Wednesday 31 August 2011

First of the New Calves, French Students

The first calves of the season have been born in the last few days. These in the picture are not twins though we had a set of twins born this morning. Unfortunately they are a heifer & a bull which means the heifer will probably be a freemartin and therefore sterile and fit only for slaughter.
These calves are the first ones born as result of artificial insemination by Elder Son who did his training a year or so ago. By having our own flask of semen straws here on the farm and someone who is trained saves us having to pay AI fees and so far the results are looking good.
Although the photo is rather dark this is our first Ayrshire calf to be born this year. It is a bull calf, we always hope for heifers but he will rear well for beef.

With the sudden improvement of the weather today it is all go for more silage, both our own & that of neighbours. Younger Son has gone off to mow on a neighbouring farm while Elder Son &  the Farmer are busy preparing another clamp inside one of the sheds & turning our own grass that was cut two days ago.

The French Student has gone off for the day with the Belgian vet which is great for him & relieves us from having to keep him occupied here. He cannot drive tractors so on days like today when it is all tractor work it is difficult finding jobs for him. He returns to France tomorrow & I think we have done our bit for Anglo/French relations for a good long while. We have had many French students over the years, some better than others, but is hard work, for them & us, when their command of English is so limited. I suspect they think their English is quite good until they actually get here and find that they are unable to understand most of what is said. My dredging up of 'O' Level French gets us through the very tricky patches but it is a strain...a month can be a very long time! The FS himself however, seems to be very happy and to have enjoyed his stay which is the main thing I suppose.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Silage All In, Home-drying of Fruit, Home Brewing

The last of the silage crop was brought in this week & our fodder supply for the winter is secure. The forage wagons have been cleaned and greased & put away in the back of one the sheds until next summer. Everyone on the farm is always pleased when this stage is reached & it means the weather can do whatever it likes from now on & we won't have to worry about it.

As well ensuring that the cattle have their winter feed the Farmer has been very busy harvesting our bumper crop of plums & devising ways of preserving them. As well bottling & freezing we have been experimenting with drying them to make prunes (the Farmer loves dried fruit of all kinds). To this end a number of wooden boxes with mesh bases have been constructed. The plums have been halved & de-stoned and then laid in the boxes which are now stacked on the top of the Rayburn. They take several days to dry but the end results are very satisfactory.
There is also a lot of plum wine bubbling away in the kitchen & some bullace wine too, I think. This in addition to the quantities of cider & beer that the Famer is brewing. The kitchen smells marvellous with all this fruity activity & it is producing a lot of very palatable booze at half the cost of buying commercial stuff and  with a great deal more fun. I, however, don't drink any of it!

Yesterday the Farmer & I went to Cardigan ( to buy some more fermenting bins!) and had lovely day once the 'shopping' had been done. We went down to Gwbert, which is the estuary of the river Teifi and watched the tide come in and the large flocks of swans, Canada geese & curlews gradually losing their standings on the sandbanks to the incoming waters.
We had escaped the Sons & the French Student for the day & had left them to their various employments of mechanics & the painting of gates. Today the FS has gone with one of our local vets who is a French speaking Belgian, on his rounds. It is a wonderful opportunity for him and gives him a break from having to communicate in his poor English with us & gives us a break from trying to interprete. It is a strain on all of us & we are driven at times to drawing pictures!

Thursday 18 August 2011

Foreign Vets, Home-grown Fruit & Veg

Several times over the past couple of months we have had 'Ministry' vets  turning up having got lost, the latest one at the beginning otf the week. The main reason for these arrivals is that on the whole they have been Spanish & therefore unfamiliar with the area. They have been sent out armed with a map, the name of a farm & the farmer & little idea of where they are going.
They arrive here, get out of the car, tog themselves up in wellies & over- trousers, grab their clip boards then come to the door & say they have come to test our cattle. They have not as they do not have an appointment.
They then ask if we are Mr. Jones? We say 'No'. They say 'Is this ....Farm?'  We say 'No'. They say 'I am lost!' We say 'It certainly looks like it!' &  then have to go through a great rigmarole of trying to find out where they are meant to be, which is difficult for the poor Spanish vet having to cope with Welsh place names & for us having to interpret & show on the map that in fact they are probably even in the wrong parish!
What I am getting round to is that while the vet is only doing his or her job, they are very conscious, as are we, that they are compromising the anonymity of farmers having their cattle tested for TB by a lack of local knowledge & frequently an inadequate grasp of the English language & a strong accent, a situation made more difficult by local accents & that many older Welsh farmers are more at ease speaking Welsh.. For some reason a lot of the vets employed by Defra seem to come from Spain & also in the local abattoirs & it is a cause for concern and there is potential for serious mistakes to be made.

