Sunday 31 January 2010

Snow again, Night out, Dark Ages Re-enactment

We have a monochrome landscape once more since a heavy fall of snow on Friday evening. Today we are under leaden skies and with intermittent flurries of snow and hail. It is very cold.

The chickens don't like the snow much, they tend not to go out in it; I have been told that they get very dis-orientated by it , I'm not sure why.
However, they are still laying well.

We now have three lambs and hopefully by the end of the week there will be a good few more.

Last evening the Farmer & I had a bit of a social life...a night out! We went to the Shoot Dinner after the last shoot of the season took place yesterday. The Farmer went beating with the wonderful Poppy as usual  and came home with brace of pheasant & a mallard.
The dinner was held in a pub in our village and was a very jolly evening. I didn't know many people there, though there were one or two of our neighbours who we don't see very frequently and it was good to catch up with them.
 The Shoot Dinner is held to say thank you to all the people involved in making the shoot successful through the season. The amount of work involved is staggering, what with the rearing of the pheasants, the keepering, vermin control , the maintanance of the drives, recruiting beaters, inviting visiting guns, keeping the syndicate members happy and generally making sure that everyone has a good day's shooting.
We have our first holiday-makers of 2010 staying in the cottage who are delightful and fully appreciating being in the countryside in the snow. They even came out and helped us move some cattle this morning.
We suggested that they, & their sweet Border terrier Ralph, go up into the hills above Tregaron today where the views will be spectacular in this weather. Looking down the flooded valley of the Llyn Brianne reservoir with the snow lying on the hills and on the conifer plantations that blanket large areas of the uplands, will be a superb.
A. & J., our visitors, are members of a Dark Ages re-enactment society in Kent, and we have had  fascinating conversation with them about the history of that period and how they experience the details of life at that time by wearing the clothes, eating the food, handling the weaponry, even learning the language and generally absorbing themselves in the Anglo-Saxon culture. It sounds huge fun. They put on demonstrations at shows & pageants and are in constant demand by film-makers here and on the continent. Tomorrow I hope they will be able to go down to Pembrokeshire to visit Castell Henllys which is a  reconsrtucted Iron Age settlement, and one of my favourite places.

We heard from our travellers in New Zealand during the week. They were on their way to Wellington and then to cross over to South Island this week, I think. It is very hot there,apparently, but they are having a marvellous time. The Eldest Son reported that the scenery was similar to, but vastly bigger than Wales and very dramatic...he sounded pretty impressed actually!
 I hope they go to the Lord of the Rings 'Experience/ Museum'(?) while they are Wellington. I know Younger Son has visited a couple of the locations in South Island. He says LOTR is a huge thing out there still, almost unavoidable really.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Lambs, Sustainable Food Production

The Farmer must have got his dates wrong...we now have two lambs and both doing well.
They will stay in the poly-tunnel for a few days although the weather is reasonable, but its best to be on the safe side and put then out when they are a little stronger. The Farmer always says that if he can't catch the lamb easily then a fox can't either and a healthy lamb can move like greased lightning!

We have heard from the travellers. They are in glorious sunshine heading for Rotarua having had a fairly grim time flying (27 hours or so!), It is such an adventure for them.

With thoughts of long haul flights very much in our minds lately we were very interested to read in one of the dairy industry papers that come to us, the following information; that  one jumbo jet taking off has the same carbon footprint as the annual output of a 1,000 cow dairy unit.
I think this puts into persepctive the critiscms that are the levelled at farmers over their contribution to global warming! Whilst the vegetarian/vegan lobby & some politicians, tell us we should not produce meat & milk because it is damaging the planet, no-one ever suggests that all aircraft should be grounded.
This is a debate that we and our fellow producers have all the time, along with the pros & cons of vegetarian/veganism. With the encouragement to eat locally produced food, the need for non-meat,dairy& egg-eaters to have their rice, soya, nuts & lentils flown in from all corners of the world becomes an indulgence that is completely unsustainable.
Whilst Britain can produce high quality food of great variety, there are parts of the country where due to geography & climate, only grass can be grown and surely it better to be able to convert that grass into meat & milk than fly foodstuffs halfway round the world.
This is a very simplified argument, but it would be interesting to hear your point of view, dear readers.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Corgis, Rabbits, Snowdrops & First Lamb!

