The farm can be a wonderful place at any time of the year, whatever the weather. These newsletters will perhaps give you some insight into life on the farm - enjoy.
This page contains the previous newsletter for you to read if you wish.
On The Farm
Today is the first of May, consequently the weather is cold with sunshine and showers, and the forecast for the next few days is not much better – still one of the few things I have learnt is there is nothing we can do about it!
The grass at long last is starting to grow and the banks are a yellow with primroses, in the woods the bluebells are just starting to flower and the trees are a wonderful variety of greens. The swallows arrived back about a fortnight ago, and the cuckoo is calling up the top fields and the other birds have nests all over the place so I suppose it is fair to assume that spring is here.
The lambing is nearly finished, with just a few of last years lambs left, there is a real mixture of colours this year with a favourite being the black lamb with a white blaze, four white socks and a white tail, it looks like a miniature shire horse and it doesn’t walk or run - it bounces. All but two of last years male lambs have gone to market, both are slightly lame and can’t go until they are better, prices this year are much improved, let’s hope it continues.
The cattle that are due to be sold have been tested for T.B. and have passed so will be off as soon as the paperwork and ear tags arrive, once they have gone the remainder of the cows will be able to go out to grass, I am selling the bull as he is getting to big for his boots and tries to push the tractor around the yard when I take them silage, I have lost trust in him, so safety first he will go, before he does any real damage. The bull we had before was so completely different, if he had hurt anyone it would have been by being too friendly and not knowing his own weight, he used to love to have his head rubbed and would push you to get attention but it was never nasty. Needless to say I was always aware he was a bull and always treated him as such but he never frightened me like this one does.
The ducks and chickens are laying like mad and the goose is sitting on eggs but I don’t think they will hatch as we had a thunder storm and she has now started moving the nest around the shed. There is a cockerel in with the hens so we might have a go at trying to rear some chicks, unfortunately we don’t have any bantams left because they make brilliant mothers and beat any incubator.
The fuchsias in the greenhouse were hit hard during the winter when the wind blew the door open on a really cold night, I thought at first I thought I had lost the lot but fortunately only about a quarter have died, some of the standards are only growing from the base so will have to be cut back but the four big ones that are over twenty years old have survived. They all seem very slow to grow this year, normally by April we are taking cuttings but we have only just started pinching out the growing tips, still it could have been a lot worse and we will just have to wait and see what varieties survived and which didn’t. I haven’t bought any new plants this year but we were up to over thirty different types – the one I am pretty sure has been lost is the cigarette fuchsia so will have to try and find one at a car boot sale!
Traditionally February has always been known as “fill dyke” and this year has been no exception, everywhere is so wet, still, if my memory serves me right in the past I have commented on whether we should try growing rice! While it has been so wet apart from a couple of cold snaps and a couple of days when it has snowed, it has been so mild, there will be a lot of daffodils around for St David’s Day and there are primroses out all over the place. The warmth has meant that the grass hasn’t really stopped growing and while that has been brilliant for the sheep, it has caused problems for Ceri, one of the Welsh Mountain ponies, who has got Laminitis. It took me a bit of time to realise what was wrong as this is something that usually occurs when horses get to much spring grass, but I should have been more aware because she is so fat. We have to give her medication twice a day and she seems to be improving but unfortunately it is going to be a long job.
Lambing is in full swing, we are past the half way mark and so far so good, the continuous wet is a hindrance but the mild weather is a godsend. We are having to lamb outside as we only have one small shed and the stables available for the sheep, but so far most of the ewes have come in with their lambs for a couple of nights and then have been turned out into the paddock, which is working well. For some reason most of the black sheep are having white lambs and the white ones black, having run the Jacob rams with all the sheep as well there are also some interesting combinations!
There is one real old lady who surprised us by having a lamb, she wasn’t in the best of condition so we kept her in and were trying to feed her up and made too good a job of it as she stopped eating altogether, I gave her antibiotics and a drench with no effect and then a friend suggested an old fashioned remedy of feeding ivy leaves which worked wonders, as soon as we put them in front of her she ate the lot and then started eating concentrates and I am pleased to be able to say is now in the paddock with the others.
