Sunday 29 May 2022

Silage making past & present

After three days of hard work the first cut silage is now safely in and shrouded in it's plastic counterpane held down by hundreds of tyres (the photo below shows the clamp at the beginning of putting the tyres on) many tyres are to compress it over the next few months before the winter comes and the cows are in. So much preparation and anxiety goes into these three days and there will be at least two more sessions of the same as the summer progresses. We are at the mercy of the weather over which we have no control so when each cut is safely in the deep sighs of relief are palpable. In years past we used to have contractors come in to 'do the silage' with the Farmer and in those days they would stop for lunch and come into my kitchen for a full sit-down meal washed down with copious quantities of tea. These mealtimes were very cheerful affairs with the men discussing the progress of the harvest, gossiping and recollecting stories of the local characters and generally having a good social time. Much of the conversation would be conducted in Welsh interspersed with some fine Anglo-Saxon profanities accompanied by a slight apology to me as the only female in the room. We were one of the last farms in the area where the men got fed and they were always very appreciative with a particular fondness for home-made bread and fruitcake. After a mid afternoon break for tea & cake which I would take out to the silage pit in a large basket filled with thermos flasks and Tupperware boxes, everyone would sit on the grass for ten minutes of refreshment, again full of chat before continueing with the relays of grass-laden trailers. As they often worked on into the night, sometimes not finishing until 2 or 3 in the morning, I would leave a pile of sandwiches and the ubiquitous fruit-cake and, now I remember, ginger beer which they all loved, on the kitchen table while I went to bed. Nowadays there is no time for meal-breaks and so the social aspect of this time of year has largely disppeared which is very sad.

Friday 27 May 2022

Silage has begun, Summer visitors due

The menfolk have started this year's silage harvest at last. The weather has come right and so it's all out to get the grass cut, raked and brought in. The rather elegant piece of kit in the photograph is the rake which opens out its spidery arms and then spins at great rate to bring the mown grass into rows ready for the forage wagon to gather it up to be brough to farm where it will be put into a huge concrete clamp. It is work that despite the huge and expensive machinery of modern times still involves long hard hours and the Farmer & the Sons will be at it probably well into the night and that includes having Elder Son having to stop to do the evening milking. No matter what else is going on milking has to be done twice a day and if we can get enough man-power the silage can carry on uninterupted while one member of the team has to leave to get the cows in and milked. Fortunately we have enough drivers to enable this to happen fairly seamlessly.
It is a marvellous time of year, the men love it, working with all this amazing machinery that is prepared so carefully in the weeks leading up to the first mowing as breakdowns mean loss of time & money and so all that can be is done to ensure everything runs smoothly. I spend much time making sandwiches and ensuring there is a plentiful supply of fruitcake for the Farmers's packed lunches as the daily routine falls by the wayside for these few days. Some days I may have to take food out to the fields if they are particularly far away across the valley and so picnics in the field looking across the valley are a good break. The valley looks wonderful at this time of year with the patchwork of fields visible for miles in their varied shades of green interspersed with the darker greens of the hedges and small woodlands. The wood are lovely now with the fresh green of beech leaves comong out, the clouds may-blossom looking like meringues amid the golden green of oak leaves emerging. The first of our summer visitors arrive tomorrow in the holiday cottage and with any luck this gogeous weather will hold and they will experience west Wales at its very best. I must now go and do the finishing touches to the cottage, last minute vacuuming & dusting and tomorrow I will put flowers and a plate of home-made chocolate brownies on the table in readiness for their arrival.

Wednesday 18 May 2022

Maytime flowers, 'Postal Bakes' by Lucy Burton,

The flowers at this time of year are glorious, the field margins, hedge-banks and woods are overflowing with tall stately bluebells,the froth of Queen Anne's lace & vivid pink campion while at ground level there are violets, buttery celandines, sweet smiling 'daisies pied', lady's smock and gorgeous golden buttercups. While the weather is still very changeable this year and quite chilly, when the sun does shine we always say that May is just the best of months in which to see the countryside. This past weekend a party was held here for various family members to celebrate a couple of 'significant' birthdays which actually occurred back in the depths of January, so the event was postponed to when the weather was more conducive to a gathering in the gardens. We had perfect weather and so the guests, many of whom had come down from London, were able to spend the weekend sitting in a lovely garden drinking Pimms. All very civilised. It was good to see people from 'away' and to have conversations that were not predominantly about farming or the neighbours! One of the guests has just had a book published in the last week and I have no hesitation is giving it plug here. It is called 'Postal Bakes' by Lucy Burton and is a compilation of recipes for what are nowadays called 'traybakes' which can be sent to friends and family through the post. Lucy had run a business pre-pandemic baking for events and weddings but of course Covid saw that come to an abrupt halt, so she devised away of baking brownies, cakes & cookies to be sent out in the mail. It proved very successful and as result has now produced her lovely book full of decadent and scrumptious recipes (available from Waterstones, Amazon and other booksellers) and I hope it does well for her. We have had some rain in the past day or so so the grass will growing apace and hopefully the Farmer & Sons will be able to make a start on the silage soon.

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.