Goatlings

October is on the horizon, the leaves are turning to orange, gold and red. I can hardly believe it has almost been a month since the goatlings arrived.

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Bernie through her gap in the hedge

Goats were not my first choice of new addition to the farm. We have been looking into animals that could help turnover some ‘scrubland’ and make it more suitable for the creation of a micro wildflower meadow. Initially I had thought about getting some pigs .  I ummed and ahhed, read up on housing requirements ,worked out where they could root, and decided pigs probably weren’t right for us at the moment. All of the planning had sparked a desire to expand the number of species we kept here on the farm. A chance discussion with a friend lead to us discovering that C was probably intolerant to cows milk (ironically).We started on a trial of swapping to goats milk to see if it would improve things for her. Within 24 hours of making the change, C was a much happier child. Coincidence or not, the journey towards our own small herd of milking goats had begun.

Don’t get me wrong, this decision was not made lightly, and it certainly wasn’t a spur of the moment ‘lets- go-and-buy-a-goat’ whim. Research was done, books were read, websites consulted. It soon became apparent that having one goat was not an option. They are social creatures, and should be kept together in pairs. I also found out that different breeds produce different amounts of milk. Some will give you enough to fill your milk jug whereas others will give  enough to fill buckets! Toggenburgs seemed like the ideal breed for us. Friendly, amiable goats with an average potential milk production.

Within a few days of starting my hunt I’d found a pair that seemed to fit the bill.  A farmer upcountry was selling his herd of dairy goat , amongst which were two 18 month old goatlings. He was very patient with our various questions and queries, and we decided a trip to see them was in order (with trailer in tow, ‘just in case!’) .

The journey to fetch them went smoothly , although it seemed like it took forever to get there.  Eventually we met the farmer, and after a few extra questions, a quick ‘pre purchase’ examination and the obligatory paperwork we became the owners of our very own herd of dairy goats. As is often the way the return trip was much quicker, and we pulled back onto our yard before night fall. With out any bother we unloaded the goats and settled them in to their new quarters, leaving them in peace to tuck in to their tea.

Despite not having been handled for over 6 months, Amy and Bernadette have settled into life on the farm without any problems. In fact, if Monty Roberts were to see the three of us out and about he would probably agree we have already ‘joined up’. On walks around the fields, we travel in unison. I speed up, they speed up. I stop, they stop.

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join up

When they are grazing they form two points of an invisible triangle whilst I act as  the third. I no longer bother with lead ropes when on our sojourns, as I have learned how far they will go from me.

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Amy does ‘tricks’ for food. Bernie does not.

Ash and sycamore are favoured browse, bramble leaves are an ‘if we must’ snack. Apples are snaffled, and cereal mix is rationed as they would gorge on it if left to their own devices.

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If they could, they most definitely would. And then they’d regret it.

My favourite part of getting to know a new animal is watching their individual personalities unfurl. These two are like chalk and cheese. Amy is gregarious, happy to bask in human company and follows me around like a faithful Labrador. Bernie is fiercely independent. She’ll go, but only when she wants to. The other morning we walked the boundaries of the croft, a  large field above the farmhouse. Bernie found a gap in the hedge, and picked her way to it, snatching mouthfuls of browse as she went. I called her away, and she followed me as I continued the walk. We crossed through into the adjacent field, and Bernie shot off ahead of me, and bounded back through that gap. She knew exactly where it was, and she wanted to cross through it. No amount of cajoling or coaxing could get her back through. In the end I gave up, and started to walk into the middle of the field. Fortunately amy followed, and reluctantly bernied hopped back through the hedge, and joined our train.

Having said that, I do have my uses.As far as Bernie is concerned they are limited to  scratching anywhere she can’t reach and providing food that she can’t reach.

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One of my uses

The eventual goal is to get the girls to milk, which will require them to have kids. I have started looking for a suitable Billy to, erm, ‘enhance’ the herd, and I can’t wait for the pitter patter of yet more tiny hooves. It will mark an exciting new chapter in the farms future. Fresh, pasteurised goats milk anyone?! Not to mention cheese…and soap!!

