Thursday 31 March 2011

Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience Repeat

Well, March is certainly going out like a lion or more like a whole pride of roaring, growling lions rampaging round our chimney-pots and eaves & blustering through the tree-tops. My wonderful displays of daffodils have suffered badly and also hyacinths with their top heavy heads have toppled over and snapped their stems. However, in compensation for the damage in the gardens I can bring the broken-stemmed flowers into the house and have vast golden sheaves of daffodils dotted about in vases which brighten up rooms on this grey day beautifully.

The programme filmed here in January, ' Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience' is being repeated on BBC2 tonight at 10.00, in case you weren't able to see it on its first broadcast on BBC Wales at the beginning of the month, or would even like to see it again(!).

Monday 28 March 2011

Cows out to Grass, Nightie & Wellies; Not a Good Look, Beasts to Slaughter

This morning the dairy cows went out to grass for the first time and they were so happy! They are early going out this year, normally they do not get to graze fresh grass until about 10th April but with the extremely early spring that we have been having it seemed the right thing to do.
While the cows were out in the fields early this morning & the Farmer & Elder Son were finishing off milking, I was abruptly woken from my slumbers by the telephone ringing. On answering it I heard that Younger Son who was on his way to work had encountered a cow on the lane. I had to let the Farmer know in my long white nightie & wellies (!) I dashed outside to pass on the information but there was no sign of either the Farmer or Elder Son. After much calling and ringing of our wonderful bell (which probably woke the entire valley!) I had no alternative but to leap into the 4x4, still in my nightie and tear off down the drive in the hope that I would find the errant bovine and possibly dissuade her from going off on a ramble this fine spring morning. However, I came across the Farmer & Elder Son down at our neighbours fields having just successfully coralled the wandering cow. They were hugely amused at the sight of me in my night attire & gumboots driving to the rescue! At least the neighbours didn't see me !

Yesterday we did our duty & filled in the Census dull & boring was that! Can't think of anything else to say about it really, though I suppose it is a good thing that we don't all have to travel back to the place of our birth!

A much more interesting thing yesterday was when the Famer & I took two of our beef animals to a small village on the A40 to to be loaded onto a large cattle lorry to be taken to Shrewsbury for slaughter. We both hate loading the poor beasts into lorries for their final journey and today a lorry is coming to take another batch and again we will do it with unease. However, we are farmers & food producers and the cattle are kept to become beef and we have to be realistic. We are not sentimental about our livestock but do hate the fact that they have to endure long journeys in lorries to slaughterhouses so far away. Due to the closure of so many small local abattoirs we have very little choice when it come to the commercial side of farming.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Birch Sap Wine, More Filming; Countryside Alliance Foundation

Last evening I accompanied the Farmer down to one of our bottom fields to collect his harvest of birch sap. The previous day he had tied some bottles over the cut ends of a couple of low branches on the birch trees and by the following evening there was about a litre of sap & from all the bottles together there was sufficient quantity to start off a brew of birch sap wine.
Birch sap is one of the easiest wine making ingredients to gather. It just pours out of the trees at this time of year when the tree is cut. We have also seen the sap dripping from a sycamore tree where a branch had been removed but it is not suitable for wine making.

Birch Sap Wine
1 gallon birch sap
2lbs cane sugar
2 oranges or lemons, sliced
1 pkt. wine yeast
1 Campden tablet

Warm but do not boil the sap to dissolve the naturally occuring sugars in it. Pour the sap over the squeezed halves & juice of the oranges or lemons.
When cooled to 55 degrees F. add the yeast and proced with the normal wine-making process.

This recipe comes from one of the Farmer's favourite books, 'The Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible' . The title says a lot about the book & the Farmer, I think!

We have spent the morning filming with Rachel Evans, the director of the Countryside Alliance in Wales. She has a project to make a series of short films about farming and food production.
She came to Penyrallt to shoot scenes around the farm and then to interview the Farmer & me about various issues and topics.
We spoke about food labelling, the importance of getting school children onto farms to learn about the countryside & food, the TB problem, foxes, the crazy amount of paperwork we have to deal with, the closure of small local abattoirs and many other issues that beset the lives of us in the countryside.
We first met Rachel through the Countryside Alliance Foundation when we volunteered to host a school visit arranged by the Foundation. It was one of the best visits we have had...100 children over 2 days from a very deprived school in Carmarthen. None of the children ever been on a farm before and they had such a lovely day...just to seeing them running in a field of grass was wonderful and if they went away with nothing more than that experience it would have been enough to justify bringing them to the farm.

