Friday, 13 May 2022

Country Cats, Wild ducks, Silage

This is Rosie, one of our unofficial 'farm cats'. She is very beautiful, aloof and has good line in feline-glare, but is a useful mouser and patrols her territory seeing off intruders as we hear at night when the cat-erwauling (sorry, couldn't resist) echoes around the yards as she repels the invaders. We do have another cat on the farm, a very handsome ginger tom called Llew, (Welsh for lion) and he is my grand-daughter's familiar & is a much more people-orientated cat than Rosie. There are of course, feral cats in the valley though they are rarely seen, but they will take their chances where they can to hunt or scavenge. The hours of darkness are quite noisy at this time of year what with the owls who live close by the buildings and float out to hunt once night falls, the foxes barking in the woods and fighting, or maybe courting, cats. Occasionally this cacophony disturbs the farm dogs, though they have learned not to take too much notice. When light begins to glimmer we hear the Canada geese flying down the valley to the river and the mallard ducks start quacking down on the pond. As soon as there is clear light the little birds begin the dawn chorus with the thrushes, blackbirds and robins being most vocal followed by the soft tones of the wood-pigeons and so the outside sound-track to the day is set...with Radio 3 indoors, they do complement each other quite well. Our 'pet' mallards are doing well with Mother Duck bringing them up the house each day where they run about like little clockwork balls of fluff. Our kitchen door is stable style with the top half open in fine weather and I have to make sure the lower half of the door is firmly shut otherwise I will find the ducklings milling about my feet. They have no fear of us which is fine while they are so tiny but once they become fuly grown it can be bit of a problem as they will sit outside the door in a flock of about 12 birds and as soon as I set foot outside follow me around in a slightly menacing manner, also they do make a mess with their somewhat uncontrolled toilet habits. All that said as The Farmer says, it is quite a privilege to have what are in truth, wild birds, so relaxed with us.
On the farm all is busy preparing for first cut silage. A new silage pit is almost completed and will be ready for the first trailer loads of grass to be tipped in the next week or so. The weather is being kind to us at present with warm damp days and sunshine, with the occasional shower of rain which is very welcome after the very dry April we experienced. We all enjoy the start of the silage season, there is something very exciting about the seeing the huge tractors and their equally large attached kit setting off for the first circuit of a field of thick grass and knowing that we have embarked on the all important gathering of winter fodder.

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Spring Ducklings, Farming Worries

To our great delight one of our female mallards arrived outside the house with her new brood of 12 ducklings. They had been spotted out on the pond the night before and we were anxious about their survival 'in the wild' but with mama duck being proud to show them off (sorry to be so anthropomorphic!) and clearly remembering from the past two years that a safe haven is to be found with people, she brought them up to our front yard and we were able to escort them all into a large pen on lovely lush grass in the orchard near the house. They are so pretty and a joy to watch as they grow over the next few weeks. Once they are big enough to fend for themselves we will put them back out on the pond,meanwhile they are safe in their netted enclosure from marauding corvids and any passing fox seeing a chance for a quick snack.
The orchards on the farm are starting their glorious display of blossom with the cherries out first closely followed by the apple treescoming in stages. Tt is a wonderful sight and uplifts everyone's spirits especially combined with the cacophany of birdsong that surrounds us at this time of year.The birds are very busy building nests in corners and crevices and calling each other from the tree tops or having squabbles over territory, the robins are particularly prone to that, while the collared doves coo seductively from the ash trees that are outside my kitchen. Many of the trees that surround the house are thick with ivy which is providing cover for the nests of finches, tree-creepers, blue-tits and thrushes.
On the farm we are coming to the end of lambing and most of the cattle are now out, yesterday having been spent loading trailers with young stock to take to the land we have across valley where they will graze for the summer on lovely fresh new grass. The dairy cows have been out for a number weeks by now and are doing well. However the milk industry is facing huge pressures at the moment and there is real risk of UK milk production dropping in the 2022/23 season due to input costs and farmers having to make major decisions on the purchasing of fertiliser and feed (although we are now coming to the time of year when cows are out grazing). Fertiliser is now £1,000 a tonne having gone up 2,000% in a year. This is due to global factors, not least the war in Ukraine. It is worrying as a number of dairy farmers are seriously considering giving up. The price paid to the farmer needs to be increased and the cost of a litre of milk in the shops will have to go up. We are living in a time of agricultural revolution and many people are talking of reducing their stock numbers and certainly cutting back on inessential expenditures. However there is much positive thinking going on and a feeling that there are going to be many opportunities for farmers to become even more innovative and adaptable than ever. After a superb display of daffodils this year they have now finished and I am enjoying my pots of tulips, not in the profusion that we had of narcissi but very pleasing nonetheless.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Springtime, Farming, Dogs

