Swallows return

This year, Spring took a while to appear in Pembrokeshire . Snow, sleet and rain one minute, the next burning heat . Days lengthened, April melted into May, and finally the hedgerows exploded into life. Now blousy cow parsley nods in the breeze. Red campion, bluebells, buttercups and hawthorn, the lanes are alive with colour at last.

The first swallows appeared in April.  The return of their chattering cheerful cry forced me to stop in my tracks and tilt my chin to the sky. Their twittering, whirring clicking voices finally joined the soundscape of Spring on the farm.

Watching these birds flitting above the trees around the farmyard filled my heart with joy. After the darkness and damp of a Pembrokeshire Winter, Swallows are a sign of better days ahead. Metaphorical bringers of summer, they carry the warmth of the African sun on their backs.

A fortnight later three more joined their number. Their tail streamers marked them as a motley mixed gender crew6000 miles of flight, they can be forgiven for looking slightly ragged.

As the month carried on, the joy of spotting the first forked tail whipping over the barns was dampened by a niggling fear.  Why weren’t their more. Five individual birds was no where near the numbers that we normally see.

Apparently I am not alone in wondering where the Swallows were, or when they would arrive. Bad weather in Southern Europe and sand storms across the Sahara were mentioned as reasons for their absence. Some people feared that the birds, along with other migrant species like the Nightjar and Swift, would not appear in great numbers at all this year.

At last, more Swallows arrived, with another 10 individuals arriving by the end of the month. As I watch them soaring above the barns, I struggle to comprehend the vastness of the journey these creatures make. 6000 miles, a mammoth task undertaken, covering up to 300km a day.

They can , if everything is on their side, travel from the Cape of Africa to South West Wales in 27 days, twice a year, passing over entire continents as they move between their winter and summer homes. They may pass over African scrub, Etosha National Park, the Zambizi and Victoria falls, crowded street markets, dirt tracks and small villages, stretches of Savannah and Rainforests, before reaching the single biggest obstacle on their journey- the Sahara desert. This they cross without stopping, relying on fat stores to see them through. In North Africa they will rest and refuel before crossing to Europe. ‘Our’ swallows will split away from others that head into central and wester europe. They will fly on up through Spain and France before crossing the English Channel. A mere couple of hundred miles later the will finally perch on the phone lines outside our farm, looking to find a nest site for the next breeding season.

How they navigate their route is not known for sure. Magnetic pull, position of the sun, olfactory and visual clues- there are many different theories. The thought that they recognise ‘home’ by smell is incredible- I wonder what the signature scent of our farm is?

Gwennol- A Swallows Song

“I am, I am, I am”

She cries,

As she skims over treetops and barns.

“I am


After Six thousand miles,

At last!’

The staccato song of her travels,

A whirring, churring, chirping call

Traces her journey back

To these green pastures.

It tells of her flight,

From the arid scrub of South Africa,

Across shifting Namibian dunes.

Skirting the skeleton coast

She flew North.

She soared over the Zambizi,

Swept down to drink from the Congo’s water,

Twisted and flitted through crowded Brazzaville streets,

Then on,

Over Savannah

And dense rainforest,

Where Colobus calls echoed amongst the trees.

Before her the Sahara,

She crossed it,

in two hundred thousand wing beats,

To reach the Souks of Morroco.

The Straits of Gibraltar beckoned winged migrants on

To Europe.

A skipping flight through Spain and France,

She barrel rolled over the channel

To these familiar shores.

Along the way we called to her,


At her tumbling, tearing flight.

We named her;




She is





She is


She is

All of these and none.

Februdairy- fakery, flaws and falsehoods.

I’ve been quiet for most of February. Not because I don’t care. Not because I’m ashamed or afraid to stand behind the UK dairy industry. Nope, mainly due to the boring fact that  life as a mum , farmers partner and working  as a veterinary surgeon doesn’t let me have much time to sit and bash on a keyboard .  However, a couple of things have spurred me to spend my ‘free time’ doing some blogging.   A twitter feed from a self professed ‘oat girl living in a cow milk world…whatever that means. The footage of cows being ‘set free’ drove home the other niggle I have had -a lot of ‘anti dairy’ arguments seem to be fuelled by a desire for anarchy  hidden behind a thin façade of ‘doing the right thing’ for animals. The twitter feed appears to be an attempt to expose the ‘truth’ behind the Uk dairy industry, and typifies the more eloquent side of the militant vegan arguments that I have come across this month. Little grains of truth or even half truth taken out of context, or twisted to fit a cause.

