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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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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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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