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

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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.

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.