Saturday 28 February 2015

Real Eggs, Cold Spring

With the days beginning to lengthen visibly the hens are starting to lay in reasonable quantities again. This morning whilst baking I was struck by the glorious richness of the yolks and saw that they made lovely picture of wholesomeness and of what a good egg should look like. None of the pale wishy-washy faded yellow of factory-farm eggs. These are eggs that have been produced by very happy hens scratching around in the orchard on a diet of beetles, worms and the occasional handful of corn.

While the days are getting longer and spring is cetainly on the way with daffodils beginning to flower in time for St David's Day, it not not getting any warmer. We are still wrapping up well to go out and do things on the farm. The occasional glimmer of sunshine fools us into believing that there is real improvement in the weather and then an hour later we are plunged into grey dampness with a brisk wind that is bitingly cold, especially up on the top fields.
We have not started lambing yet and I hope that the weather will have improved by the time we do. While lambs can cope with cold they really do not like wet and driving around the locality we have already seen some poor little things standing hump-backed in rain-blown fields while their thickly fleeced mothers graze unconcernedly.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Runaway Sheep, Carmarthen Journal & West Wales Farmer

It is said never work with children or animals, I will qualify that by saying never work with sheep!
We are due to start lambing the next few weeks and so the Farmer has begun bringing the ewes in at night. This resulted in a ridiculous drama two evenings ago. I was preparing supper when I was called outside with a sense of urgency. The sheep had taken the wrong turn coming out of the field and instead of heading down the drive to the yard they went up the drive towards the road. The main road is about 1/4 mile away and by the time the Farmer & I had failed to jump start the farm jeep (!!!), and then transferred ourselves and the collie into another vehicle the sheep were well on their way to the main road. When we caught up with them they had gone the best part of a mile up the main road. Fortunately there was very little traffic at that point and we were able to get round the flock in the car and turn their heads homewards. The next problem was that our junction is at a cross-roads...which way would the sheep go and would the Farmer be able to get to the cross-roads by a circular route around the block before the sheep got there? I, meanwhile had been left to follow the flock on foot back down the road and contend with the sudden stream of traffic that appeared from nowhere. The driver of a very large lorry had the wit to stop in the middle of the road to prevent cars overtaking him and running into the sheep (although there is always one idiot who thinks he can squeeze past lorries & sheep!)and I managed to keep the sheep moving past the cars that had stopped. There was also queue of traffic behind me & the drivers were incredibly patient. I was beginning to worry that there was no one to direct the sheep back onto our lane & that they would head on down into the village when the Farmer appeared at the last moment with his dog. The sheep turned right as required and everything was okay. A neighbour who was in the queue of vehicles behind me kindly gave me a lift back to the farm as the Farmer had sped off to make sure everything was as it should back on the yard. The sheep were none the worse for their adventure though being heavy in lamb they were puffing a bit, as I may say was I!

Yesterday the Farmer & I went to a buffet lunch at Gelli Aur, the home of Coleg Sir Gar, the county's agricultural college, for the launch of a new monthly farming supplement to our local paper the Carmarthen Journal.
I, or rather we, have been asked to contribute a monthly column to this new publication 'West Wales Farmer' much along the lines of this blog, which I am looking forward to doing.
The Carmarthen Journal is the oldest newspaper in Wales having been founded in 1810 and it circulation covers Carmarthenshire & parts of Ceredigion & Pembrokeshire. The editor, Emma Bryant, has seen that in this deeply rural area there is a need for a specialist supplement for farmers featuring industry news, local advertising of agricultural services,and articles about farming life in all it variety & we are very pleased to be part this new initiative.
The West Wales Farmer was given a good launch with a speech by Rebecca Evans AM Deputy Minister of Farming & Food. Jonathon Edwards MP was also present as were representatives from the local farming community, the FUW, NFU & Coleg Sir Gar.

Friday 13 February 2015

Marmalade making, Firewood, Sheepdog puppy

It is marmalade time and the Farmer always takes it upon himself to make it. We picked up a quantity of lovely organic oranges when we were in Lampeter last week and they are now cut up and simmering away in the preserving pan filling the kitchen with a beautiful aromatic steam as soothing as any aromatherapy. The Farmer adores marmalade & the thicker & chunkier the better and while I make all the jams & chutneys he regards the marmalade making as his own, which is fine by me.

