Wednesday 26 April 2017

Sheep & Sheepdogs, Litter in the Countryside

This morning we brought the sheep in to inspect the lambs and dag the ewes. Dagging is the technical term for the cleaning up of sheep's dirty bottoms by removing the heavy clumps of mucky wool that occur! Moving ewes and lambs is always somewhat fraught even with the help of two very good collies. The lambs don't understand what going on, the ewes are anxious to keep their lambs with them and not allow the dogs too close and all in all it can get very chaotic. However, once the dogs, the people and the sheep all decide they have the same agenda it suddenly becomes straightforward and the sheep are funnelled into the yard through a series of gates and all is well.

The greatest asset to anyone keeping sheep, or cattle for that matter, is a good sheepdog and we are very fortunate to have our old lady Molly and her trainee Judy. Molly, a black & white collie is 11 years old and knows the ropes but Judy, a lovely red & white collie, is only 2 and still learning. She is keen and sharp and devoted to the Farmer and is coming on well but needs to learn a bit more yet before Molly can retire into graceful old age sleeping in the sun all day, after all she does run the farm!

Recently there has been some coverage in the press about litter and fly-tipping in the countryside. On the farm we are fortunate in that we don't suffer from fly-tipping as we are not on a road-side but we do get a lot of litter along our drive and on the main road. Every time I walk up the drive I pick up empty crisp packets, sweet wrappings, plastic bottle & those horrible triangular sandwich boxes. I know that none of us from the farm or our neighbours who share the drive would dream of chucking rubbish out of the car windows so I can only conclude that it is delivery van drivers who have a wanton disregard for the countryside. Each year before the main holiday season starts I ring Carmarthenshire County Council to ask that they send litter pickers out to our area as the litter on the verges is like a tidal wave of plastic and gives a very bad impression to visitors to the county. The Council is very good and the litter is picked up within a couple of days of my phone call, but the point is they shouldn't be having to do it. The Keep Britain Tidy campaign is so well established that there is no excuse for not taking one's rubbish home and disposing of it properly.

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Woods in Spring, Preparations for Summer Work

A walk in the woods is always uplifting but at the present time spring is making it even better. The trees are bursting their leaves forth, the bluebells are justing coming into flower and the birds are singing their hearts out. Our woods were stripped out during the war and so everything we see now is re-growth over the past seventy years, a mixture of oak, sycamore, hornbeam and ash mainly. In addition to these the Farmer has planted many douglas fir, larch and scot pine taking the long view of timber for future generations. As with so many things in farming the long view is the only one that ensures continuity on family farms.

This is the time of year when the farm is preparing for the busy-ness of the approaching silage season. Tractors are being checked over and the silage machinery is being brought out of winter hibernation to be serviced and put into good order ready for the long hours in the fields. Rolls of netting and bale wrap are being delivered and stacked up ready for the baler. Although we have suddenly had very cold weather including snow, sleet & hail in the last 24 hrs and the grass growth will be slow the start of the silage season will be on us before we know it at the beginning of May.

It is lovely to see the cows out in the fields and of course the sheep after lambing. There are only three ewes left to lamb after what has been a very good lambing season. The weather has been ideal for lambs out at foot with their dams as we have had no rain for about three weeks, the fground is very dry. We do need some rain to encourage the grass to grow as well as the sunshine.

Monday 24 April 2017

Dinas Head, Pembrokeshire

Views looking north from Dinas Head yesterday while walking the coast path with on a day of unexpectedly perfect weather...west Wales at its absolute best. We are so lucky to have this on our doorstep.
The ruined church is at Pwll y Gwaelod at the foot of Dinas Head where a series of storms in the 1850's destroyed much of the church.

This excursion down to Pembrokeshire followed on from a week of intense busy-ness and a spur-of-the-moment visit from cousins from Herefordshire over the weekend, so the whole family, 10 of us plus a lolloping labrador and tiny feisty dachshund, trooped down to Dinas and after a picnic lunch set off on the two hour circular walk around Dinas Head. It was a walk of stupendous views, north and south, beautiful sunshine, wonderful birdsong and calm seas with the occassional small fishing boat chugging across the briny checking lobster pots & happy children running, with equally happy grown-ups taking it all a little more steadily. A walk worth walking and rounded off to everyone's satisfaction with ice-creams by a lovely peaceful beach.

Thursday 20 April 2017

Spring Flowers & Foxes, Whitewashing, Lithuanian Lorry Driver

There are only a couple of ewes left to lamb now and this year's crop are now out with their mums grazing...this was the peaceful scene this morning as I walked the dogs. Our morning walks are lovely at the moment with the birds singing away and the flowers embroidering the hedges and verges. The daffodils are now almost all finished but are being replaced by violets, primroses, stitchworts, and the wild strawberries. These are all small fragile creatures and are easily overlooked when growing alongside the the strident, gaudy dandelions and the lower growing but no less vibrant celandines. The blackthorn hedges are rich with their lace veils of blossom and the the willow trees are showing their acid yellow spring colours. To counteract the romantic loveliness of the flora the local fauna leaves it's mark as at various points along the walk today I was assailed by the truly appalling stink of fox as we pass the
gaps in hedges where they have their regular runs. The dogs busily investigate but Reynard has been long gone though the scent lingers on. I suspect the fox also runs through our yard at night taunting the dogs. Most nights the dogs start growling and barking for a few minutes and we have heard nothing that we think would disturb them, but a sly fox slinking through would certainly set them off.

