Stop Press: United Kingdom Great Taste Awards 2010

 Of all the UK’s food award schemes, the GREAT TASTE AWARDS is considered by far the most important. Completely independent and uncompromisingly rigorous, it is trusted by retailers, buyers and consumers alike. GREAT TASTE is to speciality food and drink what MICHELIN is to fine dining.

So when the moment that all gourmet food producers eagerly await in mid-July each year – the announcement of the winners in what are commonly known as  “the Oscars of the Food Industry” – it’s an anxious & exciting time.

Thus when the jangling phone heralded the voice of Sally from the Guild of Fine Food the other day, I was fervently crossing my fingers that we might be rewarded with some wonderful news….

Following on our success in the 2009 Awards when we achieved the successful pinnacle of not only our year, but indeed our fledgeling careers as professional Gelatières Artigianales – a Gold with our Honeycomb Gelato – we are immensely proud & delighted to announce that this year we have excelled ourselves: not only has Lovespoon‘s sumptuous new Turkish Delight Gelato won a Gold Award; so has our beautiful Lemon Grove, which also took a coveted First Prize at the Royal Welsh Show last year.  And that’s not all….!

Each year, the Awards’ organiser – the Guild of Fine Food – seeks to improve the judging mechanics. Before Gold is awarded, a minimum of eight experts – & generally as many as sixteen – taste, discuss and agree.  This year, the Guild recruited even more experts who, working with key buyers, retailers, chefs and food writers, blind tasted the many thousands of entries to ensure they were skilfully and independently assessed: a tough task, considering that entries were up by 25% on 2009’s already fierce competition.

But before I go on, let me tell you a little more about these two gorgeous gelati. Ironically both these varieties were made in response to challenges.  Whilst I do enjoy a chomp on a good quality cube of Turkish Delight I’ve never been a personal fan of ice cream purported to be of that flavour; as I find the premixed pastes & gels from which it is generally made, tend not only to be an off-putting lurid pink colour, but taste of something akin to washing up liquid. 

Indeed having been offered a particular pot from another producer to try I was so utterly horrified at the gobsmakingly dreadful slurp of the first-&-only spoonful of the vile, claggy concoction to pass my lips; I felt I absolutely had to try & make something better – no matter my own misgivings regarding overall flavour. 

So I sent fellow afficiando Tony away to the sultry spice souks of Damascus, to scour said emporia for the ultimate ingredients; & he returned triumphantly clutching bottles of beautiful Lebanese rosewater.  From this, we made a subtle infusion to create that wonderfully authentic flavour. 

The result?  Not only does it taste like genuine Turkish Delight in frozen form, the delicate perfume which wafts forth from every scoop is reminiscent of a rose garden…& sports its’ own lovely, simple, natural creamy colour…with not a hint of luminescent pink! 

Mind you whilst I am delighted it won an award I have to admit that this particular entry was from a batch which was “thrown together” in a bit of a hurry at the end of a very long & intense day…so I know it could have been even better.  And I still have further experimentation to do before I have satisfied myself that it’s as good as can be; perhaps we’ll add a further subtle hint of exotic cardamom into the infusion; maybe a few flecks of dark, delicate, brittle São Tomé chocolate to enhance those floral notes….exciting stuff.

Meanwhile our beautiful Lemon Grove – a favourite of local celebrity chefs – was created in response to a bland assertion that “you can’t possibly make a ‘proper’ ice cream, from real lemons. Their acidic juice would only curdle the mixture; all you can do with lemons is make a nice sharp sorbet.”  

Oh, really…? 

So: I ensured I became thoroughly acquainted with these luscious little fruity friends…!  I ultimately selected the juice & peel of organic Verna lemons from some lovely little groves in Spain; as the Verna has an unctuous thick, oily peel which infuses our unique crème anglaise recipe, to perfection – without any curdling!  Hah.

I also love to use (when I can get my greedy wee mitts on them) the plump & vivacious organic Italian Primofiore fruit as they sport such a beautiful fresh, floral aroma: put one to your nose; close your eyes, & inhale…with the subtle caress of a warm summer breeze you’ll be transported to the beautiful grove where that cheeky little lemon was born & bred. 

Imagine the brightly effervescent sunshine blush of the ripe fruit, peeping coyly amidst the lush green leaves of the mother tree.  Imagine warm, dark, umber earth against the vibrant backdrop of a cerulean sky; plunging down to merge with the stunning, sapphire sea…

These are nuggets from our treasured images of the Italy in which we were both personally so very lucky, to live; eat; & explore.  Now our new journey relives & indeed revitalises the original delight of direct experience through the more subtle experience of sheer taste.  What we wanted to achieve with Lemon Grove, transports our imaginations back to the Italy we knew & loved….indeed; that which sparked our passion for beautiful, artisanal Gelato. 

But let’s cut to the taste….quite simply, a balanced amount of freshly-squeezed lemon juice and fragrant shards of peel cut through the richness of this gelato to create a delicate & refreshing dessert; which for a real “wow” factor to conclude an elegant dinner party looks stunning when served in hollowed-out lemon shells & dressed with a little zest.

P.S. We always use organic lemons; because when using the peel you want to ensure there have been no poisonous chemicals sprayed on them. 

But the icing on the cake, is this proud announcement: Lovespoon has achieved an awesome Double Gold with our new Cappriccino flavour; which we created in response to the wishes of  you – our valued customers.   Comments that you just couldn’t find “a really good coffee ice cream” spurred us to satisfy your desire. 

So (as ever) we did some thorough research; & eventually hit upon a lovely blend of Fairtrade Colombian & Costa Rican coffees – both made with Arabica beans: balancing the subtle, fruity flavour of the first with the deep, full-bodied intensity of the second.   This creates a superbly robust & well-rounded palate without being overpowering or bitter; the smooth taste lingering pleasurably rather than (as so often tends to happen in a coffee ice cream) disappearing into watery nothingness. 

Anyway: it was evidently a significant hit with the Great Taste judges; of whom twenty must unanimously agree that an entry has achieved absolute perfection for it to be awarded those coveted two stars.  And as out of all the many thousands of entries submitted this year only 456 were awarded a Double Gold…we’re feeling somewhat chuffed.

To have the accolade of FOUR Great Taste awards within the space of a year….well; it doesn’t get much better than that! 

And as for our wonderful Milkforce ladies whose life of luxury produces such delicious milk – the heart of our gelato…? Rest assured they thoroughly enjoyed their celebratory slap-up supper banquet including a wide variety of fresh caprine hedgerow delicacies followed by a  hearty “toast” of their favourite warm molasses tipple.

But it is all thanks to YOU – our wonderful Customers – who have made this dream a reality with your imagination, originality & insightfulness when selecting or requesting special & unique flavours which have led us to explore & to push adventurous boundaries on your behalf. 

Thus it is we offer our sincere & grateful thanks, to all those who have helped & supported us throughout what has been another challenging but immensely rewarding year: we couldn’t have done it without you. :0)

Best wishes -

Jo, Tony + all our Cheeky Caprine Chums.

Posted in Animals, Anything Goes, Business, Dairy, Diary, Farming, Food, Gelato, Goats, Ice Cream, July 2010, Life, Smallholding | 10 Comments

Pastures New

These are words I hoped I would not write: not for many, many years at least. 

Our lovely little Lady Diddie, is no longer with us.

After having survived her night in the Veterinary Hospital with negligible but at least some improvement she picked up remarkably well during the day; to the point that she was able to stand & was even drinking electrolytes – eagerly – from a bottle. 

Sadly whilst the Nurse left her briefly to ask the Vet whether she could give Diddie some more (I gather Madam was demanding yet another bottle) the feisty little goat suddenly, abruptly, could keep going no longer; & she quietly curled up, & closed her eyes, & passed away.