Thursday 17 March 2011

'British Dairying' & Small Dairy Herds, St. Patrick's Day, A Ghost in the Cottage, Lambing Time

I doubt that many readers of this blog ever see a publication called 'British Dairying'. Our copy of the March issue arrived this morning and the Farmer read it over breakfast with his usual interest. It is after all, the journal that keeps us up to date with what is happening in our industry.
 One of the regular columnists reflected on the withdrawal of the Nocton 'super' dairy planning application saying that the decision was 'bad news for the UK dairy industry'. He felt that the campaign against the huge dairy was misplaced and that animal welfare campaigners should turn their attention to the 3,000 small dairy producers, (those like us who milk fewer than 30 cows) who he claims have 'possibly the worst welfare standards in the country.'
This is an outrageous slur on the integrity of small farms and our attitude to the welfare of our animals.
 The Farmer & I are so angry at this comment. We invite anyone at any time to visit this farm and to see for themselves the standard of care that we give our hard -working dairy cows. If we did not look after them properly they would not give the is in our own interests to ensure that the welfare of our cows is of the highest standard. The size of herd has nothing to do with welfare standards.
As dairy farmers we have enough to cope with without journalists showing contempt for those of us at the smaller end of the scale who continue to milk cows. We all, whether we milk 30 or 300+ cows, have annual inspections by the County Council to check dairy hygiene, Farm Assurance & because we farm organically, the Soil Association, to make sure that the welfare standards are met...nothing should go unseen under this much scrutiny.

A few facts about UK dairy farming;
In 2002 there were 19,000 dairy farmers in Britain, by 2011 there are 11,000.
The UK is the 3rd largest milk producer in Europe & 9th in the world.
There are 1.9 million dairy cows in the UK & 17,000 dairy farms.
The average dairy farm in UK is bigger than the average dairy farm in Europe.

There was very good article in The Telegraph yesterday (16th March) entitled 'Why the life of the milk man has gone sour.'

It is St. Patrick's Day. My maternal grand-father was Irish and I can remember as a very small child, the post-man delivering small packages from  the great-uncles & aunts in Portadown to us in Wales, which contained bunches of shamrock tucked into boxes lines with damp cotton wool. The shamrock was pinned to our coat lapels as we went off proudly to school. One year there was even a large fruit cake covered in green marzipan with little pink flowers iced on it.
The word 'shamrock'  comes from the Irish 'seamrog' meaning 'clover' and it refers to a whole variety of clovers & trefoils.St. Patrick is said to have used the leaf to explain the three-in-one of the the Holy Trinity, but this saying was not heard before the 18th century.

I had a very interesting conversation with one of our guests in the cottage who have been staying with us for a couple of days in which she told me that we had a ghost. It seems that both nights she had seen the shadowy figure of a man with long curly hair in the bedroom. She said he seemed very pleased to see people in the building and looked more as though he was the owner of the farm than a farmworker. She asked him politely to go away as they needed their space back and he just disappeared. Apparently he was accompanied by a couple of other figures who were less clear.
This is the first time anyone has reported a sighting to me.
One would have expected the ghosts to be of a more porcine nature seeing as how the cottage was once a piggery! Maybe the mysterious man with long hair lived long before the piggery was built in the 19th century, more than likely I think.

Lambing is continuing albeit rather slowly...the Farmer says he's waiting for an explosion of lambs any time now. He says the ewes are huge and he's sure one of them might well produce 3 or 4 lambs. Multiple births of more than 3 make a lot of extra work and the lambs are usually so tiny that getting them to suck a teat on bottle is difficult. But we persevere with them and do all we can to give them a chance of life.

