Our milk tanker turned up-more than can be said for fuel delivery

ARCTIC conditions again as the temperature fell to -11 on Friday night, preparing the ground for the snow on Saturday morning. I was picking Elin up from Heathrow airport at 5.30am, her flight was an hour late, and eventually we all piled in the car and sped for home before the snow arrived.

The M25 was fine, but by the time we turned down the A3 it was snowing heavily, and in the 15 minutes it took to reach Milford, we were down to a single track on the dual carriageway.

The minor roads got progressively worse and we only just made it as four inches of snow had fallen by the time we got to the farm. A bit different to Sydney!

The Bio-digester dislikes hard frost and it is a real pain to say the least. It was playing up with the feeding system by 9pm on Friday and I managed to fix it, and get it going again. By 10.30pm I had gone to bed, but Ian had been texted and had come over.

He was here all night, as the valves were freezing and he had to heat them on the hour, every hour so that they would open and shut for the feeding system to work.

The sensors which control the substrate levels in the towers then started to malfunction at about 3am, threatening to pump vast quantities of substrate out of the towers as they thought there was 13 meters of substrate in an 8 meter tower.

n After returning from Heathrow, I spent the next three hours with Gwenan thawing out the calf feeding robot. Our local plummer had lagged all the pipes after the last cold spell, but the low temperature and the wind chill had frozen it all up anyway. We had to remove all the lagging in order to thaw out all the pipes, which of course took ages. We did eventually get it all going, station by station and the calves were very happy indeed. The lads lost an hour in the morning thawing out the milking parlour which froze up for the first time this winter, such was the wind chill.

All our water troughs were frozen, but we got them going fairly quickly, as the cows keep them running most of the time, as they are constantly drinking, although as we now keep fewer cows in each shed, the temperature is lower and the demand is not as great on the drinking troughs.

There’s always a down side. Plenty of salt was needed around the yards again, to make them safe for men, cows and machines, and not too much hosing water around in these freezing conditions. Better to leave a bit of dirt than have a broken leg.

n The milk tanker turned up as usual on the Saturday night, which was again a great effort. More than can be said for fuel companies. I am not alone in questioning the way fuel companies go about their business.

At the best of times, one is lucky to get decent service, but at the mere hint of winter, never mind winter weather, they become less helpful, and less dependable. Not only that, but the domestic fuel price has increased by 60 per cent in the last couple of weeks- supply and demand is the answer if you ask for an explanation. Taking advantage is a better way of putting it, and this sort of poor service and extortion should not be ignored by the authorities.

Farmers are being told by buying groups that road diesel is cheaper at the pumps than they can buy it in bulk for farm tanks.

The only other sector that behaves in this way is the concrete companies. Service is a word they are also yet to understand the meaning of.

They might let you know if they have decided not to deliver the load you ordered and prepared for several days ago. They might bring the right amount, they might not. The drivers want to leave almost before they have arrived, and generally speaking the whole experience is often best forgotten about.

Now that the cold weather has meant concrete deliveries are not being made due to the temperatures, heaven knows what sort of ordeal it will be getting the odd load in the New Year.

n Some of the pig farmers with outdoor pigs really struggle in this weather, with frozen water, and the axle on the feeding trailer freezing up in one instance, forcing the men to feed all the pigs manually. In horticulture, things are very difficult too, especially for brassica producers.

A total of 70 per cen t of the cauliflower crop ready for harvest has been wiped out by the very cold weather, and there is now a shortage of cauliflower in the lead up to Christmas.

Any attempt to prolong the soft fruit season in poly-tunnels has been knocked on the head, and other protected crops are needing huge amounts of heating which is costly.

Food is in short supply in some of the shops in South Wales, as the weather has restricted deliveries. People buy a bit more, just in case and before we know where we are, there is a shortage, with bare shelves. It does not take long to expose the very sophisticated, but ultimately fragile system of ‘just in time’ delivery.

It amuses me when they say on the news that there might be a shortage of fuel or food, but not to panic. All it takes is for everyone to take a little more ‘just in case’ for that shortage to become acute, and real. It’s akin to Basil Fawlty shouting ‘Don’t panic’!

Poinsettia I am reliably informed is the quintessential plant of the festive season, and I thought a few comments were in order. People across Europe count it as in the top 5 most evocative symbols of Christmas.

You will see them everywhere in the shops, and there are plenty of British grown ones, which will be labeled as such. Poinsettias were first bred in Europe in the 1950’s as houseplants, requiring shorter days to bloom and attain their colour; they quickly became associated with winter, Christmas and Christmas decoration.

In their native Mexico (turkeys and poinsettias!) they are known as ‘flores de noche buena’, the flower of Christmas Eve.

In France, they are known as ‘etoile d’amour’, the love star, and according to legend, the Aztecs took a similar line, believing the poinsettia were moistened with the blood of an Aztec goddess who died of a broken heart.

May I wish all our readers a Merry Christmas. Don’t overdo it, and careful on that snow and ice!