Monday 31 December 2018

Family Christmas Away

It is New Year's Eve and having been away for Christmas I must end the the old year with a 'tidying-up' post.
The Farmer & I instead of doing what has become a our usual Christmas escape, a run down to St. David's cathedral for choral matins on Christmas morning, this year went to join all my family in a remote and rambling farmhouse in the sheep-strewn hills of Radnorshire. Our Sons stayed home of course to attend to the cows and had Christmas with small children while the Farmer & I had a splendid time in a party of twelve including all the grown-up nephews & nieces some of whom we had not seen for nearly two years. It was lovely and on Boxing Day more family arrived to make a total of eighteen for the traditional lunch of left-over turkey.
We were staying in a very old farmhouse that suited our needs perfectly and the owners had provided a beautiful Christmas tree for us. We three days of much laughter, too much food and very good company.
On Christmas morning some of us went to the eucharist service in the lovely, small, ancient church of Llandeilo Graban where we sang carols most heartily and listened to a very heart-warming homily from the cheerful and enthusiastic vicar. His message was that even if one is not a church-goer the fact that on the special days days of the year such a Christmas a need is felt to mark the day by going to a place of spirituality is important.
We had reared turkeys again this year and so were able to supply the birds for lunch as well some home-cured hams from the television pigs (see previous posts) while the rest of the family brought Christmas puddings and many other good things. We had excellent coffee as one niece is a barista home briefly from the Antipodes and a variety of cocktails concocted by one of my nephews who has become expert in that field having been working at Hawksmoor in Spitalfields in London.

The weather has been very un-Christmassy, warm and damp with heavy grey skies and mud everywhere. I do hope that we get some good cold weather soon.

On our return after three days away the most important thing that needed to be done was the slaughter of the two pigs that that the Farmer had bought to replace the tv. pigs after they had been been turned into sausages, hams and joints. So this week has seen the cold store in use once more with the carcases hanging before being butchered into the necessary parts. We will take meat to a local butcher to be made into sausages though the Farmer will cure the hams himself. Home-cured ham is delicious, quite different to commercial ham. The last hams made here were cured using dark brown sugar and there was definite treacly hint to the ham which was very good.

Younger Son is hosting a New Year's party this evening to which he has friends coming from all over the place so, no doubt, the farm will be dotted about with hangover victims tomorrow. Unfortunately the barista cousin is on her way back to New Zealand so is not available to make sure of a goodly flow of coffee to clear the heads in the morning.

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda Happy New Year

Saturday 15 December 2018

Storm-tossed Gulls

As I sit here in the farm office I am looking out onto a sky full of gulls, hundreds of them wheeling about against a grey cold sky. They are pure white as they come closer to the house but those that are drifting higher are the colour of shadows as they toss and turn in the blustering winds that are buffeting the house and causing the trees to wave their leafless limbs in supplication against the storm. All night the tempest has roared causing the old house, which must have endured so many such batterings in its 400-plus year history, to shudder and tremble and now in the morning the winds have not abated and windows rattle, even upstairs floors shiver and doors swing as though the shades of past inhabitants are seeking corners to hide.
A chill rain has now started to fall from the darkened skies yet I can still hear the small hedgerow birds chirping to each other as they flutter through the hedges looking for food and shelter, blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows and finches to say nothing of the robins who all frequent the gardens and live in the thick ivy that grow smotheringly up the trees and along walls.

It is a day for the making of a hearty soup for lunch and then the baking of old-fashioned comfort food, scones & chocolate cake to be eaten with a cup of aromatic tea by a log fire. I have just put the marzipan on the Christams cakes and set them aside for a couple of days before dressing them up in their royal icing with the old family decorations.

Thursday 6 December 2018

The Secret Life of Farm Animals on BBC4, Polish family at Penyrallt

Tonight sees the broadcast of the television programme we spent much of the summer working on. The programme is called 'The Secret Life of Farm Animals' and is to be shown on BBC4 at 8.00pm tonight, Thursday 6th December. (I'm sure it will on BBC iPlayer soon after broadcast if you miss it.) It is the first of 3 episodes each an hour long. We have been told that the trailers for it have been lovely but as we don't have television (not for 30 years!)we have not seen them but we shall be going over to one of the Son's houses to watch. It will be very interesting to see how the long hours of filming with sometimes rather unco-operative livestock will have been edited and put together in what I've been promised will be a very beautiful programme. We were not the only farm that used as a location and we are curious to see the other farms featured.