DSC_0526 (3)

I’ve decided to go through some of the points I have read from this feed and give an alternative view.  At the end of the day I am not opposed to veganism. If someone chooses not to rely on animals for food or other resources, and can do so ethically and sustainably then that is something to be applauded in its own right. However, I believe that if others choose to rely on animal products for nutrition then they should be able to do so, making an informed decision and not have other views forced upon them.

Lets start with a few of the points I’ve  covered in previous blogs

First up, lifespan. Apparently, all Dairy cows in the UK  die at a young age, whilst their natural lifespan is 20 years: is it? This was and still is news to me, after a total of 7 years at University on animal related degrees, and 5 years of working as a vet, not once has the ‘natural lifespan’ of a dairy cow been mentioned before, until the Dairy Industry bashing began. I wrote a bit about this  here.

Next up, Bull Calves.

Do all bull calves die at birth – Nope. Some bull calves die at birth. Some bull calves die before or during birth (stillborn). Some, very few, British bull dairy calves are euthanized at birth (shot). I’m not going to say it does not happen, but this practice is not standard on all UK Dairy farms.  Again, I wrote a bit about this before.

DSC_0533 (3)

Now for something I haven’t mentioned much of before. Vegans have a dislike of the plastic huts used as calf housing, as they are cruel-  Why?! These ‘huts’ , also known as calf igloos or hutches are specifically designed for calves and are actually high welfare accommodation. They combine the  benefits of living outdoors with good shelter  against the unpredictable weather we have here in the UK. Calves are protected against rain, wind chill, snow and heat. 


Tonight the temperatures outdoors will drop below minus 5. On our farm, any calves that are group housed in hutches are nestled in straw, warm and safe from the elements. They will not be exposed sub zero temperatures as the hutch as a microclimate.

The hutches also provide excellent ventilation. Young calves are susceptible to lung infections and this style of housing helps to significantly reduce the risk of illness. Indoor spaces that are not specifically designed to house calves can actually increase the risk of illness. 

Keeping a calf outside ‘naturally’ in all seasons/weathers would a) be a welfare issue and b) result in death, disease and/or suffering.

On some farms calves are housed individually for a period before being housed in groups. Single hutches are a great way to ensure good health in young calves as it prevent  disease spreading to lots of calves if one does become ill. A calf is able to make a choice as they still have access to an outdoor or exercise area, so they can pop in and out of their house when they want.

Also these things are flipping expensive!! A group hutch for 5 calves will cost approximately £600. That only houses 5 calves. Most farms will obviously need many of these. If they weren’t beneficial they would not exist!

Now to tackle some incorrect and outlandish suggestions.

Milk is pus.

Anti Dairy activists often say that every time you drink milk you drink pus, hormones and a whole lot of sh%te that will poison you. WRONG! Lets start with pus. There is no pus in shop bought milk!! Yes, sometimes a cow with mastitis will have pus present in the udder at milking. However, there are several ways used to ensure that this doesn’t enter the milk that arrives at the shop.

  • Pre checking the cow- each cow is checked before milking. If there are any signs of illness or injury that would make the milk unsaleable then the cow is milked but the milk is discarded. Now before we get twitchy about a cow being milked whilst it has mastitis- this is part of the treatment. If infection is present, removing the affected milk is a vital part of helping the cow get better . This isn’t just specific to cows- ask any human who has had mastitis what the cure was.
  • Filters in the milking machine- there is an in built filtration system in a milking machine which would remove any debris from the milk before it entered the bulk tank. This means that even if pus or any other substance was present in the milk it would be removed by the filter.
  • Somatic Cell Counts (scc)- One factor that impacts on how a dairy farmer is paid by a milk buyer is the quality of the milk. This is measured in several ways, one being SCC. We are financially penalised for a high somatic cell count , therefore it is not in a dairy farmers interest to produce poor quality milk. In addition, it is a matter of pride! All dairy farmers strive to produce the best quality milk possible. To this end there are even benchmarking systems and milk buyers awards for high quality milk.
  • Hormones- we don’t inject our cows with hormones to increase milk. It is illegal.
  • Blood- Nuh uh….again this would affect milk quality. See above for penalties.

DSC_0523 (3)

Dairy farmers just want cows with big udders.

