Family Life With The Ospreys


The Glaslyn Ospreys are now proud parents to three chicks, the second chick was born on Thursday 14 May at 6.10am and the third chick was seen at 5.42am Sunday 17 May.

The recent stormy weather is a cause of concern with some twigs been blown off the nest early this morning (Monday 18 May), however the chicks are safe and well and the mother is doing an excellent job of mantling the chicks to protect them from the elements.

Mantling is one of the vital roles of the mother, if the chicks get wet and cold their body temperature will drop and they become vulnerable, they will need to keep dry and warm at this stage to ensure their successful growth.

The father is also doing his bit and working hard to catch local trout from the estuary down in Porthmadog to feed the chicks. He has been seen bringing between four and five fish to the nest every day, this will help the growth and development of the chicks and in six weeks they will start to learn the basics of flying.

Geraint Williams of The RSPB

Royal Welsh, Small Holder and Garden Festival

Lamas at the Royal Welsh Small Holders Fair

We escaped from the farm last week to go to the ‘Small Holders Fair’ which is held every year in Builth Wells on the Royal Welsh Show ground. We don’t get a chance to go to the Royal welsh itself as it’s held in late July. A busy time for us. So the Small Holders Fair provides a welcome alternative.

It’s a great fair and I can highly recommend it. We loved looking at all the pedigree sheep cows and pigs, but our favorites this year were the Alpacas. Very cuddly. I was also tempted into the poultry auction which was being held on the day we were there. 30 minutes and a couple of nods of the head later I was the proud owner of 5 Quail hens. I wasn’t entirely sure how much I paid when the hammer went down. So I was relieved to find that my winning bid was £5 each. Bargin! We managed the journey home with the help of a cardboard box. But at 11pm I was still putting the finishing touches on a hastily constructed coup.

I think the design worked quite well and would probably also suit two or three hens. So I’ve made a note of the steps I took as well as the rough sketches in case anyone would like to copy them. I’m sure the design can be improved on, but it might help as a starting point for people.

Chicken Coup Build Instructions >>

Quail From the Small Holders Fair in Builth Wells

Troy and Gabriella, Two Welsh Harlequin Ducks

Welsh Harlequin Ducks, Troy and Gabriella

We have two new arrivals at the farm. A pair of Welsh Harlequin Ducks. I let the children choose their names. Hoping they might come up with something traditional and welsh sounding. Rhiannon and Llywelyn perhaps. They quickly settled for Troy and Gabriella of course. Never mind. According to Wickipedia, the breed was first established back in the 1940’s by a farmer from Criccieth which is nice as Criccieth is only 20 miles up the road from us.

Anyway, they seem to have settled in well. Trotting quite happily to the stream every morning and returning promptly to their coup at dusk. The female however, is only laying occasional at this stage. I’ll keep you informed.

Our border collie, Dell, scrutinizes the new arrivals

Upland Escapes

Upland Escapes

We’re very proud that ‘Upland Escapes’ have selected us as one of their accommodation providers for their packaged walking holidays. Upland Escapes, founded in 2005, offer flexible and guided walking holidays for their clients. With established destinations in places such as the Austrian Alps the French Pyrenees and Grand Canaria they were keen to establish another base in Snowdonia.

It’s particularly pleasing that such experienced walking experts considered the mountains at our back door would offer the best walking experience to their clients. In turn, we’re very impressed by the package they offer. Thoroughly researched guided walks combined with gourmet picnics and our accommodation of course. Best of all they’ve asked Sheena and Gary, a local couple, to act as their guides or ‘upland managers’. You couldn’t hope to meet two nicer people.

Mountain landscapes and miles of sandy of beach are a rare combination destined to make the soul sing. The Rhinog Mountains are a secret wilderness of rock, heather and grassland, cut by streams and dotted with lakes. Upland Escapes

Planning the next walk

Dell, by James Nash

Dell by James NashDell, our border collie continues to be a favorite of many of our guests. If I’m digging in the garden however, she has a slightly annoying habit of carefully placing a stick exactly at the the point where I’m about to sink my spade. I usually throw it to one side slightly annoyed. But this is exactly what she wants naturally. She tears off to fetch it before carefully placing it at the nose of my spade once again.

This great sketch was drawn by James Nash, one of our guests over the Easter holidays.

Sowing the Seeds

Brocoli, Early Purple Sprouting

I’ve been busy putting some seeds down again this year. Nothing too exiting at the moment. I’m hoping that it’ll be ok to use some of the seed that I have left over from last year as well as a couple of new verities I’ve bought online. We’ll soon find out I guess. Unfortunately I never organized a proper diary to record what I did last spring. I did scribble notes on various pieces of paper but never really gathered them all together. So one of the new toys I bought over the winter was a proper label printer. I bought the Brother GL-200 Garden Label Printer, £24.95, which can automatically print the date on each label. I’m very pleased with it. Every time I do something in the garden I make one label for the marker in the ground and stick a second label on a plank which I’ve screwed to the greenhouse door. The plan being that the plank will give me a diary that I can ponder over next year.