This year spring is struggling to get going somewhat in terms of the weather. We are getting a mixture of chilly days with frosts overnight and then a spell of warmer grey days with a hint of damp in the air and overcast skies but hrough it all the flowers are in their annual loop and we are enjoying the cowslips which I am endeavouring to establish in my new garden and along the hedgebanks violets are turning their faces to the sky along with the tiny wild strawberry flowers. The blackthorn is beginning to drape its veils of lacy white blossom over the hedges and we are seeing hints of green coming with the hawthorn. The birds are singing madly and loudly and seem undettered by the vagaries of the weather, the mating season is on and nothing stands in its way. We are still lambing though the end is in sight and the ewes and lambs out in the fields add their calls to the general spring cacophony. Field work is being done with a large field having been ploughed and harrowed last week and then spread with lime and sown with peas and oats for silage later in the year. As the Farmer pointed out recently, farmers have been tilling the land for millenia and he feels it is privilege to be part of that continuum no matter how difficult it is at times. The survival of the traditional family farm is the backbone of British agriculture and we will carry on despite the politicians, foody-extremists with their somewhat wacky and unrealistic agendas. For too long now politicians have taken the view that food security is not important and now with the war in Ukraine and the rising prices of fuel we cannot rely on importing the bulk of our food supplies. The consumer may have to change their eating and shopping habits and as I have said before 'Eat local, eat British' will have to become the norm rather than just a promotional slogan.
My little Jack Russell terrier, Dottie is feeling very sorry for herself after having a contretemps with our sheepdog, Judy yesterday. She is suffering for a few gashes and bruises after a squabble over a scrap of food. An unpleasant but minor incident resulting in a nasty wound that the Farmer stitched up very neatly and without Dottie making too much complaint. It is amazing how our dogs have such absolute trust in the Farmer who very calmly carefully tends to them that they will tolerate being stitched up. Dottie is ten years old and this fight has left her rather subdued but being a feisty character she will bounce back in a day or so, meanwhile she is curled up in her bed here in the kitchen

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Joyful Spring, Food shortages and the need for farmers, 'Greenwashing'

A glorious day of sunshine, blue skies, birds singing and daffodils in golden hosts all around the house and farm gardens and standing in a guard of honour all the way up our drive. A sure way to cheer everyone up despite the horrors being perpetrated in Ukraine about which one feels so helpless. However, it is no use us sitting around being deeply sad and angry, that helps no-one. The best thing we can do is get on with our lives and contribute in what ever small way to improving the world. If that means planting flowers to make people happy then so be it. I think with the threatened food shortages that may well be coming in the next year or so then many more people will be starting to grow their own fruit and vegetables which can only be a good thing. The Farmer has said he will be doubling the amount of potatoes he usually grows and I fully expect him to be growing more than usual of almost everything else.
With the sanctions on Russia and the difficulties over fuel supplies everthing has gone up in price and farms are struggling with a 200% hike in the price of fertilisers (although as organic farmers we do not use chemical fertilisers) which is going to cause real problems for many farmers. Whether this will be a good thing for organic farming is hard to say. I suspect that all farming methods will be utilised to their full extent as the farmers of Britain rise to the challenge of producing food for the nation whether the government sees the need or not. With the Irish government urging its farmers to increase production by 30% surely our government must see that it needs to address the issue sooner rather than later. Britain's farmers are ready to do whatever is needed and it will be interesting to see that suddenly we become an important part of the nation once again having spent so many years being regarded as unnecessary park-keepers when it was thought that we could import everything incredibly short-sighted and stupid were those politicians who believed that! The mantra has now become 'buy local, buy British'. There is growing debate over the question of environmental recovery projects and the need to grow food. This is highlighted by the current trend for good agricultural land being planted up with trees which is now being looked at with sceptism by non-farming people (farmers have always questioned the practice). While there is a need for tree-planting the need to be able to grow food is greater...the two aims can run concurrently but there has to be common sense. Plant the areas that cannot grow crops or grass for livestock, not fine flat fields with good soil. Much of the problem has come about by the carbon-off-setting companies buying tracts of land, particularly here in Wales. Family farms are bought by London-based companies at prices that make the farms unaffordable by local people, with a view to taking to planting trees (often unsuitable non-native species)to sequester carbon and then selling off carbon credits to their shareholders for profit. This is a very lucrative business and is used to 'greenwash' their unsustainable activities. Meanwhile local farming families cannot buy land and buildings in which to live and raise their families and GROW FOOD.

