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.

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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!