The stark metal tower loomed ominously against the foreboding slate-grey of a heavy Pembrokeshire sky.
I shuddered involuntarily as a gust of wind whipped across the bleak mountain heights, sending a soft moan through the scaffold although thankfully, without a lash of the stinging rain which threatened & indeed was already lashing the ffarm, by the time we returned home.
In metrological terms, not a great start to the ‘Indian Summer’ of September which we’ve all so desperately hoped for, in the agricultural world; a tentatively sunny start presaged short, sharp showers & the reluctant decision to leave the goats warm & comfortable indoors, munching hay & soiling precious bedding, for yet another day. And as we had a prompt start – with Tony the very worst-tempered of early risers if evicted from his coccoon before at least 10am – the day didn’t bode well.
However an early flurry of emails & telephone calls did at least shimmer a sliver of sunshine over our otherwise frustratingly grey horizon: Tony’s employment contract has at last been confirmed so all we have to do is set a date – & as soon as possible so far as his new employers are concerned – for him to kick-start his new career. It’s wonderful news but whilst the last thing I relish is poor Tony having to rejoin the turgid grind of commuting to & from the ‘day job’ (with the additional challenge of carrying a ‘high-pressure’ career – tell me an airline pilot has an easy life & I’ll personally point out their grey hairs) at least it’s a means to an end; hard work for us both, but worth all the effort of the days, months, weeks & indeed years to come.
Meanwhile, what brought us to that romantically windswept spot amidst the mountains, on an inhospitable day in September? It was a sturdy metal feed silo, recently retired by its former free-range egg-producing owner. The huge green hopper holds approximately nine tonnes of fodder; yet was dwarfed by its big brother, a gargantuan twelve-ton dispenser (also for sale for only a modest £100 more); both bolted to reinforced concrete pads & looming above the building into which they once provided a continuous flow of feed for the 15,000 poultry accommodated therein. I was amazed to learn that the 9-tonne hopper only provided sufficient chicken feed for three weeks’ worth of meals for the hungry hens. Feed was dispensed from the hopper (which itself was plugged into a timer) via an auger which was linked to a chain-drive feeder, with the feed moving slowly & steadily around the building on a conveyor belt – a sort of ‘Generation Game’ poultry pot luck, if you will; the farmer fulfilling the role of a benign Bruce Forsyth. But the poultry enterprise was abandoned at around Christmas time; & the hoppers have stood empty & the sheds silent, ever since.
Having a hopper is certainly an intruguing prospect. Whilst at the moment we cannot afford an automatic feed dispensing system for our goat parlour (we’re talking silly money here) at least storing the goats’ feed in a hopper would mean that we can buy in bulk – thus saving a not inconsiderable amount of money in the process, plus a journey every few weeks to collect it, as I have to now. The money we’d save by buying in bulk, would be put towards the dispenser system; which we could buy a couple of years’ hence. And any labour-saving device is such a bonus when time is at such a premium.
However with this hopper, comes a thorny problem: the lane to the farm in which it currently resides is narrow & twisting, with low-hanging trees; we’d never get it out that way. We could put it on a trailer & pull it with a tractor across the fields to the main road….but that will take some doing; & bumping & bouncing a gigantic, aged metal hopper across rough pasture isn’t exactly going to do it the world of good. And then we come to the true problem: with the weather having been so bad of late, the fields it’d have to cross are waterlogged….so it may never reach its’ destination; at least, not until next Summer. So we really are uncertain as to whether to go for it, or literally bin the idea – ‘scuse the pun – for now, at least.
There was a double-edged sword on the straw front today: the good news, it’s in at last; the lorry arrived this afternoon & en route to look at the bin we discovered Lloyd, Gareth & Franco busily offloading the massive lorry. The bad news – for us at least – is that Lloyd can only spare us 100 bales this year – & they’re small ones, not the large ones we used to get. Whilst that might sound like plenty it’s only one every two days; & of course we have an ever-growing herd of goats to bed down with more diverse pens (7 different groups at present, to be precise). So less than one bale every three days will be spread a bit thin, methinks. This has led us to the decision that we really will have to house the goats in the new pen on matting with minimal bedding; they’ll have enough to keep them comfy of course, & as a means of providing vital extra fodder; but it’s going to be an even harder year ahead with no sign of respite.