ANIMALTALES

The state of Nature – A view from the ‘other’ side

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The  2016 State of Nature report, published last week, proved to be a very sobering read.The results clearly show that modern farming practice needs to change and it is in the interest of farmers to do so. If species continue to be lost, if soil continues to erode and rivers continue to flood then farmers will inevitably  do themselves out of a job. If there was a book titled ‘Farming for dummies’ i’m pretty sure they would be a section on how barren, unproductive, infertile soil is bad. Not only has the NFU formally acknowledged the need for change, many ordinary Farmers have taken to social media to show their willingness to implement new or different practices.

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In fact, many farmers are already mindful of protecting and conserving wildlife. Under EU regulations, subsidies have been paid to farmers  partaking in agri-environment schemes for quite some time.  Essentially tax payers have already been paying farmers to manage their land for the good of the environment. An example of one such sustainable land management schemes is Glastir,  which has over 7000 members. Any Welsh farmer that meets the entry requirements  can join up . The scope of the scheme ranges from incentives for Rhododendron removal through to grants for woodland creation, to turning land with an archaeological importance over to permanent grassland. Other similar schemes are already at work within the rest of the UK.

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Through this enviro-centric approach to farming many beneficial changes to the Welsh countryside have been made since the scheme started 4 years ago. These include the creation of over 310km of streamside corridor, the repair and creation of more than 260km of hedgerow as well as reductions in fertiliser and pesticide usage.

On paper these schemes seem to be an ideal solution, with measures that  aim to make managing farmland with nature in mind easy and beneficial to all concerned. So why are farmland species in such dire straits? The final uptake report for Glastir may hold some clues. According to one of its surveys the main reasons for farmers not participating were

a) They had no spare land left as all suitable areas had been used with previous schemes.

b) The application process was too complicated.

c) They were unaware of the scheme and the grants available.

d) They did not meet the eligibility criteria.

Food for thought for any future creation of environmentally friendly agricultural schemes. If its off putting from the get go, it will not work. If its easy and straightforward then it is a more attractive prospect.

Some farmers may also be wary of enrolling productive land in long term conservation management in case the scheme becomes obsolete. Once the land is taken out of farming, whether it is arable or grassland, and used for another purpose it cannot easily be returned to its previous use. For instance conifer plantations planted by UK farmers in the 50’s and 60’s are only now maturing, but are no longer encouraged by conservationists.

Another point to note may be the current financial situation faced by a large section of the farming community. Dairy farming has suffered over recent years, with many family farms being forced to make the ultimate decision of selling their animals, land and even their homes.  There are still bills to be paid -Veterinary bills, purchase of animal feed and medicines, paying staff, maintaining and updating equipment – it soon adds up. For people who are working extremely hard to produce something that is at present worth less than the cost of production concentrating on how to reintroduce newts to their farm pond may fall at the very bottom of their ‘to do’ list. Not necessarily because they don’t want to (although I’m not naïve enough to think all farmers are wildlife lovers) but because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or money in the bank.

You could argue that ‘rewilding’ and agri-environment schemes will offer opportunities to increase the potential income of a farmer, and indeed paying a farmer to do something he or she probably knows will benefit themselves and the wider world seems like an ideal solution.But as we have seen with the Glastir scheme, this isn’t always a sufficient reason to sign up. Clearly voluntary subsidised schemes are not enough, and subsidised mandatory requirements  may be a better approach. I guess we will have to wait and see.

Another thing that is bothering me is the amount of blame being laid at the door of ordinary farmers. Again, farming practices may have caused some species to decline in number and in certain cases whole habitats (meadows) have been lost. Traditional farming practices, harking back to the days of horse and plough and Poldark-esque scything, were abandoned after the end of the second world war. Lets examine why. To put it simply, post war Europe was a very hungry place. In order to feed the masses of hungry mouths new and ‘improved’ farming techniques were implemented to make farming more efficient and productive. The slow trudge of man behind horse and plough was superseded by the speed and greater horse power of tractors. In the modernisation and mechanisation of agriculture man-made habitats such as Meadows were left behind, deemed inefficient practice by the powers that be. The policy makers of the day, along with subsequent generations of politicians , incentivised the mass production of cheap, affordable food, a legacy that remains today. Farmed produce, whether it is organic, extensive or intensively farmed is undervalued . Farming as a profession is overlooked and underpaid. As a result, nature has suffered.

 

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The values on this have changed recently, but farmers are still making a loss.

