Saturday 31 December 2016

Old Year Out, New Year In

Out with the dogs in the last of the light on the last day of the old year I heard the bell tones of the hounds of our local hunt and the horn of the huntsmen echoing down the valley knelling the end of one year and the advent of the New Year. The hunt had been working in the valley all day and were collecting the hounds for their weary way home to their kennels and well earned food and rest. We had not been able to go the meet as I had a changeover in the cottage but it was wonderful to hear the hounds at the end of what has been a busy day.

On Christmas Eve I hatched a real stinker of a cold and so the festivities were enjoyed through something of a fug which was unfortunate but the Farmer & I still managed to go to St. David's cathedral for Choral Matins on Christmas morning to hear the choir sing gloriously and then go to look at the sea crashing dramatically along the Pembrokeshire coast.
Before my head-cold made itself known we managed to throw a party the night before Christmas Eve. We had about 40 guests and it of course involved a lot of cooking, cleaning and the decking of halls which seemed to take most of the week. The end result of all our labours seemed to please people & I think we made a very good start to Christmas with the Farmer greeting our guests with glasses of mulled home-made cider & mulled home-made plum wine (very popular!). A neighbour had recently killed some pigs and very generously gave a home-cured ham & a joint of pork to the feast and I had made a partridge terrine as well as the usual sausage rolls, quiches and bread rolls. It was a proper old-fashioned country feast with as much home produce as possible including quince jelly, sloe & apple jelly & chutneys of various kinds to accompany the meats and even our own walnuts in the Waldorf salad. It was fun to do.
To continue the theme of old-fashioned & home produced the evening's entertainment was provided by a magic lantern slide show. The magic lantern is a unwieldy contraption that belonged to the the Farmer's great-grandfather and has a large selection of glass slides. Some are just views of cities such as Manchester in the late 19th century, others are, what to our eyes are very un-PC, comic strip cartoons involving wash-tubs and grotesque 'minstrels' (you get my drift, I'm sure) which are difficult to view in the 21st century. There are also a couple of sets of stories including the dramatic 'The Curfew Must not Toll Tonight' a tale of derring-do set in the time of Cromwell, who surprisingly turns out to be bit of a hero, but the most interesting is the set of slides depicting the Artic Expedition by Sir John Franklin in about 1875. These are beautiful engravings of ships trapped in ice, dog-sled teams and Englishmen dressed in furs braving horrendous conditions for the sake of the Queen & the Empire. They don't make heroes like that any more!

The farm work continues regardless of festivals and national holidays and between the three of them the Farmer & the Sons have shared milking duties during the week, allowing each one of them some time off to attend parties and take small children out to events as well as attending shoots and musical evenings.

So, at the end of 2016, an eventful year to say the least, I wish you all
Blwyddyn Newydd Hapus

Sunday 4 December 2016

Frosty Mornings, Phone Kiosk Village Library

A glorious crisp frost-rimed morning with clear blue skies dotted with silver-backed gulls and ragged black rooks tossing around in the sharp wind as they caw & cark spying out the land below them. The frost has outlined leaves and grasses and they will remain so throughout the day in the sheltered corners unreached by the low sun as will the marbled ice in the water-filled wheel-ruts in gateways. There is a thin skim of ice on the ponds, not enough to bear a duck as in the old country saying that if, before Christmas, for three days the ice can bear a duck then we're in for hard winter, but we have plenty of time yet for three days of duck-bearing ice to arrive.

On a recent journey we drove through a small village and came across this novel use for an old telephone kiosk. It functions as a village library. People are encouraged to borrow books and to add to the collection and is brilliant way of giving a new lease of life to what are now redundant and useless structures in these days of almost universal mobile phone ownership (except for me!). As there is a real shortage of proper bookshops in this area and the public libraries are under threat of closure perhaps more villages should utilise small buildings in such a way. It can only be of benefit to the local communities & to the reading public.

Friday 18 November 2016

Christmas Turkeys, Hunting, Moving Sheep

Our Christmas turkeys arrived a few weeks ago and are having happy times free-ranging around the yard and my garden(!). They are comical creatures, very curious and yet always alert for any perceived threat. They can be heard all over the yards and buildings with their plaintive high-pitched cheeping call. They talk to each other all the time and move around in a flock and when a sunny corner is found they will sit in a huddle blinking and muttering little turkey-mutters whilst on the constant look-out for any mooching dog that appears. The dogs ignore them except for my Jack Russell terrier who has to be tied up while the turkeys are on the loose...she just cannot help but chase them. The labradors & sheepdogs are totally uninterested but the turkeys do not know that and get themselves in fluster at the slightest thing, they really do live on their nerves!