In fact, the vegans think we are selectively breeding for it. Fail. If anything dairy farmers are trying not to breed cows with large udders. Large udders are difficult to milk as the milking machine will not fit. The risk of mastitis, lameness, mobility issues, skin lesions and damage to the teats is increased by having a large udder. Dairy farmers selectively breed for traits that improve udder and therefore cow health and lifespan. These traits include improving the ligaments that hold the udder in place, average spaced teats and teat length. The size of an udder DOES NOT CORRELATE to milk yield. Bigger udder doesn’t equal more milk.

Dairy farmers don’t want to talk to vegans

I’ve met quite a few vegans…and I’m happy to talk and share opinions. I’m happy to answer questions about farming methods or concerns that people might have. What I’m not happy with is arguing, name calling, death threats, slander or general ‘one-up- manship’ on who has the most ethical and righteous diet. Some farmers don’t want to engage, but most of those on social media are happy to have conversations if they are treated with respect and an open mind.

A little on propaganda…

One thing I really hate is seeing inaccurate photos being used to slander the UK Dairy industry. We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and yet time and again I see images that depict practices that are banned in the UK being used to depict what we do here. For instance  I have seen photos of stall tied cows being used- it is illegal to stall tie cows in the UK. I have also seen photos being used that don’t even show what they are being purported to show. For instance a video clip supposedly showing a lame dairy cow being sent to slaughter actually showed a cow with a fractured leg being euthanized under appropriate emergency slaughter technique. The implication was that this is standard practice for all lame dairy cows, where in fact this was a rare emergency case.

I haven’t finished yet…still 2 more days of Februdairy left, and still many more myths to debunk.





“Everyone feels low sometimes”

Try Mindfullness

Colouring yourself well again

Yoga is good

Don’t be selfish.

You have so much that is good


About your children

Have a hug

It’ll make it better

Broken leg?

Walk it off.

Shake it off.

Have a band aid

It’ll make it


Heart attack?

Take an aspirin

Try to

Eat well

Think calm thoughts.

Exercise more

Don’t lie there feeling sorry for yourself


I don’t believe

In respiratory health

Have you even tried to

Breath deep.

Think positive

Have you even tried?

To understand?

To feel outside of yourself?

To look beyond the end of your nose

Without self

And judgement?

But you ‘don’t believe in mental health’.

Myth busting- cow lifespan.

Time for some myth busting, or as I like to call it ‘British Dairy Isn’t Scary ‘. This has been prompted by the run up to world plant based juice or nut juice or ‘fake milk’ week. Don’t get me wrong, if you like drinking Soy or Oat or Almond then that’s fine, its up to you what you choose to consume. But when there are blatant lies and mistruths being used to slander the Dairy Farmers of Britain, then I find it really tricky to sit by and ignore them.
Myth 1: Dairy Cows only live until they are 4. Living on a farm prevents them from fulfilling their natural lifespan of 15 years.

Truth: Bubble bursting as it may be, alot of dairy cows in UK herds are older than 4 years old.

Bit of background cow biology- A cow is ready to reproduce from around 15 months of age, although their is plenty of variation.( Note: I’ll deal with reproduction in another post, this blog is just about lifespan but I need to ‘set the scene’.) Normally a cow will have her first calf at around 2 years of age. As she matures and has more calves, her ability to produce milk will increase. On average 5th or 6th lactation will be a dairy cow’s best- i.e when they are 7 or 8 years old.  Dairy farmers put a lot of time, effort and money into making sure that their cows stay in the herd to reach this point.

As farmers, we want our cows to live long and healthy lives. We employ veterinarians, cow nutritionists and specialist foot trimmers (essentially they give cows expensive mani/pedis) to make sure that they are in the best of health. We pay agronomists to check the crops we grow will provide the cows with excellent quality food. We make sure that we check the quality of the water they drink. We buy expensive equipment such as robotic milking parlours, foot baths, air matresses for the cows to sleep on (this really is true) just to make sure they are happy and healthy.  This costs alot- for example a single vet visit could be around £50 before they do any treatment or give any medication.  We spend hours reading and researching, keeping on top of the latest advancements in Dairy science to make sure our cows get the best we can give them.

The arbitrary ‘cow lifespan’ of 15 years bandied about by the anti dairy brigade on the internet  doesn’t come from Zoologists, it doesn’t come from Agriculturalists or even Biologist. It has apparently been plucked from thin air to try and paint UK Dairy Farmers in a bad light. Silly thing is it doesn’t really pan out in favour of the anti dairy propaganda.

