Wednesday, 6 June 2018

U3A Visit, Silage & Shearing

Earlier this week we hosted a lovely group from Brecon for a farm walk. They were members of the wonderful U3A organisation (the University of the Third Age, ) which is for people over 50 who wish to continue learning. There are no exams or tests just opportuniites to attend talks & lectures on every subject under the sun as well as having trips to interesting places. There are branches of U3A all over the country and each branch will have it's own specialist interest groups. The party that came to us from Brecon was the Wildlife Group.
About twenty-five people came, all of advanced years, the oldest being 94, and they all walked the farm with The Farmer and me and were the most attentive and enthusiastic group. They were shown the milking parlour, the cows, given a history of the farm over the past 200 years, and walked the fields to see our magnificent laburnum hedges in full flower and to exclaim over our beautiful views. After the walk we all came back to the yard to sit in the sunshine enjoying tea and cake. As well us telling them about the farm & food production, they asked very intelligent questions and this resulted in interesting discussions on politics, Brexit and the future of farming. It was a very pleasant and stimulating day for all concerned.

With the glorious weather over the past week the Farmer & the Sons have been very busy on silage. We did a second cut for ourselves and then they've been out doing cuts for neighbours. In addition to driving a tractor al day the Farmmer has found time to make a start on the shearing. Although we have only 50 ewes the Farmer has found that if he shears them in small batches over two or three days he finds it less exhausting (is this age beginning to catch up? he used to think nothing of doing the whole lot even when we had a greater number number of sheep, in one day!) The Sons will have nothing to do with the sheep! Amongst the seheep there is one lamb who was bottle-fed and it escaped from the yard and appeared in the house to my dismay. A large lamb bleating for company in one's kitchen is not really desirable.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Jam & Chutney

A couple of days ago we obtained a quantity of apricots so today I am busy making jam and chutney and what fruit is not used up in those recipes is bottled. The kitchen is alive with the bubbling of fruit and sugar and the spices and vinegar used in the chutney are scenting the air with rich aromas. Apricots make the best jam I think and bottled apricots are infinitely useful in the winter months to make puddings and pies. The Farmer adores chutneys of all kind and today's recipe is for a rich chutney using a fiery combination of spices as follows;

Spiced Apricot Chutney

12oz apricots (stoned and halved)
11/4 cups sugar
1 tspn. coriander
1/2 tspn. crushed fennel seeds
1/2 tspn.allspice
1/2 tspn. ground cloves
1/4 tspn. cayenne
3/4 cup vinegar
1 chopped onion
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tspns. ginger
1/2 tsn. salt
3/4 cup water.
Mix all together in a heavy based pan, bring to the boil and boil until the desired consistency is obtained.

This is the most wonderful time of year for the wild flowers and the hedgerows lining the drive to the farm are tapestried over with the froth of Queen Anne's Lace dotted with the shocking pink of red campion flowers and the madonna blue of the last of the bluebells. The lovely vivid yellow of Welsh poppies gleams at intervals. The hawthorn trees are in full flower and the honeyed scent of the blossom particularly after a small shower of rain is heady and intoxicating.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Ducks on TV

We've had another couple of busy days with the television crew from BBC Wales filming on the farm for a programme about farm animals which will go out later in the year (title to be revealed in due course). This session of filming was centred around ducks. At a poultry sale at the weekend, we purchased four fluffy yellow ducklings and two older 'teenage' ducks. A makeshift pond was built using a children's paddling pool and disguised with reeds and foliage in order for the action of the duckling's feet under water to be filmed using a very clever little camera in a waterproof housing that is connected by WiFi to the cameraman's smart phone...amazing technology! Some great shots of little yellow feet paddling away like mad were obtained and even one of a duckling diving under water.The 'pond' is still on the yard and the ducks are very happy & decorative and much safer than they would be out on the real pond. The last ducks we had were taken, we think, by an otter which had been seen roaming around on several evenings by Younger Son. It is very frustrating for my terrier Dottie though, as she has to be kept tied up as being a true terrier she just cannot help herself needing to catch the ducks. The sheepdogs are no problem, they just watch the ducks through the netting surrounding the pond trying to herd them I think, and the labradors are just not interested.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Parties, Guests, Ghosts and Grass

We are well into May, the most glorious time of the year with the countryside greening up all around us and the air full of birdsong and the hedgerows a brimming tapestry of flowers. To cap it all we heard a cuckoo yesterday, the first time for many years that we've had one calling on the farm. Wonderful!
We've been very busy with family events, a landmark birthday for Younger Son marked by a very big party involving canopies and marquees on the lawns, barbecues, fires, a disco, two(!) birthday cakes and a great gathering of friends and family from all over the country...and great fun it all was too!

