Monday, 31 October 2016

Samhain or Halloween, Autumn Glory

Today is Samhain, the Celtic word for 'summer's end'. With the longer nights swallowing up the sun and leaves dropping from the trees winter approaches. Samhain is also known as Halloween, a mixture of pagan & Christian beliefs combined into customs and celebrations to bring in the the darkness of winter. In south Wales there was tradition of men & boys donning ragged clothes, sheepskins and masks. The masked figures represented the spirits of the dead and to refuse them food was to risk vengeance on the house...hence 'trick or treat'. These costumed visitors were known as 'gwarchod' or hags and sang a song about the White Lady as they visited house in the locality where they would be given 'harvest fare' and on returning to the farm would have a traditional supper of 'the mash of nine sorts', a vegetable stew containing nine ingredients, nine being a sacred number.
The tradition of turnip lanterns (now superseded by the imported pumpkin) stems from the ancient Celtic veneration of the head which was considered the seat of the soul.

The trees are rapidly dressing in their autumn livery and each day seems to bring another flash of crimson or burnished gold into the landscape. While some of the trees are costumed in bright shades of yellow, others are clad in rich fox-red and fallen leaves gather in crisp shoals of dusty orange and brown as they are swept into drifts at the sides of the drive by passing traffic.
We are having such a beautiful season and it is so dry and mild that the farm work is easy and pleasurable.There is no mud to speak of, the ground is dry and the air ringing with the chatter of the dozen or so turkeys that are wandering around the yard. The dogs laze the sunshine as though it was summer while the day to day routine of the farm bustles on around them and our farm cat, a very independent creature, was spotted this morning sitting in mass of fallen leaves looking very picturesque. Everyone who calls from the postman first thing in the morning to the AI technician, the milk tanker driver and friends calling for coffee exclaim at how lovely this autumn is proving to be. It is the same sense of cheerfulness as one gets on the first days of spring sunshine.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Calves, Cows & Tranquility

The calving season is upon us once again and last night two were born, one with no problems at all, the second one however proved to be more difficult though it came in the end without having to call a vet. Of course no-one else was home when Elder Son came over about 10 o'clock to say he was having difficulties. After failing to locate Younger Son and being unable to get a message to the Farmer I did an SOS call to a neighbour who came over forthwith. After much hard work and judicious use of a calving jack an enormous Frisian/Aberdeen Angus bull calf was brought into the world. The cow was fine and all is well this morning. These things don't happen very often but are quite stressful at the time. I have spent calvings holding ropes taut (not easy with 1/2 ton of cow moving around at the other end) to keep the cow steady or to help pull the calf out and on one occasion I even scrubbed up to help the vet with an emergency caesarean section which was certainly an interesting way to spend the the wee small hours of the morning (these things always happen in the middle of the night!). No matter how often we see a calving it always a great satisfaction after the effort we put in to see the calf slither out onto the straw, shake its head and then the mother turn round to start licking it clean whilst lowing gently at it.
There is something particularly entrancing and very peaceful about cattle sheds at night. The cows are all settled quietly in their cubicles with a light steam arising from their bodies and gentle warmth pervading the atmosphere along with the heavy sweet scent of silage with the underlying pungency of fresh muck and the soft noises of cows belching and chewing the cud or in the deep breathes of sleep. Occasionally a cow will look round at you with her great luminous eyes flickering with curiosity for few seconds as you play the torch light over her but she is not greatly concerned about this interruption to her night. Often the cows are so relaxed you can go and lean against them and feel the heat and solidity of the beasts as they doze.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Farmer 's Union of Wales Conference