Dairy cow specialists spend a lot of time and money figuring out the genetics behind longevity. Long lived cows, and the potential for their offspring to be long lived, are coveted by farmers. The Dairy industry itself keeps transparent and official records of what are called Key Performance Indicators associated with Dairy Cows. One such KPI is the age at which a cow dies. In 2016 the median age of leaving the herd on 500 dairy farms was 6.1 years. As this is a median age, it means there were 250 farms that had older cows leaving the herd.  The reason why a cow dies isn’t documented, and could be anything from chronic illness, to accidental injury or occasionally even being struck by lightening.

Anti dairyists suggest cows would live longer if left to their own devices. Again there is little to suggest this would happen. It is more likely that lack of food sources, medication and prompt veterinary treament, unregulated interbreeding, death during calving, , uncontrolled infectious diseases, parasites (to name a few; gastrointestinal worms, liver fluke, lungworm and maggots- a ‘lovely’ way to die) would all mean life spans would realistically be much shorter than those of cows on modern UK Dairy farms.

Hopefully this short blog has shown how the dairy industry does make sure cows have long happy lives. It is in the farmers (& obviously the cows) interests to keep his or her cows as healthy as possible, so they can stay in the milking herd, alongside their daughters and granddaughters for many years. There is definitely an element of pride associated too- At the end of the day, good farmers will keep healthy cows. Healthy cows will live longer.


Lady Hermione the 4th, 15/04/02-20/08/17, photo courtesy of @JRStrickley


Starting from scratch…

Its been almost a month since the chickens (Now named Sybil, Martha, Agnes and Delores, thanks to Twitter poll) arrived on the farm. I thought it’d be a good idea to  share some of the reasons why we got them, and (as a complete ‘chicken keeping novice’)  share some of my tips if you are thinking of getting any. Sure, I’ve learned about chicken husbandry, and know how to care for more complicated bird injuries, but I’ve never kept them before.

Before getting your birds, its a good idea to ask yourself why you want to keep hens ? Do you want a regular supply of eggs? Or will they just be companions?

Personally, my reasons for wanting some hens were as follows;

  • 1. We live on a farm, we should have chickens, right? In fact, we should have a few of each farm species, a sort of Noah’s ark for farm animals. Except pigs. I’m not so keen on piggies! P.S Do Not Tell Mr Farm Upon The Hill that this was my reason. This is just between us, right?

2. With my somewhat rose tinted ‘ This- will -make – childhood great ‘ spectacles on I had a hazy vision of the mini farmers helping to take care of the chickens, learning all sorts of life lessons and skills in the process

3.We didn’t need ‘fancy chickens’. Plain hybrids would do fine. No need for a trip to a poultry breeder for us. I wanted to do some good.  Rehoming ex commercial chickens would definitely fulfil this. We were warned that they may not give a reliable egg supply, but so far they have been fairly consistent!

4. I needed assistance in my valiant organic, pesticide free war on the blasted slugs – they ate my Lupins, now it’s serious.

I felt I had time and resources to give these birds a chance to lead lives in a free range environment. If you are wondering if you have enough time too, you’ll be pleased to hear they don’t take up much, especially if you plan on letting them free range. You still need to be prepared to collect eggs, check your birds daily , clean out the nest boxes and feed and water them. In theory you also have to get up early  let them out first thing , and make sure the pop hole is shut at night. But technology is a wonderful thing and an automatic doorkeeper can do that bit for you.  All in all it takes about 20 minutes for me to do the routine tasks daily. Much more worthwhile than watching reruns of Teen Mom OG.

The other great thing about chicken keeping is you don’t necessarily need acres of garden. Just remember that chickens will potentially turn a manicured lawn into a series of dustbaths and scratch bowls . They’ll also snack on bedding plants, so if your garden is very sacred, using a moveable run or large enclosure may be wise.

We have sited our coop on concrete, which ironically is the shell of the old chicken house. This is a great spot as it means the house is out of direct sunlight and sheltered against rain and wind. The concrete will make it easier to clean up after the birds too. Initially I kept them in the coop and small run for 2 days, before letting them into a bigger pen made of fencing pallets. Now they have the whole shed base to explore, including the log pile which acts as great enrichment for them.