We heard via Younger Son that Eldest Son & KT have arrived safely in New Zealand, though they themselves have not contacted us since just before boarding their flight at Heathrow. I think there is some problem with phones, but at least we know they got there safely. They will be in touch when they can.
Meanwhile we are looking after their livestock, which includes their very pretty Pembrokeshire corgi, Cadi. She is sweet creature and loves racing in ever increasing circles with the labradors who are very tolerant of her.. She is the second corgi that we have had and they have both proved to be quite delightful; as a breed they have had a reputation for being snappy and unreliable, we have never found this and both of them have been marvellous members of the family.

I have got into the egg collecting routine now, though the washing of the eggs is tedious when one has to clean 5 to 6 dozen a day. Most of them are just rather dusty but some do need to be cleaned properly.

Yesterday the Farmer & the dog, Poppy went beating again. They came back about 3.30 very tired but having had a good day and with a brace of duck and couple of woodcock. Lunches for the week now sorted.
An additional bit of hunting went on last night when a neighbour came over with his two young lurchers and he and the Farmer went out for rabbits. There was no bag but it a was good training session for the dogs.
We have a huge rabbit problem and I'm furious because they have already eaten the tops of the daffodil shoots that are coming through  the grass around a large standing stone that is the memorial to all our dogs. It looks wonderful when the daffodils are out...I'm hoping the depredations of the rabbits will not have been too serious.

This morning I found the first snowdrops just opening in a hedgerow. We are so lucky, all down our driveway there are masses of snowdrops each year, which will look superb in few weeks time..
We have had a couple of lovely days of sunshine. I even did some work in the garden yesterday. An acquaintance had given me clump of some special snowdrops and a hellebore which needed to be planted pdq. and while I was out doing that I took the opportunity to do a little tidying up. It does get very cold on the fingers though, at this time of year.

The Farmer has just popped his head round the door to tell me that the First Lamb has arrived. What a least a week sooner than we had expected, but then that's sheep for you!!

Thursday 21 January 2010

Travellers depart, Chickens, Wet weather to come

Well, the Eldest Son & KT left this morning for Heathrow to fly out to New Zealand this evening. They are leaving cold, damp, grey Wales for what is apparently cold, damp, grey New Zealand. Younger Son rang last night and reports that NZ is having its coldest January on record, and its their summer!
The Farmer is getting great amusement out of having been left a minutely detailed laminated list of instructions on how to run the farm in E.S.s' absence and I'm sure we will get phone calls checking up that everything is being done properly.
Anyone would think that we are ancient, decrepit and stupid, quite incapable of doing anything as it should be done!

I have been instructed on the egg collecting routine, but without the joy of a minutely detailed laminated list, so I must be more trustworthy, I guess. My only problem with the chickens is the electric  fence...I hate them!
The hens are great fun to watch with their enthusiastic scratching around in the grass of their paddock. They love people going over to see them because of course they expect food. When they run towards you  they look as though they have their hands in their pockets,which is very comical.

Walking the dogs this morning the sky was dull and grey though the horizon was blushed with palest mushroom pink which gradually became dove grey. The view across the valley was veiled with a faint smoky haze and sounds were carrying on the air from below the farm. I could hear one of our neighbours whistling as he worked and the cries of the children playing outside at our local primary school, which is about a mile away, were very clear. Its always a bad sign if we can hear the schoolchildren as it means it will almosr certainly rain within the next 24 hardly ever fails us as a warning of an impending downpour.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Life back to normal, Looking forward to Lambing, Snowdrops

Now that the snow has all gone except for some rags of white under hedges on the higher ground across the valley, life is very much back to normal. The Farmer & Eldest Son are getting the daily chores finished rather earlier now that they are not battling to get tracks gritted  and water running.
The Farmer & I, yesterday, went up to the small grey university town of Lampeter to meet Eldest Son who had taken his pride & joy, his Big Blue Tractor, to a mechanics' yard for servicing and needed a lift home.