Friday 11 March 2011

Ethics in Organic Farming, Stone Walls

As complete contrast to the hilarity at the beginning of the week thanks to the Rhod Gibert programme, yesterday the Farmer & I attended a workshop on Ethics. One would think that such a subject would be incredibly dull & boring but it wasn't at all, it was fascinating and stimulated a lot of very lively debate & discussion.
The workshop entitled 'Ethics; a toolkit for Welsh organic businesses' had been put on by the Organic Centre Wales as part of its BOBL initiative (Better Organic Business Links). We were part of a small group of farmers & growers  & representatives from the Soil Association, OCW & Calon Wen and  the speaker Dr. Tom MacMillan from the Food Ethics Council.
What we were discussing was the role of Ethics in organic farming and the need for understanding the values & principles by which people make decisions in their lives with particular regards to consumerism. There are ethical consumers who go out of their way to buy the 'right thing' which means taking into account how fairly the people who made the product were treated, whether it harmed animals and a number of other issues.
Some interesting statistics from the the IGD (Institute for Grocery Distibution) show that 15% of UK shoppers are 'ethical evangelists' & a further 64% are part-time or aspiring ethical consumers. This is in contrast to just few years ago. Now the 21% of people who have no interest in shopping ethically have become the new niche market.
The 'ethical market' has grown to £6 billion p.a but is still only 3.4% of all food service sales.
When it comes to marketing it has been found that shoppers are willing to pay more for regional products than by making choices on welfare or a fair price for farmers.
Ethics has become a business strategy and value based decision making is all pervasive. The public trusts retail businesses to be ethical and they have a responsibility to be so as do farmers and other food producers.
The question that has to be asked is 'Would your customers still eat your food or buy your product if they knew where it came from?' If you are not sure about the answer there is something wrong. Ethics is a huge subject but in simple terms the  application of  the principles of respect for welfare, autonomy and fairness helps with ethical decision making.
It emerged during the discussions that ethics & sustainability in food production & marketing is becoming more important than organic (about which there is still great ignorance & confusion) and that value for money has become values for money.

Sorry if all that is bit earnest, but is so interesting and important.

Having baked a cake, written blog & cooked lunch I am now off to gather more stones to continue the wall building that is going on around the house and its purlieus (nice word, not often used!). I and my trusty wheel-barrow will trawl up the drive for any stray small boulders that have been pushed to one side by tractors  and will now have a useful life in a wall.
Inevitably Robert Frost's 'Mending Wall' come's to mind, though the walls we are building at the moment are not to keep anyone out, but it is a great poem.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience, Rebuilding Stone Gate-posts, First Lamb

The Rhod Gilbert Work Experience programme on farming went out last night and it was so good. We were very pleased with it and I have been getting very enthusiatic responses to it from a goodly number of people. It was extremely funny & entertaining but also at moments quite thought-provoking. I'm thinking of the sequences shot in the market  & at the abattoir where Rhod was clearly moved by the slaughter of the cattle but was able to appreciate the efficiency with which the animals are dispatched. As he said to us on his return from the abattoir he was now an 'educated meat-eater'.
Molly our sheep-dog, was of course the real star of the show and up-staged Rhod brilliantly by absolutely refusing to work for him. I had watched that sequence being filmed and found it hilarious then but with good editing it was even funnier.
Having been filmed in January in cold & very wet weather (and it was so dark!) the programme did not hold back on the muck and dirt of winter farming conditions and Rhod got good mileage out of the quantities of muck etc. produced by cows, especially when they are somewhat rattled by having a stranger (4 strangers including the film crew) in the milking parlour!! I can assure you that milking is not usually as messy as that!
So, our most recent foray into television has been very rewarding and good fun & I trust that 'the public' enjoyed it as much as we did.
For those of you in England who cannot receive BBC Wales, the programme can be seen on BBC iplayer (go to BBC Wales TV on iplayer, 2nd page).

Yesterday was busy as with this gorgeous weather we are able to get on with odd jobs that have been waiting for dry days.. The Farmer & I spent the afternoon starting to rebuild the tumbled down stone gateposts at the top of the steps that lead from our front garden down to yard. These steps were built for a Welsh feature film that was shot here some 18 years ago, 'Tan ar y Comin' and they looked so good and fitted in so well with the look of the place that we kept them. The posts were dry-stone built and have just fallen down, partly due to Poppy, one of the labradors using them as a look-out post above her kennel. They are being rebuilt with cement bonding and will are already looking so much better. We could only do half the finished height yesterday so I'm hoping we'll get them finished off today. While the Farmer does tha actual building work I collect sotnes from various places around the farm to supplement the original ones . I spent much time scrabbling through tangles of ivy & bramble to get the stones out & then wheeling a barrow of rocks around to the yard. Gosh, but I do have fun!!

The first lamb was born today, so Spring has sprung! The Farmer went to bring the ewes in this evening anf found a single little lamb had been born, hopefully the first of many over the next few weeks. It is perfect lambing weather, nice & dry...lets hope it stays dry for a good while yet. Lambs don't like wet weather, nor does the shepherd or the shepherdess!

