Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Organic Inspection, Red Tractor Assurance


Today we have our Soil Association inspection. This means that our organic integrity is examined with a fine-toothed comb and every minute detail of our farming practice is scrutinised and logged. The Farmer has to produce a paper trail of everything that occurs on the farm from the monthly milk cheque to rodent control. It is right that there should be rigorous checking of all that happens here and on every other farm in the country but every now and then one feels that the nit-picking detail goes a bit far but if it means we have our organic licence renewed for another year then we will co-operate down to the last No Smoking sign and invoice for cattle feed. It is not only the Soil Association certification that is being checked but also our Red Tractor assurance (www.redtractor.org.uk)which is the farm and food assurance scheme that promotes and regulates food quality in the UK...'Traceable, Safe & Farmed with Care'.




Monday, 4 February 2019

Winter Weather, Holiday-makers from Hell. Closure of the Last Bank

During the past few days while parts of the rest of the country have had proper snow fall we have had only heavy frost and an icing-sugar dusting of snow, enough to make the countryside look very pretty but not enough, to the disappointment of our small grand-children, for sledging or building snowmen. The ponds on the farm were all frozen over and one was very cautious walking on icy concrete but apart from that the weather has not had any great imapct on us. Today it is now much milder andwith blue skies and wintry sunshine. In fact we enjoy the cold dry conditions...anything that is not mud is always welcome.

A recent addition to the ameneties we offer with the holiday cottage has been a wood-fired hot tub (see previous posts)and it has proved very popular with our guests since it went in in at the end of last summer. Until now guests have treated it with respect and have used it with practical common sense. However, in the last week we had some less considerate guests who when very drunk abused the facility by burning coal in the stove despite the plentiful supply of logs that we provide, and getting it so hot that the metal fire box has distorted and scorched the wooden panel that separates the fire-box from the sitting area. They also burned any wooden item they could find including the stirrer paddle. Things at some point must have got scarily out of hand and the fire extinguisher & fire blanket provided seem to have been added to the conflagration...all that remains of them are the blackened burnt-out canister of the extinguisher! All this went on at night long after the Farmer & I had gone to bed so we were unaware of this awful activity until the following day. On discovering what had been going on I was speechless! When the perpetrators were confronted with the results of their activities they were very contrite and apologetic and have since replaced the fire extinguisher, the fire blanket and the paddle (with the promise of a replacement fire-box, but on that we will wait and see). Fortunately the fire-box was not as badly damaged as we first thought and is still usable. In the twenty-five or so years that we have been letting the cottage we have never had such a bad scenario (including the state of the cottage itself)...young men away from home with too much drink, a very bad combination.

Last week the one remaining bank in our local,bustling small market town closed it's doors for ever leaving us and many hundreds of other rural people with an almost 30 mile round trip to the nearest bank of any kind. The local community is furious, frustrated and helpless in the face of bureaucratic decisions being made by faceless people in London who have no understanding of how rural communities work and a total disregard for the distances now having to be travelled in order to do our basic banking. No thought has been given to people reliant on limited public transport, older peole who not have the use of a computer for online banking and for all of us who have used the banks on a weekly basis for so many years...apparently one of the reasons given for closure was insufficient footfall. Well, I have rarely been in the bank without having to wait in a queue no matter what day of the week, not just on market day. The town will suffer badly. A butcher acquaintance of ours found that his takings dropped by 40% when all the banks in his village had closed. People will go elswhere to do their banking and by default, their shopping.

Monday, 21 January 2019

January, Brexit

Here we are more than half way through January already and a beautiful frosty morning with the sun glimmering through the mist that veils the valley promising a fine day after several damp grey days that lower the spirits and increase the mud. However, to cheer the soul there are the first snowdrops nodding in the banks under the hedges and even some early daffodils are opening their green-sheathed heads to gleam golden in corners of the gardens and paddocks giving promise of the triumphant displays that we shall enjoy as the year progresses.

With the grandchildren having gone bcack to school the farm has settled back into its usual routine and everyone is busy each morning with the chores of feeding and bedding down the cattle before getting on with much needed jobs such as fencing and keeping up with the supply of firewood. In addition to these essential jobs the Farmer is finding time to build a shepherd's hut for our daughter-in-law who has has decided to replace her canvas-covered gypsy wagon for something that will give a longer letting season. The shepherd's hut will be delightful and alongside the cabin which contains a small kitchen/sitting-room and bathroom gives opportunity for a truly rustic retreat overlooking our beautiful valley(www.oldoakgypsywagon.co.uk).

