Lets get things straight….

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Have you read the  ‘Dairy is scary’ opinion piece from the Guardian? I have, and it has left an exceptionally bitter taste in my mouth. I can’t believe that such a poor piece of writing has been published under the Guardians name- albeit as an opinion piece.  The article  has come about after the publication of a video by the animal advocacy group ‘Animal Equality’. I won’t waste space by leaving a link to it here, if you want to read it , its easy to find. Let me save you the bother- in this blog post I’ve summarised the key points from the article and addressed each one with fact and the views/opinions of a real life dairy farmer. However, if you do enjoy reading  work that contains very little truth and a lot of sensationalism then by all means, go check out ‘Dairy is Scary’.

Some truth about calf rearing…..

The article is based on perceived issues associated with the accommodation of calves on a particular calf rearing unit. For those who don’t understand how the dairy industry works  this is a farm where calves are looked after by calf rearers . These are people whose sole job in life is to make sure that the young animals  are fed, watered and kept healthy and happy.  The calves pictured at this particular unit are housed in individual hutches. These are specifically designed for calves and are actually high welfare accommodation. They provide good shelter and excellent ventilation. Young calves are susceptible to lung infections and this style of housing helps to significantly reduce the risk of illness. Also it helps to prevent outbreaks of disease if one calf does become ill.

The author is correct in saying that calves over 8 weeks are not permitted to be housed individually. If you read the ‘code of welfare for cattle’ produced by the UK government you can see this is a legal requirement. However there is no proof that the calves shown are over this age limit, and in fact the photo showing a measurement of a calf being taken would suggest they are younger than the 6 months that Animal Equality have claimed them to be. Trading standards have found no issues on the farm.

A bit about the ‘birds and the bees’……

According to Mr Newkey -Burden , dairy cow reproduction is a brutal event.  This is really not the case. Artificial insemination does play a role in the dairy cow life cycle. However it does NOT happen in the way this article purports.

For A.I to occur, semen is collected from a bull but this is not done mechanically as the article suggests. I’m not going into the ins and outs of artificial breeding, but lets say no bulls are hurt in the making of a straw of semen. In fact most stud bulls live the life of riley, cosseted and cared for as befits an animal of their calibre. The average monetary worth of a young bull going to stud is £20,000. When you have this much financially invested in an animal would anybody not want to make sure they have the best care available

Insemination is not a brutal procedure. No farmer will attempt to ‘impregnate’ a cow before they are physiologically ready- it just doesn’t work. It is simple biology- a cow can only become pregnant for a short number of hours during a 21 day ‘reproductive cycle’. During this  period she will show natural behaviours that are a cue to her fertility. Farmers and vets refer to this behaviour as ‘bulling’. Once an animal shows this behaviour, an AI specialist  will inseminate the animal. This can be done without putting the cow into a handling system (Chas refers to this as a cruel ‘crush’) as she will naturally stand to allow the procedure to occur. Again I’m not going into the finer details of insemination.

Sometimes we do use ‘cattle crushes’. This is a colloquial or lay mans term for a cattle handling system. It does not hurt or harm the animal, as this would not help at all. We use them to safely restrain cows that need veterinary treatment or other procedures that require them to stand still. You have to remember cows are very heavy animals (500kg to 700kg for a dairy cow, 1 tonne plus for a bull). They are capable of doing serious damage to a human unintentionally just by moving their head or foot. Over friendly cows can easily knock an adult over going for a head rub!! As an aside a cows foot can accelerate at 10 metres per second squared. That will seriously hurt on contact. In fact it will break things- human bone shaped things.

Lets go milk a cow….. beginners 101.

Milking a cow is not easy. Any dairy farmer who gets up at stupid o clock in the morning every day of the year to do so will tell you this.  At the same time, no one steals milk from a cow, which Chas suggests. If a cow does not want to be milked, you wont get any. We put the cluster on, the cow doesn’t want to let down her milk, empty milk jar. Its a fact. Milk let down requires oxytocin. Oxytocin is a ‘happy’ hormone. Sad cow, mistreated cow; no oxytocin, no milk. Happy cow-content cow-oxytocin- milk let down. Cows come to be milked- each day on our farm, we call the cows to milk, they get up from their bed or come in from the field. No cattle dog, no sticks, they come voluntarily. In some dairy herds milking isn’t done by a human. They use robotic milking machines. These allow a cow to decide when she is milked. On average, a cow will go to the machines 2.8 times a day. Voluntarily. No pressure from a human involved.

Chas states that the Uk dairy farmer needs to rely on antibiotics and hormones to boost milk production. Uh oh, chas failed to get his facts right! This is not allowed. It is illegal! And just to make sure, milk is tested in milk factories to make sure it is drug free.

The article also refers to lameness being caused by large udders. Yet another inaccuracy. Lameness is usually due to poor food, bad conformation (animals anatomy), infection, trapped stones  or bad surfaces that the cow stands on. Lame cows don’t produce milk. In fact, when a cow is ill for any reason her milk production will decline, sometimes to the point of no milk at all.

The author also states that cows which produce large volumes of milk will get mastitis. Mastitis occurs in any mammal that is lactating.. Mastitis, or inflammation and infection of the udder, is caused due to bacteria, yeast or other environmental or infectious pathogens. In other words, bugs. Not milk volume.  Any cow with mastitis on our farm receives immediate attention, with veterinary care if needed.