We are due to start lambing on 1st February and we saw some early lambs out the fields yesterday  and our neighbour who keeps his sheep indoors, was lambing before Christmas ...I have heard his lambs but not seen them. Our ewes are looking good and hopefully all will go reasonably smoothly. They are still going out every day and coming back into their poly-tunnel at night. Poly-tunnels are ideal lambing sheds being light and airy making them good spaces to work in. Lambing is always a time of hard work though we are lambing only about 30 ewes this year so it will be a lot easier than when we had a 100 or so. The arrival of the first healthy lamb is always a good day.

Eldest Son & KT are off on their trip to New Zealand tomorrow and E.S. is quite convinced that the place will fall apart without him! We will just have to prove him wrong...after all we have been doing this job a lot longer then he has.

My gardens are looking very bleak at the moment with everything just recovering from the flattenng by the snow. I found snowdrops coming up and daffodils shoots have been visible since before Christmas. In an old, old orchard that we have, there is a large area that each year is a lake of snow-drops and after searching carefully throught the  grass this morning I found the first shoots; it is always so encouraging to see that spring is on its way, though still a long way off.

After the silence brought about by the snow there seems to be a constant chatter from small birds in the hedges now and we hear pheasants clattering across the fields now and then.
Yesteday a skein of geese flew across the valley, which is always a beautiful sight, even if they are Canadas which are considered such a pest.
I spent 5 minutes or so the other afternoon standing at our dining-room window watching a vole being very busy darting in and out of a stone wall at the edge of a flower bed. It would make a mad dash into the grass and quickly get back to the crevice in the wall and then reappear  little further along from another gap between the stones. There must be be whole vole city in the stones. It is amazing to think of all these tiny creatures going about their daily lives oblivious to our huge shadow, yet such a life, being constantly on the look out for predators.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Snow gone, Pheasant shoot, Howards End is on the Landing'

With the snow completely gone now, apart from some small unappetising grey leftovers lurking under hedges, we are now squelching everywhere. The small stream that runs down the side of a green lane was three days ago, a solid sheet of ice, it is now a raging torrent of white water, albeit only 18" wide. Perfect for the Borrowers to go whitewater rafting.

It is a grey, cold & damp day and the Farmer has taken one of the labradors off beating for a local shoot.It is not a posh shoot though it is run very well and the beaters & guns all eat together, which is good. And very well fed they are too, I gather. The Farmer always comes home reporting soup, stew, rich fruit cake and beer & whisky. What more could they possibly want!
The Farmer & dog will return home exhausted, probably soaked, but happy and hopefully bearing a brace of pheasant. Roast pheasant at the end of the week is something to look forward to. We don't hang the birds for too long, not being very keen on eating very high game, 4-5 days is about right. I used to casserole pheasant but have found that roasting it is better. The flavour is superb and this has always been rather lost when casseroled, though if the Farmer has shot a rabbit to go with it, a game stew is lovely. We eat quite a lot of rabbit which with its delicate flavour is as good as any poultry meat.

With a quiet day on my own I am revelling in a new book that arrived this morning... (Isn't Amazon amazing? No longer having a book shop nearer than 20 miles away I am forced to use the internet, though would much rather go to a proper book-shop and browse in the correct manner, however, that not being possible Amazon serves its purpose well especially with delivery within 24 hours of ordering).
The book that came today is Susan Hills ' 'Howards End is on the Landing'.  Just reading the opening paragraph I got that delightful frissson of anticipation that tells you this is going to be a Very Good Book.
 I have always loved Susan Hills' writing ever since I was at school, and this one is no exception. It is not fiction but an account of a year spent not buying new books but re-discovering what is already on her bookshelves. It is turning out to be one of those books that makes you  want to open a conversation with the writer to discuss what she has just said about a certain author or book... to say, 'Yes, but don't you think...?'.
I am now off back to my fireside and Susan Hills' excellent company.