Tragically she “gave up her ghost” whilst I was on my way to visit her; I’d hoped it would be a boost to her if I did so as I am all she has ever known, all that’s been familiar & comforting to-&-for her for all her life; besides which I was very much looking forward to being reunited with my Diddie again – especially as she was apparently so much better than she’d been when I’d sustained that sorrowful parting from her the previous day. 

So I gave goats, ponies, poultry & sheep, an early supper; then hurriedly bounced into Carmarthen in buoyant mood.  I’d even contemplated pausing to pick Diddie a bunch of dandelion flowers (her favourite) to cheer her up as I knew that I would be going home again without her because she still had such a long journey of her own, on the treacherous road to recovery, to make: but I was so desperate just to be with her & to reassure her that I avoided the temptation. 

But I didn’t expect that I was destined never more to return home with my faithful little friend at my side: nor worse; that I would never see her alive, again.

(And, oh!  How she loved to take her place snuggled comfortably on the front seat of the truck beside me. She always loved joining me for an adventure wherever, together; we had so much fun exploring “pastures new”.  But this, her final journey which will lead her to the wonderful, eternal Elysian Fields of the Otherworld; is inevitably the loneliest one: & that which we all must make, on our own).

On arrival I innocently breezed into Large Animal Reception (which in itself seemed somehow inappropriate given that I was visiting a goat so diminutive she’s still only about the size of a large cat); & cheerfully joked that “Diddie Knight’s visitor had arrived”. 

“Ah – I’d better fetch Kate, the Vet” was the simple response & I waited in happy anticipation of being reunited at last with my erstwhile Caprine chum. 

After a few moments, Kate bustled in. 

“Oh, Jo; oh-my-goodness….we’ve been trying to call you….  I’m so very sorry.” 

I was puzzled; confused.  Why; what could possibly be wrong…?  Only an hour ago, Diddie was apparently doing so well – there must be some mistake?….Please….??  Well; this must only be a turn-for-the-worse, I thought: hopefully a visit from me will be just the tonic to keep her going…even if I have to spend the night….

“I’m so sorry; she was doing so well….”  Kate fumbled for the words that were rapidly starting to assault my comprehension with the force of a thousand deep wounding cuts.  The shock was all the greater as of course the last thing I’d heard was that she was apparently so much better.  Ohh, the pain….

“We suspect that Diddie died as a result of chronic ulceration caused by the extreme scours; however we should find out the full picture from a detailed Post Mortem – if you’re agreeable?” Kate ventured.

She kindly put her arm around me; guided me to one of the typically-uncomfortable blue plastic waiting room chairs & plonked me down with a fistful of tissues as we (both) tearfully talked about what had just unexpectedly happened.  Part of me just wanted to take Diddie’s precious, tiny body home to be buried with our other treasured pets in the orchard; however, we would learn nothing from doing that.  And whilst her own little life might be over I was determined that it shouldn’t have been in vain: there may yet be much more to learn from an important Post Mortem which could help many future generations of goats here, to come. 

Admittedly I have always worried about my poor girl’s crooked little legs; that whether as an adult goat she would ever have really been strong enough to walk without discomfort in which case difficult decisions would ultimately have had to be made.  However being such a tenacious little Lady it was only fair to give her every chance; ultimately though, she took the decision out of our caring hands & into her own sage little hooves.

I did get to say goodbye to her, one last time: sat with her; gently stroked the still-warm, soft dappled fur as the tears fell uncontrollably from my sorrowful eyes.  I told her how much I loved her; how much I valued the time we’d had together; & how she will always, always have such a special place in our hearts & our memories.  One last, gentle caress of those lovely, leaf-like ears which unfailingly remind me of buds unfurling in the fresh spring breeze; & it was time to go; & to let her, go.

I feel so lost, without her.  Grief knows no bounds.

However in the short time that she was with us her little life enriched us in so many ways; & I do not regret for one moment the all the effort I expended in raising her.  

It is said these things happen for a reason; & I’m sure that’s right.  After all if I hadn’t had to rush her into Intensive Care the other day we might never have found out that the root cause of this long-suffering problem, has been coccidiosis; we might have sustained further apparently inexplicable losses for many more years; & just not understood why. 

In previous generations we’ve suffered sudden deaths of kids as well; obviously there is going to be a level of mortality in any herd for all sorts of reasons but we were largely putting any deaths down to it being “just one of those things”. 

Now thanks to Diddie, we know otherwise.

To my horror we have already lost four kids to this dreadful disease in the past week; & I’ve since learned that many more experienced goatkeepers than us have suffered similarly devastating losses for the same reason.  But education – & information – is a wonderful thing.

At least now we understand not only how to treat this (fundamentally by dosing the kids with Vecoxan); we also know how to tackle the root cause: which is that the pen will need to be completely stripped, cleaned & disinfected with the walls & floor resealed to create a barrier against any oocysts that might be lurking as they are extremely difficult to get rid of because they put a protective coating around themselves & then remain in a state of suspended animation until such a time as conditions are ripe for them to attack again.  So we shall also leave the pen empty for a significant time (recommended: 9-12 months) as a further precaution. 

Also according to the ultimate goat authority David MacKenzie, overfeeding kids with protein-rich foods can lead to a predisposition to coccidiosis.  We’ve been experimenting with an automatic Volac milk replacement feeder for much of the year although we have recently given up on it; frankly, it just didn’t work for us.  Possibly this group of  kids were inadvertently receiving too much protein through the milk powder thus putting on more weight than necessary owing to their ad-lib feeding; which has potentially predisposed them to coccidiosis (it’s amazing what you learn – & believe me: you never, ever, stop).  

So especially if you have Pygmy goats which do tend to “pile on the pounds”- please: take heed.

Interestingly we have also learned that in its’ subclinical form coccidiosis can stunt the growth of kids which would explain why frustratingly some of ours’ have taken so much longer to grow on; & we’ve wrongly been blaming our lovely senior Stud Male for apparent poor performance…!  And of course the longer the goatlings take to grow on the later we put them ‘in kid’…which of course depresses our milk production & increases our costs.

However; back to the “now”.

Crawling back to an all-too-empty cottage yesterday I seriously considered forsaking everything.  Having invested tirelessly hard work, effort, research, training, love, dedication, finance, care & passion into our business I am so very proud that Tony & I have ensured that it is, indeed, a resounding success: however what’s the point; if we strive so much & yet tragically lose so much in terms of outstanding characters, such as Diddie…? 

But she herself wisely pointed it out. 

The beacon which burns the brightest is also that which provides the most brief-but-inspirational, illumination: we’ve struggled for years here with hidden daemons: she’s sacrificed herself by finding them & teaching us, how to tame them. 

So I would not let her down by giving up now.  On the contrary: remarkable little Diddie has fuelled me with a new strength & energetic determination; a renewed spark, to a flame to carry the light of her cheeky, willful, wonderful inspiration, ever -deservedly – forward.

So whilst I am devastated to have lost the extraordinary & unique personality of my marvellous, quirky, “Diddie-wah-Diddie” (see my previous post: & please do sing along: let’s send her jaunty little soul into the Otherworld with a celebration of her wonderful wee time here with us in song, rather than suffering only sorrow at her death – she wouldn’t want that!) at least her lovely little life was far from in vain; & whilst the beginning & the end were such a struggle for her I’d like to think that her time “in between” was mutually enriching, & enjoyable, for us all.  She always struck me as such an unusual – nay, unique, character: I sincerely hope it doesn’t sound trite but she for me, is the literal Yoda of the goat world.