Friday, 11 March 2022

First Lambs, Dog Memorial

Well, on a blustery, wet morning we have had our first lambs born, a fine set of strong twins. It's always a good feeling when the first lambs are healthy and 'good doers'. The ewe is contented and has taken to the lambs without any trouble, so a good start.
On my way up to the lambing shed I pass what is known to us as the 'Dog Stone'. This is a large cut pillar of sandstone that we erected many years ago to commemorate our dogs after the death of one called Ted who died following an accident. We realised at the time that we had had many dogs over the years, (most of whom died of natural causes, mainly old age though life as a farm dog does carry certain risks) and felt they deserved a memorial. They give us such devoted service and work hard for ten or more years, so the Dog Stone was placed where we walk past it all the time and near where several of the dear dogs are buried. Each year the narcissi that I planted at its foot come up in a glorious display which on grey days like today are so cheerful and along with the lambs, are a sure sign that spring is in full swing. While our lives here on the farm carry on with the seasonal round keeping us busy we cannot ignore what is going on in the rest of the world, especially in regards to Ukraine. The horrors being launched upon the innocent civilians of that country are unspeakable and while we can donate to the Red Cross and other aid agencies and charities it seems very inadequate but one can only hope that the politicians can bring about an end to the crisis before too long. The bravery and courage of the Ukrainian people has been extraordinary.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Getting ready for lambing, Food Security, Old Ecclesiastical Buildings

The ewes have been brought into the large polytunnel prior to the start of lambing which is any time in the next few days. The polytunnel is an ideal lambing shed, light and airy and big enough to have pens erected in one half leaving the rest of the tunnel for the sheep to roam loose. It also opens at one end out into the orchard so once the lambs are big enough they and their mothers can go out onto fresh grass. This is such good time of the year with the arrival of lambs and we are only lambing about 50 yewes nowaday so it is not to onerous though there will no doubt be the usual struggles to keep lambs alive whose mothers reject them or don't have any milk and will have to be bottle fed but hopefully they will be the exception. March is proving to be an interesting month, we have had torrential rain storms and yet the last three or four days have bright, dry, very cold and beautiful though I think more rain is on its way. Still, what is bit of rain and mud compared with what is going on in the outside world! The ongoing tragedy of Ukraine is constantly in our thoughts and that situation, though so far away in terms of miles is affecting us here on the farm as the price of diesel and oil shoots up. Feedstuffs are becoming more expensive almost daily and there is no guarantee of a continued supply. The Ukrainian farmers are unable to get seed to sow for the harvest in what is the breadbasket of Europe, even if they can get to their fields safely. There will almost certainly be shortages of wheat, sunflower seeds and other crops that are needed to feed both people and livestock. It is interesting that the Irish government already is urging its farmers to increase production while the UK government is saying very little, if anything about food security and the need to start growing more. As farmers we will all step up to the mark when required, we just need the word. The cost of farm diesel to run the tractors is going up and domestically I think we are all going to have to turn our heating down a couple of degrees to conserve oil and justify the use of the car as the price at the garage pumps increases. This is all rather a severe approach to the problem at present but needs to be considered. On a more cheerful note the Farmer and I had to journey to Brecon at the weekend, about 60 miles from here for a family celebration and our route took us over the mountains of southern mid-Wales, The day was clear and bright and the scenery in that part of the country is spectcular with vast views across a huge reservoir and empty landscapes with very little habitation until one drops down into the more fertile areas where there are old farms tucked into hillsides sheltering from the elements as they have done for centuries. As well as old farmsteads occasionally one comes across remote chapels built in the 18th century by non-conformist groups who needed places of worship. One of these is a place called Soar-y-Mynydd which is a beautiful, plain whitewashed building set about with beech trees in the middle of nowhere. There are no houses nearby or even many farms though there are signs of old abandoned steadings from long ago. But even so, when it was built ther local population could not have numbered many. Remarkably, services are still held there from time to time. Many of the old chapels in Wales are no longer in use and those that are have dwindling congregations as do many of the churches. Sometimes these old building are sold off and converted into remarkable and quirky homes which seems to me to be a good use for these redundant buildings.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

