A field of mown grass may not be the most exciting photograph ever but it is a sight to lift the hearts of all dairy farmers as it means we have begun the hard work of ensuring that our cows will be fed throughout the winter. The Farmer & Sons started mowing today, the earliest we have ever cut and the crop is looking very good, not too wet despite the recent rain and with the lovely sunshine this afternoon it is drying nicely and seems to be good thick crop. The past few days have been spent preparing the machinery and tractors and now the Sons are in their element, driving huge tractors with impressive kit bringing in the humble but essential grass crop. This is of course only the first cut there will be at least two more before the end of the summer. Once our fields are done the Sons will be out mowing and carting on other farms as contractors and will be putting in very long hours and driving kit considerable distances. But they love it! The whole valley will be humming with the sounds of silage-making over the next few weeks and everyone will watching the weather forecasts like hawks. Speaking of which, the buzzards (a neat segue don't you think!) are already wheeling over the mown fields looking out for the poor little victims of the mowing machines which are to become their next meal of carrion...it was ever thus, even in the days before tractors and mowers. Horse-drawn machines and scything also unavoidably destroyed small mammals hidden in thick grass and corn and so the predators work alongside the farmers.
The hedgerows are beginning to teem with flowers. The bluebells are everywhere and now being followed by the stitchworts, red campions, the green spires & white flowers of Jack-by-the-hdge, Queen Anne's Lace or cow parsley to give it it's more mundane name. There are whiffs of garlic from the ramsons scenting the air and glints of gold where the lovely little yellow Welsh poppy has seeded itself. It appears in all sort of unexpected places as well in the garden. The gardens are coming on well and we are beginning to have a marvellous display of rhododendrons and azaleas.
With just three weeks to go before we open our gates to the general public for Open Farm Sunday on June 5th, I am beginning to think about how the farm looks and seeing what needs to be tidied up, particularly around the main yard. The Farmer will mow the lawns to within an inch of their lives,the edges will be strimmed and the general clutter will put away...it's just like tidying the house before visitors but on a slightly larger scale. We pride ourselves on having a fairly tidy yard most of the time anyway, but when one looks at with the eyes of a visitor one suddenly notices the unattractive heap of electric fence posts and the hanks of baler string that have been discarded in a busy moment and then forgotten. The place will still look like a working farm but maybe with neater edges.
This is the tenth year of Open Farm Sunday (www.farmsunday.org)though only the second time that we have taken part. I think there about 7 farms in Wales taking part though up to 300 all over the UK. It is an important initiative that encourages farmers to allow the public onto real working farms to see how food is produced. Our visitors will given a guided walk around the farm buildings and the fields with an opportunity to ask us about any aspect of food, farming and agriculture in general that interests them...I hope we will be able to give them good & informative answers! As well as having a farm walk our visitors will then be able to relax with a cup of tea and cake (all free of charge)and see the cows come in for milking. We just all pray for a day of fine weather.
As we are now thankfully, no longer under TB restrictions the Farmer & I took some young steers to the market in Carmarthen (www.bjpmarts.com) last week. We arrived there at 9.30 which was rather late as our lot numbers were in the 500's. Our animals didn't go through the ring until 3.00pm! So it was a long day. As it was the first time we had attended the mart for beef & sucklers we stayed the day, having breakfast & lunch in the mart cafe. It was actually a rather jolly day as we met up with various friends & acquaintances whom we had not seen for some time and it is fascinating watching the animals go through the ring and seeing the buyers & auctioneers at work. It was sale of suckler cows with calves at foot, steers, bullocks & bulls. The bulls were scary...they are so big and do exude a slight air of menace and even the drovers who a handle such beasts all the time are wary of them and do not spend any more time than they have to in the ring with them but take refuge behind strong narrow gates. They are put through the ring one at a time but bulls can be unpredictable especially in a strange & disturbing new environment, however they were all very well behaved that day and they were sold without incident.
This morning I accompanied the Lady Artist, who is nearly at the end of her month's working holiday in the cottage, to the horse sales held in the local village of Llanybydder each month (www.evansbros.co.uk). As always it was an interesting day...people watching as well as horse watching. I will confess to being not very knowledgeable about equine matters, but the Lady Artist is an expert and so with her fund of knowledge it was a very enjoyable couple of hours. There were horse & ponies of all kinds; coloured ponies & horses of all types, an enormous 17 hand chestnut stallion, tiny Shetland ponies no higher than a coffee table, flighty, frightened young ponies brought down off the hill, a couple of woolly donkeys and some very smart hunters. The tiny Shetlands we thought we should tuck into our coat pockets and bring home and the Lady Artist was quite tempted by some of the other horses but managed to resist the temptation to take them back to Suffolk.
