Lambing has started. The first lambs arrived on the dot two days ago, the day they were due and a set of quads which was a very good start. They were closely followed by twins and then triplets. They are all doing well though the Farmer is feeding them supplementary milk with stomach tube to make things easier for the ewes. There is steady trickle of lambs now each day, with two sets of twins today and so far all is going smoothly.
We are lambing only 40 ewes which is easy, not like thed ays when we had a hundred or more. Of course there are many farmers who are lambing several hundred sheep at a time and make our small-scale sheep keeping pale into insignificance, nonetheless, each ewe that lambs successfully is a small triumph, whether it is one of 400 or 40.
This is a lovely time of year despite the weather having turned colder and greyer these last couple of days. Lambs, daffodils, snowdrops, hazel catkins commonly known a lambs-tails for obvious reasons, and the ever increasing cacophony of birdsong all make for a sense of anticipation of the delights in the summer to come.
The Farmer & I have just returned from a weekend away attending a family gathering in Brecon to celebrate my parent's Diamond wedding anniversary. This is the marvellous cake decorated by our very clever daughter-in-law. It was a lovely event attended by all the family bar one grandson who had gone to work in Germany two days previously and old family friends. It is not often that we manage to congregate en famille and there was much catching-up by the cousins, some of whom had not met for several years and they were all able to exchange travel stories as most of them have been of on adventures in amazing places. For us it was the first overnight trip away from the farm for over a year and as a treat we stayed at the Castle Hotel in Brecon, where the lunch party was being held. It was all very pleasant and relaxing and we have now arrived back home straight into the usual routine and getting ready for lambing.
In recent weeks there has been mention in the press of a so-called 'new' initiative in the marketing of milk, 'free range' milk. This has caused raised eyebrows in the organic sector as we have been producing 'free range' milk for well over 20 years. Organic dairy cows are out in fields grazing for on average 7 months of the year, sometimes more if the weather is suitable. The diet of organic dairy cows is a minimum of 60% forage such as grass and is free from artificial fertilisers,chemicals and GMOs. Organic remains the gold standard for animal welfare and the freedom to roam.
As organic farmers we have an annual audit of our production standards which are legally binding and enforced by the certification bodies such as the Soil Association (www.soilassociation.co.uk) We sell our milk to the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-Operative Ltd (www.omsco.co.uk)who have been leaders in the marketing of organic dairy produce for over 20 years and can say with confidence that consumers have had the choice of buying free-range, pasture fed milk for all that time. It is not something new.
Here are some of our lovely organic cows grazing on our lush organic pasture!
Daffodils are appearing in their golden hosts with a vengeance this year having been rather disappointing last spring. This year they are really making up for having given themselves rest and we have a magnificent display that should go on for a few weeks yet as the different varieties flower in sequence.
After a bleak, very windy and wet St David's Day yesterday the second day of the new month has dawned clear and bright with long awaited sunshine though a brisk cold wind is tossing the hazel catkins and making the daffy-down-dillies dance. Snowdrops sit quietly at the bottoms of the hedge-banks sheltered out of the wind and they too seem to be in a greater multitude than last spring & I've seen the first celandines gleaming along the verge of the drive. The birds are singing their spring choruses and last evening I heard the call of the wild geese passing overhead for the first time this year. Woodpeckers are heard away down the valley with their insistent hammering and the robins are in their aggressive spring mode vying for territory in the hedges. The eaves of the farm buildings are busy with sparrows diving in and out with beakfuls of nest-building materials, grasses, a strand of sheeps wool or some moss. I recently found a tiny bird's nest that had been blown out of its mooring in a tree, an exquisite bowl of neatly woven mosses and wool measuring no more than about 2inches across, but the product of many hours of work for a small bird.
In the gardens the camellias are flowering and again they appear to be putting on a more exuberant display than previously although that may be down to them being established and more mature it now being several years since they were planted. Hellebores are in full flower, particularly the beautiful purple Easter rose with other varieties still establishing themselves though managing to produce a few flowers in this their first season.
Around the edges of the ponds frogspawn has appeared almost overnight in its great jellied masses and on the banks I have been finding long strings of toad-spawn along with the pathetic & disgusting remains where the heron has been feasting on copulating toads.