 

Most of the debate that has been fuelled by the publishing of this report has centred around  farmland habitats. However this was only a few pages of the report. It is undeniable that agriculture has been a major player in habitat and species loss but if we  only focusing on reshaping this habitat there will still be others that are suffering. 58% of species in Coastal habitats have declined, and 15% of coastal species are at risk of extinction. This is thought to be due to development  in these areas and degradation due to recreational activities (e.g loss of dunes to golf courses). 11% of woodland species are at risk of extinction as are 13% of freshwater and wetland species. It is clear that energy and discussion about our plan of attack needs to be directed across a range of habitats.thnfs9k6bl

Fortunately the report is not all doom and gloom, and there is more than a faint whiff of hope. Some species have flourished in recent years. Woodpigeons populations on farmland have increased due to changes in Autumnal crops. Creation of English and Welsh reedbeds have enabled bitterns to bounce back from 11 males in 1970 to 156 in 2015. Introduction of specific legislations have allowed some bat species to recover. Marine species have increased by 62% since the 70s. All of which are testament to the power of the armies of people dedicated to saving, protecting and restoring our natural world. It is with absolute certainty that farmers should take their place amongst the teams of people trying to turn the tide against species loss. After all, as Robin Milton, winner of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory groups’ Bronze otter award, said “hundreds of years’ worth of experience in management of the natural environment must be of some value”.

 

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Hopeful message from the BTO

 

 

 

Autumn Calving – The pitter patter of tiny hooves!

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I’m not really sure whether Autumn has arrived or not because the weather is all over the place. One minute we have blustery winds and torrential downpours. Next sticky, summer heat. Whatever the weather there is still work to be done and the start of September marks the beginning of our calving season.

At the farm upon the hill we run what is called a ‘block calving’ herd. This means all our pregnant cows will deliver close together in a short period of time. Most of our calves are born in the Autumn months , although some may arrive slightly later or earlier than planned.One tricky part of calving cows is that there is no strict timetable! Calves can be born at any time of the day or night, which can lead to some very late nights and early starts waiting anxiously to make sure everything is going ok. Other dairy farms work on a year round calving system, where calves are born through most months of the year.

For a cow ‘Maternity leave’ starts 2 months before she is due to calve. At this point she stops producing milk . This is an important step to get right as it allows the cow to get ready to deliver her calf, and helps to protect her against some illnesses that can occur after calving ( e.g ‘Milk fever’, ‘ketosis’)

Calving time tends to start with a slow trickle of births with perhaps one or two calves being born every day, or every other day. However things soon speed up, until there are lots of baby calves running about!

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Calving is an exciting and nerve wracking part of our farming calendar. We look forward to meeting the new calves and enjoy taking care of them from their very first breath. Most of the time the births are straightforward and we are able to leave the mother cow alone to do as nature intended. Unfortunately things can and do go wrong with labour (If you watch One Born Every Minute you’ll have an idea of the things that can happen !) and sometimes we do have to lend a helping hand. This can be really rewarding, and although it is quite often a long, hard and messy process (just like human labour!) we  feel privileged to be part of the process.

Straight after the birth we like to leave mum and baby in peace. We offer her food and plenty of water and let her get on with cleaning her calf and feeding it. The first feed, Colostrum, is ‘liquid gold’. It is full of nutrients and antibodies. It is very important that the calf gets this within the first few hours of life, as they are born with a naïve immune system.The colostrum provides them with protection against infection .If the calf is weak or her mum is unable to care for her we will step in to help.

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Another important thing that we do soon after birth is dip the umbilical stump in iodine. This keeps it nice and clean and helps prevent against infection.

The calves come off their mums after a day. This enables the cow to go back into the herd again. The calves are kept together in small  groups , with special shelters and an outdoor ‘exercise’ area. It is fun to watch them playing together, and sometimes they can get up to alot of mischief! They are quite inquisitive, and tend to use their tongues to explore new things .

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All the calves are fed with milk from the herd initially, then powdered milk. We also give them fresh water and solid food from day 1, but they won’t take much of this until they are 3 weeks old.

We are not an organic herd so this means that we can give our calves medicine to keep them healthy. Antibiotics are only ever used when appropriate and as a treatment for poorly calves. We use vaccinations to protect the calves against viruses and bacteria that could make them very ill.

