A heart-warming incident has just occurred this morning...A young man, a complete stranger, arrived on the yard to ask if we had any sheep up near the main road as there was a sheep out that had been hit by a car.
As it happens we do have some sheep up in that vicinity, however after some further conversation we established that it was not our sheep but was one of the neighbours tack sheep, so the young chap went up to tell them. I was so impressed that this boy had bothered to interrupt his journey to work to try to find out the owners of the injured ewe. As he said, he couldn't just drive on and leave it as had the driver of the car that had hit it. I hope the hit-&-run driver feels badly about what he has done!
(Tack sheep are sheep that are on land that has been let for sheep over the winter, the flock owner pays the land-owner for the period that the sheep are grazing.)
It is another grey and damp morning with more miserable weather to follow I think. The fields are very squidgy and just walking the dogs one slips and slides on shallow slopes. The streams around the farm are running well with the water eddying and swirling over the stones carrying leaves and twigs down and depositing them in small barrages at intervals creating little pools that slow the flow of the water to the main drains.
The wind is very strong, buffeting & blustering through the trees around the farm and howling down the chimneypots. The doors and windows are rattling with ghostly whistles and moans from the wind as it beats about the house. A day for settling by the fire with good book and some knitting that needs to be done by Christmas.
We had our second part of the TB test at the end of last week and were very disappointed to find we had one cow test positive, so we are under restictions for another four months at least.
The past few months have been very busy with the erection of a new cattle shed and here are our cows all warm and snug in their new quarters. They lie in what are known as 'cow comfort' cubicles which are designed to give each cow as much space and ease for movement as she needs including enough 'lunge' distance for the forward movement of a cow as she prepares to stand up. There is also plenty of room for the cows to wander around and to have easy access to water troughs. The shed is protected from the weather by Yorkshire boarding which is the name given to the evenly spaced boards fixed above the block walls giving plenty of ventilation to avoid condensation in the shed.
Today the Farmer & the Sons had to have all the cows, beef animals and calves on the farm ready for TB testing. Since we went down with Tb back in March all the livestock is now tested every 60 days. The test is given today and then in three days time the vet comes back to see if any of the animals have reacted and if so they will have to go for slaughter. We all hope desperately that we will be clear but there is no way of knowing until the end of the week. If we can have two tests clear then we will regain our TB-free status.
We are enduring hideous weather at present, warm and wet with strong winds. It is much too mild for the time of year and with the persistent rain we are really fed-up with having to wear water-proofs which are very hot and sweaty to work in but essential because of the rain and the mud. Oh, for a good frost!!
The morning after Samhain the valley is swathed in a heavy mist and the ghostly hedges interspersed with spectral trees loomed out of the mist as I trudged across the fields with the dogs who dashed in and out of sight throught the mistiness. Visibility was only a few yards and the fields seemed very empty and isolated.
The autumn colours are superb and now they are just emerging from their thick blanket of mist with a pale sun lighting up the golden leaves.
This is one of the most beautiful times of the year on the farm as we are surrounded by trees and have views across a heavily wooded valley and so we have a gilded landscape as a background to the daily chores.
The pagan festival of Samhain took place last night but today and tomorrow, the 1st & 2nd of November are All Saint's Day & All Soul's Day, two Christian festivals that tried to blot out the ancient pagan beliefs. The yew tree as symbol of everlasting life grows in many churchyards and through recent research it has been found that some of them may be anything up to four thousand years old, pre-dating Christianity and so strengthening the belief that many churches were built on ancient pagan sacred sites. There is a marvellous old yew tree at the ruined Strata Florida abbey near Tregaron in mid-Wales and also at Nevern church in Pembrokeshire.
There was tradition in Wales & elsewhere of making Soul Cakes on 2nd November, All Soul's Day and I found this recipe in a fascinating book 'Kindling the Celtic Spirit' by Mara Freeman;
1/2 tspn mace
1/2 tspn cloves
1 tspn baking powder
1 tspn baking soda
1/2 cup milk
1 ounce brandy
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
21/2 cups flour
11/2 tspn ginger
1 tspn nutmeg
Cream together the butter and sugar, add the eaggs, beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients. Blend in the brandy. Pour the thick batter into 2 greased 13"x9" baking tins and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Cool for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto a foil-lined falt surface and using gingerbread man cutters cut out biscuits.
Autumn has settled in with sudden change in the weather overnight. Winds have littered the ground with a rich carpet of golden beech leaves and the the garden has a thick scatter of ash twigs & leaves over the lawns and caught in the branches and brackets of shrubs. After the balmy weather of recent days it is a reminder that we are heading towards winter.
The season's rounds are marked as always not just by the weather but by the work on the farm. Hedge-trimming , slurry-spreading are both being done while the weather is good. The ram has just been put in with his harem of ewes and lambing will start in 5 months time. The milking cows are already being housed at night. Our herd is autumn-calving and so there is a shed full of calves to be fed twice a day and the chorus of their demands for milk start and end the working day for us all.
Yesterday the Farmer & I attended the Welsh Dairy Event held near Carmarthen. It is a hightlight of the year for many dairy farmers who come long distances to attend. As a show case for the industry it covers everything the modern dairy farmer needs to know as well as being an opportunity for herds to exhibit their best milking cows. We watched the judging ot the Holsteins which was very interesting. Holsteins are huge cows standing over 5ft at the shoulder and were certainly impressive. Our little British Friesians look positively Lilliputian in comparison.
