Escape to Dhikr-tory

The diary of a Londoner uprooting to a smallholding in Somerset to give the organic, green, and simple life a go.....

Friday, November 30, 2007

Where the hell have I been?

Time does fly.....can not believe my last post was that long ago. As you can imagine I have therefore been busy. Work has been hectic for the last 6 months and on top of that I have really gone into my archery and horses quite deeply which has taken up loads of my spare time. Nevertheless I am back and hopefully will be a bit more regular.

I organised a bow-making course back in October. We camped out in some woods near Glastonbury and were basically taught how to take a block of wood and literally smash it into the shape of a bow. Amazing weekend simply being out in the middle of nothing and nowhere. I can't remember the last time I had experienced such pitch black - you could not see your hand in front of your eyes at night. My weekend pretty much ended on Saturday as 4 hours of smashing a piece of wood with an axe also smashed my wrist up. I was left to watch proceedings by the camp fire for the rest of the weekend. Most people finished theirs with a few final bits to polish. It gave me a taste for camping and roughing it though - you feel a different person away from the world and technology (although we did sneak in a tv/radio to watch the rubgy world cup!).

On the small-holding things are quiet. I have learnt what I can handle now...a few chickens for meat & eggs, a couple of goats to breed some meat for Eid and the horses are plenty. Hopefully next year the veg situation will be a lot better - I gave up this summer as it was so ruddy wet. So that is my lot now. I just want to concentrate on the horses/archery and have some spare time to chill. If you give yourself too much you end up without a life! So my huge plans for sheep, geese, chickens, etc, etc, etc have died - RIP!!

My passion in life at the moment is the horseback archery. We had a big meet at my place in November - we had a good turnout and as a result we are establishing the British Horseback Archery Association (BHAA). The logo below is a world exclusive and will be up on the site once done. We hope to have a competition next year and send the top 3 people to the European Championship in Germany in 2008; I am also hoping to go with my teacher to the World Championship in Korea (God willing!). Part of the reason I am also keeping stuff on the smallholding to a minimum is that I need the space now for the horses and also for training sessions. My horse in the pic above is my girl Splash - I trained her myself for the archery and love her like I love my kids.

Anyway, hope to be back soon with more news!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


In hindsight I rather unwisely agreed to take 3 ewes and 3 lambs in exchange for having let a farmer graze some cattle on my field last summer. I thought it would be a good way to learn a bit more about them plus have some lamb grazed on our own land. All seemed fine for the first two weeks until this weekend just gone. I was in Germany on a horseback archery training weekend. Once we arrived back at Heathrow my friend called his wife who told him to tell me one of the sheep was dying! A we go I thought.

After finally getting through to my wife on the drive back to Somerset I found out it had been put down by the vet as it was infested with maggots. I did not know how to spot them and the warm weather meant they struck quick. So next morning I had to call DEFRA to get the body collected and then attempt to catch the orphan to start bottle feeding it as the other ewes were rejecting it, even pushing it around a bit.

This is where the fun started. When we were trying to catch the orphan the rest of them bolted and jumped my fence, ran across the veg patch next door and dissapeared into deep, dark Somerset! We managed to find them on a neighbouring farm but by the time my farmer mate cam with his collie and trailer they had scarpered. We searched for an hour and no sign of them! 6 hours later someone from the village knocks to ask if we have losy any sheep! There they were hiding in a field just next door. After rounding them up I asked the farmer to take them back. I really did not want the hassle of shearing them, worming them, looking for maggots and all that stuff. Forget it I thought. Goats and chickens are enough!

However, he would not take the orphan. So, we decided to keep it (well we had no choice really). My wife wanted it as a pet and started calling it Katie - I was adamant that if we kept it, it would eventually have to be slaughtered - thus the name I have given it of "Dinner". At the moment it is still scared of me so it is tied to a tree to make sure it doesn't escape and hurt itself. I have to bottle feed it which is quite nice - a lot easier than feeding my 6 month old! So we shall see how it goes - I hope it will start to put on weight, get used to us and have a happy little life. Eventualy though it must be eaten!

