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Farming and Wildlife in January

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FARMING AND WILDLIFE IN JANUARY in the Botanic Garden

THE ESTATE FARM: As described in May 2018, the Botanic Garden covers about 568 acres of which farmland is 316 acres including 100 acres of woodland. There are 25 head of pedigree Welsh Black beef cows and 30 non-pedigree Balwen ewes and their 35 lambs, with the permanent and flower-rich grassland of the Waun Las National Nature Reserve being grazed and cut for hay.

WHAT SORT OF YEAR DID LIVESTOCK FARMERS HAVE IN 2018? It certainly wasn’t an easy year with a string of extreme weather events. As a reminder there was:

Late-February: Storm Emma aka ‘The Beast from the East’ gave large areas of South Wales 40-50cm of snow with road closures and milk thrown away as collection lorries were unable to reach some dairy farms. Temperatures down to –11oC in lowland areas;

March – April: Wet and cold weather led to poor Spring grass growth at lambing time with higher than normal lamb losses for many flocks;

May, June and July: hot and dry weather lasted several months and led to a collapse in grass growth and many grassland farmers having to use Winter feed stocks to feed cattle in Summer, and then to buy in extra feed and straw;

October: Storm Callum battered rural communities with torrential downpours and gale force winds of up to 80mph, and then;

November and December brought in generally warmer weather than usual in the lowlands, some early light frosts but with continued growth of both improved[1] and permanent grassland. But beware, read LOOKING FORWARD at the end of this Newsletter, before you decide to throw your ‘long johns’ away!

EARLY JANUARY is the time for setting out your New Year Resolutions and then of course two weeks later or so, trying to remember what those resolutions were! But seriously though, it’s been an easy Winter so far for farmers with livestock and they hope that this will – in part at least – make up for a difficult 2018. A few days of frost; but only on the higher ground and hills have there been days when the frost had not melted away by mid-morning. Grass still seems to be growing; presumably because the soil temperatures at grass root level has not yet been cooled by Winter temperatures to below 7oC; which is the threshold below which grass growth stops.

We talked in August about how it was going to be a difficult Winter for livestock farmers in the lowlands; poor quality and quantity of silage and hay harvests, with much of it already eaten during the drought and immediately afterwards, plus prices for straw for feeding were very high. So how is it now? Well, there were a lot of cattle sold last Autumn with dairy farmers selling old milking cows and many of those without much silage in the ‘silage clamp’, reducing their numbers of cows in the herd. Rumours abound about how Fred hasn’t got much silage left and how Gwyn has been buying from England and paying ‘Big Money’ for hay of poor quality.

But you know what rumours are, don’t you – it’s rather like the name of a song from the LP album called ‘Rumours’ by the 1970s band Fleetwood Mac that was written and sung by Lindsey Buckingham and called – ‘Go your own way’. And farmers do go their own way and then ‘do their own thing’. When cattle feed is in short supply: some farmers borrow from the bank to buy fodder and keeping the same number of stock; some sell livestock to reduce the herd size to that they know that they can feed with their existing stocks of fodder, and some just bury their heads in the sand and hope that it will be a mild Winter and Early Spring! It’s really all about ‘food security’ and that’s about each farmer trying to make sure that each animal for which they are responsible, has enough food for both ‘Maintenance and production’ [2].

Last mid-November you will have seen some fields by the side of the road with very late cuts of silage, often very light cuts too and most of which was baled and wrapped in plastic rather than being picked up and chopped with a forage harvester, before being taken to the silage pit. With this extra silage, most farmers haven’t been buying much lately and silage bales have come down in price from £60 each in September to about £35-45 now depending upon quality. Straw prices have also come down: wheat from £140 per tonne in August to £80 now, and Barley straw – which is usually better suited for feeding to cattle – from £150 to about £100 per tonne delivered to the farm. Mind you, in some areas, feed costs have risen again as harsh weather is forecast in the next few weeks.

Anyway, Huw says that all fields on The Farm are ‘full of grass’ and no hay or haylage has been fed yet. He’s hoping that the cattle won’t be coming into the sheds until end-January and that the calves that were born this Spring will stay out all Winter. So there’s quite a change from the ‘drought period’ of Summer 2018, isn’t there!