A few days ago we took the grandchildren to the meet of our local hunt, the Vale of Clettwr, as it was being held just up the road at the stable-yard of one of the masters whom we have known for many years. The children were thrilled to see so many horses, a field of about 25, and the hounds of course. There was real party atmosphere with hot punch and sandwiches for everyone. Many of our neighbours were there just to see the meet, not to ride out. The master does a very good PR job by calling on all the farms to say they be coming over our land and inviting us to the meet. They tend to go down through our woodlands across the valley and we can hear the horn echoing around the valley as the hunt keeps up with the hounds through a densely wooded and hilly landscape. In the past we have 'walked' hound puppies for local hunt-kennels which is great fun. The hunts here have Welsh hounds which are shaggy coated unlike the English smooth-coated foxhounds. They are big strong dogs and very sweet-natured and walking the puppies before they join the pack is great, they are real characters and though not terribly bright can be trained to basic commands but they do not like being alone, if wever on of the puppies we looked after found itself on its own in a shed it would yell blue murder until it was reunited with its siblings, they really are pack animals. We have also walked beagle puppies which is little easier as they are much smaller but again they are huge fun.

Today the Farmer & I went to our fields across the valley with a jeep full of dogs, to move a bunch sheep onto fresh grazing. It is only a small bunch of tack sheep(sheep that we are being paid to have on our land) and they were moved very efficiently by Molly & Judy, our two wonderful collies. The labrador & terrier were just with us for the run being absolutely no use for gathering or moving sheep and fortunately, they kept out of the way by hunting for rabbits in the bracken banks. The countryside was look superb this morning. The fields we were in are high with wonderful views over the Teifi Valley and the trees in their russet & gold autumn livery varied the patchwork of green fields cross-hatched with dun-coloured hedgerows against brilliant blue sky dotted with white clouds...a perfect autumn morning with good sharp-edged breeze, lovely!

Monday 31 October 2016

Samhain or Halloween, Autumn Glory

Today is Samhain, the Celtic word for 'summer's end'. With the longer nights swallowing up the sun and leaves dropping from the trees winter approaches. Samhain is also known as Halloween, a mixture of pagan & Christian beliefs combined into customs and celebrations to bring in the the darkness of winter. In south Wales there was tradition of men & boys donning ragged clothes, sheepskins and masks. The masked figures represented the spirits of the dead and to refuse them food was to risk vengeance on the house...hence 'trick or treat'. These costumed visitors were known as 'gwarchod' or hags and sang a song about the White Lady as they visited house in the locality where they would be given 'harvest fare' and on returning to the farm would have a traditional supper of 'the mash of nine sorts', a vegetable stew containing nine ingredients, nine being a sacred number.
The tradition of turnip lanterns (now superseded by the imported pumpkin) stems from the ancient Celtic veneration of the head which was considered the seat of the soul.

The trees are rapidly dressing in their autumn livery and each day seems to bring another flash of crimson or burnished gold into the landscape. While some of the trees are costumed in bright shades of yellow, others are clad in rich fox-red and fallen leaves gather in crisp shoals of dusty orange and brown as they are swept into drifts at the sides of the drive by passing traffic.
We are having such a beautiful season and it is so dry and mild that the farm work is easy and pleasurable.There is no mud to speak of, the ground is dry and the air ringing with the chatter of the dozen or so turkeys that are wandering around the yard. The dogs laze the sunshine as though it was summer while the day to day routine of the farm bustles on around them and our farm cat, a very independent creature, was spotted this morning sitting in mass of fallen leaves looking very picturesque. Everyone who calls from the postman first thing in the morning to the AI technician, the milk tanker driver and friends calling for coffee exclaim at how lovely this autumn is proving to be. It is the same sense of cheerfulness as one gets on the first days of spring sunshine.

