The evenings are getting darker…..

Just when we’re getting into the swing of the summer holidays, there’s an autumnal feel and I’m back at work (college that is, not my work as an unpaid farmhand) next week. Where did the time go?

Haymaking is now complete and what fantastic weather we had for it during June and July. Combining is almost complete so we’re hoping the weather will be kind for another week.

Bales

Our polytunnel is finally planted (better late than never) and we are hoping to have a fully home produced Christmas lunch as our turkey poults are growing well. Terrier Gyp has taken a shine to this one!

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Our very free range piglets are running around the farm, causing mischief but currently getting away with it as they look so cute!

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We had our first stag party on the farm which was great fun although my risk assessments were in overdrive combining cider and shearing. More “fun” group booking requests are now coming in. If you fancy a party with a difference, please don’t hesitate to get in touch (cider compulsary).

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Our first Family course was a great success with students of all ages discovering how food is produced, tracking wildlife and enjoying home produced sausages cooked on an open fire, washed down with real lemonade. Children planted seeds to take home and nurture whilst the parent took some home produced cider home to sample, For medicinal purposes of course (part of your 5 a day)! River dipping, estimating ages of trees, poo identification…. there’s so much to do outside, you just need to know where to look.

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This is a great time of year with shows, large and small, across the UK and beyond showcasing the best of farming and our beautiful countryside. We will be at Monmouthshire Show on August 28th with the Kate’s Country School stand. Please come and say hello and have a go at our famous “Guess the Poo” competition. Don’t knock it until you try it!

Kate x

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Summer is here

As I am writing this, tractors are busy in the fields and there is a wonderful smell of summer in the air. Haymaking in June and July is a real treat from recent years, it certainly beats sinking in the mud!

Lovely smell of summer

Lovely smell of summer

Our sheep are more comfortable in the heat now thanks to the students who attended our Sheep Shearing Courses this year. Shearing has now been completed on both farms and will also minimise the risk of fly strike (maggots) on the sheep and finding the sheep cast (on their backs).

Learning the art of handshearing

Students learning the art of handshearing

Wildlife courses have also been very popular this summer and we feel honoured to have a Highly Commended in the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award this year. We’ll be proudly accepting the award at the forthcoming Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells, also our annual family trip out.

We hosted the Gwent YFC rally on our Skirrid Farm in June. Not only is the YFC a fantastic youth organisation, it is probably the largest rural dating agency in the UK – and it certainly worked for Jim and me. This year we are celebrating 70 years of Abergavenny YFC and it is lovely to see our son enjoying it as much as his parents and grandparent did before him. Farming is all about tradition.

On a final note, if you haven’t done so already, why not make some elderflower cordial. Simple and delicious.

Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower

Enjoy the summer and remember that local honey is a great remedy for hayfever. Our busy bees are loving this weather! For any information on courses or if you just want a chat! Feel free to e-mail me direct via our website.

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.

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.

Oak before Ash?

Well I am one for old country sayings but feeling a little let down this year.

The Oak is seen here to be in leaf before it’s neighbouring Ash

“Oak before ash we’ll have a splash, ash before oak we’re in for a soak”. Oaks are more sensitive to temperature and when this picture was taken in March, it was warm. Turned out to be more of a soak than splash throughout June but I’m sure the heat wave is on its way.

We are thoroughly enjoying running courses on the farm and judging by the feedback in our visitor’s book, students are too. It is particularly encouraging to see people returning on different courses. Our star pupil to date is about to complete his fifth course here and is now bringing the pudding! We did manage to find 2 consecutive dry days to complete our shearing courses after postponing due to soggy weather. Very proud of all students who were complete novices at the beginning of the day but shearing 4 or 5 sheep in the afternoon and looking extremely competent.

Looking sheepish.

Crystal balls should be available for all farmers as an essential requirement. We have spent most of June chasing dry days to respond to the many requests for shearing. These requests have to be balanced alongside the need to get on with baling, which also requires good weather.

As with most working mums, I very rarely have any “me” time but thoroughly enjoyed an impromptu foraging day out in conditions that can only be described as a monsoon. What happened was……….

I now know that, not only can you rub dock leaves on nettle stings, but you can eat them as an alternative antihistamine (young green leaves taste better). Lady’s mantle, dog roses, tulips, wood sorrel, dandelions Now having a daily graze around our farm all thanks to Liz Knight, forager extraordinaire. Verdict is still out with the family “eating weeds”……

Have been snapping in between showers and have added more photos to our gallery, please have a peek and see what you think Kate’s Country School Gallery.