Other news from West End Farm include the veg patches doing OK. We need rain though and need it bad! I also have some horses coming soon - renting the field to a girl a few villages away with a couple of horses. In exchange for the land I get to ride which suits me fine. After my weekend of training I have decided I want to dedicate a lot of the land to archery so in the next couple of days I will be doing a lot of work to the ground to get it down to lawn level and then erect a massive target made out of hay.

Here is a pic of me in Germany on the training weekend. About 4 minutes after this shot was taken the horse went beserk and I had probably the scariest episode in my life. When people say your life flashes before you they are not wrong. Luckily I managed to throw myself off the horse before I was thrown into a barn wall!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I am knackered at the moment. Thoroughly cream crackered. On top of that I am feeling ill. It is times like these you just think why did I get myself into this. No matter how you feel the chickens still need feeding, the goats letting out, the seeds watering and then of course the kids and the full time job.

Oh well - "grin and bear" sums it up I suppose.

As the weather has improved we are starting to taste summer now and its time to get busy. I have lots of seeds to plant although I need to go over my veg patches again with a rotivator. I'm doing loads more veg this year to hopefully see us 80% self-sufficient for the summer. Everyting from beans to carrots to salads to herbs. I have some chillie seeds in the utility room as well as tomato and cauliflower. As soon as they are big enough all will go outside. I am so looking forward to doing it all again this year - last summer was bliss as you could finish work at 5.30 then get a good 3 hours in outside in the hazy sunshine.

There's not much else been going on. Got a few more chicks in, 20, to fatten up. The goats are doing really well although I must admit I completely forgot to trim their hooves and they are madly overgrown! They are a priority for the weekend.

I have also perfected my technique with chicken killing - will post more details once I have some photos.

I also got a but more media coverage this week. The Times Online did a small piece on my organic halal initative. Read the article here.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Metro

I made the The Metro today - a nice little article by the journalist Rahul Verma on my whole life change and organic halal meat venture.

Many thanks to Rahul and The Metro for the publicity!

You can read the article here - Put Prophet ahead of Profit

....and then there were 5

I thought the geese were going to be a good idea. Add some colour to the field, keep the grass down, etc. As usual the rose tinted glasses smashed within a week when we realised these things are bloody noisy. And when I say noisy I mean people being tortured at 5 am in the morning noisy. It was waking up Zak which meant waking us up and one of the neighbours mentioned it in that typically understated polite and English manner.

So I thought enough is enough and a couple had to go. So there I was in the field, pouring with rain trying to herd 7 geese into a pen so I could catch them. The herding them into the pen worked fine - you basically think like a sheep dog. Once they were in the pen though all hell broke loose and I had 7 geese running at me at 100 mph flapping their wings. This was man or mouse time.

It took me 3 attempts to catch one! Each time they managed to flap over the fence I put up or ram themselves under it. One managed to get his neck caught in the net so I pounced. The amazing thing with geese is that once they know the game is up they chill out. So off it went to be "dispatched" behind the shed.

I did 2 geese and gave one to a friend. So....5 left.

I also did a couple of chickens that night (one went into a tikka masala lasy night and my gosh the meat amazes me every time) and by accident went and did the last 2 remaning cockerals! I wanted to hold one back to see if I could start breeding from them but a bit too late for that as I ate them! You live and learn.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Where to Start?

The end of 06 was hectic and the start of 07 was even more so. We managed to get away for a week to Marakkech which was nice - a word of warning though - if you are bad with cigarette smoke and car fumes it is your worst nightmare. We all came back with awful coughs. If you do however go there be sure to take a tour of the tombs of the 7 Saints with Sacred Sites Morocco. Lovely people.