It's been a while since my last post, things have been busy we seem to have been off the farm quite a bit lately. One of the outings was to the Royal Welsh Winter Fair at Builth Wells. It was good day out catching up with old friends and bumping into neighbours whom we rarely see though they may live only a couple of miles away. There was much of interest to see and the Farmer spend much time talking to reps. from a variety of agricultural and technology companies about the merits of alternative technologies, the latest designs in mowing machines or lighting for miklking parlours. I did some Christmas shopping or as the Farmer irritatingly refers to it 'retail therapy'!

The Jack Russell puppies are thriving, now six weeks old and very lively and jolly. We have homes for them both, one is going to live on sheep farm up near Lampeter and the other is going as a family pet down in South Wales. Both little dogs will have very happy homes

Another of our trips out was to meet a friend in the attractive samll town of Llandeilo being a reasonably central point for us all. We meet for a delicious lunch in the Cawdor Hotel and caught up with family news from both sides.
We first met Krystyna some 15 years ago when she called at the farm in search of her history. It turned out that she had been born in our farmhouse, the child of a Polish cavalry officer who with a fellow officer had bought the farm after the end of the Second World War. Her father had been from a very wealthy background in Poland but had lost the family estates due to the takeover of Poland by Germany. Somehow he survived the horrors of Katyn Forest and ended up in Britain and turned to farming to build a new life. What brought him to what, at the time, was a remote corner of west Wales I don't know, unless land was cheap here. However he and his fellow ex-cavalry officer worked Penyrallt for a few years and raised their families before moving on elsewhere. It is an amazing story but not unique as there similar tales of Polish soldiers settling in other parts of Carmarthenshire. Krystyna had traced the address of the farm and came to see us. She was so delighted to see the farm and of course we gave her a warm welcome and showed her round. It turned out that she had photographs of the farm back in the early 1950's but had never been able to work out their location but was now able to match the images with the reality. It had not changed so very much. We have since become friends and she and her Scottish husband and her family have visited us several times and we have been to her home in mid-Wales. She also lives in London and has an apartment in Cracow. Her Polish heritage is hugely important, she receives Polish television & radio in her house and has brought her family up in Polish traditions. She is an artist specialising in religious icons and exhibits in London.She is a delightful addition to our circle of friends though we don't meet up very often and her story is part of the fascinating and rich history of an old farm in west Wales.

Saturday 27 October 2018

Pembrokeshire Holiday, Jack Russell Puppies

Last week the Farmer & I ran away for few days and spent a lovely time down in Pembrokeshire near Abermawr. Although it is not far for us to go it is real break from the farm routine and if need be we can be back very quickly. We had glorious weather and walked sections of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in beautiful sunshine. We saw many seal pups lounging fatly on tiny inaccessible beaches whilst their mums kept a careful eye on them from the water, as well as choughs, kestrels and even a homing pigeon grazing on the edge of a a field of stubble...I hope it was not lost. We went down to St David's and walked around the lovely cathedral once more then visited a very good second-hand bookshop & came away with good haul of vintage reading matter. The cottage we were staying in was opposite an old church and wandering around the churchyard in the gloaming we came across the grave of an unknown man found washed up on Abermawr beach in 1916 who was buried by the local people in the churchyard. It is thought he may have been a mariner from a ship lost to enemy action. An intriguing and sad story of another unknown warrior but given decent burial by compassionate strangers in what may have been a land unknown to the dead man.

The flood waters have receded but we are hearing of many people in the locality who are having to dry out their homes and are in temporary lodging. The Farmer is being kept busy dealing with fallen trees both on our own land & on that of neighbours. A silver lining to the storm is that we will all have plentiful supply of fire-wood for some time to come.

Two days after we came home my Jack Russell terrier produced two dear little puppies, one boy, one girl. They are doing very well and spend their time with Dottie snug in a bed by the Rayburn in the kitchen. They will be allowed to stay indoors until they start to become mobile at which point we shall put them out in a lovely hay-lined nest in one of the buildings where they will be safe and not piddling all over the kitchen floor!

