Thursday, 6 December 2018

The Secret Life of Farm Animals on BBC4, Polish family at Penyrallt

Tonight sees the broadcast of the television programme we spent much of the summer working on. The programme is called 'The Secret Life of Farm Animals' and is to be shown on BBC4 at 8.00pm tonight, Thursday 6th December. (I'm sure it will on BBC iPlayer soon after broadcast if you miss it.) It is the first of 3 episodes each an hour long. We have been told that the trailers for it have been lovely but as we don't have television (not for 30 years!)we have not seen them but we shall be going over to one of the Son's houses to watch. It will be very interesting to see how the long hours of filming with sometimes rather unco-operative livestock will have been edited and put together in what I've been promised will be a very beautiful programme. We were not the only farm that used as a location and we are curious to see the other farms featured.

It's been a while since my last post, things have been busy we seem to have been off the farm quite a bit lately. One of the outings was to the Royal Welsh Winter Fair at Builth Wells. It was good day out catching up with old friends and bumping into neighbours whom we rarely see though they may live only a couple of miles away. There was much of interest to see and the Farmer spend much time talking to reps. from a variety of agricultural and technology companies about the merits of alternative technologies, the latest designs in mowing machines or lighting for miklking parlours. I did some Christmas shopping or as the Farmer irritatingly refers to it 'retail therapy'!

The Jack Russell puppies are thriving, now six weeks old and very lively and jolly. We have homes for them both, one is going to live on sheep farm up near Lampeter and the other is going as a family pet down in South Wales. Both little dogs will have very happy homes

Another of our trips out was to meet a friend in the attractive samll town of Llandeilo being a reasonably central point for us all. We meet for a delicious lunch in the Cawdor Hotel and caught up with family news from both sides.
We first met Krystyna some 15 years ago when she called at the farm in search of her history. It turned out that she had been born in our farmhouse, the child of a Polish cavalry officer who with a fellow officer had bought the farm after the end of the Second World War. Her father had been from a very wealthy background in Poland but had lost the family estates due to the takeover of Poland by Germany. Somehow he survived the horrors of Katyn Forest and ended up in Britain and turned to farming to build a new life. What brought him to what, at the time, was a remote corner of west Wales I don't know, unless land was cheap here. However he and his fellow ex-cavalry officer worked Penyrallt for a few years and raised their families before moving on elsewhere. It is an amazing story but not unique as there similar tales of Polish soldiers settling in other parts of Carmarthenshire. Krystyna had traced the address of the farm and came to see us. She was so delighted to see the farm and of course we gave her a warm welcome and showed her round. It turned out that she had photographs of the farm back in the early 1950's but had never been able to work out their location but was now able to match the images with the reality. It had not changed so very much. We have since become friends and she and her Scottish husband and her family have visited us several times and we have been to her home in mid-Wales. She also lives in London and has an apartment in Cracow. Her Polish heritage is hugely important, she receives Polish television & radio in her house and has brought her family up in Polish traditions. She is an artist specialising in religious icons and exhibits in London.She is a delightful addition to our circle of friends though we don't meet up very often and her story is part of the fascinating and rich history of a small farm in west Wales.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Pembrokeshire Holiday, Jack Russell Puppies

Last week the Farmer & I ran away for few days and spent a lovely time down in Pembrokeshire near Abermawr. Although it is not far for us to go it is real break from the farm routine and if need be we can be back very quickly. We had glorious weather and walked sections of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in beautiful sunshine. We saw many seal pups lounging fatly on tiny inaccessible beaches whilst their mums kept a careful eye on them from the water, as well as choughs, kestrels and even a homing pigeon grazing on the edge of a a field of stubble...I hope it was not lost. We went down to St David's and walked around the lovely cathedral once more then visited a very good second-hand bookshop & came away with good haul of vintage reading matter. The cottage we were staying in was opposite an old church and wandering around the churchyard in the gloaming we came across the grave of an unknown man found washed up on Abermawr beach in 1916 who was buried by the local people in the churchyard. It is thought he may have been a mariner from a ship lost to enemy action. An intriguing and sad story of another unknown warrior but given decent burial by compassionate strangers in what may have been a land unknown to the dead man.

The flood waters have receded but we are hearing of amny people in the locality who are having to dry out their homes and in temporary lodging. The Farmer is being kept busy deling with fallen trees both on our own land & on that of neighbours. A silver lining to the storm is that we will all have plentiful supply of fire-wood for some time to come.

Two days after we came home my Jack Russell terrier produced two dear little puppies, one boy, one girl. They are doing very well and spend their time with Dottie snug in a bed by the Rayburn in the kitchen. They will be allowed to stay indoors until they start to become mobile at which point we shall put them out in a lovely hay-lined nest in one of the buildings where they will be safe and not piddling all over the kitchen floor!