Work has just been crazy since I got back which has meant the smallholding has suffered. The list of jobs is still a long as my arm and nothing much seems to get done. But this has been good in a way as it has made me re-think what I want from the land. Originally it was sheep, goats, chickens and veg. Now I am happy with a couple of goats, my layers and veg; although today I inherited 7 geese! More on that later. I decided against sheep basically as I dont think you can really bond much with sheep plus I have easy access to good quality lambs when I want due to the halal meat business.

So you all met Rumble the goat. At first I thought "I can't be bothered with this" and was trying to get rid of him. Nobody wanted him so I had the choice - a) eat him or b) get him some lady friends. I could not even consider option a as I had grown really attached to him. There is something about goats that are so so lovely - they have real characters and personalities and are so loving. So I was left with option b. I luckily have a friend with a trailor (yes you Val!) and she very kindly picked me up and off we went for a drive into deep, dark Devon to the goat farm of Anthea Bay (who once called me barbaric for doing halal slaughter! I sent her some info and it seems she has now changed her mind). Val picked out a couple of lovely nannies and we brought them back to meet their new boss, Rumble. They first night was a bit scary as they bolted into the deep fog we had with Rumble galloping behind them. No sign of them! The next morning they seemed to have settled in OK. I originally built them a field shelter out of bits of wood which I lovingly called the Huckleberry Finn shack. 2 weeks later it was in pieces after they had chewed all the tarpaulin off and smashed it up. On top of that gale force winds took the roof clean off. In this pic you can see the shack in the forefront and their new mansion in the background (only cost me £179!).

I love them to bits now. One of the girls is called Abby (from the Arabic abyad meaning white) and the other is Mrs Toe (originally Mistletoe but my boy Zak called her Mrs Toe and it has stuck). It is a pleasure going out every morning and giving them their mix and filling up their straw. In the past few days they now even let me properly stroke them. I am hoping Rumble is going to do the business but at the mo it looks like he is firing blanks or the girls are not interested. It would be lovely to see a few kids jumping about in the spring and summer.

So I am leaving the main field for them really. I also want a horse but I am not rushing into that for now. As I mentioned earlier there is something special about goats and I came across this saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which seems to sow that goats have some sort of blessed position among the animals:

"Sunan Abu-Dawud Book 40, Number 4705:

Narrated Al-Abbas ibn AbdulMuttalib:

I was sitting in al-Batha with a company among whom the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) was sitting, when a cloud passed above them.

The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) looked at it and said: What do you call this? They said: Sahab.

He said: And muzn? They said: And muzn. He said: And anan? They said: And anan. AbuDawud said: I am not quite confident about the word anan. He asked: Do you know the distance between Heaven and Earth? They replied: We do not know. He then said: The distance between them is seventy-one, seventy-two, or seventy-three years. The heaven which is above it is at a similar distance (going on till he counted seven heavens). Above the seventh heaven there is a sea, the distance between whose surface and bottom is like that between one heaven and the next. Above that there are eight mountain goats the distance between whose hoofs and haunches is like the distance between one heaven and the next. Then Allah, the Blessed and the Exalted, is above that."

Pretty amazing that goats are the thing closest to Allah!

There is not much else going on. The chickens are all OK; for now anyway unless this bird flu thing blows up. I have 10 growers on the grow with a couple going in the freezer this weekend. Once they start to get to a certain weight you really need to eat them otherwise you just keep spending money on their feed.

I have ordered in my veg seeds in time for spring sowing - so excited! We miss quality tomatoes so much and this year the green house is going to be heaving with them. Am also going to give chillies a go. Apart from that it will be the usual suspects; sweetcorn, lots of beans and peas, carrots, beetroot, turnips, kale, etc. I still need to rotivate my veg plots though - have the rotivator in the shed, just need to find the time to go out there and plough it over. I did manage to clear a couple of herb plots though as I want to grow some garlic, mint, basil, dill, thyme and a few other bits.

