Sunday, 31 March 2013

Mid-Wales Snow Trip

After hearing about the massive snow fall that had stuck mid & north Wales last week the Farmer & I saw for ourselves yesterday just how much snow there was when we had to make a trip up in to hills of mid-Wales above Newtown. We were on a mission to deliver the huge caterpillar tracks of Younger Son's digger to a yard where they can be mended. As you can see from the picture the roads were clear but the banks of snow on either side were the height of our vehicle where the snow-plough had just cut through.
Driving up towards Aberystwyth before heading inland to Machynlleth & beyond we could see the mountains of mid-Wales covered in shrouds of white against the blue skies looking almost alpine in their glory.  We drove on into the hillls with wonderful vistas as we went higher and the country becomes more empty & lonely but for the hardy mountain sheep all with lambs afoot. The farms are fewer and one realises how a severe winter can isolate these steadings so completely even though in real terms they may be only 5 or 6 miles from the nearest village. A spectacular view may not compensate for the struggle to get feed to one's livestock and to digging heavily pregnant ewes out of snow-drifts.

The boys from Cardiff came up to see us again a little while ago and the Farmer introduced them to the delights of lambing. They of course loved the lambs and wanted to hold them and were fascinated by seeing the Farmer milk a ewe to
stomach- tube a weak lamb. They were also able to help put tail rings on the lambs before they went out into the field.
The Farmer also took them out walking around the farm to set mole-traps. This was something totally new to them all and fortunately a mole had been caught so they were able to see what a tiny creature it is that does so much earth-moving.

Monday, 25 March 2013

No Snow in West Wales, Trapping Moles

Unlike the rest of the country we have no snow but it is bitterly cold with a vicious east wind blowing through the farm. I walked the dogs this morning up into our top fields and the wind was biting, but the sun was shining and the countryside looked lovely in its chilliness.
I would rather love to have some serious snow though...I know it causes a lot of difficulties but without seeming to appear smug, here on the farm we can just settle down to being stuck here without too much problem; we have enough fodder for the livestock and a well stocked larder & a massive supply of firewood so can be snowed in for a good while if need be. If the electricity supply goes off we have a generator so can still milk the cows. If we cannot get the milk lorry in we will make masses of butter & cream and feed the skim milk to the calves. It all works out rather well really.

Younger Son came home last Friday night having driven from the far north coast of Scotland where he has been working for the last six months. His journey south was certainly made challenging with the weather he encountered in the Cairngorms resulting in a 100 mile detour to get through the snow and again in the north of England & the Midlands. Fortunately he was not alone and was driving a big 4x4 pickup.

We have almost finished lambing with about three ewes left to pop. After a pretty awful start to lambing things improved and we've had lots of good healthy sets of twins which are all doing well.

The Farmer has been waging war on the mole population lately. When we had a visit last week by the boys from a school in Cardiff the Farmer took them round the farm setting mole-traps which was cetainly a novel experience for them. Moles are just everywhere, so twenty or so traps are set around the farm and there has been reasonable success in catching the little horrors. On my daily walks I make a point of spreading out any molehills I come across as if they are left they cause great problems when it comes to cutting grass for silage. The soil contaminates the silage whereas if the mounds have been spread the grass can just grow through as normal.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Lambing time, Cardiff School Visit Anticipated,

We are in the throes of lambing and though there have been some losses on the whole it is going reasonably well. Some of the lambs are very big and the Farmer has had to intervene to help the ewe produce her enormous child but with a good outcome each time. For one ewe that had lost her lamb we managed to find orphans from elsewhere to adopt onto the ewe  and they have taken very successfully to their new mother.
Today I found a ewe out in the field with a pair of new born twins sheltering under a hedge, all quite happy and healthy despite the bitter cold. It has been just so cold today with flurries of snow but lambs can cope with cold,  its wet that is the killer so this dry cold weather is fine for the sheep. Newly lambed ewes are brought in for a couple of days anyway just to make sure that they are mothering their lambs properly and then they go out into the chilly sunshine.

