Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Summer Work & Picnics


These past few days of heat & sunshine have meant a time of frantic busy-ness for the Farmer & the Sons. They have all been putting in very long hours making silage for ourselves and others. Apart from the hours in the fields there have also been treks across the county to other farms taking the machinery, wagons, balers, rakes to do their contracting work. The wonderful weather of course, as always, means that everyone wants their grass cutting at the same time so no sooner is work completed on one farm than they have to make their way to the next farm even if it is 11.00pm, sometimes to carry on working into the small hours or just to leave the kit ready for next morning. It is an exhausting time of year, but also very satisfying when another heap of bales is stacked on a yard or a clamp sheeted up. The Farmer has commented that it was rather a wonderful sight very late last night, after dark to see the lights of three other tractors criss-crossing faraway fields, all like him, working to get the grass in...the unacknowledged late night workers who so often are criticised for disturbing the peace of the countryside and holding up traffic, just doing their job of feeding the nation. Farmers cannot work 9-5 when so much of what we do is weather dependent & when hundreds of acres of grass need to be harvested.
I spend much time making piles of sandwiches which are grabbed by tractor drivers as they come & go between jobs. On Sunday however, I had a phone call to say would I take a cooked lunch, in the form of lasagne & boiled potatoes, out to the field where they were working. The original plan had been that they would come home for lunch but as usual the plan changed. The lasagne was just out of the oven so it was packed into a large basket along with the spuds, cake and ginger beer. The Grandchildren & all the dogs piled into the jeep & I drove across the valley to serve lunch to the hungry menfolk. So, how do you stop two 150 horse-powered tractors in their tracks? Unpack food & drink onto the bonnet of the 4x4!!


Th recent spell of very hot weather is glorious but I am always very grateful that I live in a stone-built, thick-walled, north-facing farmhouse into which I retreat when the temperatures soar. The poor dogs have been suffering, especially the very pregnant black labrador. She has found the excessive heat very trying and so trips to the pond for swimming sessions have been very popular. The puppies are due in the next few days and it will be fun to have summer puppies again.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Wool Collection Day, Rose Petal Jam, Bees


Today was wool collection day. We took our wool sacks into our local town where the lorry from the Wool Producers of Wales (www.britishwool.org.uk) depot at Brecon was waiting. We had to be there at 9.15am and we joined a short queue to unload our sacks and watch them being loaded onto the lorry. The Farmer had shorn our modest flock of about 50 ewes last month and the fleeces had been packed into the wool sacks to wait for collection day.
Some wool-ly facts;
Out of a world population of 1,148,300 sheep the UK has 33,989 sheep.
The UK produces 21,672 tonnes of clean raw wool.
The UK has more native breeds within its shores than any other country.

The organisation Campaign for Wool (www.campaignforwool.org)has influenced an new international demand for wool and thereby has achieved a three-fold price increase for farmers for the wool they produce. At one time, not that many years ago, it was costing more to shear the sheep than we were getting for the fleeces. In fact the price was so bad we did not bother sending our wool but kept it for several years and used it for insulation in building projects.

Note at the bottom of the letter we received giving us our collection time;

'Category 3 Animal By-product Not For Human Consumption Sheep's Wool'...just so we know!


The roses have been superb this year and I was inspired to have a go at making rose-petal jam so collected 200grammes of petals from the garden. They smelt just heavenly during the process of jamification. After gently crushing the petals with some sugar and lemon juice the resulting 'paste' was added to a pan of boiling sugar and water and boiled until it set. I then strained the petals out to get a beautiful rosy-glowing jam. It is delicious on fresh scones & even better drizzled over vanilla ice-cream!

200gm rose petals
600gm sugar
600ml water
Juice of 1 lemon

We have just discovered a swarm of bees has taken up residence in the eaves of our farmhouse. Its not problem, just a bit noisy in the kitchen (though the bees are not in the kitchen but in the roof-space of the room above) and the bats aren't too happy but I'm sure they'll all sort themselves out. The Farmer, an experienced bee-keeper, says there's nothing he can do as the bees are inaccessible and so we'll just have to wait for them to move on. He will probably put a collecting box near the house and hope they will decide it is a better place to live.


Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit Wins


Well, the country went to the polls yesterday and today we have the result...to leave Europe. As a family our votes went to both sides of the ballot but are nonetheless surprised at the outcome. The whole business of the In/Out campaign was very ugly at times and there was a lot of scare-mongering from both sides, but it seems that the nation has sent a clear message to the government, they want change. What happens next is going to be interesting to say the least. Having spoken to a lot of farmers and others working in the agricultural sector in the last few weeks, the overwhelming view was for Brexit. That said the farmers vote is very small in the great scheme of things. Interestingly one of the most rural areas of Wales, Ceredigion, which is only 4 miles from where we are in Carmarthenshire, voted to Remain in Europe.It is going to be very interesting to see what comes from the farming unions and the politicians on how they are going to support British agriculture in this new scenario with no more CAP to pay farm subsidies. It is certainly going to concentrate a lot of minds in the farming industry.
Whatever everyone thinks of this outcome it is up to the politicians to make it work and for the people to make sure that the politicians make it work.

Though parts of England have been having such dreadful weather lately we have been lucky with dry days of warm sunshine enabling the Farmer & the Sons to continue with the endless summer job of silage-making. They have been out and about all over the neighbourhood till late at night with the silage kit making many hundreds of bales for several of the dairy farms in the parish. Political ructions don't affect the need to ensure our winter fodder is in good supply and stored well to continue the nation's milk supply.

The end of June is in sight and the roses are doing superbly hence the photo of roses cut to decorate my kitchen table.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Successful Open Farm Sunday

Our event for Open Farm Sunday (www.farmsunday.org)went very well.
We had glorious weather for it and after a lot of hard work in the days running up to it the day itself ran very smoothly and happily for both us and our visitors. We had about 50 people which we were more than happy with. It is a good number for a farm that is not near near any large centre of population...of course it does not match up to the the thousands that visited some farms in England, but we would have had problems coping with a very large number of visitors. As it was we had a steady trickle throughout the day. The people who did come were a mixture of locals, friends, and holiday-makers and of all ages from 5yr olds to 85yr olds. Everyone seemed very pleased with what they saw and learned. The Farmer took groups on walks around the farm and showed them everything that we do and for many it was a real eye-opener...being shown a hen's ear, getting near enough a dairy cow to stroke her and to learn about what happens to our milk once it leaves the farm. It's all important stuff for non-farming people to have access to which is what Open Farm Sunday is all about.

Today the Farmer has taken the first of two batches of bull calves to our local livestock market. He left at about 6.45am and when he comes back I will accompany him with the second load. It is a relief to be able to sell these calves now that our TB restrictions have been lifted. We had to keep all calves born over the past year which is not what usually happens. Under normal conditions all our bull calves are sold at about a week old to be reared for beef elsewhere.

The gardens are beginning to look rather gorgeous. The roses are doing very well this year, particularly the ones around the holiday cottage which are giving the most magnificent display. The weeds too are benefiting from the generous doses of good muck that all the beds and borders were given back in early spring and so each day I try to clear a goodly amount of nettles, docks and buttercups from the most obvious areas. But even where the weeds get the better of me, they fill up gaps with greenery, some of quite sculptural and dramatic in the form of the hated giant hogweed. The foxgloves are beautiful and the little yellow Welsh poppies neither of which I really regard as weeds and tend to leave where they are. Creeping buttercup is a problem and goose-grass which swathes everything it touches in shawls of clinging strands of vibrant green.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Open Farm Sunday

I am up betimes on another beautiful early summer morning. We have been having glorious weather recently and things are as result very busy here. The Sons are out all around the parish cutting silage, the Farmer has been able to get the sheep sheared this week and we are preparing the farm for visitors on Open Farm Sunday,5th June...at least I hope we get some visitors, one never knows with such events how many people will turn up, if any. We will of course be ready with a tidy yard, a tea urn and lots of cake for whoever does come.
Today we must go out with the big signs supplied by the organisers of Open Farm Sunday (www.farmsunday.org)and put them at the various road junctions near the farm and at the farm entrance.It is yet another form of publicity as well all the tweeting I have been doing and our local paper The Carmarthen Journal (www.carmarthenjournal.co.uk) has put a piece I sent them onto their website and on their Twitter & Facebook pages. I have been taking posters around the local villages and shops and everyone has been very helpful. So, we'll wait and see what happens on Sunday. Meanwhile much cleaning, sweeping and weeding is being done and setting up trestle tables for teas and working out displays of photographs, old implements, etc. and generally making everything look tidy & welcoming. Roll on Open Farm Sunday!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

First Cut Silage, Spring Flowers

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.






Thursday, 12 May 2016

Open Farm Sunday, Livestock Market


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.