Spring is definitely on her way, the first daffodils are opening and the snowdrops are appearing in their multitudes in the old garden and along the hedgebanks. It is very mild now after the biting cold of last week and life is stirring in the buds appearing on shrubs and catkins are hanging on the hazels and some of my rambler roses are putting forth tiny russet leaves. Frog spawn is to be found in odd places near water and every now and then a pair of mallard are to be seen on one of the ponds checking it out for good nesting sites.
Today we are hosting the practice session for the Farmer's string quartet so the old house is resonating to the strains of Haydn and Vivaldi. They played solidly for two hours before lunch and are now settled in for the afternoon. Obviously,
thick golden squash soup and sourdough wholemeal bread is good fuel for musicians. The classical repertoire makes a pleasing change from the more frequently heard Welsh folk dance music. The Farmer plays violin and we have a cellist, a viola player and a second violinist here, all working very hard. A good way of passing a dreich, damp February afternoon.
Despite the music-making some farming was done this morning in that a lorry came to take some barren cows away. It is something we all hate doing , loading cattle onto a lorry heading for the abattoir, especially when they are time-served dairy cows who have given us years of milk production, but a time comes when they have to make way for the younger replacement heifers who are at the start of their milking lives, so we have to harden our hearts and send the old girls off. It is never done easily.
After a very wild night of fierce winds and rain the farm is littered with small branches and twigs wrenched from their trees but so far I have not seen any major boughs brought down or any damage to roofs. The drive has been washed clean by the running water caused by the heavy rain and the streams are tumbling in miniature Niagaras sweeping accummulations of leaves before them. The leaves then pile up in dams and have to be poked away with sticks or feet to ease the flow...a play/job that the grandchildren love. There is something very satisfying about seeing a pile of leaves go rushing away when a lagoon of water is released!
Two days ago the vet came to PD the cows (check whether they are in calf or not) and all but 2 will calve down next autumn which is a good result. We have been making use of an artificial insemination service and we also have a bull of our own. He is a Hereford who came to the farm only a few weeks ago. He replaces a rather fiercesome Frisian bull who we had had here for couple of years but as is the way of these things he needed to be changed as the time was coming that he would be serving his own daughters...not good. So we now have this handsome Hereford fellow who is of a much gentler temperament and unrelated to any of our cows.
Spring seems to be creeping ever closer with the increasing show of snowdrops especially down the length of the drive and daffodils shooting up in their green spears through undergrowth all around the gardens. There are catkins blowing in the breeze on the hazel bushes and tiny buds developing on trees and shrubs though there is still a long way to go before the hedgerows start greening up. The ash trees stand stark with their inky-tipped fingers reaching up to the sky. The little birds, the sparrows, tits and finches are very busy chattering away in the hedges and up in the high sky the jackdaws toss and tumble in the wind while the occasional buzzard or red kite floats casually past. Thrushes and blackbirds are heard carolling in rehearsal for the great mating choruses that will fill the air before too long. Talking of mating I heard a vixen calling across the valley the other night, a strange and ancient sound which when heard with an echo of owls is as of something out of a Gothic novel.
The first signs of a new year starting off the cycle of flowers is when the first snowdrops appear, this particular clump growing in a corner of the garden is always the first to show its drooping modest white bells. Which one of the galanthus family it is I do not know. It has much larger flowers than the ones that have grown in the undisturbed corners of hedgerows and fields for centuries and it will some time yet before any of these appear in their silvery drifts. The daffodils are shooting up and some are even showing signs of buds forming rapidly day by day.
Another sign of spring on its way is the clumps of some very early frog spawn that I found yesterday down by one of the ponds.
Whether it will survive to the tadpole stage depends on the weather, if we get a frost it will be done for I think.
The new year sees a continuation of the shed building which seems to a constant activity here. Farmers never have enough sheds. The current project involves putting a roof over a space between an old stone barn and the new cubicle shed behind it to create a useful space big enough for the Farmer to store his stacks of sawn timber as his current store is to be demolished to make way for a new milking parlour sometime later in the year. The farm echoes to the eldritch shriek of the angle grinder as it trims the roofing roofing sheets to size and then the thump and bang as they are manhandled into place followed by the drone of the cordless drill which is so reminiscent of a dental drill. All this audio pollution comes in fits and starts, between the noises the birds can be heard tuning up for their spring choruses. This morning I stood and listened to a thrush high up in an ash tree practising its scales...glorious!
