat. I only hope it will eventually mean auctioneers will not be able to issue a passport on the day of the sale, making it harder to sell a stolen pony.

Hay had been made and stored- it is not very good as it was well overstood and had rain on it a couple of times, it will not be the lovely green hay made in June, but rather the brown stalky stuff made in August.

As you can see from the photo new hedges are being planted around Hillash farm, which will have many advantages. It will provide shelter from the worst of the weather, and separate the stallions with growing barriers- so they don't charge at the fences when another stallion is next door. They will also provide food and nest sites for the birds. My favourite bird is the long tailed tit, so to help these adorable little birds survive I am planting some wild gorse bushes in the hedges, as this is their favourite nest site.

Some of the foals are booked and deposits taken, these will be ready for collection at the end of September. To see our foals this year, please see our 'For Sale' page.

June 2009

Well its the end of June, only one mare left to foal. Had quite a few more colts than fillies again. Weather was very cold and wet for the first foals, they had to be brought in and out of the stables as the weather changed. The later foals were a bit luckier as we had some good sunny days. It is such a lottery, as some years we get lovely dry sunny weather early- then I wish I had put the mares in with the stallions earlier. This year I did put some in earlier than normal, so we could get some foals at the end of March- beginning of April next year- so fingers crossed for the weather! If it is bad though, I have plenty of room to bring the ponies in, as some of the cows have had to go because we have lost some grazing very close by, so I will have more room in the barns.

Unfortunately, the weather seems much more changeable now, with hardly a dry day. The foals are quite strong and growing well, and have plenty of shelter from the worst of it. Silage bales have now been made and stacked, but hay is not looking very good- hopefully it won't be like last year.

We already have a couple of enquiries about the foals, and are keeping the website updated with pictures as the foals will really start to change now.

February 2009- Then we had the snow...

 

December 2008- First we had the floods at Hillash farm.....

August 2008

Sorry it's been so long since the last entry; really don't know where the time goes. After a fairly wet spring we were all really looking forward to a warm to hot, reasonability dry summer, but we're still waiting! It has been difficult, at times, to keep the really young foals warm, popping them in and out of the stables so they are dry, but so mum also gets enough grass.

Had a really good foaling season, but we still lost one foal, which was born dead. We had three foals each born with a leg back, another foal which was really tight and required a bit of tugging, and finally one which decided to stay in the bag then born, but all of these we managed to save, either through good management or pure luck! And, all this without the aid of cameras, but we do spent a lot of time wandering the fields at night, as the ponies do not seem to settle when stabled.

Last year we had mostly colts, so this year we thought it would be a better balance, however, we ended up with a 4 to 1 ratio of colts to fillies, perhaps there is something in the water! The strange thing is the cows have been producing nearly all heifer calves; only the ones starting to calf now are having bull calves, so hopefully next year it will be all change!

What a dreadful year for making hay, we still have a lot of rubbish left over from last year, so after a lot of waiting and watching the weather forecasts, we made silage for the cows and the ponies have some haylage, but really annoyingly the forecasted rain never came, for once, and we would have had some really good hay. Hopefully the ponies will enjoy it, they can have some of the old hay until it gets cold, and then start on the haylage.

The foals are beginning to get weaned now, the first two have been taken off mum. This year we tried letting mum back in at night for the first few days, hasn't made much difference, if anything it has made the foals clingier, as they spend all their time waiting for mum to go back in. So, now the mums have been taken away completely, and the foals are pleased to see us when we go into their paddock.

We rang the Shetland Society to enquire when the passports would be received, but they are so far behind preparing ponies for Society sales, they have not started on ours that were sent after the cut-off date for the sales, and as they are all taking holidays at the moment, I do not think the passports will be back for quite a while. We know what you're thinking, why don't we send for the passports earlier, but you have to wait until the foal sheds its foal coat as they often change colour, not usually to dramatically, but it can be enough to get the colour wrong. This year, again because of all the rain, the foal coats are not coming out very early, and I can't stay I blame them!

We are receiving a lot of enquires for foals, and several have already been booked. We have had a lot of visits from really nice people, for some it is the first time they will have owed a pony, and it is lovely to be able to offer them a foal that will be a delight to own. Some ponies follow the potential owners around, as if it were them who are doing the picking!

November 2007

What a gorgeous autumn we are having, hopefully the winter will seem that bit shorter now. Most of the foals have now been weaned. This year I have been weaning them two at a time, getting them used to the halter and a bit of feed, before going on to the next two. Most of them were quite happy to leave their mums, only the filly Whisper got a bit wound up and sulked. Her mum, Emma, also did not want her to leave, which is quite unusual as I think she's in foal again, and they normally do not mind leaving the older foal then. Some of the mares actually seem relieved when the foals get taken off. I have seen them wondering around the field with the foal chasing them, getting quite grumpy with the other mares and not letting the foal suckle!The stallions are settled in their winters quarters. Squirrel has Fudge (Molly Bloom) for company, and Muffy (Zak) has Jinnie. Teddy is enjoying a rest in his small paddock and barn, which over looks the fields to his girls and the cows in the yard.

August 2007

Just finishing off the last few loads of straw. We finally made our hay in the first week of August. One field should have been made in June, so most of it resembled a carpet, as new grass had grown through the old and matted it together. It certainly isn't good hay, but it will fill them up. The second field was second cut so it should be nice, even though we had one bit of rain on it! The foals are growing and enjoying more human contact but we would all benefit from some sunshine! As with everything it is much easier when it is not raining. Some of the foals have not bothered to shed their foal coat and are now getting a winter coat, so it is much more difficult to see what their adult colour will be. The stallions have been moved from the mares and are looking really well. I think 'Teddy' looks forward to leaving the mares as he gets a rest and a bit of extra feed, such a little gent!

June 2007

Welcome to an insight into a small farm in Somerset. Initially I thought writing a few lines about the ponies would be easy, but as they are so easy to care for it will be more about what I hope will be interesting stories!

The ponies foal outside without cameras or monitors, they don’t get over-fat as the cows east the richest grass. The only downside this year has been colts currently at 4 to 1, but don’t think there is much I can do about that!

I do not show my ponies, not because I don’t think they are good enough, but because with my experience of my parents showing dogs, I know it is not always the best animal that wins.

It is the middle of June now and we are still trying to finish silage making and bringing back the seemingly endless loads of black silage bales. Haymaking seems a long way off after a really dry April we are now getting payback with not enough dry days to start.

The foals are growing well and its lovely to see them tearing around the field morning and evening in a gang, with Teddy (the stallion) trying to keep them under control, as the mums are not bothered now! The young calves do the same thing, running and jumping around. You never seem to think of them enjoying themselves not in the same way you see lambs playing on the television, but calves and foals have just as much fun. They particularly like an old bucket or broken roadside bollard to play with!