Thursday 27 October 2016

Calves, Cows & Tranquility

The calving season is upon us once again and last night two were born, one with no problems at all, the second one however proved to be more difficult though it came in the end without having to call a vet. Of course no-one else was home when Elder Son came over about 10 o'clock to say he was having difficulties. After failing to locate Younger Son and being unable to get a message to the Farmer I did an SOS call to a neighbour who came over forthwith. After much hard work and judicious use of a calving jack an enormous Frisian/Aberdeen Angus bull calf was brought into the world. The cow was fine and all is well this morning. These things don't happen very often but are quite stressful at the time. I have spent calvings holding ropes taut (not easy with 1/2 ton of cow moving around at the other end) to keep the cow steady or to help pull the calf out and on one occasion I even scrubbed up to help the vet with an emergency caesarean section which was certainly an interesting way to spend the the wee small hours of the morning (these things always happen in the middle of the night!). No matter how often we see a calving it always a great satisfaction after the effort we put in to see the calf slither out onto the straw, shake its head and then the mother turn round to start licking it clean whilst lowing gently at it.
There is something particularly entrancing and very peaceful about cattle sheds at night. The cows are all settled quietly in their cubicles with a light steam arising from their bodies and gentle warmth pervading the atmosphere along with the heavy sweet scent of silage with the underlying pungency of fresh muck and the soft noises of cows belching and chewing the cud or in the deep breathes of sleep. Occasionally a cow will look round at you with her great luminous eyes flickering with curiosity for few seconds as you play the torch light over her but she is not greatly concerned about this interruption to her night. Often the cows are so relaxed you can go and lean against them and feel the heat and solidity of the beasts as they doze.

Saturday 8 October 2016

Farmer 's Union of Wales Conference

The Farmer's Union of Wales ( @FUW_UAC) held a one-day conference this week at the Royal Welsh Showground at Llanelwedd near Builth Wells in mid-Wales, the subject of which was Opportunities for Growth post-Brexit. The Farmer & I thought it would be interesting to attend, so having gained permission from the Sons to go and spend a night away, we made our way up to Builth very early on Thursday morning through the glorious autumnal hills of mid-Wales. The conference was well attended by farmers, representatives of associated agricultural businesses & very pleasingly, a group of students from Llysfasi agricultural college in north Wales (disappointing that other Welsh agricultural colleges had not sent a delegation of students). There were a number of familiar faces and old acquaintances.
The speakers for the day covered many different aspects of the current agricultural industry from the history & importance of agricultural shows, the remote monitoring of the landscape by satellite, drone and radar for 'data-driven agriculture' and environmental monitoring, the economic history of UK and EU pre- and post-Brexit and the challenges facing Welsh agriculture in the post-Brexit scenario amongst others. The general tone was one of positivity and optimism that Wales can make Brexit work and that Welsh agriculture has a real place in the brave new world of post-Brexit Britain, not that it will be easy but the challenges are there to be overcome.
Gleaned from the day's talks, some (very) random points...make of them what you will;
Average farm income £24,700, for hill farmers £14,700
90% of Welsh lamb exports go to EU
Norway imposes a tariff of 425% on imports
Satellites the size of a bread bin take images of Wales every day
Welsh lamb & beef are internationally recognised brands
The first Agricultural Society was formed in 1755 in Brecknockshire(Breconshire)
9% of the population of Wales works in agriculture
There are 20-23,000 migrant workers in agriculture in UK
The EU has the highest agricultural tariffs 90%,compared with USA 10%
5% of lamb & beef production in Wales is consumed in Wales, 60% in England
There are no free trade agreements with Europe,free trade agreements are mostly with former French colonies including Syria & Lebanon

After a long and stimulating day we headed off to find the B&B I had booked us into for the night, which was only 3 miles from the RWAS showground. However, in our rush to leave in the morning I had forgotten to bring the directions, contact details and map of how to find the farm we were supposed to be staying on!! We do not have a mobile phone or sat-nav & signal would probably been non-existent anyway. All I knew was the name of the farm and that it was somewhere off the A483. Now, mid-Wales is a large area of hills, very winding roads, farms which have very similar names and it is very easy to get lost, which we did. Eventually up a narrow lane after many twists and turns and re-tracing our steps, we found someone who was able to give us directions, so a couple of miles later and following a farmer on a quad bike for a mile as he moved his sheep up the narrowest of lanes and then following a hedge-trimmer for another 1/2 mile up a similar lane we found our destination, Trecoed Farm ( and received the warmest welcome from Elsie, the landlady who promptly made us a much-needed cup of tea accompanied by large slices of fruit cake. Wonderful! We had a very comfortable night and headed off the following morning after a substantial cooked breakfast. Even one night away is a holiday and I would certainly recommend Trecoed Farm B&B to anyone visiting the Builth wells area.

