Sunday, 30 August 2020

Return to Blogging

Shockingly it has been about four months since I last updated this blog. One could use Coronavirus as the excuse as it seems to be the excuse for everything else going on in our lives but that would not be completely honest. Since our house move life has had it's usual busy-ness here on the farm with the normal routine required by dairy cows. The milk tanker has continued to come throughout lockdown, we have continued to do the seasonal work of lambing our small flock of sheep, silage-making and generally carried on feeding the nation as was acknowledged by this sign appearing at the top of main road near the farm. For those of you who do not read Welsh it says 'Thank You Farmers' and is much appreciated by we Ffermwyr. The main difference to our lives has been the absence of holiday-makers in the cottage though they returned from the middle of July. With the exception of social distancing and the extra cleaning protocols required between each group of guests life has pretty much returned to a near normal. Coronavirus has affected everyone and even though the farming community has carried on much as usual (and we did have exemptions for travelling more than 5 miles (in Wales)) the lockdown has changed the way we live in small and subtle ways. Friends are now allowed to call but we find that we, and others, prefer to meet outside and fortunately the weather has on the whole enabled us to drink coffee and chat in gardens. We no longer go to our local market town for a leisurely shopping trip calling in various shops but we stop at the green-grocer and the whole-food shop only, with just one person allowed in the shops at a time (they are very small)and then head for home. No longer is there the inclination to tarry and converse. The one person at a time rule does not encourage one to linger when there are people waiting outside the shop. It is now the very tail-end of August and we have a glorious day of sunshine, blue skies and fluffy clouds scudding overhead but there is strong hint of autumn in the air. After some very dramatic weather in tha last few weeks,thunder and lightening, terrific winds and lashing rain causing flooding and general misery we can only rejoice when days like today come along. The menfolk are making the most of it and getting in another cut of silage. We have been rearing some pigs over the summer who have been benefitting from the Farmer making use of the wind-fall apples (thanks to the violent winds of recent weeks) by being given the pomace to eat. Pomace is the sludge left after the apples are pressed for juice. The juice is delicious and while some is frozen to see us through the winter, much of it is made into cider. Why waste the windfalls when both we and the pig-wigs can enjoy them. There will of course be more juicing taking place in few weeks when the apples remaining on the trees are picked and processed.
For the agricultural community one of the sad fatalities of the pandemic has been the local agricultural show. The Farmer is on the committee for our local show and their last meeting was cancelled back in February with the decision to cancel the show taken a few weeks later. This story will be repeated all over the country and it will leave a big hole in the farming community social calendar. The shows are struggling to survive anyway and one can only hope that having missed the 2020 show season due to external forces, the committees and their supporters will work with renewed vigour to make sure 2021 can be a year of great agricultural shows...pandemics permitting, of course.

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.