Out with the dogs in the last of the light on the last day of the old year I heard the bell tones of the hounds of our local hunt and the horn of the huntsmen echoing down the valley knelling the end of one year and the advent of the New Year. The hunt had been working in the valley all day and were collecting the hounds for their weary way home to their kennels and well earned food and rest. We had not been able to go the meet as I had a changeover in the cottage but it was wonderful to hear the hounds at the end of what has been a busy day.
On Christmas Eve I hatched a real stinker of a cold and so the festivities were enjoyed through something of a fug which was unfortunate but the Farmer & I still managed to go to St. David's cathedral for Choral Matins on Christmas morning to hear the choir sing gloriously and then go to look at the sea crashing dramatically along the Pembrokeshire coast.
Before my head-cold made itself known we managed to throw a party the night before Christmas Eve. We had about 40 guests and it of course involved a lot of cooking, cleaning and the decking of halls which seemed to take most of the week. The end result of all our labours seemed to please people & I think we made a very good start to Christmas with the Farmer greeting our guests with glasses of mulled home-made cider & mulled home-made plum wine (very popular!). A neighbour had recently killed some pigs and very generously gave a home-cured ham & a joint of pork to the feast and I had made a partridge terrine as well as the usual sausage rolls, quiches and bread rolls. It was a proper old-fashioned country feast with as much home produce as possible including quince jelly, sloe & apple jelly & chutneys of various kinds to accompany the meats and even our own walnuts in the Waldorf salad. It was fun to do.
To continue the theme of old-fashioned & home produced the evening's entertainment was provided by a magic lantern slide show. The magic lantern is a unwieldy contraption that belonged to the the Farmer's great-grandfather and has a large selection of glass slides. Some are just views of cities such as Manchester in the late 19th century, others are, what to our eyes are very un-PC, comic strip cartoons involving wash-tubs and grotesque 'minstrels' (you get my drift, I'm sure) which are difficult to view in the 21st century. There are also a couple of sets of stories including the dramatic 'The Curfew Must not Toll Tonight' a tale of derring-do set in the time of Cromwell, who surprisingly turns out to be bit of a hero, but the most interesting is the set of slides depicting the Artic Expedition by Sir John Franklin in about 1875. These are beautiful engravings of ships trapped in ice, dog-sled teams and Englishmen dressed in furs braving horrendous conditions for the sake of the Queen & the Empire. They don't make heroes like that any more!
The farm work continues regardless of festivals and national holidays and between the three of them the Farmer & the Sons have shared milking duties during the week, allowing each one of them some time off to attend parties and take small children out to events as well as attending shoots and musical evenings.
So, at the end of 2016, an eventful year to say the least, I wish you all Blwyddyn Newydd Hapus
A glorious crisp frost-rimed morning with clear blue skies dotted with silver-backed gulls and ragged black rooks tossing around in the sharp wind as they caw & cark spying out the land below them. The frost has outlined leaves and grasses and they will remain so throughout the day in the sheltered corners unreached by the low sun as will the marbled ice in the water-filled wheel-ruts in gateways. There is a thin skim of ice on the ponds, not enough to bear a duck as in the old country saying that if, before Christmas, for three days the ice can bear a duck then we're in for hard winter, but we have plenty of time yet for three days of duck-bearing ice to arrive.
On a recent journey we drove through a small village and came across this novel use for an old telephone kiosk. It functions as a village library. People are encouraged to borrow books and to add to the collection and is brilliant way of giving a new lease of life to what are now redundant and useless structures in these days of almost universal mobile phone ownership (except for me!). As there is a real shortage of proper bookshops in this area and the public libraries are under threat of closure perhaps more villages should utilise small buildings in such a way. It can only be of benefit to the local communities & to the reading public.
Full-time farmers-wife, cook, laundress, gardener, meeter-&-greeter, mobile gate, answerphone service & bibliophile.
Have lived for over 30 years on a 200 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 Central heating available October-May Free WiFi Natural spring water Beautiful views Only 30 minutes from beaches Up to 2 well behaved dogs welcome (£15 each) Short Breaks available (out of school holidays only) from £170 3 nights.
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.