Separating a calf and cow…

Yes, this happens. Modern domesticated dairy cows are not wild creatures. They produce far too much milk for a calf to take. If a calf were to be left on, the cow’s udder would never be drained sufficiently leaving her at risk of developing mastitis. Mastitis can kill a cow very quickly- in less than 12 hours from first infection.

The calf gets one on one attention when raised by a human, who makes sure all their needs are met. They are fed colostrum from their mums and follow on with milk.

Chas says calves and cows ‘bellow for days’ when separated. This is completely incorrect. Our cows usually return to their herdmates within 24 hours of giving birth. They don’t notice that the calf is gone. They often don’t understand what a calf is. Modern cows are not always cut out to be good mums. Some cows will actively try and hurt their calves if left with them, and can turn violent towards a human that tries to help the calf.

A question of gender…

Chas says, and it seems to be a popular belief amongst vegans and animal rights activists, that male calves are shot at birth and ‘binned’. This is not strictly true. Some farms may have to euthanize calves full stop if they are prevented from moving them to other farms or rearing units due to Tuberculosis movement restrictions. Other farms keep their bull calves, or sell them on to units that rear them on for bull beef or rose veal. Bull calves that go for rose veal go to abattoirs at 10 to 12 months of age. In fact Rose veal farming is backed by the RSPCA.

The death of a cow…

One phrase in the article really annoyed me, and I’m sure others will find it offensive too. Chas referred to cows being ‘dragged off by a tractor’ when they are too ill or old to be milked, or simply ‘collapsing under agony’. Wrong, wrong, wrong again!!! Any cow that is going to an abattoir must be able to walk soundly onto the lorry that is transporting it. It is not legal to transport a cow that is so poorly it cannot walk. If a cow has become very sick or has had an accident on the farm, a vet will be required to perform an emergency euthanasia (which requires a lot of paperwork!).  Chas also makes reference to abattoir slaughter in his piece, incorrectly. Unless an animal is being slaughtered for halal meat (something which I do not agree with) it will be stunned using a captive bullet. This renders the animal completely unconscious.

In conclusion….

One thing I do agree on with the author is consumer choice. Everyone in the first world has an ability to choose which food they eat. Organic, free range, vegetarian, vegan – choose as you will. But make sure it is an informed choice. One that is based on fact and not fiction. Listen to as many arguments as you need to in order to make the right choices. The argument I have made in support of the dairy industry is based on fact and personal experience. The facts have been checked with a dairy farmer who has over 40 years of experience with cows. Hands on, day to day experience of caring for them, reading their behaviour and making sure they are happy.  Farming and caring for dairy cows is in his blood. Quite literally. He is a 7th generation farmer, with his family farming the same area for 243 years. Safe to say he understands a bit about cows and calf rearing.

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Spring- blossoms and polygamy.

Spring has crept in under the cover of winter, kicking back the blanket of dark mornings and early dusks. Still, sunshine is a fickle beast; weak, and wan, glancing in and out of our days on the farm.  Yet, the garden is waking . Golden daffodils nod their heads in time to the trill of a blackbird perched on a hawthorn branch. A string  of pearl white snow drops trace along the side of the farmhouse , their delicate flower heads outlining long forgotten borders. Buds and new shoots burst up and out, ready for warmer days.

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Bird life on the patch is changing with the coming of Spring. The starlings have left, after a long winter vacation. Their absence is conspicuous. Peace reigns once more, and I do not miss the noisy, whirring, chattering din above our heads.

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The house sparrows have reappeared after their winter absence, and have set about tidying up last years nest sites. For the second year in a row a pair of sparrows have stolen the house martins nest. Calf hair from the sheds seems to be a popular choice of nesting material, and the females busily flit about gathering beakfulls of it.

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The bird feeders are a constant hive of activity, with blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches and robin being regulars at the ‘buffet’. Four or five blue tits on a feeder in one sitting is common, suggesting our garden provides for up to 20 of this species. A willow warbler has started to appear, shy and flighty, but his visits are infrequent. A pair of collared doves often come to perch side by side on the swing set, preening and cooing at each other. A dunnock, or Hedge sparrow, now comes to sift through the debris at the foot of the feeders. Last year a single pair frequented the garden, this year I have counted four on one occasion. They are busy, unassuming little birds, similar in size to the house sparrow but with a sleaker silhouette. The population expansion on our patch matches the general trend around the uk;  numbers are increasing, but the species remains on the Amber list. Their ‘plain jane’ appearance hides a rather quirky reproductive trait.  Dunnocks practice monogamy and polygamy. Depending on the territory available to them , their ‘mating’ relationships can be polygynous (one male, multiple females),  polyandrous (one female, multiple males) or even polygnandrous (multiples of both sexes). Quite a lot of nest hopping for such an unobtrusive bird.

Farm walk- tips for staying safe.

I’ve recently joined a few blogger groups on social media, ones that are full of outdoorsy types rather than fashionistas and make up artists. One of the threads the other day caught my eye. It was about going walking in the countryside when you’ve got bovinophobia- a(n irrational) fear of cows. Initially I thought it was a bit daft. How can anyone be  that terrified of cows? Then the replies trickled in…one poster after another admitting that they too really don’t like walking through cows. Some people offered advice, most of it sound and sensible. The odd suggestion was a bit odd, and potentially dangerous. I’ve come up with some advice of my own on how to stay safe when walking on farm land.

Plan your route and stick to it-Lots of working farms have public rights of way through them. These routes may be through grazing fields , across land used for growing crops or even through a busy farmyard. Farmers have a responsibility to make sure the area directly around a right of way or public footpath is safe. Stick to the marked route. If you go off the beaten track you could end up putting yourself in harms way.