The Farmer's Union of Wales ( @FUW_UAC) held a one-day conference this week at the Royal Welsh Showground at Llanelwedd near Builth Wells in mid-Wales, the subject of which was Opportunities for Growth post-Brexit. The Farmer & I thought it would be interesting to attend, so having gained permission from the Sons to go and spend a night away, we made our way up to Builth very early on Thursday morning through the glorious autumnal hills of mid-Wales. The conference was well attended by farmers, representatives of associated agricultural businesses & very pleasingly, a group of students from Llysfasi agricultural college in north Wales (disappointing that other Welsh agricultural colleges had not sent a delegation of students). There were a number of familiar faces and old acquaintances.
The speakers for the day covered many different aspects of the current agricultural industry from the history & importance of agricultural shows, the remote monitoring of the landscape by satellite, drone and radar for 'data-driven agriculture' and environmental monitoring, the economic history of UK and EU pre- and post-Brexit and the challenges facing Welsh agriculture in the post-Brexit scenario amongst others. The general tone was one of positivity and optimism that Wales can make Brexit work and that Welsh agriculture has a real place in the brave new world of post-Brexit Britain, not that it will be easy but the challenges are there to be overcome.
Gleaned from the day's talks, some (very) random points...make of them what you will;
Average farm income £24,700, for hill farmers £14,700
90% of Welsh lamb exports go to EU
Norway imposes a tariff of 425% on imports
Satellites the size of a bread bin take images of Wales every day
Welsh lamb & beef are internationally recognised brands
The first Agricultural Society was formed in 1755 in Brecknockshire(Breconshire)
9% of the population of Wales works in agriculture
There are 20-23,000 migrant workers in agriculture in UK
The EU has the highest agricultural tariffs 90%,compared with USA 10%
5% of lamb & beef production in Wales is consumed in Wales, 60% in England
There are no free trade agreements with Europe,free trade agreements are mostly with former French colonies including Syria & Lebanon

After a long and stimulating day we headed off to find the B&B I had booked us into for the night, which was only 3 miles from the RWAS showground. However, in our rush to leave in the morning I had forgotten to bring the directions, contact details and map of how to find the farm we were supposed to be staying on!! We do not have a mobile phone or sat-nav & signal would probably been non-existent anyway. All I knew was the name of the farm and that it was somewhere off the A483. Now, mid-Wales is a large area of hills, very winding roads, farms which have very similar names and it is very easy to get lost, which we did. Eventually up a narrow lane after many twists and turns and re-tracing our steps, we found someone who was able to give us directions, so a couple of miles later and following a farmer on a quad bike for a mile as he moved his sheep up the narrowest of lanes and then following a hedge-trimmer for another 1/2 mile up a similar lane we found our destination, Trecoed Farm ( and received the warmest welcome from Elsie, the landlady who promptly made us a much-needed cup of tea accompanied by large slices of fruit cake. Wonderful! We had a very comfortable night and headed off the following morning after a substantial cooked breakfast. Even one night away is a holiday and I would certainly recommend Trecoed Farm B&B to anyone visiting the Builth wells area.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Cider-making, October, Rowan Jelly

Its cider-making time again. The Farmer has been very busy over the last week or so processing vast quantities of apples from our own orchards and fruit given to us by friends & neighbours. The process is quite speedy with an apple scratter to crush the fruit which is then put in the press and the resulting golden juice is then put into the fermenting drums to sit in the kitchen for a few days until it has finished bubbling when it is then transferred into kegs to mature. Some of the juice is put into plastic bottles for freeezing as straight apple juice to see us through the winter or brought into the house for drinking straightaway. It is gorgeous. Last year's vintage of cider is proving to be very palatable and is a glorious clear honey-gold in colour. It is an amazing process...what starts out as very cloudy juice which oxidises almost immediately to a dark biscuit-y brown colour and is not all that appetising becomes this beautiful clear golden liquid, a transformation that is entirely natural with no additives or preservatives of any kind, just the naturally occurring yeasts working their magic.

October is already proving to be as busy as the rest of the year. The Sons have been out cutting silage again for neighbours as we are having such good weather at present, dry and still fairly warm in the sunshine but with quite strong winds now and then. A few days ago when we were still having showers of rain there were several amazing sightings of vast wide rainbows casting across the landscape, quite beautiful. The valley has been echoing with the rattle of hedge-trimmers out and about along roadsides and in fields. The hedges need to be c kept in check but I think the Farmer would agree with me that the trimming ought to be left until the winter so that the birds and small mammals can glean what food they can from the hedge-row berries of which there are still quite profusion. It is no longer worth me going out to pick blackberries but there are still lots of small fruits including the rose-hips & hawthorn berries to be had.
After a particularly windy night a week or so ago I found a goodly quantity of rowan berries had been blown off the high branches of the trees up one of the ancient lanes on the farm, so I gathered them up and made some beautiful rose-pink rowan jelly which is delicious served as an accompaniment to roast meat.