As Autumn turns into Winter the weather can get quite cold. Although we don’t usually have snow it can be very windy and wet. When the temperature outside drops we give our calves an extra layer of protection in the form of jackets! A cold calf is much more likely to become sick. The jackets also help to keep them dry too.

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We keep all of the calves on our farm. The girls (heifers) will eventually go back into the milking herd at around 2 years of age.The boys (bulls) are raised for beef and will stay with us until they are around 12 to 16 months of age.

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Calving is a really, really busy point in the year. It goes by so quickly, and can be quite tiring and restrictive. We tend not to stray too far from the farm in case we need to help a cow give birth. No doubt any plans we make in this period will get turned on their head as things can change within minutes. One minute nothing is calving then everything kicks off at the same time!! However it is more than worth it in the end. All our efforts go into making sure our animals get the best possible start in life . A happy, well cared for calf will become a productive cow that will have a long and healthy life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiced Apple Chutney

We are definitely in ‘glut’ territory with late summer/Autumn fruits on the farm at the moment. There are apples everywhere! Yesterday a very kind, well meaning relative arrived at the kitchen door bearing gifts of…yet more apples! I smiled politely and took them, not wanting to offend, whilst thinking  ‘what on earth am I going to do with all of these?’ Of course, there is plenty to be done. For a start, chutney. The recipe I used was loosely based on that of the original Queen of cooking, Mrs Beeton. I made a few substitutions, and cut the quantities down. My version made 2 large jam jars worth.

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Ingredients:

500ml apple cider or pickling vinegar.

1kg peeled and cored apples

1 small white onion

250g sultanas

150g caster sugar (can use granulated)

150g soft brown sugar

Preferred spices – I used 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp spice mix.

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Other things to remember: Stainless steel pan, jars, wax lids, labels

Start by cleaning and sterilising the jars. I have a mix of ‘special’ preserving jars, and bog standard recycled jam jars. Wash in warm soapy water, rinse then place on a tray in the oven at 120C.

Next dice the apples and peel and chop the onion.

Place the apples, onions and sultanas into the pan.

Add the sugar and spice, along with the vinegar. Stir well and bring to the boil.

Allow to simmer on a medium heat for approx. 1 hour until reduced.

At this point you need to make sure you stir continuously to ensure the chutney doesn’t catch and burn.

Pour into the prepared jars.

If you are using wax sheets over the chutney, you can use more than one, overlapping to give a neat appearance.

Wipe around the inside of the jar with a damp cloth. This will remove any stray chutney and prevent the vinegar from reacting with the metal lid.

Stand back and admire your handywork!

Unfortunately, the chutney takes about a month to mature for around a month. You can eat it sooner if you really can’t wait, but it will taste much ‘mellower’ if it is left for a bit! Use within 6 months, but I doubt it will hang around much once you open the jar!

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In search of Choughs

This morning I had a whole hour to myself, in between nursery drop offs. I was at a loss as to what to do, which is usually what happens when I find myself alone without my mini sidekicks. The day seemed nice enough, and on a whim I decided to dash to Marloes. I figured I had just enough time to get there and have a quick scout about for Choughs before returning to pick up JoJo.

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I follow the road that leads west out from town , past the supermarket, along through the housing estates until the bungalows began to give way to countryside again. Eventually the road narrowed, as most Pembrokeshire coastal roads do, until it became a single track. As the fields whizzed past and the horizon became more sky and sea than land it began to feel a bit like I was driving to the ‘edge of the world’

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I paused by a gateway to let a tractor pass. Looking through I could see that only a few feet of arable land lay between me, the edge of the cliff tops and ultimately the sea crashing below.

The car park was already filling up, and being poor and on the dregs of maternity pay I couldn’t afford it anyway. I slipped past and continued down to the Fisherman’s cottage, tucking the car neatly behind a row of other penny pinchers.

A small party were waiting on the jetty for the boat to Skomer, and several tankers filled the bay. This is usually a sign of bad weather out to sea, and sure enough there were several black clouds hanging ominously far on the horizon.

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From the Fishermans cottage the coastal path crosses a small stream, and follows a gentle slope up hill. As a reward for this short climb, you are greeted by this view (and, on days like today, the full force of any wind blowing in land).