Here come the girls #milkingtime #teamdairy #farminglife #farmfamily #wales

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Leave it alone- Farmers often leave machinery in fields where they are working, or on the farmyard. Don’t touch it! Even if they aren’t switched on, tractors and other bits of farm kit are dangerous. The same rule applies to animals. If you see an animal that you think is ill or in distress, its best to try and let the farmer or land owner know.

Read the signs- Signs are put up for a reason. Quite commonly they will be used to alert you to the presence of a bull in a field, something which I personally prefer to know about before getting any where near him (I don’t like bulls. Not one bit) . Sometimes they will also let you know if there are lambing ewes present or if the field has recently been sprayed. In these cases, you might want to take a detour.

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Animal encounters- Try and be aware of what livestock are in a field before you enter it. Although they may look cute and fluffy, cows, sheep and even horses can be dangerous and can  kill people. As a general rule, leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. Most farm animals will be used to seeing people, especially if the route you are on is popular with walkers. Give them a wide berth- go round, rather than through a herd or flock.

If you spot calves in a field , be aware that any cows with calves at foot will be more wary and protective of their offspring.  The mothers may stop and turn to watch you, but generally they will leave you be unless they feel you are threatening them (ie coming too close) Never put yourself between a cow and calf. If you have a dog with you, they may be even more interested and alert.

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Sometimes groups of cows (usually bullocks or heifers) may run towards you. Although it might look like it, it isn’t a stampede as such- they are most likely  just being playful and nosy. Try and stay calm, and walk quickly and quietly through the field. This is easier said than done. I recently got caught out taking the mini farmers on a walk to a local castle, located in a farmers field. We made it to the castle uneventfully, it was only when I turned round to go back I realised we weren’t alone- at least 10 young bullocks were ambling towards us.I managed to carry /drag the kids and buggy across the field, all the while being followed by these hooligans. They gambolled along, snorting and skipping, really looking like they were enjoying themselves.  That situation could have been a lot worse. Playful calves don’t sound too scary until you realise that each of them weigh half a tonne.

 

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Group of bullocks grazing.

I would also recommend carrying a stick when walking amongst cows. If you do find yourself surrounded by inquisitive animals it can be used to gently nudge them out of the way. Its also good for making yourself look bigger (and feel braver) if you do get charged by cows.

One woman and her dog–  You can never be 100% sure how dogs will behave around farm animals, so adopt a ‘safe rather than sorry’ approach and put them on a lead. Sheep chased by dogs can miscarry their lambs, suffer from shock and die. Worst case scenario, a dog may attack and savage a sheep. Keep them on a lead to make sure you keep control. Even if you think they are the best, most well behaved canine that ever walked the planet. A farmer can and will shoot any dog that they feel poses a risk to their stock.

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Keeping your pet on a leash will also help protect lapwings and other ground nesting birds. Their nests and eggs lie amongst the grass, which can be disturbed and destroyed by dogs.

The only time you should let go of the lead is if you are challenged by cows. In this instance, your pet will be better able to protect themselves if they are off the lead, and you are  at risk of  sustaining life threatening injuries if you try to hold onto them.

These are just a few pointers, for more in depth advice check out the Countryside code.

 

 

 

 

 

 Please don’t feed my dog

This week Lemmy, the littlest four legged member of the family, turned 3 months old. The week before marked another important milestone in his doggy life- he had his second vaccination. Fully protected against some of the nastier doggy diseases, it was time to venture out into the big wide world.

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He loved it! He is such a confident little puppy, and incredibly active. For his first official walk I decided on a short lap of Broadhaven boardwalk, which takes about 20 minutes.

As we set off from the car park, Lemmy caught the eye of a bunch of walkers, heading in the opposite direction to us. One of the group was particularly enamoured with Lem, and stopped to say hello. Not a problem. Lem is very friendly, and I am keen to safely socialise him as much as possible. However, this gentleman took a step too far. He bent down to Lemmy and asked’Want one of these, little fella?’, offering some sort of food item that he had produced from his pocket. Lemmy is a ganet, and the proffered treat was snaffled up immediately.

‘No, sorry, he doesn’t want that, thanks very much’. I managed to hook the treat out – a rather large adult dog treat- before he had the chance to chomp it down

Now why did I do that? Surely the man was only being kind? Prehaps he was. But there are several reasons why you shouldn’t feed other peoples animals.

  • Diet matters- Lemmy has never had treats. He has been on the same dry food diet since he was weaned from his mother. How boring?! Not at all. Dogs don’t see food in the same way we do- they don’t become bored of eating the same thing everyday. In fact, it is important not to chop and change food. Sudden changes in diet can lead to an upset tummy, with diarrhoea and even vomiting. But this wasn’t a change in his diet, it was a single treat- why does that matter? A single treat can be all it takes to trigger a runny tummy. And that is something I really would rather avoid!
  • Size matters- Lemmy is a puppy, and still only small. He still has all his baby teeth. He can’t cope with large biscuits or treats, and there is the potential that these could become lodged in his mouth or throat. Not good!
  • Calorie counting- Lemmy is given the exact amount of food he requires everyday. His dry food is measured, to the weight advised by the manufacturers for his age and size, and split into three meals. He doesn’t need extra food. Extra food (and yes, a single treat counts as extra) can lead to weight gain. Carrying extra weight is no fun for people or animals. It can lead to arthritis and joint problems, as well as putting strain on the heart and lungs. Again, something I’d rather avoid.

There are other reasons why you shouldn’t offer food to other peoples pets, without the permission of the owner first.