At long last we have had a clear test for TB on the cattle, if the next one at the end of March is also clear we will, after a year, be able to sell some of them. It has been a long and expensive business but now all we can do is hope and pray.
We have had an addition to the menagerie of animals on the farm, as the children from the village who come to “help” decided to buy me two guinea pigs for my birthday! So Pinky and Perky are now installed in a rabbit hutch in the grain shed and eating me out of house and home, fortunately they are both supposed to be males.
On the wildlife front there is frogspawn in the ponds and we have had thrushes and fieldfares eating the last of the holly berries and there are snipe and woodcock in the woods but so far it hasn’t been cold enough to entice them up by the house.
One night when I went to check the sheep there was a fox, several rabbits and a badger all at the top of the field all doing there own thing and totally oblivious to each other.
We had filled a bucket with horse chestnuts to plant and had put them in the small greenhouse, when I went to get them a squirrel ran out and up the tree and there were only a dozen conkers left!
Another month another newsletter, so what is new on the farm, the truth is not a lot, the grass and the animals continue to grow, there has been the normal quota of births marriages and deaths but life goes on. The weather has again been playing tricks and causing problems, at the beginning of the month we had to use mains water for the cattle and I saw a rabbit run across the pond because it was so dry and now we have water everywhere including in the wrong places! The wind blew down the Douglas firs by the pond like dominoes which allowed it to leak all over the campsite; we have cut up the trees and managed to stop the flow of most of the water but not all of it. What we now need to do is make the area fox proof so that we can put the ducks in to puddle around and see if that works.
There are birds nesting everywhere and the parents are very busy feeding the young, there are several broods in the walls of the stone barns and as you walk past you can hear them. The Moorhens have not put an appearance this season but I think we may well a pair of Mallard ducks around as after I had cut the grass in the paddock the other day and went to retrieve my coffee mug there was a magnificent drake standing in the middle of the field so I would hope his mate was not to far away on a nest. We have seen them flying around quite regularly. The Herons visited the pond before it went dry and cleaned out most of the tadpoles but they obviously did not get them all as there are a lot of little frogs about. It will be interesting to see if any of the dragonfly larvae survived; it is one of the wonders of nature to see them change from ugly to beautiful in a matter of hours.
It has been a long time since I have seen such a display of blossom (hawthorn) in May as there has been this year, there is one hedge in the pony field that looks as though there is snow all along the top of it, if the haws grow it should be an ideal feeding area for the birds. The Horse Chestnut also put on a magnificent show and now is covered in young fruit. It has been a terrific spring for the wildflowers and the bluebells down the woods were fantastic but unfortunately they are nearly over, when I was down there last week, cutting the paths, I couldn’t but notice how many different shades of green there are in the foliage and how they change with the sunlight.
The yearling ewes have been lambing and were in the same field as the cattle, the other morning as I went to check them a little calve decided to have a bit of fun and started to chase five lambs down the slope, when they got to the bottom the four black lambs shot off to the side but the Jacob ram decided he had had enough and turned round and charged the calf butting it full pelt between the eyes, the calf just stopped in its tracks and shook its head whether in pain or disbelieve I don’t know, but if the lambs go near him now he runs away! It was lucky it was only a young ram as we are having problems with the Jacob breeding ram as he has decided to try and wreck the fencing by attacking the posts and knocking them out of the ground and he is quite successful!
I started by saying that there was not a lot new on the farm perhaps it should have been nothing major has happened since last time I wrote, still that’s all for now.
At long last the sun is shining but the question is; will it last? The wettest summer since records began and it is only July! A lot of farmers still haven't cut their first cut silage when they should be on second cut, and there are a lot of fields that have rotten in the bottom which not only does not help make good feed but also adds to the problems of harvesting. The fields on the farm are not looking to bad as they don't get any fertiliser and being in the Tir Gorfal scheme would not normally be cut until after the 15th of July, but it has been a good year for Ragwort!
The grazing fields have poached badly round the hedges were the cattle have been sheltering from the rain but hopefully we will be able to chain harrow and roll this out when it gets a bit dryer.