Once you’ve done your research and have decided on breed and how many  you can house, its time to get shopping! I definitely recommend getting your chicken supplies before you get your birds . Being a lover of lists, I found it useful to make a checklist of things that we needed for the first few days. This included

  • Coop – When it comes to choosing a house, the amount of info online can be quite overwhelming. There are even instructions on how to build one from scratch , but unless you are very keen on DIY, I’d stick to ready made! Factors I considered when deciding on what to buy included – ease of access for cleaning, run space and security.
  • Food containers and drinkers – something that is easy to clean, durable and safe.
  • Container for grit – this can be shop bought or homemade.
  • Bedding for nest box
  • Feed bin- save your pennies and get a dustbin with a lockable lid!
  • Diatomaceous earth – handy stuff – for red mite control, also useful for lice.
  • Basic health kit – this includes wormer (I use Flubenvet) , nail clippers, corn starch for stemming bleeds, dressings and tape and lubricant (in case of vent prolapse).


Feeding chickens is easy. Once upon a time, chickens got tit bits left from the family table. Nowadays, kitchen scraps are a definite no-no. DEFRA, aka ‘they who must be obeyed’, make the rules relating to keeping poultry. They have placed a “complete ban on using kitchen waste from non-vegan households and from catering waste containing products of animal origin”. This goes for all farm animal species, even those kept as ‘pets’ . To be honest, there is absolutely no need to feed anything other than a commercial chicken food. These diets contain the correct levels of protein, minerals and calcium to keep your birds  in good condition. At the minute, our girls are getting a choice of both layers pellets and mash .This is because Sybil and Agnes have wonky beaks, possibly due to being de-beaked. Sybil especially seemed to be struggling to eat pellets and was quite thin when she arrived. She much prefers mash! I let the birds choose when and how much they want to eat, allowing them free access to it. Clean, cool drinking water is also essential. An average sized chicken in lay will need to drink approximately 200ml per day, which will increase in hot weather.


One of my biggest concerns before getting the girls was whether they were going to attract vermin. ”Where there’s chickens, there’s rats’ is a common saying. Hopefully, taking  simple precautions like keeping the food store rodent proof and cleaning up after the chickens regularly will  help to prevent major rodent issues, along with George who is a remarkably good hunter.


So far the chickens  have been a lot of fun to look after, and have settled in really well. So well, in fact, that i’m planning a coop expansion…just don’t tell Mr Farm Upon The Hill, ok?!

If you keep chickens, what would your top tips be for newbies?

Solitary existence

Did you know there are 267 species of Bee in the UK? I didn’t. My knowledge of bees is basic, although for some reason we learned a lot about the ‘waggle dance’ at university. It turns out that my knowledge of solitary bees is even more so. Up until this past month I had no idea that 90% of the Bees in the UK prefer to live a solitary existence. Unlike honey beesThey don’t live in a colony or ‘serve’ a Queen. Instead single female bees of Solitary species will build their own nest. Nesting materials vary depending on species.

Some prefer to site this underground, digging out a narrow tunnel to form a nesting chamber. There are even 3 species of solitary bee that nest in empty snail shells. Others are ‘aerial nesters’, choosing to build nests within cavities or hollow stems, as well as artificial ‘Bee hotels’.

Our ‘bee house’ is situated on the west facing wall of the farmhouse. It is attached (rudimentarily and precariously) to a downpipe, and is surrounded by flowers. Roses, nasturtiums, snapdragons and centaurea provide a plentiful supply of nectar which solitary bees use as a food source.  I put it up at the beginning of Summer, hoping that it would attract some attention. Every so often I have brushed off cobwebs from the tubes, hoping that by keeping the entrances clear it would give potential occupants a chance to investigate. It must have worked, because last month someone paid a visit.


I had been tidying some of the potted plants on the patio when I noticed a bee buzzing around near the ‘hotel’. It flitted around outside before landing and crawling into it. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it was being used.  Not wanting to disturb our new arrival, I left the bee to continue its work without me ‘hovering’ over it. A couple of hours later, progress had been made.

One of the narrowest bamboo tubes had been sealed over, with a mixture of mud and greenery. I think this was the work of a Mason bee.

Whilst marvelling at the neat cap that now covered one tube , I became aware of another visitor to the hotel. At first all I saw was the tail end of a bee disappearing into a tube, lugging a portion of leaf. The scrap of vegetation seemed to be almost half as long as the bee carrying it.


A leaf cutter bee! This female, working independently and parallel to the other, was also furnishing her nest. There are now 3 mud capped tubes and at least 2 leaf filled chambers.