As with all livestock auctions there is a great atmosphere of anticipation by both buyers and sellers. Will the buyers be able to get the bargain bomb-proof pony they need for the children and will the sellers get the price they know or hope their animal is worth? Some sellers were visibly disappointed especially if their beautifully groomed and well-presented animal did not reach its reserve and others just accepting whatever sum the the auctioneer's hammer goes down on. It is a noisy, clattering business and for some of the animals there quite terrifying while for others who are used to crowds of people at shows, hunt meets and point-to-points they are ridden or walked around the ring quite calmly before being loaded into boxes to go back home or to to a new stable.
It was very cold in Llanybydder and seems to have got colder still this evening, though that may be wind chill..it has got very blowy. Yesterday we had constant hammerings of pea-sized hail, interspersed with flurries of snow which was then quickly melted by lovely sunshine before the next pelting of hailstones. The fruit trees are just about to burst into flower and it will be a great shame if the blossom is damaged by the severe weather causing a poor harvest later on. The oak trees are coming into leaf well ahead of the ash so we may be in for a dry summer...but what we are all waiting for is an increase in temperature so the grass will start to grow. The smiling yellow primroses and Quink-coloured bluebells are everywhere and the birds are singing madly so spring is here despite the weather's oddness.
A happy morning for us as we've just had the all clear from our vet on the bovine TB. We have had two clear tests, 60 days apart, which means that we can take big sigh of relief that we are no longer under restrictions and can now sell some calves and relieve the pressure in the sheds as we have had to keep every calf born this winter. So some bull calves will be going to the mart before too long.
Yesterday the Farmer & I had to go up to Lampeter and then went on to Tregaron up in the Cambrian Mountains. It was beautiful up there as always and we had the thrill of seeing what was almost certainly the only golden eagle living in the wild in Wales. We had been told about it by a chap I know slightly who we met in Tregaron who gives guided walks in the Cambrian Mountains(www.twmstreks.com) . He told us where it was most likely to be seen in area we know and there it was soaring on the thermals above the hills. A wonderful sight. How popular it will be with sheep farmers who have lambs out on the hill at present is a question though!
Yesterday the cows went out for the first time onto pasture, always a significant day in the farming calendar. Once the cows realise that they are not going back to their cubicle shed but are being pushed out of the yards and up the lane they bellow with joy and anticipation and once they reach the field they dance in pure happiness. It is sight to be seen. Once the initial euphoria has worn off they settle to serious grazing of the lush fresh grass which must be such a delight after the winter diet of silage. It is such a slow spring this year that we are about ten days late with turnout but that is just the way of things.
The swallows have arrived and their are several pairs swooping around the buildings often with nest-building material in their beaks. They dive into the buildings and up into the rafters where they build their nests that look like little mud-cups attached to the beams.
At the weekend the Farmer, our grand-daughter & I took a picnic to the coast and walked a section of the All Wales Coast Path (www.walescoastpath.gov.uk) near Moylegrove in north Pembrokeshire (www.visitpembrokeshire.com). It was glorious clear sunny day and the views were spectacular. The sea was calm and a most beautiful jade-green colour broken up by the dark patches of the cloud shadows. We saw small groups of oyster-catchers flitting across the water, the ubiquitous gulls floating over the water & rock doves in a shadowy rock 'cauldron' created eons ago by the sea cutting away an arch to form a tiny cove that is inaccessible other than by swimming through the arch,(as the Farmer has done in warmer weather) when the tide is high.
This lovely picture of some of our ewes & lambs was taken by the Lady Artist who is staying in the cottage. Although we are almost halfway through April it is proving to be very slow spring, probably because it is still very cold. We had flurries of snow, sleet & hail a couple of days last week and very strong winds last night. Despite the cold the daffodils are amazing this yeear. We had noted last year that they did not put on they usual flamboyant display and clearly they were having a rest and are making up for it this year.
During the Easter holiday we took our small grand-daughter to the livestock mart in Carmarthen. She had never been before and she was fascinated to see so many calves in one place and to hear the auctioneer rattle at top-speed his selling patter. After seeing the calves we went and had lunch in the mart cafe...always a good meal, fresh, well-cooked food for hungry farmers. We then went to see the dairy cows going through the ring. It wwas quite shock to see how low prices are, clearly reflecting the current difficulties with the milk price. The calf trade, however was very good.
We realised that having been under movement restrictions due to TB and therefore unable to sell any of our stock in the marts we had not been for over a year and this is an aspect of the TB crisis that is not ever mentioned. For many farmers the weekly visit to the mart is a chance to meet up with friends and catch-up with local goings-on and with so many farms being under restriction this important social contact is lost. Farmers live isolated lives as it is and without the regular meeting up at the mart they can become even more isolated and lonely.
This is one of the most beautiful times of year with birds singing, hedges greening up and the wild flowers beginning to weave their tapestry through the fields,woods and secret corners of the farm. Today the weather is lovely and the daffodils & narcissus are still coming into flower and lighting up the gardens and the drive with their golden battalions. I've found the first violets peering shyly on hedgebanks which are also starred with glorious gleaming celandines and tiny creamy wild strawberry flowers. They look like the exquisite paintings found in the borders of medieval manuscripts.