With the lovely dry weather of recent days the Farmer & Elder Son have been able to get on with field work, slurry spreading, muck-spreading (there is difference between the two!) and then chain harrowing to distribute the muck more evenly over the leys.

Later this week we are expecting another visit by the Boys from Cardiff through our connection with the Countryside Alliance Foundation ( This will be their fourth visit to us and it will great to see how they respond to lambing. With any luck they will see a lamb being born. It is always interesting to see how these children from a harsh innner city environment who have severe social & educational problems react to what we can show them, be it sampling milk straight from the cow to cutting down trees for firewood and tasting roast pheasant. We certainly try to give them a variety of experiences and they repay us by being open to almost everything we show them and by asking questions and genuinely enjoying their days on the farm. It is such a worthwhile project  to be involved in and we love the days when we have school parties of all kinds come to visit us.
I suspect this coming visit will include discussion about horse-meat and it will be very interesting to see what the boys feel about the issue. We shall of course explain the harsh reality of why we rear lambs, that they are all destined for the dinner plate.

With this very cold weather the Farmer needs to be well fed (not that he is ever not!!) but he does enjoy thick hearty soups and dark chocolate cakes or bara brith (the traditional Welsh fruit loaf) so I'm cooking & baking in a lovely warm kitchen which is probably the best place to be as our house is morgue-like in its chilliness at present. With no central heating we have 'hot spots' in the house, the kitchen with its oil-fired Rayburn and the far sitting-room where I light the wood-burner during the morning to get it to a comfortable temperature by mid-afternoon. Fortunately as I've said I spend most of my time in the kitchen except when working on the computer in our un-heated office where I don a cashmere shawl
& Ugg boots! I'm seriously tempted to get a laptop or tablet so that I can work on the blog or the holiday cottage 'stuff' in  degree of comfort in my lovely warm kitchen.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Spring, Schmallenberg Virus, Teifi Valley

With the glorious weather we've had for the past few days it really feels like spring despite the sharp frosts each morning. The daffodils were out for St. David's Day and snowdrops are gleaming in all the hedgebanks and in great swathes in the the gardens and hidden corners of the farm. The first celandines are appearing and pussy willow and catkins are showing in the hedges. Birdsong is echoing around and our communities of hedge and house sparrows are beginning their territorial squabbles.

On the farming front with the advent of dry weather everyone in the valley is out muck-spreading while they can get onto the fields and as a result we have had a large number of red-kites wheeling around the skies looking for carrion. I watched a pair of kites fighting on the wing one afternoon while a buzzard floated around them keeping out of the way but clearly curious as to what was going on.

Our daughter-in-law has had clutch of hen eggs incubating over the last 3 weeks and two days ago 7 dear little fluffy black chicks emerged from their shells to the delight & wonderment of small grand-daughter.

Another clear sign of spring in the air, as is lambing which is due to start properly next week.
However, lambing this year is going to be interesting as there is a new disease around, Schmallenbergs which is an insect-borne  virus and seems to be affecting many flocks in the country. The signs of it are dead or malformed lambs though apparently once the ewe has lambed this year she is immune to the disease and will pass that immunity onto her next seasons lambs. There is an additional worry that it may also affect cattle.
We just have to keep our fingers crossed that our flock is not affected though the disease has now been found in Wales.

Over the past few months I have been researching the Teifi Valley where we live for a film project (of which there will be news in a few weeks time). During the the research I have come across marvellous stories and fascinating history of the area. The Teifi Valley is a part of Wales that is not well-known despite its beauty and importance in the history of Wales.
It is full of castles, old drovers towns where cattle, sheep & poultry were gathered  to begin their walk to London and other cities for the markets as well having a grear diversity of landscape running as the river does from the wild empty hills of Ceredigion to the soft lowlands near its estuary at Cardigan.
The Teifi Valley is also a place that draws artists of all kinds with its stunning scenery and beautiful light.
One these artists who lives near us is Diane Mathias who produces beautiful paintings of west Wales landscapes, Her work is full of light and a joy in the natural world. I love her pictures.