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.

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!

April News

It’s been the usual crazy life here here on the farm. Lambing has finally finished (January through to April). We did feel it this year. Alongside setting up our Country School we were pretty worn out by April!

Farmers rarely take holidays but we have enjoyed an annual week away in August/September in West Wales for a number of years now. Our children have also been to Ireland, Scotland and England but apparently are the only children “in the world” to have never travelled “abroad”.

After long deliberations about where to go for a break this August, I ended up booking a last minute deal to Lanzarote in Easter! Our very first family holiday abroad! After trawling the internet and looking at August prices, it suddenly dawned on me that we have finished lambing, not started shearing and all the animals are outside so easier to manage (apart from our calves being hand reared). On one week’s notice, family members were drafted in to look after the animals, passports checked (obtained 4 years ago in anticipation ….) and the holiday was booked!

Beverly Hillbillies abroad! Many thanks to all the airport and hotel staff who saw our perplexed faces and helped towards what has been our most relaxing holiday ever. Volcanos, exploding chocolate fountains and sting rays all added to the fun, and no cooking for a week!!!!


Back now in the real world………….

“Do you think it’s a wind up?’ was my initial response as I stared in awe at the royal invitation, lying on the kitchen table. At the time of writing this blog, I am off to see the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh tomorrow. I am pretty sure that there will be a few hundred of us and that it is not a personal meeting! A celebration of the diamond jubilee. Got myself a nice frock…….watch this space!

Our website is finally going live! I had no idea how complicated website  building was with talks of “coding” and “populating” that goes over my head as I sit, smile and nod in agreement. I am looking forward to seeing it on the web next  week.

We had a lovely filly foal born here this month. Mum is a beautiful cob belonging to our nephew. Mother and daughter doing well. Unconfirmed but possible name – April?

Well I don’t know about little April showers, we have had blustery downpours in the last week of April! Although the outdoor pig enclosure is finally completed, we’re waiting for the weather to clear before the pigs try it out for the first time. Some of them are very young!

Huge congratulations to all our Kate’s Country School graduates who completed our lambing courses! I don’t know about the students but myself and Jim had a great time! Lovely Lizzy, a journalist from the Guardian, joined us on our final lambing course of 2012 . You can read her article here.

Lambing courses will start again in January 2013. Our next courses in May are;

Sheep Husbandry – 4th May. For all budding shepherds! Includes dagging, foot trimming, parasite control, nutrition, housing and more……. Don’t be sheepish, come along!

Introduction to Livestock – 11th May. Lovely introduction to sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens for small holders or complete novices who just want to have a go!

Butchery courses are also available in May, at our Family Butchers in Abergavenny.

We now have our very own pub! Well actually we’ve just put a dartboard up in the cider house. The radio provides the music unless Jim is singing after sampling the wares! I’ve got to say it is tasting lovely, but I have concerns as to how much we will have left for our Cider Courses!!! Did think that 150 gallons might be enough to keep us going!!

Will blog again soon with more news from the farm and royal meetings!

Our first blog! March 2012

Welcome to our first blog. Kate’s Country School is based here, on our family run, 300 acre, traditional mixed farm in beautiful Monmouthshire, South Wales. A farmstead has been here since the 12th century and we have many lovely, historic, listed buildings.

We have just finished our lambing courses of 2012. Lambing began for us in January and is now coming to an end having had over 1000 lambs born here this year. Sleepless nights but we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not a job, it really is a very special way of life. Our next courses are on sheep husbandry and a basic introduction to livestock in May.

We have also had calves born and due to the lovely mild weather they are outside frolicking in the fields with their Mums. We house our cattle over the winter months but all are now enjoying the green grass again. I did however hear a whisper of the possibility of snow over Easter?

Noisy fieldfares gathering, Red Kites circling above, otters in the brook and meadow saffron in our wildflower meadows. we are blessed with wildlife here. Bees have been extremely busy in this sunny weather. We have our own hives but also numerous wild bees on the farm. Solitary bees love our stone walls! Although we have been enjoying the glorious weather, we (and the wildlife) really could do with a spot of rain. Having no mains and relying on spring water.

Being completely new to this, I will keep this first blog short. I will however endeavor to learn more and continue with our blogs. Will be back soon.