Friday 15 January 2010


The thaw has arrived and with a vengeance.
Yesterday we were still completely white over, though the snow was softer and the roofs were dripping gently. Today we are just grey & slushy and running with water.
There is a mini Niagara coming down a set of steps near the house that lead up to the fields, and down the track there is a river. It is extraordinary how such a depth of snow as was lying in the fields can melt away so quickly. Water is running everywhere as well a heavy drizzle falling. All prettty unpleasant.
I hope we don't end up with the same problem that we had during the autumn, when it rained so much that the run-off from the saturated fields was affecting the cattle sheds and the Farmer & Eldest son had a seemingly endless task each day of diverting water and trying to keep the sheds dry.

At least I'm able to shed some of the thermals now, if only to don the waterproofs.

It is odd that once snow begins to disappear the sense of being on holiday disappears with it, and life returns to 'normal'. Why does this holiday feeling arise? Is it something to do with not being able to get out and having to rely on ones' own resources and the new routine that is enforced by being snowbound? Or is it only like that for those of us isolated out in the countryside? Or maybe I am romanticising what was in fact a period of hard work and anxiety, though we did enjoy it.

One thing that is very noticable with the rise in temperature is the increased visibility of the small birds...the sparrows are chattering away again in the hedgerows and the blue-tits and robins are audible once again. Snow brings such silence.

I came across an old Welsh saying yesterday, 'A warm January means a cold May' you think it works in reverse? I rather hope so.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

More Snow, Towing Lorries, Haitian Earthquake.

After a very heavy & prolonged snow fall yesterday for many hours, we have had the usual concerns over access for the milk tanker but fortunately it did come, albeit an hour & a half late.
The next problem was the imminent arrival of the lorry from the West Country with a load of cattle cake. The Farmer met it at the end of the lane but the difficulties began once it got onto our yard. There was lot of sliding and slipping sideways as the lorry made its way down to the building where the cake is stored. Once unloaded it could not get out of the yard unassisted and ended up having to be towed out to the end of the lane. It is quite a sight, a 20tonne lorry being pulled up 45degree slope by a tractor! Still, at least we've enough cake for the cows now if this weather should continue.

After the dreadful news of the earthquake in Haiti, one can only feel that it puts our puny problems into a very harsh persepective. How dare we complain about not having roads gritted or not being able to get out when the poor Haitians have lost everything and will suffer much harder & longer than we have any idea of.

The snow began falling yesterday about 4 o'clock and I had to take the dogs for their afternoon run in it. The dogs loved it, I was less enthusiastic and got back to the house very wet and cold.
A friend from the village appeared during the evening, rather late...we were just about to go to bed!...having walked about a mile(!) through the falling snow. Personally, I think it was incredibly foolish, but he got here safely and presumably got home again. We haven't heard otherwise.
I love walking through the snow but not when it is falling thickly and in the dark.

With the snowfall last night came a strong blustery wind which has caused great pillowy drifts of snow against hedges and fences. The depth of snow around the edges of fields meant that I was wading, rather than walking, through it. The dogs had a lovely time leaping into the drifts after smells, which were very strong this morning. The powerful, musty reek of fox was very noticable.

We are still camping in the dining-room though the Rayburn is going again. It seems to be throwing out very little heat and there is a terrible smell of heating oil in the kitchen which makes it very unpleasant to be in there for any time.
I really must do some baking as we've just finished the Christmas cake, so I shall just have to bear the stink, or put a clothes-peg on my nose!

