Saturday 27 February 2010

Travellers Return Engaged, Late Daffodils, Marmalade Recipe.

Our globe-trotters have returned  and as engaged persons!
 Elder Son & KT arrived home late this morning after a 24 hour flight from Sydney. I think their definition of Hell is 24 hours in economy class from the other side of the world! They are exhausted and jet-lagged and Elder Son says he's never flying again!
However, despite all that they have had a most wonderful trip and have marvellous photographs and tales of spectacular and extraordinary places and a type of farming that is so different to what we do in Wales.
It was the agriculture that Eldest Son was so keen to see. Younger Son was able to arrange for him to experience millking 850 cows (!!!) in an hour & a half, in a 'state of the art' rotary parlour which was a real thrill for him. So very different to the life of his own dear farm!
Apart from the tiredness, the change in temperature has been bit of a shock...they left Sydney sweltering in the 30s' and arrived home to cold rain and what is becoming a very late spring.
It is lovely to have them home and yes, they got engaged on Mount Cook on the South Island of New Zealand. It is a great piece of news and everyone is so pleased for them.

We normally have some daffodils in flower by the 1st March, St Davids' Day, but this year they are still tight green buds and will be so for a while yet, I think.

In response to a request left on the last posting for the recipe that the Farmer uses to make marmalade, here it is;

3lbs Seville oranges
41/2 - 6 pints water
6lbs sugar
 1tspn. citric or tartaric acid or juice of 2 lemons

Scrub the fruit, cut in half, squeeze out the juice and pips and slice the peel without removing the pith.
Put the sliced peel, soft pulp and jiuce in a pan with the water. Tie the pips and fibrous tissue ina muslin bag and cook gently for 2 hrs. or until the peel is quite soft.
Squeeze the muslin bag and remove, add the the sugar, stir until this is dissolved, then boil quickly until setting point is reached.
Remove the scum, allow the marmalade to cool slightly and pour into warmed jars. Cover with waxed circles while still hot and put on lids.

The Farmer likes the peel cut cut very thick and in big chunks; I prefer it very fine and probably like marmalade jelly even better.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Snowdrops, Antipodean Heat, Increasing Egg Yield, Marmalade Time

Yesterday it was snowing, then raining and very cold, today I was able to be out with the dogs and bring in logs with out a coat on! What ridiculous weather.

The snowdrops are coming on well everywhere now and the old orchard has great masses of them under the old mossy trees.
The daffodil shoots are appearing in the hedges along the drive and stand like sharp green sentinels up through the dead ferns and clusters of leaves that blanket the banks.
In the hedges I also found the first leaves emerging on the honeysuckle and buds on the hazel bushes.

We have heard from Elder Son & KT who are now in Sydney where it is an appalling 38degreesC. I think Elder Son is finding the heat difficult and a huge city of sky-scrapers somewhat daunting, though they are having a marvellous time. This is the last stage of their trip and we are looking forward to hearing travellers tales when they return shortly.
Younger Son phoned us today and it is also very hot in New Zealand of course. He is busy working very, very long hours , fortunately in an air-conditioned tractor, baling grass. Thousands of bales, on a scale unimaginable to us here in Wales with our small fields and small numbers of cattle.

KTs' hens are laying well and I think I've looked after them well in her absence...certainly the number of eggs each day is increasing though I can't take the credit for that; its all to do with the lengthening days. Last night the Farmer came in after milking (about 6.15pm) and said it was the first night he had been able to shut the hens up without using a torch to light his way. Long light evening are awaited with such anticipation after what has been a hard, difficult winter.

We were given some Seville oranges the other day and the Farmer has just made his annual batch of marmalade. He loves the whole process of marmalade-making and filling the house with the delicious scent of hot oranges. I do all the jam and chutney making but he insists on doing the marmalade himself. I think he & Paddington Bear have a lot in common when it comes to a passion for marmalade...I haven't got him into red wellies and a duffle coat yet though.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Lambs in the Snow, Brown Hairstreak butterflies, Rabbit pie..

We had another fall of snow last night but the ewes and lambs, who are all out in the field now are not at all bothered by it. The snow is not deep enough to completely blanket the grass and the sun is shining so it may all be gone by this afternoon as it was on Friday. Although the lambs coats are not as thick |& woolly as a grown sheep they are so tightly curled and dense that they do not feel the cold easily, however they do clamber onto their mothers' backs and snuggle down deep into the fleece as though it was a nest. It must be very warm and comfortable.