While the weather has been dry the Farmer has been been spending much time logging to replenish the firewood supplies for the next couple of years. We have an almost endless supply of firewood from the management of our woodlands which is wonderful, but it does take a lot of work to get from the woods to the house. It is always said that wood warms you three times, once in the felling, once in the logging and once in burning it. It is very true. As we live in a house without central-heating the wood supply is so important to us having two good sized wood-burners to run. Admittedly we do fire the two up only when the weather is very cold, mostly we are cosy enough with just the sitting-room fire and the oil-fired Rayburn in the kitchen. We are a hardy breed.

We have recently acquired a new collie puppy. Our wonderful Mollie is now 8 years old and so it is time to have a youngster to train over the next couple of years to follow on as Mollie will slow down. So, we now have this pretty red collie who is as yet nameless, though the Farmer wants to call her Henrietta and Henry for short in memory of one of our previous red dogs who was a real character and much loved. (Who says farmers aren't sentimental about their animals!) The family feels that having a female dog called Henry is eccentric to say the least and Henrietta is not a good name for bellowing across a field. However, whatever she ends being called as she is proving to be very bright and quick to learn and is great fun though bit of a torment to Dottie the terrier who is only just big enough to boss her about at the the moment. That will soon change!

Thursday 12 February 2015

Spring is just around the corner, Teifi Valley

Despite the chill dampness and general gloominess with which we are swathed at present there are signs that spring will arrived in due course. I found the first primroses a few weeks ago and the snowdrops are coming out all along the drive and in hidden corners of the orchards & gardens. The daffodils are spearing upwards at a great pace and many of them are showing swelling buds and before we know it we shall be having golden skeins and pools around the farm. Something glorious to look forward to.

Today I attended a Tourism Business Support Roadshow event held in Newcastle Emlyn. It was put on by Carmarthenshire Tourism Association to enable tourism businesses and associated organisations to network, to use the jargon.
I am tending to refer to local tourism rather a lot a present as I am involved with setting up a new organisation to promote the Teifi Valley, the part of north Carmarthenshire where I live. Visit Teifi Valley (VTV) is being set up and run by a group of volunteers like myself who with the support Carmarthenshire & Ceredigion Tourist Associations and visit Wales will work to promote the valley of the river Teifi which forms the county boundary between the two counties and a small corner of north Pembrokeshire. It is an area rich in history, stunning & varied landscapes, superb castles and delightful market towns & small villages, remnants of a former flourishing wool industry which at one time produced great wealth for the area. It is a region that is little known yet when discoverd by visitors enchants & delights with its multi-faceted character.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Dinefwr Park, Carmarthenshire

Yesterday courtesy of Carmarthen Tourism & the National Trust the Farmer I went on a 'familiarisation' tour of Dinefwr Park, near Llandeilo. We have been there many times before but this was a day organised for accommodation providers in the area to enable them to encourage holiday-makers to visit some of the most interesting places in the county.
Dinefwr certainly offers a marvellous & varied place to visit.
The dramatic ruined 12th century Dinefwr castle is wonderful, perched broodingly on a hill looking down over the beautiful Towy Valley in the sweeping 18th century landscaped parkland. In the park there is herd of the very rare White Park cattle who have been at Dinefwr for 1,000 years.
The park surrounds the extraordinary Newtown House with its four turrets and great portico. All this is in addition to the 120 acre medieval deer-park in which roams a herd of about 160 fallow deer. There are lovely walks through the park and woods and a great feature of the park is the vast number of 'veteran' trees. These are trees that are many hundreds of years old of which there are said to be some dating back 700 years and it is thought to be the largest collection of veteran trees in the country.
We were taken round the park in a purpose-built people trailer towed by a tractor. I have never been so cold despite tweed coat, pashmina shawl & sheepskin gloves! It was a fine day though not sunny and intensely cold so sitting in an open-sided trailer for an hour was not ideal. We were in a party of about 15 people & we were all absolutely frozen and as soon as we got back to Newtown House we all rushed in to find the nearest radiators to huddle up to! Once we had thawed out we were taken on a tour of the 'hidden house' which included going up into the roof space and then out onto the leads where the views were spectacular in all directions. The vistas were just as they had been designed by 'Capability' Brown in the 18th century and there are trees planted at that time looking superb in the landscape including a wonderful Cedar of Lebanon. The fallow deer were grazing near the house and we had the lovely sight of them all from the stags with their strange dished antlers to the does and last year's fawns in their natural setting.