This time of year brings on the urge of the proverbial, old-fashioned notion of spring-cleaning and the turning out of cupboards & drawers and tidying the place up generally and so we have redecorated our bedroom which is a great exceuse for getting rid of 'stuff'...the local charity shop has done well by us lately! The Farmer has been very busy like Mole, whitewashing the house and while I rather agree with Mole, 'Hang whitewashing!' and feel the urge to take off to the coast, especially as the weather has been so wonderful over Easter, the job has to be finished and so the Farmer has been up ladders for three days now with a large brush and buckets of limewash coloured with yellow oxide to give rich creamy shade which looks beautiful and clean. It is worth the effort and mess.

The Sons are busy building a new shed on the site of an old one, for a new (to us) milking parlour. This is a major project and involves steel girders, concrete panels, diggers and long hours to say nothing of a two day trip to Cheshire to dismantle and bring home the parlour itself.
A number of concrete panels were delivered last week from Ireland on a very large articulated lorry which was driven by a extemely competent driver from Lithuania. Getting such a big vehicle up our drive and then turned around to leave was very impressive. We gave the driver a sandwich and a cup of tea as there was delay over the unloading and though his English was not fluent we managed an interesting conversation with him. He had originally been a waiter back home in Lithuania and then a lorry driver but was able to earn four times as much driving lorries from Ireland to Britain than he could in Lithuania. He spends 3 months over here driving and living in the cab of his lorry and then goes home for a month before coming back to UK. If one can earn so much more working for a British haulier than staying at home then it must be worth the discomfort and probable loneliness of the long distance lorry driver and it is it any wonder that so many Europeans come here to work long hours and away from their families when the rewards are so great.

Saturday 8 April 2017

Turn-out of Dairy Cows

One of the most important events in the dairy farming calendar took place today, the spring turn-out of the milking cows onto fresh grass in the sunshine.
After having been kept in their winter quarters since October and feeding on silage the joy of our stately ladies on being let into a field of grass is unbounded. They run and dance for a couple of minutes and settle down to the serious task of eating delicious fresh grass and we will notice a marked increase in milk production almost immediately and also a change in the flavour of the milk, it will become richer and creamier. Spring has sprung!

Another red-letter today was when the Farmer reported seeing the first swallow two days ago. The swallows have arrived early, they do not normally get here until about the 10th of the month and indeed the turn-out of the cows is early too. The season is rushing on and the oak trees are showing signs of coming into leaf well ahead of the ash, so...
'Oak before ash, we're in for splash
Ash before oak we're in for a soak.'
We shall see how accurate the old saying is as the season progresses; is there a dry summer to come? It is interesting to reflect on how many of the these old country sayings may be becoming redundant with climate change having such an effect on the seasonal round. The seasons are certainly not as clear cut as they were and with such mild winters and early springs the natural programming of the the trees and flowers must be affected. While the oak trees are beginning to send out little russet tufts of new leaves which blur their twiggy outlines the ash trees are reaching their tight inky, goth fingered buds up to scratch the skies and magpie nests are clearly visisble in the skeleton branches. Magpie nests are very distinctive being a massive basket of twigs with what looks like a hood or handle over the top. There seem to be great many of them around and we hear the magpie clatter along the hedges and dread that they will soon be feasting on the nestlings of the hedgerow birds while the parent sparrows, robins, tits sound frantic alarms as the pillaging magpies work their murderous ways up and down the hedges.

Lambing has almost come to an end and it is lovely to see the lambs out in the glorious sunshine that we are experiencing at the moment. We have had a very good lambing percentage and very few problems. The ewe that had the ceasarean last week is doing well and had taken to her adopted lamb quite happily.

Saturday 1 April 2017

Daffodils & Lambing...continuing

We are very lucky here that we have such a huge variety of daffodils all around the house, cottage and in the gardens and orchards. Many were planted more than half a century ago and the smaller 'wild' ones, the Tenby daffodils probably well over a 150 years ago when the 'big house' was built. They have naturalised in all sorts of corners and are to my mind much the loveliest of them all. Because of the great variety we have the daffodil season goes on for many weeks with some quite finished by now but others just beginning to open. These ones in the photo were planted about 60 years ago on the bank that my kitchen window looks out onto. When they have finished flowering Farmer says that is when the all important grass starts growing after the winter, a piece of family folklore passed on from his father who planted them.

Lambing continues without any further alarums such as we had a few days ago. The poor ewe is recovering from her caesarean but is taking a bit of persuading when it come to adopting a lamb. She will get there in the end but it does tend to be a bit of a tedious process involving tethering her so that she cannot escape the lamb and it can suckle safely. The rest of the flock is doing well and producing good strong lamb; the lamb in the photos below is only seconds old but was soon up on its feet and with the ewe talking to it in the rumbling mutter that ewes give their lambs after she had licked it clean. The cleaning with a rough tongue is all part of the process of getting it to stand up and then find its way to milk bar. It will soon be dry and soft and dancing around the polytunnel with the others.