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Red Kites, Seagulls & Starlings

Yesterday the Farmer & I ventured up our very icy lane and got out onto the main road which, of course, has been clear for ages, and went into our local small town abour 7 miles away. Even with 4x4 we slid a little on the lane and yes, one has to take it very carefully. Town was very quiet and the traders were saying that business has not been great for the past couple of weeks. Some of the traders themselves had been unable to get in to their shops for several days.

Today it is very windy here and it is bitingly cold wind that makes doing anything outside very uncomfortable. I go out suitably dressed in a big tweed coat, thick socks in wellies and a instead of a hat to keep my ears warm I wear a lovely Liberty wool square tied around in the style that looks so chic on Sophia Loren, or Brigit Jones, but makes me look like an old babouschka from the Siberian steppes. Not a great look, but only the dogs can see me!

Walking the dogs this morning was not the pleasure it has been these snowy days. However, to compensate for the piercing wind that finds unexpected crannies through ones clothing, there were two red kites wheeeling around in the sky looking for carrion. They are magnificent birds and when observed flying low their markings are quite stunning.
The recovery of the red kite population from near extinction is one of Wales' great success stories. In the small market town of Tregaron up in the Cambrian Mountains there is a marvellous small museum with a fascinating exhibition about the rescue project. There are so many red kites around now that they are no longer considered to be at risk. As they are not predators only carrion eaters, they are not a threat to lambs, and with our resident buzzards they make wonderful sight.

I was surprised to see a couple of sea-gulls this morning floating on the air currents. They rarely come this far inland, we about 15 miles from the coast, unless someone is ploughing when they arrive in huge noisy flocks. They fight & squabble following the tractor, like noisy children in a playground and are a great sight.

Another common bird that is constantly present here at the moment is the starling. Starlings are the bane of all farmers who feed cattle in sheds. Any sign of food and the birds are there, leaving vast quantities of guano all over every gate, rail and fixture. It has got so bad that Eldest Son has had to start feeding everything very early in the morning just so that the bulk of the food is gone before the starlings arrive. Out in the fields a murmuration of starlings can be an awesome sight but in cattle sheds they are filthy pests. The cattle ignore them but they are cheeky and will scavenge in the feed troughs and fly around in the sheds.

A delivery of straw arrived this morning and got into the yard without too much trouble despite the icey track and tomorrow we expect a cattle cake lorry but with the weather forecast being horrible for tonight & tomorrow we shall wait & see.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Successful Milk Collection, Callers, Sheep out in Snow.

Triumph...the milk tanker came at long last yesterday. Anxiety over until Monday!

Following my remarks yesterday about no callers, our good friend the Architect appeared during the afternoon, driving very cautiously down the track. He stayed an hour or so and then driving very cautiously, he went back up the track. He lives in the village at the bottom of the hill and a in 'frost pocket' where the tepmperature measured minus 13 yesterday. Here, half way up the hill, it measured minus 10. So what am I complaining about!

Today we are in grey gloom of heavy snow-laden skies, no more glorious clear light and gleaming blue sky. The snow is not falling yet, though it is forecast to do so.

Work on the farm seems to have got into a snowy weather routine. The constant checking on pipes & taps and water supplies to cattle sheds has become the norm as has making sure tractors and machinery are all warmed up and frost free.

Each morning the Farmer takes our small flock of breeding ewes out to the field. They are all in lamb and the excercise does them good, also the small amount of grass they manage to find by scraping through the snow is of benefit. They are due to lamb in a few weeks.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Will they get to Heathrow?, No visitors,19th century blog, Milk Collection

Whilst we are still enjoying the holiday feel that prolonged snow brings, due to the sense of being apart from the world and the silence and lack of callers, there is small but growing anxiety in the Eldest Son's cottage. He lives there with KT and very cosy it is too, however, they are due to fly out to New Zealand on 21st January from Heathrow to visit Younger Son and to have a marvellous holiday for 5 weeks.
Will they be able to get to Heathrow?
Will their flight be able to leave?
With the weather people telling us today that this Narnian climate is to continue for the rest of the month and that more snow is due, well, you can imagine that there is is certain amount of concern.
I'm sure that they will be able to go and while they well may leave us all in sub-zero temperatures, they will be returning to the beginning of Spring when they get back to UK at the beginning of March and we will all have forgotten about the Great Winter of '10.