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Cider-making, October, Rowan Jelly

Its cider-making time again. The Farmer has been very busy over the last week or so processing vast quantities of apples from our own orchards and fruit given to us by friends & neighbours. The process is quite speedy with an apple scratter to crush the fruit which is then put in the press and the resulting golden juice is then put into the fermenting drums to sit in the kitchen for a few days until it has finished bubbling when it is then transferred into kegs to mature. Some of the juice is put into plastic bottles for freeezing as straight apple juice to see us through the winter or brought into the house for drinking straightaway. It is gorgeous. Last year's vintage of cider is proving to be very palatable and is a glorious clear honey-gold in colour. It is an amazing process...what starts out as very cloudy juice which oxidises almost immediately to a dark biscuit-y brown colour and is not all that appetising becomes this beautiful clear golden liquid, a transformation that is entirely natural with no additives or preservatives of any kind, just the naturally occurring yeasts working their magic.

October is already proving to be as busy as the rest of the year. The Sons have been out cutting silage again for neighbours as we are having such good weather at present, dry and still fairly warm in the sunshine but with quite strong winds now and then. A few days ago when we were still having showers of rain there were several amazing sightings of vast wide rainbows casting across the landscape, quite beautiful. The valley has been echoing with the rattle of hedge-trimmers out and about along roadsides and in fields. The hedges need to be c kept in check but I think the Farmer would agree with me that the trimming ought to be left until the winter so that the birds and small mammals can glean what food they can from the hedge-row berries of which there are still quite profusion. It is no longer worth me going out to pick blackberries but there are still lots of small fruits including the rose-hips & hawthorn berries to be had.
After a particularly windy night a week or so ago I found a goodly quantity of rowan berries had been blown off the high branches of the trees up one of the ancient lanes on the farm, so I gathered them up and made some beautiful rose-pink rowan jelly which is delicious served as an accompaniment to roast meat.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Autumn on the Farm.

This is one of the lovely comments left in our cottage visitors book this summer...remarks & drawings like this do make us feel that we are getting something right in what we offer our guests. (Click on photo to enlarge it to read the comments.) We have had a very busy season and although we are now officially into autumn we still have guests coming to stay. The countryside at this time of year is glorious, the trees and hedges are still green but with hints of tawny gold beginning to appear and the rich ruby ripeness of the hawthorn berries adding a depth of colour to the high hedges. We have been having such lovely weather this past few days that it puts a glow over everything. The swallows have now left us, just in the last couple of days, on their long flight back to the southern sun. We are now in the season of lighting fires in the evenings and ensuring that the log supply for next year is well advanced. A shed full of seasoning logs is a deeply satisfying sight.
Over on the coast there are reports of seal pups on several of the beaches. People are advised to stay off the beach itself and keep their dogs on leads but the pups can be viewed quite easily. They are a beautiful sight, the fat roly-poly pups in their thick creamy coats with their huge dark sad eyes. The mother seal is usually out in the water keeping a close eye on the pup and she is very wary of any intrusion.

On the farm things are busy with slurry-spreading and hedge-trimming. We are taking lambs and bull calves to the various markets each week at present. Calving is well underway and we have about thirty to feed each day with more due over the next weeks. The bull calves we sell on but the heifers are all kept to be reared as 'followers' to the dairy herd. We have always calved down at this time of year though many dairy herds tend to go for spring calving and some do all year round calving, but it suits us to have the calves all come at one period though it can get very labour intensive.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Local Show in the Rain

One of the best things about living in the country are the local agriculture shows which carry on regardless of the weather, which this year was unrelenting rain. Llandysul Show, was held yesterday despite the continual downpour. The Farmer was stewarding for the one of the cattle judges and was soaked to the skin but so was everyone else so they just all carried on cheerfully swathed in heavy duty waterproofs. The grandchildren and I were slightly better off placing our entries for the cookery & children's classes in the craft & horticultural marquee though the rain was coming down the poles and the wind was blowing hard enough to disturb the displays but we farming folk are a stoical lot and there was a lovely air of jolliness and determination that the show must go on.
The Farmer had also entered various item in the rural crafts section & between us all we did quite well as the photo shows, including the Farmer winning the Rural Crafts cup. So, well done the Robinsons!

I love small country shows. They show a side of country life that is often overlooked. It is not the tweeness of 'country living' as portrayed in the glossy (dare I say it, rather patronising) lifestyle magazines, it is the real life of people who work very hard and who, for pleasure, take great pride in growing the longest runner bean, or the heaviest marrow or making delightful flower arrangements in teacups. Shows like this have been running for decades and very little will have changed over the years. Old men show their beautiful hand carved walking sticks, old ladies bake cakes and grow sweetpeas for the show as they have done all their lives. Children are encouraged to enter the handwriting competitions and to make pictures using buttons, or weird animals out of vegetables and there are always plenty of entries. The handicrafts section is always a delight with exquisite knitting, embroidery and patchwork items on display and wood-turning and carving to a very high standard. This is all in addition to the cattle, sheep and horses that are so carefully groomed and trained for the show by hardworking farmers and their families who do the extra work because they love it and will ensure that they go to the shows almost no matter what.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Sheepdog Trials, Country Show