Out in the wider world we have to endure the shambles that is Brexit. The majority of Britain's farmers voted to leave the EU and now we are going to face some of the biggest challenges to food production in this country since the second world war. Some politicians say that a no-deal Brexit will be a disaster for farming but appparently opinion is divided amongst those MPs with agricutural constituencies. Whatever the outcome of it all we farmers will just keep our heads down and carry on doing what we do best which is producing food in times of uncertainty, in other words carrying on as normal. After all we farmers are very adaptable to circumstances, whether it be being held hostage by the weather or squabbling politicians.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Family Christmas Away

It is New Year's Eve and having been away for Christmas I must end the the old year with a 'tidying-up' post.
The Farmer & I instead of doing what has become a our usual Christmas escape, a run down to St. David's cathedral for choral matins on Christmas morning, this year went to join all my family in a remote and rambling farmhouse in the sheep-strewn hills of Radnorshire. Our Sons stayed home of course to attend to the cows and had Christmas with small children while the Farmer & I had a splendid time in a party of twelve including all the grown-up nephews & nieces some of whom we had not seen for nearly two years. It was lovely and on Boxing Day more family arrived to make a total of eighteen for the traditional lunch of left-over turkey.
We were staying in a very old farmhouse that suited our needs perfectly and the owners had provided a beautiful Christmas tree for us. We three days of much laughter, too much food and very good company.
On Christmas morning some of us went to the eucharist service in the lovely, small, ancient church of Llandeilo Graban where we sang carols most heartily and listened to a very heart-warming homily from the cheerful and enthusiastic vicar. His message was that even if one is not a church-goer the fact that on the special days days of the year such a Christmas a need is felt to mark the day by going to a place of spirituality is important.
We had reared turkeys again this year and so were able to supply the birds for lunch as well some home-cured hams from the television pigs (see previous posts) while the rest of the family brought Christmas puddings and many other good things. We had excellent coffee as one niece is a barista home briefly from the Antipodes and a variety of cocktails concocted by one of my nephews who has become expert in that field having been working at Hawksmoor in Spitalfields in London.

The weather has been very un-Christmassy, warm and damp with heavy grey skies and mud everywhere. I do hope that we get some good cold weather soon.

On our return after three days away the most important thing that needed to be done was the slaughter of the two pigs that that the Farmer had bought to replace the tv. pigs after they had been been turned into sausages, hams and joints. So this week has seen the cold store in use once more with the carcases hanging before being butchered into the necessary parts. We will take meat to a local butcher to be made into sausages though the Farmer will cure the hams himself. Home-cured ham is delicious, quite different to commercial ham. The last hams made here were cured using dark brown sugar and there was definite treacly hint to the ham which was very good.

Younger Son is hosting a New Year's party this evening to which he has friends coming from all over the place so, no doubt, the farm will be dotted about with hangover victims tomorrow. Unfortunately the barista cousin is on her way back to New Zealand so is not available to make sure of a goodly flow of coffee to clear the heads in the morning.


Blwyddyn Newydd Dda Happy New Year

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Storm-tossed Gulls

As I sit here in the farm office I am looking out onto a sky full of gulls, hundreds of them wheeling about against a grey cold sky. They are pure white as they come closer to the house but those that are drifting higher are the colour of shadows as they toss and turn in the blustering winds that are buffeting the house and causing the trees to wave their leafless limbs in supplication against the storm. All night the tempest has roared causing the old house, which must have endured so many such batterings in its 400-plus year history, to shudder and tremble and now in the morning the winds have not abated and windows rattle, even upstairs floors shiver and doors swing as though the shades of past inhabitants are seeking corners to hide.
A chill rain has now started to fall from the darkened skies yet I can still hear the small hedgerow birds chirping to each other as they flutter through the hedges looking for food and shelter, blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows and finches to say nothing of the robins who all frequent the gardens and live in the thick ivy that grow smotheringly up the trees and along walls.

It is a day for the making of a hearty soup for lunch and then the baking of old-fashioned comfort food, scones & chocolate cake to be eaten with a cup of aromatic tea by a log fire. I have just put the marzipan on the Christams cakes and set them aside for a couple of days before dressing them up in their royal icing with the old family decorations.

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 an old 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 many people in the locality who are having to dry out their homes and are in temporary lodging. The Farmer is being kept busy dealing 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.