No sooner had we recovered from that long weekend than a old friend arrived for several days from Australia. She is a friend of the Farmer's going back forty years and she comes back to the UK only every 5 or 6 years. Her visit was made memorable by trips out and about discovering Pembrokeshire in the springtime, so very different to her sub-tropical life on her small farm in northern Queensland. We went down to Martinshaven to take a marvellous boat trip around Skomer, the RSPB bird reserve where we saw hundreds of puffins on the water and standing outside their burrows on the grassy tops of the cliffs. Colonies of kittiwakes & guillemots were perched precariously on the cliffs where they were nesting and we saw shags, gannets and many seals mostly of whom were lazing in the sunshine on rocks or the small sandy coves around the island. It was perfect weather with a calm sea and for anyone holidaying in west Wales it well worth the run down to south Pembrokeshire to go on any one of the boat trips out to and around the islands.

Whilst in Pembrokeshire we espied a solitary church spire above a grove of trees and so went to see if we could find it and came across the most beautiful and extraordinary place. Up a track we came across a very old church surrounded by the most overgrown and delightfully gothic churchyard. A place of leaning tombstones shawled in ivy with clumps of bluebells and primroses dotted across the mossy ground and delicately wrought rust-railinged enclosures keeping captive the graves of long dead ship builders from Devon who had come to the this hidden corner of Wales to work in the shipyards at Pembroke in the early 19th century. Do their ghosts long to go back to the west country or did they find peace and acceptance in lovely Pembrokeshire?

With the weather as perfect as it is the silage season has begun, so there will now be days of mowing and carting by the Farmer and the Sons and with me making picnics of sandwiches and good rich fruit cake for hastily grabbed sustenance while the weather holds. The valley will be humming with busy-ness as everyone gets their first cut in and there is careful watching of the weather to make sure we all get done before it breaks. We enjoy the work despite the long hours and so long there are not too many break-downs of machinery. It is satisfying to know that we have made a start on the supply of winter fodder, although the last winter does not seem that long ago...the cycle of farming & food production for cattle and ultimately for people is never-ending.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Books, Guests & Springtime

Spring has sprung with the birds singing and the flowers displaying their vibrant colours everywhere. The bluebells are appearing in odd corners around the farm though the ones in the woods are a little slower in laying out their carpet of madonna blue.
The most important event proving that winter is over is the cows going out into the fields to graze, always a momentous day & we all try to be there to see the ladies perform their dance of freedom...yipee, we're out in a field and can run and jump for ten minutes before settling down to the serious business of eating fresh grass!
The last couple of weeks have been somewhat chaotic as I'v had decorators in sprucing up the stairwell, dining-room and hallway in the farmhouse and also giving a fresh coat of paint in the kitchen/sitting-room, hallway and main bedroom in the holiday cottage. It was all finished just hours before guests arrived to stay in the cottage.
Putting everything back in the cottage was not so bad but in the house where we had to take many hundreds of books off shelves and pack them in boxes as well as take down too many pictures and of course move furniture it is taking much longer. The books are the worst (we have an insatiable appetite for them and cannot stop ourselves acquiring more) but it is an opportunity to reduce the I ever going to read D. H. Lawrence or the Game of Thrones series again? So a serious clear-out has taken place, again in fact, as last year we got rid of abour 36 boxes of books, but there were still many more to go! So this time I have been ruthless, if it has not been read for over 20 years it goes! (but of course there always exceptions to be made...the Farmer follows in the wake of my chucking-out & rescues many!). Of course sentiment plays a large part in all this, books that belonged to my grandmother such as the complete set of 1920's 'Anne of Green Gables' series, enormous leather-bound volumes of 'Bunyan's Choice Works' & ancient family bibles, atlases, etc. that have been handed down over the generations have to stay as do dog-eared early editions of Baden-Powell's 'Scouting for Boys' & 'Rovering to Success' (the Farmer is a Queen's Scout) & of course no home should be without Victorian natural history books with their lovely illustrations and books such as 'Pollen Analysis' or 'Rats, Lice & Men'(you can guess the Farmer's interests) although they are never looked at from one year's end to the next.
But as Anthony Powell so truly said, 'Books do furnish a room'.

We have some delightful returnee-guests in the cottage for the next fortnight, a couple from Munich who impress us hugely by travelling to our far corner of Wales by public transport. They flew from Munich to London and then spent hours on trains and buses and finally walking the last 1/2 mile to the farm. (We do offer to meet them at the bus-stop but they prefer to walk.) They are a fine example of how to travel light, with only a small rucksack each containing all they need for two weeks away from home. Having been here last year they are familiar with how the public transport system works in west Wales and plan their days accordingly. Again an example to the rest of us who just hop in the car which is so much the easier option especially when time is of the essence.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Orphan Lamb, Spring Flowers, Pigs & Ducks on TV

Lambing is virtually finished but we do have one orphan who is bottle-fed. He escaped from his pen in the lambing shed and tracked the Farmer down in the kitchen and demanded to be fed. Bottle-fed lambs can be fun if you don't have too many and just one is great. They become great characters and will follow us round like a dog enjoying the company but can also become very demanding and vocal. They also produce vast quantities of wee, so they are not encouraged in the house!

