Tuesday 30 November 2010

Snowy Roads, Frozen Water Supply

This was the start of our journey to Dorset on Friday! Having driven to Lampeter for dental appointments, with no sign of snow or bad weather until we were nearly at the town, we encountered a full blown snow storm. After leaving the dentist an hour later we decided to continue to Brecon through the snow and were in small queue of traffic all the way travelling at a steady 12 miles per hour... we must have been mad, but we have never been caught by snow when off the farm before and were all set for three days away, so we risked it. In fact there was very little risk involved & if need be we could have stayed in Brecon with family if necessary, but it it not come to that.
 It was lovely driving across countrry as we could see the countryside tranforming itself before our very eyes and everyone was driving very sensibly, though we were glad of our 4x4! Once we got to the A40 the road conditions were a little better and by the time we reached Brecon there was very liitle snow just heavy frost. From Brecon onwards we encountered almost no snow and the further south we went the better it got though it was terribly cold.
Once we reached the New Forest there was just a light sprinkling of frost though the temperature was very low. Three days spent with my sister & her family passed very pleasantly with long walks on bittterly cold beaches and lovely meals in warm places and the Farmer & I set off to return to Wales yesterday. We saw snow on the Cotswolds but really there was just heavy frosts in most places and when we reached Carmarthenshire there was light snow on the higher ground.
The farm is in the grip of freezing ice & the boys have been thawing water pipes & troughs & the water supply to house froze, but everything is now under control...we just have to keep warm, so fires are lit early in the day and we have donned long-johns, vests, several top layers & sheepskin boots. Whether we will get any more snow here is not known, the couple of weather websites I look at tell me different things so we shall just have to wait & see what happens.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Super-Dairy Controversy,

A cold & frosty morning with the roofs glittering  in the sunshine and the the dogs bouncing with joy in the clear air.

There has been a lot of media coverage lately on the controversial 'super dairy' planning application submitted by a group of dairy farmers in Lincolnshire. Having cut their proposed cow numbers from just over 8000 cows to 3770 they feel they may have a better chance of gaining their planning permission. However, they have said that once they get planning for the lower number and the unit is up & running they will return to their original proposal. (See Farmer's Weekly, 18th November).
There are many large & very efficient dairy farms already in the country some milking over 2000 cows and they have high standards of animal welfare, but I am not convinced this is the way forward. As small producers (and we are very small!) we can produce good quality milk with high standards of animal welfare and a smaller carbon footprint than the much larger dairy farms. (For the Five Freedoms for animal welfare see http://www.fawc.org.uk/)  The ideal herd size is probably about 100-150 cows which enables the cows to live in  more natural social order and to graze in fields. Thousands of cows cannot be put out to graze, therefore all their feed must be transported by convoys of lorries & tractors increasing the traffic on the surrounding roads. Ultimately it will prove to be unsustainable. The cheapest way to feed cows is to let them graze grass.
Without getting too fluffy about it all, the consumer would rather buy milk from cows that have been grazing grass in the open air than from cows kept in sheds, no matter how comfortable, clean & well fed they are. I understand that some of the major supermarkets have said they will not buy milk from a 'super dairy'.

Friday 19 November 2010

Colostrum, Local Cheese Makers & Home-grown Foods

After several days of torrential rain it is now dry and sunny though the mess left by the volume of water running everywhere is awful...but it is as nothing compared with those poor people in Cornwall!
 The drainage work done earlier in the year seems to be working and we no longer have water running through the cattle sheds, thank goodness and the cattle are warm & dry.

We had a heifer calf born yesterday to a cow with very little milk, so the Farmer has had to spend time feeding it with colostrum (the first milk produced after calving which is vital to the survival of the calf) with a bottle. We always keep a supply of colostrum in the freezer in case of situations like this. After thawing the colostrum is heated gently before being fed to calf; it has to be allowed to thaw naturally or in a bath of warm water, not in the micro-wave oven as whatever happens to it with micro-waves destroys its nutritional value & curdles it.