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Storm Callum hits the Teifi Valley

This is the scene near our village over the last weekend when we were battered by Storm Callum. The villages in the Teifi Valley have suffered badly with massive flooding and many houses and businesses have been badly damaged. We here on the farm came of lightly being half way up a hill but we had torrential amounts of water pouring down of the fields and through our yard and several trees came down. Our electricity supply was affected which was frustrating especially at milking times but it was all manageable. The Farmer and I remember the last time this happened 30 years ago. There are strange sights to be seen such as canoes stuck up in trees and silage bales in odd places having been washed down by the torrent. Many of the bridges across the river have been damaged and are closed to traffic which is going to make life difficult for many of us as most of our villages have to be accessed by crossing the river.
The Farmer was hero of the hour going to the aid of some friends of ours who live in an old mill right on the river. When the river water came into their basement the Farmer went down to rescue them and their 5 week old baby before they were completely trapped. As it was he had to piggy-back the new mum down from the first floor of the building as their steps were under water to almost waist height. Mum & baby spent the night with us, the dad having opted to stay put and do what he could to rescue things. Fortunately the water did not quite reach to ceiling of the basement so did not enter their their first floor living area but the resultant mess now that the waters have dropped is pretty awful.
Neighbours have also called upon the Farmer and Sons to go and cut trees that have fallen across their tracks.
The most tragic story from the weekend was of course the death in a landslide of a young man from our small market town. He was known to us slightly and his death has shaken the community far more than the material damage done to bricks and mortar.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Holiday Cottage with Hot Tub

The past couple of weeks have been spent installing a wood-fired hot tub for the use of our guests in the holiday cottage. It is a handsome piece of kit looking like a large barrel. It is made of larch with an internal fire-box and can take 4 adults comfortably. The Farmer has been busy cutting planking for the decking around it and it will eventually have some sort of fencing or trellis around two sides to give it a little more privacy while still having a view across the paddock and pond. My daughters-in-law have said there need to be solar-powered fairy lights and such prettinesses draped around it and no doubt it will be dressed up to look very attractive but we've got to get the basics finished first. It will be available to guests from the first week in November. A deadline is always a good spur to get on with a job!

Autumn is certainly upon us now with the days drawing in & leaves falling & colours changing across the landscape.Tthe hedgerows are full of berries and as I sit here now I can see blue tits and great tits foraging in the cotoneaster which is laden with rich fruit with blackbirds and sparrows trawling the field hedges for late blackberries and rose-hips. The hawthorns & rowans have been heavy with berries and the sloes are ripening which as soon as there is a frost we must gather for making sloe gin. Walking around the farm there are fungi everywhere of all kinds especially on fallen timber which is gently decaying into the woodland floor.

We have managed to get a third cut of silage in the recent good weather and the supply of winter fodder is looking plentiful, always a good thing.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Wildlife Conservation & Farming

Today is the Autumn equinox and very blowy and blustery it is too, just lovely. Blue skies with fluffy picture-book clouds scudding across in the face of a cheerful wind making the treetops dance and sending a sea-sound of sighs through the branches, a glorious afternoon for being blown with the dogs across the fields.
There has been much pontificating in social media & elsewhere lately about how the countryside is bereft of wildlife and how the wicked farming food-producers are to blame. Admittedly there are areas where intensive farming has reduced the amount of wildlife by farming practice which cannot be above critiscism but I am sad to think that the vocal conservation lobbyists are tarring all farmers and land-owners with the same brush. We here at Penyrallt have prided ourselves for many years on the huge diversity of species that can be found on our land. I made a rough list of what I have observed here over the years and it comes to well over a hundred different species of trees, wildflowers, butterflies, moths, hedgerow-plants, insects, mammals, birds, fungi etc. and those are only what I have actually seen for myself. There will be many more that live their lives unseen and unobserved. A single oak tree provides habitat for over 500 different species and we have many oak trees around the farm. There are corners of the farm that are left uncultivated & rarely visited, we have vigorous nettle patches and wild corners with bramble thickets, four ponds & squelchy patches of boggy land that are left for the insects, small mammals, grass-snakes & buterflies amongst others. We have owls and bats resident in our house and in the farm buildings, swallows and martins return each year to their ancestral breeding posts in the eaves of the house and barns. We are surrounded by multitudinous wildlife which live alongside the very animals that are kept to produce food for the nation and it is sad that we and so many other farmers who live similarly are verbally attacked by media personalities and their followers.
We are an 'open farm' and welcome anyone who wishes to come and see for themselves how a hard-working dairy farm is run and to learn that wildlife and modern farming practice can exist in conjunction and harmony.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

September. Local Agricultural Show

September has arrived bringing with it some glorious weather, this photo is of the mist rising off one of our recently ploughed fields this morning with the promise of a beautiful day of clear blue skies and sunshine. A neighbour arrived shortly after this picture wa taken to start power-harrowing the field in preparation for the new grass seed going in later today.

