Simple things in life

Amble into our cider house and you are hit by the smells and sounds of 500 gallons of pure apple juice gurgling away in ex-whisky barrels. The olfactory bulb in the brain’s limbic system is an area closely associated with memory and feeling. This is why smells can instantly evoke memories and powerful responses. A smell can influence moods and affect work performance and I’m sure this must be why Jim is spending so much time in the cider house recently!! Sampling of course is an essential tool in the fine art of cider making 🙂

Cider making team 2013

Cider making team 2013

Our February lambing ewes have recently been scanned at 185% (an average of 1.85 lambs per ewe). We’re very happy with that result and if you’re booked on one of our lambing courses, looks like you’re going to be busy.

1 blue blob = twins, orange = single, 2 blue blobs = triplets.

1 blue blob = twins, orange = single, 2 blue blobs = triplets.

It was with sadness that after over 150 years of selling livestock, we had the final sales at Abergavenny market earlier this month. A new market has been built out of town and a supermarket is moving into our “market” town. I will certainly miss popping to the shops on market days and indeed the pub!

Last livestock sales in Abergavenny

Last livestock sales in Abergavenny

As we head towards the end of December, it’s time to reflect on the year gone by and think about the new year ahead. Sometimes we moan about trivial things and don’t always appreciate what’s right under our nose. Make sure you value the things that really matter – family, friends and good health.

On a final note, appreciate the wonderful world we live in. Go for a walk, splash in the puddles and have fun.

Kate x

Keep smiling!

Keep smiling!

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September News

Hello from us all here on the farm, hope you’ve had chance over the summer to take advantage of the lovely weather. We proudly collected our RSPB/Telegraph Wildlife Award from the Welsh Minister at the Royal Welsh Show in July and are delighted to be finalists in two categories of the Monmouthshire Business Awards this year. We look forward to the glitzy awards night in October, sounds like a good excuse to dress up!

Receiving our award off the Welsh Minister

Receiving our award off the Welsh Minister

Thank you to everybody who came to see us on the stand at Monmouth Show. Congratulations to the “Guess The Poo” winners and apologies to anyone who heard me singing in the Countryside Ring. We will be at the Country Fair at Cardiff Castle on the 28th/29th September and also at the Farm Business Innovation Show in London on the 28th/29th November.

Gertie, Liz and Bessie farrowed in August and we have 36 beautiful piglets, two of which are pictured here at less than 5 minutes old!

pigletteat
Thanks to the weather, we have managed a second cut of silage this year and been busy combining this month. With our spring oats now safely stored in the barn, we are hoping to finish the barley next week.

Combining in the sun

Livestock courses are now all full for the remainder of 2013 but new dates for 2014 will be on the website very soon. The date for our new course “Pickles, preserves & alcohol, homemade gifts for Christmas” is Friday 18th October but be warned, chocolate and alcohol will be involved 🙂 There are still places available on our Cider Making days in October and November.

Cider making team 2012

Cider making

It is with sad news that I have to end this month’s blog. Our wonderful Country Writing tutor, my Dad, Jack Benson, passed away suddenly in August. A true countryman, writer and rhymer whose sheer love and understanding of the countryside underlined everything he wrote. He has left behind an amazing legacy in his writings, songs, recordings and most of all in the memories of all the people he met and inspired. His blog can be found here.

Summer is here

As I am writing this, tractors are busy in the fields and there is a wonderful smell of summer in the air. Haymaking in June and July is a real treat from recent years, it certainly beats sinking in the mud!

Lovely smell of summer

Lovely smell of summer

Our sheep are more comfortable in the heat now thanks to the students who attended our Sheep Shearing Courses this year. Shearing has now been completed on both farms and will also minimise the risk of fly strike (maggots) on the sheep and finding the sheep cast (on their backs).

Learning the art of handshearing

Students learning the art of handshearing

Wildlife courses have also been very popular this summer and we feel honoured to have a Highly Commended in the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award this year. We’ll be proudly accepting the award at the forthcoming Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells, also our annual family trip out.

We hosted the Gwent YFC rally on our Skirrid Farm in June. Not only is the YFC a fantastic youth organisation, it is probably the largest rural dating agency in the UK – and it certainly worked for Jim and me. This year we are celebrating 70 years of Abergavenny YFC and it is lovely to see our son enjoying it as much as his parents and grandparent did before him. Farming is all about tradition.

On a final note, if you haven’t done so already, why not make some elderflower cordial. Simple and delicious.

Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower

Enjoy the summer and remember that local honey is a great remedy for hayfever. Our busy bees are loving this weather! For any information on courses or if you just want a chat! Feel free to e-mail me direct via our website.