Yesterday the Farmer & I went to fascinating lecture in our local village hall given by Butterfly Conservation Wales ( on a project running in Carmarthenshire to locate the prescence of Brown Hairstreak butterflies. It seems that parts of Carmarthenshire are particularly good  in providing suitable habitat for this species which lays its eggs solely on the blackthorn shrub. It was once very widespread in Wales but due to the loss of woodlands & hedgerows it has declined severely. However, it seems that Carmarthenshire is its remaining stronghold.
After the lecture and a light lunch, we went to a nearby smallholding to search for the eggs of the Brown Hairstreak. They are tiny white dots about the size of a pin-head that are laid on the twigs of the blackthorn. We found several though they are not abundant.
The butterflies live from about July to October and are rarely seen as they spend most of their time in the treetops, particularly in ash trees.
We are now going out inspecting our hedges for the eggs, but with no luck yet.

The Farmer went out lamping again the other evening with our neighbour who has lurchers. They had very successful jaunt and came back with three rabbits which are now residing in the deep-freeze. We have a huge number of rabbits on the farm and they are such a pest, but fortunately make very good eating. Rabbit pie, with the addition of a pigeon if the Farmer has been out shooting, is delicious. Served with home-grown potatoes and whatever vegetables we have and the Farmers' apple wine, it makes an excellent meal.

Friday 19 February 2010

Snow-time again, Work experience student, Welsh Mountain Sheep.

We have woken once more to a white world. While the Farmer was milking we had a heavy fall of snow after what had been a very noisy hailstorm at about 5.30 am. so everything looks as it did a month ago and I think more snow is forecast over the next few days.

The Farmer has had an assistant this week. Our visitors in the holiday cottage, who have been here twice before, have a 15 year old daughter who wants to become a vet. She wrote to us at Christmas time to ask whether she could do a weeks work experience here at half-term, so she has been up (most!) mornings to help with the milking and has been out in the lambing shed learning about the intricacies of helping ewes with their new lambs. She could not have timed her visit better in terms of being here at a busy time and when there are interesting things going on.
The Farmer is always happy to explain what we do here and when someone shows a real interest in the nitty-gritty of farming & animal husbandry he is more than pleased to involve them in what ever is going on.

The latest news from our travellers is that they should be in Sydney having flown from Aukland last night I think. They will have week in Austalia and then the long flight home to possibly a snowy Wales. Such a contrast to the searing heat of Oz.

Having had to go to Lampeter today we came home over the top of the hills through the most spectacular scenery. All the roads were clear of snow but the moorland was white and the views up the Teifi Valley were superb. Whilst driving through this marvellous landscape we saw a number the Welsh mountain sheep looking very picturesque with their creamy wool and white faces against the brilliance of the snow. Their adaptability to the harsh environment is impressive; they have to survive on such poor grazing and yet they all looked remarkably healthy. They lamb a lot later than sheep kept down in the 'soft' valley bottoms and usually don't have more than one lamb, whereas those of us farming at lower levels have many twins and even triplets from our ewes.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Mollie the Sheepdog, Chinese New Year

Our sheepdog Mollie is being kept very busy these days with moving the sheep out to the fields each morning and back again in the late afternoon. She is very quick and works very well; the Farmer loves her and she adores him and as we have always found, a really good dog is essential to the running of the place.
Lambing is now well under way after a very slow start. We have had  lots of sets of twins which are all doing well.
Ewes and lambs are the most difficult creatures to move. The ewes are concerned with protecting their lambs and the lambs don't know what they are expected to do, so Molly has to be very patient and not get too close as she will then get butted, quite aggressively, by the ewes. Trying to move ewes and lambs is so frustrating for us as well as the dog...the ewes spend all their time going round in circles trying not to lose sight of their babies while the lambs totter behind on their long wobbly legs, in complete bewilderment.

Last night the Farmer & I were out to dinner with some friends who live in beautiful hidden valley down a very long track. Arriving there in the dark was lovely as one comes down the very steep track through woods, round a sharp hair-pin bend and there was the house glimmering through the darkness with tiny strings of lights in the windows. Just like something out of Grimms' fairy-tales though not nearly as scary!
We had a superb Chinese meal that our dear friend J. had cooked to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Apparently we are now in the year of the Tiger.

Friday 12 February 2010

Headmistress resigns over lamb to slaughter, Thrushes & Snails, Cow bells

Through the Countryside Alliance newsletterI have just learned of the story from The Times yesterday about the headmistress of a primary school who has been hounded out of her job by hysterical parents over her desicion to have a lamb slaughtered that had been reared in the school. What else did they think the lamb was for? Yes, it gives the children a wonderful  and important experience to be involved in bottle-feeding lambs, but they must also learn that the rearing the lamb is part of the process towards it becoming the food on their plates. In our experience children accept this basic fact much more readily than the adults. Last summer we had a school party of 9-10 year olds here and they watched a group of beef animals being loaded onto the lorry to go slaughter. We explained to the children what was happening and why and they were fascinated and you could see them realise and accept the fact that this was where their burgers & sausages came from. Any teacher who takes a marvellous initiative such as rearing lambs in school should be applauded. It should happen more. It is cases like this that make it even more important that children, and adults, are able to visit real working farms and see for themselves how animals are reared.
As farmers we take pride in our livestock and yes, we do hate loading the stock onto lorries or taking them to abattoirs ourselves, but it is part of the job and as man is a omnivore, his meat has to come from somewhere.