The calm, gentle paean of music below is a fitting farewell & a warm tribute to guide a remarkable & lovely little goat on her final journey: that soft sunset is one we enjoyed whilst wrapped up together; quietly observing & understanding that the setting sun too, follows the same path which ultimately ventures into the West….as we all must; & all, shall ultimately tread.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94UbC0Z5mzo

Thank You, Diddie: you have taught us so much, & you will be sorely missed.  Wishing you the safe & pleasant passage you deserve to that “far green country….under a swift sunrise”.  One day, we shall play again together in those wonderful fields.  Before then: safe soul’s journey little one, into the West….we’re thinking of you & are always with you, in Spirit.

Rest in peace.  xxxx

Into the West...

Posted in Animals, Diary, Family, Farming, Goats, July 2010, Life, Livestock, MindBodySpirit, Smallholding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Caring Intensively

Bad news:

& it’s regarding the extraordinary little goat we wrote about in the recent post “All Caprines Great & Small“.

We’ve suffered a fast-&-furious outbreak of the deadly Coccidiosis, here; & tragically our lovely little Diddie has been one of the unhappy victims. 

Sunday was a busy day.  Having worked my way steadily through dagging* our sheep flock, I’d left the most challenging few, until last; only some half-dozen more to do….not a problem, surely?  But some of these had suffered with unpleasant scours plus in extreme cases, flystrike: so it was a grim few hours for me, wielding the ‘solo’ shears. 

I carefully ignored the growing agony of my hand, my wrist, my fingers; & it was only when I’d finished I stopped to gingerly examine the evident damage.  In short: the constant rubbing of the handshears had either blistered or taken away much of the skin from my left thumb & forefinger; I’d lost the feeling in those digits; & my wrist had swollen to the size of a Swiss roll.  Not nice!

By late afternoon when my friends & neighbours arrived to help our professional Shepherd, Tim, with the shearing; I was in severe pain (but tried not to admit it).  Mind you; whilst wrapping the fleeces it was hard not to cry out in agony; the stinging & burning of the lanolin in the raw wounds was so excruciating, not to mention the constant twisting, turning & wielding of my already damaged wrist.

By the time we’d finished & I’d gratefully supplied our guests with a slap-up Shearers’ Tea (including, I’m proud to say, a traditional Welsh Teisen Lap or Shearers’ “Plate Cake”) I was almost on my knees with exhaustion (not to mention, relief; as the most nail-biting times of year are shearing & haymaking – of which here, we’ve achieved in only a few remarkable days).  However there was still much work, to be done; the day-to-day stuff, doesn’t just stop in favour of all else.

The sheep enjoyed grazing on the Middle Yard for the evening where I could keep a close eye on the unfortunate flystrike victims, having injected them with a goodly dose of penicillin to (hopefully) prevent blood poisoning; then I put them all back to bed in the Lambing Shed with a slap-up meal of  sugar beet nuts, just to make sure they’d have a comfy, cosy, warm night (after all I wouldn’t want to be wandering around naked, on a drizzly night after abruptly shedding my winter furs, would you?!).  

My biggest worry has been our oldest ewe, Althea: literally, the ‘black sheep’ of our family.  Whilst she still has a full set of apparently excellent teeth,  feeding two lambs has really taken its’ toll on her condition; not to mention she’s been off her food owing to a nasty bout of flystrike which I’ve been chasing for literally weeks: every time I think I’ve sorted her out she gets another attack elsewhere on her body.  Earlier in the season I tried preventive methods; however nothing seems to have worked.  I loathe those disgusting blowfly: to my mind, one of Nature’s most cruel & disgusting inventions. 

Thankfully Thea is all the better for her radical haircut; some slap-up feeding & judicious care will hopefully help her through this unpleasant patch in the old girl’s life.  And whilst she might still have most of her teeth, we won’t put her through lambing, again; not if it takes this much toll on her.  After piling on the pounds over the Winter (when the flock were largely housed, owing to the inclement conditions) & carrying her lambs in excellent condition, all these additional challenges have proved such a blow to her health….had I known I’d never have put her ‘in lamb,’ in the first place.  She’s gifted us a wonderful set of twins this year – which I suspect, is the root of the problem.  They’re already near-as-dammit as big as this diminutive little ewe; so no wonder owing to a loss of condition she fell prey to flystrike…not to mention feeding two large, greedy lambs, which hasn’t helped.  So she can now enjoy a quiet, graceful, full-fed retirement; without the burden of being a Mum, again.

Meanwhile my “late check” was even later, than usual; well after midnight.  The majority of the animals were settled, comfy & cudding so I tiptoed through, not wishing to disturb their peaceful ruminations.  The kids in the Playpen were as bouncy as ever, however; although I worriedly noted apparently serious scours developing, in some; so immediately withdrew their late-night milkfeed & replaced it with a water/electrolyte formula; administered a Kaolin drench to the badly-affected; & injections of Metacam & Depocillin, to the worst.  Normally this would have them all back on their bouncy little toesprings, by morning; so I wasn’t unduly worried. 

By the time I arrived back in the Cottage at around 01.30am however, it was clear that Diddie too, wasn’t at all well.  I immediately extricated her from the “house pen” & commenced an overnight vigil, just trying to keep her alive….at that point, such was the struggle, no vet could have reached us in time to do anything that I couldn’t. 

Having lived almost all of her wonderful little life exclusively in the house with us, she believes she is a person, not a goat; so chatting to her & encouraging her, appears to give her the most extraordinary strength.  So the least I could do was to stay up with her, all night; feeding her little sips of electrolye, when she asked for it; gently propping her up, when she rolled over in the agony of her tummy troubles; & just being there for her; so she knew she was loved, & cared for.

I never realised how strong, is the power of Love; when it’s all you have left…because against all odds, she just kept on going; & every tme I thought she was losing her battle I just held her, & told her how much we love her; reminded her of how I did all all could to save her, when she was born: & she listened, & refused to give up.

At first light I duly checked on my other charges; & to my horror, found that in a few short hours things had gone from apparently a little bad, to catastrophically worse.  Two of the youngest girls – Eenie & Dree – were so weak, they could scarcely stand; so my emergency call to the Surgery was even more extreme.  Bundling everyone into the Navara – including goatling Branwen, whose tourniqued leg had gone from bad-to-better-to-worse, overnight – I hastened to the Veterinary Centre with my stricken charges.

Tragically, Dree & Eenie, didn’t make it; whatever had struck did so with such fast ferocity, that they didn’t stand a chance; yet neither should the premature, more diminutive, Diddie. Yet for whatever reason this feisty fighter who – against all odds – had survived the night; lived to see the day….& also managed another night in the Intensive Care Unit of the Veterinary Hospital Wing; albeit, her improvement overnight was negligible (despite apparent attempts on her part, to remove her IV line…!).

Our Vet – Helen – has been amazed by this wonky, cranky little goat’s resilience & complete stubborness, to give up.  Sadly it seems that goats-who-know-they-are-goats, like sheep, can be all-too-ready to simply die; her mentality is such that she has a different mindset ergo, bizzarely, different goals…and she is NOT ready to give up the ghost just yet. 

Let’s face it: if I’d simply given up on her three months ago, she wouldn’t be here, now.  And, yes: she IS wonky, & cranky, & bow-legged; thus I suspect as a result, will never join the Milkforce as “one of the Herd”….mind you; there’s more than one herd, here.  So what, if she doesn’t ever produce milk? She deserves to live for her sheer desire to be alive.  She epitomises the “Braveheart” quote that “All men die; few…really live”.

And there’s always room for a “House Goat”, so long as she’s Diddie….

Anyway; we’re all hoping she will be well enough to come home – soon.  In the meantime there’s this old, irresistably toe-tapping song I’ve always sang to her, which seems to keep her spirits up; it might sound daft but it’s a really catchy tune – & is hers’ – the quirky tune just captures her jaunty joie de vivre

This YouTube video from the delightful & talented Rag Mama Rag cannot help but encourage anyone, to sing along: please do, & celebrate her bouncy zest for life as I’m sure the more we all join together in singing the chorus (you cannot help but catch on after the first few lines!); by wishing her “good health” in this way, will speed her to swift recovery.  It’s aptly titled “Diddie-wah-Diddie” & was originally composed by the magnificent Blind Blake.  And I’m sure amongst the legions of her fans who’ve been on the receiving end of Diddie’s welcoming greeting, will also appreciate where the “Wah” bit, comes from! 