Anyway, it’s the ‘Dawn of a New Year’ and we look forward to all that that can mean. Apart from the ‘hangover’ that some of you will have had after imbibing rather too much on the evening of 31st December, it’s a time of looking forward. Mind you, probably the dawn of every day is the same, but just marking the onset of a new day rather than a New Year.

TALKING OF ‘DAWNS’, IN THE DAYS LONG BEFORE DEREK BROCKWAY STARTED TO GIVE US DAILY WEATHER FORECASTS ON THE BBC, people often turned to sayings and proverbs to provide an indication of what tomorrow’s weather might bring. Some of these sayings date back thousands of years, to a time when weather forecasting had to rely on human experience rather than on scientific data. So do you think that those sayings still in common use today have any science to back them up at all?

Well, there are some that seem to have been common across a range of countries. Perhaps the most familiar of these sayings in our country is:

Red sky at night – shepherds’ delight,

Red sky in the morning – shepherds’ warning.

And this saying has been known for at least 2,000 years for in Matthew 16, 2-3, Jesus is quoted as saying:

“When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.”

This saying also seems often to be proven true in the UK – and in most of the Northern Hemisphere as well, including Palestine – where wind and weather systems predominantly come from the West. The “Red sky at night, shepherds delight” simply means that fair weather is generally headed towards the shepherds and for them to prepare for the next day’s fine weather. But why, you ask, does this red night sky mean that fine weather is coming?

This is where the science bit comes in and we have to remember all that we learned in ‘A Level Physics’ about the basics of light and how ordinary white light is actually made up of seven different colours. But you remember all that, don’t you? Probably because you use the acronym ROYGBIV to remember the order of the seven colours of the rainbow – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. Mind you, some people turn it around and use the acronym VIBGYOR. Whichever is the easiest for each of us to remember is probably best, eh? Incidentally, was told last week by an anonymous Optician whilst doing an eye-test, that you can only see a rainbow when the sun is behind you and the rain in front – didn’t know that but, when you think about it, he was right!

Anyway, the next bit of science is that – whether it is either coming up over the Eastern horizon at sunrise or going down over the Western horizon at sunset – surface light from the sun must travel through the Earth’s atmosphere at an acute angle to the earth’s surface and has a longer distance to travel during sunrise and sunset to reach the human eye compared to other times of the day when it just shines down from above.

So as the distance of travel through the atmosphere increases during dawn and dusk, light is refracted[3] much more than at other times of the day, especially when the sun is overhead. Thus the colours of the light that have shorter wavelengths fade out and leave only the longer wavelength red light that reaches our eyes. So a ‘red sky at night’ or sunset means high pressure is moving in from the west, therefore the next day will usually be dry and pleasant.

But “Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning” means a red sky appears due to the high-pressure weather system having already moved east meaning the good weather has passed, most likely making way for a wet and windy low-pressure system.

So there is a rationale for this popular saying – although the science involved is a bit puzzling, isn’t it?

IT’S GOOD NEWS ISN’T IT that Otters and their ‘scat’[4] or ‘spraint’ have been seen recently on The Farm. As James Williams[5] describes in his book ‘The Otter among us’, Otters are natural wanderers, largely nocturnal and with a very secretive nature and so are seldom easily seen. But the finding of spraint is a relatively easy way of knowing that Otters are active in a particular stretch of water. Bruce Langridge – Head of Interpretation at The Garden – says that scat is regularly seen near the top of the bridge between the lakes Llyn Canol and Llyn Mawr, on the left side near the road. Scat’s also regularly seen along the stream that flows from behind the Plant Sales to the Gatehouse entrance and the stream on the left on leaving the Gatehouse into the Garden. Apparently, a student is doing an Otter survey for her degree and has taken night time images on the Llyn Canol/Mawr bridge. So why not see what you can see there?

Have a look also in Cae Trawscoed where Badgers have been digging up large areas over the past few years. According to Bruce, Volunteers used to worry that this digging would be harming the Orchids but of course it doesn’t really. As Bruce tells these worried Volunteers “They’re just shifting things around a little”.  This Badger-digging for earthworms, Leatherjackets and other insect life looks far worse than it is, as it is seldom more than 6 inches [15cm] deep and by June next year even the most disturbed area will be back to normal including the orchids.