I mentioned that we have not been having callers lately, which is hardly surprising, but we do in normal times have a constant stream of people passing through the kitchen. I suppose this could be labelled chronic hospitality but it is great that people do call. It is rare that more than 2 days go by without someone arriving and most come in for cup of coffee. The kettle is always on the Rayburn and I do try to have something in tin at all times.

Oddly enough despite not having visitors for this past week and not having left the farm for three weeks I'm not suffering any kind of cabin fever or sense of isolation. I think it must be something to do with the light...I do love the clarity of air & light that comes with a snowy landscape; also the fact that just keeping warm is great excuse to sit by the fire and read.

I have just re-discovered a lovely book that could be described as a 19th Century rural blog...'Our Village' by Mary Russell Mitford. Written in the 1820's, it is a sweet account of life in small village in Berkshire, of the local inhabitants both high and low, the landscape and the natural history. It very readable and describes a world long gone though one that lingers on in the back catalogue of many peoples' minds when regarding the countryside and rural life.

Well, the milk tanker driver rang us to say he was on his way, so the Farmer went out to end of the road to meet him again, only to find out an hour or so later that the lorry had broken down on farm that he was supposed to be collecting after us! We have no idea when he will now come as they are waiting for a mechanic to arrive. Like history, it is just one..... thing after another (See Alan Bennet; The History Boys).

Post script; The tanker has not even collected the milk from our neighbour where he broke down and has had to return to the depot. Will our milk be collected today? Who knows! We will just await developments. Its all so frustrating for the Farmer & Eldeset Son.

Friday 8 January 2010

Chilly Kitchen, Ice Crystals, Frozen Eggs

Well, having complained that yesterday was the first day I had felt really cold here in the house, this morning the Farmer got up to discover that all our water pipes had frozen and the Rayburn had gone out as the oil pipe had frozen. So, it is seriously cold now.

Fortunately, I do have a gas cooker so the lack of a Rayburn does not mean an end to cooking or boiling kettles and the wood-burner in the dining-room has a hot-plate. We have retreated out of the kitchen for meals and only go in there to wash-up dishes. The immersion heater, which is rarely used, has proved its usefulness fully now. To have no hot water would be the ultimate misery.

Of course everything outside is frozen too and so much time is being spent thawing the pipes & taps again. The biggest worry now though for the Farmer & Son is that we are running out of cattle cake and cannot see how a delivery will be comes from the West Country. Without the addition of cake to the cows diet of silage, our milk production will fall dramatically and with it our income.
I know we are not the only milk producers in the country with these problems but we can only deal with what is on our doorstep while sympathising with everyone else.

All is not misery...we are still enjoying the snowscape. This morning I was examining the extraordinary formation of miniature ferns of ice on grasses and twigs. Each stem had an exquisite collection of these tiny ferns and triangular or diamond shapes up its length...quite beautiful, like the shirt frill of some Regency dandy.

Eldest Son came in this morning with a problem. He and his wonderful girlfriend KT., have flock of about 100 happy, free-range laying hens and the eggs are all sold locally. However, due to the weather the eggs have not been able to be delivered to their usual customers and so there is a a considerable backlog with approximately 60 eggs a day being laid ...what to do? So showing great initiative they took the 4x4 and ventured out down to the village and called on all the people they knew to try to sell the eggs. Everyone bought. There are still quite a lot of eggs to deal with but something will turn up.

Another problem with the eggs is that as it was so cold last night they are freezing in the nest-boxes before they are collected!

