Monday, 16 October 2017

Storm Ophelia

We have survived Storm Ophelia with nothing more than one tree down across the lane, no electricity for most of the day & a general feeling of being battered. We did not get the full brunt of the storm but it was still uncomfortable. Without any power everyone was anxious about milking the cows but fortunately we do have a generator which is powered by a tractor so that was brought into play in the early afternoon and ran until about 6.30pm when it was learnt that the mains electricity was back on after a phone to a neighbour to find out the situation. Of course there was time when every farm ran a generator as matter of course before mains power was brought out to country areas. Electricity came to Penyrallt only in 1958. I can recall one of our older neighbours, now no longer with us, saying he remembered the sound of humming generators across the valley as each farm started milking every day before everyone was connected to the national grid. Thank goodness we still have to have a back-up power source for the rare occasions like today when the mains system goes down. We have friends who live off-grid and have their own systems of wind turbines and solar panels to run their homes and workshops but none of them have cows to milk. If it wasn't for the milking we may well be off-grid ourselves but the powere needed to run a milking parlour and the cooling of the milk in the bulk tank is too great to be reliant on alternative power generation.
There are reports of serious storm damage across west Wales and many trees came down to say nothing of tidal surges and flooding along the coast.
It is now a beautiful calm, clear morning with sunshine lighting the autumn colours against a blue sky and the rambler rose outside the farm office window is full of fat little sparrows chattering away without being buffeted about by the winds of yesterday.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Call Ducks, Puppies, New Milking Parlour

On returning from an outing on various errands a few days ago the Farmer announced that he had bought me present. Now I'm always slightly suspicious when such things are said as eager anticipation can be dashed by the arrival of a new garden fork or a handful of buckets. However this time my suspicion was mis-placed as what duly turned up were two pairs of call ducks. I've always wanted ducks on the pond and while we have wild mallard making brief re-fuellling stops they never stay stay more than a few hours at most, so to have some tame, hand-reared ducks to live on the pond is lovely. They have settled in very happily and already the mat of weed is receding as a result of their feeding habits. Their duck house is on a small floating island and so they have a good chance of not being caught by Charlie Fox which is usually the doom of poultry not surrounded an electric fence as are all our laying hens. The two drakes are handsome in black and white plumage while the ducks are dressed as usual in discreet shades of tawny & khaki.

The puppies continue to thrive and get jollier by the day. They now bark when I go in to them which is very grown-up and they startle themselves somewhat by it.

Work going well with the new milking parlour and we were discussing how the first 'training' session of the cows will be handled. They have to be shown the new parlour and walked through it a couple of times before theya re actually milked in it so that they can become accustomed to the new building and the new layout of a herring-bone system after the old abreast parlour as well as a different set of noises. Cows are creatures of habit and need to be handled gently and with care in any new scenario.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Puppies, Autumn Arriving

The puppies are now three and a half weeks old so the they are being introduced to solid food. Some are keener than others and have picked up the skill of lapping quite quickly. However,they all paddle through it and then spend the next ten minutes cleaning the food off each others coats. They are beginning to find their feet and lurch around their nest in a drunken fashion trying to locate each other to snuggle up in a warm huddle once again.

Autumn is arriving rapidly, the trees are changing colour and the wind is blowing tides of golden leaves into swathes around the yard. The swallows have not yet left us but no doubt will do so in a couple of weeks and just in time as the temperatures are beginning to drop and the wind has an edge to it. The time for getting out our warm winter coats and gloves is fast approaching.

We are in the middle of calving now and with four or five calves being born some nights the feeding of them takes a lot of the Farmer's time especially as the calves are distibuted through four different sheds. We have just invested in a new calf feeder which has ten compartments each with a teat so each calf gets the right of amount of milk. It is working very well.