Onto a less emotive subject, this morning I was walking through our top fields and as I crossed through a gateway by a hedge there was an odd tapping sound on the other side of the blackthorn. I couldn't see what was making the noise but concluded that it must have been a thrush cracking open a snail shell. I often see broken shells around the place and even in the snow the thrushes were able to find snails, as tiny shards of shell, delicate coral pink stripped with black, would be scattered around a stone or hard piece of ground.

The air was clear and still in the frost again this morning and the sound of our queen Hereford cows' bell came across the fields . Yes, we put bells on our cows! Only the Traditional Herefords seems to suit them with their air of gravitas to have this rather frivolous decoration, somehow, and it is a lovely sound.

A boring bit of technical stuff; if anyone has had trouble leaving comments I have done a bit of 'tweaking' and I think it should work now. Please let me know if it has worked by leaving a comment. Thank you.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Silver Frost, Fiesty Bantams, Milk Academy

It is a glorious silvery morning with a sharp frost making the fields glisten like powdered glass and the birds are singing in chorus, with the robin taking the lead up in a holly tree.

We have a trio of bantams,a striking grey & silver cockerel and two black and russett hens who live seperately from the laying hens and wander around where they please. The cockerel is a very proud and defiant character and this morning was making me laugh by squaring up to Hattie, my young labrador, who was trying to 'play'. The mini-Chanticleer was having none of it, drew himself up to his full 14inches, fluffed up his feathers and made jabbing darts at the dogs' nose. She thought it was part of the game and just kept wriggling forward on her tummy while the cockerel got crosser & crosser and was swearing at her with strange growly trills in his throat. I had to call Hattie away in the end as she would have chased him eventually and then there would have been real trouble if she caught him.
These particular bantams have very feathery legs & feet which give them a very '70's look somehow, like enormous flared trousers. The leg feathers are great I suppose for show birds but very impractical for chickens that scratch around in a muddy orchard.

The Farmer is off today to a meeting up near Aberaeron of a group known as a Milk Academy which is something that has been set up by OMSCO ( & First Milk who are our milk buyers, as a discussion group for organic dairy farmers. The Farmer attends as it is a good way of keeping up with developments in the dairy industry, hearing good speakers on a  range of subjects from herd health to silage analysis and meeting with our milking colleagues. Farmers on the whole do not socialise greatly with each other, so meetings like these are of real value.

The new Hereford calf has been named...Fadog had be a D and its a good springtime name. We don't go in for the very fancy pedigree names that many breeders use.
Fadog (pronounced Vadog) is our herd name and comes from the original name for this farm which was Penyrallt Fadog which translated means the 'the top of Fadog's wood' so presumably far back in the mists of time this land was owned by Fadog, or more probably Madog, though when he lived we can have no idea. The earliest fixed date we have for the place is 1695 though the house is much older than that. It was owned by one Nathan Griffiths in the 17th century and we have the history from then on quite well documented, but the story of the farm will have to wait for another day.

The latest from our travellers is that they were heading to Invercargill and then up to the Canterbury Plain where Younger Son is working. They will spend a few days with him I think. It is very hot and they are finding it very expensive which was unexpected as Younger Son on his previous two experiences out there, had found that living was much cheaper than here in the UK. However, they are having a good time which is the main thing.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Traditional Hereford calf, Hazel catkins etc., Natural History Blog Pre-internet

The new Tradtional Hereford calf is doing well and her great lumbering mother is very protective. She is always very watchful if there is a dog around even when she is in a pen and the dogs are outside. I never go into the field with the Herefords with or without a dog. They are not aggressive but just very protective of their babies. The Farmer is not unnerved by them but I am of a much more nervous disposition and am quite happy to admire them from afar. They are very handsome beasts and being a rare-breed it is always marvellous when we have a heifer calf. I think there are only about 5-6 hundred of these animals in the country. We will be having to find a good name for this baby so that she can be registered with the herd society soon.

Having been out to supper last evening with our friend the Surveyor and his family we had a delightful meal,and were home rather late and so everything was a bit behind times this morning. However after collecting the eggs, I walked the dogs and was very pleased to notice that Spring is beginning to stir... we have the first snowdrops in flower along our drive, I saw the first daffodil just opening on a verge and  I spied hazel catkins fattening up in the hedgerow.
Hazel catkins are of course the male part of the plant. To see the tiny red females parts one needs a magnifying glass to appreciate their beauty with their scarlet petals.