  • Some animals have specific dietary requirements. A dog or cat may be diabetic, suffering from kidney disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. They may even have food allergies or intolerances. These pets need to be on special diets, with their owners often having to be extremely careful when it comes to what their animals eat. A small piece of the wrong food could lead to a lot of problems for an animal with one of these conditions.
  • Pancreatitis is another illness that can be triggered by food. The pancreas is an organ that helps with digestion of food. In cases of pancreatitis, the pancreas becomes irritated and inflamed, resulting in over production of digestive enzymes. This can be incredibly painful for cats and dogs, and can lead to them requiring a trip to the vets. In some cases it may need surgery, and can even be fatal. All this from eating or being fed something they shouldn’t have.

So, although the gentleman we met on our walk probably thought he was being kind to Lemmy, he wasn’t doing him any favours. Next time I hope he thinks twice , or at the very least asks, before feeding someone else’s pet.

New Years wild life challenges

January has arrived, time to wipe the slate clean and adopt a ‘start as I mean to go on’ attitude.

This year I haven’t made resolutions. Every year I try, listing the usual ; lose weight, eat healthily, be a better me….those sort of really bland promises that get broken within a week. This year I’ve decided to change my thinking. I’m the kind of person who likes challenges. In fact, I seem to really quite enjoy making my life difficult and doing things the hard way. I’ll moan about it at the time, but eventually when I can reflect I can see how I survived and thrived!

So I’ve set myself 12 challenges, one for every month. Yes, I know. Setting ‘challenges’ sounds an awful lot like making ‘resolutions’. But not quite the same. I’m hoping the change in wording will tap in to my competitive streak, meaning I’m less likely to give up on them! Here they are;

A reading challenge –

My ‘to read’ pile stands as tall as I do…and then some. A lot of that pile is nature related. For the past 2  years I’ve taken part in the Mumsnet 50 book challenge, and I’ve never reached the full 50 in a year. Pre children this would have been an exceptionally achievable goal, but nowadays when I get the chance to read I end up falling asleep shortly after!. This year I’ll take on another book challenge, but time I’m aiming for a more realistic 2 books a month.

A writing challenge-

‘Other new features include Down on the Farm, which highlights the vibrancy and diversity of UK farming’ – Mark Whittley, editor, The Countryman.

Reconnecting with writing has helped soothe my mind. I need to do more of it-especially as I now have deadlines to stick to for actual publications! I can’t wait to see my writing in print in the Countryman magazine, look out for it in the April edition!

A Walking challenge-

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I love  walking. People always seem surprised when I saw I’m an outdoor type of person, mainly because I’m fat!! For some reason,for certain individuals anyway, fat people can’t possibly enjoy the great outdoors. I seriously beg to differ. I love being outdoors, it keeps me sane. It helps fight off the black dog days, days which trigger my retreat into my comfort zone (food & books) whilst simultaneously slipping into a sloth like state of torpor. This coming year I am going to challenge myself to walk myself back to health, both mental and physical.

Photography challenge-

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Life behind a lens is fun. My challenge to myself is to improve my photography and learn new techniques. I’ve set up the #naturenuturegrow photo challenge on Instagram and facebook. The instructions are simple. I hope it will leave me with a photographic record of my year, with at least one photo for every day!

Explore the county-

Pembrokeshire is a big county with a wealth of outdoor environments. I have certain spots I love going to, but I think I need to challenge myself to find more of the ‘hidden gems’ across Pembrokeshire. Time to get off the beaten track and explore!

Grow –

This past year has surprised me. I have learned a lot of things about myself that I didn’t know. I’ve found out that things I thought I couldn’t do (thanks to my anxiety disorder) I’m actually quite ok at. And I’ve learned that being ‘ok’ at things is just fine! Gardening is one of these things. I’ve grown from seed and rescued bedraggled plants from the sale rack at Homebase. This is a challenge I’m going to take forward into the new year. First challenge- grow a wildflower meadow this spring and summer!

A volunteer challenge- 

Anxiety is a bitch. Excuse my language, but it really is. That gnawing self doubt, that lurks all day  from the minute you open your eyes to the second you fall asleep. I’m stating to realise how much it has prevented me from doing.  The idea of doing a group based activity where I had to actually interact with strangers would have made me physically sick up. In the past few months  life is starting to get back on a more even keel. Now I’m quite looking forward to becoming part of something else, something bigger and something useful.

Challenge myself to connect more-

Over the past year I have come into contact with a lot of interesting people due to blogging. People, such as Dara , who writes a blog called Young Fermanagh Naturalist. He is really passionate about all aspects of nature, and writes eloquently and evocatively. Other  inspiring nature bloggers include LJ, Nicola, Tony, Chris and Nicky and Joshua. I’ve also enjoyed linking up with a few bloggers, including the lovely Rosie over at A green and Rosie life , Tamsin and Nature mum. I have also met a few farming mummies too, like Emma , whose blogs are an excellent reminder that its not just me battling against a tide of children’s toys, muddy boots and straw. I’m really looking forward to connecting with more like minded individuals in the new year

Become ‘greener’-

Since having children I’ve found myself caring more about the impact I make on their future environment. So far I’ve made several small changes- cloth nappies, not using a microwave, using eco friendly cleaning products, avoiding micro beads. I’m not saying I’m going to become a hemp wearing willow weaving yurt dwelling nomad (unfortunately, although I do like a bit of willow weaving) but I hope we can continue to challenge ourselves to be a bit more eco friendly in the next few months. If you fancy joining me, check out the Going Green Linky for lots of inspiration on how you can live a cleaner, greener, more ethical life!