Female solitary bees furnish their nests with everything their offspring need to make it to adulthood. Balls of pollen and nectar are placed in the cavity, with an egg laid on top. Several eggs may be laid in one tube, with ‘partition walls’ dividing it up into individual rooms. Once the nest is full, the bee seals the end. The choice of sealant varies – mud, chewed leaves or even fine hair.

If I asked you to picture a bee in your minds eye, chances are you would see a honey bee or a bumble bee, rather than a species of solitary bee. But Solitary bee species are just as important, if not more so, for the survival of humans . 1 in 3 mouthfuls of food we eat relies on a pollinator species. Solitary bees are more efficient pollinators than honey or bumblebees. In fact, a single mason bee can do the work of 120 honey bees, making them incredibly important for food production.

If you want to find out how you can help encourage solitary bees in your garden, have a look at this website. You can also find further information here and record any sightings on iRecord.

Coming home to roost

“I believe that all children should be surrounded by books and animals.”
― Gerald Durrell


Once upon a time, when a different generation lived here in the farmhouse, the farm upon the hill would have been one that ‘old MacDonald’ would have been proud to live on. Pigs, ducks, turkeys, sheep, cart horses and chickens were kept alongside the cows. Not only did the animals feed the family, they filled the larder, worked the land and paid the bills.  Nowadays, raising cows for dairy or beef production is the mainstay of the farm.


My hope is to restore some of the diversity of the old farming system, whilst still managing to leave plenty of room for the ‘real farming’ to carry on.  The goats are still here, although due to my wonky turns milking them has taken a back seat. Recently we have added a chicken coop to the farm. It stands on the remains of the old chicken shed, alongside my greenhouse and the log pile. The birds came from a commercial flock, via Fresh Start For Hens.   It seemed like an awfully long time between being approved as rehomers and the chickens arriving.

The night before the chickens arrived we watched a short video which showed the flock being checked to make sure they were fit and healthy for the journey to their new homes. The clip explained that  due to the avian flu restrictions, the chickens had spent more time indoors than the farmer would have liked. The flock did look a little bedraggled, but nevertheless were bright and alert, with one even laying an egg on camera!



The flock then journeyed across the country to various collection points. All we had to do was make sure their coop was ready and turn up to fetch them on time. Ironically our ‘collection point’ was a terraced house in a nearby village, and it was a bit surreal to see 20 or so chickens calmly milling about in the concrete back yard. We chose the four that would be coming to stay with us, gently transferred them to the chicken crate ( an ‘ancient relic’. No farmer chucks out anything that might come in handy one day. Just as well!) which was appreciated by the volunteer re-homer for not being a cardboard box or ‘new fangled crate’ . Five minutes later and the chickens were home, fed, watered and left to settle in in peace. In fact they were so remarkably settled that we had 3 eggs within the first 24 hours of them arriving on the farm!



Since then they have grown stronger and brighter. The different ‘personalities’ are becoming more obvious – the bossy one, the quiet one, the inquisitive one, the troublemaker. New feathers are emerging and we have had a consistent supply of fresh and tasty eggs.  The supply of eggs was never the most important factor for me in rehoming these chickens. In fact, Fresh start for hens makes it quite clear that eggs from ex commercial chickens are a bonus. Commercial chickens are generally sent to slaughter at 72 weeks of age. I knew we could offer them a chance for a longer happier life. On top of us being able to offer them a home, they are able to give us something in return.


Both mini farmers have taken an active interest in caring for the new arrivals. C enjoys checking for eggs and shepherding the birds back into the coop after a day of free ranging. JoJo likes feeding them, painstakingly distributing feed evenly between all four chickens! The chickens seem to respond to the children too running towards rather than away from them – I think it is a height thing…well that and the treat foods they sneak them!img_8044Animals have been my passion for as long as I can remember, although I haven’t always been surrounded by them. As a child I grew up in a world far removed from green fields, hedgerows and cow herds. For almost 10 years we lived in a red brick terraced house in West London, with giant ‘winged birds’ flying overhead, on their flight path to Heathrow. We played out on the streets, in parks or in our tiny garden that would fit into this farm a thousand times over. Summer holidays were different – we visited Ireland and its 40 shades of green. We stayed in a whitewashed cottage on a dairy farm, with views down over the Slieve Mish mountains. We were allowed to help milk the cows, got up at the crack of dawn to watch calves being born, built dens behind the tractor shed and climbed amongst the straw bales. These hazy memories of childhood have shaped the way I want my children to grow up, with a love and understanding of both city and country life.


