Hill Farming, seasons, Wales

Before the Storm

It’s a misty autumn morning with dew on the pasture where Aby is getting to know her new companion.

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The other sheep (including her old friend Twts) have gone to meet the ram.  Aby, who had retired from lambing, has a new friend to keep her company  — no sheep is happy to be alone (although this particular, hand reared one might well prefer to be back in the kitchen with the dog and me).

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That’s why she looks so grumpy — to top it all, the new friend (who is very undersized) is getting extra rations which is very irritating to Aby who is on a diet!  New ewe lamb who is from a neighbour’s farm, is still nameless but was an orphan like Aby, so is very bold with humans but still not at ease with Pedro, the dog.  She stamps her feet in an unfriendly way when he comes near — it’s early days.

As the sun appears over the hill the whole area is bathed in amber light reflected from the dying bracken.

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The woods are glowing with new colors.

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and dew, on spider silk, drapes the dead stalks of yarrow in organdie

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and polishes the mellowing bramble.

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Hill Farming, Sheep, Welsh culture

Highlight of the Farming Year

Llanidloes Ram Sale — a proper country Sheep Fair — where breeding sheep are traded locally just before the onset of the proper farming year, when the tups are turned out with the ewes at the beginning of November — for lambs in the Spring!

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All the sheep looking their best and relaxed — no frayed tempers today even if the hormones are beginning to flow.

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Perhaps the tups are a bit too laid-back — but then the ewes are down wind on the other side of the marquee.

Here’s a pen of fine young Blue Faced Leicesters —

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They may end up servicing  these beauties —

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–or these very tidy Black Faced ewes (I think they may be Beulahs)–

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to produce a valuable breeding Mule.

But best of all (to my mind) are the lively and hardy White Faced Welsh Mountain sheep.

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Best behavior in the ring but glad to be out of it!

High Flighers!

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Cornwall

Taking Pointing to a Whole New Level

I’ve done a lot of pointing in my time — that’s the hacking out of old mortar from ancient masonry and replacing it with fresh, new, lime mortar.  I like doing it — it’s very relaxing and, if you are not alone, you can chat in a particularly unguarded way, with your mind half on the methodical job in hand.

But look at this chap!

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Not so relaxed!

You can’t see his little pick in the photo but I could hear it.  And he didn’t stop there,  above the 700 year old octagonal lantern of the parish church of St Bartholomew, in Lostwithiel, Cornwall.

I don’t know how he got his rope to the top of the tower but here he is higher:

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hacking at the mortar of the church, the body of which was built in the heyday of the town in the twelfth century when it was one of the most important ports in Britain — before the river silted up with the waste from streaming tin on the hills which, ironically, was the source of the town’s wealth.

It is no longer the capital of Cornwall — but a very picturesque and quiet village in which to enjoy a cream tea and watch the twenty-first century go by.

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Thoughtful, Wales

Listening through the silence

Last night was very quiet — I went to listen for owls and nightjars  at 4 am but all I could hear was the occasional high pitched bip of a bat passing overhead, looking for the last of the midges.

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Night Sky by gaigegarza966 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I leaned against the field gate and listened very hard —  faintly there was the white noise of the stream, fifty yards below, a billion splashes and glugs of millions of different, asynchronous frequencies vibrating the air.   But above that there was another sound.  Above, because it seemed to come from above, but below in pitch — a celestial hum.  There was no wind, no traffic for fifty miles, not a plane in the sky — only drifting cloud over a hazy moon and this strange brown noise (or maybe it was purple).  Infinite sound from an infinite number of sources — jet planes in Cardiff, a generator in Machynlleth, the creaking of the trees, dogs in far off farms barking at the moon  (too far away to distinguish individually and too many), thunder on the coast and the sea lapping on the shore, back doors opening (to let out cats), snoring from upstairs windows and sheep (millions of them) eructating — burping in the moon shadows.

All these sounds bounce over the Earth, off the sides of  houses, resonating in tin sheds and ricocheting off cliffs and bouncing off the underside of the clouds.  They can be muffled by the mist and absorbed by the moss and the snow but they all  combine to make the hum of our planet.

We value the darkness of our nights (the lack of light polution) that allows us to see the brightness of the firmament.  Last night I appreciated the stillness of the night that allowed me to hear beyond the silence!

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Climate, Hill Farming, Meteorology

Grass Roots Meteorology

Not looking at the colour of the grass to determine the dryness of the summer but measuring things oneself to confirm ones suspicions — that’s Science!