Self sufficiency-

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This challenge goes hand in hand with the previous. April will hopefully see the beginning of the dairy goat herd, meaning I no longer have to buy goats milk for the mini farmers. I’m also challenging myself to use more of our own fruit and veg, and adding value to our produce through preserving, baking and cheese

A Switch off and Connect challenge-

2016 saw me join the ‘dark side’. I became an iPhone addict, purchasing that little block of precious metals that now forms an extension of me. I find myself loving and loathing it in equal measure. This year I challenge myself to cut the umbilical cord between me and my phone, and be more present, especially when with the mini farmers.

A business challenge-

The arrival of the goats marked the beginning of a long path towards running our own farm shop, stocking our own cheeses and goat’s milk as well as other produce from local Pembrokeshire farmers.I think it’ll take longer than 12 months to get up and running but the challenge is there!

Hopefully 2017 will be a good year, full of lots of fun, good health and happiness. If I get to fulfil a few of these challenges, then even better.

If you are taking part in any challenges this year, let me know, I’d love to here about them.

Project Milking Goat

This week we celebrated two momentous occasions on the farm – the first being Cs birthday and the second being the departure of the goats to stud! C was exceptionally gracious about sharing her ‘special day’- no, who am I kidding,sharing isn’t a strong point in our house at the minute, with a resident ‘threenager’ and a baby learning to say ‘no’. Whilst C spent her morning helping King Thistle and Holly escape from a marauding T Rex I managed to disappear for an hour or so to load the goats.

The night before I had carefully checked Amy and Bernadette over to make sure they were fit to travel.  A last minute ‘mani-pedi’ hoof trim to ensure their feet were perfect before the off and I left them munching on their hay nets, oblivious to what lay ahead of them.

Fortunately they loaded very easily. I had anticipated all sorts of shenanigans, but no, they were exceptionally polite. Almost too polite…

The journey to the stud farm passed uneventfully. Sam (short for Sambucca) was waiting to greet us, legs jauntily angled as he posed over his stable door.

The girls were impeccably behaved whilst we unloaded them and sorted out the obligatory trees worth of paperwork. They settled into their stable without so much as a backwards glance at me, stuffing their faces with hay as if they’d never been fed before.  Slightly miffed at their lack of clinginess to me (but yet pleased that they had become such confident creatures) I made my excuses and left, fingers and toes crossed for a successful ‘holiday’ stay. Good news came within 48 hours of their arrival; the stud owner assuring me we shall hopefully have our first goat kids in April 2017. We shall get them scanned to check that they are carrying babies, and so we can make sure we feed them appropriately.

People keep asking why on earth we are wanting to start milking the goats. The reasons behind this are quite simple.  C had been suffering from eczema and tummy aches. Many trips to paediatricians and GPs had led to repeat medication and the same old dietary advice (more water, more fruit) . The treatment we were getting was coming up short, and C’s behaviour was starting to nose dive. Noise phobias, introversion and tantrums started to fill our days. When it came to the point that I was starting to avoid certain everyday activities because of the behaviour they might trigger from C I knew it was time to seek help elsewhere.

A friend of ours who is a behaviour therapist listened to my fears and the symptoms C was experiencing. She suggested trying to switching her milk from Cows milk to goats milk. She felt there may be an underlying Cows milk protein intolerance which was triggering the health problems and now leading on to the behavioural changes. Slightly sceptical but at the same time at the end of my tether with the NHS and ‘traditional’ thinking I headed straight to the dairy aisle and bought a bottle, just to try.  Within 24 hours, her eczema had disappeared. Her behaviour improved and her tummy troubles have settled. Miraculous!

Since we have made the swap I have properly looked into goats milk as an alternative source of dairy, to discover exactly why it doesn’t cause the same problems as cows milk.

One of the main reasons seems to be the proteins within it. Cows milk proteins, especially Alpha S1 Casein, are the substances most likely to cause problems in people. Goats milk contains much less of this protein, meaning people have a greater tolerance of it.  However, if you are allergic to cows milk protein (rather than just intolerant) you’ll probably have the same reaction to goats milk

Goats milk also has smaller fat globules than those found in cows milk, although the actual fat content in both forms of milk is almost identical. Smaller particles are easier to digest, making goats milk easier for our gut to deal with.

It also contains less Lactose than cows milk, obviously a win for those that are Lactose intolerant.

Finally, goats milk  doesn’t cause us to produce mucous, unlike cows milk. Anecdotal evidence suggests that persistently runny noses can dry up almost instantly after swapping to goats milk.

Unfortunately goats milk doesn’t come cheap. A quick  calculation led me to think that raising our own goats to provide milk for the house would be much more economical (as well as fun and rewarding) than relying on shop bought produce. It would also give the girls another opportunity to experience ‘farm to fork’ with their food, and help with raising a different species. Of course, the initial outlay is quite a lot, with purchase, transport and stud fees, but hopefully it will start to even out soon!

 

 

This house….

This house is old and crumbling. Every time I turn my back something else seems to be broken,cracked or falling apart. Today I noticed the skirting board in the living room has started to pull away from the wall , exposing the bare stone behind it. In the corner behind the television I notice a chunk of board has disappeared ,leaving a pile of amber dust in its place. Dry rot is creeping insidiously around the downstairs rooms. It has chewed its way through several of the parquet flooring blocks in the other downstairs room. I sigh,turn around and gently close the sitting room door behind me. Today has been a long day and I can’t face dealing with any more ‘problems’ today. After all, the living room has only been redecorated three years ago. When we lifted the carpet we found old fertiliser bags from the 1950s acting as underlay!