We have been picking plums...there is bumper crop this year but sadly they are lacking flavour, so we have bottled them in a syrup. They will be delicious in the winter when made into crumbles & sponge puddings.
The blackberries are beginning to ripen now and it looks as though there is going to be a very good crop of them too. Hazelnuts are ripening as well and I hope I shall be able to gather a reasonable quantity to keep for Christmas before the squirrels get them. In the garden I have a red hazel which produces deep pink nuts with lovely flavour.
While the polytunnel has been keeping us well supplied with cabbages, courgettes & sweetpeas, the tomatoes are doing very badly. Very little fruit has set & what toms there are are not ripening. We cannot think of a good reason for this at all & it is very disappointing as one of the best things about this time of year is freshly picked tomatoes for salad lunches with good bread & local cheese.

Younger Son, KT & the Baby took A. our French student to the Pembrokshire Show near Haverfordwest on Tuesday. They had lovely time & A. came back very pleased with his day having bought himself a real Welsh rugby ball. I hope he has room for it in his backpack!

Monday 15 August 2011

Weekend Away, Visitors- Familiar & Unknown, Wood-Piles

While the farm work carries on as usual & I continue to produce meals at regular intervals we have had a number of visitors over the past couple of weeks, including various family members making their annual summer pilgrimage ot the farm which is lovely. It is always good to see them,  but we also have had total strangers turning up having found their way here for an assortment of reasons, some of which have proved to be very interesting.
 For example last week a couple arived from London coming to look for a house that they last visited in 1969 (!) that happens to be the old 'big house' here on the farm. They certainly saw some changes but were able to tell us a large part of the history that we had not been able to discover for ourselves, which was fascinating.
The following day another couple turned up hoping we could tell them the whereabouts of a neighbour who had left the area about 25 years ago who had owned a Bristol motor-car that now belonged to friends of theirs in England who wanted to track its history. We weren't able to help them but they came in for a cup of tea and it turned out that they had been involved with the Soil Association  in the 1970's & had been small-scale cheese-makers which led to very interesting conversation for a couple of hours.

We still have our French student A., who seems to have settled in to our mode of living quite well. I don't think he has ever worked so hard in his life before but he no longer gets up at the crack of dawn to help with the morning milking! He eats everything that is put in front of him & is very polite & well-mannered. We converse reasonably well with him now and I hope he does feel that his English is improving, though we get some hilarious moments where his politeness overides comprehension!

We have another delightful family from Germany in the cottage this week and who seem very pleased with place and their two small children have been adopted by the Labradors as happens so often.

The Farmer & I went away for 24 hours this weekend having been invited to a party up in mid-Wales ( a sleep-over!) near Carno at a sweet cottage tucked away in a fold of the hills. It was accessible either over a railway line where one has to use yellow telephone to ensure that there are no trains rushing towards you or down a rough track with two gates to be opened and a very, very narrow railway bridge to drive under. We had borrowed Younger Son's Ford Focus which was just as well as I don't think our 4x4 would have squeezed through... as it was the wing mirrors were scraped on the stonework!
We had an excellent weekend of really great conversation, wonderful food & very interesting people many of whom had travelled up from London & Bristol and so lived very different lives to those of us in Welsh hills, and we have returned home exhausted.

The Farmer, Elder Son & A. are doing a splendid job of processing the very large logs piles that have sitting seasoning for a year or more and filling the fire-woods sheds with very satisfying mountains of logs which should keep us going for good long time.

This afternoon I think we shall be picking plums. There is a good crop this year and we must get them before the wasps!

Tuesday 9 August 2011

London Riots

We are all appalled by the recent events in London & other cities and whilst no-one can condone the behaviour of the rioters & looters & the wanton destruction of small businesses there must be an understanding of the reason for this violent expression of discontent & hopelessness.
Please read Robins Wood's blog on the subject...he expresses it much better than I can.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Food for Thought Against Racism

I found this gem posted on my Facebook page.
'Your car is German. Your vodka is Russian. Your pizza is Italian. Your kebab is Turkish. Your democracy is Greek. Your coffee is Brazilian. Your movies are American. Your tea is Tamil. Your shirt is Indian. Your oil is Saudi Arabian. Your electronics are Chinese. Your numbers are Arabic and your letters are Latin. And you complain that your neighbour is an immigrant? Pull yourself together!
Copy and paste if you're against racism.'

I am of Scots/Irish descent living in Wales, the Farmer is English with a dash of Dutch, our grand-daughter has Scots, Irish, English & Welsh blood.
We have French, German & Portugese visitors here on the farm at the moment.
We have Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Dutch, German, Russian, Italian & Muslim & Jewish friends & neighbours.
We have Indian, Chinese, Thai restaurants.
Welsh is the first language in this area.
We live in a fascinating multi-cultural society even here in remote rural West Wales.

