Sunday, 19 April 2020

New Home, Shop Local, Butter-making and Milk Sales

Well, we have now been in our new home for two weeks and all is well. Most of the hundreds of boxes are now unpacked though there are still a number of boxes of books waiting for shelves despite the Farmer having made what seems like miles of shelving already. This is a very quirky little house and surprisingly spacious after all the work we have done on it and now beautifully decorated throughout so is looking very spruce. We were able to bring only some of our furniture with us, the favourite pieces on the whole, and they look as though they were meant to to fit into this house so it really is home now.

Our great move coincided with the Great Lockdown which in many ways was a good thing as it kept us very busy and distracted from the sadness in the outside world. As farmers we are used to a life of isolation and in so are not really finding life very different except we do not have friends and neighbours coming in to drink coffee in the kitchen and of course we are not able to welcome friends and family to our new house. As soon as life returns to neormal we shall have to have grand house-warming party.
The move meant we did not have any internet connection for several weeks, having to rely on taking my mobile phone for walks around the farm to get any kind of signal, so our communication with the outside world was rather limited. In these days of lockdown when everything seems to be happening via the internet one realises how fragile that dependence can be. Long gone are the days when we were content with just a landline telephone and the the Royal Mail.
We have adapted to limited access to shops and use our small but well-stocked village shop rather than going in to our local market town. This is very good for the village shop which has seen increased trade and as they now offer a delivery service have probably extended their customer base considerably. Many of the outlying farms are occupied by older and retired farmers who are understandably nervous about going out during these strange times so to have their groceries delivered is a great boon.

I have just had a visitation by Elder Son and his children from across the yard. The children are very excited by having been making butter. They have of course been home from school for weeks now and so finding little projects to keep them busy and entertained is quite a challenge. Butter making seems an excellent idea especially as we have some milk to spare as the milk price has dropped so dramatically. With the closure of the main coffee shop chains and MacDonalds etc. the milk market has been badly hit for those who were sole suppliers to these businesses. If you are dairy farmer whose milk buyer is contracted to provide all the milk to Costa or Nero then things are very serious indeed. The milk could be sold on what is called the 'spot price' but this is now down to 0p per litre some days. Disaster if your price of production at minimum is about 27ppl.

The beautiful warm sunny days over these past weeks has been wonderful though we do need some rain but nonetheless the orchards are full of blossom now and our lambs are frolicking in the sunshine while their mothers watch on benignly.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Moving House

It is already March and only now am I getting around to my first post in 2020. Life here on the farm has been very busy since Christmas as the Farmer and I have moved out of our big old rambling farmhouse and are temporarily living in the holiday cottage while Elder Son and his family work in the farmhouse preparatory to them leaving their house for us todo work in their house before we move in. Basically we're doing a house swap. It is all rather complicated and schedules have had to become rather more flexible that we had all anticipated. Our move out of the farmhouse took place a week ago after two months of packing boxes, sorting out a lifetime's accumulation of 'stuff' and storing all said boxes in four different locations around the farm. Our many hundreds of books and the various pieces of fine furniture had to go into a dry, insulated container while other boxes containing less vulnerable items have gone into one of the farm buildings and yet other things have been stored in spare rooms in Younger Son's house. Remembering what is where is something of a challenge and when it come to moving it all into our 'new' home will be a very interesting exercise.
Moving out of the house where the Famer has lived all his life has proved an perfect opportunity to have a good clear out of things that had accummulated and been forgotten in the backs of cupboards for years. Our local charity shop has done very well out of us over the past weeks. Friends and family have also been willing to give homes to a miscellany of household items as we are moving into a two bedroom cottage from a five bedroom farmhouse...quite literally 'downsizing' One friend who runs tipis and yurts as holiday accommodation( took a carload of blankets for use in the yurts, another friend took a lot of surplus bedlinen, cushions and pictures for her holiday cottages and family members have been happy to have certain pieces of art & ceramics.
Although we are moving into a smaller property it is certainly larger than the holiday cottage which we are in at present. I love my holiday cottage and it is very cosy and and comfortable but after a big spacious kitchen (I really miss my Rayburn!) and large living rooms and bedrooms it is quite an adjustment to living even for just few weeks in a much smaller space. One has to be very tidy!!

