Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Honey Harvest, More Silage, Wool Collection



A whole month has gone by since my last post and here we are at the beginning of August which in its turn promises to be as busy as July.
Amongst other things the Farmer found time to take the honey off from the hives when the weather was good. We have had bumper crop this year which the Farmer says is down to him having made time to manage the colonies better. He and I spent an evening bottling over 100lbs of honey and labelling the jars in order to sell it in the locality. It was very satisfying sight, a mass of new jars with smart labels. There is a great demand for local honey and its great that we are able to have enough to help feed that demand. As well as just harvesting the honey the Farmer has sent a sample off to have its pollen DNA analysed so that we know which plants and trees the bees use in the main. It will very interesting to get the results back. We know that there will be lot of clover and probably bramble as the blossom has been very good this year...I hope there will be good crop of brambles as a result after the rather poor hedgerow harvest last year.

Work continues with the new parlour. A heavy roller was brought in last week to level & consolidate the floors in preparation for the delivery of concrete which will be poured and levelled...a tricky process as it has to have a very specific slope in two directions for the water used to wash the parlour after every milking to drain away.

Second cut silage is in along with a triple-crop of oats, barley & vetches all nicely layered with first & second cut grass into a sort of silage lasagne. The cows love it!


We took our wool sacks to the collection point at the rugby club in our nearest town on the date and time specified by the Wool Board. The organisation was running very efficiently as we did not have to join a queue as is usually the case but were the only vehicle there, thought the lorry had large number of woolsacks already loaded. We send only two sacks and they are green to mark that the wool is organic. Conventional wool is packed into white sacks.

The holiday cottage is now fully booked out for the summer. So far,we have had lovely guests who despite the somewhat patchy weather have been able to discover west Wales in all its enchanting and verdant loveliness. With the weather being a mixture of sunshine and showers it is still possible to have great days out clambering over rocks at the beach or exploring wondrous castles.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

New Milking Parlour

Despite the dampness of the past few days our holiday cottage guests were not deterred from sitting watching the cows in the yard waiting to go in to the milking parlour.
This morning we once again have clear blue skies and the promise of a lovely day which is a great improvemnet on yesterday which was grey and wet all day and required the lighting of a fire in the evenong just to relieve the lack of cheer in the house...on the last day of June!!
One good thing that comes with wet weather at this time of year is that it gives the menfolk a rest from the long days driving tractors which is pretty relentless during the weeks of good weather getting silage made here and around the district. Although this does not mean they sit around with their feet up, far from it. Days of inclement weather give opportunities to service the machinery, change oil, mend cogs and chains and get on with building projects which at moment means the construction of a new milking parlour. This is a big project which has been on the go over several months but is nearing its end. The actual milking machinery arrives next week so the pressure is on to get the building ready in time. The photo below was taken some weeks ago but the shed is much nearer completion now. This new(to us!...it is in fact second-hand)parlour will mean that instead of milking only 6 cows at time over two hours as we do now in our old abreast parlour, milking will now take a fraction of the time with more cows going through at any one time. It promises to make the whole process much more efficient & streamlined. The new shed and installation of the new equipment will mean an end to over 150 years of millking in our traditional stone milking shed which has been adapted over that long period from stalls suitable for hand milking to regular updates in technology from the first electric milking machines in the 1930's to what we have at present which though modern and up to date in every way is limited. A purpose built milking parlour will be very different, we have moved forward from what was a state-of-the-art milking system in the 1860's when men and women sat on milking-stools and milked each cow (probably no more than 10 or 12 animals) by hand to a most modern and efficient system of the 21st century where milking 70+ cows can be done by one man in less than an hour. As small producers we are not at the forefront of milking technology but we are as efficient and mechanised as any larger farm short of installing a an automatic robotic system.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Glorious Hard-working Summer Days, Hay Making, Sheep-shearing & Roses

After an incredibly busy couple of weeks things have calmed down and with the change in the weather everyone is pleased to have got their silage in during the heatwave...thank goodness for air-conditioned tractor cabs! The hot weather even enabled some farmers to make hay, something we have not done for some years as the long periods of dry weather needed have become so rare. The Farmer was called upon by some neighbours to make small bales for their horses. Again, making small bales is not something that we have done for a long while but the old baler (it is probably nearly 50 years old) was brought out of mothballs and worked perfectly.

Shearing the sheep is a job that is best done in warm sumnny weather as the lanolin in the fleeces is soft and the shears glide through the wool easily. Although we have only about 50 ewes the Farmer decided to do them them in two batches partly because it is a hard job and made more tiring by the heat so spreading the exertion needed seemed sensible. The ewes and lambs went back out to the fields considerably cooler and more comfortable than they had been.

While the long hot days were glorious I must admit I retreated into my cool stone farmhouse as I am not lizard enough to enjoy being out in the sun any more than I have to, so any work in the gardens tened to be done first thing in the morning. It is proving to be very good year for the roses. From our farm office I look out onto a marvellous display of the rambler Kiftsgate alongside which is growing the very old Rosa Mundi, the lovely striped rose. In the other parts of the garden I have the erotically named Cuisse de Nymphes which opens its buds in a maidenly blush of pale pink which then becomes a rich cream colour. Tangled through the garden hedge is the very old small purple moss rose Willy Lobb which I imagine was planted here possibly back in the 19th century and is still going strong with its small, rich, royal purple flowers which fade to a soft grey before dropping its petals in a shadowy confetti.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Silage Time