Mankind in the UK has had a love-hate relationship with the Otter over many centuries; sometimes keeping them as pets or training them to catch fish for sport – more often killing them for invading the ‘stew ponds’[6] and catching and eating the fish there. More recently Otter were shot, trapped or hunted on salmon and trout rivers where ‘high and mighty persons’ fished for sport. Otter meat was apparently popular in parts of Europe until the early 1900s and, as the otter lives on fish, otter meat could be eaten in Catholic countries during Lent and on Fridays when meat eating was not normally permitted and only fish dishes allowed!

Hunting Otters with packs of otter hounds was banned in 1978 and many Hunts then changed to hunting Mink instead. The Mink was imported from the United States and Canada in the 1920s and bred and reared on farms before slaughter for their fur to make into expensive coats, stoles and jackets. Escapee Mink and those ‘released’ by ‘animal rights groups’ and ‘anti-fur activists’ were hugely successful in the wild from their first confirmed breeding in 1956; and their subsequent huge population rise over most of UK has been linked with the subsequent falling numbers of both Otter and Water Vole. Mink farming was banned under the Fur Farming [ Prohibition] Act, 2000, but not before 6,000 Mink were released in 1998 into the wild from a single fur farm in Ringwood, Hampshire by the Animal Liberation Front. Wonder how much faster the national Mink breeding programme in the wild was increased by that single release?

Otters are perhaps less known in fiction stories than some other UK wildlife and maybe the most widely known Otter in fiction is Tarka from Henry Williamson’s ‘Tarka the Otter’ published in 1927. This describes the life of Tarka from a cub through his many entanglements with the Otter Hunt until Tarka’s final battle with his deadly enemy – the pack leader called Deadlock. Easy to read by 10-12 year-old kids, Tarka is probably Williamson’s most famous book. He was a prolific writer on wildlife, politics and recent history, but received limited recognition as such – perhaps a result of his political views[7]?

BEEF CATTLE SALES. On The Farm, Huw decided that he had to sell Gwilym the Welsh Black bull; because he was the father of the heifers that need to be ‘served’ later in 2019; and that for him to be the ‘husband of his own daughters’ might not be a good thing. So Gwilym had to go and went to market in November and sold for £1,100 – leaving behind 18 in-calf cows to calve down in Spring 2019. Now, Huw will have to look out for a replacement for Gwilym, to run with the cows and heifers in July 2019 for calving 9 months later in Spring 2020. Just like all other businessmen, farmers have to plan ahead all the time and look to buy and sell when the markets are likely to give them a good return.

Anyway, Huw realised that the market for beef animals was ‘looking good’ in November and sold seven stores[8] (each weighing on average half a tonne – 500kg) for £900 each, as well as three younger steers (weighing 340kg) for an average of £550 each. So including Gwilym the bull, total sales achieved £9,050, which for 11 beef animals is not bad, but there are all the costs involved in keeping, feeding and maintaining those animals as well. Mind you, although not bad money for a farmer, it’s nothing much when compared to many professional footballers in UK’s Premier Division, who seem to earn far more than the £9,050 that Huw got for the cattle – just for a week of kicking a ball about in a game! Strange isn’t it that many of us complain about migrants coming into UK taking our jobs and yet almost every top football team here seems to import 10-15 players from all over the world, pays them huge money and lets them take the jobs of UK citizens, eh!

DAIRYING hasn’t been talked about in a Farming and Wildlife Newsletter – despite the fact that there are more dairy cows in Wales than there are beef cows, although none now[9] on The Farm! Mind you, beef cows are suckler cows that produce a calf each year like on The Farm, although a large proportion of animals slaughtered for beef in UK are actually bull calves from dairy herds that are reared for 18-30 months before slaughter for our Sunday roast!