The story of our farmhouse will be familiar to many farming families. Contrary to the belief that seems to be held that all farmers live in mansions, quite a lot live in run down,dated farm accommodation. In recent times the financial struggle faced by many of us has lead to a tightening of farm purse strings. Indoor renovations come at the bottom of a very,very,VERY long ‘to do’ list. A lot of the properties are hundreds of years old. They are often quite large as previous generations have added extensions in a piecemeal fashion over the decades.

Our farmhouse is ancient.A dwelling has stood here, balanced on compacted earth with little or no foundations, for over 300 years. It probably started out quite simply, a two up two down flat fronted dwelling. over the years extensions were made, walls moved and bits added. When restoration work was carried out on the modern day kitchen, no fewer than 7 joins were found tacking on to the original 4 roomed structure.
It has had almost constant occupation, with 6 generations of one family having lived and died under its beams. As far as we know it has only been uninhabited for a period of 20 years, when Fs grandparents moved out. Before F moved in restoration work was carried out which kept a few key rooms functional, and the rest of the house remained locked up in a time warp.

Over the past few years we have started the Sisyphean task of making all of the house safe and comfortable to live in. We have so far managed to create a living room and a dining room downstairs, and have central heating in most of the house!Central heating has only just been put into the upstairs bedrooms, and two rooms are still awaiting this ‘mod con’. It is a frustrating task though, as with every one job we complete another two urgent repairs become apparent!

I have to keep reminding myself how much history is contained within these four walls and how privileged we are to live amongst it.In essence it is a living museum, housing 3 centuries worth of farming history.I suppose an estate agent would have a field day listing all the ‘original features’ that add to the ‘character’ of the property. I know many people dream of living in a farmhouse (I know I did once upon a time), but dreams don’t always meet up to reality. Hopefully one day we will get on top of the long ‘to do’ list and drag the house into the 21st century! Until then, let me show you some of the most remarkable features.

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The kitchen is a lasting part of the original dwelling. There is a recess on one corner were the hearth once stood, with a giant oak beam the only reminder of the vast chimney that once stood above it. It now contains an ikea kallax (a staple of all ‘modern’ homes with children under 5) and a play corner. The hooks that my children now hang their coats and bags on were originally added in the 1930’s. They were installed for the 3 little evacuees sent far from their city home and into the middle of working farm life.Their arrival created an instant family for the newly married farmer and his wife!

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Above the heads of the evacuees home made puddings would have dangled from strings balanced on iron hooks.These hooks are another ‘original’ feature leftover from the days of the open hearth. These hooks are still useful today- I use them to suspend muslins when making jams and preserves!

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In the hall stands a handsome coffer- dark wood with brass handles. It takes up an awful lot of room and, I’ll let you into a secret, I think it’s really quite ugly. But oh,if it could talk. It dates from the 18th century and has quite a story associated with it. It belonged to an elderly widow woman who found herself homeless, being the only personal possesion she had been able to keep.The man farming here at the time ,f’s great great great grandfather, took her in rather than see her carted off to the poorhouse. She lived the rest of her days on the farmyard in one of the barns.  You can still see the spot from her candles on the stones of the barn.

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Another living piece of history now serves as a step linking the patio and the garden. In a previous life it formed a part of a slop trough that stood in the passage between the old kitchen and the dairy. All edible waste went into it, where it was heated to turn it into pig swill.

If I listed all the special parts of the house I would be here for weeks , having no doubt written thousands of words and bored you all to tears!

Sometimes when I am alone in one of the older parts of the house I do like to sit and wonder how many souls have walked over the floorboards, or forgot to duck and smacked their heads off the oak beam over the fire. Countless babies have been born here, and no doubt  many people have drawn there last breath here too. This is a side of farming that seems to be forgotten- the generational legacy, things that have remained unchanged over time. Farmers are guardians of so much more than land and beast. After all not many people can say at least 7 generations of their family have lived in one house.

Batty about bats

I have been coveting a bat detector for ages now. The niggly little desire to own one began way back in June with the 30 Days Wild Challenge. Unfortunately I was on maternity leave at the and I couldn’t get my meagre budget to stretch enough to get one . Seeing as I’m now back at work I decided to splash out. Not as extravagant as the new Joules wellies I’ve also had my eye on, but equally practical! I did my research and the Magenta 4 bat detector seemed to fit my needs- affordable and easy to use. The parcel arrived just in time for some Halloween bat detecting. I love getting Amazon parcels, even though I know what they are and  that ive paid for them its still a little bit like Christmas!

For once Amazon hadn’t gone overboard on the packaging and I managed to get into it pretty quickly. My heart sank a little when I realised that batteries were not included – noooooo!I’d made the school boy error of not ordering any. Fortunately the house is quite full of those annoying talking childrens toys that require tons of batteries, so I raided them instead!  4 AAA batteries later and I was ready to roll!

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I am a complete novice when it comes to bat detection. The magenta 4 is brilliant-it comes with really straightforward instructions on how to assemble (well, insert batteries) and how to get started. It also has an inbuilt torch which proves extremely useful, not only for working out what frequency you are currently set to, but also in preventing me from face planting in the mud! The detector also makes listening in to bat echolocation possible, picking up sounds that can’t normally be detected by our ears and translating them into ‘clicks’, ‘slaps’, ‘tocks’ and ‘chirps’. As each bat species uses a different frequency locating it’s prey and navigating the environment using a detector can help figure out what bat species are about.