Well today there was a bit of excitement at West End Farm. We have 7 geese! A friend upped and moved away leaving them behind so being the fool I am I said I would take them off him. I had to go round this morning and his wife was there to help me. I was petrified of them so being a true coward left her to catch them all!! Believe me when you see one of them hissing at you, you get scared. She gave me 7 of them and I slaughtered the other 3 for her. Now that was an experience! I have done chicken and lamb but a goose was a whole nex experience but it did have a bit of a profound effect on me.

I think there must be something in an animal's character that comes to fruition when they die. When I did those 3 geese they went with such grace. Chickens usually flap about, makes loads of mess and are generally mad - pretty much like they are in real life. Sheep are pretty jerky and all over the place too. But these geese! They were amazing...very quiet, no thrashing about.

So anyway, now I have these 7 geese which will be fattened up and then sold and/or eaten over the coming months.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Yes, I have not posted anything in a while. The end of 2006 and start of 2007 have been extremely manic. I will have some news from Somerset very soon!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Meet Rumble

Early Sunday a daze (as usual). Phone rings. "Neil, it's Audrey. The storms last night have knocked my buck's house down and I need to move him on. Can you take him for me please?"

Who is Audrey? She owns Eaglemead Goat Farm out on the other side of Yeovil. She and her husband were the first people ot bring the Boer goat into the UK and breed them. After her husband died a few years back the farm has started to look a bit neglected. Slowly she has let her goats go and last time we met she had her buck, "Rumble," and 3 does. She is old and Rumble was getting to much for her even then.

Usually I have loads of thoughts going through my head but for some reason I just said "yes". Then it was a mad dash to eat, bomb it to Homebase to buy a shed, go get Rumble and come back home to set up the shed and settle him in for the night. We had 6 hours - easy peasy my brother and I thought.

The shed was easy - got it into the van but then realised there was no room for the goat. So we had to go from B back to A and then from A to C to get the goat. Time was running out.....

Now all this time I was thinking, "Oh how nice; we can have a goat. He can be a pet. The boys can stroke him. How idyllic". Then we arrive at the farm and walk into his housing. My face dropped. He was MASSIVE!!!! He was stood up on his hind legs looking down at us with these friggin' great bit gigantic horns. I looked at my brother and he seemed to be in a state of shock too. Too late to pull out now....

The owner's friend then went into the pen to bring him out to walk him to the van and even he looked nervous. "What have I done?" I was thinking - "this is going to be a mad mad mad burden on me." Anyway, I just bit my tongue, stuck him on the van and away we went!

When we got home this was my first time at handling a I was a bit scared to say the least. I got up on the van took his horns and then basically wrestled the bugger off the van and tied him to the tree. Now the real fun starts - the shed!

Now if anyone thinks putting up a shed is easy then think again; it is difficult and having gale force winds and an encroaching sunset really does not do your stress levels much good. We managed to put the flooring together; when doing the side panels we had just got the screws in when this massive gust smashed it apart! We gave up in true English national cricket-team style.

After a few minutes of panicking I decided the only option I had was to clear out the shed and leave him in there. The first night he bleeted a lot but he has settled in well now. He has had to be thethered as I can't let him roam loose, but today I received a calf-shed I am going to use for him.

Just having him these past four days have been great. I was thinking of giving him away but he has grown on me so much I could not bear to do that. Instead I am getting him his own little harem (2 does). By doing this he gets some company, he can sow his seeds plus I get some meat every year from the offspring. It was never part of my plan to have or keep goats but Allah is the best of planners so I will go with the flow.

Apart from permanently stinking of goat's cheese now (his glands give off an almighty whiff which sticks to you) I also have to get up extra early now to walk him around the field so he gets some exercise. Once I have managed to build a fenced off area for him he should be able to be left to it with his female friends which will be a lot easier for me.

Once I get the does in I'll put up some pics......wish me luck!