Enjoy; sing along; & please send our poor little Diddie your love & support, in doing so. 

Many thanks.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cI4aE21KWLg&feature=related

 *Dagging/crutching:  removing any soiled wool from a sheep’s rear, prior to shearing (in other words the messy-&-nasty job of snagging your way through a matted mess of thick, disgusting poo-encrusted fleece from a feisty, frisky, sharp-kicking b*tch of a ewe/bar-steward of a ram; whilst you surgically remove pretty much all the skin from your thumb & forefinger not to mention losing any sensation in the aforesaid digits for at least three days, thereafter; also near-as-dammit breaking your wrist – or at least spraining/straining it, until it swells to the size of an overstuffed Swiss Roll, in the process.  That’s dagging for you.

Posted in Animals, Anything Goes, Diary, Farming, Goats, July 2010, Life, Livestock, Sheep, Smallholding | 1 Comment

Getting It Wrong

Oue lovely Lady Vine: "Erm, 'scuse me...?!"

  One of the things about running a food & farming business, is that you get plenty of checks & balances imposed upon you; including regular no-notice inspections from various organisations.  So it was no surprise when a silver Freelander pulled up on the drive & disgorged a couple of gentlemen, who announced they’d been sent by DEFRA: the local Animal Welfare Officer, or AWO (who periodically checks our record books & that our animals are all correctly tagged), & one of their vets. 

“Good afternoon” I smiled, shaking their hands.  The AWO coughed uncomfortably.

“Actually, we’re here to investigate a complaint. Someone has put in a call to the RSPCA, alleging that your goats have got acute Mastitis*, on account of their purple udders….”

I was absolutely flabbergasted.  My initial amazement – nay, puzzlement – was soon replaced with a sense of angry & impatient frustration, however.

“Please, come this way – as soon as you’ve changed your footwear & fully disinfected your boots, that is” I added crisply.  As they dutifully scrubbed at their green standard-issue wellies I paused, considering the likely explanation.   “I think I know what’s happened…” I mused.  “Our goats are British Toggenburgs – the chocolate-coloured ones – & they have naturally pigmented skin.  As soon as they start going out during the Summer the udder tissue – which is pinkish in Winter – gets suntanned.  So, of course; they look very dark; I suppose you could say, purple.”

I invited the Vet into the pen to inspect the goats’ udders & got the feeling that the two chaps were distinctly embarrassed, as this was clearly a case of someone simply getting their facts wrong: what you might call, a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.  Quality, pedigree, dairy goats such as ours’ have capacious udders; someone had evidently seen them racing in for milking & had noticed their prominent bulges & dark pigmentation, mistaking it for acute mastitis; cows don’t have the same pigmentation & their udders remain pink throughout the Summer so I suppose anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of farming might have heard of the condition & jumped to the incorrect conclusion that this unfamiliar colouring could be a sign of illness. 

Healthy British Toggenburg udder (as modelled by Booty)

The Vet inspected their udders & found the tissue to be soft, pliable & healthy with the goats all full of their typical bright-eyed, mischievous curiosity.  (Frankly, if it had been acute mastitis, the goats would all have been dead by the time the vet got there). 

Our wonderful Metatron P21 Computerised Goat Milking Parlour.

I offered to show them around, starting first with the milking parlour.  “Of course, the beauty of the system we have here, is that it can detect even sublinical mastitis (i.e. even before it physically manifests itself with the udder going hard or the milk starting to clot) – as this is a fully computerised, state-of-the-art parlour which continually checks the resisitivity of the milk; & as such can alert us to a potential problem before we might ever be aware of it: we get full “whistles-&-bells” at the merest hint of anything.  The added advantage is that not only can we segregate potentially mastitic milk, we can also treat the goat swiftly & efficiently using minimal drug treatment.”  They were fascinated: ours’ is one of the most technologically-advanced parlours in this part of Wales – for ANY species – so you don’t get to see many as good as this…!

We then went on a tour of the Dairy Complex; where I explained about how we designed the beautiful, wooden, carbon-neutral goat accommodation building, with its’ wonderful clean, unhindered airflow which ensures it is cool in Summer yet warm & cosy, in even the worst Winter weather; the free-draining, natural, earth-&-slate floor; the efficient, clean, penning system; & how every piece of equipment has been tailor-made to fit, making optimum use of the available space for the goats.  I showed them the fantastic goat drinking fountains, set at a specific height to avoid soiling yet allow optimum epiglottal comfort, in terms of access to the bowls (whose piping system is also being modified to supply a continual flow of not only the fresh, clean water they currently do; but even gently warmed water, which goats prefer; & is also better for their health, as  they naturally need to expend more energy warming up a bellyful of cold water – thus also aiding a more efficient rumen).

Pens prepped to welcome the Milkforce to bed. Note the specially-designed tipping troughs: when not filled with concentrate feed they can be retracted to provide a natural browse platform on which the goats stand to comfortably access the troughs above.

I explained that our land is managed in complete harmony with the environment as we fully embrace the concept of “low-impact” farming: whilst the majority of what we do here follows Soil Association guidelines, we were advised by an Organic Advisory Service audit that it would currently be uneconomical for us to join such a formal scheme as it would turn ours’ into a “niche-on-niche” product; not to mention that organic rules concerning goats do need fundamental revisiting owing to the essential caprine need to be warm & dry; which has not, as yet, been taken into sufficient account by organic regulation….hence if you purchase “organic” goats’ cheese here in the UK, the curd has assuredly come from Holland to meet the demand.   Also, that we had our fields rebalanced with trace elements in the Autumn (highly recommended – as are the services of the encyclopaedically-informed & land-management talented, Dr Dan; please DO get in touch for his Trace Element Services’ details; as your land & livestock will thank you, for it!  If you have anything from Alpaca to Zebra or anything in between, rest assured he’s dealt with it).  

So all the lovely, organically-managed hay we have just harvested will have even more beneficial feed value, this year.  And we went through our feeding regime: that all the animals’  concentrate feed is organic where possible & if not, is strictly GM-free; that we feed as a breakfast supplement, a “tea” of warmed British sugar beet shreds; the fact that when the goats have to be housed if it’s too wet or cold for them to go out, they’re given green browse in the form of willow, bramble, etc; & have ad-lib access to three different types of mineral licks; that they are fed the marvellous Seaquim (a dried seaweed derivative, jam-packed with wonderful vitamins & minerals) as an additional supplement; & that they get plenty of protein-rich dried lucerne, which they adore.  And that we never feed silage or haylage; owing to our concerns regarding susceptibility of the goats’ sensitive rumens, to the dreaded Listeriosis.

The kids love the playful stimulus offered by their climbing frame.

We also discussed a frustrating ‘mystery’ virus some of the goats had borne earlier in the year, which caused many of them to suffer loss of coat & condition; yet the exhaustive tests our Vet carried out had frustratingly reached no conclusion.  Others we know, have had goats suffer similarly; yet there seems to be no obvious common cause nor – worse still – any “fix-it” cure.  It has no adverse affect on the goats; other than it causes them to lose coat & condition, which we & others have worked to alleviate via extra rations of feed, minerals & probiotics. 

I took them through my veterinary records, & demonstrated the dedicated computer system; & we discussed the way we manage our kidding regime (complete with an explanation of the strategically-placed Baby Monitors; which replaced the Goat CCTV after we discovered the goats had an uncanny ability to avoid the cameras; yet the monitors pick up the slightest sound).  This was followed by a tour of the Middle Yard to cuddle this year’s kids, frisking in their Playpen.