We know that we have bats on the farm.  On summer evenings I have watched at least a dozen bats flitting about over the main yard. More  hunt low over the fields to the rear of the farm. The farm does provide ideal habitat  for bat species. Ancient farm buildings, a lot of which are unused and undisturbed, provide plenty of roosting opportunities. In fact when the car is parked alongside one of the barns it gets covered in a layer of bat poo! We also have a large number of dead trees with cracks and crevices that can offer homes. The pasture, woods and water courses around the farm offer a reliable source of insects for the bats to feast on. The hedgerows and fencelines act as navigation aids and allow safe passage between hunting grounds and roost site. Sometimes they even decide to pay us a visit indoors!

Unfortunately, by the time I managed to slip out and start waving the detector about (probably not the intended technique) I couldn’t see any bats flying. It isn’t the best time of year for using a detector. The evenings have cooled suddenly and November is the time bats start to hibernate. They have spent September and October building up fat reserves to see them through the long winter. As the temperature drops, bats will enter Torpor,  to decrease the amount of energy they need to stay alive. They can go in and out of this state, depending on ambient temperature. As the months march on and daylength shortens the bats start to hibernate. Hibernation is different from Torpor– the bat’s body temp and metabolic rate drops even lower and they stay in this state for prolonged periods of time.

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Despite not picking up any flight sounds, I did pick up something with the detector. There was an awful lot of ‘clicks’ ‘chirps’ and ‘slaps’ coming from beneath the roof of the kiln, one of the barns used to house calves. I picked up similar noises from under the arches of the grain store, the old bull barn and stables, as well as the workshop beside the farmhouse.These noises were part of the social calls that bats produce when roosting.  The noises could also have come from mice which can produce ultrasonic squeaks that can be mistaken for bat chatter. However, the sites at which the detector picked up noise are definite bat roosts, so its more than possible that I was eavesdropping on bat conversations!

Either way it made a nice change  to be out in the dark instead of wasting the evening in front of the telly. The stars were out too; another awesome perk of living in the countryside means minimal light pollution and a clear view of the milky way. I can’t wait for summer and a chance to really get to grips with bat detection!

 

 

 

Starlings and a side order of goose

Suddenly the weekend is upon us again. The working week has taken its toll, with Friday being particularly tough. It has left an emotional hangover lingering well into Saturday, with the metaphorical dementors hovering over my shoulder once again. But no chance of a duvet day as I play the role of working mum on her second ‘job’- running about trying to catch up on all of the household chores I haven’t completed during the week. By 4pm (having been up with the mini farmers since 7am) I really, really needed a break. Fortunately it was tea time, so whilst F took the mini farmers in for tea, I headed off in search of Starlings.

 

 

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Sturnus vulgaris from the RSPB

Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are listed on the RSPB Red status list. This may come as a surprise, as they are still one of the most abundant birds at UK bird tables. However, European flocks have declined substantially (by 80%) over recent years.

At first glance,these birds are extraordinarily beautiful. Dappled plumage, gleaming iridescent green and purple-black as it catches the light.They are noisy and gregarious, full of personality. Their mechanical song, full of clicks, whirs and chirrups is delightful to listen to. Delightful, that is in, when there are only one or two.

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Autumn time sees the arrival of hundreds if not thousands of starlings to our farmland. This year they seem to have arrived a bit later than usual, normally arriving by the 19th. Over the past few weeks they have appeared in small flocks of 10 or 20 birds, but by the end of this week our trees were adorned with thousands of them.

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The birds spend their days roosting in trees around the farm, heading down to the fields or into the cattle sheds to feed. Just before dusk they start to gather, getting ready to head off for their night time roosts, in reed beds, woods or even farm buildings. As daylight fades they come together in flocks of hundreds and thousands, until their number reaches into the hundreds of thousands.  This is the time to see their aerial performances, the spectacle of the murmuration.

If you have witnessed a murmuration you will know how mesmerising they are. Thousands of small bodies seemingly flying as one, a massive feathery swarm that shape shifts, dives and belly rolls over your head. Why it occurs is a bit of a mystery. Varies theories have been postulated, including sensible suggestions of dilution effect (whereby the large flock of starlings will make it harder for a predator to single out an individual victim as prey) and heat conservation. Whatever the reason it is still a sight to behold.

As I make my way across the Croft field a flock of starlings rises up from beyond the field boundary hedge. It spirals upwards, tornado like, before splitting in two. One flock settles back down behind the hedge, the other atop a sycamore tree.

A distant honking signals the arrival of geese. According to F these have been coming to feed on the stubble aftermath for several weeks now, but I haven’t had the chance to see them. Sure enough they perform a fly past, in v formation, before banking right and landing in the stubble. I later count 70 individuals, honking and waddling their way across the shorn field.

 

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My camera battery died so I had to resort to iPhone back up! you can just make out the mass of birds against the hedge line….if you squint!!

I make it to the gate between the croft and the barley stubble field. From the middle of the field came a tidal whoosh and crash as hundreds of starlings took off as  one. They swirled overhead, individual dots set in almost Brownian motion across the steel grey sky. Like a cloud of midges on a summer evening, the hover over head, swooping and soaring around the field margin before settling back down again. Apparently each bird’s movement influences the flight pattern of its closest seven neighbours only, which explains  the fluidity of their flight en masse.