Talking of curdled milk, we have a number of very succesful cheesemakers here in the Teifi Valley and they have recently joined forces to draw attention to their excellent award winning products. We buy their cheeses regularly and always recommend them to visitors. The Teifi Valley Cheese Producers have a new website, http://www.teifivalleycheeseproducers.com/ which gives all the background information on the various makers and the very different cheeses they produce.The one we particularly enjoy is made by Caws Cenarth (caws is Welsh for cheese) and is a Brie type called Perl Wen. They also produce a wonderful soft blue cheese, Perl Las. We gave some Perl Wen to some French friends who were very impressed saying it was better than Brie!!!
One of the best meals we can put on the table consists of entirely home-grown or locally produced food, Mair's Bakehouse bread, Caws Cenarth cheese, home-made tomato chutney, soup made with home-grown leeks, potatoes & stock from our own animals & home-brewed cider...what could be better?
http://www.mairs.bakehouse.co.uk/, http://www.cawscenarth.co.uk/

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Milk Tanker Driver Retires,

Another sparkling frosty morning with the sun gleaming through the trees as I walked the dogs across the top fields and back along the drive. Lovely.

When Elder Son & the Farmer went down to the dairy this morning they found a card from our long-standing milk-tanker driver informing us that he was retiring and that as  'working a night collection doesn't give me the chance to meet my farmers, I should like to say 'Thank you' for your support & cooperation over the years'. We were rather touched that he should have written cards to 'his' farmers wishing us all farewell. Dilwyn has always been one of the best drivers, coming in carefully & quietly onto the yard and in the terrible weather last January he never missed a collection from us (see blog postings January 2010) despite the difficulties of getting here. I hope he has a long & happy retirement starting next week.

Yesterday the Farmer & Elder Son spent the day hedge-laying. It is a very old hedge running down the side of the steep lane that was once the only access to the farm and has needed attending to for some time. It is now looking very neat if rather sparse having had so much trash removed, but come the spring it will recover & thicken out once more. Meanwhile there is a huge mass of trimmings in the field waiting for the right conditions for a bonfire.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Weaning Calves, Moving Cattle, Mud & Good Shoes

On Thursday the Farmer brought all our Traditional Hereford cattle into the yard to wean the calves as their mothers are due to calve in January so need time without the previous generation. Weaning of cattle is always a a noisy business with calves bellowing for their mothers & the mothers bellowing back at them so, harsh as it may seem we have to take the mothers as far away from the young ones as possible. This involves walking them through several fields to a outlying pasture well away from the main part of the farm. Once the cows are in their new grazing they settle down quite quickly, but the calves who are being kept near the farm buildings & the house continue to call for quite along while, especially throught the night which disturbs us all.

The same day it was decided to move a flock of sheep and number of dry cows onto some new grazing and this involved the Farmer, Younger Son & myself & Molly the sheepdog (also two labradors who are completely useless for moving any kind of livestock other than pheasants!).
The animals took a lot of persuading to go where we wanted them and it got to the stage where I wasn't sure whether the Farmer was whistling & shouting instructions to me or Molly...but she is quicker to run round the back of  a flock of sheep than me, I can't force animals to move just by glaring at them & I certainly won't drop to my tummy on wet grass when being told to 'Lie down!' or 'Stay'!