Lovely Weather for Ducks

Once again we are having lovely weather for ducks! I seem to spend a lot of time describing the weather but that is because our weather here is so changeable... we have weather rather than climate! On Monday it was glorious sunshine with a brisk wind and a decided chill in the air but since then it has been warm and very wet, endless rain causing so much of the farm to be muddy and unpleasant underfoot. Even the dogs tend to tiptoe around and skirt the puddles. Judy the sheepdog with her long coat & feathery tail is caked in mud. Despite the rain the birds are singing gaily and seem to be unpeturbed by the constant downpours, we see them carrying nesting materials and I have just seen a jackdaw checking out the old nesting holes in the ancient gardener's shed across the yard from my kitchen window. While life here is going along its usual seasonal path we are not unaware of the horrors being endured by the people of Ukraine. In spite of the grimness of the news reports there are are moments of cheer such the footage of farmers towing away Russian military hardware behind their tractors, 'liberating' them presumably for use by Ukrainian forces. One of the major problems faced by us all if the conflict continues further into the spring, is that Ukranian farmers will not be able to get their seeds sown for the vast wheat harvest that we are hugely dependent on for flour and sunflower seeds/oil etc. For us living in west Wales, on the very edge of the western world, Ukraine seems a very long way off but the impact of this war will be felt by all of us. Already we are having price increases in the fuel which is so essential to us for running tractors and machinery involved in food production. Food prices will increase but now is surely the right time for our government to take a serious look at increasing food production in Britain so that we are more able to feed ourselves without being dependent on imported foodstuff. Vegetables and meat we can produce at home so easily and rather then exporting lamb and then importing similar quantities. Why can't we supply the British market with home-grown meat? The fashionable thinking at present is to give massive funding to 're-wilding ' projects i.e. taking land out of food production and 'returning it to nature'. What seems to be forgotten is that people need to be fed. In recent reports and studies to introduce new farming subsidies it seems that food is not considered a 'public good' which most farmers find an very difficult concept to accept. Surely food production is more important than giving greater access to land for people walking their dogs!

Friday, 25 February 2022

Spring is making her presence known with the rapidly emerging snowdrops and daffodils appearing in great numbers all around the farm and gardens. We have sunshine and blue sky to day and I've been able to hang out the laundry for the first time this year, always a heartening thing. The Farmer & I have been away for couple of days with the Grandchildren. We took them to stay in a cottage in a tiny village on the coast of Pembrokeshire. The property was only 100 yards from the beach and so despite the strong winds we spent a lot of time walking along the blustery sands and along the spectacular coast path. Windy walks are a very good way of wearing out energetic children we find! And they are very happy to be blown about and watching the sea in its tumult as it crashes onto the rocks and cliffs. The cottage had no tv., dvd player or radio so evenings were spent playing games and reading and it cannot be but good for children to have time away from media entertainment. They didn't complain at all about it which is encouraging, it means they are capable of being entertained in the old-fashioned ways, games , books and conversation.
After the tremendous storms that battered the British Isles last weekend we are finding just how many trees came down around the farm and the Farmer is having to plan how to clear them up and get them to his sawmill to be planked. As well as cutting them up for timber there will be a vast amount of firewood, which will have to be processed, but we can never have too much firewood with six wood-burning stoves between the three households on the farm.