We also wandered out into the fields to visit our two groups of Hooligans (the Goatlings, who vary between one & two years of age); and Merson & Niggles, our handsome Stud Males.  The Vet was full of praise for the wonderful condition of these cheeky goats; delighted at how clearly healthy, happy & well adjusted they are – especially Canu, our gorgeous Armeria’s stunning daughter – who tartiliciously wrapped herself around him like a big black, sleek cat; & with whom it was evidently love at first sight…!

So after a very interesting visit the Vet & the AWO shook my hand & thanked me for my assisitance; apologised for wasting my time, & assured me that we are completely vindicated: it’s obvious to anyone who knows about animals, that we are working very hard regarding the health & welfare of all our charges. 

As I observed, we wouldn’t have gone to all the time, trouble & expense that we have, if we didn’t care.  And of course, mastitic goats don’t produce viable (let alone, delicious) milk….which subsequently doesn’t produce any ice cream!

In fact I had to chuckle; as this whole “tanned udder” thingy has made us the laughing stock, of the local chemist: I buy so much Factor 30 Suntan Lotion & Aftersun (as the girls get a twice-daily udder massage when they’re out on pasture – not to mention their weekly “extra” Sunday massage with Japanese Peppermint Oil, whilst milking) that I get loads of “money-off” vouchers for makeup – & as the pigmentation lines the goats’ lips & eyes as well – giving the appearance of lipstick & mascara – the staff just think it’s hilarious.  Mind you whenever we do a photo shoot & I can’t find my eyeliner, I’m sure the girls have been raiding my makeup bag as they inevitably manage to look more glamorous than I do! (See the photo of me, Tony & caprine chums in the Blog post, “All Caprines Great & Small” & you’ll see what I mean).  When I explained the aforementioned regime to the Vet I suspect even he concluded we’re slightly unhinged; however: happy, healthy, udders are one of the crucial keys to good goat welfare.

However unfortunately of course, you have to consider that those guys could’ve been out dealing with a genuine welfare case rather than wasting time investigating a spurious accusation.  Whilst it’s useful for us as we actually welcomed the impromptu professional (& free – wahay!) “health check” of our systems & animals; at the same time it’s upsetting to think that other creatures may well have inadvertently suffered, as a result of this.

 And of course we cannot rule out that this may even be a malicious attempt to consciously undermine our business.  The alleged complaint against us was considered either spurious, ignorant or (more worrying & upsetting) purely malicious – of which sadly, they get all-too-many & for all sorts of reasons, apparently.  And when you talk to people it’s amazing how many (esp in food-producing/livestock businesses) that this sort of thing, has happened to: unfortunately, we’re easy targets for anyone who wants to cause trouble.  As we conduct our business in an honourable, ethical manner it is unpleasant to think that someone else may wish to use underhand means to undermine our efforts; whether in terms of one-upmanship; or through simple jealousy.

"Mastitis, me? Youre having a laugh...!"

However, I’m sure there’s a far simpler explanation: no more than just someone who had a snippet of perceived knowledge/gossip/second-hand ‘info’; & with whom said ‘knowledge etc’ + lack of actual caprine/dairy experience, has ultimately led to this misinformed accusation.  I only wish whoever sought to complain had just discussed it with me first: I’m not an ogre; and I AM a consummate professional, when it comes to Dairy Goat Management.  As now confirmed by DEFRA’s official Vet – thank goodness. 

So; rather than assuming that we’ve got it wrong I wish that people would simply ensure they got their own facts absolutely right, first – before pointing the finger where it is neither deserved nor warranted.

*Mastitis: inflammation of the udder tissue – this can be caused by a number of issues.  Lactation mastitis commonly affects only one “quarter” of the udder (i.e. goats only have two quarters..!) & symptoms can develop extremely quickly. 

Symptoms:  tenderness/heat in the affected quarter; thickening/clotting of the milk & in more extreme circumstances, water-like, bloody fluid; general malaise. In more extreme cases, swelling &/or skin discolouration; possible fever; prone animals. 

Discussion:  Experts are still unsure as to exactly why milk can cause the udder tissue to become inflamed.  One theory is that it may be due to the presence of cytokines in lactation milk. Cytokines are special proteins that are used by the immune system & are passed on to an infant in order to help them resist infection. It may be the case that the immune system mistakes these cytokines for a bacterial or viral infection and responds by inflaming the udder tissue in an attempt to stop the spread of what the body perceives as an infection.

Antibiotic treatment is preferable for infection which is usually caused by bacteria from the kid’s mouth that enters the milk ducts through skin lesions of the teat or through the opening of the teat (kids’ teeth are extremely sharp, & being inquisitive creatures they use their mouths to explore the world around them – which inevitably means the odd “peck of dirt”).  Infection is commonly caused by staphyloccus aureus & can also be caused by animals lying on soiled bedding with opened teats (typically shortly after milking).  Chances of infection can be greatly reduced by using an iodine-based teat dip immediately after milking; also, keeping the goats on their feet for as long as possible, post parlour: we do this by providing a selection of different foods at height, including lucerne (their favourite!); natural browse (such as willow & bramble); & good quality “goat friendly” forage hay.

Treatment:  In extreme circumstances or if you have not dealt with mastits before, CALL YOUR VET.  If you are milking for human consumption ensure any potentially mastitic milk is isolated & discarded.  If potentially mastitic milk has been mixed with uncontaminated milk, DISCARD IT. 

Immediately ‘hot cloth’ the udder (i.e. gently press heated, damp cloths, on the affected quarter); then ‘strip’ the affected quarter (i.e. competely empty it of milk/milk product).  Inject a broad-spectrum intramammary suspension into the the affected quarter (typically a three-day treatment) as recommended by your Vet; meanwhile send a raw milk sample ASAP to your local Veterinary Investigation Centre to determine the precise source of the infection. 

Worsening/prolonged symptoms might require additional intramuscular penicillin injections to reach the seat of the infection – again; your Vet will advise & provide you with the necessary medications you require. 

MAKE SURE THAT IF YOU EVEN SUSPECT YOUR GOAT HAS MASTITS – DO NOT USE THE MILK FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.  Also you MUST adhere to medicine withdrawal periods: here, we go for the ‘belt-&-braces’ approach, & add an extra 24 hours onto any withdrawal periods.  Don’t just write down the date that milk withdrawal ends; make sure you also know the day of the week – it will stand out in your memory.

Post-Mastits Treatment:  We were told we must be relentlessly harsh: in cattle, it’s a case of “three ‘strikes’, & she’s out”.  Call us softies, but we prefer a more gentle approach: for us, it all depends on the severity & the reason for the mastitis.  If we can identify the cause, work with it, & fully cure it; then of course, we do – everything, we can. 

Our Lady Morganna is a case in point: others would have culled her long ago; yet understanding the individual & working with her has given us a fine, productive member of the Milkforce who has borne us some truly lovely kids; not to mention loads of lovely, quality milk.  We refused to give up on her – which has reaped rich rewards (not to mention the satisfaction of saving a beautiful, wonderful, very fine goat).

…..And for those of you dedicated/curious/interested enough to have read all the way to the end: well, you deserve a little song….please; I do hope you enjoy the talented Newton Faulkner’s amusing-but-poignant song & video about a breakdown in communication & the “oh-if-only-we’d talked” scenario; it’s called “Over & Out”, if it won’t download from here (apologies if not). 

Apt, methinks. 

It’s here:  http://www.youtube.com/user/NewtonFaulknerUK#p/u/4/O_nkY7anDM4

Posted in Animals, Business, Culture, Diary, Farming, Goats, June 2010, Life, Livestock, Music | 4 Comments

All Caprines Great and Small

Blodwen's daughter, Dottie

 Many people express surprise that in spite of the fact that we have so many goats here, the majority of which are British Toggenburgs and are similar in appearance – being chocolate-coloured with white points – that we know each and every one, by name.  This is a simple consequence of working closely with them every day; to us they are not ‘farm animals’ but are much more our friends; all individuals with (generally speaking) a good sense of humour & their own quirky nature. 