I recently had a yen to go to see some sheepdog trials, something we have not done for many years so after checking the International Sheepdog Society website, I was pleased to find that trials are held almost every week somewhere in Wales, many of them within our locality. They are not widely advertised and are often part of a local village show as was the one we went to in a tiny place called Cwmsychpant. We took small grand-daughter with us and had a lovely time watching a number of dogs of varying ages and abilities being put through their paces. It was fascinating. The Farmer, who is a life member of the International Sheepdog Society & used to trial his wonderful dog Sam a long time ago, was able to explain about the run out and the course the dog has to manoeuvre the three or five sheep through to the ultimate goal of penning the sheep within the time given. The shepherd stands at start of the course and directs the dog around the course with whistles & shouts until the sheep are within range of the pen when they can be guided in and the gate shut on them...job done, as they say.
The Farmer has two sheep dogs here at the moment, eight year old Molly who is very good and useful and two year old Judy is very keen and sometimes useful, but still learning.
AS well as the sheepdog trialling there was the show which was great. It was very small but well attended by the locals and the entries in the craft tent were astounding. There was such enthusiasm for the event as shown by the number of entries in each class whether it be for runner beans, beautiful flower arrangements, photographs of country life, hand-writing, knitting, patchwork, exquisite embroidery, children's artwork, baking or jams, chutneys & wines.
There was a great display of vintage tractors & a collection of old tractor seats, which may sound bizarre but was actually rather beautiful.
We also met some acquaintances who were busy with their very small children and ponies, the Best Young Handler class where the youngest handlers were only 3yrs old and needed to be guided around the ring, all very sweet and very Thelwell!
It was very enjoyable way to spend a rare free Saturday (no cottage changeover as my current guests are in for a fortnight) and the show field was on the top of a hill with panoramic views across to the Brecon Beacons, stunning!

Sunday 7 August 2016

Strumble Head Lighthouse, Labrador Puppies

This past week we had one of the Farmer's old college friends & his wife come to stay for a couple of days and as always when we have house-guests we take them out for the day. This time we headed off down to Pembrokeshire and ended up at Strumble Head with its wonderful Edwardian lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1908 on the tiny island of Ynys Meical to give it its Welsh name, and is accessed by a short bridge that is now closed to the public, though the Farmer remembers going there as a child and being able to cross to the island itself and go up to the lighthouse. Nowadays it can only be viewed from a distance. The lighthouse is one of several along the Pembrokeshire coast marking this dangerous stretch of coastline between Ireland and Wales and is spectacular. We were there on a very windy day but despite odd flurries of drizzle it was fine and clear and the sea was being whipped up into 'white horses' and looked very dramatic with sprays of seafoam being flung up on the rocks and cliffs of the island.

Younger Son's lovely black labrador Jess produced 9 beautiful black puppies 10 days ago and they are doing very well. We had thought that as the father of the litter was yellow we might have had a multi-coloured litter as we have done in the past, but not this time, they are all satiny-black and very sweet. They do not photograph well at this stage and they just a black mass of twitching sleepers. Once their eyes open they become much more photogenic.

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Summer Work & Picnics

These past few days of heat & sunshine have meant a time of frantic busy-ness for the Farmer & the Sons. They have all been putting in very long hours making silage for ourselves and others. Apart from the hours in the fields there have also been treks across the county to other farms taking the machinery, wagons, balers, rakes to do their contracting work. The wonderful weather of course, as always, means that everyone wants their grass cutting at the same time so no sooner is work completed on one farm than they have to make their way to the next farm even if it is 11.00pm, sometimes to carry on working into the small hours or just to leave the kit ready for next morning. It is an exhausting time of year, but also very satisfying when another heap of bales is stacked on a yard or a clamp sheeted up. The Farmer has commented that it was rather a wonderful sight very late last night, after dark to see the lights of three other tractors criss-crossing faraway fields, all like him, working to get the grass in...the unacknowledged late night workers who so often are criticised for disturbing the peace of the countryside and holding up traffic, just doing their job of feeding the nation. Farmers cannot work 9-5 when so much of what we do is weather dependent & when hundreds of acres of grass need to be harvested.
I spend much time making piles of sandwiches which are grabbed by tractor drivers as they come & go between jobs. On Sunday however, I had a phone call to say would I take a cooked lunch, in the form of lasagne & boiled potatoes, out to the field where they were working. The original plan had been that they would come home for lunch but as usual the plan changed. The lasagne was just out of the oven so it was packed into a large basket along with the spuds, cake and ginger beer. The Grandchildren & all the dogs piled into the jeep & I drove across the valley to serve lunch to the hungry menfolk. So, how do you stop two 150 horse-powered tractors in their tracks? Unpack food & drink onto the bonnet of the 4x4!!