Label PrinterI’ve also invested in an automatic watering system. The tomatoes grown in the greenhouse were a big success last summer. Popular with our children and the B&B guests. So I’ve added a second bed to the greenhouse so we can grow some more along side the peppers and aubergines. The automatic watering will hopefully make life a little easier during our busy summer months. One of the disappointments of last year was some of the longer root vegetables. Parsnips and carrots. I think it was a combination of starting the seedlings in guttering and the fact that there are just too many stones in the soil in our raised beds. In hindsight I should have put better or sieved soil in the beds, but it seems like to much effort to do much about it now. I’m intending however to start the seedling off in some old toilet roll tubes filled with compost. I’ll transplant them, tube an all, into the ground when ready. Again, we’ll wait and see if this helps.

I’m also trying to be more realistic about what we as a family will actually end up eating. The artichokes that I grew last year ended up being left in the fridge. We didn’t really know what to do with them. The beetroot was another crop that grew well but wasn’t so popular on the dinner table. I know we should work on new recopies etc, but concentrating on veg that we know how to cook makes sense for now.

Red Kites

Red Kite

A pair of Red Kites seem to be regulatr visitors to the farm these days. We see them most freequently in the morning hovering over the fields next to the house. They’re easily distinguished from our resident Buzzards by their forked tails, giving them their welsh name “Boda Wennol” or Swallow Hawk. The UK Red Kite population was, at one stage, reduced to 10 breeding pairs in remote locations in Mid Wales. Their reappearance at Byrdir is testament to the success of the conservation efforts of many local people there.

Dry Stone Wall Building

Dry Stone Wall Building

Spent a very pleasant afternoon in the sunshine yesterday repairing a hole, or ‘bwlch’ in welsh, in one of the miles of dry stone walls we have here on the farm. Snowdonia is covered with a network of dry stone walls dividing farms into separate fields.

Many of the stone walls here at Byrdir are especially impressive as the farm used to be used to grow crops for a nearby estate called Gors Y Gedol. The crops were of particular value naturally and had to be well defended from the sheep that were farmed in the surrounding fields. So our walls are slightly taller than most and are particularly well built on their outer faces.

If anybody fancies a go at dry stone building by the way, please let me know when you book and we’d be more than happy to show you the basics in exchange for your help.

Dowling Family Pics

Llechwedd slate caverns in Bleuna FfestiniogWhite Water Rafting on Afon TrywerynHalf way up the \'Miners Track\' fron Pen y Pass on the way to the summit of SnowdonWindsurfing on Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake)

Pictures of going down into deep slate mines, white water rafting, part way up miner’s path on way to top of Snowdon, sailing and windsurfing at Bala.
Off to our local resevoir, Bewl Water, next week as kids hooked on windsurfing now – doing week course as a follow up to their time in Wales.
Hope all well with you, Louise and girls.

Gods, Governments and Tescos

Eirlys and some of the calves. Foel Ddu and cwn bychan in the background.

Who’d be a farmer? Not me, perhaps. The problem with farming, in this small part of North Wales at least, is that so much of it is out of our hands. We seem to live and die by the will of the gods, governments and Tesco.

BSE, foot and mouth, bird flu, blue tongue; all of them have affected or will potentially affect our farm’s profitability. But none of these problems, as far as I can see, were of our doing. The foot and mouth scare did not affect us directly but the restrictions on movements and more importantly the loss in consumer confidence affected the profits of every beef farmer. But I’d argue that the problem was in now way a result of mismanagement by us or any other small farmer. Indeed, the strain of Foot and Mouth found at a Surrey Farm in 2007 was a strain used in vaccines and not usually found in animals. It was a strain that was being used at nearby Institute for Animal Health however. But no connection has been proved of course.

The emergence of BSE or mad cow disease has been attributed to British cattle feed producers using animal bi products in their feed, or nuts as we call them. 5 years ago I’m not sure I’d have been certain what an animal byproduct was let alone whether it was in the nuts we were giving our cows every winter. We buy cattle feed from the local agricultural suppliers and have done for decades. There’s a choice of two different brands, one in a green bag, one in a brown bag. That’s it, no ‘without animal bi products’ option, no ‘will not cause BSE’ option. As small farmers are we really expected to research the practices of the feed producers and how they manufacture their products? To date 179,000 cattle have been infected and 4.4 million slaughtered. Variant CJD has killed 163 people in Britain, and 37 elsewhere. “Brown bag or green bag Mr. Small Farmer?”

