Hill Farming

Making a Mountain?

The little men in velvet jackets have been busy over winter and the sheep have eaten most of the grass and gone home to lamb.

So it’s time to get in the jolly giant to rake the molehills.

There, that’s better — that’ll soon grass over. Note the newly laid hedge!

One hour later!

Brand new molehill!

What is the point?

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Farm engineering, Hill Farming, lifestyle, Pest-control

Squirrel Wars!

Yesterday Hefin came and fixed our roof. A squirrel had found a hole in the soffit(the timber under the eves) and had moved into the roof space above the bathroom for the winter months. It was disturbing Bill as he cleaned his teeth, by moving its furniture around in its garret, reorganizing the insulation and planning to rewire the electricity. Something had to be done —

— while squirrel was busy stealing the bird’s peanuts, Hefin sealed up the hole!

Invisible mend!

Today I was sitting in the bathroom contemplating the infinite when I was disturbed by the sound of someone dragging a concrete block across the roof. I rushed downstairs adjusting my clothes and burst out of the front door, ran around the house in time to see it. Evicted squirrel was perched on the roof above the mended soffit grasping the edge of the corner most roof-slate with both his little hands and heaving with all his might. I screamed. He paused and looked down at me enquiringly without releasing his grip on the slate. I yelled, I picked up a stick and beat the side of the house. He made a snap decision, stopped his attempted incursion and leapt the 8 feet into the nearest tree. Aha! So that is how he gets up!

Who? Me?

So here we are again in the land of imperatives. Not for us a good read or a spot of light editing with out feet up. We spent the morning up the slithery bank mindful of all the historical figures who have fallen to their death from trees. Wielding Great-granny’s Edwardian long-tom and our state-of-the-art long handled clippers and pruning saw, we have removed the treacherous elder that was allowing squirrel to leap across onto our roof.

Job done!

Transporting the brushwood to the heap we notice that the rickety sheep fence where it crosses the stream has, in our recent absence been busy turning itself into a dam by weaving sticks and leaves into itself and catching lots of silt. The whole construction now being frozen solid and ready to stand up to the force of the water when next in flood until inevitably it will collapse allowing the water to flow down the valley and the sheep to flow up into our precious re-wilding habitat.

Beaver technology

Another imperative! To stand up to my reconditioned knees in freezing water and demolish the half built dam.

It’s good to be home!

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animal psychology, Hill Farming, Sheep

First and Last

Yesterday a sudden and sad thing happened. Our first lamb and oldest ewe died.

Orphaned and raised in the house and then the yard, long before it was tarmacked.

I made foolish promises to her at that time but I kept them! Here she is after her retirement bathed in evening light in the twilight of her days.

She died yesterday, on the farm, as promised — from birth to death she had personal attention and we shall all miss her demanding, cantankerous ways. She was an object lesson in how not to treat a domestic animal! Always first in and last out — if danger threatened and the flock ran away Aby ran towards the back door.
Only a few days ago she broke into the barn knocking things over and messed where Bill was destined to tread. Relaxed mother of 10 lambs all were delivered by the back door.
RIP Aby (2008-2021)
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Ecology, Health and safety, Hill Farming

Rural Detox!

Do you remember the old barns we inherited when we bought this farm — here is Alan starting to demolish the tractor shed!
The area at the back remained a gathering ground for scrap metal and all the bits and pieces that might just be useful in the future!

But the future is now!

We took a look at the older stuff and I accepted the proposition that it might just be asbestos, took some to the tip and had it checked and confirmed that it was asbestos. They thanked me for my offer but said they didn’t want it — at any price. At this point it could have stayed behind the shed for another 20 years but no, with the help of a friend with a digger we have sorted and stacked it and tomorrow an approved contractor is arriving, at immense expense, in PPE to double bag and remove same to a place of safety (actually controlled un-safety) after which I will get a certificate!

Ancient Asbestos
Roof tiles that no-one wants to recycle

And look — space for a new barn!