Interestingly the general mood amongst the traders and farmers was very upbeat considering how dairying has been in the doldrums recently. Things seem to be improving and this was reflected in the conversations we had. Of course the one bad thing that continues is the bovine TB problem. Everyone has tales of losing cows and hating sending them off to slaughter.
Autumn has set in with misty mornings and a chill in the air. Mist in the valley is usually a promise of a sunny day and with the fine weather the Farmer and Sons have been very busy out hedge-trimming, slurry spreading and logging. The land is still dry and firm so as much work with tractors needs to be done while they can get onto the fields without making a mess.
Th poly-tunnel is still very productive and we are getting a good crop of tomatoes & sweet-peas. The potatoes are doing well and the cabbages seem to have avoided the predations of the cabbage-white caterpillars and the occassional rabbit that has ventured in.
The bookings for the holiday cottage have eased off somewhat but that is to be expected at this time of year, though half-term is booked out and the week after which is good. It has been a difficult year for many holiday accommodation providers in the area...there are more properties available as more people move to the area and decide to convert outbuildings without researching just how much accommodation already exists here. This is not a 'honeypot' area and so we have to really plug away at promoting the Teifi Valley www.visitteifivalley.co.uk The numbers of visitors are not increasing so there are the same number of people to fill a greater number of cottages. A quick count comes up with well over a dozen different holiday accommmodations just within a couple of miles of us and there are several more in the pipeline that I have heard of. For many of us the bookings are down this year which is just something we will have to weather. Travel abroad is so cheap and sunshine guaranteed so west Wales has to really work hard to compete. That said the visitors who do come to the area love it and many return. www.visitteifivalley.co.uk
Yesterday evening and early this morning I was out picking brambles, hawrthorn berries, rose-hips and sloes. All of these except the sloes, are now simmering away to make juice for hedgerow jelly. The sloes of course are destined for immersion in gin!
We seem to be having something of an Indian summer which is glorious and it means that the brambles are now ripening. Up till now they have been slow in ripening and not very sweet, but now with a few days of warm sunshine they are making up for it.
My larder shelves are well-stocked with preserves and it is very satisfying seeing the rows of jars of jams, jellies, marmalade,chutneys and bottled fruits to say nothing of the good quantities of honey we have had this year. It is astonishing how much jam etc. we get through in a year...in cakes, puddings and on toast.
The Farmer & I have spent a couple of days doing some much needed renovation work in the garden around the farmhouse.We have removed a border that had been completely swamped by that demon of the garden, ground elder, and the area will be lawned and I will plant bulbs to naturalise in the grass. We also took out a thick section of hedge that was making the garden dark and damp and have replaced it with a stone wall that will soon settle in and draw a cloak of ivy and small wall plants over itself.
The Farmer has been busy over the past couple of weeks making cider. We have a lot of apple tress here on the farm and we are given apples by people who have no need of them from their gardens so there is a goodly quantity to process. So far the Farmer reckons he has made abour 25 gallons of cider which is sitting in fermenting barrels in the kitchen bubbling away nicely. We also freeze the apple juice as juice which is delicious throughout the winter.
(Since writing this I have been taken to task over 'being unencumbered by research' therefore I apologise and must say that the Farmer has in fact made 35 gallons of cider!)
The farming industry has been full of comment lately regarding the appointment by Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader, of a vegan Shadow Minister for the Environment, Kerry McCarthy. Her remark that meat eaters should be regarded in the same light as smokers is possibly a step too far and will certainly alienate the Labour party from many voters, rural or urban, and risks the Labour being seen as the party of cranks.
This appointment has caused a lot of discussion and but it should be remembered that it just the Shadow Cabinet and quite possibly Ms McCarthy (and Mr Corbyn) may never be in a position to implement these ideas.
That said it is a useful excercise to think seriously about what the implications of banning meat-eating could be.
Veganism & vegetarianism are personal lifestyle choices available to affluent Westerners. Meat & dairy-free diets are highly dependent on imported foodstuffs such as pulses, nuts etc. cannot be grown in this country thereby incresulting in many food-miles.(e.g. most soya (which cannot be guaranteed to be GM free!) comes from Brazil, US, Canada or China). How can this be sensible & ethical when we are all being encouraged to reduce food miles and 'eat local'? On the premise of eating local for 90% of our diet and at this latitude meat is an essential component of a healthy balanced diet. The joke would be if a population of 63 million people were to be dictated to by the 2% who are vegetarian or vegan? I am not anti-vegetarian/vegan, in fact I do a lot of meat-free cooking, and I do think we should eat less meat, but do not believe it should be removed from the diet by legislation...a scenario that is, of course, highly unlikely.
As food producers we are in the very fortunate and rare situation of being able to keep much of our diet very local and with very few food-miles...we use our own milk, meat, eggs and fruit & veg., though not exclusively.
Another question is how do we want our countryside to look? Here in west Wales the patchwork of fields and hedges is the result of livestock keeping because the crop that grows best here is grass and the only way for us to utilise grass is to turn it into meat. Take cattle & sheep away and a much-loved & productive landscape would have to be preserved by legislation or be lost.
(For more information on imported soya go to www.newenvironmentalist.co.uk)
Full-time farmers-wife, cook, laundress, gardener, meeter-&-greeter, mobile gate, answerphone service & bibliophile.
Have lived for over 25 years on a 140 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- 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