Of course over the last weeks the weather has been atrocious for almost everyone around the country I think. We have had terrific winds and torretnaial rainstorms but fortuantely no major damage. However the fields are sodden and water is lying in hollows everywhere creating large puddles. The streams around the farm are raging torrents and there has been flooding in the valley below us. Today however there was mist in the valley first thing this morning which means abright day and we do have sunshine and blue skies which cheers everyone up. The daffodils have been in flower for couple of weeks now so plenty for St. David's Day yesterday. Snowdrops are everywhere and primroses are glinting in hedgebanks, catkins are hanging on the hazels and many trees and shruobs are beginning to show tiny leaves ready to burst forth. Occasional blackthorns are in flower with much more to come and the birds are beginning to sing their spring tiome serenades. I saw the first pair of Canada geese fly over this morning, always a thrilling sight.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

It has been a while since my last post and this has been mainly due to general busy-ness with major family decisions being taken and just life on the farm.
Christmas has been lovely despite both the Farmer and I having had heavy colds during the preceding couple of weeks which only cleared by Christmas Eve. However, we struggled on and had our usual quiet Christmas Day going to walk along wide beaches and watch the waves of a reasonably calm sea whilst enjoying smoked salmon sandwiches. We run away from the full full family gathering on the Day but this is made up for by the extended family descending on us on Boxing Day by which time the grandchildren have calmed down a bit. We were fifteeen for the day, a group covering four generations. Some of the family are on holiday in New Zealand and others in Australia and Canada for the festive season but with the wonders of modern technology communication was easy and cheerful.
Christmas here is a mixture of tradition and mainly secular activity though the Farmer and I do play a lot of wonderful baroque Christmas music and make a point of listening to the Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College Chapel, Cambridge whilst decorating the Christmas tree...that is definitely a family tradition, decorations go up on Christmas Eve and not before. The house is rich in the scents of baking mince-pies, wood-smoke, spices in mulled wine, the resin of the tree and over Christmas week we have a stream of visitors so there is the heady scent of freshly ground coffee to add to the catalogue of festive aromas. The grandchildren came in to help decorate the tree and had wonderful time rummaging through my boxes of decorations, many of which are over a 100 years old having belonged to the Farmer's grandmother. We have a considerable collection of beautiful items as Father Christmas alway brought a new decoration for our boys when they were little as well as the ones that date back to my childhood and those that I have been unable to resist buying, such as the glass flying geese,the brass sea-shells, painted glass birds and a magnificent and noble glass stag with gilded antlers. Each year I have great fun finding a beautiful tree decoration for the grandchildren. This year they were given a gleaming green crocodile-king wearing a splendid crown and a gilded zebra also crwoned...zany but beatiful.

The major decsion I referred to earlier is that the Farmer & I have decided the time has come for us to move out of the main farmhouse to allow Elder Son and his family to move in giving them much needed extra space. We shall swap houses essentially so we are moving into the very quirky little two bedroom cottage, a former coach-house, while they will come to enjoy the spacious four-bedroom main house. It is all rather exciting thought the prospect of having to pack up everything to move across the yard is daunting. The Farmer has lived in this house for 60 years so it is a big decision to move out though the little house is going to be lovely and we will will put our mark on it quite quickly. January, February & March are going to be very busy! We hope to have the moves done by the beginning of April.

The week before Christmas we lost our dear old sheep-dog Mollie. She was thirteen years old and had been fine until just a couple of months ago when she began tp slowed down and just gradually faded away. We miss her as does our post-lady who always had a treat for her (and the all the other dogs here!) each morning when she delivered the mail, but the young dog, Judy is coming on well though she is not as good a working dog as Mollie, just a bit too flighty but ever trying to please.

All Very Best Wishes for 2020
Blwyddyn Newydd Hapus

Monday, 21 October 2019

OMSCO, Honey DNA Analysis

We are in the season of misty mornings and gilded leaves and for few days now, no rain after a very wet couple of weeks.
The cows are in their cubicle sheds the work each morning has increased with scraping the sheds out, putting down down fresh bedding and bringing in silage to the feeders.

Last week the Farmer & I had a couple of days away to attend the AGM of our milk buying company,OMSCO, the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative(). We travelled up to the the Midlands staying a night in Herefordshire with family before heading off to a hotel near Kenilworth to join a group of about a hundred fellow OMSCO members. It was a very stimulating and interesting couple of days. In addition to it being the annual AGM it was also celebration of the 25th anniversary of the founding of OMSCO by Sally Bagnall who was present. Once the business of the AGM was dealt with we had presentations from a number of guest speakers including Henry Dimbleby talking about his role in National Food Strategy with DEFRA & Cynthia Guven, the Agricultural Counselor at the USDA in London(United States Dept. of Agriculture) and representative from the American organic company Organic Valley. All the speakers were very positive about the role of organic farming in the future of British food production and in ongoing trade deals with both Europe and the US(whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations!) All this serious stuff was fascinating but we had some wonderful light relief provided by the after-dinner speaker Miles Jupp the actor and broadcaster, who was hilarious and had the audience of cynical farmers roaring with laughter. We came away from the conference with much food for thought on the future of British farming, most of it positive though with a few concerns over international trade and food standards but on the whole organic milk production seems secure.