We have a Lady Artist from Suffolk staying in the cottage at the moment. She has come to Wales for a working holiday for a few weeks & is enjoying the sharp contrast of the landscape here to that of flat Suffolk. I hope the weather stays reasonable for her
Why do people come to Wales? It is a big and complex question.
When asked many holiday-makers say they come for the wonderful scenery and the quieter pace of life, but many have admitted to me that it is fine for a week but they couldn't live here. For those who think the opposite and do take the plunge and decide to re-locate to a part of Wales they have visited as tourists a few times, it can be a major adjustment not just geographically but culturally. Wales quite simply is not like England and for many incomers this is hard to understand. Many don't really try and feel the need to Anglicise their new environment. There are far too many old Welsh farmsteads that have had their centuries-old names 'translated' into English. I was told by one person who did this that they couldn't expect their visitors from England coming to stay in their converted barns to be able to find them if the name was in Welsh! Excuse me! Would they think this way if they had moved to France? I doubt it & it probably wouldn't occur to them do even give their French abode an English name. But in Wales it seems the language can be ignored as an inconvenience.
To the indigenous people, the locals, this arrogance and lack of appreciation of an ancient language & culture is deeply offensive...something that has been expressed to me many times by our Welsh-speaking friends. It is remarkable that the Welsh language, one of the oldest in Europe, should still survive here on the edge of the western world after so many centuries of aggressive attempts to eradicate it. The continuing energy within the Welsh-speaking community is a testament to how much it matters that minority cultures need to be kept alive, not by artificial means but by people living their lives. Welsh is the language of poets & I was fascinated to learn recently that the sale of books of poetry written in Welsh is proportionately greater than any other book in Wales. That must be reflection on how valued a language is by its speakers.
Whilst tourism is a major & vital part of the Welsh economy (and I am part of it, though not as an incomer nor as Welsh speaker but part of Welsh-speaking family) the risk is that Wales becomes a theme park and its language & culture quaint curiosities. The fact that life for many people, particularly in this part of Wales, is conducted almost entirely in Welsh, English only spoken when absolutely necessary, seems to be an irrelevance. If incomers could tap into the vibrant cultural life of their Welsh neighbours they would find a full range of activities carrying on very well without a word of English being used. However, this is sometimes seen as being exclusive and unfriendly...it is not, it is simply the local people getting on with their lives using their own language. For our guests coming to real Welsh Wales here in Carmarthenshire, it is a revelation to many of them that Welsh is a language in daily use & that Wales is more than just mountainous, green damp countryside & comic stereotypes. Of course, for most people the joy of coming to Wales is the diverse landscapes and to be somewhere different from home & the cultural issues don't impinge on visitors who are here for only a week or two & why should they? However, for those who choose to come and live here then a little more sensitivity, research & consideration for the native people of the foreign country that they have come to would not go amiss.
Full-time farmers-wife, cook, laundress, gardener, meeter-&-greeter, mobile gate, answerphone service & bibliophile.
Have lived for over 30 years on a 200 acre organic dairy farm in the Welsh hills, with fiddle-playing farmer husband and two sons.
We host farm walks for schools and any other interested parties and have farm open days and are passionate about educating people on where their food comes from and the importance of the countryside.
We also have a sweet holiday cottage with roses round the door available throughout the year for the perfect country retreat.
Contact for further details;
Telephone; 01559 370341
Sleeps 4 Wood-burning stove Logs, electricity, bedlinen & towels included in price Free WiFi Natural spring water Beautiful views Only 30 minutes from beaches One well behaved dog welcome (£15) Short Breaks available (out of school holidays only)- 2 nights £100, 3 nights £150
A delightful gypsy wagon on an organic farm in West Wales.
Cabin with kitchen, shower-room & wood-burning stove.
Camping with a difference. http://www.oldoakgypsywagon.co.uk/
As Seen on TV
Penyrallt has been used as a film location on a number occasions for feature films & television productions.
1993Tan ar y Comin / A Christmas ReunionStarring James Coburn & Edward Woodward Directed by David Hemmings & Carol Byrne-Jones. Saban / Y Wennol (Wales) 1996-1999Yr Palmant Aur A Welsh language period drama. Opus TV / S4C (Wales)
1999A Two Way JourneySolo Spot Produciones. (Spain) 2007Y Ty Cymraeg A Welsh language programme about Welsh architecture presented by Dr Greg Stevenson. S4C Cwpwrdd DilladA Welsh language programme about Welsh fashion design. The designs of Adam Marc James were photographed at Penyrallt. S4C
2011Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience; Series 2 - FarmerStand-up comedian Rhod Gilbert trys his hand at farming. BBC One Wales/Presentable TV BBC Two.
2012 Mud MenSeries 3Episode; Blackwall
Johnnie Vaughan& Steve Brooker
Film of River Teifi, West Wales
Teifi; From Sea to Source
A beautiful 35 minute film following the River Teifi from the air with a sound track of Welsh folk music, poetry & narrative made by the Teifi Valley Tourism Association. To order a copy go to www.teifivalleyholidays.co.uk