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Hafod Cheese  Made by the Holden family and their herd of 75 Ayrshire cows on the home farm, Bwlchwernen Fawr, Wales' oldest organic dairy farm.

And they’re out! We survived another winter.

Today the sun shines down on the farm and it also shines in our hearts, the latter due to Jenna the vet finding no TB reactors in the pictured. This should mean that we are TB clear for another year. My goodness, I don’t think that I shall ever get used to the awful tension of the results day; with every animal passing under the vet’s calipers it feels like an ever enlarging axe hanging over each of our heads. I now need to lie down in a darkened room, or stare at a blank wall.

Our milking Welsh Black cow, the all wonderful Grassy Tail, met up with her old friend Bronwen plus two new friends Sarah and Katy. These three humans were our latest edition of visitors from That London, on a quarterly Hafod cheese selecting mission from Neal’s Yard Dairy. If you show Grassy Tail the slightest bit of affection, she’ll return it ten fold and so it was that everyone’s fingers were black with Welsh Black soot by the end of this post-bottle-of-late-afternoon-Burgundy, pre-dinner cow scratching session...a rite of passage for all visitors to Bwlchwernen.

Because one of our neighbours recently fell afoul of bovine TB, we have to retest our entire herd. I did my very best to imagine the worst possible day to do it, and I think I achieved it: high winds, rain and unseasonably cold! Here is Jenna the vet and Becky the boss slogging away in the elements while hidden in the shed is Melissa, pushing the animals up to the crush (the metal handling crate that you see Rosalie the heifer standing in). I find that rain is very good at making a stressful task even more stressful, particularly when it involves paper and trying to write on it. Farming: the eternal struggle! Results on Friday, when, regardless of weather, there will be either sunshine streaming through our very essence or it will be raining in our hearts and out of our eyes.

Here is a photo of Calfin the Ploughman, out in Elsanol field, performing this field’s primary cultivation of the year. He’s turning the top soil to bury last year’s cereal and pea stubbles (and also some farmyard manure), all of which will rot down and feed the soil and help to maintain the all-important soil structure. Calfin will return a week or so later, when he will have transformed himself into Calfin the Powerharrowman, returning to perform Elsanol’s secondary cultivation: to break-up the ploughed clods of soil to create a finely tilthed seedbed for the next crop to be drilled into. This year, Elsanol will have two different crops grown in it – the 1st, barley and peas, will be short lived as it is to be grown to be cut as a wholecrop silage. The 2nd crop, sown into the same seedbed a week or so after the barley and peas are sown, will be a 17-species herbal grass ley. About a month after the barley and peas are cut in July, the herbal grass ley will take over and grow up through the previous crop’s stubbles. By late August this herbal ley will be ready to be grazed by the cows and then, come 2019, the field will be used as a silage field, producing the cows’ winter forage for several years to come. When this ley loses productivity, anything from 5 to 8 years from now, Calfin will return to plough Elsanol and it will have returned to the top of Bwlchwernen Fawr’s crop rotation cycle and thus be due two years of oats, peas and barley grown for the seeds for milling and feeding in the milking parlour, while the cereal and pea straw will be used as a very sweet-scented bedding. Unless climate change decides to modify things for us between now and then, in which case Elsanol will have become a vineyard or a rice paddy or a desolate appalling tundra filled with wolves and bears, in which case, I’ll see you in a decade when I’ll be one of the following: very drunk or very wet or very cold and scared of the wolves and the bears.