The hazel is a plant that has had its usefulness much diminshed by modern living. In the past it was used for so many things; not just baskets and walking sticks but hurdles for making enclosures and livestock pens and for the frame-work for the wattle & daub construction of dwellings and animal housing. In many woodlands one can find the stools of coppiced hazel where the hazel was managed for harvesting of rods and sticks. Of course the nuts were an important source of protein and could be harvested and kept through the winter. There has been much archaeological evidence of neolithic peoples eating vast quantities of hazel nuts.
In the garden here I have a beautiful red hazel that has glorious rich maroon coloured leaves and produces dark red nuts with a very sweet flavour.
The other vital role that hazel plays is in providing habitat for dormice. I have yet to find evidence of dormice here on the farm though they are in the area as neighbours have found nut shells with the distinctive small nibblings typical of dormouse teeth.

Going through one of our bookcases this morning I came across a small collection of old notebooks which contain the Nature Writings of the Farmers' father. From 1945 to 1960 'Robin' wrote a weekly column on natural history and the farming  seasonal round, for his local paper, the Wolverhampton Express & Star, (I should explain that the Farmers' family originate from Staffordshire and moved to Wales in 1960).
The forerunner of blog, I can't help thinking, they are exquisite pieces written by a man who was a passionate naturalist  and observer of wildlife.
Here is an example of his writing taken from a piece written in February 1954;

"Sunlight filtering through the trees gives promise of new life to the damp deadness of the woodland scene of trees torn up by their roots lying acros the tangles of bracken and ferns and the clutter of fallen leaves.
The new life awaits the signal of longer, warmer days. In the buds of trees are leaves and flowers tucked away in embryo form; the debris on the woodland frloor covers a wealth of dormant life: the rootstocks of windflowers, sorrels and ferns, bluebell bulbs in uncountable numbers, and the seeds of many trees and woodland weeds. When the warmer days arrive all these will spring into life and create the pattern of flower and green of the new season.
To compensate for the dormancy of plant life the woodland birds are full of activity - they have to work hard to find sufficient food in the short daylight hours and, with no leaves on the trees, they are more easily seen now than later in the summer. Woodpeckers and nuthatches hammer at the dead branches and sometimes they are lucky and find a fallen hazel nut; blackbirds and wrens flit around in the low bushes and the titis go around in happy little flocks. the blue and great tits are the most numerous in these parties; marsh and coal tits, tree-creepers and goldcrests are often'hangers-on'.
Towards evening the owls begin to call and the woodpigeons come in to roost; the latter like to shelter in the thick fir trees, but the organised shooting is already driving them to roost out in the widely scattered hedgerow trees."

I think perhaps I should just re-produce one of 'Robin's' gems for each blog posting and leave it at that!

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Egg-eating hens, Twin lambs, Welsh-cakes

After the quick re-run of the snow we are now back with soggy, squelching mud and a general dripping everywhere.
The hens don't seem to mind the rain too much and are laying well. There are couple of rogue hens who tend to eat their eggs which is real nusiance. It is very difficult to track down the culprits though they do seem to lay in the same nest-box each day but as the boxes are shared its impossible to know which hen is responsible.

Lambing is getting underway slowly with the birth of a set of twins this morning. The three lambs that are now about a week old are doing very well.
We also had a calf born to one of our rare-breed Traditonal Hereford cows at the beginning of the week. A heifer calf which is great, she will be a good addtion to our small herd.

I've been busy this grey, damp morning baking scones & Welsh-cakes for an old farmer in his 80's who rings me up now & then to request some home-baking. He usually wants two chocolate cakes but is obviously feeling in need of a change. He goes to the cattle market every Wednesday in our county town and calls here on his way home for the baking.
The Farmer says I should feel quite flattered that I am asked to do this as it is almost certain that Mr.J's wife would have made wonderful cakes in her time.

For those of you unfamiliar with Welsh-cakes here is the recipe;

1lb self-raising flour
8oz. butter
6oz. sugar
1/2lb dried fruit
teaspoon mixed spice
2 eggs

Rub the butter into the flour, add sugar, fruit, mixed spice and then with the eggs form a stiff dough. Add a little milk if necessary.
Roll out on a floured board to about 1/4" thickness. Cut out rounds with pastry cutter.
Cook on a griddle or frying pan, lightly greased. Cook both sides.
I cook them on the hotplate of my Rayburn.
If not immediately eaten up by ravening hordes coming through the kitchen, Welsh-cakes keep well in an airtight tin.

I have just read a wonderful book, 'Their Finest Hour & a Half' by Lissa Evans. It is set during the 2nd World War and is about making a morale-boosting film. It portrays with stunning attention to detail what life at the time was like, as well telling a very funny story. Highly recommended.