I have suggested that we preserve some eggs in water-glass (silicate of soda) which is something I did years ago very successfully. They will keep up to about 18 months in the solution and can be used for baking. I even have the big earthenware jars that my great-grandmother used on the farm in Scotland for that same purpose.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Milk collection again, Frosted labradors, Bread making, Keeping the Home Fires Burning

Well, the milk tanker has been and gone, thank goodness! After much anxiety and what are now becoming regular phone calls from the driver, the tanker st out from its base in Pembrokeshire and got to us and hopefully to all the other farms on this organic collection route.
Again, the Farmer & Eldest Son spent time making the drive navigable and waited with a tractor at the end of the drive for the lorry in case it should need help in or out of the yard.
So, that's it until Saturday (we are on every other day collection)when the same scenario will have to be gone through again as there seems to be no sign of a let-up in this weather.

Despite the difficulties, we are on the whole enjoying this real winter. This morning we had thick fog but that has now lifted and we are in glorious sunshine though still with sub-zero temperatures.
Walking the black labs this morning it was so cold that their whiskers & eyebrows were frosted making them look quite comical and they were so full of joie de vivre, leaping and cavorting about in the now quite deep snow in the fields. They do love it.
Molly, our wonderful working sheep-dog, was demonstrating how well insulated her coat is this morning, by having a light frosting all over making her look quite grey rather than her usual smart black & white.

Not having been off the farm now since the Monday before Christmas I have had to start making bread again.
I used to make most of our bread for many years, but in this last year a friend who is an artisan bread-maker has built a magnificent wood-fired bread oven and is making the most delicious organic breads.(See We have a regular order from him, but as he lives down a track twice the length of ours he is unable to get out and so the bread supply has come to stop.
Certainly bread baked in the old-fashioned way in a wood-fired oven has a very different flavour to so much of the bread on offer nowadays.The bread from Mairs' Bakehouse is made from organic flour milled in Maud Foster Windmill in Lincolnshire and makes beautiful breads, both yeasted & sour-dough. I know that the bread I make today will not be nearly as good!

Today is the first day that I'm finding the house cold. We do no have central heating yet the house is perfectly comfortable with the two wood-burners kept going and the the oil-fired Rayburn in the kitchen, however for some reason today the house is distinctly chilly. I sit here in the office wrapped in a cashmere shawl and wearing those most wonderful Australian export, Ugg boots.
I bring in a couple of wheelbarrow loads of logs every morning, keeping the large log box in the porch topped up. Fortunately we have very efficient wood-burning stoves and once the they are filled do not consume vast quantities of wood too quickly. The Farmer chops the logs and I have the job of getting them to the seems a reasonable division of labour. The loading & trundling of barrows across snowy yards is a pretty effective warming excercise!
Apparently it has measured minus 10 degrees here today.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

12th Day of Christmas, Water Supply, Son in New Zealand

So much for this not being a daily posting but with us being snowed-in there is great opportunity for sitting at the computer being constructive.

As today is the 12th day of Christmas we have taken down our Christmas tree and carefully packed away the fragile decorations. Many of our treee decorations are old glasss ones, some of which belonged to the Farmers' grandmother when she was a child and so are about a hundred years old. Each year as our boys were growing up Father Christmas would bring them a new piece to hang on the tree and so we have all sorts of pretty things. Father Christmas has very good taste, we found!

On the farm, the Eldest Son is kept busy feeding all the stock which takes much longer in this weather. There is also the added problem of ensuring that pipes, taps and anything with water is kept from freezing. Taps are left with a small trickle running for once the pipework in the milking parlour freezes then things are serious and involve a lot of work and probably expense. Keeping the water supply to the animals in the sheds is taking a lot of time also and every night there is a worry of dropping temperatures getting the better of us and affecting the water troughs.