But milk production has never been an easy farming enterprise, because having a herd of dairy cows that require milking at least twice each day is always time consuming – especially when there is only family labour to do the milking. And of course the size of herds has increased substantially over the past 80 years or so since the milking of cows with milking machines became so routine. After all, a farmer or herdsman hand milking cows in the 1940s would be considered a ‘fast worker’ if he milked only 15 cows each morning and evening – and this was at a time when the cows were probably only giving 3 gallons [13.5 litres] of milk each day. Compare that with the average herd size in Wales of 73 cows in 1977, and in 2017 of 146 cows, each giving some 6 gallons [27 litre] of milk each day! OK, so the number of milking herds in Wales has reduced hugely in recent years, but the number of milking cows has stayed much the same and the amount of milk produced has increased substantially during the same period This is because each cow is now given high quality silage or grass, Wheat, Barley and Maize grains, protein from Soya Beans and all other necessary nutrients to give optimum yields of milk. In the past it would have been just poor or medium quality hay and maybe a few handfuls of Brewers Grains[10] or potatoes or turnips not suited to human consumption. Things change, don’t they?

BUT WHY DO WE NEED TO PRODUCE SO MUCH MILK? Is it because we drink a lot of milk or is milk used mainly in food manufacture or for butter making? More than half of all milk produced in UK is sold to us as liquid milk. Different mammals are milked to supply traditional diets in all regions of the world, these include cows, buffalo, sheep, horse, donkey, goats, deer, yaks, reindeer and camels. But most people in UK mainly drink milk from cows and even whole milk – milk straight from the cow and unpasteurised – is 85-90 per cent water. So if most of milk is water, then what’s the rest? It depends on the breed of the cow, the stage of the cow’s lactation and food being consumed, but all cow milk contains carbohydrate, proteins[11], fat, minerals and vitamins. Actually the milk of all mammals has similar constituents although in different proportions: cow milk has about 4% fat and 4% protein, whilst buffalo milk has twice as much fat and camel milk is similar to cow milk but has 3 times as much Vitamin C as cow milk and this a vital source of this vitamin for people living in arid and semi-arid areas who cannot get Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables like we do. Sheep milk has higher fat and protein content than either goat or cow milk and a higher carbohydrate content as well, so it is really suitable for cheese and yoghurt making.   More about milk next month perhaps, maybe explaining why such a large proportion of the world’s population do not drink milk or eat milk products!

BUT WHY DO WE HAVE MILK WITH OUR TEA – WHY DON’T WE ALL JUST DRINK TEA ON ITS OWN – STRAIGHT FROM THE TEAPOT? Afraid that we’ll have to look back into history for some of the reasons!  An Emperor of China some 4,500 years ago is said to have discovered that if you placed the dried green leaves of this tree into hot water, a strangely satisfying and calming beverage was produced: presumably so because of the small amounts of ‘caffeine’ contained in the drink, although this Chinese Emperor may not have known too much about ‘caffeine’. This ‘tea tree’ from which these leaves were harvested grew in the wild from India through to China, but as demand grew over the centuries for this drink amongst the population in China, seed was collected from the wild and fields of tea trees were grown.

So to encourage fresh leaf growth, the growing Tea tree is pruned regularly and shaped into a low bush or platform so that picking by hand is made easier. We’ve all seen pictures of ladies in Sri Lanka, India or even in China, each with a picking basket on their backs, haven’t we? For best quality teas, two leaves and a bud are picked at the same time with thumb and forefinger but, if it’s just for that well-known brew served in large china mugs and known colloquially as ‘builders’ tea’, then the three terminal leaves or more are picked allowing a stronger brew to be made. Normally, Tea bushes are picked over every 7-10 days or so.

What happens if tea picking stops in a particular field or plantation as it does sometimes, usually due to war or local disputes? Well, the ‘pruned’ tea platform grows just like a Privet hedge does in your garden when you don’t get the garden shears out in time. And as most Tea is grown in regions that tend to be ‘warm and wet’[12], these unpicked two leaves and a bud’ grow fast, and before you know where you are, there is a field of scrub Tea bushes all trying to become full grown Tea trees of 10-15 metre [30-50 feet] tall. This happened in the Western Provinces of Uganda, East Africa in 1978 when troops from the Tanzanian Army travelled up through the Tea Plantations in a war to oust the then President of Uganda – Idi Amin[13]. There was a lot of hard manual work to rehabilitate these tea plantations as it involved coppicing the overgrown bushes at ground level and allowing them to grow back to ‘picking platform height’ of 4-5 feet again. By the mid-1990s in Uganda there were still areas of plantations and smallholder farms that had not yet achieved full rehabilitation and the routine harvest of ‘two leaves and a bud’.

