Thursday 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Christmas morning and I was still asleep although the Farmer & Elder Son were out doing the milking & feeding calves when suddenly I became aware of running feet, muffled shouting and doors opening & shutting noisily. No, it was not Father Christmas rushing to get his round finished before the sun rose, it was a bovine obstetric emergency. Our last cow had calved during the night but when the Farmer checked on her at about 6.30 this morning he found she had managed to have a complete prolapse of her uterus. An unpleasant sight to say the least but a situation that requires immediate attention. Younger Son & I both got up speedily and went out to the shed to find the Farmer & Elder Son waiting for the vet. The poor cow looked very uncomfortable and there was nothing any of us could do. In the event our wonderful vet arrived and gave the cow an epidural and then it took three men to shove the uterus back into the cow while another one held her head. Two hours later she is standing and looking to make a good recovery, thank goodness. Sadly, the calf was dead.
The uterus is a huge organ and if it is exposed for too long can lead to significant heat loss for the cow, indeed the steam coming of it as we stood was amazing, so it is important that it is replaced as quickly as possible. It is so large that it does take a team of people to push it back. A large plastic sheet is placed under the organ to enable it to be lifted and supported whilst being forced back in place. The prognosis after such an event is usually good and the cow can on to have subsequent calves without any increased risk of such a thing happening again

I, for the second year running am not having to cook Christmas dinner as we are going over to Elder Son's cottage with all the family. The two small grand-children are in the traditional state of hysterical over-excitement, tears before breakfast and the day is already too much for them. Why do we do this ? It's madness...too much hyped-up anticipation & too many presents(grumpy Granny moment again!) yet there will be lovely moments when you suddenly realise that Christmas is fun. Yesterday, Christmas Eve was fun...a continual stream of cheerful people calling and sitting in the kitchen over coffee and mince pies. I think I must have greeted over a dozen different lots of friends who came to say Merry Christmas and some of whom called to pick up their turkeys as well.
The Farmer & the Sons spent last weekend killing, plucking & dressing turkeys. We reared only 10 this year so it was not too onerous.
Now I am off to make bread sauce and trifles and to check on the Christmas pudding steaming away on the contributions to the meal.

Nadolig Llawen! Merry Christmas!

Saturday 13 December 2014

Dairy Farmers meet with Politicians, Rural Postal Services

Last evening the Farmer & I attended a meeting in Narberth arranged by Simon Hart MP to discuss the state of the dairy industry with Stephen Crabb, the Minister of State for Wales, Neil Parrish MP, chairman of the all-party group on the dairy industry & Andy Richardson, chairman of the review into Wales's dairy industry. About a 100 dairy farmers from Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion & Pembrokeshire attended.

With the price of milk falling all the time it is felt that politicians, retailers, milk buyers and producers need to work out a system by which there is a fair price for all, but more particularly for the producers. Some dairy farms are selling milk for less than their production costs and this is often due to the contracts that they are tied into. The supermarkets are also greatly at fault when they use milk as a loss leader eg. Morrisons selling 2 litres (3.5 pints) for 84p. It is outrageous. Consumers have become used to being able to buy milk at a very low price and for many producers there is almost no option but to leave the industry if prices continue to drop, particularly for smaller family farms with little capital to invest in expansion.
We are a small family dairy farm; we farm just over 200 acres and milk 50 cows. As organic producers we get a slightly higher price than conventional farms for our milk but the organic sector is affected by price drops and current politics in the milk industry the same as all dairy farmers.

In England and Wales there are now just under 10,000 dairy farms(Farmers Guardian this week) which is a drop of 20,000 in 20 years. In Scotland there are only 900 dairy farms.
In Wales dairy is one of the largest farming sectors, about 34% of agricultural production by value, twice as high as the rest of the UK.

There was lot of comment during the meeting on how the supermarkets and the consumers have no respect for food. There is so little understanding of how food is produced and the hard work that goes into putting a pint of milk on the supermarket shelf. Education is the key, of course. Schools should be teaching food...bring back home economics and domestic science into the curriculum, teaching students what food is, how it is produced and how to cook well.

The politicians are aware of how the dairy industry is enduring this time of low prices and it will be interesting to see what they can do improve the situation.
With general election coming up in just over 5 months time will the present government have any time to make any real changes?

Another issue that I have become aware of lately is the threat to postal services for those of us in rural areas as has been expressed by the FUW , the Farmer's Union of Wales.
The FUW says that there are concerns that changes to the postal sector with adversely affect Wales' rural communities.
Wales has about 42,000 agricultural holdings of which 20,000 are said to be significant. As farmers we are subject ot strict legal requirements covering animal welfare, identification, movements, feed & food production and land management. Apparently the documentation relating to these legislative requirements results in approximately 3,000 pages of information a year that has to come to the farm. Much of the notifications require responses with strict deadlines and major financial penalties if these deadlines are not met. Paper correspondence is still important even though much of the paperchase has gone online (and has become more complicated and inefficient as a result) and many areas of Wales have limited broadband coverage. The maintenance of postal deliveries six days a week is vitally bring us our 3,000 pieces of paper telling us what we can and cannot do on the farm, or else!

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Christmas is coming

Misty winter mornings are some of my favourite parts of the year & even more so when combined with frost. Today is such a morning. The mist has now lifted and we are enjoying blue skies and the silver glitter on the roofs is disappearing rapidly in the sunshine.

It is the beginning of December and the phrase 'Christmas is coming' has a somewhat threatening tone as the Christmas madness begins on the media and in the shops. As far as I'm concerned Christmas shouldn't really begin until the 24th (though the various small preparations in the week before are enjoyable) but my family see that as curmudgeonly and too Scrooge-like. It is at this time of year that I am more than usually glad we do not have television...the occasional glimpse of the hysterical madness especially on the children's tv is appalling...I sound like a grumpy Granny but what I mean is just keep the whole thing in perspective and don't indulge every wish of already over-indulged children. The small domestic, home-made aspects of Christmas are the most enjoyable not the brash, superficial tinsel of media driven excess. Gosh that sounds so priggish!! Actually, I love Christmas and every family has its own way of celebrating, so each to their own.

On the farming front we have had lot of calves born lately so there is a lot of milk being produced which is good, I think we are sending more milk than we have ever done. The milk tanker has just arrived and the driver has assured us that he will be coming on Christmas Day though maybe a little earlier than usual so that he can home for his Christmas lunch. Like we farmers many of the ancillary workers in the agricultural industry do not get a day off.
All the cattle are in and so the first half of each morning is spent feeding and bedding down. Once that is all done the Farmer & the Sons get on with good weather jobs such as hedge-trimming, and logging to get in the supply of firewood for the next couple years.