We had not lived in Wales very long when we suspected that it was a rather wet climate — I bought a very primitive rainwater gauge and commenced my research (in the spirit of the age of enlightenment and gentlemen scientists (or gentlewomen).

I measured the weekly rainfall for two years until one frosty morning an iceberg formed from the previous days precipitation and split the gauge and terminated the experiment.  However the results were conclusive –approximately 2000 mm (2 metres) of water per year –somewhat less than on the slopes of Snowdon and less than we expected –on balance it felt wetter!

We did prove beyond doubt the proposition — it is a rather wet climate.

We have rain all the year round, more in winter and less (if only slightly) in the spring.

Weekly Summer Rainfall for 2015 and 2016 (in pencil) in mm

mm of weekly rainfall in usual summer

Please note in June 2016 a perching Magpie, attempting to drink, knocked over the whole apparatus.  Okay, it’s not very professional but absolutely authentic.

In contrast  this summer’s record flat-lined until a couple of weeks ago.  There was no rain at all — measured or otherwise.

The poor farmers were carting water to their flocks on the parched hillsides.  The waterfalls were silent and the brooks no longer babbled.  Neighbours were seen lifting their manhole covers and staring forlornly into their wells or struggling up from the dwindling river with buckets of water to flush the loo.

Rainfall is something we, in Wales, take for granted.  We found one of our young farming friends sinking a bore hole last week having come face to face with the real possibility of drought and the previously unthinkable situation — one where he is unable to water his stock.

Our stream did not run dry but our pond stopped overflowing and the level dropped considerably mirroring the huge reservoirs of this area that supply the big cities of Liverpool and Birmingham.  Demand outstripped supply and during the hot weather we are told that the demand in the cities actually increased.  None of us should take our water supply for granted.

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Rocky bottom of the Clywedog Reservoir

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Rare glimpse of remains of Gronwen where our friend Audrey lived before the valley was flooded by the dam 50 years ago.

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Welsh culture

Avoiding the Digital Black Hole

Avoiding the Digital Black Hole is like hunting the Snark –you are not sure what it is but it’s horribly dangerous and if you accidentally step in it you will ‘softly and silently vanish away’.

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Henry Holiday’s original illustration of the Hunting of the Snark (that’s me in the middle) by Lewis Carroll.

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So (as everyone says nowadays) I was particularly gratified when the National Library of Wales informed me that I had been chosen and they would like my permission to provide public access to copies of this website held within the UK Web Archive.  This, I am reliably informed, will protect me against the ravages of the digital black hole!

Thank you, National Library of Wales.        Diolch i Lyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru!

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animal psychology, Babies, Humour, Lambing, Sheep, Welsh culture

When is a sheep not a sheep?

Years ago, long before we knew anything about sheep, fate presented us with an orphan lamb.

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Here she is, still nameless and rather thin, at the foot of her ailing mother.  Our subsequent experience “bringing up Aby” (that is her name) forms the basis for some of my recent book, Iolo’s Revenge.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you but can tell you that it was a very steep learning curve and taught us a great deal that we had not previously realized about bonding, despite having five children!

And it’s not just humans that are suckers for baby things!  Here is Pedro our tough and, then, sometimes wilful, dog (who would kill an adult rat or rabbit in a trice) cleaning up Aby with puppy love.

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Here she is a few weeks later and a lot more confident.

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Queen of her domain.

She has had ten lambs of her own now, always helped into the world by yours truly, (though they never really needed it).  She would always lie as close as she could to the kitchen door and call for her private midwife.  She would make a terrible fuss if I went in for a cup of coffee or a call of nature and when the lamb was almost out I would gently help and present it to Aby.  It reminded me of a cat we used to have who would not have her kittens unless my dad was standing by with sterilized nail scissors.

I’ll save you the slippery, slimy pictures.  All cleaned up next day –note the number one –that’s Mum’s number — she was, after all, our first.

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Last October we sold our breeding flock and Aby has retired.  She runs with the new flock that graze our land.

Last week they were to be moved to the farthest field, beyond the woodland.  Now when sheep are faced with a scary predator their instinct is to flock together.  Aby took one look at the enthusiastic sheep dog, a Huntaway bitch, that had come to do the job and she peeled off from the flock and hurtled (she doesn’t hurtle often) towards the sound of Alan’s voice.  She hid with him in the orchard until the job was done and when shepherd and dog came back to the house Aby was standing with Alan in the garden still absolutely confident that when people say “sheep”, they don’t mean her.

She stayed in the garden all night, eating forsythia to which she is rather partial and which had only just recovered from its last assault, and I walked her up to join the other sheep in the morning which she did quite happily but in her own time.

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