This week has seen us doing our annual TB test for the cattle. On Monday the vet came during morning milking and injected all the cattle on the farm with TB virus and then today came again to see if we had any 'reactors' indicated by a swelling of the injection site. With great relief we found that none of the animals had reacted and so we have had another 'clear' test result, thank goodness. It is always a stressful time because of the anxiety roused by the possibility of a reactor in the herd. If we had had a reactor the implications for the farm are massive. It would mean we would have a complete block on moving cattle, selling calves and the general running of the herd. However, we are very lucky to have got through this test freely and the Farmer & Elder Son can heave asigh of relief and get on with the day-to-day farming. In my last post I said how wonderful it was to wake to a dry,sunny morning, today we are back to torrential rain and strong winds! It is school half-term week here in Wales and to have this horrible weather is depressing to say the least, as the children cannot play outside and arranging outings is bit of a challenge...though as the Farmer is always telling me there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, so we do have to just get on with it! The constant rain does make farming difficult as we have mud everywhere and huge puddles and endless dripping from the roofs but the cattle are dry and snug in their sheds which is something. Long gone are the days when cattle were out-winterd in fields which quickly become quagmires , especially here in wet west Wales.
On the last day of October we are definitely in autumnal landscapes and we have actually woken to a morning when it is not raining! Such a relief to have blue skies after days of horrendously heavy rain, making the whole farm soggy and surrounded by the sound of dripping from all the roofs. The birds are singing too so they must be happy the rain has ceased. Last week the Farmer, Elder Son and Elder Grandson took themselves off to the annual Welsh Dairy Event which is held in our county town of Carmarthen and they came back after a very good informative day but saying all everyone is talking about is the rain and the effect it is having on the farms. The weather of course is not the only subject of discussion though it looms large. Get dairy farmers together and there is much talk of milk prices, feed prices and the prospective increases, of each. Milk price increases are a Very Good Thing but the increased cost of bought-in feedstuffs is not. While everyone will have made plenty of silage during the summer there is still a quantity of supplementary feed required and as the ingredients are bought on the world market prices are volatile and ever changing and organic feed is always rather more expensive than conventionally grown.
Tonight is Halloween and the grandchildren have been busy making their pumpkin lanterns. When we were children we made 'howkit neeps' being good Scottish children, carving out swedes rather than pumpkins which had not seen in this country until very recently. They are an American import, along with the appalling 'trick or treat'. Halloween has been highjacked by excessive commercialism (I'm becoming a grumpy old granny!!) and I find it a pity. I am all for keeping things simple and as uncommercial as possible and certainly dislike turning a old tradition into a grasping, somewhat threatening activity which has very little to with its origins in the ancient pagan celebration of Samhain which means 'summer's end'. It was Christianised into All Saint's Day which commemorated the souls of the dead.Samhain also marked the time when cattle and sheep were led down from the summer pastures to their winter quarters.
In Wales this day is known as Nos Calan Gaeaf, the First day of Winter. In South Wales there was tradition that boys and men went around houses wearing women's clothing singing a song about the 'White Lady'. They were know as the 'gwarchad' or hags and wore sheepskins, ragged clothes and mask. After doing the rounds of the houses in the village or hamlet they would gather at the farm and have a supper called 'the mash of nine sorts' which was stew made from a variety of vegetables mashed up with salt, pepper and milk. The sacred number nine made this a special feast for All Hallow's Night. Another aspect of my Scottish upbringing is the old game of 'dooking for apples'which originated as a hearthside game once the apple harvest was safely in and may be connected to the ancient story of a journey across water to obtain the magic apple from Emhain Ablach or the Otherworld Island of Apples. Halloween is also the night when the Wild Hunt rides through the skies led by Gwynn ap Nudd, the King of the Faeries, or Herne the Hunter as he is known in England, leading the pack of white hounds with red eyes and ears.
This is Dottie, my faithful companion who spends her days either sleeping in her nest in the bottom of my kitchen dresser or following me around the farm and pottering in the garden. She is now 12 years old but still as bouncy and energetic as ever, always ready for a walk and a great favourite with visitors. She seems be under the impression that anyone who calls has come to see her and she is more than ready to be their best friend. Sometimes this can be bit much and she has to be restrained from making a nusiance of herself but retreats when instructed and then just sends adoring glances from her bed. At present she is one of the five dogs we have on the farm and although the smallest is definitely the one in charge, even of Judy our no.1 sheepdog (see picture below). As well as Judy we have a young trainee sheepdog, Meg, a shouty little dachshund, Winnie who lives with Elder Son and his family, and beautiful noble Gwen, Younger Son's black labrador. It's quite a pack whenever they and us are all out together on the farm. The dogs are very well behaved in each others company, so long as there is no food around then they all vie with each other and it can get quite ugly...as in all scenarios with dogs never take their good behaviour for granted!