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Storm Callum hits the Teifi Valley

This is the scene near our village over the last weekend when we were battered by Storm Callum. The villages in the Teifi Valley have suffered badly with massive flooding and many houses and businesses have been badly damaged. We here on the farm came of lightly being half way up a hill but we had torrential amounts of water pouring down of the fields and through our yard and several trees came down. Our electricity supply was affected which was frustrating especially at milking times but it was all manageable. The Farmer and I remember the last time this happened 30 years ago. There are strange sights to be seen such as canoes stuck up in trees and silage bales in odd places having been washed down by the torrent. Many of the bridges across the river have been damaged and are closed to traffic which is going to make life difficult for many of us as most of our villages have to be accessed by crossing the river.
The Farmer was hero of the hour going to the aid of some friends of ours who live in an old mill right on the river. When the river water came into their basement the Farmer went down to rescue them and their 5 week old baby before they were completely trapped. As it was he had to piggy-back the new mum down from the first floor of the building as their steps were under water to almost waist height. Mum & baby spent the night with us, the dad having opted to stay put and do what he could to rescue things. Fortunately the water did not quite reach to ceiling of the basement so did not enter their their first floor living area but the resultant mess now that the waters have dropped is pretty awful.
Neighbours have also called upon the Farmer and Sons to go and cut trees that have fallen across their tracks.
The most tragic story from the weekend was of course the death in a landslide of a young man from our small market town. He was known to us slightly and his death has shaken the community far more than the material damage done to bricks and mortar.

Saturday 6 October 2018

Holiday Cottage with Hot Tub

The past couple of weeks have been spent installing a wood-fired hot tub for the use of our guests in the holiday cottage. It is a handsome piece of kit looking like a large barrel. It is made of larch with an internal fire-box and can take 4 adults comfortably. The Farmer has been busy cutting planking for the decking around it and it will eventually have some sort of fencing or trellis around two sides to give it a little more privacy while still having a view across the paddock and pond. My daughters-in-law have said there need to be solar-powered fairy lights and such prettinesses draped around it and no doubt it will be dressed up to look very attractive but we've got to get the basics finished first. It will be available to guests from the first week in November. A deadline is always a good spur to get on with a job!

Autumn is certainly upon us now with the days drawing in & leaves falling & colours changing across the landscape.Tthe hedgerows are full of berries and as I sit here now I can see blue tits and great tits foraging in the cotoneaster which is laden with rich fruit with blackbirds and sparrows trawling the field hedges for late blackberries and rose-hips. The hawthorns & rowans have been heavy with berries and the sloes are ripening which as soon as there is a frost we must gather for making sloe gin. Walking around the farm there are fungi everywhere of all kinds especially on fallen timber which is gently decaying into the woodland floor.

We have managed to get a third cut of silage in the recent good weather and the supply of winter fodder is looking plentiful, always a good thing.

Sunday 23 September 2018

Wildlife Conservation & Farming

Today is the Autumn equinox and very blowy and blustery it is too, just lovely. Blue skies with fluffy picture-book clouds scudding across in the face of a cheerful wind making the treetops dance and sending a sea-sound of sighs through the branches, a glorious afternoon for being blown with the dogs across the fields.
There has been much pontificating in social media & elsewhere lately about how the countryside is bereft of wildlife and how the wicked farming food-producers are to blame. Admittedly there are areas where intensive farming has reduced the amount of wildlife by farming practice which cannot be above critiscism but I am sad to think that the vocal conservation lobbyists are tarring all farmers and land-owners with the same brush. We here at Penyrallt have prided ourselves for many years on the huge diversity of species that can be found on our land. I made a rough list of what I have observed here over the years and it comes to well over a hundred different species of trees, wildflowers, butterflies, moths, hedgerow-plants, insects, mammals, birds, fungi etc. and those are only what I have actually seen for myself. There will be many more that live their lives unseen and unobserved. A single oak tree provides habitat for over 500 different species and we have many oak trees around the farm. There are corners of the farm that are left uncultivated & rarely visited, we have vigorous nettle patches and wild corners with bramble thickets, four ponds & squelchy patches of boggy land that are left for the insects, small mammals, grass-snakes & buterflies amongst others. We have owls and bats resident in our house and in the farm buildings, swallows and martins return each year to their ancestral breeding posts in the eaves of the house and barns. We are surrounded by multitudinous wildlife which live alongside the very animals that are kept to produce food for the nation and it is sad that we and so many other farmers who live similarly are verbally attacked by media personalities and their followers.
We are an 'open farm' and welcome anyone who wishes to come and see for themselves how a hard-working dairy farm is run and to learn that wildlife and modern farming practice can exist in conjunction and harmony.

