Saturday, 24 September 2016

Autumn on the Farm.

This is one of the lovely comments left in our cottage visitors book this summer...remarks & drawings like this do make us feel that we are getting something right in what we offer our guests. (Click on photo to enlarge it to read the comments.) We have had a very busy season and although we are now officially into autumn we still have guests coming to stay. The countryside at this time of year is glorious, the trees and hedges are still green but with hints of tawny gold beginning to appear and the rich ruby ripeness of the hawthorn berries adding a depth of colour to the high hedges. We have been having such lovely weather this past few days that it puts a glow over everything. The swallows have now left us, just in the last couple of days, on their long flight back to the southern sun. We are now in the season of lighting fires in the evenings and ensuring that the log supply for next year is well advanced. A shed full of seasoning logs is a deeply satisfying sight.
Over on the coast there are reports of seal pups on several of the beaches. People are advised to stay off the beach itself and keep their dogs on leads but the pups can be viewed quite easily. They are a beautiful sight, the fat roly-poly pups in their thick creamy coats with their huge dark sad eyes. The mother seal is usually out in the water keeping a close eye on the pup and she is very wary of any intrusion.

On the farm things are busy with slurry-spreading and hedge-trimming. We are taking lambs and bull calves to the various markets each week at present. Calving is well underway and we have about thirty to feed each day with more due over the next weeks. The bull calves we sell on but the heifers are all kept to be reared as 'followers' to the dairy herd. We have always calved down at this time of year though many dairy herds tend to go for spring calving and some do all year round calving, but it suits us to have the calves all come at one period though it can get very labour intensive.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Local Show in the Rain

One of the best things about living in the country are the local agriculture shows which carry on regardless of the weather, which this year was unrelenting rain. Llandysul Show, was held yesterday despite the continual downpour. The Farmer was stewarding for the one of the cattle judges and was soaked to the skin but so was everyone else so they just all carried on cheerfully swathed in heavy duty waterproofs. The grandchildren and I were slightly better off placing our entries for the cookery & children's classes in the craft & horticultural marquee though the rain was coming down the poles and the wind was blowing hard enough to disturb the displays but we farming folk are a stoical lot and there was a lovely air of jolliness and determination that the show must go on.
The Farmer had also entered various item in the rural crafts section & between us all we did quite well as the photo shows, including the Farmer winning the Rural Crafts cup. So, well done the Robinsons!

I love small country shows. They show a side of country life that is often overlooked. It is not the tweeness of 'country living' as portrayed in the glossy (dare I say it, rather patronising) lifestyle magazines, it is the real life of people who work very hard and who, for pleasure, take great pride in growing the longest runner bean, or the heaviest marrow or making delightful flower arrangements in teacups. Shows like this have been running for decades and very little will have changed over the years. Old men show their beautiful hand carved walking sticks, old ladies bake cakes and grow sweetpeas for the show as they have done all their lives. Children are encouraged to enter the handwriting competitions and to make pictures using buttons, or weird animals out of vegetables and there are always plenty of entries. The handicrafts section is always a delight with exquisite knitting, embroidery and patchwork items on display and wood-turning and carving to a very high standard. This is all in addition to the cattle, sheep and horses that are so carefully groomed and trained for the show by hardworking farmers and their families who do the extra work because they love it and will ensure that they go to the shows almost no matter what.

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, 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 ( 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 ( 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 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.