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By Katie Thear
Bees fit in very well with a fruit and vegetable enterprise. Our orchard was home to free-range hens as well as bees. As long as the hives are sited in such a way that hens (or people) do not pass directly in front of the hives, but have the bees’ flight path directed upwards by a fence placed about a metre (approx. 3ft) in front, there is little likelihood of stings.
The pollinating activities of bees help to ensure good harvests and local honey is always popular.
Joining the local beekeeping society is essential, for beekeeping is very much a cooperative activity. Most societies are affiliated to the British Beekeepers’ Association.
It is important, for example, that all the beekeepers in a particular area coordinate their activities when dealing with the varroa mite that can infest and cause disease in bee stocks. Local societies also provide practical help and information, and supplies such as honey jars and labels can often be purchased through them. They also keep members up to date with any new regulations, such as the extra labelling of produce requirements that were introduced in 2004.
Anyone with sheep, goats, pigs or cattle has to register with the Animal Health Office (AHO) of the local Trading Standards office and obtain (from the local DEFRA office) advisory information, including the welfare codes that apply. A unique CPH (county, parish, holding) number can then be issued. Each animal must be identified by means of a tattoo or ear tag with appropriate records kept of movements from one site to another. For cattle there is also an additional passport that accompanies each animal.
It is necessary to keep details of any veterinary treatments that are administered. These include vaccinations and worming preparations as well as any medicines such as antibiotics that may be required for treating illnesses.
There are specified ‘withdrawal times’ after treatment during which meat and other produce cannot be sold. These are often longer where organic produce is concerned.
There are also certain ‘notifiable diseases’ such as foot and mouth disease, sheep scab and fowl pest whose presence must be notified to the authorities. Bear in mind that there are also diseases that are transmissible from livestock to humans so a good level of hygiene and handwashing should always be observed after contact with animals. A copy of the Health and Safety publication The Occupational Zoonoses is available from DEFRA.
Animals need adequate housing and protected grazing areas, with sufficient pasture to allow for rotational use. A properly equipped trailer will also be needed where transport is needed, as for example to an agricultural show or to an abattoir. Supplies such as hay, straw and feeds will need to be bought in and stored on a regular basis.
Choice of breeds is important. The small-scale breeder is perhaps best advised to concentrate on pedigree traditional breeds. In this way, purebred stock can be sold to those with an interest in pure and rare breeds, while crosses of these with a more commercial breed can be produced for meat.
An example might be a commercial Duroc pig crossed with a Large Black sow that produces pigs which reach pork weight more quickly and that have fuller hams. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust looks after the interest of many traditional breeds of sheep, pigs and cattle.
Joining the local branches of national livestock organisations is also recommended for their ability to provide help, information and contact with other owners of the same type of animal. They include the British Goat Society and the British Pig Association . There may also be a smallholders’ association in your area. The library will usually have details of local organisations.
There may be financial help in the form of subsidies in some areas of the countryside and for some animals such as sheep. To find out if you qualify contact DEFRA.