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Standing a few feet from the cliff edge you can watch the waves crashing against the  pebble beaches below. These little coves often serve as refuge for seals, and it is not unusual to spot a pup,  white fur gleaming against the grey rock, waiting for its mum to return from feeding. Today was not the day to lean over the precipice to take a closer look.The wind threatened to knock me clean off my feet, and the edges of the path look a lot more eroded than I remember them to be.

 

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Is there a pup in this photo??!

To me the Pembrokeshire coast line is quite a magical place. Here you can see the full power of Nature at her best and worst. The full force of the wind, unimpeded by land for thousands of miles, blows away any everyday worries. Everything mundane suddenly pales and shrinks against the backdrop of this great, unpredictable swirling body of water.

 

Turning right I headed back inland, hoping against hope to spy the glossy black feathers and unmistakeable bright red beak of the Chough. Today is not my day. The wind is fierce, and nothing much is flying, appart from some gulls riding the thermals.

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Trying not to feel too disappointed I focused my attention on the ground beneath my feet. The headland is covered in spongy grass and moss, which cushions my steps. Here and there prickles of gorse add height to the flora, whilst splashes of Purple heather add colour.

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I knelt to get a better look, and notice a small black ground beetle scurrying and scrambling amongst the grass stems.

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As I made my way back to the car something caught my ear. A shrill insistent ‘seep seep’ cuts across the sound of waves and wind, and a small flock of songbirds burst from  cover and rise above me, a flash of gold, red and green zipping through the air, before coming to land on a furze bush. Goldfinch? But they are too fast and too far away for me to tell for sure.

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I reached the kissing gate and made my way past another group getting ready for the trip out to sea. They are kitted out in t shirts and thin field trousers, with backpacks full to burst with necessities for an island stay. I smiled, slightly pleased to not be the only one still clinging on to a summer wardrobe. The Chough hunt will have to recommence another day, as I had precisely 10 minutes to make the 20 minute return journey to nursery!

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Tick Awareness

What are ticks?

Ticks are ectoparasites, which means they live on the outside of a host animal. They are ‘haematophages’; they like to eat blood. When it comes to finding a meal ticks aren’t particularily choosy, and will feed off dogs, cats, humans,livestock and wild animals.

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Once they have attached themselves to their host they feed until they are engorged and then drop off.

The Big Tick Awareness project was launched last year. Run by the University of Bristol this study enlisted  the help of veterinary clinics, owners and pets to shed light on the spread of ticks and tick borne disease in the UK. Of the thousands of dogs that participated, 1 in 3 dogs were found to be carrying a tick. They also produced a map showing the risk of ticks across the UK. The results are astounding -Ticks really are everywhere!

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      Map showing tick risk areas in the UK.               Picture credit : Big Tick Project

Traditionally ticks like to lurk in areas with bracken, long grass and woody areas. Urban dogs with little access to these areas were considered less likely to be at risk. The big tick project has shown this is no longer the case. Ticks are now widespread across the UK, with the study showing little difference between infestation risk in Urban or Rural pets. City parks

Why worry about ticks?

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be bitten by a tick, you’ll know it isn’t a pleasant experience. Apart from the irritation factor and swelling around the bite site, ticks can also carry diseases which pose a risk to both human and animal health.

Tick borne diseases:

Lymes disease (also known as Boreliosis): This is a bacterial infection that can affect people and their dogs. In dogs signs of this illness include lameness, stiffness and swollen joints, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. Sometimes it can even result in kidney failure.

The symptoms in humans include a fever and flu like aches and pains. It can also cause joint, heart and nerve damage.

Babesiosis is an emerging problem in the UK, with an outbreak occurring earlier this year in Harlow, Essex. It is caused by a protozoal parasite, Babesia canis. Signs of infection include red urine, pale gums, jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eye), fever. It can be life threatening.

There are treatments available for these diseases, but recovery may be a long, slow process. As such, it is much better to try and avoid getting bitten by a tick in the first place.

How do I know if my dog has a tick?

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Tick’s swell after feeding and are much easier to spot. Photo from www.bigtickproject.co.uk

Examine your pet regularly. Start by  checking around your pet’s face, ears and legs for any lumps, before moving on to the rest of their body. This can take a while, especially if your dog is large or very hairy!