 Take bearded lady Vine, who adores cuddles and would do anything for a ginger nut (including attempting to retrieve one from down Tony’s throat once – but that’s another story!); Ninny, who lovingly entwines herself around your legs like a giant cat, almost knocking you over every time you enter her pen; Morganna, who has the most disapproving, pinch-faced Matron expression if you dare to be even so much as a few minutes’ late with her breakfast lucerne; Blodwen, mad as a box of frogs but inherently trusting in her child-like way; & Wolfie, the Herd Matriarch who loves to have her photo taken & insists on being in every on-farm publicity shoot.  

L-R: Wolfie; Tony; Eek; Jo.

 But there are some who weave their way into your life in such a manner, that they will always have an extra-special place in your heart; no matter what. 

  And this year, it was Dyddanwy. 

 Whilst we are currently rearing four kids in the house as they are still too small to live full-time in the Kids’ Playpen, one of them in particular has her own special story.  I’d been working at Food Centre Wales one day when I hurried home to find that Buddug (pronounced Bythie) had given birth, prematurely in my absence; & her single, tiny, female kid was lying wet & shivering at her feet.  Being a first-time Mum she’d at least attempted to lick the kid clean; however the temptations of the hayrack evidently got the better of the errant young mother & she’d wandered off for a snack, quickly forgetting all about her baby and the fact that she’d just given birth. When I found the poor little mite, I really did not expect her to survive; especially as her legs appeared to be so thin, so stick-like, they could not possibly take her weight.  I picked up the cold, quiet little body.  She was so small that she fitted into the palm of my hand.  Thankfully her eyes were at least open; but she was clearly very weak indeed. 

 Gently gathering her up in my fleece I hastened into the house, where my first priority was to get her warm & dry as quickly as possible.  The next thing was to return to Mum Bythie & take some life-giving colostrum from her, in the hope that the little one could manage food; if not it would be a stomach tube – not the easiest procedure, I reminded myself grimly.  

 I supported the tiny kid’s head, & gently inserted the rubber teat into her mouth.  Remarkably, on feeling the teat between her lips & the drops of warm, welcome milk, her instinct was to suck – although she could only take a few small sips.  An all-night vigil began, watching at her bedside & carefully monitoring her progress, administering thimble-sized mouthfuls of milk as & when she stirred, if she appeared hungry.  Apart from a thin, tiny bleat when I’d first entered the pen, she had not made a single sound.   

 I must have dozed off at some point; because I woke at dawn to hear a thrashing beside me – my worst nightmare; was she dying…?  

 But no; she was in fact, attempting to stand up – & by the end of the morning, this determined little character had managed to do so – all on her own in spite of those twig-thin legs.  For the next couple of weeks she travelled everywhere with me; as being so tiny she needed a feed every hour or so, her little tum being too miniscule to manage much sustenance.  And as she grew stronger she grew in confidence, too; acting as an impromptu ambassador for Lovespoon, adored by all who met her & clearly enjoying the fuss and attention. 

 Unfortunately her little life was not without problems; as she was born with front legs “over at the knee”; in other words, they had a prominent bend which made walking more of a challenge.  Would she ever make a milking goat; would she even survive…?   

 Last week I had to take her to the vet – the second time she’d been seen.  Helen looked at her carefully.  A syringe was prepared; the needle slipped beneath the skin….& that lovely little goat was gently put to sleep.   

 Temporarily though, I am delighted to say!   She was booked in for disbudding because her little horns – along with the rest of her – were rocketing up at the speed of the farm’s fresh green grass which will soon, hopefully, be a fine crop of hay.  The vet was amazed at her impressive progress & by how much she’d grown in only a couple of weeks.   

 The feisty little caprine came round from the anaesthetic spluttering indignantly, smearing my face with azure-coloured antiseptic spray as I cradled her – the first time I’ve been literally blue in the face!  And within minutes she was causing all sorts of trouble as she kept trying to escape whilst her siblings’ horns were being treated; with resultant mayhem in the operating theatre.  We ended up having to confine her in a giant cardboard box at which she spluttered and fizzed indignantly (& my goodness, she is certainly more than making up for her initial silence now, as she really can make one helluva racket!).

Moriarty caring for Dottie.

  So now Dyddanwy (or Diddie, for short; because frankly, she IS short) is sharing the pen in the living room with three other erstwhile little chums: enjoying sunny afternoons playing on the farmyard whilst good old feline Uncle Mozzer watches over his charges in return for a bowl of his favourite, creamy goats’ milk; & still cosying up on the sofa for a bedtime story with her warm feeding bottle.  A courageous little character, she never ceases to amaze me & grows bigger & stronger in body & in personality, with every passing day.  

  One of life’s little miracles.

Diddie, asleep on her Teddy Bears.

Posted in Animals, Diary, Farming, Goats, Life, Livestock, May 2010, Smallholding | 10 Comments

Sock-o-lat

Hell hath no fury as a sock, scorned...!  Eurgh.  What a dreadful night’s sleep…or should I grumpily intone, lack of it? 

After a night of snoring cats; cats-stealing-duvet; cats-yacking-up-furballs; cats-needing-letting-out-for-a-pee; goats coughing; goats squabbling; goats having a scratch against the sonorous, cavernous echoing expanse of the feed trough; & goats flamenco dancing at 3am (well it sounds like it when they shake their heads: just like several sets of castanets clickety-clacking throughout the barn via the Baby Monitor’s most excellent microphone); as ever, I wasn’t in for an exactly restful night.

In the end, between twice-hourly checks of sheep & goats I resigned myself to wrapping this cold-&-exhausted bod in a snug fleece on the sofa; with the ‘consolation prize’ of enthusiastically reading the contents of one of my cherished Wedding Anniversary gifts from Tony: Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s most excellent Chocolate Factory Cookbook; whilst literally digesting – with due care & careful consideration of course – a single chocolate of increasingly intense percentage of cocoa solids from some of the world’s leading cacao-producing regions.

Thus:

 – Papua New Guinea (milk, 35% – caramel, herbs & cinnamon with an undernote of Tahitian vanilla); 

- Equador (milk, 40% – fresh, fruity flavour & floral fragrance; also dark, 75% – aromatic & intense);

- Venezuela (dark, 55% – mild, fine & fruity);

- Madagascar (dark, 65% – exotic, balanced & refined; bittersweet with a hint of finest Royal Bourbon vanilla, our favourite vanilla for gelato, incidentally);

- Mexico (dark, 66% – delicious dark bitterness with a tantalisingly herbal hint of liquorice);

- São Tomé (dark, 70% – strong & distinctive with fruity, bittersweet flavour & a subtle floral aroma); &

 – Tanzania (dark, 75% – Intense, bitter chocolate with the slightest hint of vanilla & subtle fruit flavours). 

Wow. 

And I really, really want to try Willie’s magnificent 100% Criollo cacao, from his own Hacienda in Venezuela….undoubtedly, delicious.

As chocolate is sanguinely billed as a “relaxing bedtime drink” (which it can be in certain iterations) I of course foolishly opted for the opposite end of the scale: for as Willie points out – & which I’ve already personally learned many times whilst on our own magnificent voyage of cacao discovery (all in the name of Art – for Lovespoon – of course!) chocolate can also prove a powerful pick-me-up: a stimulant of near-narcotic quality…& my ‘midnight feast’ of a tasting session was just like dropping little bombs (bombes?!) into my already over-active choc-infested cranium. 

So I urgently needed something else; which transpired to be a mug of malty Horlicks infused with Dr Bach’s insomnia remedy.