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Despite my awe at murmurations I must confess to having a love hate relationship with S.vulgaris. The zoologist in me sees a fascinating bird, capable of creating one of natures most amazing phenomenon. After several years of living on a farm and working with other farms where starling flocks roost, I can also see the downside. Every year our cows, and cattle on other farms, suffer from Starling pressure. Cow feed is an easy free meal for our feathered friends, and it is nigh on impossible to keep them out of the barns. We have tried everything, from bird scaring devices to mesh bird screens, and even helium balloons (a pink flamingo worked for a short while!)The sheer number of birds that arrive on the farm means that a lot of food is eaten, food that is meant for the dairy cows. The cows can even become ill, with stary coats, and look a sorry sight if they end up covered in starling poo. Its not just the cows that suffer either. After a couple of days of living with thousands of starlings outside your front door, the novelty soon wears off. Everything gets covered in starling droppings, and their incessant chatter en masse is deafening! I can understand why people (including myself) get fed up with them. I guess this is just one small scale example of living with conservation- the birds are protected under law. We live in an area which provides suitable habitat for them to roost. Loss of permanent pasture and pesticide use has been attributed to the decline in Starling numbers, but as you are now more likely to see a rural rather than urban starling, questions need to be asked about what has happened to push the birds out of the towns where they used to roost historically (e.g Manchester and Newcastle.)

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As a result of our fields full of winter stubble and plentiful supply of easy feed we end up living cheek by beak with thousands of starlings for approximately 6 months of the year. We have to put up with a lot of noise and mess, to the point that 2 year old C refers to all bird poo as ‘naughty starling poo’! On the flip side, we do get to witness spectacular murmurations without having to venture too far at all.

 

Singing hawthorn

I have been back at work for a month now. 30 days that have passed in a blur of consultations and operations, laboratory results and medications. I have survived my first weekend on call, spending a whole 48hrs slightly on edge waiting for my pager to bleep. I have seen hamsters, doves, cats, kittens, puppies, dogs and even a bat. Some cases have been straightforward, some not so, and there have been a few ‘final goodbyes’ too.

It has been nice to be back, doing a job that I love but my gosh the weekends are needed! I have missed my mini farmers, I have missed the outdoors and I have missed my own four legged companions! Fortunately Saturday mornings come round quickly, and whilst the mini and not so mini farmers are breakfasting, I slip out to spend some ‘quality time’ with the goatlings.

They call to me as I put on my boots. My whispered hello is usually met with a volley of bleats, getting louder as I get closer. As soon as I open the stable door they are pushing forward, eager to be out. Lead reins attached we set off along the road, with the autumn sunlight casting our 10 legged shadow across the tarmac.

The quarry field is a particular favourite of mine. A wide flat expanse of lush green grass greets us as we step through the double gates off the main road. To our left the cow track acts as a field boundary, snaking down into the valley to meet the stream. We bear left, heading towards the old quarry. The grass underfoot glistens with dew.

We pass the midden, adorned with a crop of inky blue fungi. A narrow animal track runs

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past the dung heap, footprints in the mud suggest hedgehog, as well as gulls and other birds. Badger and fox frequent this field too, snaffling up worms and rooting through dung bats to catch beetles.

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Behind the midden lies a dense patch of nettles and brambles. We skirt around it and head down into the hollow that marks the start of the old quarry. This is the spot where we sighted our camera trap, and we know that at least 3 foxes count this area as part of their territory. The camera also caught sight of one large badger, one large hedgehog and a murder of magpies who came to steal my fox bait.

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At the back of the nettles and brambles stands a hawthorn, squat and twisted from the onslaught of the wind. It is glowing with berries, and alive with birdsong. Warbling fills the air, crystal clear notes trilling and tripping out from the branches. I try to push closer through the tangle of weeds to get a better look. A small dark bird perches on a twig at the top of the tree. I can make out a handful of others flitting amongst the branches, but I can’t get close enough to make out the species. Black redstart perhaps? Or a warbler?

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We dip down into the bowl of the quarry, the goats picking their way gingerly down the muddy bank. They hate to get their feet wet! Beneath the trees is another world, dank and dripping with raindrops from the branches overhead. It is cooler down here, and the stench of fox is overpowering. I feel as if we are intruding.The goatlings leave swiftly, and I follow.

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We head back towards the gate, and I am aware again of the hidden history lying inches beneath my feet. Less than a hands breadth of soil covers the remains of a roman settlement.

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Credit Dyffed archaeological society

When the site was dug a few years ago the local archaeological society were quite excited.Amongst the expected shards of pot, coins, charcoal and beads they found evidence of a potential fort, or possible outpost of the roman army. A typical fortification, complete with substantial timber structures and even a roadway, which is amazingly preserved.

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Credit Dyffed Archaelogical trust

Until this site was excavated, archaelogists believed that the most western welsh roman remains were in Carmarthen.  I still can’t quite grasp the fact that over a thousand years ago a roman centurion may have stood in this spot and gazed out across this valley.

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If it hadn’t been for this fields role as grazing, these treasures of our ancient past may not have been so well preserved. Farming, especially small family farms, has an important place in the preservation of not only wild flora and fauna, but our culture and heritage too.

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We make our way back to the gate, the goatlings stealing mouthfuls of grass as we go. Back on the road we dodge the rush of Saturday morning traffic, mums and dads ferrying kids too and from soccer, leaving us to jump into the hedge as they zoom past. I feel like we have rejoined the ‘real world’ again, and quite a large part of me would like to step back into the quarry field, close the gate gently behind me and just keep walking, photographing and writing as I go. But that, well…it wouldn’t pay the bills now would it.

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