We seem to have become ‘misdirected’ away from ‘milk and tea’ don’t we! Anyway, apparently the Chinese were kind enough to introduce Tea to the English in 1657, and it found favour with the aristocracy and much was drunk by the mid-1700s. By then of course, the East India Company – whose wealth allowed the development of the Middleton Hall Estate in the Botanic Garden – until it ceased trading in the 1870s was active in that area and shipped home China Tea. But Tea was never cheap to buy as the Chinese themselves had a huge population to satisfy, but their need for copper, silver and gold was such that they were willing to exchange some of their Tea crop for these precious metals. Then as now, harvested tea buds and leaves were withered, rolled, fermented and dried before exchange for these metals.

The Tea drink had always been made in metal kettles and still is in many parts of China particularly upland regions. But for reasons known only to themselves, the British preferred to pour the boiling water onto the tea leaves at the bottom of a china teapot, stirring it and letting the tea brew for several minutes. But there was a problem: in the 1700 and 1800s, those that could afford to buy tea always used thin porcelain cups and saucers, and if the brewed and still near to boiling hot tea was poured directly into such a porcelain cup, then the porcelain was quite likely to crack and split open – spoiling the set of cups and saucers and spilling tea all over the table cloth of the gentry!

So, they came up with a ’cunning plan’ which was to put cold water into the bottom of the cup before pouring in the brewed tea from the teapot. But this diluted the tea and apparently spoiled the taste. An alternative was to substitute cold cow Milk for water, and this apparently neither spoiled the taste nor allowed the hot tea from the teapot to crack the porcelain. Clever stuff, eh?

Not many people use teapots or loose tea leaves these days: usually preferring a teabag; a mug made of thick china, tea still drunk with milk but poured directly from the milk bottle into the mug with the black tea already in it. Mind you, whenever cups and saucers are used to drink tea in ‘polite circles’, almost always the milk is poured first into the cup and then the tea from the teapot added to it, and finally the sugar from the sugar bowl is stirred into the tea in the cup, using the spoon in the saucer. .

IT’S THE TIME OF YEAR for feeding garden birds with peanuts, sunflower seeds and those fatballs, isn’t it? It’s great to see those flocks of small birds avail themselves of the free rations on offer. Mind you, it’s not all gaiety and light between the birds on the feeders, larger birds frightening off small ones, and juveniles giving way to adults of the same species. It’s called competition and the ‘survival of the fittest’[14] although all these birds are terrified of the Grey Squirrel: a non-native mammal introduced into the UK from North East US and Canada. The first recorded occurrence in GB was at Llantysilio Hall in Denbighshire, North Wales in October 1828, although allegedly released initially in the 1870s as ‘fashionable additions’ to the estates of other ‘the landed gentry’[15]. Extraordinarily well adapted to UK conditions and with no predators[16] in most area, Greys bred and spread rapidly and are now probably the mammal that many people see most often in their normal daily lives!

Lovely, fluffy little creatures aren’t they? Actually no, because – although fluffy – if you have to handle one with bare hands then make sure you have immediate access to the A&E Department of your local hospital to treat your hands and wrists from the bites and particularly the long and sharp claws of the hind feet raking down and slitting the skin of wrists and hands. They eat almost anything and are ‘omnivores’; eating nuts, vegetation, birds’ eggs as well as fledgling birds from nests and apparently even small rodents! Those long sharp claws on all feet allow them to grip onto and to move around on vertical surfaces like the sides of house walls that have been rendered and pebble-dashed!

With a strongly muscled jaw, their bite is severe and there are few bird feeding contraptions that they cannot find their way into – bending wires apart with their teeth! But although lively, they can only jump vertically about 5 feet from a standing start. So, if the bird feeder can be mounted 5 feet or more above the ground, and without any branches or structures above, that the Grey can drop down from, then that bird feeder is usually safe from squirrels. Even better of course is to mount your bird feeder on top of one of those orange-coloured Propane gas cylinders – one of the big ones that contain about 47kg of gas.  Greys will try to jump or climb but even the Grey’s claws have difficulty getting any grip on the smooth surface of the cylinder’s sides or on its curved shoulders! If you think that the orange coloured empty cylinder is an intrusion on the peaceful aspect and aesthetic beauty of your garden, then you can always paint it a colour of your choice – pink or mauve perhaps!