I finally hit the pillow as the first grey light of dawn stirred the sky like a wan wooden spurtle in a gruel of grey clouds….

….And slumbered.  Sort-of.

When I finally emerged from a bizarre, bleary-eyed dream in which for some unearthly reason I was a scriptwriter of Australian soap operas (don’t even attempt the psychology of THAT one) my first fumbling thoughts were for (obviously) clean apparrel; as at this time of year you receive an almost-daily dose of amniotic fluid & first, colostrum-rich milk: which inevitably means stinky, crinkly clothing….& especially, boot-sucking, overworked, disgustingly reasty socks. 

I’ve recently been on a bit of a socking – no; sorry, shopping spree: for as any farmer/smallholder/gardener knows, the Right Socks are absolutely crucial for a perfect marriage to your Daily Wellies. 

There are frankly few more dismaying things in life, than to find yourself halfway up the garden path (or even worse, high on a hill as a Lonely Goatherd – oooerr, I feel a Yodel & a Snapping of ze Braces coming on) than discovering that faithful said socks have mysteriously migrated from your feet & down into the depths of your wellies – not only depriving you of much-needed winter warmth but also cruelly stubbing your toes into the bargain. 

So; sock selection is vitally important: yea verily, almost as crucial as choosing that perfect cacao for your gelato.  After all we farmers/smallholders/gardeners spend much of the time employed in said nether-region knitwear; thus it is crucial that we Get It Right.

Hence recently I have been on a crusade to find the Perfect Sock. 

And it hasn’t been easy.

The worst – eurgh; predominantly, predatory, polyester – have whizzed off my podiatory pinkies with more speed than an Olympic Skeleton Bob Gold Medallist (congratulations, incidentally to that most amazing sportswoman, Amy Williams: we salute you).

Not to mention that if you’re exerting yourself said sock-apologies literally fuse onto your tootsies; much the same as happened to one poor lad during my childhood.  OK, confession time; here goes….

A group of us were fishing for frogspawn to hatch for a school project, in a local farmer’s pond (these days, furious parents would castigate the teachers for profound irresponsibility in suggesting the children find frogspawn; yet in those ‘good old’ days we were taught resourcefulness, responsibility & independence). 

Anyway.

One little lad slipped into the fringes of said weed-fronded pond; & soaked his socks.  Because he was wailing piteously I impatiently scooped him up & led him back to our family home; slipping off the offending articles of footwear & carefully draping them over the bars of our small gas fire, to dry.  Experience had taught me that wool would’ve coped admirably; not so, this novel fabric – polyester. 

On attempting to remove them from their warming rack to my horror, I discovered that they’d stuck firmly to the bars – for which mess, I suspected I was already in trouble – so I scraped off what I could & attempted to open up said sad socks to receive the now thankfully dry+ pondweed-free, clammy little feet; which I’d carefully restored with soap, water & warm dry towels. 

But parts of those sorry socks were stuck firmly together; & the bits that weren’t, you could literally poke an entire gawp-of-an-eyeball, through.  

Roughly shoving the sobbing wee chap’s feet back into his sodden plimsolls I angrily admonished him for being so daft as to stray into the water, in the first place; & soundly packed him off home minus socks but at least, confident in his oath that he wouldn’t tell a living soul (sole?!) about this unfortunate mishap. 

Nothing was subsequently, ever said; & I often wonder what happened to the anonymous little lad thereafter.  For my part; after scrubbing vigorously at the bars of our old gas fire nobody was ever the wiser (other than my big sister – who demanded a substantial stipend of my pocket money to buy her silence – even though she’d been complicit throughout!); & my teacher, who was unwittingly delighted with the sturdy tub of frogspawn with which she was proudly presented by the group – albeit it transpired she had an amphibious phobia once the spawn hatched; then turned into tadpoles &  unleashed a veritable plague of frogs, throughout the Science Block at school.

But to this day, every time I clumsily thrust a load into the bowels of the washing machine which includes a consignment of socks, I positively dread it…as I know the eternal albatross around my neck –  my now-karmic punishment –  will be waiting for me to reap the harvest of a host of single socks, all hideously unmatchable, from that Hellish drum: & any containing (woe betide) even a trace of polyester, will be sporting a sticky, gaping hole.

So: go for simple, sturdy, non-patterned, uniformly-coloured woollen socks which reach a fair way above your ankles & which sport some seriously robust elastic…then hopefully, your own socks won’t make a covert laughing stock (or is that, sock?!) out of you, as well.

Posted in Animals, Anything Goes, Buddhism, Diary, Farming, Humour, Life, March 2010, Nature, Smallholding | 3 Comments

Capture

2010 Diary: Every day I write the book....

With the snow now a chilly memory behind us, I’ve been asked for some more photos cataloguing the feat of endurance I went through, managing the ffarm alone for the best part of a month (I was effectively stranded here from 19th December 2009 to 16th January 2010, only managing to leave here very briefly for a  frantic restock of essential supplies between Christmas & New Year).

So I’ve added a Flickr account to the Blog – this way even if I haven’t the time or energy to write a full post, at least you’ll be able to keep up with fragments of our life here, which I’ve managed to capture through our photos. 

To access, go to the right-hand column & scroll down to the bottom – the photostream is there, & you can access the whole gallery by clicking the link.  I have (where possible) also added a brief description to each picture although this activity is ongoing. 

Enjoy!  And do feel free to add a comment to a photo is you like it or find it interesting for whatever reason.

Meanwhile there are further posts in the pipeline about the frozen wastes of January – promise I’ll put them up soon.

Posted in Anything Goes, Diary, January 2010, Life, Locality, Media Archive, Photography, Smallholding, Writing | 2 Comments

Shepherd’s Warning

Parc Gwair in snow

As dawn broke this morning it revealed a very different sunrise to that of the previous day.  Before I’d even hauled my sleepy self from under the duvet & pile of snoozing cats I could tell that this day would be different; the early halflight brightening the window had that strange opalescent glow which increasingly manifested itself as the sun rose over the valley.  The moon was still high in the sky; a bright, glowing ball which enhanced the surreal nature of the unfolding scene.  The snow had silently fallen on every surface untouched by the slightest breath of wind.  As such every twig, every branch, every blade of grass was completely transformed; with the woods cloaked in leaves of purest white.  It was an extraordinary scene.  But for me, the rosy blush to the rising sun called to mind the old rhyme:  

  Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; Red sky in the morning…shepherd’s warning. 

  The several of inches of snow covering every single surface meant that there would be hard times ahead; possibly for days or even weeks to come….not an enticing prospect when working alone.   One thing was for sure: I was well-&-truly snowed in again & would simply have to grit my teeth & get on with things.

After my favourite breakfast of soft-boiled eggs & homebaked wholemeal toast I headed out into the crisp white world to tackle the chores.  The pipes were once again, completely frozen; plus there was the immediate task of creating pathways across all the farmyards so that I could safely move barrowloads of hay, bedding & feed to the ponies, poultry & goats inhabiting the various outbuildings dotted about the three farmyards.  This task kept me occupied (& at least warm!) for much of the day although of course I made time to feed the sheep & walk the dog, who adores the snow & enters second puppyhood every time he steps out into it.
As evening approached the bitter cold intensified.  After a heartwarming meal of sausages & mash, heaped up with freshly-steamed veggies & ladled with lashings of gravy I huddled close to the cheery comfort of the woodburner & settled down to some serious Welsh language revision. 
This morning’s red sky has unsettled me; delicately exquisite in hues of coral & rose though it was, I suspect that there is treachery in that deceptive beauty: with more worrying weather on the way….