If you find a lump, have a closer inspection. It is important to distinguish between ticks and other lumps such as skin tags or warts. If you look really closely you will be able to see the ticks legs close to the skin.

Ticks are easier to spot when they are swollen after having a meal, and in the early stages may be as small as a poppy seed! Hopefully you won’t find any, other times there may be a single tick, or several. One dog in the 2015 Big Tick Project had 200 individuals removed!

What do I do if I find a tick?

Don’t panic!

You need to remove the tick ASAP, as transmission of disease from an infected tick may take place within the first 24-48 hours. If you feel confident in doing this, great! But don’t worry if you don’t, ask your vet or vet nurse for help. They will be happy to assist.

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Tick remover

The easiest, safest way to take a tick off is by using a tool specially made for the job. These can be found online, at your vets or pet shops. They are relatively cheap and designed to hook around the tick’s body and then detach the tick by twisting. This technique avoids leaving bits of the tick attached to your pet. Leaving mouthparts can result in painful swellings or infection.

Avoid using tweezers to grasp or squeeze the tick. This can cause it to release saliva  and potentially pass on any disease it is carrying to your pet. Likewise, don’t try to burn a tick or pull it off.

How do I prevent ticks from biting my dog?

As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’!  Talk to your vet and get advice on which product will suit you and your dog. Thanks to the wonders of science there are many different tick prevention methods available, including spot on solutions, collars and chewable tablets. More information can also be found here and here.

 

 

Blackberry and Apple Crumble

As the nights are drawing in and the days  begin to become a bit chillier its time to bring  the comfort food recipes back out of hibernation.

Crumble has to be one of my top 5 ultimate easy peasy comfort puddings. Here on the farm, ‘traditional’ fayre is still order of the day, and there is nowt wrong with a good old fashioned crumble.

Apple crumble on its own is pretty tasty, but combine it with the early autumn tang of ripe blackberries and it reaches another level of yumminess!

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Brambles or blackberries are pretty easy to find. Most people will have some bramble bushes nearby, even in towns. I can remember doing it as a child around the mean streets of west London, and I often see people brambling along grass verges in town or around carparks.  Just make sure to pick those that are a little higher up to avoid picking up an extra ingredient -dog wee! In addition, if you take your little ones Blackberry picking they can tick off number 21 on the National trusts list of things to do before 11 and 3/4’s .

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We lucky enough to have a small apple orchard on the farm, full of 100 year old trees that still bear fruit yearly. Granted their offerings aren’t the sweetest but pour enough sugar on and they are perfectly edible! Eating apples are fine to use, as are cooking apples.

For this recipe I used

  • 6 apples (approx. 1kg in weight)
  • approx. 200 g of brambles.
  • 200g plain flour
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 150g caster sugar.

You can vary the quantities of apples, brambles and sugar to suit your needs and tastes.

First step: gather your ingredients, remove the butter from the fridge and allow it to soften. Preheat the oven to 180 (I’m using a fan assisted oven, so you might need to adjust cooking temp/time to suit your oven. As Mary Berry says, they are all different!)

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To make the filling

  • Wash, peel and core your apples, then roughly chop.
  • Place them in a saucepan and cover with a small amount of water. A couple of tablespoons should be adequate.
  • Add one or two tablespoons of sugar and leave to stew on a medium heat for 10-15 min, stirring occasionally to prevent them sticking to the pan.
  • Whilst these are cooking wash and pick over the brambles, removing any stems or leaves (or bugs!!).
  • When the apples have softened remove from the heat and add in the brambles.
  • Pour into a ovenproof dish ready for baking.

Creating the crunchy, crumbly topping.

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  • Cube the butter and then using your fingers rub it into the flour. This is a good time for little helpers to get involved!
  • You want the mixture to resemble coarse breadcrumbs.
  •  Do not be tempted to overwork the mix! You will end up with a stodgy, sticky thick layer that won’t cook well and will taste doughy. As soon as you have something that looks right, step away from the crumble!

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  • Top tip: Pour the crumble on top of the filling and don’t pat it down, leave it heaped.
  • Cook at 180C for 35-40 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown.

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Serve with custard or ice cream (or if your feeling gluttonous, both!).