BEEF CATTLE, DROVE ROADS AND DROVERS: Recently, Huw transported Gwilym the bull, and the store cattle and steers from The Farm to the market by just phoning up a local cattle transporter with a lorry, who agreed to take them wherever Huw wanted them to go. So that’s pretty easy for him to arrange really, isn’t it? He just has to pay the transporter for the journey travelled!

But it wasn’t always as easy as that to take livestock to the place of selling!   Long before motorised transport, movement of animals was by walking individual beasts, or by herding or droving them to market to sell, or to a place of slaughter. Much of the road system around Wales and all of UK evolved from these routes taken by the drovers and their herds. The culture of droving cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, horses and geese from farms and local markets became very well structured and led to some of the countryside features that we see today: field sizes and shapes by the side of roads; houses along the way; drinking places for both humans and livestock by the side of roads but away from villages; and so on.  Perhaps next month we’ll talk more about these, eh?

But Huw is also lucky I suppose in that the buyer of The Farm livestock that he sells from The Farm always pays him the agreed amount by cheque, because in the days when drovers took a farmers’ stock to a market mainly in towns and cities perhaps 100 or 200 miles away, money transactions were always in cash.  Indeed, herds of cattle from South-West Wales travelled with drovers towards Hereford and Gloucester up the Tywi Valley and herds from South Cardiganshire reached Llandovery through Llanybydder and Llansawel.  And because the farmers selling the cattle would not usually walk with their stock and stayed at home, the drovers had the responsibility of selling the cattle and – in an era of cash money – would return to Wales carrying large amounts of cash that made them targets for bandits and highwaymen.   With sometimes 1,000 cattle being driven by road to these markets in one bunch, the drovers sometimes carried huge amounts of cash.  So much so that in 1799, David Jones – a local man and himself a former successful drover – started the Banc yr Eidion Ddu in Stone Street, Llandovery – the Bank of the Black Ox – so that drovers could deposit the cash from sales there rather than carry it all the way home.  This bank was perhaps the most successful private bank in Carmarthenshire at the time and had several branches until its sale to Lloyds Bank in 1909, which even then continued to use the original bank notes with the engraving of a Black Ox on them!  Don’t forget that the Black Ox is the same breed as the Welsh Black cattle that Huw manages on The Farm!

Then the Railways came! The Chepstow to Swansea railway was opened in 1850 and then from Swansea to Carmarthen in 1852 and from Carmarthen to Haverfordwest in 1854, the latter two being single track only.  Over the next 10 years or so these single-track sections were upgraded and there were numerous branch tracks established by independent railways.  Almost all of the rationale to establish railways in South Wales was for the extraction and export of minerals and steel.

But with this coming of the railways in South Wales, animals for market also went by train; often linking with English railway lines and heading for Smithfield Market that was already the main slaughter and sales outlet for the City of London. This type of traffic was a good income for the railways, with their mass or bulk transport facilities.

In the early twentieth century, livestock haulage by road was slow in starting, mainly because the lorries of the time were small and couldn’t compete with the railways. However, by the 1930s larger and stronger lorries were available and local livestock haulage became a viable proposition, by the 1980s almost entirely taking over from the railways.

Although individual farmers now often take their livestock to market or slaughterhouse in a trailer on the back of their Land Rover or SUV, most livestock haulage for any distance was usually done with a basic platform lorry and a livestock container that could be bolted or clamped onto the lorry’s flat bed. These could be anything from home-built to coach-built types by specialist builders. The construction was usually in hardwood, until the coming of steel and aluminium. In more recent times, much larger and more powerful vehicles have evolved to cater for animal welfare and long driving times with huge articulated lorries now carrying more than 600 ewes in a journey to the market – in UK or overseas.  It’s quite a change over the last 200 years isn’t it – from walking stock to market, then railways and now cattle trucks – wonder what next eh?  More about drovers, drove roads and their effect on the countryside in later months, perhaps?