My children are luckier than I was in so far as they are surrounded by animals, and we have the space, time and knowledge to enable this. I am an enabler! I don’t want to force my passion for life other than human onto anyone, least of all my children. Feeling forced or pushed to do something is a definite reason for turning your back on it. Instead I want to provide them with opportunities and experiences that will help them grow. If they share my passion fantastic, if not they will hopefully still learn valuable lessons by looking after the animals here on the farm. They will learn kindness, compassion, responsibility, pride, respect, how to be gentle and to do no harm. They will learn where their food comes from, about animal husbandry and behaviour, evolution , ecosystems and their place in the landscape that surrounds them. These four chickens are not just the sum total of the eggs they produce, they are so much more.









Dung beetles


Day 22 of #30DaysWild coincided with a talk from Farming Connect, a government scheme that aims to ‘safeguard and enhance the rural environment’, whilst revitalising rural economy.


Dr Beynon from The Bug Farm presented a fascinating talk on the economic and inherent value of dung beetles.

Last year I wrote a post about my (poor ) attempt at a dung beetle hunt on our farm.  At that point I didn’t spot any dung beetles, but thought I might resume the hunt at a later date. I didn’t think it would be an entire year later!

What do you think of when you here the words ‘Dung beetle’ ? If you are anything like me your first thoughts may be dredged up memories from primary school projects on the ancient Egyptians worship of these creatures.  Or perhaps you think of wildlife TV documentaries, with African Dung Beetles rolling massive balls of Elephant poo about.  Neither  thought  accurately represents the dung beetles that we have here in the UK.

Dung beetles are a ‘superfamily’ of insects that practice coprophagy – the delightful habit of munching other animals faeces. Some live exclusively off dung, whilst it only forms part of the diets of other species. Members of the dung beetle family can be found all over the world, in habitat as diverse as deserts, forests, savannah and even UK farmland. The only continent free of these insects is Antarctica.

Entomologists have grouped dung beetles according to the way they use dung;

‘Rollers’create balls of dung, roll them away and bury them, either to use as food or somewhere to lay eggs.  None of our native  species fit into this group.

Instead, the 40 or so  dung beetles found within the UK fit into one of 2 other categories. Either they are ‘ Tunnelers’,  creating vertical and horizontal mazes of  chambers beneath a pat, or they  are ‘Dwellers’,breeding and tunnelling within it.


The presentation took place on a dairy farm not too far from us. We listened to Dr Beynons talk before setting out to check pitfall traps that had been set by the farmer the night before.

The first few traps brought forth several ground beetles but no dung beetle species. In the next field Dr Beynon turned over a cow pat and immediately spotted several Dung Beetles. They were tiny – perhaps a third of the length of my little finger nail. Although they looked pretty similar to my untrained eye, Dr Beynon immediately began identifying which species they were. Another, larger beetle appeared in the sludgey remains of the pat. This, apparently, was Aphodius fossus. Bigger than the others, this beetle moved quite slowly and tentatively. Every so often it froze, tucking its legs up under its carapace in case danger was imminent. Whilst we were standing listening to each species being identified, the air around the dung was gradually beginning to come alive with beetles, flying in attracted by the malodorous faeces. At first I thought they were flies, but their flight pattern eluded to their true identity. It had an almost clockwork or mechanical aspect to it, and I half expected the air to be full of whirring and clicking mechanical noises as they alighted on the cow pat.

Once home again, I was itching to go and see if I could find any beetles of our own. The cows had been in the Quarry field the previous day, so it seemed a logical place to start my search.


Within a few feet of entering the field gate my path was crossed by a rather large and shiny ground beetle.

A few more steps and I reached my first dung pile. Flipping the crust off, I waited patiently to see if I could spot anything. I was in luck.

Maybe it was beginners luck – I moved onto another pat close by – sure enough 4 beetles appeared, tunnelling through the pat, along with other ‘creepy crawlies’, flies and a few larvae.


One more pat – I scrapped the pat close to the ground. Iould make out beetles disappearing down into tunnels. One larger beetle caught my eye – slower than the rest and sitting amongst the grass that had been directly underneath the dung. I scooped it up for a closer look. Aphodius Fossor. Jackpot!

