Friday, 18 November 2016

Christmas Turkeys, Hunting, Moving Sheep

Our Christmas turkeys arrived a few weeks ago and are having happy times free-ranging around the yard and my garden(!). They are comical creatures, very curious and yet always alert for any perceived threat. They can be heard all over the yards and buildings with their plaintive high-pitched cheeping call. They talk to each other all the time and move around in a flock and when a sunny corner is found they will sit in a huddle blinking and muttering little turkey-mutters whilst on the constant look-out for any mooching dog that appears. The dogs ignore them except for my Jack Russell terrier who has to be tied up while the turkeys are on the loose...she just cannot help but chase them. The labradors & sheepdogs are totally uninterested but the turkeys do not know that and get themselves in fluster at the slightest thing, they really do live on their nerves!

A few days ago we took the grandchildren to the meet of our local hunt, the Vale of Clettwr, as it was being held just up the road at the stable-yard of one of the masters whom we have known for many years. The children were thrilled to see so many horses, a field of about 25, and the hounds of course. There was real party atmosphere with hot punch and sandwiches for everyone. Many of our neighbours were there just to see the meet, not to ride out. The master does a very good PR job by calling on all the farms to say they be coming over our land and inviting us to the meet. They tend to go down through our woodlands across the valley and we can hear the horn echoing around the valley as the hunt keeps up with the hounds through a densely wooded and hilly landscape. In the past we have 'walked' hound puppies for local hunt-kennels which is great fun. The hunts here have Welsh hounds which are shaggy coated unlike the English smooth-coated foxhounds. They are big strong dogs and very sweet-natured and walking the puppies before they join the pack is great, they are real characters and though not terribly bright can be trained to basic commands but they do not like being alone, if wever on of the puppies we looked after found itself on its own in a shed it would yell blue murder until it was reunited with its siblings, they really are pack animals. We have also walked beagle puppies which is little easier as they are much smaller but again they are huge fun.

Today the Farmer & I went to our fields across the valley with a jeep full of dogs, to move a bunch sheep onto fresh grazing. It is only a small bunch of tack sheep(sheep that we are being paid to have on our land) and they were moved very efficiently by Molly & Judy, our two wonderful collies. The labrador & terrier were just with us for the run being absolutely no use for gathering or moving sheep and fortunately, they kept out of the way by hunting for rabbits in the bracken banks. The countryside was look superb this morning. The fields we were in are high with wonderful views over the Teifi Valley and the trees in their russet & gold autumn livery varied the patchwork of green fields cross-hatched with dun-coloured hedgerows against brilliant blue sky dotted with white clouds...a perfect autumn morning with good sharp-edged breeze, lovely!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Samhain or Halloween, Autumn Glory

Today is Samhain, the Celtic word for 'summer's end'. With the longer nights swallowing up the sun and leaves dropping from the trees winter approaches. Samhain is also known as Halloween, a mixture of pagan & Christian beliefs combined into customs and celebrations to bring in the the darkness of winter. In south Wales there was tradition of men & boys donning ragged clothes, sheepskins and masks. The masked figures represented the spirits of the dead and to refuse them food was to risk vengeance on the house...hence 'trick or treat'. These costumed visitors were known as 'gwarchod' or hags and sang a song about the White Lady as they visited house in the locality where they would be given 'harvest fare' and on returning to the farm would have a traditional supper of 'the mash of nine sorts', a vegetable stew containing nine ingredients, nine being a sacred number.
The tradition of turnip lanterns (now superseded by the imported pumpkin) stems from the ancient Celtic veneration of the head which was considered the seat of the soul.

The trees are rapidly dressing in their autumn livery and each day seems to bring another flash of crimson or burnished gold into the landscape. While some of the trees are costumed in bright shades of yellow, others are clad in rich fox-red and fallen leaves gather in crisp shoals of dusty orange and brown as they are swept into drifts at the sides of the drive by passing traffic.
We are having such a beautiful season and it is so dry and mild that the farm work is easy and pleasurable.There is no mud to speak of, the ground is dry and the air ringing with the chatter of the dozen or so turkeys that are wandering around the yard. The dogs laze the sunshine as though it was summer while the day to day routine of the farm bustles on around them and our farm cat, a very independent creature, was spotted this morning sitting in mass of fallen leaves looking very picturesque. Everyone who calls from the postman first thing in the morning to the AI technician, the milk tanker driver and friends calling for coffee exclaim at how lovely this autumn is proving to be. It is the same sense of cheerfulness as one gets on the first days of spring sunshine.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Calves, Cows & Tranquility

The calving season is upon us once again and last night two were born, one with no problems at all, the second one however proved to be more difficult though it came in the end without having to call a vet. Of course no-one else was home when Elder Son came over about 10 o'clock to say he was having difficulties. After failing to locate Younger Son and being unable to get a message to the Farmer I did an SOS call to a neighbour who came over forthwith. After much hard work and judicious use of a calving jack an enormous Frisian/Aberdeen Angus bull calf was brought into the world. The cow was fine and all is well this morning. These things don't happen very often but are quite stressful at the time. I have spent calvings holding ropes taut (not easy with 1/2 ton of cow moving around at the other end) to keep the cow steady or to help pull the calf out and on one occasion I even scrubbed up to help the vet with an emergency caesarean section which was certainly an interesting way to spend the the wee small hours of the morning (these things always happen in the middle of the night!). No matter how often we see a calving it always a great satisfaction after the effort we put in to see the calf slither out onto the straw, shake its head and then the mother turn round to start licking it clean whilst lowing gently at it.
There is something particularly entrancing and very peaceful about cattle sheds at night. The cows are all settled quietly in their cubicles with a light steam arising from their bodies and gentle warmth pervading the atmosphere along with the heavy sweet scent of silage with the underlying pungency of fresh muck and the soft noises of cows belching and chewing the cud or in the deep breathes of sleep. Occasionally a cow will look round at you with her great luminous eyes flickering with curiosity for few seconds as you play the torch light over her but she is not greatly concerned about this interruption to her night. Often the cows are so relaxed you can go and lean against them and feel the heat and solidity of the beasts as they doze.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Farmer 's Union of Wales Conference

