Castration rings in the washing machine…

Amniotic fluid, flying placentas and castration rings left in pockets… it’s that time of year again. With 900 breeding ewes, this is our busiest time of year and also the most rewarding. Here’s one of this morning’s lambs…

lambwash

2015 was a bad year for British farmers, here’s hoping 2016 will be kinder. RABI (Royal Agricultural Benevolant Institution), is a charity supporting farming families in need and this week the Monmouthshire branch was launched with a quiz at our local livestock market. Support was overwhelming and a great time was had by all with amazing food and Jim’s cider on tap…hic! Hopefully the first of many events raising awareness of this wonderful charity.

RABIperplexed2

The name of our farm translates to “home of the frost” and this was certainly true earlier this week. Made a nice change from the relentless wet weather over Christmas and New Year.

TrerhewFrost

The classroom is having a cleanout as February lambing courses are nearly all full and we also have a school group visiting the farm. Education is so important in our industry and I’m proud to be a Bright Crop Ambassador, promoting positive perceptions in agriculture and will be attending our local secondary school’s careers evening in a couple of weeks to hopefully inspire budding future farmers in areas of technology, engineering and science.

Our own future farmer Sam has just left school, attends college one day a week and has worked hard and saved for a 3 tonne digger with which he’s making more money than we are with the sheep! With his forward thinking ideas, we think this young entrepreneur will go far.

In the mean time, I’m off to check the washing machine for castrating rings…

 

 

Advertisements

Sheep farming crisis.

We’ve just returned from our annual visit to the Royal Welsh Show where Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he is going to reduce red tape for farmers which is great news following our recent sheep inspection. All sheep were counted, tags checked and paperwork examined in detail so stress levels were high but following a five hour inspection, we passed with flying colours. A week later we were informed that an inspector was coming to inspect the inspector who did the inspection. When he arrived I asked (tongue in cheek) if there was going to be another inspection to inspect him, I was told that it was possible from Europe. So yes Mr. Cameron, I think it’s a cracking idea!

Meeting the Royal Welsh Goat.

Meeting the Royal Welsh Goat.

We recently heard that Tesco have taken another shipment of New Zealand lamb when our lamb is at peak season. At the time of writing this blog, with our lamb prices at rock bottom, we are still awaiting a response from Tesco regarding it’s lamb sourcing policy. Explaining the situation on social media resulted in an overwhelming positive response from the public, reaching over 100,000 people. We really appreciate the support, thank you. At the end of the day, the consumer has the power to make change through informed choices. Showcasing our produce is what shows like the Royal Welsh do well and supermarkets need to follow suit with produce labelled and displayed effectively to aid customer choices.

Public support

Public support

Courses on the farm are very popular and we’ve recently added team building days to the list. Last month we had members of the armed forces rounding up sheep, shearing, wool rolling, spinning and sampling our home produced cider. A great day was had by all…..hic!

No sexism here, whilst the girls were shearing….

No sexism here, whilst the girls were shearing….

With no holiday planned for this year, I’ve put up the tent by the river and escape to it whenever time allows. I was joined by this lovely couple last week. Wine cooling in the river, cooking on an open fire and noisy otters joining us in the evening, it really is idyllic.

Kingfishers chilling by the river

Kingfishers chilling by the river

On a final note I would like to congratulate son Sam and his team mates who are now the junior Welsh tug-of-war champions. They will travel to Ireland in September to represent Wales in the world championships. Good luck lads!

The evenings are getting darker…..

Just when we’re getting into the swing of the summer holidays, there’s an autumnal feel and I’m back at work (college that is, not my work as an unpaid farmhand) next week. Where did the time go?

Haymaking is now complete and what fantastic weather we had for it during June and July. Combining is almost complete so we’re hoping the weather will be kind for another week.

Bales

Our polytunnel is finally planted (better late than never) and we are hoping to have a fully home produced Christmas lunch as our turkey poults are growing well. Terrier Gyp has taken a shine to this one!

10307171_10204424421840166_53901885748065109_n

Our very free range piglets are running around the farm, causing mischief but currently getting away with it as they look so cute!

10603321_798223720198744_7885636517518827503_n

We had our first stag party on the farm which was great fun although my risk assessments were in overdrive combining cider and shearing. More “fun” group booking requests are now coming in. If you fancy a party with a difference, please don’t hesitate to get in touch (cider compulsary).

10464017_767234623297654_2052949728363163482_n

Our first Family course was a great success with students of all ages discovering how food is produced, tracking wildlife and enjoying home produced sausages cooked on an open fire, washed down with real lemonade. Children planted seeds to take home and nurture whilst the parent took some home produced cider home to sample, For medicinal purposes of course (part of your 5 a day)! River dipping, estimating ages of trees, poo identification…. there’s so much to do outside, you just need to know where to look.

10458081_786900941331022_4710124323741374954_n

This is a great time of year with shows, large and small, across the UK and beyond showcasing the best of farming and our beautiful countryside. We will be at Monmouthshire Show on August 28th with the Kate’s Country School stand. Please come and say hello and have a go at our famous “Guess the Poo” competition. Don’t knock it until you try it!

Kate x

Spring has sprung.

Teenage gangs are appearing around the farm.

Teenage gangs are appearing around the farm.

Spring is finally here after a very soggy February which made lambing difficult. March was kinder and beside sleep deprivation, the lambing season has been successful with over 1000 lambs born so far.

Each lambing course is different as it is a “warts and all” course and sheep are unpredictable. Courses were all busy with plenty of lambs born, stomach tubings, adoptions, lots of learning and…….cider! Here students are learning the art of “skinning”. The skin off a dead lamb was put on an orphan so he’d be accepted by “Mum”. Worked a treat!

skinning

We popped up on the telly a couple of times in March. I had a wonderful new experience reporting on health and welfare issues for Crufts (Channel 4) and we featured in the Lambing Live Farming Families documentary (BBC 2). Great fun filming for both but had to be cleaner and smarter for channel 4! 😉

BBC filmcrew getting agricultural!

BBC filmcrew getting agricultural!

It won’t be long and the cattle will be turned out for the summer months. Bucket reared calves have grown and are now very friendly cows. We have another TB test in May which, if clear, means we can sell from the farm again, fingers crossed.

Friendly cattle

Very much looking forward to our Family Discover Day on the farm at Easter. It’s a joy to see children connecting with the countryside, having fun and getting dirty. Countryside education is important as the link from farm to food seems to have been lost. We’re hoping to play a small part in fixing this.

On a final note, life can get crazy at times and we all need time out, could be as simple as a soak in the bath at the end of a hard day. This is my secret hideaway, glass in hand I can “disappear” for a while and watch the kingfishers flying down the brook. So make sure you take a little time out for yourself to reflect and unwind. Stress causes all sorts of health problems which can sometimes be prevented.

My hideaway

My hideaway

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!

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.

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.