Spring has sprung…

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus / Happy Saint David’s Day and the first day of spring! After what is probably the warmest February on record, rain is returning tonight but what a week we have had, putting ewes and lambs outside has been a pleasure in glorious sunshine.

Quick lambing update; Lambing over 1500 ewes in total. January lambers, mainly Texel crosses (which are normally sponged but this year we used Cidr Ovis), scanned at 165% (average 1.65 lambs per ewe) and all lambs are strong and growing well out in the fields. February lambers scanned at 190% (average 1.9 lambs per ewe) and, after a slow start, have nearly finished. The Epynt Hardy Speckled ewes (native breed) have begun lambing outside and pretty much get on with it themselves, I love that breed!

Epynt Hardy Speckled

So much has happened since my last blog, I am now Monmouthshire NFU chair (man/lady/person), Monmouthshire RABI (Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution) media secretary, Senior Fellow with the University of South Wales, trained as a mental health first aider and we have made our first Perry (pear cider) on the farm which is delicious! During February we had college visits and three Kate’s Country School lambing courses. I often wonder why, on top of the lambing mayhem, we decide to do this but of course the busiest time of year is the best time for people to learn the ropes.

On a final note, (sorry its the ‘B’ word), it is a very unsettling time for sheep farmers in the UK, we invited our MP on farm to explain how a ‘no deal’ scenario would put many businesses at risk. We’re also still awaiting clarity from Westminster to ensure that imported food will be produced on a level playing field – to the standards to which British farmers are required to adhere to. We will watch this space…

Right, enough of politics, I will leave you with this beautiful double rainbow on the farm, apparently a sign of transformation and good fortune, I’m an eternal optimist!

Hopefully a good sign of things to come…

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…

 

 

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!

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.

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.

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.

Image

Image