Tuesday 4 September 2018

September. Local Agricultural Show

September has arrived bringing with it some glorious weather, this photo is of the mist rising off one of our recently ploughed fields this morning with the promise of a beautiful day of clear blue skies and sunshine. A neighbour arrived shortly after this picture wa taken to start power-harrowing the field in preparation for the new grass seed going in later today.

The past weekend was busy with us attending the local agricultural show. The Farmer is on the committeea and so was bsuy a couple of days beforehand helping organise the setting-up & on the day itself he was stewarding for the beef cattle judge which means he was in charge of the rosettes and in making sure all the entrants were in the right place at the right. With several classes to oversee it was a long day. We as a family did our usual thing of entering the baking and craft sections. The grandchildren entered various classes involving decorating weetabix (I kid you not!)and faces made of sweeties on a paper plate. My entries were a lttle more mature and conventional and I was very pleased though somewhat surprised to receive a first prize for my 'Colour Photograph suitable for a Birthday card'(see the photo below) with some very stiff competition and a third for my 'Floral Arrangement in a Cup & Saucer' (flower arranging is not really one of my primary skills!)along with a handful of placings for various bits of baking. So,an enjoyable if tiring day as we spend the whole day up on the show field which is great opportunity for meeting up friends and neighbours whom we don't see very often.

As well as cattle and sheep being shown, and a dog show and the Domestic and Handicraft, Floral and Horticultural competitions there are displays of vintage tractors and the local hunt, The Vale of Clettwr, come into the ring with the hounds which run in their usual joyous rabble and all the children are invited to come into the ring to meet the hounds face-to-face which is always hugely popular.

Monday 27 August 2018

A Change in the Weather, Home-grown & Foraged Food

The lazy hazy days of summer seemed to have gone and in their wake we have had a lot of rain and gusty winds. We are not complaining though...the rain has transformed the countryside back to its more normal green lushness after the weeks of a dry parched landscape. It is lovely to see the rapid grass growth and the cows are very happy though we, and they, know that the new growth does not have the high sugar content of the spring growth and is not as palatable but it's better they have that that making further inroads into the silage which is needed for the winter.

While as farmers we rejoice in the change of weather it is not so great for our holiday-makers who had hoped for long days on sunny beaches but nonetheless there are many wonderful places to visit instead and a beach on blowy day can be exhilarating and joyous.

The pigs have been slaughtered and we do quite miss them, in fact the Farmer has ordered another two weaners which will arrive in a couple of weeks time. We have a neighbour who makes bacon and ham and so some parts of the pigs have been taken to her and we will collect some delicious home-made hams and packets of bacon from her in the next few days. Meanwhile we are enjoying roast pork with crackling served with our own new potatoes & carrots freshly dug from the garden followed by blackberry and apple crumble, made with blackberries from our hedgerows, apples from the orchard & custard made using our own milk...the perfect meal and all home-grown!
It has also been a very good season for field mushrooms and fried up with bacon and eggs(from our hens!)make a perfect start to the day.

The Farmer has been busy taking off the honey crop and thank goodness he did it before the weather got cooler and damp. It has been a perfect year for the bees with all that sunshine & we have a very good honey harvest. When the weather improves there should be more again.

Friday 3 August 2018

Early Blackberries, Drought-Affected Farming

One of the surprising results of the hot weather of recent weeks has been the very early ripening of blackberries. I have never before picked them in July as I did last week and now at the very beginning of August I have been out again with my basket along the hedgerows and have had a goodly quantity. I think it is going to be very good season for the blackberries as there are trusses hanging heavy just waiting for the sunshine to return after these few days of overcast skies and intermittent rainfall.
We have certainly been grateful for the rain and the fields are begiinig to recover their green hues though with more hot weather forecast they may well go back to the scorched look of recnt weeks. The hot weather has had a real impact on farming and we've had to start feeding some of our winter store of silage to the cows, as have many other farmers across the country. What the long term effects will be are giving cause for concern with feed being in short supply and costs rising once winter comes. As always in farming we have to take the long view but at present the main worries are of supply and demand both for feeding livestock and the food supply chain to the shops. We, with a very heavy heart, along with many other livestock farmers, have had to sell some cattle in order to reduce the mouths to be fed as the shortage of grass becomes more of a problem. Many sheep farmers are selling lambs early and of lighter weight than they would like for the same reason. The relatively small amount of rain we have had will not, I fear make a great deal of difference though if we can get a third cut of silage in few weeks time we will be very happy but with a further heatwave predicted who knows what will happen. We have been fortunate that our water supply is holding out...our supply comes from springs and a bore hole, we have no mains water and so far both sources are continuing to run.