We've had couple of days of lovely weather which has encouraged us all to get on with gardening, tidying up the yards and generally making the place look better after the winter. The daffodils are amazing this year and as we have so many differnet varieties they flower in sequence which means we have superb displays for many weeks. The primroses are out in full force and even a few cowslips are showing their lovely umbells of yellow heads.

Our television-star pigs are settled in and when they are not out on the yard wanting to know hat is going on and trying to snuffle at the dogs through the bars of their pen they are most contentedly snug in their ark sleeping the sleep of the well-fed.
The ducks are also having a happy life and have even started to lay eggs. if we can fidn abroody hen we shall try to hatch some ducklings. Ducks are hopeless mothers, a broody hen is much more reliable and consciensious, she will actually sit for the required 33 days whereas ducks just walk off having laid their egg just anywhere, not in a nest just where they happen to be when the urge comes upon them.
The televison programme in which they have been cast is still a work in progress and the title is being kept under wraps but all will be revealed at the end of the summer.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Spring, Lambing Nearly Over, Filming for BBC Wales

Despite the cold,wet,grey weather the primroses are putting their sweet faces up in the hope of some sunshine and the daffodils are showing their golden trumpets everywhere around the farm and confirming that spring is here,and the birds are determinedly singing their springtime welcome choruses.
I have been laid low with the 'flu-type lurgy that has been rampaging around lately. A fortnight of coughing and lack of energy after 3 days in bed, which surely must be on the wane by is very boring!! especially with such a lot of gardening to be done and general maintenance in the holiday cottage and the farmhouse. Next week I have the decorators coming in so our stairwell and dining-room need to be cleared out and made cob-web-free in preparation for the new clean paintwork. All rather exciting but a lot of work.

Lambing is going well and is nearly over with only a handful of ewes left to pop. It is such a pity that is is so cold though the older lambs cope very well, we don't like putting the very new ones out just yet.

Ten days ago we had a television film crew here for 3 days working on a programme for BBC Wales about farm animals. The filming went well and was the first of several sessions that will occur throughout the summer. The crew return next week and hopefully the weather will have improved for them by then. We have hosted film crews many times over the years and it is always interesting having them here. They are very focussed on their project and there are times when we have to explain that farm animals will not perform to command and that endless patience is required but they almost always get what they want in the end. The Farmer has had to arrange for some pedigree Traditional Welsh pigs to be brought in (all done perfectly legally with the necessary paperwork in place!) and we've had to get some ducks and have a borrowed pony all destined for their 15 minutes of fame, and all rather good fun for us.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Spring is Postponed, Lambing, Empty Mid-Wales, Sheep Stealing

Yesterday was a day of clear blue skies and almost warm sunshine which made us feel spring was really on its way. Today we have lowering grey skies, vicious showers of cold rain being hurled at us by a bullying, blustrous spring has gone into hiding once more and the weather forecast is predicting bitter cold and possibly more snow for the east over the next few days, so we are back to where we were ten days ago.

Despite the return of grim weather the brave & jaunty daffodils are forging ahead with their jubilant colour enlivening everyone's spirits alongside some of the best displays of snowdrops that we have had for several years.
Each morning we hear the plaintive calls of the Canada geese as they make their way down the valley to the river and sometimes they land on one of our ponds where they spend a couple of hours majestically treading water before setting of once more on their flight path west. Trios of mallard also visit and sit quietly until something alarms them and they rise up off the water in a clamorous flurry to be seen wheeling off to another pond in the valley.

We are still just getting going with lambing with the bulk of the ewes due to start next week. We have a couple of lambs that are being bottle-fed but they have got the hang of it and so it is easy. Although ideally we would not have 'molly' lambs as they are called it is quite satisfying when they feed well and can be seen to be thriving.

A few days ago the Farmer and I had a chance to go off for the day and so we took ourselves up into the empty hills above Tregaron and drove across a dramatic landscape still scattered with pockets of snow. On of the oddest sights up in hills is that of what must be one of the loneliest letter-boxes with its neighbouring derelict phone box in the country as seen below...
This part of the country is beautiful and even in the summer there are few people to be found up there. The only sounds to be heard are the bleating of the sheep, the mewing of the buzzards, the wind through the conifer plantations and the running water in the small streamm that feed into the Llyn Brianne reservoir.

A grim note on society; earlier this week Elder Son was out checking fences in some of our outlying fields and came across a grisly find...a sheep's head, spine and rib cage along with a stinking bag containing the rotting remains of the skin and fleece. It was not one our sheep being a different breed, so must have been stolen out of a field elsewhere, slaughtered and then the two back legs taken presumably to eat, with the remains of the carcase being dummped in our field which is on the side of a quiet country lane. A criminal, disgusting act and with no chance of the perpetrators being caught and held to account. I suspect that this is something goes on more often than we would think but it is a shock when it occurs on one's own land.