Sunrise over the Western Valley, 2nd Jan 2010

 
Posted in Diary, Goats, January 2010, Life, Livestock, Nature, Smallholding | 3 Comments

Resolution

Sun-touched hedgerow holly

With the rising of the sun dawns a feeling of fresh hope.  The cold, clear morning light revealed a sharp air frost had decorated the trees in the valley with a delicate cloak of pearlescent white, giving the slender limbs & boughs an otherworldy luminescence. 
I started the day with a couple of slices of crisp wholemeal toast, spread with a liberal coating of Marmite; upon which I munched thoughtfully whilst reflecting on the rollercoaster events of the past twelve months.  And yes, I did set myself some reasonably achievable resolutions; although I am not going to divulge them here for fear that if I break them I will be castigated!  ;-)
After completing the morning chores I whistled to the dog & we went for a brisk walk to ‘beat the bounds’ – checking the farm’s perimeter fences.  We are lucky in that the previous owners of the farm looked after it extremely well; the majority of the fields are bounded by stout hedgerows with an additional barrier of sturdy stock fencing; so as was to be expected I thankfully unearthed few problems.  We enjoyed our walk with the delicate cerulean blue of the sky fostering a feeling of well-being & the sort of sunny optimism that only comes once a year….
On returning to the farmyard to serve my caprine charges their lunch however, said feelings fizzled away as the first true challenge of the year presented itself in full fountainous glory: two burst pipes in the Dairy Complex.  With the sun’s warm rays penetrating the icy grasp of night, hard-frozen pipes had commenced a rapid thaw – with disastrous results.
The goats weren’t just indignant; they were furious.  Huddled at the furthest end of their pen from the automatic drinking bowl which had blown its’ regulation valve, they chorused their profound disapproval at my evident ineptitude at preventing this from happening in the first place.  I had to sympathise though; as part of their accommodation was already under several inches of freezing water mixed with a heady cocktail of deep-litter straw & goat guano; & the water had been gushing out at a furious rate in a horizontal stream, almost to the centre of the capacious pen.  It was, indeed, nothing short of spectacular.
Partially to appease their grumpiness & also to keep them otherwise engaged (as, being incredibly curious creatures they love to ‘supervise’ any such tasks) I heaped hay & lucerne into their racks at the far end of the pen, which they attacked with gusto. 
I hurriedly consulted the schematic diagram of all the electricity & water points on the farm, created for just such an emergency as this.  Having located the appropriate stopcock to stem the flow I set to work to closer investigate the thorny problem.  Unfortunately there were no spare valves; & the offending article was nowhere to be seen even though I desperately attempted to calculate its trajectory when it was forced from the pipe.  So there was nothing for it but to sift desperately through the freezing slurry & try to locate said missing valve. 
After several long & frankly grim minutes, my numb fingers grasped the hard little nub of bone-white plastic that had caused the problem.  Having anxiously assessed its condition & unable to find anything obviously wrong with it I wielded my screwdriver to good effect & soon had the problem fixed; before turning my atttention to the leaking pipe above the other drinking bowl in the neighbouring pen, a more delicate & involved operation which involved balancing on a precariously wobbly wooden chair whilst trying to reach a dislodged pipe that is just-a-little-too-tall for stubby old me.  But it had to be done; & I did it.
I tentatively turned the stopcock back on & observed with palpable relief that everything was now thankfully back to normal.  Wiping my filthy hands with an old rag & a resigned sigh, I exited the Dairy Complex muttering “Happy-bloody-New-Year to you too” before stomping back across the yard to gather up feed for our flock of feisty sheep, who were grazing the upper pastures.
But I halted in amazement at the curious sight of the two Frenni Mountains; the gateway to the Preseli Hills which lie to the west of the farm.  A curious cap of mist encircled the Frenni Fawr (Big Frenni) like a coverlet of sky-cast snow.
“Let’s hope that’s not a premonition”, I thought uneasily.  However as no serious snow had been forecast I did not feel unduly concerned.
As I left the valley & puffed my way up the steep hill to the upper pastures with Brynn capering gleefully beside me, more of the skyline gradually revealed itself.  The first surprise was that the majestic Foel Cwmcerwyn Mountain was completely covered with snow; although the surrounding hills & fields were a wintry shade of dull brown.  The second was the ominous scudding of angry, inky clouds across the northern horizon….heading straight towards us.

Snow on Foel Cwmcerwyn

Not exactly anxious to get dumped on by whatever-it-was that the clouds concealed I summoned Brynn & beat a hasty retreat back down the hill & into the shelter of the Dairy Complex. 
Clambering up into the haystack I set to work sorting out the goats’ supper, pulling thin wedges of hay from a large square bale much as if removing slices of bread from a giant brown loaf.
 
I was alerted by an odd hissing noise; which made me groan inwardly as I automatically cast about for signs of yet another burst pipe.   But no; it was coming from outside, & all around; judging by the sudden twilight atmosphere those clouds had indeed arrived & were now discharging their burden over the Ffarm. 
Popping my head out of the heavy galvanised doors I expected to be greeted by a rainy deluge; but to my dismay was met instead by a rather folorn collie sporting a light overcoat of crumbs of fine snow.  In only those few short seconds the ground had already turned a ghostly white.
My hopes that this would prove a short-lived shower were increasingly dashed as the tiny spheres of ice were gradually replaced by big fat flakes of downy snow; which just kept on tumbling endlessly out of the gaunt grey sky….

Sabe & Toto in New Year snow

And so by the time it came to ‘shut up shop’ for the night, the world was muffled in a thick, white, chilly blanket once more; & I found myself resolving to do the only thing I honestly could for as long as it might last….just make the best of it; & keep on, keeping on.

What a start to 2010.
Posted in Animals, Diary, Farming, Goats, January 2010, Life, Livestock, Locality, Nature, Sheep, Smallholding | 2 Comments

At the Turning of the Year

Dawn breaks; a New Year (& arguably, a new decade) begins….

It might surprise you that Tony & I managed to sort-of ‘see in’ the New Year, together; albeit that he was working many thousands of miles away in the Middle East whilst I was managing here, alone & lonely, on the Ffarm. 

But with the benefit of modern technology (thank you, Skype!) whilst Tony burned in Saudi Arabia’s heat & I froze in Wild West Wales, we nevertheless were able to watch the spectacular Greenwich Mean Time fireworks erupt over London’s Big Ben, together; marrying our hopes for a “Happy New Year” before I had to reluctantly leave the warmth of our snug cottage & especially, Tony’s long-distance love; to trudge our frostbitten farmyards & fields to ensure that any localised firework displays weren’t disturbing the peace of our sleeping menagerie.

Thankfully all was blissfully still; the sky strewn with the breathtaking diamond sparkle of so many, million stars.  

I paused; and waited. 

Looking skyward; as one weary day pulled the covers over its tired face, thus forcing the next morning’s fluttering optimism to revive – yet again – for us silly mortals; whilst our World endlessly, relentlessly, thoughtlessly whirls through the freedom of space….

I felt my hopeful heart leap, witnessing such stunning beauty, to welcome in this New Year.  

Switching off all the lights & guided by the gentle glow of the fulsome moon I quietly traced the familiar friend of each constellation’s pattern, to seek out our own star – the Lovespoon Star: which during this season, burns brightly over the cottage.

Beauty;  sheer beauty.

I was captivated. 

Mixed feelings: sombre, serene, wistful, reflective yet peppered with poignant sparkles of pure pleasure; as I considered the passing of this tired old year….

And yet somehow; as we faithfully trudge our bright-eyed, eternally optimistic annual pilgrimage across this particular portal of humanity’s time, we inevitably gaze unto the future….

….that moment: that special moment; when the soft, bright light of those myriad stars which reaches our eyes is already so very, very old; and a billion galaxies have already faded, and a billion more, have been born: which we will never know, and will never see.

It puts this little life into context, somehow.

HAPPY NEW YEAR,  dear friends.

Posted in Anything Goes, Diary, January 2010, Life | 1 Comment