Th recent spell of very hot weather is glorious but I am always very grateful that I live in a stone-built, thick-walled, north-facing farmhouse into which I retreat when the temperatures soar. The poor dogs have been suffering, especially the very pregnant black labrador. She has found the excessive heat very trying and so trips to the pond for swimming sessions have been very popular. The puppies are due in the next few days and it will be fun to have summer puppies again.

Wednesday 6 July 2016

Wool Collection Day, Rose Petal Jam, Bees

Today was wool collection day. We took our wool sacks into our local town where the lorry from the Wool Producers of Wales ( depot at Brecon was waiting. We had to be there at 9.15am and we joined a short queue to unload our sacks and watch them being loaded onto the lorry. The Farmer had shorn our modest flock of about 50 ewes last month and the fleeces had been packed into the wool sacks to wait for collection day.
Some wool-ly facts;
Out of a world population of 1,148,300 sheep the UK has 33,989 sheep.
The UK produces 21,672 tonnes of clean raw wool.
The UK has more native breeds within its shores than any other country.

The organisation Campaign for Wool ( influenced an new international demand for wool and thereby has achieved a three-fold price increase for farmers for the wool they produce. At one time, not that many years ago, it was costing more to shear the sheep than we were getting for the fleeces. In fact the price was so bad we did not bother sending our wool but kept it for several years and used it for insulation in building projects.

Note at the bottom of the letter we received giving us our collection time;

'Category 3 Animal By-product Not For Human Consumption Sheep's Wool'...just so we know!

The roses have been superb this year and I was inspired to have a go at making rose-petal jam so collected 200grammes of petals from the garden. They smelt just heavenly during the process of jamification. After gently crushing the petals with some sugar and lemon juice the resulting 'paste' was added to a pan of boiling sugar and water and boiled until it set. I then strained the petals out to get a beautiful rosy-glowing jam. It is delicious on fresh scones & even better drizzled over vanilla ice-cream!

200gm rose petals
600gm sugar
600ml water
Juice of 1 lemon

We have just discovered a swarm of bees has taken up residence in the eaves of our farmhouse. Its not problem, just a bit noisy in the kitchen (though the bees are not in the kitchen but in the roof-space of the room above) and the bats aren't too happy but I'm sure they'll all sort themselves out. The Farmer, an experienced bee-keeper, says there's nothing he can do as the bees are inaccessible and so we'll just have to wait for them to move on. He will probably put a collecting box near the house and hope they will decide it is a better place to live.

Friday 24 June 2016

Brexit Wins

Well, the country went to the polls yesterday and today we have the leave Europe. As a family our votes went to both sides of the ballot but are nonetheless surprised at the outcome. The whole business of the In/Out campaign was very ugly at times and there was a lot of scare-mongering from both sides, but it seems that the nation has sent a clear message to the government, they want change. What happens next is going to be interesting to say the least. Having spoken to a lot of farmers and others working in the agricultural sector in the last few weeks, the overwhelming view was for Brexit. That said the farmers vote is very small in the great scheme of things. Interestingly one of the most rural areas of Wales, Ceredigion, which is only 4 miles from where we are in Carmarthenshire, voted to Remain in Europe.It is going to be very interesting to see what comes from the farming unions and the politicians on how they are going to support British agriculture in this new scenario with no more CAP to pay farm subsidies. It is certainly going to concentrate a lot of minds in the farming industry.
Whatever everyone thinks of this outcome it is up to the politicians to make it work and for the people to make sure that the politicians make it work.

Though parts of England have been having such dreadful weather lately we have been lucky with dry days of warm sunshine enabling the Farmer & the Sons to continue with the endless summer job of silage-making. They have been out and about all over the neighbourhood till late at night with the silage kit making many hundreds of bales for several of the dairy farms in the parish. Political ructions don't affect the need to ensure our winter fodder is in good supply and stored well to continue the nation's milk supply.

The end of June is in sight and the roses are doing superbly hence the photo of roses cut to decorate my kitchen table.