LOOKING FORWARD as ‘they’ have started pushing through the soil surface, especially in those shady places on woodland edges. Who or what are ‘they’?  Well, ‘they’ are those plants that mean rather a lot to us with their first appearance – often just as leaf tips appearing above ground – giving perhaps the earliest indications of longer and warmer days to come, eh?

Yes, ‘they’ are Snowdrops, Daffodils, Crocuses [or should that be Croci?] and Hyacinths. Well there’s a poem isn’t there, that tells us about one of these plants? It’s perhaps William Wordsworth’s most famous poems that was written in the early 1800s; after walking in the Lake District with his sister Dorothy:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Daffodils were introduced to Britain by the Romans who thought that the sap had healing powers, although actually the sap has crystals that can cause skin irritation! In fact, both bulbs and leaves contain the alkaloid poison lycorine’ so it’s OK to admire them, but don’t eat them will you, as if do you may become dizzy, with abdominal pain and upset, and occasionally, convulsions. As with so many things in life, whether Tigers, Elephants, Badgers and Hemlock Water Dropwort, daffodils are beautiful at a distance, eh!

Because they are so loved in our gardens, the plant breeders have been very active and there are more than 13,000 recognised varieties of Common Daffodil and other members of the Narcissus family. Native to woodlands and meadows in North Africa and Southern Europe, they were introduced into Northern Europe, UK and to the US where they have successfully colonised wild places.

Incidentally, the name ‘Narcissus’ comes from Greek mythology and explains how a nymph called Echo fell in love with a young Greek named Narcissus, but he told her to leave him alone. Heartbroken, she lived alone until nothing but an ‘echo’ of her remained. Nemesis, the God of Revenge, heard the story and lured Narcissus to a pool. Narcissus, who was very handsome and quite taken with himself, saw his reflection in the pool and, as he leaned over to admire himself better, fell in and drowned. He turned into the flower we know now as Narcissus. You probably all knew about that anyway, didn’t you?

But do you know about the Tenby Daffodil? This is a sub-species of Narcissus pseudonarcissus also known as the Wild Daffodil or Lent Lily and is lemon in colour, only 30 cm in height, is widely distributed growing in well-drained soils in partial shade and is the National Emblem of Wales. This seems a bit confusing as the Leek is also regarded as a National Emblem. But then Daffodil in Welsh is ‘cenhinen Bedr’ or Peter’s Leek.

We often talk a bit about the weather don’t we, and how it influences how and what farmers can do with their livestock and crops and when they can do it as well. Farmers have always wanted to know in advance what the weather will be and have used their own experiences to predict the future. The weather in November and December has often been a favourite ‘prognosticator’ for the coming months of the year. That’s a good word – prognosticator – isn’t it; meaning:

‘ a person or information that can foretell the future from events and happenings in the past or present.’

Mind you, can’t remember the last time seeing that word used seriously!

Anyway – according to John Aubrey, in his ‘Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme’[17] -there’s an ancient Welsh proverb:

‘Haf hyd galen, gaeaf hyd Fai’

‘Summer till the New Year; Winter till May’

or, as John Aubrey himself translated it in 1687:

‘That is, if it be somerly weather till the Kalends of January, it will be winterly weather to the Kalends of May’.

OK, so what are Kalends? Well a Kalend is the first day of each month of the 12-month Roman calendar that we use, and it gives rise to the English word CALENDAR and Welsh word CALENDR. But perhaps a more understandable translation of this proverb might be:

‘Fine weather until end-December means bad weather until the beginning of May’

Seems to relate to the balance of life really, although no definitive reference for this last really easy translation can be found; other than by:

Beeden, P. [ 20 January 2019]

Anyway, we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we!

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[1] Improved grass is usually swards of Perennial or Italian Ryegrass with Clover and that has received inorganic ‘bag’ fertilizer during the growing season.

[2] Food for Maintenance is described as just enough food to contain sufficient energy, protein and nutrients for livestock to maintain their existing weight and body condition.   But if the livestock are young and growing, pregnant or producing milk either for a calf or lamb to drink or the dairy farmer to sell, then the food given to the livestock must be increased: this is food both to Maintain body condition and to enable Production as well.

[3] Refraction is the bending of a light or sound wave, or the way the light bends when entering the eye to form an image on the retina. An example of refraction is the bending of the sun’s rays as they enter raindrops, forming a rainbow.