I often find myself attempting to trace cow families in the herd at Bwlchwernen, especially when a heifer has her first calf and so enters her first lactation and goes from being a member of the youngstock to being a member of the milking herd. There was the initial small herd of Ayrshires that came to the farm when Patrick started farming here back in the early 1970s – a herd made up of cows bought from farms in Scotland and East Sussex. Usually I can only go back so far with the internet records before I hit an eBrickwall. However, with a very lovely heifer calving down, I had some luck when I discovered a cow that had a different herd name – Pimhill Jennifer 23, born 17th October 1985. If she had been born at Bwlchwernen, she would have been Thor Jennifer, not Pimhill. I discussed this matter with Patrick and he said that he must have bought Jennifer 23 at a dairy heifer sale in Cirencester in the 1980s. Of particular personal interest is the Pimhill herd name, because I eat Pimhill porridge. It turns out that they are one in the same Pimhill of Shropshire. To think! If Pimhill produced honey then I should need nothing more in life: porridge oats, milk, honey and delightful heifers called Jennifer. So there we are then, the recent heifer that calved down is called Jennifer, the great, great granddaughter of Pimhill Jennifer 23. Possibly even more remarkable is that over 10.95% of the current milking herd here is made up of Jennifer 23’s progeny. So here is the latest Jennifer milker with her tiny, tiny, tiny white heifer calf, like some beautiful white faun, the daughter of the White Stag of legend, messenger from the Celtic Otherworld and the hunting grounds of Arawn.

My last two posts were all about cheese – Hafod the very young to Hafod the very old. But today, something that we can’t do without here and without it there would be no Hafod cheese. Yes that’s right: cow urine, cow faeces and the many galaxies of microbes that occupy these substances. With these three heroes combined - along with the little addition of their friends rain water and whey - they become the miasma that is Bwlchwernen slurry. Slurry feeds our soil, which then feeds the plants we grow for the cows to eat and in return they give us the milk to feed ourselves and some of you out there too. Being a farm that practices organic agriculture, we wouldn’t get very far trying to grow anything without this stuff, having no recourse to manmade fertilisers. Our other great helpers are the soil fertility building crops such as clovers and peas and very occasionally things like lime and rock phosphate, but more on those anon. In this photo, taken at dawn this morning, you can see two of our tractors stirring and mixing the slurry, getting it ready for another day of spreading by the men of contractor Dafydd of Llanybydder. And what a beautiful day it is to perfume the sweet spring air with the heady scents of slurry. It truly is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Yesterday I wrote about Jos, Tess and I snuffling about with an elderly Hafod the day before yesterday. Well, yesterday we had the honour of sampling the first of the raw milk Hafods to be cut into. Following the TB all clear last summer, we turned the pasteuriser off to the thrilling din of an ecstatic fanfare sounded by all the Crumhorns and Sackbuts of Ceredigion, and raw milk Hafod making resumed after one year of pasteurising. The cheese that was cut yesterday was a multiple ironed cheese (which means it had lots of core samples taken out of it) made at the end of August. The pictured is my wedge from it. Do you like the shadow I inadvertently caught in the photo, cast over the thin end of the wedge? The shadow represents the constant threat of bovine TB that hangs over our cows’ lives and our own mental health (as you can no doubt tell, I did not only GCSE but also A-level Art, so I am good at interpreting visual curiosities). Anyway, we were all really quite impressed with this raw Hafod. Still a baby of a cheese at only seven and a half months old, it had a beautiful curdy texture, soft and buttery but with a very pleasing bite. The initial flavour is very much milky and fresh but there is an undercurrent of savoury beef broth that will grow as it approaches maturity. That savoury beef brothiness is a hallmark of the raw milk Hafods, so to taste it was like greeting an old friend who had returned after a period of exile.

Yesterday, while lurking amidst the cheese dairy bins, searching for gleanings as I often do, I got to chatting to Tess and Jos. They were cutting up a seriously old Hafod (made in December 2015) that had somehow slipped through the floorboards of time. Although seriously cheese mite riddled (see photo), there was still a lot of non-damaged cheese in there (see photo), so it was being cut-up for cooking cheese (see photo). It must be the oldest Hafod I have eaten and it was really quite startlingly good, perhaps it was the surprise of my gums not beginning to bleed, which often happens when eating much-too-old cheddar. Of course completely unlike the usual 9 to 12 month old Hafods, with seemingly all of its rich savoury bass notes turned up to fortissimo, this Hafod was a purple-faced, morbidly obese Madeira-swilling Old Money extrovert, draped in the finest Hunstman of Savile Row tweeds, sitting by a roaring open fire in his darkened library, getting dewy eyed over memories of a youth misspent attempting a singing career in provincial Bavarian opera houses. As, I said, this was a very different cheese from the usual, more youthful Hafods. No, they want to start a design agency. In Wapping. But they'll learn.