With the change in the weather we also had strong winds which unfortunately caused a lot of apples to be blown of the trees in the orchard, however they will not be wasted as the Farmer gathered them all up and gave to the pigs who just loved them.

Saturday 21 July 2018

A Brief Change in the Weather, Filming with BBC

We have had rain! Not much admittedly, but enough to damp the dust. It was only fine drizzle really and of short duration and certainly will not make any real difference to our parched fields. We are now under grey skies with an oppressive humid atmosphere which is certainly a change from the clear blue skies and bright sunshine of the past weeksbut not so pleasant.
I saw this gorgeous Magpie butterfly while walking the dogs in the dampness. It was struggling through the wet grass so I carefully picked it up and placed back in the blackthorn hedge which is its proper habitat.

This past week saw another visit from the BBC film crew continuing their work on the project that has kept them & us busy since since March. The filming is now drawing to close and once the editing has been done, the voice-over and music recorded and everything finished to the BBC's satisfaction the programme should be due to be broadcast later in the year. I have seen some of the rough-cut footage and it is lovely, we were told it would be a very beautiful film and so it will be. The title is till being kept under wraps.
The ducks and pigs that we had to bring in have all grown well. Indeed the pigs are now ready for slaughter but until we have permission from the film company we have to keep them on, getting fatter whcih is not so good as they will getting past being porkers and turning into big sows. The ducks which arrived here as cute fluffy ducklings are now handsome full grown ducks and lead a happy life going to the pond each morning and then bringing themselves back to their pen in the late afternoon.

Saturday 14 July 2018

Summer Fruits, German Guests, Music for Penyrallt, Slow Holiday Season.

It is the season for soft fruit and the Farmer has brought in blackcurrants which I shall make into jam later. Despite the lack of rain over the past weeks the blackcurrants have done well though our raspberry crop is almost non existent, sadly, as they are quite my favourite of the summer fruits.

We have had a lovely German family from Frankurt staying in the holiday cottage for the past two weeks. It turns out that Herr M. is a very talented musician and specialises in rennaissance music but is skilled in other musical disciplines as well, so much so that after hearing the Farmer playing some traditional Welsh dance tunes he set to and has composed a piece of music for us, entitled Penyrallt Rondo, which is quite lovely. It is based around typical Welsh tunes but with an interesting variation. A really lovely gift for us and one by which we will certainly remember these guests.

Our German guests leave today and disappointingly we have no more holiday-makers arriving for the next two weeks. It is proving to be a very difficult year for the holiday accommodation business here. Not just us but all our friends and acquaintances who run holiday cottages, glamping sites and B&B's are saying the same thing. I certainly have never had empty weeks in July & August before and one just hopes that last minute bookings will come in. No-one can come up with a good reason why bookings are down this year. (It can't be the Trump effect!) Admittedly there is an over-supply of holiday accommodation but even so one would hope that the glorious weather might encourage more 'staycationers' to come and discover lovely west Wales.
(For all availability in Penyrallt Fach Cottage please go to

Tuesday 10 July 2018

Drought-hit Farmers & a Parched Countryside

The heatwave continues and the view across the valley is no longer one of lush green fields with plenty of grass but on of dry brown, parched land broken up the the hedges whuch are managing to remain green and clumps of woodland. The fields are almost crisp as one walks across them and we all dread a carelessly thrown cigarette butt or piece of glass or even a shiny can refecting the light into a tinder-dry patch of grass. While we have been fortunate in this area not to have wildfires breaking out on our moorlands it could so easily happen with everywhere so dessicated.
The fields are not able to provide the cows with all their food at present and many farmers, including ourselves are having to feed silage that was intended for the winter. What the knock-on effect of this will have on milk production and fodder supplies when winter does come is anyone's guess.
We are fortunate that our water supply is holding out. We do not have mains water anywhere on the farm and are reliant on springs and a bore hole. Some thirty-odd years ago when we had a couple of very hot dry summers our water supply was low and all water had to be given to the cows as a priority (they need at least 10 gallons each a day)and we gave them free access to the little river at the bottom of the farm. I had to take the Sons, who were very little at the time, down to kind neighbours in the village for baths and do my laundry (I didn't fancy taking it down to the river and banging it on rocks!). We are not in that situation this year and our water supply has been added to by a recently drilled bore hole but I do keep waiting for a hint that we need to go steady on water consumption in the house.