[4] Spraint or scat is the dung of the otter and is usually identified by smell and is known for distinct aromas; described as ranging from freshly mown hay to putrefied fish! Otter spraints are black and slimy, 3–10 cm (1–4 in) long and deposited in groups of up to four in prominent locations above water levels near water. They contain scales, shells and bones of water creatures.

[5] James Williams’ [1939-2014] father was Huntsman of the Kendal & District Otterhounds and he grew up with dogs, hunting, the countryside and fishing, becoming Joint Master of Otterhounds. Teaching English at Taunton School, James became a hugely welcome presence at talks, walks and was always there to help conservation efforts, being involved in the founding of the Somerset Otter Group and The Otter Trust.

[6]stew pond or stew is a fish pond used to store live fish. During the Middle Ages, stews were often attached to monasteries, to supply fish over the winter.

[7] In early 1914, Williamson [1895-1977] volunteered as a rifleman, served on the Western Front, trained as a machine gunner, returned to the front line, was gassed and rated unfit for active duty, adjutant in Felixstowe, volunteered for Air Force and Indian Army but rejected, involved in demobilising others and was himself discharged in late-1919.   Williamson became disgusted with what he considered to be the pointlessness of the war, blaming its cause on greed and bigotry. He became determined that Germany and Britain should never go to war again. Williamson had visited Germany in 1935 and was impressed by the Hitler Youth movement, whose healthy outlook on life he compared favourably with the sickly youth of the London slums. He was powerfully influenced by the camaraderie that he had experienced in the trenches, and what he saw as the bonds of kinship that existed between ordinary British and German soldiers.

[8] Steer – castrated male animal over one year of age. Store Cattle – animals for beef which could be male or female that have been reared on one or more farms, and then are sold, either to dealers or other farmers. They are bought for finishing until ready for slaughter, normally well-grown animals of up to two years of age.

[9] Carmarthen County Council took over the Estate in the 1940s and converted it into 7 tenanted dairy farms as part of a county smallholder programme.

[10] The first stage of brewing involves the steeping of malted barley in hot water to extract soluble sugars. The resulting sugary liquid is drained off to be fermented into beer leaving a residue known as Brewer Grains.

[11] When milk coagulates, the protein casein is the curd, while the protein whey is the liquid. One of the primary differences between casein and whey is their rate of digestion.  Whey digests quickly, while casein takes longer; meaning that casein provides more overall protein to our muscles.  The milk of most mammal species has 3 or 4 casein proteins; these different caseins are distinct molecules but are similar in structure. All other proteins found in milk are grouped together under the name of whey proteins. The major whey proteins in cow milk are beta-lactoglobulin and alpha-lactalbumin – catchy little names aren’t they!

[12] There are many hundreds – perhaps thousands – of Tea cultivars [varieties] that enable tea production across a range of climates and weather conditions. Tea is even grown commercially in UK – Cornwall and Scotland! It needs a deep, acid and well-drained soil with at least 40 inches [100cm] of rain each year.

[13] The fall of Idi Amin and his flight to Saudi Arabia was followed by disputed elections and the Uganda Bush War, a civil war that ended in 1986 and fought between rivals for the presidency.

[14] A term coined by Herbert Spencer in 1864 after reading Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin of the Species’ and his description of ‘natural selection’.

[15] Allegedly, Thomas Brocklehurst, a Victorian banker who lived at Henbury Park in Cheshire, has a lot to answer for! In 1876, he decided to release into the wild a pair of grey squirrels he had brought back with him from a business trip to America. Other landowners, viewing the non-native species as a fashionable garden novelty, soon followed suit. There are now up to 5 million greys in UK!

[16] Once a very common carnivore in UK, the Pine Marten is known to favour Grey Squirrel as prey but until recently at least, have been restricted to remote areas in Wales, but mainly in Scotland.  But in areas where Pine Marten populations have increased in recent years, Grey Squirrel numbers are reported to have decreased.

[17] The Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme was the Englishman Aubrey’s collection of material on customs, traditions, ceremonies, beliefs, old wives’ tales and rhymes – or what today would be termed folklore. It was compiled over many years, but written up between 1687 and 1689.