The past weekend was busy with us attending the local agricultural show. The Farmer is on the committeea and so was bsuy a couple of days beforehand helping organise the setting-up & on the day itself he was stewarding for the beef cattle judge which means he was in charge of the rosettes and in making sure all the entrants were in the right place at the right. With several classes to oversee it was a long day. We as a family did our usual thing of entering the baking and craft sections. The grandchildren entered various classes involving decorating weetabix (I kid you not!)and faces made of sweeties on a paper plate. My entries were a lttle more mature and conventional and I was very pleased though somewhat surprised to receive a first prize for my 'Colour Photograph suitable for a Birthday card'(see the photo below) with some very stiff competition and a third for my 'Floral Arrangement in a Cup & Saucer' (flower arranging is not really one of my primary skills!)along with a handful of placings for various bits of baking. So,an enjoyable if tiring day as we spend the whole day up on the show field which is great opportunity for meeting up friends and neighbours whom we don't see very often.

As well as cattle and sheep being shown, and a dog show and the Domestic and Handicraft, Floral and Horticultural competitions there are displays of vintage tractors and the local hunt, The Vale of Clettwr, come into the ring with the hounds which run in their usual joyous rabble and all the children are invited to come into the ring to meet the hounds face-to-face which is always hugely popular.

Monday, 27 August 2018

A Change in the Weather, Home-grown & Foraged Food

The lazy hazy days of summer seemed to have gone and in their wake we have had a lot of rain and gusty winds. We are not complaining though...the rain has transformed the countryside back to its more normal green lushness after the weeks of a dry parched landscape. It is lovely to see the rapid grass growth and the cows are very happy though we, and they, know that the new growth does not have the high sugar content of the spring growth and is not as palatable but it's better they have that that making further inroads into the silage which is needed for the winter.

While as farmers we rejoice in the change of weather it is not so great for our holiday-makers who had hoped for long days on sunny beaches but nonetheless there are many wonderful places to visit instead and a beach on blowy day can be exhilarating and joyous.

The pigs have been slaughtered and we do quite miss them, in fact the Farmer has ordered another two weaners which will arrive in a couple of weeks time. We have a neighbour who makes bacon and ham and so some parts of the pigs have been taken to her and we will collect some delicious home-made hams and packets of bacon from her in the next few days. Meanwhile we are enjoying roast pork with crackling served with our own new potatoes & carrots freshly dug from the garden followed by blackberry and apple crumble, made with blackberries from our hedgerows, apples from the orchard & custard made using our own milk...the perfect meal and all home-grown!
It has also been a very good season for field mushrooms and fried up with bacon and eggs(from our hens!)make a perfect start to the day.

The Farmer has been busy taking off the honey crop and thank goodness he did it before the weather got cooler and damp. It has been a perfect year for the bees with all that sunshine & we have a very good honey harvest. When the weather improves there should be more again.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Early Blackberries, Drought-Affected Farming

One of the surprising results of the hot weather of recent weeks has been the very early ripening of blackberries. I have never before picked them in July as I did last week and now at the very beginning of August I have been out again with my basket along the hedgerows and have had a goodly quantity. I think it is going to be very good season for the blackberries as there are trusses hanging heavy just waiting for the sunshine to return after these few days of overcast skies and intermittent rainfall.
We have certainly been grateful for the rain and the fields are begiinig to recover their green hues though with more hot weather forecast they may well go back to the scorched look of recnt weeks. The hot weather has had a real impact on farming and we've had to start feeding some of our winter store of silage to the cows, as have many other farmers across the country. What the long term effects will be are giving cause for concern with feed being in short supply and costs rising once winter comes. As always in farming we have to take the long view but at present the main worries are of supply and demand both for feeding livestock and the food supply chain to the shops. We, with a very heavy heart, along with many other livestock farmers, have had to sell some cattle in order to reduce the mouths to be fed as the shortage of grass becomes more of a problem. Many sheep farmers are selling lambs early and of lighter weight than they would like for the same reason. The relatively small amount of rain we have had will not, I fear make a great deal of difference though if we can get a third cut of silage in few weeks time we will be very happy but with a further heatwave predicted who knows what will happen. We have been fortunate that our water supply is holding out...our supply comes from springs and a bore hole, we have no mains water and so far both sources are continuing to run.

With the change in the weather we also had strong winds which unfortunately caused a lot of apples to be blown of the trees in the orchard, however they will not be wasted as the Farmer gathered them all up and gave to the pigs who just loved them.