Thursday 9 June 2016

Successful Open Farm Sunday

Our event for Open Farm Sunday ( very well.
We had glorious weather for it and after a lot of hard work in the days running up to it the day itself ran very smoothly and happily for both us and our visitors. We had about 50 people which we were more than happy with. It is a good number for a farm that is not near near any large centre of population...of course it does not match up to the the thousands that visited some farms in England, but we would have had problems coping with a very large number of visitors. As it was we had a steady trickle throughout the day. The people who did come were a mixture of locals, friends, and holiday-makers and of all ages from 5yr olds to 85yr olds. Everyone seemed very pleased with what they saw and learned. The Farmer took groups on walks around the farm and showed them everything that we do and for many it was a real eye-opener...being shown a hen's ear, getting near enough a dairy cow to stroke her and to learn about what happens to our milk once it leaves the farm. It's all important stuff for non-farming people to have access to which is what Open Farm Sunday is all about.

Today the Farmer has taken the first of two batches of bull calves to our local livestock market. He left at about 6.45am and when he comes back I will accompany him with the second load. It is a relief to be able to sell these calves now that our TB restrictions have been lifted. We had to keep all calves born over the past year which is not what usually happens. Under normal conditions all our bull calves are sold at about a week old to be reared for beef elsewhere.

The gardens are beginning to look rather gorgeous. The roses are doing very well this year, particularly the ones around the holiday cottage which are giving the most magnificent display. The weeds too are benefiting from the generous doses of good muck that all the beds and borders were given back in early spring and so each day I try to clear a goodly amount of nettles, docks and buttercups from the most obvious areas. But even where the weeds get the better of me, they fill up gaps with greenery, some of quite sculptural and dramatic in the form of the hated giant hogweed. The foxgloves are beautiful and the little yellow Welsh poppies neither of which I really regard as weeds and tend to leave where they are. Creeping buttercup is a problem and goose-grass which swathes everything it touches in shawls of clinging strands of vibrant green.

Thursday 2 June 2016

Open Farm Sunday

I am up betimes on another beautiful early summer morning. We have been having glorious weather recently and things are as result very busy here. The Sons are out all around the parish cutting silage, the Farmer has been able to get the sheep sheared this week and we are preparing the farm for visitors on Open Farm Sunday,5th least I hope we get some visitors, one never knows with such events how many people will turn up, if any. We will of course be ready with a tidy yard, a tea urn and lots of cake for whoever does come.
Today we must go out with the big signs supplied by the organisers of Open Farm Sunday ( put them at the various road junctions near the farm and at the farm entrance.It is yet another form of publicity as well all the tweeting I have been doing and our local paper The Carmarthen Journal ( has put a piece I sent them onto their website and on their Twitter & Facebook pages. I have been taking posters around the local villages and shops and everyone has been very helpful. So, we'll wait and see what happens on Sunday. Meanwhile much cleaning, sweeping and weeding is being done and setting up trestle tables for teas and working out displays of photographs, old implements, etc. and generally making everything look tidy & welcoming. Roll on Open Farm Sunday!

Sunday 22 May 2016

First Cut Silage, Spring Flowers

A field of mown grass may not be the most exciting photograph ever but it is a sight to lift the hearts of all dairy farmers as it means we have begun the hard work of ensuring that our cows will be fed throughout the winter. The Farmer & Sons started mowing today, the earliest we have ever cut and the crop is looking very good, not too wet despite the recent rain and with the lovely sunshine this afternoon it is drying nicely and seems to be good thick crop. The past few days have been spent preparing the machinery and tractors and now the Sons are in their element, driving huge tractors with impressive kit bringing in the humble but essential grass crop. This is of course only the first cut there will be at least two more before the end of the summer. Once our fields are done the Sons will be out mowing and carting on other farms as contractors and will be putting in very long hours and driving kit considerable distances. But they love it! The whole valley will be humming with the sounds of silage-making over the next few weeks and everyone will watching the weather forecasts like hawks. Speaking of which, the buzzards (a neat segue don't you think!) are already wheeling over the mown fields looking out for the poor little victims of the mowing machines which are to become their next meal of was ever thus, even in the days before tractors and mowers. Horse-drawn machines and scything also unavoidably destroyed small mammals hidden in thick grass and corn and so the predators work alongside the farmers.