Friday, 18 February 2022

British Dairy Farming, Red Tractor Scheme

British dairy farmers are reeling from the negative impact of a television programme put out by the BBC earlier this week. It showed the appalling mal-treatment of dairy cows on a large farm just a few miles from us, in fact. The cows were being subjected to a level of abusive handling that left us all horrified. The farm employed a number of workers who clearly had no compassion for the animals in their 'care'. It has shocked the whole industry and we are all trying hard to show that the huge majority of dairy farm would never treat their cows in such a way. Instances of such cruelty are very few and far between, thank goodness. We as dairy farmers spend our lives ensuring that our cows are in the best of health, well-nourished, clean and comfortable. They are our livelihood and deserve the best of care and yes, we do love them. The farm concerned is under close scrutiny now and has lost its milk contract but the damage has been done. We as dairy farmers now have an uphill task to counteract the mis-information put out by the programme which played into the hands of the animal rights and vegan lobby. Please do not believe everything you see on television or read in social media...the majority of farmers care passionately about their animals and look after them to very highest standards with regular inspections, in fact British animal welfare standards are among the highest in the world. We have the Red Tractor assurance scheme ( covers 11,000 dairy farms producing 95% of all the milk in the UK. The Red Tractor logo ensures that whatever produce you are buying whether it be millk, meat or vegetables, has been produced to the very best standards of welfare and quality. We are an organic farm and so we have the double assurance that our milk is produced to both Red Tractor and Soil Association standards (
Today we are in the grip of Storm Eunice (I don't when they started naming storms or why!) with a rare Red Warning out for our area. We are certainly enduring incredibly strong winds and heavy rain. The advice is not to travel and to be aware of the risk of falling trees and flying debris. The ferries that leave from Welsh ports for Ireland are all cancelled and the bridges crossing the river Severn from England into Wales are closed as are a number of number of roads over high ground. How long the strom will last I don't know but hopefully it will blow itself out over the next twenty-four hours. The Farmer has just this minute called me out to see a poplar tree that he saw fall in Younger Son's garden and he has just be cutting up an elder tree that had fallen across the driveway, so we are not escaping unscathed from Eunice. A comical side the stormy weather is the sight of a hen coming out of the hen-house and having her feathers all blown forward and being propelled at speed across the paddock! Hens are not very aero-dynamically designed.

Friday, 11 February 2022

Tree planting in Wales

As I walked the dog this beautiful clear frosty morning my route took us through the field where the sheep are currently being kept. It is known as the Mansion Triangle, not because of any mysterious big house disappearances but mundanely because it is triangular-shaped and it backs on to the mansion, which is not as grand as it sounds, where Younger Son and his family live. The Welsh word 'plas' meaning a large house is better than the grandiose 'mansion' but as the house is offically Penyrallt Mansion we are stuck with it. Anyway, I was walking down the gentle slope of the field and was joined by our small flock of ewes known as the ladies-in-waiting as they due to lamb next month. They followed me as they hoped I would have food for them, I didn't, but they have a good supply of lovely hay, the sweet smell of which conjures up long summer days and the satisfaction of hay-making. The Farmer & I write a monthly column for our local county newspaper in which we talk about local and national farming issues as well what goes on here at Penyrallt. One subject that is coming much to fore is that of tree-planting to off-set carbon emmissions. Whilst this is admirable in principle things are going a little awry for Wales as big companies from England are buying up large tracts of good agricultural land with a view to obtaining Welsh government grants to plant new woodlands. This is causing many farmers in Wales great distress as the land is being sold at prices that make it unaffordable for local people and potentially much good land is being taken out of food production. Apart from the loss of productive farm land it is also bringing about the loss of family farms, and communities that have been established for generations. It is eco-colonialism to coin a phrase. Also the fact that Welsh tax-payers money is going to companies who have no regard for Wales but just see it as a place to salve their consciences by exploiting the landscape in order to continue with their unsustainable and polluting practices.

