Tuesday 31 October 2023

A Morning without Rain, Halloween Traditions Old & New

On the last day of October we are definitely in autumnal landscapes and we have actually woken to a morning when it is not raining! Such a relief to have blue skies after days of horrendously heavy rain, making the whole farm soggy and surrounded by the sound of dripping from all the roofs. The birds are singing too so they must be happy the rain has ceased. Last week the Farmer, Elder Son and Elder Grandson took themselves off to the annual Welsh Dairy Event which is held in our county town of Carmarthen and they came back after a very good informative day but saying all everyone is talking about is the rain and the effect it is having on the farms. The weather of course is not the only subject of discussion though it looms large. Get dairy farmers together and there is much talk of milk prices, feed prices and the prospective increases, of each. Milk price increases are a Very Good Thing but the increased cost of bought-in feedstuffs is not. While everyone will have made plenty of silage during the summer there is still a quantity of supplementary feed required and as the ingredients are bought on the world market prices are volatile and ever changing and organic feed is always rather more expensive than conventionally grown.
Tonight is Halloween and the grandchildren have been busy making their pumpkin lanterns. When we were children we made 'howkit neeps' being good Scottish children, carving out swedes rather than pumpkins which had not seen in this country until very recently. They are an American import, along with the appalling 'trick or treat'. Halloween has been highjacked by excessive commercialism (I'm becoming a grumpy old granny!!) and I find it a pity. I am all for keeping things simple and as uncommercial as possible and certainly dislike turning a old tradition into a grasping, somewhat threatening activity which has very little to with its origins in the ancient pagan celebration of Samhain which means 'summer's end'. It was Christianised into All Saint's Day which commemorated the souls of the dead.Samhain also marked the time when cattle and sheep were led down from the summer pastures to their winter quarters. In Wales this day is known as Nos Calan Gaeaf, the First day of Winter. In South Wales there was tradition that boys and men went around houses wearing women's clothing singing a song about the 'White Lady'. They were know as the 'gwarchad' or hags and wore sheepskins, ragged clothes and mask. After doing the rounds of the houses in the village or hamlet they would gather at the farm and have a supper called 'the mash of nine sorts' which was stew made from a variety of vegetables mashed up with salt, pepper and milk. The sacred number nine made this a special feast for All Hallow's Night. Another aspect of my Scottish upbringing is the old game of 'dooking for apples'which originated as a hearthside game once the apple harvest was safely in and may be connected to the ancient story of a journey across water to obtain the magic apple from Emhain Ablach or the Otherworld Island of Apples. Halloween is also the night when the Wild Hunt rides through the skies led by Gwynn ap Nudd, the King of the Faeries, or Herne the Hunter as he is known in England, leading the pack of white hounds with red eyes and ears.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Farm Dogs, Music-making in the Sticks,

This is Dottie, my faithful companion who spends her days either sleeping in her nest in the bottom of my kitchen dresser or following me around the farm and pottering in the garden. She is now 12 years old but still as bouncy and energetic as ever, always ready for a walk and a great favourite with visitors. She seems be under the impression that anyone who calls has come to see her and she is more than ready to be their best friend. Sometimes this can be bit much and she has to be restrained from making a nusiance of herself but retreats when instructed and then just sends adoring glances from her bed. At present she is one of the five dogs we have on the farm and although the smallest is definitely the one in charge, even of Judy our no.1 sheepdog (see picture below). As well as Judy we have a young trainee sheepdog, Meg, a shouty little dachshund, Winnie who lives with Elder Son and his family, and beautiful noble Gwen, Younger Son's black labrador. It's quite a pack whenever they and us are all out together on the farm. The dogs are very well behaved in each others company, so long as there is no food around then they all vie with each other and it can get quite ugly...as in all scenarios with dogs never take their good behaviour for granted!
Yesterday The Farmer went out to play his violin at a funeral in the local church. Some years ago he had played for the birthday party of the deceased who so enjoyed the event that the request was made to have an Irish jig played at the funeral as the coffin was taken out of the church. The Farmer was very touched to be asked though playing such a jolly type of music at a sombre occasion can be difficult but it went well and the family were very appreciative. It was something different for the The Farmer as most of his music-making these days is classical as he plays in a string quartet and a chamber orchestra in Lampeter, our nearest university town. The chamber orchestra is giving a concert in November so there are regular rehearsals of the lovely programme of Mozart, Schubert, Haydn and Bach. Many years ago we had a ceilidh band with a group of friends and played a lot of folk music which was huge fun but very different to the classical repertoire which The Farmer so loves playing. We are so lucky out here in deepest west Wales to have an enthusiatic amateur orchestra of very good players, many of whom are ex-professional musicians, and who are prepared to travel considerable distances to attend rehearsals and put on concerts.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Autumn Begins. Arrival of Christmas Turkeys