The hedgerows are beginning to teem with flowers. The bluebells are everywhere and now being followed by the stitchworts, red campions, the green spires & white flowers of Jack-by-the-hdge, Queen Anne's Lace or cow parsley to give it it's more mundane name. There are whiffs of garlic from the ramsons scenting the air and glints of gold where the lovely little yellow Welsh poppy has seeded itself. It appears in all sort of unexpected places as well in the garden. The gardens are coming on well and we are beginning to have a marvellous display of rhododendrons and azaleas.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Open Farm Sunday, Livestock Market

With just three weeks to go before we open our gates to the general public for Open Farm Sunday on June 5th, I am beginning to think about how the farm looks and seeing what needs to be tidied up, particularly around the main yard. The Farmer will mow the lawns to within an inch of their lives,the edges will be strimmed and the general clutter will put's just like tidying the house before visitors but on a slightly larger scale. We pride ourselves on having a fairly tidy yard most of the time anyway, but when one looks at with the eyes of a visitor one suddenly notices the unattractive heap of electric fence posts and the hanks of baler string that have been discarded in a busy moment and then forgotten. The place will still look like a working farm but maybe with neater edges.

This is the tenth year of Open Farm Sunday ( only the second time that we have taken part. I think there about 7 farms in Wales taking part though up to 300 all over the UK. It is an important initiative that encourages farmers to allow the public onto real working farms to see how food is produced. Our visitors will given a guided walk around the farm buildings and the fields with an opportunity to ask us about any aspect of food, farming and agriculture in general that interests them...I hope we will be able to give them good & informative answers! As well as having a farm walk our visitors will then be able to relax with a cup of tea and cake (all free of charge)and see the cows come in for milking. We just all pray for a day of fine weather.

As we are now thankfully, no longer under TB restrictions the Farmer & I took some young steers to the market in Carmarthen ( last week. We arrived there at 9.30 which was rather late as our lot numbers were in the 500's. Our animals didn't go through the ring until 3.00pm! So it was a long day. As it was the first time we had attended the mart for beef & sucklers we stayed the day, having breakfast & lunch in the mart cafe. It was actually a rather jolly day as we met up with various friends & acquaintances whom we had not seen for some time and it is fascinating watching the animals go through the ring and seeing the buyers & auctioneers at work. It was sale of suckler cows with calves at foot, steers, bullocks & bulls. The bulls were scary...they are so big and do exude a slight air of menace and even the drovers who a handle such beasts all the time are wary of them and do not spend any more time than they have to in the ring with them but take refuge behind strong narrow gates. They are put through the ring one at a time but bulls can be unpredictable especially in a strange & disturbing new environment, however they were all very well behaved that day and they were sold without incident.

Thursday 28 April 2016

Horse & Pony Sale

This morning I accompanied the Lady Artist, who is nearly at the end of her month's working holiday in the cottage, to the horse sales held in the local village of Llanybydder each month ( As always it was an interesting day...people watching as well as horse watching. I will confess to being not very knowledgeable about equine matters, but the Lady Artist is an expert and so with her fund of knowledge it was a very enjoyable couple of hours. There were horse & ponies of all kinds; coloured ponies & horses of all types, an enormous 17 hand chestnut stallion, tiny Shetland ponies no higher than a coffee table, flighty, frightened young ponies brought down off the hill, a couple of woolly donkeys and some very smart hunters. The tiny Shetlands we thought we should tuck into our coat pockets and bring home and the Lady Artist was quite tempted by some of the other horses but managed to resist the temptation to take them back to Suffolk.
As with all livestock auctions there is a great atmosphere of anticipation by both buyers and sellers. Will the buyers be able to get the bargain bomb-proof pony they need for the children and will the sellers get the price they know or hope their animal is worth? Some sellers were visibly disappointed especially if their beautifully groomed and well-presented animal did not reach its reserve and others just accepting whatever sum the the auctioneer's hammer goes down on. It is a noisy, clattering business and for some of the animals there quite terrifying while for others who are used to crowds of people at shows, hunt meets and point-to-points they are ridden or walked around the ring quite calmly before being loaded into boxes to go back home or to to a new stable.

It was very cold in Llanybydder and seems to have got colder still this evening, though that may be wind has got very blowy. Yesterday we had constant hammerings of pea-sized hail, interspersed with flurries of snow which was then quickly melted by lovely sunshine before the next pelting of hailstones. The fruit trees are just about to burst into flower and it will be a great shame if the blossom is damaged by the severe weather causing a poor harvest later on. The oak trees are coming into leaf well ahead of the ash so we may be in for a dry summer...but what we are all waiting for is an increase in temperature so the grass will start to grow. The smiling yellow primroses and Quink-coloured bluebells are everywhere and the birds are singing madly so spring is here despite the weather's oddness.

Photos courtesy of M. K. (The Lady Artist)