Two years ago the Farmer was asked to submit some honey samples to a Ph.D. research project on pollen DNA. Today we had the results back and very interesting they are too. The sample was taken from honey extracted in July 2017 and the results are showing that the plant species identified by the pollen analysis as being most evident in our honey were Rubus sp. or blackberry, Trifolium repens or White Clover, Brassica spp. or Cruciferous Vegetables, Cabbages, Mustard or Rape and Rosa spp. or roses. The last two species were a very small percentage while the blackberry provide 70% of the plant DNA found present and the in the overall analysis of the samples taken from all over Britain the picture is the same. So, bramble thickets and hedges are more vital to the bees than we had realised.
We have a very good honey crop this year and the Farmer has been busy making new hives in preparation for next year. We have about ten hives at present and hope to go up to twenty or so. This will involve a lot more active bee-keeping but the Farmer is happy to be a bee-keeper rather than just someone who keeps bees...there is fine distinction between the two!

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Escapee Cows, Autumn Harvest

I had a very abrupt wake-up call this morning from the Farmer who was standing below our bedroom window yelling for me to get downstairs to help with two heifers who for reasons best known to themselves had decided to escape from the collecting yard by the milking parlour and go for a wander in the garden! I found one of them quietly standing in the rain under an apple tree munching on the windfalls with great relish, the other was elsewhere being dealt with by Younger Son while Elder Son was busy keeping milking going. These things don't happen very often but young heifers unused to the milking parlour occasionally decide to not play the game and so make a break for freedom. However once they are brought back in and calmed down with gentle words and no shouting or fast movements they soon accept the situation and from then on go to be milked without any fuss...especially once they realise they get cake in the parlour (doesn't that sound very genteel & Cranford-ish!).

It is another very wet morning and when it is not actually raining everything is dripping and we have mud again where last week we had dust. The wet weather has seen the end of the blackberries, they are now soggy anf tasteless after what has been a very good season. My freeezer is full of boxes of brambles and my larder shelves have a goodly stock of jam and jellies after many afternoons spent walking along our hedgerows with a basket and the dogs. They love the blackberries too and eat them off the fruiting bramble cables at the bottom of the hedges.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Summer Guests, St. David's Cathedral, Autumn Calving Begins

After a busy summer of house guests, holiday-makers in the cottage, family and farming things are returning to their more normal routine which is something of a relief. Not that we didn't thoroughly enjoy all our visitors who were very good company and gave us glimpses of city life beyond Penyrallt but when the daily round does not run quite as predictably as usual the dogs who are creatures of habit, get frustrated when their walks are later than normal and as a consequence their supper, and they fuss around or sulk in their kennels rolling their eyes at me in exasperation.
Our lovely guests meant that we made the effort to show off our beautiful countryside and we took trips down to Pembrokeshire to walk the coast path and have beach picnics with a soupcon of culture provided by a visit to St. David's cathedral which was as wonderful as ever.
In fact we visited St. David's twice in a week (which was no hardship) as we took the grandchildren away for a couple of days to a cottage near Fishguard and took them to the cathedral for the first time. H. aged six was very taken with the 'stone men', the effigies of knights and bishops that are such a feature of the cathedral. We were there on Bank Holiday Monday which is something we would normally avoid like the plague but it turned out to be a very good day for visiting with the children as the bell tower was open and they and the Farmer were able to go up the tower and see and hear the bells. The Farmer had been a bell-ringer in his youth and so was able to talk knowledgably to them about it all. The highlight of the days away with small people was the boat trip around Ramsey Island which took place on a day of flat seas and glorious sunshine...I had been dreading the possibility of having to cope with sea-sick children, but all was well... and we saw many heavily pregnant seals lounging hugely in tiny coves around the island. They are due to pup any time now. Ramsey Island is an RSPB reserve and we saw gannets, fulmers, gulls and terns. We have taken various of the boat trips over the years and they are always wonderful whether they are in steel hulled boats or inflatable RHIBs and going around Ramsey or further out to Grassholm to see the gannetry. On occasion we have seen risso dolphins, porpoise, minke whales, puffins, kittiwakes, and of course many seals and it always a thrill.

With the hint of autumn now in the air we have started calving and with 80 cows to calve Elder Son has called on a cousin to come to stay for a month to help out. She has come down from Herefordshire with two horses in tow which is lovely for the children as she will give them riding lessons while she is here when she is not busy feeding calves, checking the ladies-in-waiting (on horseback) and generally being useful.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Silage-making, Wool collection , Roses and Hot Dogs

While for many people the glorious weather we are having means lazing around in the garden enjoying the sun for farmers it brings a period of intensive activity involving big complicated machinery and long hours spent in fields of grass. Mowers and balers all around the country are pressed into service and there are pleasing numbers of bales in the fields waiting to be taken in.
The Farmer and both Sons have been out for many days and sometimes well into the night mowing, tedding, raking and baling silage not just for ourselves but for a number of other farms in the district. That said Younger Son managed to take a couple of days off to go to the Glastonbury Festival even though it meant him coming home one day to bale grass and then returning to Somerset to see the last day of the festival. But the pressure is on to get as much grass processed before it has dried too much in the heat to become hay rather than silage or before the weather breaks.

