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.

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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.

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