What a relief – our ‘educated’ gamble has paid off. The barn is full again with over 700 small, square bales of sweet-smelling, fresh new hay; the air is suffused with that delicious marzipan scent that lingers for days & captures wistful Summer memories when every new bale is prised open with numbed fingers during the cold, dark days of Winter. It’s not quite the exceptional quality of last year’s crop; but it’s far better than we’d anticipated, given the appalling weather we’ve had – & it’s a barnful; which is more than anyone else has, at this point in time.
This morning found Gareth whizzing up & down in his Dad’s little yellow tractor, turning the hay in Parc Dan Fordd (translated, ‘Field Below the Road’); he startled us with the news that we’d be bringing the crop in this evening, which we hadn’t expected as there had been some light but determined rain during the grey, gloomy halflight of this morning’s dawn. We’d naturally assumed the hay would need at least another 24 hours to dry; however, being a lovely warm, sunny day with a light, lifting breeze the conditions were far more favourable than they’d seemed earlier – plus, being an organically-managed crop, it’s more natural & therefore shorter in the stalk than chemically-fertilized varieties. And of course, we implicitly trust Lloyd – our faithful friend & contractor: he knows his job, & this Ffarm, far better than we do.
We hastened to Castle House Veterinary Surgery to pick up some mastits medication for poor little Anthemis’s affected udder (with Angus, head of the practice, in ever-jovial, jostling mood); & decided to treat ourselves to lunch in the picturesque village of Cenarth, in anticipation of the evening’s excruciatingly hard manual labour ahead. In fact our excursion proved yet more useful than we’d intended as we fortunately stumbled across a local refrigeration engineer, enjoying his lunch overlooking the pleasant banks of the River Teifi; who not only sells bulk milk tanks but can also help us with the construction of our process rooms in the new Dairy Complex. So – a satisfyingly warm & fuzzy feeling, all round (especially after a couple of lazy G&Ts)!
Back at home, I started (again) to prepare the Hay Tea (see yesterday’s post for details of this tradition). The growl of a tractor engine in the fields above the house signalled the arrival of the workforce as they commenced ‘rowing up’ (preparing the hay for baling) so I packed Tony off up the field with a large jug of thirst-quenching squash & commenced the evening chores. The first load of hay rumbled down the hill to the top farmyard, perched precariously on an old trailer, at around 6pm; & it was a case of ‘all hands on deck’ to offload it into the big silver Dutch barn.
By the time I’d finished milking, the third trailerful of appetizingly-scented hay bales was already being offloaded. I climbed onto the stack, flexed my gloved hands against the unremitting bite of bailer twine against flesh for the next few exhausting hours, & gritted my teeth as I took position in the unrelenting, unforgiving, dusty duty of heaving the heavy feedstuff higher & higher until the green-&-gold pile reached almost to the roof of the massive barn, choking in dust, heat & sweat.
Once the last few bales were finally being hauled into place, I made my legitimate excuses & hurried into the house to lay the big table in the dining room, with the feast I’d prepared for the hungry workforce: dishes piled high with roast pork, chicken, beef, sausages, pies, herb-baked potatoes, boiled eggs, freshly ripened tomatoes & juicy cucumber from the hothouse; & many other goodies besides. Tired but satisfied, & with plenty of good-natured banter, we all tucked into the food with gusto at around 10.45pm – an earlier finish than last year, but with even more bales shifted!
The initial, nagging hunger pangs thus satisfied, I then brought out dessert – a big pile of chocolate eclairs; a tempting trifle; numerous cakes; sweet little fruit pies, still warm from the oven; & my very own homemade ice cream churned especially for the occasion – a simple but irresistible combination of fresh goats’ milk, thick double cream, soft, rich sugar & the big yellow yolks from our own hens’ eggs. It was delicious (Lloyd even had three helpings!) & certainly nobody went hungry or thirsty – washing down the meal with plenty of beer, wine & cider. When they could eat, drink, & joke no more, overwhelmed with the desire for their soft, warm beds after such a hard day, the jovial helpers piled onto one of the now-empty hay wagons with Ieuan at the tractor’s helm; & shouting their goodbyes, they chugged back up the hill & into the cool velvet blackness of the Welsh night.
We’re indebted this year to Lloyd & his son, Gareth; to John, our fantastic, unstintingly supportive neighbour; & especially to dear Ieuan, who was born on this Ffarm: at the ripe young age of 68, after triple heart bypass surgery last Autumn, this fine, gentle man was determined he was going to help us with our hay this year, come what may. How lucky we are, to have such generous friends.
And, oh! – what a satisfying feeling, to stand in the moonlight breathing in the heady scents of honeysuckle & hay: the sweet smell of success.