Monday, 7 February 2022

Sheepdogs, Promise of Spring, Holidays

This is Judy our sheepdog who is the Farmer's constant companion around the farm. She is very much a one man dog as is is only right and proper for a working collie. If any of the rest of us try to give her any directions they are ignored but as soon as she hears her master's voice she springs into action and works round the sheep superbly. She is a good dog but not the best the Farmer has had over the years, she does not have what is called 'the eye' which in a good dog can be the make or break when it comes to trialling. At the end of last summer we gave ourselves a day out at some sheepdog trials held locally and had wonderful time. Dogs working well are always a great sight and the committment of the owners and the hours of training pays off when a dog, or a brace of dogs, can bring the sheep into the pen with such apparent ease. It must not be forgotten however, that these are not just 'show' dogs, they are fully working dogs on the farms where they are an essential part of the management team. Judy is not of trial standard but she is a very useful dog and saves the Famer lot of running around. In the past we have had some really good dogs, one in particular, Sam who was from a long line of champions. He certainly had the eye and could move sheep incredibly efficiently almost just by looking at them.
With spring teetering on the doorstep our thoughts turn to holidays and the summer months. Running a holiday cottage here on the farm has been interesting to say the least over the past two years. In 2020 with the national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic no-one took holidays but once lockdown restrictions eased we were able to welcome guests back and though bookings were reduced it was lovely to see how people were so pleased to be able to get away once more and were appreciative of what we were able to provide for them in terms of a rural escape after months of being stuck in their urban fastnesses. This year I think it will be much the same, people who have been restricting their travel plans are choosing to holiday in UK and discovering the joys of 'staycations' (ghastly word!).

Sunday, 30 January 2022

Mallards Return

Our mallards have returned! For the last two years, ever since we moved into this house, we have had several pairs of mallards adopt us and it is wonderful that they have come back to us this year. They are certainly the same pairs as they show no fear or anxiety at our presence or having the dogs loping around them. The Farmer threw some some corn down onto the yard for them and they are out there now having been joined by a wood pigeon and a robin who both know a good thing when they see it. Last summer we ended up with about 15 ducks coming most days to the house which is lovely, though it can get a bit messy underfoot which is not great but the pleasure from having what are basically wild birds, just sitting contentedly outside the back door compensates for the small quantity of guauno they leave in their wake. It is beautiful morning here with sunshine and a light breeze, very spring-like though we must not take it for granted, it is after all still only the end of January and February & March can be pretty awful so we must make the most of each lovely day as it happens. There are already a few lambs to be seen around the area and this fine weather is just perfect for them. we don't start lambing until March and we always hope that the weather will kind as the worst thing for lambs is rain and cold winds.

Friday, 28 January 2022

Return to blogging

At last after 18 months or so of not being able to get posts posted on this blog, due to major technical ineptitude on my part I have at last worked out what has turned out to be a very simple problem and so am now able to pick up the blogging habit once more. Since my last post which was back in August 2020 (!) life has of course carried on through the Coronavirsu pandemic and all its impacts on everyone's lives. The social restrictions kept everyone at bay for so long and although here out in the countryside we did not suffer as badly as many people it is nonetheless a relief to see how things are easing. In Wales we are still required to wear facemasks in shops but that has become the new normal and so one doesn't think about it now, except when one realises that you've inadvertently left your facemask in the car and have to make a hasty shame-faced exit from the shop, to return seconds later disguised and apologetic. Life on the farm is as busy as ever, the cows still have to be milked whatever is going on in the outside world and we still have the seasonal round to keep us on track. Spring is beginning to send out small hints that it will appear eventually in its full glory. This week I found the first snowdrops peeping up through the grass on the side of our driveway and the early daffodils are shooting their green spears through the lawns. Small coral buds are appearing on the oak trees and the birds are beginning to chorus joyfully. A year ago, On New Year's Day 2021 in fact, we had a new grandson born to Younger Son & his wife and so now we have a sturdy one year old not quite toddling but crawling at great speed to entertain us all. He has proved a great charmer and his older cousins (11 & 8 years) who are also here on the farm find him great fun. We have always had a collection of dogs around the place belonging to the three households and the Farmer & I have for many yers had his working collie, while I had the company of my Jack Russell terrier, Dottie and a stately black Labrador Hattie. Sadly just a week before Christmas we lost Hattie who died in her sleep, after havein been visibly fading away over the preceding few days. She was thirteen years old and had a full and happy life as a gun dog in her younger years and then a contented retirement lying in the sun. I do miss her and I think Dottie does too...she no longer has her Labrador-sofa!