It has even been difficult to cut the grass on the campsite and round the gardens as the time between cuts has let it grow tall and thick, several times we have had to cut it, let it wilt and pick it up next day, at the weekend we had both mowers in action so things are starting to become tidy again, next job will be to get the strimmer out.
The cattle and the sheep have all been wormed and the sheep have also been treated with Click against blowfly strike, expensive but effective, the main disadvantage being the forty day withdrawal period before the lambs can be sold for slaughter - we had some that were nearly ready but decided to do the whole lot as Murphy's law states that the ones not done would be the ones to be attacked!
Needless to say everything in the woods has grown like mad so there will be a few evenings spent down there cutting the walkways and trying to remove a massive Ash tree that has fallen across the road, we are hoping to save the trunk and haul it up to the farm to be cut into planks, sometimes when they fall as this one has, they get what I call the shakes where the wood splinters inside with the impact of hitting the ground so we will have to wait and see. At least being ash we will get some good firewood.
On the bird front it has not really been the weather to spend much time watching them and I must admit if it's a choice of getting wet or staying in the house the latter usually wins, but I have seen several flycatchers, the sparrow hawk has been on another raid of the pigeons in the hay barn and the red kites are still flying around.
I think we may have an owl visiting the stables as I have found several pellets about the place but have not seen it or looked in the book to try and identify what type it is.
There are rabbits everywhere, even in the courtyard in front of the house and they made a mess of the vegetable garden (along with the cows!) but we have solved the problem by enclosing it with windows and this has created a micro climate in which everything is really growing well.
Earlier in the year I bought several new varieties of fuchsia and have been propagating them and they are starting to look really good but as usual there's not a lot of space left in the greenhouse - whose bright idea was it to plant over a hundred tomato seeds as well; of course they have all grown!
Happy Christmas everybody, the sun is shining and all is right with the world – well in this part of it anyway!
At long last it has been possible to sell most of the cattle after being under restrictions of one sort or another for nearly two years. This has played havoc with the overdraft but at last there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel and the New Year is almost here.
There are now six cows, a bull and six calves left making the yard look pretty empty after last winter when there were forty seven cattle. Consequently the amount of silage used has dropped from two bales a day to half a bale a day and they need cleaning far less frequently. For the first time in several years there will be no need to buy in extra feed. The mild autumn helped a lot as they were able to stay outside nearly two months longer than normal.
Four of the calves are bulls so the plan is to sell these as stores in the spring and to keep the heifers as replacement for the two cows that are now coming up to twelve years old and starting to show their age.
The rams went in with the sheep at the end of September so should lamb towards the end of February, this year as there is the shed space we might well bring them in at night as this makes life so much easier than messing about outside in the cold and wet trying to work by torchlight.
There have been new arrivals on the farm, in the form of four hens and a cockerel to replace those that the fox had in the summer, at the moment they are in the isolation box as the chicken shed needs repairing and moving, hopefully to a position were there can be an outside run. It may seem a strange thing but with all the selling of different livestock of the farm the thing that I really missed was the chickens – so far the cockerel hasn’t found his voice and when he does perhaps my attitude will change.
The fencing contractor arrived in September and we went mad and finished all the fencing on the farm and made all the gates hang properly on their hinges, it was hard work as all the strainer posts in the top two fields above the woods had to be drilled, in places straight into the rock, but with an early start and a late finish we got them all done in a day. We also repaired all the other fences so now we have the luxury of being able to put animals in a field and they will still be there in the morning!
The hedges have been cut and the next job is to replant the gaps, and put up some more nest boxes, there are also several low branches that need cutting back so that the tractors can pass under them without knocking the exhausts off.
It has been a funny season as far as nature is concerned – there are very few berries on the holly trees and yet there were really good crops of apples and acorns, while there are primroses in flower in several places and one of the roses still has flowers on it.
The birds are feeding on the feeders but not in anything like the numbers that usually come, even though we have had several days of hard frosts and apart from a little Goldcrest that you could hear more than see – nothing else out of the ordinary.
The Red Kites and the Buzzards are around and in the last couple of days, a Sparrow hawk and Kestrel have been visiting the farmyard along with a cock Pheasant but, so far this winter I haven’t seen any Woodcock, Snipe or Mallard.