Monday, 17 August 2015

Rabbits, Bovine TB, BT phoneline

My delightful terrier Dottie, has a lovely time snuffling around in hedgerows and under fallen trees on our daily walks around the farm. She has proved herself a very adept rabbit-catcher lately. Rabbits are everywhere at the moment and though they are pretty they are also real pests particularly as they have discovered the poly-tunnel and so have midnight feasts on the lettuces, carrots and anything else they fancy. The Farmer takes on the role of Mr McGregor as often as he can but the bunnies always seem to be one step ahead. Sadly, we have now found that there is myxymytosis in the rabbit population which is awful for the rabbits but it means they are very slow in their reactions and so easy prey for the dog who dispatches them very quickly which is surely better than the the slow lingering death they would otherwise have to endure. This is one of the grim realities of country life and everyone who has their vegetable plots decimated by rabbits will understand the need to control them.

Today the Farmer & the Sons have all the cattle in for TB testing. Having had one reactor to the last routine TB test and have therefore been under restrictions as to selling cattle, we hope that this test will prove clear. We have always maintained a TB-free status until this summer when we had one in-calf heifer show a positive reaction to the test. It was real blow but we have been very lucky in being TB free for so long when it is rife. The reactor heifer was taken away for slaughter and we will be compensated for her but it is not a good situation. The irony of it all that we do not have badgers on the farm, but as we all know rabbits, bats, rats, otter, cats etc. can all be carriers of the TB virus and so control is almost impossible and we have no way of finding out where the disease came from in our one heifer. Sadly even organic farms can succumb.

We have been without a phone for almost a week, again. BT have promised it will be restored to us when they have managed to hire a set of traffic lights!!!
We do have a mobile but signal is not great here and because we rarely use it no-one has the number and so we really do rely on our landline. Oddly, despite having no phone the internet still works... I don't understand how it all works much to the exasperation of the Sons who just raise their eyes to heaven and mutter 'Oh mother, you're hopeless!'

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Holiday Cottage Guests, Organic Farming

I've just waved off another pair of happy holiday-makers who have been here in the cottage for a week. It is always lovely when people leave saying how relaxed and peaceful their stay has been and knowing that they have enjoyed what we have to offer. That sounds awfully is not meant to, but we do appreciate our guests appreciating us!
One of the selling points of the cottage is that it is on an organic farm. We think that is very important and it seems to matter to a number of our holiday-makers. Many book to stay here because it is an organic farm, and also because it is something of a picture-book farm...very traditional. They like the idea that our milk goes into Yeo Valley yoghourt (through OMSCo the organic milk co-operative) and that we produce milk and meat without the use of chemicals and anti-biotics. These basic tenets of organic farming seem to be what the public latches onto and the fact that our animals are out in fields eating grass as they should be. Visitors enjoy seeing the cows come in for milking and ask a lot of questions about dairy farming and organic farming. There is still a lot ignorance about what organic really means and we do our best to explain how and why we farm as we do. Awareness of organic food seems to have waned in the last couple of years and the organic movement has struggled with the perception of it being a niche market for the well-off middle classes. We, as milk producers, cannot market our product as individuals (though there are some very successful entrepreneurial dairy farmers out there e.g Daioni) so are reliant on organisations such as the Soil Association, Organic Farmers & Growers and OMSCo to promote the organic dairy industry on our behalf. Giving people access to organic farms is very important which is why we encourage our guests to see what we do here and host school visits and have open days. It is only when the public see for themselves how organic farming works and why it is beneficial to the land, the livestock and people that sales of organic food will increase.

Despite the weather being somewhat changeable this August there are still plenty of lovely days with dramatic cloud-strewn skies and light breezes waving through the trees. We have had large gatherings of seagulls in our newly mown silage fields. The glimmering of the sun glints on the silver wings of the adult birds as they wheel around the sky and the flecked tawny colouring of the the young birds contrasts with purity of the white and grey plumage of the adults. The young birds are very raucous though not as noisy as the young buzzards we have resident on the farm. They have been particularly vocal recently as they soar above the yard circling on the thermals. Their voices mingle with the persistent cheerful chatter of the swallows as they perform their amazing acrobatics.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Shed building, Canoeing, Lovely Wild Wales

The building work is going on apace with the new roof over what was the silage pit and is now become a cubicle house for the cattle. The Sons have spent many hours welding the uprights and roof beams which are now ready for the corrugated sheets of tin for the roof. Progress is interrupted on this today as the weather is good and so the next cut of silage is underway. The grass was mown yesterday and after a night to wilt ince the dew had dried it will be full steam ahead with the rake & baler filling the fields once more with the black bales thst will be stacked in the yards to wait for winter. It has been such a good growing season that we have a plentiful supply of silage should we have a very long hard winter.