Yesterday The Farmer went out to play his violin at a funeral in the local church. Some years ago he had played for the birthday party of the deceased who so enjoyed the event that the request was made to have an Irish jig played at the funeral as the coffin was taken out of the church. The Farmer was very touched to be asked though playing such a jolly type of music at a sombre occasion can be difficult but it went well and the family were very appreciative. It was something different for the The Farmer as most of his music-making these days is classical as he plays in a string quartet and a chamber orchestra in Lampeter, our nearest university town. The chamber orchestra is giving a concert in November so there are regular rehearsals of the lovely programme of Mozart, Schubert, Haydn and Bach. Many years ago we had a ceilidh band with a group of friends and played a lot of folk music which was huge fun but very different to the classical repertoire which The Farmer so loves playing. We are so lucky out here in deepest west Wales to have an enthusiatic amateur orchestra of very good players, many of whom are ex-professional musicians, and who are prepared to travel considerable distances to attend rehearsals and put on concerts.
We are now well and truly into the season of fallen leaves, sharp winds and the knowledge that summer has become just a memory.
Although there are still many green leaves on the trees the litter of brown and gold is increasing daily. There are acorns lying everywhere as we have a good population of oak trees on the farm and the ducks take their promenades to where they know they will find rich pickings of acorns and beech mast. In the hedgerows there are the rich crimson of hawthorn berries and the lipstick red of rose hips gleaming through the tangles of ever more visible twigs and branches as the leaves fall from the hazel and bramble. An occasional faded rose-pink of a late blackberry flower can be seen and the vivid shocking-pink of the tiny wild geranium flowers brightens up the lower hedgebanks. Today is particularly windy and the trees are tossing their heads in petulance at yet another storm on its way to blow itself through the branches and throw the more fragile ones to the ground. Our resident rooks however seem to enjoy the wind and we watch them being thrown around the skies like shreds of black paper as they make their ways across the fields and up to the top of the beech trees in the garden where they have loud conversations with each other. The days are growing noticably shorter and I find I am lighting the fire earlier in the afternoons now and drawing the curtains by 7o'clock when the light has truly gone for the day.
On the farm things are starting to have their winter routines established and Elder Son is busy out and about hedge-cutting. Today we collected 20 turkeys to be reared for Christmas for our regulars of friends and family who want free-range turkey for their festive dinners. The turkeys will spend happy days patrolling the yards and finding beetles and worms in the lawns and around the farm building and whilst not the most decorative of birds they do have a certain character that is quite entertaining. I suppose the arrival of the turkeys is a real sign of winter on its way.
It is nearly the middle of October and we are having something of an 'Indian summer' these last few days which means there is a last ditch attempt to get in the final cut of silage while the weather is so glorious. The Farmer and the Sons are all out on tractors for long days and into the nights (Elder Son didn't finish till midnight last night)to get the grass in before the weather breaks and we begin the run into winter. The Farmer goes off about 10.30am armed with a flask and box of sandwiches and reappears at about 5.00pm in time for feeding the calves at milking time and then may have to go off again to finish up the day's silaging. There is a sense of urgency about it all as we are fully aware that after the wet days of recent weeks to have this window of dry sunshine is a bonus for the year. It is unseasonably warm at the moment and I'm still seeing butterflies in the garden but there is change coming in with drops in temperature promised, so 'carpe diem' is the motto at present.
Life in the valley is jogging along with our neighbouring farmers all busy like us with last minute grass cutting, though the number of farmers in the valley is so reduced that the actual work of farming is being done by fewer 'real' farmers. When I came to live here nearly forty years ago there were twelve dairy farms in the valley now there are two, of which we are one. The farms have been bought by incomers who want their little piece of heaven and somewhere to keep a horse or two but do not want or need the acreage of land that comes with a ex-dairy farm so the house is sold with say ten acres and the remaining hundred or so is let or sold to farmers who do not actually live in the valley so farm the land remotely, so to speak. It is scenario that is played out all over the country and as result more land is being held by fewer farmers. Another side to this is that anyone wanting to get a foothold in farming has to have great deal of money with which to purchase a useful acreage unless they inherit or marry land. Land ownership becomes an almost impossible goal for many young people wishing to enter agriculture.
With the summer now well and truly over, as is demonstrated by the blustering winds, frequent rain and tsunamis of leaves all around the farm, the time is drawing ever nearer to when I shall temporarily close the holiday cottage for a few weeks to do some much needed redecoration and renovation. As from the beginning of November I shall be 'project managing' the installation of a new kitchen, the painting of all rooms, new carpet in one bedroom, new beds and general sprucing up of a little house that has worked very hard over several busy seasons of happy holiday-makers.
The Farmer, in his capacity of furniture-maker, is busy already with the new kitchen having sorted out wood from his amazing store of timber grown on the farm to construct the new cupboards and a beautiful oak work-top. He will also make new beds. We have decided to replace the standard double bed in the master bedroom with a king-size and the small single beds in the twin room with a small double. Whilst realising this may not make the cottage so appealing to families with two children it will still be able to sleep two couples and will ease the laundry burden on me! I am enjoying planning new colour schemes, sourcing new tiles for the splashback in the kitchen and bedroom curtains and possibly wallpaper for a completely new look. The cottage will still be fairly traditional in its decor and unpretentious in its overall look. By staying with a traditional look it does not get to look dated too quickly and after all, it is a small country cottage not a sophisticated new-build or urban apartment.