This morning the Farmer and I did our annual run to deliver our wool sacks to the lorry from the Welsh Wool Board which came to our local town for the collection of wool sacks from all the sheep farmers in this area. It is a very efficient service with everyone given a time to arrive and the sacks are loaded onto the large lorry and drag by a tractor with fork lifts where they are expertly stacked and roped for their journey to the wool depot in Brecon.

This summer is giving us spectacular display of roses and as I write I am looking out onto a fountain of Kiftsgate and Rosa Mundi tumbling over the wall at the back of the house while in the front garden the old rose Wiily Lobb is rampaging through the hedge in a profusion of deep purple that will eventually fade toa soft grey before the petals fall in a confetti onto the grass.

The dogs in their black coats find this weather very trying and so spend much of the day in the shade but when I take them for a walk in late afternoon or early evening all lassitude is forgotten and they leap and bound in the cooling air with much joyousness before calming down to sit and look at the view.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Country Wedding, Bees & Birds, Returning Visitors

A month since my last post and what a busy month it has been. We've seen our younger son married, had all the family to stay, made silage, had the decorators in, done lots of bee-keeping, had several holiday-cottage changeovers, sheared the sheep and all with the aid of glorious weather. Now that the rush of activity is over the weather has turned and we are now enduring cold wet and windy conditions.

Younger Son's wedding went off without a hitch on a beautiful May afternoon in a lovely sunken garden,(a former slurry pit!) at a local 'wedding venue' only a couple of miles from home. It was a very pretty country wedding with lots of flowers decorating the wonderful oaken pavilion where the ceremony was held and along the walk up through a meadow to a garlanded arch leading to a vast triple tipi for the reception.The tipi had been beautifully decorated with flowers and bunting and was very pretty. Flowers were dispalyed in milk churns and old glass milk bottles and the wedding favours for guests were tiny jars of honey from our bees, which everyone thought was a lovely touch. The tipi held the 120 guests easily with plenty of space for the evening guests as well which brought the numbers up to about 200. It was a wonderful day, everyone very happy and a great mix of people from farmers (the groom) to pharmacists (the bride) and all professions in between. Guests had come from all over the country, Yorkshire, Herefordshire, Dorset, Cambridgeshire, Nottingham, London and even Ireland, which was wonderful as west Wales is a long way from almost everywhere! There was also a goodly number of local friends and everyone had great time. (

May has been a busy month for the Farmer and his bees. He has had five swarms and with collecting boxes out around the neighbourhood and beyond is hoping for more. The most difficult one lodged itself in between some silage bales and the past few days has seen the Farmer trying his best to encourage them into a hive but with little success so far. Honey has already been extracted and which is very early and it looks as though it is going to be good season.

'A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,
But a swarm in July is not worth a fly.'

Silage was done the week after the wedding despite Younger Son having gone away on a short honeymoon. It was one of the earliest cuts we have ever taken and with the rain that we have had over the last few days there will be a good second crop before too long.

The countryside is looking wonderful as always at this time of year. The hedgerows are full of flowers and many of our hedges have tall elegant laburnum trees which are all their glory of hanging golden tresses. It has been a magnificent year for the May blossom, the trees thick with flowers like clotted cream and the bluebells have been astounding in their blue-ness. We recently drove past an ancient oak woodland spreading for a couple of miles and the whole way there was a thick ocean of intense madonna blue such as I have not seen before, a truly wondrous sight.
The birds are never quiet with the squabbling sparrows in the hedges & the chittering of the aerobatic swallows as they harvest the flying insects to feed their broods in the eaves of the house. Sadly this year the house martins have not returned after their first sojourn here in over 30 years last summer but the swifts are back. We have been fortunate to have nuthatches nest in a crevice in the stonework of one of our buildings and have been watching them returning to feed their young who bravely poke their heads out to watch for their meal arriving. In another building which has a row of pigeon holes, there is family of jackdaws have taken up residence and again there is always frantic noise from the hatchlings when they realise their parents have returned home.

It is very touching when we have visitors who came as children to the holiday cottage returning after many years with their own children. Their memories of childhood holidays spent here are so vivid and apparently important that they wish their offspring to experience what they had. We must be getting something right. Very often the fondest memories are of the dogs and watching the cows being milked. Of course when it has been a gap of over ten years the dogs will have changed but the new ones are just as friendly and endearing as those remembered and are quite happy to be petted and fussed over as much their predecessors to the delight of the children.
Happy children = happy parents = happy holidays = happy memories.