Busy month of May

We have finally finished what I can only describe as our most challenging lambing season to date. Congratulations to all our new lambing graduates, all ewes and lambs are now outside enjoying the sunshine.

Lovely blue sky.

Lovely blue sky.

Our 30 Fresian x British Blue calves have just been weaned. They were bucket reared so will become friendly, easy to handle cows. 52 of our 2011 bucket reared calves were sold at market this week, following a clear, pre-movement TB test. More calves are arriving soon.

Mabel the chicken training the calves.

Mabel the chicken training the calves.

Lambing may have finished but with sheep there’s always something to do as our students found out last week on the Sheep Husbandry course. Working well as a team and so confident in performing stock tasks by the end of the day, we left them to it! Well done all.

Hard working students.

Hard working students.

They also sorted the first of our spring lambs ready for market. These were sold the following week at Abergavenny Livestock Market. Hard to believe that there will be a supermarket standing here next year.

Abergavenny Livestock Market

Abergavenny Livestock Market

It will soon be shearing season, essential to prevent fly-strike during the hot weather. Details of our Shearing courses can be found here.

Coppicing and fencing of the river has now been completed. We were extremely happy to see one of our otters with two of last year’s cubs. Not only can you see them here but if you turn the sound up you can hear them communicating.

Thanks to the change in the weather, we have managed to plant 20 acres of spring barley and 20 acres of spring oats for animal feed and straw next winter and also sown 10 acres of grass seed. With farming, you’re always planning ahead. Here’s hoping that the weather is going remain kind.

As if lambing wasn’t difficult enough……

Shortly after our New Year blog the snow arrived, just in time for our January lambing! Our barns were bursting as the lambs were popping out at speed but we couldn’t put any outside in the arctic conditions.

Snow

Sheep getting extra food in the snow.

We then had a rare, red Met Office snow warning for our first lambing course of the year. The course was re-arranged for 23rd February and was a great success with ewes delivering lambs on cue! We are lambing now until April with more lambing courses in March.

The other challenge we had was the Schmallenberg virus. Compared with most farms we have been lucky with only 3% of our January lambs being affected and no signs so far in our current lambs. If the ewes are infected whilst in the early stages of pregnancy, deformities in lambs can be severe. Not as bad if infected later on in their pregnancy.

Healthy newborn lambs

Healthy newborn lambs

It then began to rain and this added to melting snow resulted in flooding. I have never seen our fields so waterlogged and would appreciate you all partaking in a sun-dance to last us through the next few weeks :)Currently the weather is a bit kinder and we’re managing to put ewes and lambs outside.

River Usk in Abergavenny

River Usk in Abergavenny

On a positive note, we are happy to announce that we had a clear TB test earlier this month, always a relief. We’ve also had four healthy calves born over the last month.

Another new addition on our farm is our ottercam! An inspired birthday present from Jim following this photograph I took when out checking stock in January.

Otter on our river.

Otter on our river.

We are posting videos on our Facebook Page so have a look or even better why not come and have a go at otter spotting yourself on one of our wildlife courses.

We are currently working with the Wye and Usk Foundation to improve the capacity of our river to support our brown trout and other wildlife. Fences and watergates allow protection whilst still providing watering holes for our stock. Coppicing will result in increased biodiversity with an added benefit of a good supply of firewood!

Watergate and coppicing.

Watergate and coppicing.

On a final note, many people have been asking our views on the current horsemeat saga and I think the answer is simple; Buy British, buy local and lets start cooking proper meals again. You can make tasty, nutritious meals with simple ingredients and it’s cheaper than you think!

For any information on courses or if you just want a chat! Feel free to e-mail me direct via our website.

Let’s build communities and banish rickets!

Well a big Happy New Year/Blwyddyn Newydd Dda to you all.

Yesterday we had our New Year village walk ending up at the village hall for bacon butties and mulled wine. Great fun was had by adults, kids and dogs alike with new residents meeting long standing ones. Conversation and laughter filled the air (helped along with numerous hip flasks). Community is so important and we do have to make an effort in this busy world we live in to make time for friends and neighbours.

I love Christmas! It was slightly hampered this year due to the fact I had an emergency appendix removal and was told very sternly by my Doctor that I was to “take it easy” for a few weeks. Now I am not the best patient when it comes to taking it easy but found solace in t’internet when it came to Christmas shopping. Apart from hurting myself rescuing an injured turkey a few days post op, I think I did reasonably well and should be 110% fit for lambing.