Despite the lack of rain the roses this year have been superb. Apparently they liked the hard frosts of the winter. Looking out from the office window there is wonderful tumbling froth of Kiftsgate which even now after a couple of weeks of flowwering is till looking good. The other, mostly anonymous, roses in the gardens are doing well and give a splash of colour where most other plants are really struggling with the hot weather but not so much in that they are thirsty as in the sun shrivelling up their buds before they have chance to open as has happened on a large hypericum which should be covered in gleaming yellow flowers and instead has dried up tight little brown buds.
Below are Kiftsgate, Cuisses des Nymphes & Willy Lobb.

Sunday 1 July 2018

House-Guests & Beach Picnic, Hot Weather, Wild Swimming

Another very busy week having had some friends from London staying for a long weekend. We took them over over to the coast one evening with the canoes, a primus and a frying pan and cooked supper on the beach as the sun went down, an idyllic end to a very pleaant visit.
The film crew from the BBC then arrived for two more days of intense busy-ness. Most of their time was spent with the Farmer filming the chickens and thier behaviour in certain situations such as how they react when a kite that looks like a bird of prey is flown over their run. Apparently some very good footage was taken with the poor hens geting rather panicky. When the poultry session was ended it was the turn of the cows again and they were walked into the yard and then back out to their field and again some good shots were obtained. The project has been going on since March (see previous posts) with the film crew arriving here every few weeks to film farm animal behaviour and should end up with an interesting programme. I will keep you posted on its title, as yet a closely guarded secret that I'm not allowed to reveal, and its broadcast date which should be sometime in the winter.

The very hot weather continues and whilst is glorious and wonderful to have a proper summer such as one remembers from childhood it does make doing anything rather trying. The Farmer comes in dripping with perspiration and needing to change his shirt after being out fencing or moving the sheep. I often make lemonade in hot weather and yesterday afternoon the Farmer came in, with a neighbour in tow, asking for some but of course I hadn't made any in readiness so he decided to do it himself...with the result being that having failed to secure the lid on the liquidiser jug properly it spun off and we had lemonade and all the bits of chewed up lemons all over the kitchen wall running down to the floor, dripping into drawers and generally making a real mess that was very tedious to clear up and a waste of good lemons! The Farmer's comment was thank goodness our neighbour was there to witness the disaster as it reduced the level of wrath unleashed upon him by the Farmer's Wife! The neighbour, needless to say,thought it all hilarious!

With the intense heat of the days by late afternoon the Farmer has been doing a bit of wild-swimming (swimming with dragon-flies rather then dolphins!) in one of our ponds and encouraging the dogs to join him as their are finding the heat very difficult, especially the black labs, but even Molly our old lady sheepdog will go in with persuasion and clearly feels better for it afterwards.

Sunday 24 June 2018

Summertime, House-Martins Return

Summertime and the livin' is very easy for the cows out grazing in the sunshine while the farmers are so very busy gathering in the grass for the silage to feed the cows over winter. As always we are thinking ahead despite the temptation to sit and enjoy the glorious weather and planning the work schedule for the tractors and drivers for the next few days hoping the weather will hold so they can get all the contracting work done. We got our own silage clamp finished yesterday and all sheeted up as the next cut will be baled.

The Farmer & I were very thrilled this afternoon to realise that we have a colony of house-martins busily building their their neat little mud-nests under the eaves of the farmhouse along side the nests of the swallows. I have not known martins to be here in the thirty-odd years I've lived here though the Farmer says he remembers them in great numbers in his childhood. They can have arrived only in the past day or so as their nests are still very little more than a wodge (technical term!) of mud stuck to the wall in the shadow to the eaves. Why they should returned now is a great mystery, but wonderful. We shall be watching their progress with a fascinated eye and hope they will raise successful broods. We now have colonies of swifts shrieking and diving along with the madcap aerobatics of the swallows with their cheerful chatter and the pairs of martins busily chittering away to each other as they bring their beakfuls of mud to the wall, all living in and around the house and farm buildings and sharing the air space with the numbers of sparrows that are permanent residents.