Last night the Farmer & I met up with some friends for a meal at a recently opened restaurant, near Aberporth, Yr Hen Ysgol, The Old Schoolhouse Steakhouse where we had one of the best meals in years. Beautifully cooked food, generous helpings & excellent service in a very pleasant former schoolroom that had been converted into a stylish & comfortable restaurant.
The main problem I have with going out for the evening especially in winter, is footwear. Having got myself into 'tidy' clothes with nice shoes I then have to pick my way by torch-light, across to the car without gathering too much mud on the said nice shoes. Of course I could just wear wellies and change in the car but that is too obvious a solution, though I suppose I could have 'going-out wellies' which would cut out the need for good shoes...one can get such pretty wellies nowadays...but the car is also our farm vehicle and has its own accumulation of mud and grunge, so its a no win situation really.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

General Busy-ness, Green Tomato Chutney

We woke to frost this morning and walking the dogs was lovely in the sparkling sunshine, however it is now clouding over and seems to be turning into a dull grey day.
The Farmer & Younger Son have gone off with large tractors & serious logging equipment to process a neighbour's mountain of firewood (http://www.larkhilltipis.co.uk/) & Elder Son has departed on his tractor for a days hedge-trimming on a nearby farm, so I have a day all to myself.
I've already dealt with emails and cottage booking requests, ironed bedlinen & made up  the beds in the holiday cottage for guests arriving on Friday and  I shall make a batch of green tomato chutney (see below) later this morning and then continue with various sewing projects that need to be finished before I get completely fed-up them. What a busy little bee I am!

I was amazed to find some daffodil shoots appearing in the pots in the garden this week. I hope they don't get burned off by some fearsome icy blasts later on. Talking with a friend yesterday we commented on how few sloes there are this year...last year the crop was wonderful & large quantities of sloe gin were made but this year there will none. The holly berries are bright & plentiful; its pity there is no use for them, other than feeding the birds, of course, and there are many rose hips gleaming in the hedges. It has been a good season for fungi, but we are just not knowledgeable enough to harvest them.

Green Tomato Chutney
4lbs green tomatoes
1lb apples
1/2 stoned or stoneless raisins
1lb brown sugar
11/4lb shallots (I've used leeks & onions)
8-10 chillies
1/2oz dried whole ginger
1 pint vinegar

Cut up all the tomatoes, peel & chop the apples & shallots.
Bruise the ginger & chillies & tie in muslin bag.
Place all the ingredients in a preserving pan, bring to the boil and simmer until the chutney has the desired consistency.
Remove the bag of spices and bottle the chutney,
Yield about 71/4lb.

This recipe comes from a marvellous book that is my preserving bible, Home Preservation of Fruit & Vegetables, Bulletin 21 produced by the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food. Old copies might be found on Ebay or http://www.abebooks.co.uk/.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Back Online, OMSCo, Birds in Autumn Landscape

After nearly a week of appalling phone connections & almost no internet we now seem to be linked to the outside world again...touch wood, fingers crossed etc. The telephone engineer came out and twiddled with various little bits of wire and certainly the phone line was much clearer, but I think the problem arises when it rains, which as we are in saturated West Wales may prove an ongoing difficulty. However, this morning it is glorious after a night of torrential downpours so the technology is working well...so far.

Yesterday the Farmer, Younger Son & two very excited labradors went off to spend the day beating. They had a lovely time and came home mid-afternoon with a brace of pheasants. Apparently the dogs behaved beautifully and worked very well prompting some flattering comments from the other beaters & the guns.

During the week the Farmer & I attended a meeeting with OMSCo (http://www.omsco.co.uk/) for a update on how the organic milk market is doing. UK sales of organic milk are still too low & much of the milk is still being exported to the continent, though ironically, it is then coming back into the UK as milk powder. It is all quite mad.

Autumn is well under way and temperatures do seem to be dropping a little. It has been so mild lately and of course, very wet. From the office window I have been watching blackbirds feeding on the great crop of cotoneaaster berries and there are many blue tits & sparrows around and there are odd glimpses of wrens.
There have been murmurations (such a wonderful collective noun) of starlings flighting their dramatic sweeps across the skies to land in the fields and this morning a buzzard took off over my head as I was out with the dogs, only to be mobbed by a couple of aggressive crows. Everywhere I walk now apart from being very squelchy, is covered by a carpet of fallen rusten leaves which unfortunatley are too soggy to be kicked through making that wonderful autumnal rustle and sigh.