After a long and busy summer with the holiday cottage we waved off our last visitors this morning. The cottage is empty for a while now and though I miss having the guests around it is nice to have a break from it. We have had lovely people staying from all walks of life and from all over the country. They discover west Wales with great enthusiasm as it little known...everyone has been to north Wales and Snowdonia or Pembrokeshire & the Gower but few know that the Teifi Valley exists so finding it is always a revelation.
Once the puppies are all off to their new homes in a month or so the Farmer & I are promising ourselves a few days away in someone else's holiday cottage. We have not had a proper break for nearly three years (the three day dash across England in August for a wedding does not really count as a restful break!) and so it will be something to look forward to.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Jack Russell Puppies, Rainstorms & Flooded Fields

Two days ago our little Jack Russell terrier produced six minute puppies. There is nothing quite like getting up in the morning and going out to check a very pregnant dog to find that that she has very efficiently just got with the job all on her own during the night and is proudly settled in her nest with the puppies all clean, fed and content.Dottie is an excellent mother, very protective of her puppies, seeing off the curious labradors with much growling and warning against them taking one more step towards her nursery.

We are in the throes of a torrential rainstorm which has gone almost all night and most of the morning.
I have found that the poor old farmhouse has sprung a leak and I have had to place bowls to catch drips. This happens only very rarely thank goodness! The water running down the yard has been torrential with cataracts pouring off the fields behind the house and down a set of steps giving the appearance of a raging miniature waterfall.
The cattle are miserable in this weather and this morning when after milking, Elder Son opened the gate to let them out to their field they sensibly refused to out prefering to stay in their shed!
We have just returned from our local town and have passed many fields under water where the river Teifi has risen so high as to flood the fields and saw farmers trying rescue sheep from an 'island' in a field and trying to prevent the panicked sheep running into the very fast-flowing swollen river that has covered the area all around them. What a nightmare! (Okay, I know none of what we are experiencing is comparable to what has happened in Florida, Texas and the Caribbean but nonetheless it is very damaging and makes the daily work more difficult and at times dangerous, for both men & livestock.)
Despite the inconvenience of rain on a biblical scale there are compensations such as the perfect and huge rainbow that spread its span across the farm this morning in one of the few moments when the rain ceased and a weak sunshine was able to gleam palely. As I look out now through the farm office window through the now fine smirr of rain the raindrops are hanging like diamonds on the branches of the leggy rambler rose only to slide of the leave with a shiver. With the easing of the rain the birds are starting to sing again and wood-pigeons resume their gentle purring in the trees around the yard. The skies are beginning to clear and there is a hint of sunshine and the raging torrent down the yard is slowing up.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Weekend Away, Halter-training Calf


Work has been continueing apace with the new milking parlour. The concrete for the floors was delivered in three lorry loads which meant a very hard and heavy day for the Farmer, Sons and helpers but after all the effort the floors are smooth and clean and ready for the next stage which is setting up the stalls, hoppers and getting the electric done. Another month and I think we might be up and running with the first cows going through.

The Farmer and I had a weekend away recently to attend a wedding near Beccles in Suffolk. Suffolk is a very long way from west Wales. After a 10 hour journey we arrived at a very attractive country house which was the venue for the wedding as well where we were staying for two nights. The following morning having recovered from our trek across England we attended a humanist wedding in a grove of chestnut trees. It was very beautiful, simple and unpretentious.
Our journey back to Wales was broken by a spending a night, still in Suffolk, staying with the Lady Artist who spent a month with us last year in the cottage. A warm welcome and a peaceful evening of fine conversation in a beautiful garden in rural Suffolk was a perfect way for us to face setting off across England once again and endure the dreaded M25 (constant speed averaged 10mph!). We so rarely go on motorways and so find it somewhat stressful but our journey home was straightforward and shorter (!) and we were home just in time for tea. It had been a lovely weekend and just to get away was good as it was the first break we've had from the farm for about two and a half years.

Back here on the farm we are now getting ready for the local agricultural show which is to be held on Saturday 2nd September. As usual we are entering baking and children's art work, handicrafts etc. A first for us all though is an entry in the Young Handler (under 11yrs) with a Calf under 6 months class. Our 6yr old grand-daughter decided she wanted to do it and so she and her grandfather have been out every day for the past three weeks training one of our new calves to walk on a halter. The calf has behaved very well and trots along like a dog on a lead with her small attendant reasonably well in control. Grandfather will go into the show ring with her just in case the calf decides not go along with being in a public arena. Despite being very docile and amenable calves are very strong, even at 3 weeks old and can run quite fast if spooked.

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.