We have had a lot of visitors this year and have enjoyed meeting many people who are very appreciative of what we offer here. Most guests leave the cottage in a very good state though there are the inevitable few who do not...one does wonder what their own homes are like! I like to think that people wish to leave a place looking as though they had never been there apart from a bag of rubbish (as do the Farmer & I whenever we take a holiday let) but this sadly is not always the case. That said, most guests are considerate and thoughtful of the work involved in getting the cottage ready for other guests. It was wonderful to find the comment below in the Visitor's Book a week or so ago...it makes the all work and effort worth while when people write something like this.
As usual I shall start off by talking about the weather! It is subject that dominates our lives as it is so unpredictable. We have had a spell of very hot days with clear blue skies and now we are high humididty and grey skies. After a very disappointing August the sunshine reappeared just as the children went back to school. There is still grass to be cut and baled which will probabaly be done in the next few days.
Last week I had some help in the garden and despite the heat, S. the Gardener, did what needed to be done and things are looking much tidier. In the next while I hope to get narcissus bulbs into the ground around the trees and I've already put in another large patch of crocus corms on the lawn in hope of a lovely display next spring. I love lawns starred with crocus in early spring, brightening up the shaded areas under the trees scattered across the grassy area of the garden with the daffodils following on.
Having just had coffee with the Farmer and a neighbour who dropped in, made a shepherd's pie for lunch, put some bread on to prove and sorted out the laundry I am now able to continue with this post, such as it is.
At the weekend we went to another local show, this time put on by the Gardening Club in a village nearby. The Farmer had entered some chutneys, jams and honey as well as some woodwork in the various competitions and did well. His honey got a 1st and the chutney and a three-legged stool got a 1st, so he came home happy. As I've said before it is wonderful the support given to these small shows and the amount of time, effort, skill & enthusiasm that goes into the exhibits in all classes from patchwork, photography, woodturning, flower arranging, vegetable growing the making of preserves is truly inspiring.
The holiday cottage has been very busy this summer and now the bookings are slowing up which means the pressure on in keeping up with the laundry is eased. We've had lots of lovely guests this year who are all very appreciative of the cottage and being in beautiful west Wales. We've had visitors from France, Australia and next month we will welcome a family from South Africa. Most of the guests come from all over England and for many they are hugely impressed by the wonderful landscapes of Wales, many of them have not been to Wales before and discover it to be well worth visiting...and it is just on their doorstep!
Yesterday we went to our local agricultural show. The Farmer went up there early on as he was involved with stewarding for the cattle judge and had to be on hand. As usual we, as a family, entered various of the competition classes in the domestic and handicrafts sections. This a photo of my Floral Arrangement in a Boot (borrowed from one of the smaller grandchildren) and below you will see my efforts at a Floral Arrangement in a Kitchen Utensil (a Mouli grater). I thought they were very pretty and the Boot got a second prize. The Grandchildren did well winning prizes in the Handwriting competition, various baking things and photography. I won 1st & 2nd with my Bara Brith, a traditional Welsh fruit loaf and the Farmer won 1st with his Item made from Recycled Material,see below. He manufactured from a 200 litre chemical drum a rather smart and reasonably comfortable garden chair! Apart form these small triumphs we had a very good day at the show, meeting lots of friends and neighbours, and we were so fortunate that the weather which has been atrocious for weeks suddenly improved and we had a day of glorious hot sun.
These country shows are so important for rural communities as they are an opportunity for friends and neighbours to meet up who although we may all live within just a couple of miles of each other maybe do not see each very often, everyone is busy and working long hours.
It is also an opportunity for those of us who spend our days being domestically occupied,cooking, growing and making to show off our skills which in these digital & virtual times seem not be of value in many people's views of the world.
Full-time farmers-wife, cook, laundress, gardener, meeter-&-greeter, mobile gate, answerphone service & bibliophile.
Have lived for over 30 years on a 200 acre organic dairy farm in the Welsh hills, with fiddle-playing farmer husband and two sons.
We host farm walks for schools and any other interested parties and have farm open days and are passionate about educating people on where their food comes from and the importance of the countryside.
We also have a sweet holiday cottage with roses round the door available throughout the year for the perfect country retreat.
Contact for further details;
Telephone; 01559 370341
Logs, electricity, bedlinen & towels included in price Central heating available 1st October-1st May (included in price) Free WiFi Natural spring water Beautiful views Only 30 minutes from beaches We regret the cottage is not suitable for children under 5 years andwe do not accept dogs in the cottage.
Short Breaks available (min. 3 nights, out of peak seasons only)
To enquire about the cottage please email firstname.lastname@example.org
We also have a delightful shepherd's hut on the farm which is available for holidays from March to October. It sleeps 2 & has a seperate cabin with kitchen/sitting-room, shower-room & wood-burning stove.