Friday 5 August 2011

Free-Range Christmas Turkeys, Swallows Eaten by Owl

This morning the turkey poults that the Farmer bought in some weeks ago have been allowed out to roam about and I now have constant backgound chorus of cheerful, if ugly birds, talking turkey in the yard. They are hideous with their naked heads & necks but quite fun to watch as they move in a flock around the yard picking up beetles & other insects.
Molly the sheepdog, however is in deep disgrace as yesterday one of the birds had escaped and she could not resist the tempatation it had a brief experience of freedom swiftly curtailed by an over active collie who left trail of tell-tale feathers across the yard and was found crunching bones under the climbing frame.
Hopefully the remaining poults will survive until the week before Christmas when they will be quickly dispatched having reached a good weight and will taste superb, thanks to the exercise & diet of creepy-crawlies. Meanwhile we have the dubious pleasure of having them marching around the farm...they can cause havoc in the garden having very big feet, but are quite entertaining with their vocal exercises and defensive posturing & rattling of feathers.

Continuing the avian theme, the Famer has his wood-working workshop in one of the old stables in which for the past 150+ years the swallows have nested  and raised their broods without let or hindrance. However, this year a little owl has moved in and there are no more swallows in the rafters above the workbenches, just some sad little inky blue/black feathers floating around. It seems that the owl found a feasting place with an a la carte menu. While we regret the swallows very much, it is rather pleasing to have an owl lodging in the building so near human activity. There are many more swallows in the other buildings & it will be interesting to see whether next year the hirundines try to recapture their territory from the owls...almost inevitably though, I think the owls will prove the victors.

Thursday 4 August 2011

French Student Comes to Stay

It is some time since the Farmer or I had to visit a railway station. On Tuesday however, we found ourselves waiting at Carmarthen station ( and Adlestrop it is not!) for some considerable time. A bleak experience even on a baking hot afternoon.
We were there to meet the 17yr old French student who has come to stay for the month of August. He had given me the wrong time for his arrival and after the 6th train had come & gone with no sign of him the Farmer & I were beginning to get quite anxious. Although we had a mobile phone number for him it did not work without the international code which, of course, we had not thought to find (duh!) & he had no number for us other than our house number (we are very lackadaisical about never occurs to me to have the mobile with me at all times, or indeed at any time, except when someone reminds that I do have one!). However an hour after we had expected to met him, A. appeared much to our great relief. He rather sweetly showed me scrap of paper on which he had clearly been working out how to say in English 'I made a mistake about the time'!
A. is with us for a month and so far he seems to be settling in quite well. The Farmer & Elder Son are keeping him very busy with logging & building a new wall in the slurry pit and there any number of things lined up where an extra pair of hands will be useful. He seems to be competent and has driven a tractor previously which always helps. He's managed to get up at 6.30. each morning to help with the milking & is very tired by bed-time. We appreciate that is a strain having to get through the days struggling with the language tho' so far he, and we, are coping quite well with my scanty French and the help of a dictionary.

Monday 1 August 2011

Damp Start to August, Arrival of Bees, Melin Teifi & Welsh Wool Products

The 1st of August & a very grey morning...its not actually raining but the air is heavy with damp and while attempting to do a bit of work in the farmhouse garden I got soaked by the wet coming off the shrubs as I struggled to remove the strangling weeds before they take over completely make the garden more jungly than usual. It has been a good year for the wretched hog-weeds and the nettles seem to be bigger than ever and as for the bindweed & goose-grass they are rampant, much worse than last year. That said as long as the lawns are mown regularly and the worst of the weeds kept at bay the garden will pass muster.

Yesterday the Farmer was delighted to find that one the empty bee-hives that he has around the gardens has been taken over by a swarm of bees. He reckons they have probably been there a couple of weeks as one of  the supers (the box that the comb is built in) is quite full. He would like to feed the bees but is worried that the smell of the sugar solution will attract wasps who will just wipe out the colony. We lost a colony last year to wasps and don't want to risk it again having not had resident bees for a couple of years now. It would be great if these new arrivals can survive.

I have just been reading the blog written by Robin Wood of the Heritage Craft Association ( in which he is saying that there is little, though growing, support for tradtional crafts in this country. He is working very hard with the HCA to advance the interest & support for all types of tradtional skills.
Last week I visited our local woollen mill, Melin Teifi  in Drefach Velindre, to discuss having some Welsh tapestry counterpanes made for the beds in the holiday cottage. Teifi Mill is a small mill that is producing beautiful traditional Welsh wool fabric and sells all over the world, sadly though, the mill will be closing in couple of years time. They make lovely old fashioned nursing blankets for babies as well as gorgeous blankets for beds and the traditional Welsh tapestry that is used for bedspreads. They also take commissions using the customers choice of colours & design for furnishing fabrics & blankets. I found a suitable design for the new counterpane and I shall go over to the mill again shortly to place the order.