I think I ought to mention our Younger Son who has not figured much so far for the simple reason that he is in New Zealand.
He went out in October for his third stint as a tractor-driver on the harvest for a large agricultural contractor on South Island.
He is working in temperatures of 30 degrees (air-conditioned tractor cabs make it bearable!) and is pleased not to be at home in our sub-zero temperatures! We will send him photos of his gun dog, Poppy gambolling in the snow like a puppy...she is 8 years old! The dogs love the snow and go digging & leaping around madly.

I have just come in from a long walk with the dogs & the Farmer, down to see neighbours at the bottom of the farm. We walked through our staggeringly beautiful snow-burdened wood and could only think of Narnia & Moles' adventure in the Wild Wood.
On our return we were able to look back across the valley where the stark, blanched fields were touched with a faint flamingo blush as the sun goes down.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

More snow, Animal tracks in snow, Milk collection

Although this blog is not meant to be a daily report, probably once a week or so, as it is still snowing heavily and the novelty factor is still strong, here is my second offering.

I have just had a phone call from our milk tanker driver to see what state our drive is in, so Farmer David & Eldest Son are now rushing off to try clear the track. We have have had very heavy snow fall over the last hour, though there are glimmers of blue sky now. Normally our milk is collectd at 7.00pm but OMScO (the Organic Milk Supply Co-Operative) who buys our milk, had phoned to say that they were collecting during the day now while the weather makes things so difficult. So, a mad rush now to scrape the track. Anything to prevent having to dump the milk again.

I walked the dogs this morning through falling snow, up to the top of the farm where we are out-wintering our small herd of Traditional Hereford cattle. They looked quite comfortable despite the snow...they have a very hardy & stoical demeanour and they did make an attractive picture standing around ther ring-feeder with the snow falling. Unfortuantely I had forgotten to take my camera!

It is marvellous walking across snowy fields. The tracks of the nocturnal wild animals are so clearly to be seen criss-crossing each other over the fields. The neat trios of foot-prints left by the rabbits and the precise dimples of the fox and the heavier foot marks of badgers with the snow slightly brushed by their coats are all visible. It is fascinating to see how their paths all cross but never seem to result in skirmishes between fox & rabbit, the predator and victim.

Thank you to the people who have already contacted me about this blog and for your kind remarks.

Monday 4 January 2010

New Year & New Blog; Snowscenes, Milk Collection

A New Year and a New Blog. At last after much prevarication I have been persuaded to write a journal of life as it is lived here at Penyrallt Home Farm for the many visitors who have asked for updates on what goes on here.

So here goes...

We are snowbound and it is glorious. The view across our valley is like a sepia tinted photograph with the patchwork of fields in gleaming white chequered by the brown, leafless hedges and trees. It is spectacularly beautiful and worth frozen toes, just gazing at it.

Whilst we are enjoying the winter landscape as it is one we have not seen for a number of years, all is not so great on the farming front in that our trusty milk collection tanker was not able to get to us, or any of the other organic dairy farms on our collection route, on Saturday night. This resulted in us having to dump the milk which is always a terrible thing for dairy farmers to have to do. We were however able to off-load some of the the milk to a couple of neighbours who keep pigs, and we were able to keep some to feed the 10 calves that are still on milk, but the bulk of the milk had to be wasted.

Fortunately, after much time spent by Farmer David & Eldest Son gritting and salting our long farmtrack the lorry was able to collect from us last night. Such a relief. What will happen later in the week with freezing weather set to continue we can only wait and see.
Our Christmas guests in the Holiday Cottage left yesterday, returning to the delights of Camberwell, a far cry from things here. They threw themselves with great enthusiasm into the country-living dream. Every morning they were out chopping logs for their wood-burner and then taking my labrador Hattie for long snowy walks. The adopting of Hattie was a real treat for them and she went along with it very happily. Being a labrador of course she would happily become everybodys' best friend; no loyalty to her family at all!
We now wait to see how the week unfolds both for the milk collection and holiday-makers due at the weekend. How we are in thrall to the weather.
Happy New Year.