Sunday 6 March 2011

There's a Mouse in the House, Frogspawn, Calon Teifi Transition Cafe, Rhod Gilbert

     I was sitting here in the office attending to the usual tedious email stuff  when I heard a very small scrabbling sound and on looking round I espied a small brown house mouse (not wearing a striped petticoat) making its way in a fairly leisurely manner across the doorway and then disppearing from view into a gap behind the skirting board where presumably somewhere in the depths of our thick stone walls it had a family waiting for its return. (I was brought up on a healthy, if anthropomorphic, diet of Beatrix Potter.)
 We are quite accustomed to sharing the house with various lodgers, bats & birds in the eaves and indeed the occasional mouse but rarely do they make their presence known quite so blatently. I fear we shall have to set a trap, not having any cats on the farm. Perhaps it is time we introduced a feline element to our lives.

It is another gorgeous morning...I have hung washing out for the first time this year.

We are still waiting for lambs to start arriving but meanwhile the boys are busy spreading slurry on the fields while the weather is so good and the tractors will not make a terrible mess of the ground..

This past week I have found frogspawn in the ponds and indeed in the fields where a careless frog has just laid the spawn in great jellied clumps on the grass. Whenever we do find it like that we pick it up and deposit it in the ponds so that the tadpoles will have some chance of survival.

Yesterday the Farmer & I attended the Calon Teifi transition cafe ( in our local village hall. We have not been to the cafe for months and it was good to catch-up with various people and to meet some new members. The main discussion was concerning food and its preservation. Many people weree interested in bottling fruit and in making cider which the Farmer & I do anyway, but we would be more than happy to share our experinces with those who are interested.

The programme that was filmed here in January, 'The Rhod Gilbert Work Experience' is to be broadcast tomorrow evening (7th March) at 10.35pm on BBC One Wales if anyone is interested in watching. If you cannot get BBC Wales then it should be available on BBC Iplayer, I think.

Friday 4 March 2011

Sad Derelict Farms, Welsh Referendum

Another wondrous sunny morning with frost gleaming on the fields and the birds singing.
Yesterday the Farmer sold a calf to to a farmer living a few miles away and this morning I accompanied him to deliver the said calf to its new home. The Farmer wanted me to see the farm as it had a range of very old buildings and the original house. The current tenant lives in newer house on the track down to the old yard. The old house & buildings were once beautiful having been the home farm for an estate.and the remnants of their faded looks were very sad to see with their broken windows and the filthy yard. It always a pity when people don't see the value of their old buildings and just allow them to fall into such a wasteful state of disrepair. The house was south facing and had such charm but was not loved and was now just used as a place to dump rubbish and somewhere for the feral cats to hide out. Very sad.

Last evening we went to our local polling station to cast our vote in the referendum on whether the Welsh Assembly should have law-making powers independent of Westminster. Apparently the turnout was good here. Although the result is not yet known it appears that the 'yes' vote will carry the day.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

St. David's Day Daffodils

St. David's Day and we have daffodils in flower...not many but enough to look the part on the the day!
Dewi Sant was a 6th century monk, the son of a prince of Ceredigion. Before Dewi's birth his father had a dream in which an angel told to go down to the river Teifi where he would discover three treasures that would foretell the life of his as yet unborn son; a stag, a salmon and a swarm of bees. In the lore of the sacred creatures of the Celtic animal kingdom these three animals bring the gifts of spiritual power, wisdom & sweetness.
'Gwnewch y pethau bychain.'
'Do the little things'.
One of the sayings of Saint David when he had become a bishop.
St. David's Cathedral is one of the great places to visit in Wales. The tiny 'city' is full of history and on a beautiful headland with a magnificent coastline of rugged towering cliffs & hidden coves and beaches. The Farmer & I take days off to go down there whenever we can.

It is a glorious sunny clear morning with just a slight chill in the air. The birds are singing enthusiastically and a flight of Canada geese just winged its way across to one of the ponds where they are now standing looking at their elegant reflections in the water.

Work on the farm is as busy as ever. Elder Son is muck-spreading so a large tractor and spreader goes across the yard every 15 minutes or so to & from the slurry pit to the fields.
Lambing is due to start any day now and the Farmer is keeping a close eye on the ewes. They are enjoying the sunshine and sit placidly under an oak tree in thier field. Hopefully by this time next week we shall have a number of lambs in the field with them.