Sunday, 14 August 2016

Sheepdog Trials, Country Show

I recently had a yen to go to see some sheepdog trials, something we have not done for many years so after checking the International Sheepdog Society website, www.isds.org.uk I was pleased to find that trials are held almost every week somewhere in Wales, many of them within our locality. They are not widely advertised and are often part of a local village show as was the one we went to in a tiny place called Cwmsychpant. We took small grand-daughter with us and had a lovely time watching a number of dogs of varying ages and abilities being put through their paces. It was fascinating. The Farmer, who is a life member of the International Sheepdog Society & used to trial his wonderful dog Sam a long time ago, was able to explain about the run out and the course the dog has to manoeuvre the three or five sheep through to the ultimate goal of penning the sheep within the time given. The shepherd stands at start of the course and directs the dog around the course with whistles & shouts until the sheep are within range of the pen when they can be guided in and the gate shut on them...job done, as they say.
The Farmer has two sheep dogs here at the moment, eight year old Molly who is very good and useful and two year old Judy is very keen and sometimes useful, but still learning.
AS well as the sheepdog trialling there was the show which was great. It was very small but well attended by the locals and the entries in the craft tent were astounding. There was such enthusiasm for the event as shown by the number of entries in each class whether it be for runner beans, beautiful flower arrangements, photographs of country life, hand-writing, knitting, patchwork, exquisite embroidery, children's artwork, baking or jams, chutneys & wines.
There was a great display of vintage tractors & a collection of old tractor seats, which may sound bizarre but was actually rather beautiful.
We also met some acquaintances who were busy with their very small children and ponies, the Best Young Handler class where the youngest handlers were only 3yrs old and needed to be guided around the ring, all very sweet and very Thelwell!
It was very enjoyable way to spend a rare free Saturday (no cottage changeover as my current guests are in for a fortnight) and the show field was on the top of a hill with panoramic views across to the Brecon Beacons, stunning!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Strumble Head Lighthouse, Labrador Puppies

This past week we had one of the Farmer's old college friends & his wife come to stay for a couple of days and as always when we have house-guests we take them out for the day. This time we headed off down to Pembrokeshire and ended up at Strumble Head with its wonderful Edwardian lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1908 on the tiny island of Ynys Meical to give it its Welsh name, and is accessed by a short bridge that is now closed to the public, though the Farmer remembers going there as a child and being able to cross to the island itself and go up to the lighthouse. Nowadays it can only be viewed from a distance. The lighthouse is one of several along the Pembrokeshire coast marking this dangerous stretch of coastline between Ireland and Wales and is spectacular. We were there on a very windy day but despite odd flurries of drizzle it was fine and clear and the sea was being whipped up into 'white horses' and looked very dramatic with sprays of seafoam being flung up on the rocks and cliffs of the island.

Younger Son's lovely black labrador Jess produced 9 beautiful black puppies 10 days ago and they are doing very well. We had thought that as the father of the litter was yellow we might have had a multi-coloured litter as we have done in the past, but not this time, they are all satiny-black and very sweet. They do not photograph well at this stage and they just a black mass of twitching sleepers. Once their eyes open they become much more photogenic.

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!