We are now well and truly into the season of fallen leaves, sharp winds and the knowledge that summer has become just a memory. Although there are still many green leaves on the trees the litter of brown and gold is increasing daily. There are acorns lying everywhere as we have a good population of oak trees on the farm and the ducks take their promenades to where they know they will find rich pickings of acorns and beech mast. In the hedgerows there are the rich crimson of hawthorn berries and the lipstick red of rose hips gleaming through the tangles of ever more visible twigs and branches as the leaves fall from the hazel and bramble. An occasional faded rose-pink of a late blackberry flower can be seen and the vivid shocking-pink of the tiny wild geranium flowers brightens up the lower hedgebanks. Today is particularly windy and the trees are tossing their heads in petulance at yet another storm on its way to blow itself through the branches and throw the more fragile ones to the ground. Our resident rooks however seem to enjoy the wind and we watch them being thrown around the skies like shreds of black paper as they make their ways across the fields and up to the top of the beech trees in the garden where they have loud conversations with each other. The days are growing noticably shorter and I find I am lighting the fire earlier in the afternoons now and drawing the curtains by 7o'clock when the light has truly gone for the day. On the farm things are starting to have their winter routines established and Elder Son is busy out and about hedge-cutting. Today we collected 20 turkeys to be reared for Christmas for our regulars of friends and family who want free-range turkey for their festive dinners. The turkeys will spend happy days patrolling the yards and finding beetles and worms in the lawns and around the farm building and whilst not the most decorative of birds they do have a certain character that is quite entertaining. I suppose the arrival of the turkeys is a real sign of winter on its way.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Last Silage Cut, Changes in Farming

It is nearly the middle of October and we are having something of an 'Indian summer' these last few days which means there is a last ditch attempt to get in the final cut of silage while the weather is so glorious. The Farmer and the Sons are all out on tractors for long days and into the nights (Elder Son didn't finish till midnight last night)to get the grass in before the weather breaks and we begin the run into winter. The Farmer goes off about 10.30am armed with a flask and box of sandwiches and reappears at about 5.00pm in time for feeding the calves at milking time and then may have to go off again to finish up the day's silaging. There is a sense of urgency about it all as we are fully aware that after the wet days of recent weeks to have this window of dry sunshine is a bonus for the year. It is unseasonably warm at the moment and I'm still seeing butterflies in the garden but there is change coming in with drops in temperature promised, so 'carpe diem' is the motto at present. Life in the valley is jogging along with our neighbouring farmers all busy like us with last minute grass cutting, though the number of farmers in the valley is so reduced that the actual work of farming is being done by fewer 'real' farmers. When I came to live here nearly forty years ago there were twelve dairy farms in the valley now there are two, of which we are one. The farms have been bought by incomers who want their little piece of heaven and somewhere to keep a horse or two but do not want or need the acreage of land that comes with a ex-dairy farm so the house is sold with say ten acres and the remaining hundred or so is let or sold to farmers who do not actually live in the valley so farm the land remotely, so to speak. It is scenario that is played out all over the country and as result more land is being held by fewer farmers. Another side to this is that anyone wanting to get a foothold in farming has to have great deal of money with which to purchase a useful acreage unless they inherit or marry land. Land ownership becomes an almost impossible goal for many young people wishing to enter agriculture.