Darkness suffocated the bedroom as the call to wake rudely shrilled in my ear.
Fumbling for the alarm clock, I reluctantly illuminated the bedside light & hauled myself into the reality of a new day, uncomfortably aware that for the first time in over a year, both of us would be leaving our lovely Ffarm.
The opportunity of a surprise gift from my mother & father, generously donated at Christmas, was just too good to miss: the chance for us both to go to Italy to study a course in Artisan Ice Cream at the Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna, under the highly-respected tutelage of one of the world’s top Master Gelatieres, Gianpaulo Valli. I’d long coveted the desire to add artisan gelato (the ‘Rolls Royce’ of the ice cream world) to complete my ‘hat trick’ of dairying: as I have already qualified in small-scale soft & hard cheese production; along with yogurt & fermented products.
Tony meanwhile has had the luxury of neither time nor money to invest in such pursuits, much as I’ve wished he could as it is so crucial to our business & his comprehension of it. He has shown a passing interest in my cheesemaking activities & adores the yogurt, crème fraiche & soured cream I so enjoy making; but has never attempted these skills himself.
However as a passionate lover of quality ice cream, I managed to persude him to attend an introductory day school at Carpigiani’s premises in Hereford, last year; along with a visit to RSS Hereford to learn about working with natural fruits & flavours, the latter course which we both attended, & thoroughly enjoyed – bitten by the bug, you might say.
So as you can imagine we hugely appreciated this generous present, from my Mum & Dad; such a wonderful & extremely thoughtful gift. Fortunately also, the University course has happened to fall at our quietest time: the lull between our twice-daily milking & cheesemaking routine, & prior to the hectically stressful events of lambing, kidding, bottle feeding, & teaching the new Milkforce members, the ‘ropes’ in the parlour.
Hence I was up before the daily marvel of the dawn chorus, to prepare house & barns for the arrival of our hired ‘Animal Angels’ – Marie & Brian – who would be caretaking the farm during our absence. I had a frantic round of cleaning, scrubbing & sweeping to fit in before their arrival; which was earlier than expected, whilst I was rushing round trying to put the place into some semblance of calm decorum.
Tony showed our ‘sitters’ around the farm & talked them through our normal routine as he sorted out the livestock; unfortunately, they were not quite dressed for farm work when they arrived so would have to wait until evening chores before they could have a bit more ‘hands on’ time with the animals.
Our fellow smallholding friend Janet, who runs Pant Glas World of Nature near Llandysul (a few miles away from us) which is a marvellous Farm Park & Bird of Prey Centre – popped in to meet our ‘Angels’ & kindly offered them any & every assistance in our absence, should they ever feel the need. Janet is highly experienced with all furred & feathered species; so as it transpired that Marie & Brian have unfortunately only limited experience with sheep & goats, & even less with equines – although of course I’d written them a fully comprehensive brief on the care of our livestock (liberally peppered with the phrase “If in doubt, CALL JANET”) having this ’emergency helpline’ is a big comfort to us all – for which we owe this fantastic, dynamic & dedicated lady, a huge debt of gratitude.
After a cup of tea & a chat we popped into the local town to top up the ponies’ stock of bedding; as well as visiting the veterinary surgery to advise them of our absence, & to discuss Darwin’s potential laminitic predicament. I opted to give this lovely horse what is known as a ‘loading dose’ of oral phenylbutazone paste, today (basically a double dose to hopefully block his laminitis prior to the onset of any obvious symptoms) followed by a course of powdered medication administered in a small feed: as Brian & Marie’s equine experience is limited, I wanted to make things as easy as possible for them.
To successfully cure the cause & not just the symptoms however, Darwin & the other ponies needed to be transferred from their current grazing onto ‘safer’ pasture…..the next thing on our hastily-scribbled ‘to do’ list.
On returning to the Ffarm, I swiftly administered a bemused Darwin his first paste dose of ‘bute’; then our next challenge was to transfer our fine Greyface Dartmoor ram, MacDougal & his pregnant ‘wives’ down from our upper fields & onto the more immediately accessible & verdant pasture below the Ffarm – also more readily accessible to the lambing shed, of course….!
Tony trudged up the hill to initiate the exercise whilst I opened the ‘en route’ gates in anticipation; however on hearing my clarion call from the Ffarmyard, the composed flock who had been benignly following their faithful shepherd, bolted brutishly past him at the enticing prospect of a bigger & better bucket of ‘sweeties’.
Their intoxicating enthusiasm thankfully transferred to our naughtily disobedient hogget flock; so at least all our sheep are now pastured on good, firm grazing – so roll on lambing! But pleeease, my lady sheep, at least give us a couple of days off before you commence the Birth Production Process (bearing in mind this intensive Gelato Course will probably prove my only modest break from the Ffarm for the next 40-odd years): it just wouldn’t be sporting of you to start straight away!
Once the sheep had been transferred it was the horses’ turn; they were moved onto the sheeps’ previous pasture as the dangerously sugary tips of the grass blades would have been neatly shaved off by their ovine attentions. We were going to ask Brian & Marie to move the Shetlands at the same time as we led the horses; however as equines are invariably excited at the prospect of new pasture we decided, with their lack of experience, it might not be a sensible idea.
So the horses went first, followed by the wee laddies; Toto snorting & squealing like a little stallion in his glee & pulling like a train. We decided to leave all the headcollars on, to make it easier for Brian & Marie if anything did go wrong – & as the headcollars are leather, they break before the ponies do, otherwise we would never risk leaving them out with anything which could potentially get caught up in a hedge, tree or fenceline.
Once their feet touched the green, green grass of their new home they were off in a flat-out gallop around the field, for a full five minutes at least. I adore watching their explosive joy as they buck, plunge & fly around the field, nostrils flaring & high-held tails streaming behind them in the breeze. This evening was an especial pleasure as the air was so beautifully clear & crisp, the thin silver arc of the new moon high in the cerulean sky with the mountains of the Prescelli range highlighted in the blaze of coral, mandarin & golden fire of the setting sun, one of those moments to treasure, as the ponies returned to the gate to bid us their breathless, velvet-nosed farewells, scarce able to snort after their wild exertions.
Back at the Ffarm we went through the evening livestock routine with Marie & Brian, after which I cooked a hearty supper of a joint of our roast pork accompanied by roast potatoes, savoy cabbage & homemade gravy; before hastily retiring upstairs to finish packing & then jumping into the car with Tony, to head off into the night & our new adventure.
Tony negotiated the gruelling five-and-a-half hour drive to Gatwick; & we arrived at our accommodation for a few hours’ much-needed sleep, at around 2am. The little room with its’ shabby bathroom was utterly freezing, proffering no form of warmth other than a tiny portable fan heater; certainly the hotel’s imposing exterior & grand entrance hall belied the somewhat more modest courtyard accommodation into which we had been shoehorned. But the bed was extremely comfortable, & we were exhausted; so at least sleep came easily to our weary bones……we’d had a lot to pack in today (not least our suitcase!) – but we did it.