Sadly — the large ash tree has been reduced to produce — logs
and kindling!

Tomorrow the man will come to measure up for the steel frame of the new barn and we will order the wooden cladding, the painting of which will be another new diversion.

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Corona Virus Lockdown, Hill Farming

Adapt or Die!

Reappraisal, re-purposing and a lot of digging:  that is what we have been doing during the corona lock-down as we wait to see what Nature throws at us next.

When Bill and I renewed our friendship we had just come through difficult times having both recently lost much loved spouses after long illnesses.  In the past we’d worked together for many years so knew we got on and are still getting on in both senses (three score years and ten!)  We also lived in and are rooted in different parts of the Britain, he in England, me in Wales.

As the Corona Pandemic started to unfold it became evident that movements would be restricted but I think we had already made a leap of faith and  here we are — locked-down together in Wales.

I had sold or re-homed all my stock (apart from my dear old pet “lamb”, Aby seen below in her new role as artistic muse!) We should have been making the most of our new found mobility…  Lisa runs her sheep on the land now.

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Recent portrait of Aby — lady of leisure.

But there is still a lot to do and so much better with a willing helper!

I’ve always believed when you run out of space what you need to do is sort things out, de-clutter and find the space that you had just mislaid!  We have tidied the tools.

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We have processed the remains of the demolished, unsafe, storm damaged and rotten barn and removed the remains of the rat infested container — taken down in the nick of time.  All the higgledy-piggledy timber we have cut and stacked.

We have surveyed the fences and arranged for all the wobbly ones to be reinforced by new posts now that contractors are free to come. We have removed the debris.

I have repurposed the now deserted chicken run — digging vegetable beds and converting the coop into a potting shed.  The feed troughs that are no longer needed have been filled with compost and planted with lettuce, onions, coriander and radishes. Brought up on Beatrice Potter I’ve always identified with Peter Rabbit!  Not any more — I’m  Mr McGregor.  As the new baby rabbits gathered in awe around my magnificent courgette plant, I rushed to the now tidy shed and put my hand directly on the  roll of chicken wire, grabbing the staples with the other, and made haste to increase security.

The grass from the chicken run was raised like an old carpet and re-laid on the scar that was left by the container and seeds sown where it would not stretch.

The compacted stony ground within the chicken run, the only rabbit proof area, has been dug and re-dug and fertilised and planted. The seedling beans got frosted the night after they were planted out (I’m on a learning curve) and the onions got mowed (so is Bill) but it all looks more promising than any of my previous attempts at gardening. The Jerusalem artichokes left over from a recipe that gave us hurricane levels of wind are growing fantastically — a mixed blessing.

Bill has cut the bracken and the thistles on the pasture with the new topper pulled by the newly serviced quad-bike without mishap and I cut the ones on the steepest banks by hand.

During all this time nature has entertained us. The birdsong is less deafening now as this years fledglings hop about in the low branches and the parents flit about busily feeding them. Kites soar above as two buzzards and a magpies skirmish in the field over one less rabbit for me to worry about. Neither of us have ever witnessed the Spring unfolding in such detail and the weather has never been so good.

Jerusalem Artichoke
Salad planted in feed troughs

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Hill Farming, Sheep

Mother Nature’s Own Agenda!

“She’s got rid of those breeding ewes — we won’t have to look at any more pictures of slimy new lambs”

Not so! As with all things in the Garden of Eden — Mother Nature will have her way! The young lady who now uses our land to graze her virginal, adolescent ewes is learning just how fragile is ovine virginity!

Happy Accident 1 and 2, discovered on Wednesday:

They were left in peace in our top field and the others brought down to the fields around the house, I was out. The first thing I knew about what was going on was when I was eating my lunch in the sunshine and heard a strange baa — like a child imitating a sheep — I went to investigate and found a bewildered young ewe with tummy ache. But something was wrong — didn’t I say that anything that could go wrong would go wrong? It’s the 1st rule of rearing anything! She was agitated, as well she might be, and not progressing in her labour. I tried to catch her which only reminded me why I had decided to stop lambing in the first place. I phoned the shepherd, who phoned her dad, who borrowed her dog, who came and caught the ewe.