Whilst walking along the drive the other day I was able to photograph this Speckled Wood butterfly as it rested briefly on a beech leaf. So beautiful.

Wednesday 6 June 2018

U3A Visit, Silage & Shearing

Earlier this week we hosted a lovely group from Brecon for a farm walk. They were members of the wonderful U3A organisation (the University of the Third Age, ) which is for people over 50 who wish to continue learning. There are no exams or tests just opportuniites to attend talks & lectures on every subject under the sun as well as having trips to interesting places. There are branches of U3A all over the country and each branch will have it's own specialist interest groups. The party that came to us from Brecon was the Wildlife Group.
About twenty-five people came, all of advanced years, the oldest being 94, and they all walked the farm with The Farmer and me and were the most attentive and enthusiastic group. They were shown the milking parlour, the cows, given a history of the farm over the past 200 years, and walked the fields to see our magnificent laburnum hedges in full flower and to exclaim over our beautiful views. After the walk we all came back to the yard to sit in the sunshine enjoying tea and cake. As well us telling them about the farm & food production, they asked very intelligent questions and this resulted in interesting discussions on politics, Brexit and the future of farming. It was a very pleasant and stimulating day for all concerned.

With the glorious weather over the past week the Farmer & the Sons have been very busy on silage. We did a second cut for ourselves and then they've been out doing cuts for neighbours. In addition to driving a tractor al day the Farmmer has found time to make a start on the shearing. Although we have only 50 ewes the Farmer has found that if he shears them in small batches over two or three days he finds it less exhausting (is this age beginning to catch up? he used to think nothing of doing the whole lot even when we had a greater number number of sheep, in one day!) The Sons will have nothing to do with the sheep! Amongst the seheep there is one lamb who was bottle-fed and it escaped from the yard and appeared in the house to my dismay. A large lamb bleating for company in one's kitchen is not really desirable.

Sunday 27 May 2018

Jam & Chutney

A couple of days ago we obtained a quantity of apricots so today I am busy making jam and chutney and what fruit is not used up in those recipes is bottled. The kitchen is alive with the bubbling of fruit and sugar and the spices and vinegar used in the chutney are scenting the air with rich aromas. Apricots make the best jam I think and bottled apricots are infinitely useful in the winter months to make puddings and pies. The Farmer adores chutneys of all kind and today's recipe is for a rich chutney using a fiery combination of spices as follows;

Spiced Apricot Chutney

12oz apricots (stoned and halved)
11/4 cups sugar
1 tspn. coriander
1/2 tspn. crushed fennel seeds
1/2 tspn.allspice
1/2 tspn. ground cloves
1/4 tspn. cayenne
3/4 cup vinegar
1 chopped onion
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tspns. ginger
1/2 tsn. salt
3/4 cup water.
Mix all together in a heavy based pan, bring to the boil and boil until the desired consistency is obtained.

This is the most wonderful time of year for the wild flowers and the hedgerows lining the drive to the farm are tapestried over with the froth of Queen Anne's Lace dotted with the shocking pink of red campion flowers and the madonna blue of the last of the bluebells. The lovely vivid yellow of Welsh poppies gleams at intervals. The hawthorn trees are in full flower and the honeyed scent of the blossom particularly after a small shower of rain is heady and intoxicating.

Friday 18 May 2018

Ducks on TV

We've had another couple of busy days with the television crew from BBC Wales filming on the farm for a programme about farm animals which will go out later in the year (title to be revealed in due course). This session of filming was centred around ducks. At a poultry sale at the weekend, we purchased four fluffy yellow ducklings and two older 'teenage' ducks. A makeshift pond was built using a children's paddling pool and disguised with reeds and foliage in order for the action of the duckling's feet under water to be filmed using a very clever little camera in a waterproof housing that is connected by WiFi to the cameraman's smart phone...amazing technology! Some great shots of little yellow feet paddling away like mad were obtained and even one of a duckling diving under water.The 'pond' is still on the yard and the ducks are very happy & decorative and much safer than they would be out on the real pond. The last ducks we had were taken, we think, by an otter which had been seen roaming around on several evenings by Younger Son. It is very frustrating for my terrier Dottie though, as she has to be kept tied up as being a true terrier she just cannot help herself needing to catch the ducks. The sheepdogs are no problem, they just watch the ducks through the netting surrounding the pond trying to herd them I think, and the labradors are just not interested.