I tell you! It was an ill wind that blew through Bwlchwernen Fawr today. First, it was that usually placid Andrea tearing a milking parlour stall gate off its hinges in an outrageous show of defiance. Then, while bedding the cow shed before this afternoon’s milking, for the second time this day the opening notes of Richard Strauss’ opera Elektra thundered away on my Mental Jukebox (a musical work that always sounds itself in my head when the cows commit some Unfathomable Sin). Elektra was invoked by the sight of fighting cows springing open the collecting yard gates which resulted in a rapidly dispersing milking herd as they sprinted off to an unexpectedly early spring turnout. Now, if I had been farm alone, I would have waved the cows goodbye as they made their way down the hill to forge a new life in the valley, making merry and slaying the villagers. I would have then proceeded to the emergency glass box in the milking parlour office, broken the glass and removed the Nebuchadnezzar of Knob Creek and carton of 200 Marlboro reds and laid myself down, waiting for the Sun Ships to spirit me away to one of those cowless Exoplanets one reads so much about in Scientific American. Fortunately, Patrick and Becky were on hand to join the chase and it was a hot, breathless, confused herd of cows who were corralled once more in the collecting yard, having only run around in a field of cereal stubbles causing minimal damage. The funny thing is, as the three of us gave chase, my mental jukebox rather curiously lurched into Michael Jackson’s song ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’. Of course Michael Jackson scholars will tell you that Jackson wrote the song about holidaying in Ceredigion and chasing cows on a Sunday afternoon in spring before going into the cottage to eat Hafod cheese and supping local ale, so it’s hardly a surprise that it jumped into my mind. Nevertheless, I sought to bring balance to the afternoon by playing during the milking Leonard Bernstein’s very rousing reading of his very own operetta Candide, wiping a tear or two from my eye over the finale ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ as I washed the parlour down at the day’s close.

The weather of 2016 must have been incredible (as a general rule, I cannot remember anything beyond this morning’s milking) because we made so much haylage for the cows – both good stuff and not so good stuff. We made so much that we even had a surplus of good stuff, which Patrick wisely had us keep back for a rainy day, as opposed to just feeding it as buffer feed when we turned the cows out in spring 2017. It has been known for some of us to at times quietly curse Patrick’s profound Hoarding Spirit, but not today! I was filled with Hoarding Spirit song as I hit those vintage 2016 bales of red clover haylage this morning. As you can see in the photo, the cows are enjoying this nearly two year old feed a great deal. Much like the end of US Presidential election TV adverts (for example: “My name is Abraham Lincoln and I approve this message”) this photo is stating loudly and clearly: “My name is Grassy Tail, and my name is Carrot, and we approve this vintage haylage”.

At last! Some kind of feeling of Spring being in the air! Today, I even went for a walk to search for some evidence of grass growth. There is a bit of life in the field I took this photo in – Golden Chain. Although I would expect something happening in here since it was reseeded with a herbal grass mix last year and so the little herbal grass beasts will still be youthful and energetic and wanting to please their human and bovine masters with their exuberances. Still, looking to the next field - the dastardly Beeches - the sight of those rushes is like gravel in my eyes. But then the distant mountains resoothe those bleeding, assaulted eyes. I would like to say that this is Spring finally Sprung and that we will live happily ever after, but my weather app tells me that the weather is going to stab us straight through the heart again tomorrow with terrible rainy spears.

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