The dog drove the ewe into the pen and Dad and I extracted a very shocked large and strangely khaki lamb with a swollen head and enlarged tongue and initial disinclination to breath but with encouragement she did (Mother Nature was not about to be out-done at this stage!)

Happy Accident no 3 a few hours later –still a bit wobbly — mother much calmer.

After her day job, the shepherd arrived to check the rest — two more wayward adolescents were identified, to be collected tomorrow and taken to the main farm. But guess what?

What’s this? Happy Accident no 4!

Now I’m going out to check for No 5!

What a treat it is for me to have some lambs to fuss over! But what strikes me most is how big and healthy these lambs are without all the extra food and care that would normally have been lavished upon them.

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Hill Farming, seasons, Wales

Flaming February

Last autumn it was too dry to burn the brushwood from our extensive hedging operations.

Now, when most years we have snow, I’ve been farming in my shorts! We’ve had the hottest February days since records began (here anyway). There are wildfires on Saddleworth Moor but here the ground is still a bit soggy so Alan announces that the conditions are right for a bonfire!

As we had a spot of bother with our last big fire ( see Uncall the Fire Brigade) our friend David takes it upon himself to supervise us, bringing his grab on the big tractor — always exciting for us!

There was a shower over night so it is slow to start.

But, after a bit of encouragement:

We have a spark to work with — piling on the brushwood on an industrial scale!



Until we have a decent bonfire!

Satisfying to watch!

It burns all night and no hedgehogs are injured in the making of this fire!

By next day it is manageable by a retired lady with a pitchfork.

Now we are ready for the spring and, you guessed, it’s raining!

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Hill Farming, Humour

Chutney Days!

As I get older my back aches a bit and my trousers get tighter otherwise I feel much the same but I notice that the people around me seem to ail more and the things that fill my days are changing.  A lot of the things that we do hardly merit a blog — I can’t promise you a riveting account of my breast screening appointment next week.

This week I have scratched the new car and got stuck in the car-wash but I have mostly been making chutney — apple chutney.  Well, I’d cleaned the house after the cider episode (the floor no longer clings hysterically to my shoes as I walk, nor the door handles to my hands) so I thought, I’ll fill the kitchen with vinegar fumes, taint the washing on the dryer and torture myself with chilli fingers when I remove my contact lenses!

I can feel exceedingly green by recycling jam jars, soothing my hands in warm soapy water, marvel at the amazing adhesiveness of modern labels  and turn a blind eye (still red from the chilli) on the amount of sugar that goes in — much less than in  jam! 

All because I read somewhere that the reason the days seem to fly past as we get older is because we don’t do enough different things– distinguishing things — that-was-the-day-I-made-the-chutney things!  

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Hill Farming

Sticky Situation!

We have a decrepit apple tree — the sheep barked it, a hedge has swamped it, it has die-back and more lichen than leaves and has produced about ten apples in as many years — until this year.

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It still doesn’t look very healthy but, by God, this has been a good year for apples!

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A fraction of the crop.

Trouble is everyone has had an exceptional year — Alan was bemoaning this fact at the pub and the fact that we no longer had a cider press (actually that was a huge relief — we are trying to cut down.)

Next day a friend arrived with, guess what!

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State of the art cider apple masher and…

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Cider Press!

It takes a lot of apples and a lot of mashing and pressing to produce a gallon of cider.  We’ve got through about 200 pounds of apples.

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The kitchen is now full of demi-johns bubbling away — it smells like a real farmhouse kitchen and everything is sticky!

I don’t think I can face bottling it so we will have to rack it off (to remove the sediment) and insert bungs into the big jars — that will mean we have to drink it a gallon at a time — Happy days!

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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 gossamer.

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and polishes the mellowing bramble.

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