Friday 6 February 2015

Winter Landscapes, Winter Farming

My 300th posting! and as so often the weather will feature! It is soooo cold, but dry and today it was sunny so really a lovely day. There is still ice around and tiny pockets of snow with the top fields looking as though someone has gone over them with sugar sifter.

We recieved an email from an old friend today who grew up here on the farm & is now warden of the RSPB bird reserve on the Dyfi estuary in Ceredigion & he sent a beautiful description of winter on the estuary & his memories of Penyrallt in winter;

'It is a spectacularly beautiful, brilliantly sunlit day. Frost is suspended in slow moving curtains across the valley, creating an icy haze. Frost crystals suspended on wind bleached strands of sedge and molinia tall grasses, shiver to create the most exquisite delicate musical notes. Deep frost covers all saltings; Sheet ice covers all tidal scrapes and pools and ice begins to form up on all river shallows,and gravel bed fringes at lowest tidal ebb.
We have lost our earlier overwintering 400+ Barnacle geese; they have moved on but our Goldeneye, Teal, fewer Pintail, Little Grebes and Egrets, three pairs of Kites, Wigeon and Greylags provide daily company.

On beautiful, hazy frosty days such as this, my mind often drifts southward only to settle and relive again those magnificent landscapes across fields and wooded slopes and secret track-way from Penrallt Home Farm, leading down to the Siedi. The bouquet of your oak woods in November and the magical "silence" of your land when under deep snow. The utterly spellbinding discovery of "Roding" male Woodcock in airborne courtship display at dusk, in spring and early summer, over your woods in that shallow valley between you and neighbouring Mountain Farm, are all deeply embedded with permanence.'

After that lovely lyricism back to bald agricultural realities; The last couple of days have seen proper winter farming activity with the spreading of slurry on the fields. Big tractors take long pipes out to the fields. This pipe system is know as the umbilical cord and the pipes are filled by a tractor-mounted pump standing by the slurry lagoon. The slurry then is sprayed onto the fields which in this dry weather means it can seep into the ground distributing the invaluable nutrients to enrich the soil & encourage good grass growth which is so important to our organic system. Nutrient rich soil is the key to a healthy organic system which in its turn is the key to nutritionally rich food.

Monday 2 February 2015


We awoke this morning to find it had snowed overnight (a complete contradiction to what the weather forecast had told us yesterday!) and now I am sitting in my warm kitchen while it snows very heavily, so much so that the view beyond the yard is quite obscured. I love it! I have a very well stocked larder and deep freeze and so being snowed in does not present too many problems other than making sure the milk is able to be collected. in bad weatherIf things look serious the Farmer & sons will go out and scrape the drive open up a more level access that should ensure the tanker can get in & out without being towed. The slope on our yard sometimes makes this necessary if there is ice on the ground.

We have guests in the cottage and I'm sure they will be enjoying the dramatic turn in the weather during their holiday and will cosy-up by the wood-burning stove very contentedly. An unexpected snowfall always makes for a memorable holiday.

Sunday 1 February 2015

First Snowdrops ,The Common Agricultural Policy

The 1st of February & I found the first snowdrops this morning, always a cheerful sight especially with the current bitter weather we've been having. We seem to have had days of sleet & hail but no actual snow unlike other parts of the country, although neighbours 2-3 miles away but few feet higher than us have reported a sprinkling of snow on their roads & fields.

The Farmer & I attended a meeting of the local branch of the Farmer's Union of Wales
( a couple of evenings ago. The meeting was to bring us an update on the Common Agricultural Policy for 2015. And what a complicated, long-winded and at times incomprehensible set of documents it is!
As farmers we have always been supported (& that is a whole other point for discussion), but the way in how this support is delivered is changing this year, bringing in a raft of new rules & definitions. For example the new rules on trees & hedges...if there are 3 trees in a straight line then they could constitute a hedge or 'a landscape feature' but if they are growing together and create a canopy then the land underneath them will be deducted from any area payment made, even if that land is grazed or harvested. There is also a document on the definition of a tree!
The new system of payments is moving from historic to area-based payments though no-one seems very clear on exactly what is going be brought in. It seems the Welsh Assembly itself is not sure what is going on either and the FUW ( and other farming bodies)is left in state of frustration at not being able to give clarity on a number of issues raised by farmers.
The only thing that is certain is that the subsidy payments are going to be less than in previous years.