“It’s not a job, it’s a way of life” is said many times but very true of farming. Farmer’s wives everywhere deserve a medal for their ability to read minds, bite their tongue and bring multitasking to an olympic standard. Saturday morning I was hoping to lie in until 7.30am. Rudely awakened at 6am by not “Good morning” but “I need you to help me get a heifer in, she’s calving”. Bleary eyed I trudged through the mud, in the rain with my sweet husband and sure enough saw 2 feet sticking out of the back end of the poor first time mum. She was looking bewildered as magpies were pecking at the yet undelivered calf. At first glance the feet looked like front feet until further investigation revealed that not only was the calf backwards but upside down! Not good in any calving but made worse by this being her first calf.

To cut a very long story short, Bill (My Uncle Bill visited that day) was born safely without veterinary intervention or caesarean.

Mother and son doing very well

Llanthony Show is a traditional local show run by farmers and is 50 years old this year. We will be there giving sheep shearing demonstrations and reintroducing an old competition. 20 years ago I won the “guess the poo” competition at Llanthony and was extremely proud to have almost full marks (got the bat poo and mouse poo the wrong way around). Since then I have been using this intellectual assessment on students studying Animal Management at Coleg Gwent where I am a lecturer. Not only will this competition be at Llanthony but we also have a stand at Monmouthshire Show where you can have a go (Don’t knock it till you try it)!

Animal droppings are a useful means of tracking and identification and we are introducing a new course called “Wildlife Workshop” on August 31st which offers an introduction to wildlife identification of trees, flowers, animals, birds and freshwater bugs. I had a few enquiries from people who wanted to know what the trees were in their local parks and how to track and identify common wildlife.

2 weeks ago, I took the camera around with us whilst we checked the stock in the morning. It’s a glimpse into a normal day in our “office”.

My Dad was a creative writing teacher for 25 years, working with students as diverse as the elegant ladies of Lytham St Annes and the less fastidious residents of high security prisons. He has had over 1500 articles published, produced three successful books and two CDs, all with countryside themes. Looking forward to him teaching on our “Country Writing ” course on July 20th. I’ve signed up for it!

Finally, due to popular demand, we are adding an extra Sheep Husbandry course. This will be in September (date to be confirmed) keep an eye on our website for updates.

It’s June, where did May go !!

We are very happy to announce that our website is finally Live. If you haven’t already seen it, have a peek. Some of you are starring in it! Many thanks for that. Kate’s Country School.

Well, I did go to the Jubilee celebration in a local church with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh (and lots of other people!) It was amazing. No cameras were allowed in the church but had a picture taken of my hat beforehand.

No wellies or overalls today!

You have to admire that lady, 86 years old and still working so hard. Hope Phillip is feeling better very soon. Our sheds and barn have been cleaned out and the muck spread to fertilise the fields ready for our greencrop which will be planted in June. (Circle of life, this will be eaten by our pregnant ewes during the winter months). We also planted spring barley at the beginning of April. The barn was used this weekend for our village Jubilee party. It’s a wonderful, multifunctional barn.

Our beautiful old barn, day after our village party.

Our pigs are outside enjoying their new enclosure.

Happy to stay in bed when the weather is grim.

Piglets arrived in time for our Introduction to Livestock course where students also had hands on experience with sheep, chickens and calves. Jim decided that our lambing shed was looking too empty after lambing so we now have 34 calves we are bucket rearing. He has also decided that we need 20 bronze turkeys to rear for Christmas. Life is never dull here!

There was a familiar sheepy aroma around the kitchen table at the end of our Sheep Husbandry Course. It was very hands on. Well done to the students for remembering to bring waterproofs! We have sold 200 lambs so far this year.

Our cattle have been very confused this year. In April they left their winter accommodation and returned to the fields.

Hurrah, out into the sunny fields

They then had to return indoors when the weather turned extremely wet. They ran eagerly inside for shelter!

Yuk! Not staying out in this!

They are all back outside again enjoying the grass. we have had 29 calves born so far this year with two pregnant cows left. Watch this space …….

We began shearing on May 28th and it is still ongoing. It was lovely to see our son learning this valuable traditional skill from his Dad.

An traditional skill being passed down to the next generation.

Monday 21st May was an interesting day spent sailing down the Thames on a farm themed boat to launch a new NFU farming campaign, Farming Delivers.

Wildlife is abundant on the farm this time of year. Our otters have been seen frolicking with their young on the river. Nesting birds can be heard in the hedgerows and buildings and our meadows are looking spectacular. You can see for yourself on our Wildlife Course on June 29th.

Abundant with biodiversity.


Unfortunately our bees swarmed earlier this year. It wasn’t unexpected as the queen was three years old. I have a new top bar hive arriving this week with a new batch of bees. Less intervention required and we can let the bees get on with things as nature intended.

If you’re ever stuck for gift ideas, don’t forget we can supply gift vouchers. Hand made and posted or e-mailed directly to you. The perfect present!

Hope the weather improves. have a good rummage through the website and see what you think.