And we're off! The silage harvest has started here at home. Yesterday afternoon the Sons cut 120 acres of grass and today with three wagons they are bringing it all in. The Farmer is on the pit pushing the grass in and at present is keeping up with it as the loads are coming from a couple of miles away so give him time between each drop to keep on top of it though it may get more diffucult once the trailers are hauling from the home fields. Last evening I took a picnic supper out to the field during mowing and they had a welcome break from sitting in a tractor cab. Today will be a day of sandwiches snatched at intervals between loads. Twice this morning I have been out to ask the drivers of the milk tanker and a cattle-cake delivery lorry to park their vehicles in a certain way to allow the tractors and trailers to get by as they are coming through the yard...it could cause great difficulties if the tractors and lorries are blocking each other's way! It is a good time with all this activity and as long as the weather holds everyone will be happy, though we are having a very fine drizzle passing over at present but things are brightening up as I write.
When I take food out to the fields the dogs love to come too and need no encouragement to leap into the back of the car. They adore rushing throught the cut grass catching smells and chasing but never catching, the swallows across the rows. Above the swathes of grass tens of red kites fill the air, so many nowadays after the years of scarcity; they and the buzzards are after carrion in the form of unfortunate small mammals that have been caught by the mowing machines, it is feast-time for them.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Bee Swarm, Birdsong & Spring Glory


'A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.'
At just afer 7'o'clock this morning I was woken (yes, shamefully,I was still in bed!) by a phone call from Younger Son to say the bees were swarming in the garden. I immediately donned wellies and a coat over my nightie and went to find the Farmer who, fortunately, was not too far away. He promptly changed into his bee-keepers overalls and went to place a collecting hive near the swarm. The swarm had not travelled more than a few yards from their original hive and so were easy enough to catch. The Farmer is very pleased as he is trying to build up our bee stocks especially since he discovered that one of our hives had been taken over by mice during the winter and had killed the colony. The photo shows the Farmer standing back to view the collecting box and to make sure the bees were going into it. He will keep an eye on it throughout the day and when they are settled he will move it to a more conveneint place and build up a new hive.


The silage season has started with the Sons working bringing in silage for farms in the district through their contracting work. Our own silage harvest will take place in few days time I think. The grass is growing well & is as high as a labrador's eye especially since we had those several days of rain last week. The view over the valley is a real patchwork of colours once fields are mown varying in shades of green, yellow where the grass has been cut and rich brown where ploughing has already taken place.
The hedges are thicker in outline now that they are in full leaf and are full of flowers and busy with the little birds nesting and darting in and out of the tangle of twigs feeding their young. There is constant squabbling chatter from the sparrows and frequent placid cooing of the wood pigeons, then a raucous clatter from the jackdaws who are nesting in the eaves of one of the barns & the swallows keep up their chittering as they swoop in & out of the farm buildings. It is all wonderful. The oak trees are very beautiful at the moment with their fresh golden green young leaves and the may blossom is out all around the farm and there are hints of bright gold appearing in the laburnum hedges that surround our top fields.



Thursday, 11 May 2017

Spring Field Work & Gulls

While spring is upon us in all its glory the ash trees are still stark against the sky. There is the merest hint of fresh leaves begining to blur the skeletal outlines but it will be quite a while yet until the trees are in in their full plumage. A neighbour who called in the other day was making doom-laden mutterings about ash die-back but there are the faint signs of life that hopefully makes that scenario unlikely.

Of the two ewes left to lamb one produced a set of twins yesterday so just the last one left and she surely cannot go on much longer. The ewes and lambs of the main flock are now out in the fields enjoying what have been days of wonderful golden weather though today it has become grey and cold after a lovely start when I was out with the dogs at 7 o'clock this morning.

On the farm tractors have been busy ploughing and harrowing in preparation for the seed to be sown today. The birdsong has had a bass rumble of tractors across the fields and flocks of gulls have arrived from the coast about 15 miles away, to glean from the turned earth meals of worms and grubs making a change from their usual diet of seafood. It is extraordinary how the gulls know when ploughing is taking place, they arrive within a very short time of the the first furrows being turned and spend the day following the tractors in a noisy flurry of white.


The view across the valley has transformed in the past week into a patchwork of green and pale yellow where the fields of some of our neighbours have already had their first cut of silage taken off. The cut fields stand out in stark contrast to the lush green of those fields still growing though in week or so the mown pastures will start to have a green haze over them as the new regrowth emerges.



Monday, 1 May 2017

May Day


May Day morning has dawned cold grey and damp here in west Wales. I had hoped to get a picture of may blossom but our may trees are still covered in tight little buds as you can see, however our apple trees have beautiful blossom, so I do have some May Day blossom.
May Day was a significant day in the old country calendar. It was the day when fairies & witches were said to be active so twigs of hazel & rowan were brought into the house to protect it from evil spirits. In Wales on May Eve the country people used to go out into the woods to fell a birch tree which, at dawn, was then set up as the Maypole and decorated with ribbons and flowers for the 'dawns y fedwen', the 'dance of the birch'. The day was then given over to games and merriment with the festal enjoyment kept up with metheglin, a spiced honey wine. I met a Finnish friend last night who told me that in Finland May Eve is still celebrated with a big party.

May is the month when we usually shear the sheep but not until the weather warms up. We still have two ewes left to lamb, they must have been the very last to have been tupped, and they must surely 'pop' before many more days have gone!

Silage has already started to be cut in the area and the Sons will be out later this week cutting for one of our neighbours. Despite the cold we are pleased to see the rain it has been so very dry for weeks now and we need the grass to start growing. Once the temperatures rise it will romp away and we should have a good first cut silage crop.
Our dairy heifers were put out to grass this morning and their joyous bellowing could be heard ringing around the valley and in the field one can hear the satisfying crunch of the eager consumption of fresh grass after a long winter of of a diet of silage and hay.

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.