Report on Farm walk at Matthew & Debbie Kieboom’s holding

A breezy but dry day saw some 15 of us gather for a farm walk at Bwythyn Y Rhosyn, the home of Debbie and Matthew Kieboon. North of Cardigan and not far from the coast at Aberporth, their 5 acre holding is tucked away down a narrow lane. The first thing we saw as we came through the garden gate was the amazing straw-build round house. This is a work in progress with on-going work to the interior. The idea is to use the space to supplement the accommodation in the main house, this will be useful as they often have wwooffers to help on the holding. If anyone is interested in this building technique then contact Debbie or Matthew as they do hold working party days.

The holding carries a wide range of poultry from quail to geese and Debbie sells eggs from her “shopette” at the garden gate. At this time of year some of the ducks and geese were busy incubating clutches of eggs and we saw several family groups free ranging around the lawns. The main field is some two acres and the plan is to divide this into smaller paddocks to allow for more efficient management of the grazing. Most of the goats were happily grazing and browsing here apart from the billy who, in true goat fashion, had decided that the grass is always greener on the other side and had hopped over the fence! We were joined on our meander by the wethergoat “Baby Satan” who you may remember form Debbie’s talk earlier in the year – he was very gentle and curious and not at all satanical! Her herd is now closed and she has registered her stock to add value to any offspring sold; male kids are raised for meat and the milk produced is used in the house and processed into cheese and kefir. The animals are fed on an organic multi-species pellet bought in bulk from High Peak, Debbie has chosen this because the protein element is provided by peas and field beans rather than soya which she feels can pose a health risk to both the animal and ultimately yourselves as the end consumer. Sharing the paddock were several groups of breeding hens in their “hen tractors” these mobile house and run combinations allow for easy moving onto fresh grass the houses have slatted floors so the manure self-spreads and fertilises the ground. The houses were ingeniously constructed using a wide variety of reclaimed materials. Debbie keeps several breeds of chickens and rates Copper Marans very highly as well as the Bresse Gauloises, a dual purpose French breed with the hens laying a good number of buff eggs and the cockerels maturing at 20 weeks to give a 4 kg bird.

The field is bordered by an area of ancient woodland now in the process of being re-juvenated with plans to coppice. Sometime after they had moved in, Debbie’s father hacked through years of neglect only to discover a good sized pond which is now being enjoyed by the geese and ducks. They keep the auto-sexing Pilgrim and American Buff geese, as well as Muscovy and Welsh Magpie ducks. There were more poultry enclosures on the edge of the woodland with various hens including a rehabilitated s Silkie hen, nursed back to health after surviving a fox attack and Raymond Blanc another Bresse Gauloises cockerel. We wandered back up to the house through the vegetable patch; this had been raised beds but is now being converted to a no dig system as the paths between the original beds took too much maintenance. Cane fruit is grown along fences which support the plants and in turn the plants act as wind breaks. Debbie grows lots of herbs including lemon balm and mint which she cuts and dries to feed to her goats during the winter. The heavily laden fig tree was admired and envied in equal measure!

Matthew did a sterling job providing tea and coffee when we retired to the round house for our picnic lunch, and yet again I came away inspired and with some good ideas to try at home – not to mention a dozen guinea fowl eggs that are now in the incubator!

By Claire Wadley