The Farmer's Union of Wales ( @FUW_UAC) held a one-day conference this week at the Royal Welsh Showground at Llanelwedd near Builth Wells in mid-Wales, the subject of which was Opportunities for Growth post-Brexit. The Farmer & I thought it would be interesting to attend, so having gained permission from the Sons to go and spend a night away, we made our way up to Builth very early on Thursday morning through the glorious autumnal hills of mid-Wales. The conference was well attended by farmers, representatives of associated agricultural businesses & very pleasingly, a group of students from Llysfasi agricultural college in north Wales (disappointing that other Welsh agricultural colleges had not sent a delegation of students). There were a number of familiar faces and old acquaintances.
The speakers for the day covered many different aspects of the current agricultural industry from the history & importance of agricultural shows, the remote monitoring of the landscape by satellite, drone and radar for 'data-driven agriculture' and environmental monitoring, the economic history of UK and EU pre- and post-Brexit and the challenges facing Welsh agriculture in the post-Brexit scenario amongst others. The general tone was one of positivity and optimism that Wales can make Brexit work and that Welsh agriculture has a real place in the brave new world of post-Brexit Britain, not that it will be easy but the challenges are there to be overcome.
Gleaned from the day's talks, some (very) random points...make of them what you will;
Average farm income £24,700, for hill farmers £14,700
90% of Welsh lamb exports go to EU
Norway imposes a tariff of 425% on imports
Satellites the size of a bread bin take images of Wales every day
Welsh lamb & beef are internationally recognised brands
The first Agricultural Society was formed in 1755 in Brecknockshire(Breconshire)
9% of the population of Wales works in agriculture
There are 20-23,000 migrant workers in agriculture in UK
The EU has the highest agricultural tariffs 90%,compared with USA 10%
5% of lamb & beef production in Wales is consumed in Wales, 60% in England
There are no free trade agreements with Europe,free trade agreements are mostly with former French colonies including Syria & Lebanon

After a long and stimulating day we headed off to find the B&B I had booked us into for the night, which was only 3 miles from the RWAS showground. However, in our rush to leave in the morning I had forgotten to bring the directions, contact details and map of how to find the farm we were supposed to be staying on!! We do not have a mobile phone or sat-nav & signal would probably been non-existent anyway. All I knew was the name of the farm and that it was somewhere off the A483. Now, mid-Wales is a large area of hills, very winding roads, farms which have very similar names and it is very easy to get lost, which we did. Eventually up a narrow lane after many twists and turns and re-tracing our steps, we found someone who was able to give us directions, so a couple of miles later and following a farmer on a quad bike for a mile as he moved his sheep up the narrowest of lanes and then following a hedge-trimmer for another 1/2 mile up a similar lane we found our destination, Trecoed Farm ( and received the warmest welcome from Elsie, the landlady who promptly made us a much-needed cup of tea accompanied by large slices of fruit cake. Wonderful! We had a very comfortable night and headed off the following morning after a substantial cooked breakfast. Even one night away is a holiday and I would certainly recommend Trecoed Farm B&B to anyone visiting the Builth wells area.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Cider-making, October, Rowan Jelly

Its cider-making time again. The Farmer has been very busy over the last week or so processing vast quantities of apples from our own orchards and fruit given to us by friends & neighbours. The process is quite speedy with an apple scratter to crush the fruit which is then put in the press and the resulting golden juice is then put into the fermenting drums to sit in the kitchen for a few days until it has finished bubbling when it is then transferred into kegs to mature. Some of the juice is put into plastic bottles for freeezing as straight apple juice to see us through the winter or brought into the house for drinking straightaway. It is gorgeous. Last year's vintage of cider is proving to be very palatable and is a glorious clear honey-gold in colour. It is an amazing process...what starts out as very cloudy juice which oxidises almost immediately to a dark biscuit-y brown colour and is not all that appetising becomes this beautiful clear golden liquid, a transformation that is entirely natural with no additives or preservatives of any kind, just the naturally occurring yeasts working their magic.

October is already proving to be as busy as the rest of the year. The Sons have been out cutting silage again for neighbours as we are having such good weather at present, dry and still fairly warm in the sunshine but with quite strong winds now and then. A few days ago when we were still having showers of rain there were several amazing sightings of vast wide rainbows casting across the landscape, quite beautiful. The valley has been echoing with the rattle of hedge-trimmers out and about along roadsides and in fields. The hedges need to be c kept in check but I think the Farmer would agree with me that the trimming ought to be left until the winter so that the birds and small mammals can glean what food they can from the hedge-row berries of which there are still quite profusion. It is no longer worth me going out to pick blackberries but there are still lots of small fruits including the rose-hips & hawthorn berries to be had.
After a particularly windy night a week or so ago I found a goodly quantity of rowan berries had been blown off the high branches of the trees up one of the ancient lanes on the farm, so I gathered them up and made some beautiful rose-pink rowan jelly which is delicious served as an accompaniment to roast meat.

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.