The Farmer has treated himself to new canoe. We have used a large Canadian canoe for many years but it has always been difficult to lift onto the roof of the car, although it served its purpose very well over the years. We now have a very neat inflatable canoe which is proving to be a great success. It inflates using a hand pump in about 5 minutes and when we have finished playing it deflates also by using the pump and is packed away into a neat bag which goes into the back of the car...all so much easier than having to heave the Canadian up above our heads onto a rack. The Farmer is a very experienced canoeist and is very pleased with it, both on the sea and on freshwater and the grandchildren will have lot of fun too. One evening we took it for trial run to our favourite beach and although the water was quite choppy (too much so for me...a I am a flat as a mill pond canoeist!) the Farmer took the canoe out and off around the small headland and had a lovely time being watched by a curious seal who appeared at regular intervals keeping an eye on the proceedings as the sun went down casting a gilded path across the water. It was beautiful evening and as the Farmer was out on the water I sat in the evening sunshine reading 'Jane Eyre' for the nth time and guarding the picnic.

Today has dawned with heavy mist in the valley which is a sign of a glorious day to come, perfect for our holiday-makers who are discovering west Wales. The coast is packed with families enjoying the sandy beaches and the dolphin-spotting boat trips whilst inland up in the empty hills there are usually very few people and the wild places can be experienced in peace and tranquility. We always reccomend to our guests that they go up into the Cambrian mountains and see a hidden part of Wales, a secret country of remote moorland, silver streams running through wooded valleys lined with birch, oak and rowan and the cry of the buzzard.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Days Off, Country Wedding, Weaning Lambs

The Farmer and I took a day off and had picnic at a lovely little cove on the north Pembrokeshire coast. The tide was out hence the green apron of weed covered stones that are treacherously slippery whether the tide be in or out. It is however a quiet spot and the day we went quite deserted. We sat and watched the gulls and a lone oystercatcher bathing in the little freshwater stream that runs across the edge of the beach. A perfect antidote to the hectic rush at the farm.

After the hectic pace of getting yet more silage in we are now in whirl of people and having to be sociable...not that we don't enjoy people, but they seem to come in a never-ending stream barely giving us time to catch our breath.
Last Saturday we had the usual cottage changeover and then had to get to a wedding at lunch time which made for a breathless morning. The wedding was down in the village at the farm of some dear friends upon whom the weather gods were smiling. It was a glorious warm sunny day of blue skies having been preceded by a very wet and miserable day and the day after was also vile. However, the wedding took place in the pretty flower-filled garden of the farmhouse with a string quartet playing and everyone smiling and happy. The food for the reception had been supplied almost in its entirety from the farm...beautiful succulent home-grown fillet of beef, with carrots, cabbage & new potatoes dug from the garden the day before followed by summer pudding made with blackcurrants and raspberries picked from the garden. Perfect! A very happy day.

We have had more family visiting which is always lovely and as we have been busy with farming they have gone off to do their own thing and come back here for supper which is always a good arrangement.

Yesterday the Farmer had to attend the funeral of one of the postmen who delivered to the farm many years ago and always came in for a cup of tea (another country custom that has disappeared, the posties don't have time nowadays & are probably not allowed to linger & gossip). The Farmer & his brother went to the funeral as they had fond memories of the postman who used to come after work to help their father with hay-making and used to give the two boys lifts to end of the lane in the post van, to meet the school bus...another thing that would not be allowed now.
As the Farmer was away most of the day the Sons got on with weaning the lambs. The sheep were all brought in, the ewes separated and then taken to land we have across the valley while the lambs were put in fields nearer home. It is noisy but necessary job.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Summer Work, Bees Swarming, Beach Picnics

With the wonderful weather at the end of June things have been so very busy especially with the Met Office forecasting heavy rains so the Sons were out working in silage fields for almost 10 different farms in the locality at the end of last week. One day they left here at 8.30am and did not return until 5.30 the following morning having been cutting grass, baling and wrapping all that time to beat the weather front. Summer is the time of very hard work in preparation for the coming winter.

The fine weather also made the bees think about swarming. The Farmer's hives have been very busy with the two strong colonies working well but we have had two swarms in a week. The first one decided to take up residence in Elder Son's cottage roof which gave them access to the roof space. It was impossible to get them out en masse so they had to smoked out which took a long time. The second swarm was almost text book in its pattern of behaviour...there was an empty collector hive just a few yards from the main hives and the swarm moved into it without any messing about. The Farmer was delighted. They have settled into the new hive now and are working busily in the gardens which are full of pollen-rich trees and flowers at the moment.