I can’t believe we start lambing in two weeks! Ultrasound scanning is very useful for management purposes. As with any pregnant animal, the ewe does not require any extra feed until the last third of her gestation. If overfed, the lamb could be too large for the ewe to deliver naturally. Ewes carrying multiple lambs are marked during scanning and fed accordingly to prevent twin lamb disease, caused by poor nutrition. Scanning is also extremely useful when adopting lambs at birth. Ewes are marked to indicate single, twins, triplets or quads (Yes, we have a few this year!).

Two blue blobs = triplets. Three blue blobs = quads

Two blue blobs = triplets. Three blue blobs = quads

We were delighted with the response to Kate’s Country School in 2012 and have been privileged to meet so many wonderful people. It was also lovely to hear how many people received our Country School courses as Christmas presents. We look forward to welcoming new and returning students here during 2013.

The piglets have arrived! Liz, Bessie and Gertie had 34 beautiful piglets with only one runt amongst them. He keeps coming onto the house for a cuddle.

Piglets

Piglets

The cattle have been brought inside for the winter months as the fields outside are so water logged. 150 ewes are in the shed ready for lambing. There is something lovely about curling up in front of the log burner with a good book in these dark evenings, I quite like winter. Some of our sunsets have been particularly beautiful.

Beautiful sunset on the farm.

Beautiful sunset on the farm.

After finishing the MSc in 2011 I decided to have a study break. My grey cells have now started to twitch so I have decided to learn Welsh. Now as a Lancashire lass it is indeed a sharp learning curve but I am determined to plod on and will hopefully be able to manage a basic conversation by the summer.

We are proud to have our ”Access to Farms” logo on the website after successfully completing the portfolio in 2012 via FACE(farming and countryside education). School groups are visiting the farm in 2013 to learn about food production, farming and the countryside. We all need to connect with our food and know where it comes from. Keep food simple, buy local and you can create tasty, nutritious meals for a fraction of the cost of processed “ready meals”.

Staying on a healthy note, sunshine (daylight) is essential for our vitamin D production so I think 2013 should be the year of the great outdoors! Get outside, climb a hill, roll in the mud, climb a tree or just walk in the park. It is good for the soul and prevents rickets!

Real Cider – one of your five a day!

Our multifunctional stone barn


We have a very special stone barn here on the farm. It is Grade 2* listed and possibly the last barn of it’s kind remaining in agricultural use in the county, if not in South Wales. Housing animals during the Winter months it also hosts village events during the Summer. Neighbouring White Castle has records of a farmstead being here as early as the 12th century with the cider house being added on in the 17th century. Kate’s Country School classroom is above the cider house (top of the steps in the photo). The farm is seething in history, myths and legends. By the 18th century, most farm workers’ wages included 4 pints of cider which is why many farms had a cider press, we still have ours. Payment by cider became illegal in 1887 so we just drink it!!
Cider making team 2012

Cider making team 2012

Following the poor apple harvest this year, we did manage to bring in extra apple supplies from over the border (Much Marcle). This resulted in an amazing day in October when students pulped, pressed and filled our ex-single malt wooden barrels with scrummy juice. This will produce 200 gallons of cider which they are returning to sample in a few months. With no added sugar or yeast, it has to be one of your five a day!

Filling the barrels

Filling the barrels

Due to the soggy conditions, our cattle have happily come inside so will require mucking out and feeding through the winter months. Gertie, Bessie and Liz (our Gloucester Old Spot pigs) have also been brought in to the piggery as they are all about to farrow and their outside enclosure is very wet. Watch this space for piglets……………..

Our bronze turkeys are now very free range and are enjoying the many scenic walks we have around the farm.

Bronze Turkeys

The January lambing ewes all had an ultrasound scan in October. We were extremely happy with the 201% result. The ideal is 200% (two lambs per ewe). We can now feed the ewes accordingly as sheep carrying one lamb require less feed than sheep carrying multiple lambs. If you have booked on the January lambing course (now full) it looks like you’re going to be very busy!

Can you see twin lambs in this scan?


The tups have now all been removed from the ewes which means we should finish lambing by April 5th. There are course dates available in March with special St. David’s Day celebrations on March 1st!

All our 2013 course dates are now available via the website. Please do not hesitate to contact me direct for details or if you are a group wanting to try something new. Don’t forget, if you’re looking for unusual Christmas gifts we supply gift vouchers which can be posted or e-mailed directly to you. The perfect present! Sheep husbandry, Country writing, Butchery, Wildlife, Shearing, Stone Walling and much, much more……….Loads of subjects, dates throughout the year and all for £90 or less. There must be something here for you.

On a final note, as the temperature drops, keep warm and please remember the wildlife. Well replenished birdfeeders are wonderful to watch out of the window and remember many wild animals are hibernating so try not to disturb your “messy” garden areas.