Harvest Moon

The harvest moon is the full moon closest to the Autumn equinox (22 September). It would have been an amazing sight to behold last night if it hadn’t been so cloudy on the way home from Harvest Festival!

Across the UK and Ireland, the harvest has been precarious this year, I have never seen so much hay being made in September before. We started to panic as our spring barley wilted in the boggy fields and considered converting a hovercraft as a makeshift combine! Thank you to all who did sun dances as we finally had a full dry week and the combine arrived. Our yield was not too bad at 2 tonne per acre, could have been much worse so we consider ourselves very lucky.

Although apple harvest is poor this year, we have managed to source additional cider apples so rest assured, 150 gallons of cider is set to be made on our cider course. I have managed to hide some of last year’s cider from Jim for sampling purposes!

August is primetime for agricultural shows and with so many being cancelled due to the weather, we were fortunate to have sunshine for both Llangynidr and Monmouthshire Show and Usk Show in September. Congratulations to Craig who won our “Guess the Poo” competition resulting in a free course!

Livestock update – So far in September we have had 4 calves born with more on the way. Our gilts have been visited by “Dave” a rather fetching and very well mannered Pietrain boar so hopefully piglets soon (watch this space). Dave was very reluctant to leave, probably due to the wallow, trees and fresh spring water running throught the pig enclosure! Jim’s turkeys are growing fast and seem to have taken a liking to the trampoline which happens to be in their enclosure! Lambing time is creeping up on us and sheep husbandry, as always, is really important. Especially feet! Alongside foot trimming, dagging, tagging, handling and health checking on our Sheep Husbandry course last week, students also raddled the tups and put them in with the ewes. The speed at which the tups worked was truly eye opening!….

The competition came in useful on our Wildlife Identification Skills course where students also learned how to identify mammals, birds, trees, plants, reptiles and much more……. I’m sure one of the highlights was finding fresh otter spraint which smells of jasmine tea!! We undertook water sampling on our brook and the invertebrates found indicated extremely good water quality.

Checking out the freshwater invertebrates.

Wildlife and farming is a natural combination. Cattle, badgers and bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a subject currently being hotly debated. I have spent my life working with animals and have been actively involved in wildlife rehabilitation (including badgers) since I was a child. I am also a farmer and so have seen the devastating effects, both emotionally and financially that bTB in cattle can cause. The fact is that if nothing is done, bTB is going to continue to increase in both badger and cattle populations.

I have been involved in vaccination of badgers using the BCG injectable vaccine and made a film with the Gloucester Wildlife Trust on their vaccination trial. Badger Vaccination Film

Vaccination remains an essential tool in combatting this disease but has it’s own limitations. Vaccines are only effective on healthy, bTB free badgers. There is no benefit to badgers if they are already infected.

Farmers do want to see healthy cattle and healthy badgers co-existing without the threat of bTB. We have regular bTB tests on our own farm as do all farmers across the UK. Biosecurity is paramount on farms and although it is difficult to prevent badger-cattle contact, emphasis needs to be on secure food stores and where practical, raised feeding troughs. Good husbandry will promote raised immunity in stock. With most farmers already having this in place alongside regular testing, it has to be understood that financial and emotional stress from bTB results in frustration when nothing is done about the bTB in wildlife populations.

For a blanket cull to be effective, it has to be of a sufficient scale with full participation. I cannot see this working for many reasons. Is the ideal then to euthanase diseased setts and vaccinate healthy ones? Work is ongoing to perfect the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) faeces test to enable us to do this. Work is also moving on to enable us to use the oral vaccination which will enable all landowners to vaccinate healthy setts.

As far as cattle vaccinations go, it is currently illegal to use them in the EC. As far as I am aware, non-sensitising cattle vaccines are a few years off and though efforts are being made to rectify this situation, farmers cannot vaccinate their cattle at the present time.

These additional tools are not available for use as yet but in the mean time I hope all parties concerned can start communicating and working with each other, use the tools we have at present and take steps towards a solution. Surely we all have the same aim, to have healthy, bTB free, badgers and cattle.


That dreaded, dangling participle!

Now, I am impressed if you understand the title because before I went on our “Country Writing” course I wouldn’t have had a clue! Split infinitives, there’s another one. I thoroughly enjoyed the day alongside my fellow students with my Dad taking the role of tutor. Lots of laughs and lots of learning, thanks Dad.

You learn more when you’re having fun!

I’m not going to bang on about the British weather but we have managed to start harvest. 130 acres cut and over 1000 big bales made so far. Mainly hay (thanks to the sun) with some silage. Still have 60 acres left so we’re just waiting for another dry spell, fingers crossed. Our spring barley should be ready by the end of August so we’ll bring in the combine harvester then.

Making hay with the Skirrid Mountain in the background.

We’re sponging 150 ewes next week. What this means is that 150 ewes will all come in to season at the same time and will probably all be served by our willing tups (rams) in a day. The result will be 150 ewes all lambing in the space of about 4 days in the beginning of January. With bookings for lambing courses coming in, our January students will be extremely busy! Our other 700 ewes will lamb normally from February to April.

It is Show season and we’ve just returned from Llanthony Show where Jim gave shearing demonstrations and I was spinning wool with children using potatoes and a pencil. Great fun. The wool was bagged up and used on the mountain to prevent soil erosion. Next weekend we are opening the Young Farmer’s Summer Fete in Abergavenny and resurrecting the “guess the poo” competition on our stand. We’ve had so much fun collecting it! Llangynidr Show follows and we’re finishing the month in the Countryside Marquee at Monmouthshire Show on August 30th. I’ll be judging the family dog show and Jim will be judging sheep at Usk Show in September.

Teaching a new generation the art of shearing and spinning.

Would be great to chat if anybody wants to stop by and see us at any of these shows or have a look at our “Wildlife Identification” course on August 31st where you can come and see the poo first hand. We have a daily supply of otter spraint.

Otter poo!

Our “Stone Walling” courses are taking place in September on the Skirrid Mountain in the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park. What better way to spend a day than learning a valuable traditional skill in stunning surroundings.

On a final note, Jim was given a pile of French pears and was wondering what to do with them. The result? 30 gallons of Perry (pear cider) is bubbling away in the cider house. Not sure if it’ll be any good but nothing ventured nothing gained!