We had some cousins come to stay last week, camping on the lawn. They spent their days at the beach with a small inflatable boat with an outboard motor or our Canadian canoe exploring the coast line and fishing. One evening we all went to join them for a picnic on Cwmtydu beach. The Farmer and S. went fishing with hand-lines and caught 9 mackerel & pollack which we then cooked over a fire on the beach. The small grand-children had a lovely time paddling in the shallows, getting drenched, messing about with buckets and spades and watching the menfolk playing ducks and drakes competing to see who could get the most bounces from flat stones skimmed across the water, and generally doing what little children should on a beach.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Pembrokeshire break, Holiday Cottage letting

The Farmer & I have just managed to grab 3 days away from the farm and spent our time, when not lying prone on sofas getting through a backlog of books, experiencing the delights of Pembrokeshire in June. The wild flowers were wonderful with the hedgerows full or overflowing with foxgloves, red campion, honeysuckle and the glorious cream slabs of elderflowers. We stayed near Solva and had lovely walks through dense lush woods filled withe the songs of thrushes, blackbirds,and wood pigeons, down to the sea. One evening we sat above the cliffs and watched the gulls floating on the thermals created by the cliffs, they soared in the silver light of the evening sun reflecting on the calm sea. A small yacht lay anchored in a sheltered cove looking just like something out of a romantic chapter of a Daphne du Maurier novel.

On the farm things are on stop today as it is raining and so silage work cannot continue. The Sons & the Farmer use days like this to catch-up on maintenance of equipment and paperwork. The working out of bills & invoices for the farms where they have been working in the fine weather takes a lot of time checking hours and acres.

The holiday cottage is pretty full though it has been a very slow season and there are still a couple of weeks in July vacant. It seems that it is a general trend throughout the country for holidays lettings to be slower than in previous years. No-one can quite pinpoint the reasons for this... some thoughts are that is so very cheap to go abroad,people are taking more short breaks and booking much more last minute. Another aspect is that there are so many more holiday lets available in an area such as this but without the increase in tourist numbers to fill them all. I think too many pepole move to an area with the intention of setting up a holiday cottage or b&b without researching how much provision is already available and not realising that the market is very well supplied for the numbers of visitors. Having been running our cottage for well over 20 years we have seen changes in the flow of visitors to this area but the numbers have not increased enough to keep pace with the amount of accommodation available.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Gardening & Gardeners, Gwili Steam Railway

This is my large garden in former days when it was still under control...this year thanks to the broken leg it is no longer quite so tidy, so I have treated myself by employing a gardener & he's wonderful. The luxuriant rampaging brambles have disappeared, bare earth is now visible though it will soon be hidden by some new plantings and shrubs are able to breathe again. I'm thrilled. The beginning of April was just about the worst time to injure myself as the gardens were full of the joys of spring and everything was growing like mad and needed to be kept in check, especially bramble, docks creeping buttercup and the dreaded couch grass. I still can't get out there to work so a gardener was the only answer. As well as dealing with the big stuff F. is also prepared to do fiddly weeding and also discuss changes and planting ideas which I'm pleased about as the garden neeeds to be taken onto its next stage of development for which I need as much advice as I can get. Do we go all out for giant rhododendrons in dark corners or other less dramatic shrubs that just fill a space and do we take out a couple of trees that are struggling? Also digging up enormous clumps of irises and splitting them and planting the smaller clumps in new places creating a more varied palette of colour in the established beds. When the Farmer has time we shall go our local excellent nurseries and have bit of a spree. I particularly want to get more Japanese anemones which are so lovely for late summer and lots more irises and roses but also smaller low growing plants such as anemone blanda to plant at the foot of the box hedging. Also fuschias which do well here and then some more hydrangeas, the thugs of the garden but well worth their bullying tendencies. I have some interesting hellebores waiting to go in and some lavenders, so all in all it is quite exciting.

The Sons are still busy with silage-making around the neighbourhood and as we got ours done last week the pressure is off a little. When they are not driving silage kit around they are spreading slurry on the newly mown fields to encourage good growth for the second cut.

The summer weather has arrived and our holiday makers are enjoying sitting out of an evening after spending the day entertaining their small grand-son at various attractions in the area. The favourite seems to be the Gwili Steam Railway near Carmarthen(), real steam trains puffing their way through a lovely wooded valley alongside a small river, all very attractive. The Gwili Railway is run by a team of railway enthusaiasts and is one of the very good attractions in the area.