My search wasn’t very scientific in methodology, but at least I know we do have some dung beetles present. This is encouraging. Dung beetles play a vital role in our ecosystem. If they disappeared entirely we would quite literally be up to our necks in dung . These beetles play a role in making soil more fertile and help to redistribute the nutrients in dung back into the soil. They contribute to improving water quality, undo ‘damage’ caused by grazing horses,help reduce green house gas released by farm animals and can even help to prevent livestock getting ill due to parasites. All this is quite a feat, considering they are only a few millimetres long!


From this….


to this…

Unfortunately, as with so many of our other native species, dung beetles have suffered massive declines. This is largely due to the overuse of and overreliance on products used to worm horses, cattle and sheep.

Dr Beynon, along with a host of other scientists, is hopeful that this trend can be reversed. In fact, they state that not only will it benefit the species of beetles themselves , but it will also benefit the UK farming industry financially, something which seems blatantly obvious when you look at the list of their ‘helpful qualities’.

If you want to have a go at looking for dung beetles (and you have land owners permission!) check out DUMP – a uk based mapping project. You can also see how to build a pitfall trap here. Happy beetling!










Day 17 – The little things…

This month hasn’t been what I planned. Ok, so I know it isn’t over yet, but recently  I have been worried that , if the first half has been anything to go by, the next half isn’t going to live up to my expectations either.

Since last years #30DaysWild , which pretty much marked the real beginning of my blogging experience, I have been looking forward to June 2017. What new things would I discover? Would there be new wildlife spotted on the farm? Will I meet more wildlife enthusiasts? But, like all of the best laid plans…it hasn’t quite gone the way I had hoped. My ‘weird turns’ are still occurring, and I still don’t know what they are. Despite being on antiepileptic medication, and I am struggling to enjoy normal everyday life the way I should. When I’ve had a weird turn, I am in pain and exhausted for hours if not days after. My memory is affected- I forget words, names and everyday data- like phone numbers and passwords. Its really annoying! Worst of all is not being able to write or read. I can’t concentrate, cant find the energy to find the words.From the outside looking in, people can’t tell how much it affects me. Much like my battles with mental health.


Today I spent a lot of the morning asleep, and the afternoon looking after the mini farmers. By 6.30pm I remembered #30DaysWild….but I hadn’t got the energy to think up a ‘random act’, or the inclination to tap the random act app on my phone. Instead I just took the girls outside, let them play in the sunshine whilst I sat and watched.

My chosen spot was on the patio next to my herb patch. The garden in general is looking pretty wild and neglected at the minute, and the herb patch is no exception. The fennel stands at about 2ft high, its liquorice scented fronds covered with aphids.The lavender shoots are not far behind, and the lemonbalm has spread out horizontally.  The nasturtiums I have grown from seed are also sending their tendrils out sideways, and bursting into flower.  The bees adore them, and I sat watching as one fat white tailed bumble bee laconically gathered nectar from the gold and orange trumpet shaped flowers.


Next to the herb patch is my washing up bowl pond. It didn’t start out as a pond, just a water butt to collect rain from a broken down pipe, saving me having to go far to fetch water for the plants. Now it is home to 4 tiny, still legless,  voraciously hungry tadpoles. From my vantage point I can see one flicking about on the surface, gulping air, before disappearing under a shard of terracotta i added for cover. They have cleared the copious amounts of fly larvae from the pond, and I cant wait until they grow up and start making a dent on the slugs that have decapitated my lupin, shredded my centaurea and are now waging war on my strawberry plants.

After five minutes of sitting here, and snapping a few shots of passing wild things with my iPhone I realised that actually, this is what ’30 days’ is really about. There is no set curriculum, no need for grandiose schemes. Interactions with nature can be small and simple – just taking a minute to watch a bee fly from flower to flower in search of nectar, or following a butterfly around the garden… and tick…task completed for the day.  You don’t need fancy equipment- my big regret last year was not getting good enough photos. This year the majority of wild photos are on my iphone. You don’t even need to be able to get outside, with webcams and wildlife books, journals or online courses. Of course you can go further afield, spend whole days immersing yourself in the wild or creating grander and more elaborate ways to complete your random act of wildness for the day. But you don’t have to.


Which has lead me to realise. I haven’t ‘wasted’ this month. It has not been a ‘failure’ because it hasn’t lived up to the expectations I set from last year. It has been different. Small achievable goals are actually good- good for my mental health and good for my general health. Up until now, I didn’t think that my acts that I have managed on days when I haven’t blogged have been worthy of writing about. I didn’t think they were exciting enough, or even constituted a ‘random act’. I’m glad i’ve realised I was wrong in my thinking.