The bluetongue virus is the latest terror on the horizon. Down to global warming and migrating midges this time. But don’t worry, the kind people at the Institute of Animal Health in Surrey are working on a vaccine. God help us.

And what ever happened to bird flu. I thought H5N1 was going to kill us all. Perhaps the tabloids will get back to reporting the immanent extinction of the human race once the latest episode of Big Brother is over. But is bird flu our fault? Other than training our two chickens to run for cover if they see migrating geese what else were we supposed to do? In case you are worried however, the feared pandemic is now less likely than previously believed. It’s because our glycans are umbrella shaped and not cone shaped apparently. But I guess that doesn’t sell newspapers.

The small farmer is also vulnerable to the wills and whimsies of our leaders in Brussels. Our farm depends on subsidies. Naturally, there are many arguments against these hand outs and I often find it hard to justify receiving them. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was born out of our insecurities following the Second World War and I guess the initial principles set out at that time still make sense.

1. to increase productivity, by promoting technical progress and ensuring the optimum use of the factors of production, in particular labour;
2. to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural Community;
3. to stabilise markets;
4. to secure availability of supplies;
5. to provide consumers with food at reasonable prices.
1957 Treaty of Rome

We’ve experienced subsidies based on production, livestock count, fixed price and quotas, acreage, environmental land management, specific improvement projects and so on. All carefully thought out no doubt, but it’s the inconsistency which is unbearable. The current system, ‘single farm payment’, offers a fixed amount of cash based on historic figures of livestock and land made in 2005. But this structure is due to be revised in 2013 making it very difficult to make any long term financial decisions and investments.

As small farmers in the UK it’s also questionable how much we actually benefit from these subsidies. The excellent website reports how in the UK, 80% of payments go to the top 28% of farmers. A little better than the average EU 80-20 split. These figures look even worse from the other end of the scale where the bottom 70% of farmers share just 8% of the money. Added to this the UK only receives 9% of EU CAP spending compared to France’s 22% and Germany and Spain’s 13% each. If you consider that these large farms in other European countries are our competitors, perhaps we’d be better off with out the subsidies. But it’s like a drug, we’re addicted, we flinch at the inclinations of our dealer and the thought of going cold turkey terrifies us.

Then there’s Tescos. I know Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco’s chief executive isn’t evil. I’m sure he has good and high morals. As does the boss of Asda, Morissons and Safway no doubt. But it’s the corporate domination of our food supply that I object to. No matter what their advertising slogans might say, their overriding responsibility is to their shareholders. Faceless investment organizations and pension funds, who in turn are only interested in the bottom line. “From where should we buy our products?” “How much should we pay our suppliers?” “What production methods should we insist on?” Their answers depend on how the bottom line is affected.

Some would argue that it’s up to the consumer to influence these decisions. To stop buying chickens that have been bred in appalling conditions or lamb that’s been flown from the other side of the world or meat produced in countries where health and safety is non existent. But the problem is we’ve been persuaded that food is a commodity, and the cheaper the better. We’ve been brainwashed by these corporations that price is the most important consideration when shopping for food. Every tv ad, billboard and flyer shouts out, “look how cheap our food is!”, “shop here for less!” etc. We don’t have this same preoccupation with other goods like cars, clothes or televisions however. Here, excellence is often an important consideration. Yet surely nothing influences our quality of life more than our health. And nothing influences our health more than the food we eat. I’m not preaching from on high by the way. I too tend to search out the cheapest food in the supermarket, have grown used to spending less than £3 for a chicken. And yet I just spent a small fortune on expensive sun glasses. What’s that about?

Perhaps we’d be more discerning if we knew exactly where our food came from, how it was produced and by whom. But again the dominance of supermarkets at the expense of smaller independent retailers has put a huge barrier between supplier and consumer. Unfortunately I’m skeptical of the various labels that have been devised to reassure us. Free range, organic, farm assured etc. What I’d really like is to know is that my tomatoes were grown by John and packed by his daughter Carys at their farm near where my cousin lives. And that the pork I eat was reared and butchered at Hill Top Farm near that hotel where we stayed last year. Things like that, but the corporate ethos and mass selling of the food we eat make this type of relationship impossible.

And my conclusion? No matter how hard we work, no matter how well we run our farm, no matter what decisions we make, ultimately, the gods, government and Tesco will decide our fate. But while they ponder, I will keep walking the fields, keep looking up at the mountains and down to the sea. Every day I will count my blessings that I live on a farm.

Louise and the girls leaning on a gate looking towards Braich and the Mawddach Estuary