REAL FARM IN WORK
Our search for a second farm stay led us to the Tyddyn Chambers B&B, and it was true to its advertising of a working cattle and sheep farm, with a feeder cattle operation of 300 head and 200 ewes. . Tyddyn Chambers, near the small town of Ruthin, sits on the edge of the Clwydian Range, a series of hills and mountains in North West Wales.
Tyddyn Chambers is a large two-storey farmhouse built in the last century, with an adjoining former outbuilding. It is owned and operated by Huw and Ella Williams.
Arriving in the farmyard, we were greeted by Huw, and he quickly introduced us to his brother-in-law and a contractor who had hitched his large Fendt tractor to a slurry tanker.
Huw is a sociable soul and has hardly been distracted by arranging the loan of his stock trailer to his brother-in-law while simultaneously introducing his entrepreneur and gleefully accusing him of becoming a millionaire at Huw’s expense. It was easy to see that the joke had been practiced for a long time and loved by all.
Huw’s brother-in-law is a part-time beef farmer and also works for the local council. Huw joked, “You know, leaning on the shovel along the side of the road.”
Williams’ feeder cattle are on the grass seasonally and housed during the winter months. They keep 300 heads – for a few days at their point of arrival.
Huw, who is a former dairy farmer, buys bob calves at the cattle auction in Ruthin. The calves have milking mothers (many Holsteins by their coat) and British Blue, Simmental and Limousin bulls. The more mature cattle in the yard had a lot of double musculature. The UK market is for lean beef rather than the marbling demanded by the North American market.
The ‘shed’ (barn) adjacent to the house is divided into enclosures by a steel fence and gates. It houses the youngest calves as well as mature cattle close to fattening. A cull Holstein cow nurses new calves, and Huw also supplements calves with replacement milk. The wet nurse serves until she dries up, then goes to the slaughterhouse, after which a new cull cow is bought at the cattle auction.
Calves are vaccinated against pneumonia upon arrival at Williams Farm.
âEver since they left the farm where they were born, they have been on trucks and mixed with other cattle as they were handled during the sale,â Huw said. âSo they’ve been exposed a lot and the inoculation gives them a chance to get used to our place. “
FEED THE CATTLE
Calves remain on replacement milk for 10 weeks. They are then weaned at a high protein producer mixed with rolled barley and offered straw of your choice until they are four to five months old. They then moved on to silage or grass grazing.
Huw said straw is best for calves until they are four or five months old, when their rumen is really working and they can handle the silage.
Backed by the free stall pens, there is a double aisle – a former free dairy stall – where 100 large cattle spend the winter. It is equipped with automatic scrapers to pour the manure into a liquid manure pit.
Observing a shed filled with high density baled straw and asking if the straw was produced on the farm, Huw said, âI am a rancher. I raise beef and sheep and rely on contractors to produce silage and hay, as well as to spread manure from our operations. We buy grain feed and straw.
Cattle over three months old come out onto 200 acres of pasture from April to early November weather permitting. Younger calves continue to receive high protein mixed feed while on pasture.
A large bunker silo contains the main feed in winter. Huw said the quality of his silage has not changed since the switch from dairy to beef cattle.
âHigh quality silage is just as important for beef production,â he said. âWe contract the silage and store it in the hopper, which is much more economical than baling silage. We reserve our contractor when we expect forages to be at their peak and then hope the weather is good for harvest and storage. This year, we have done well. We have very good quality. When the weather is not cooperating, we may have larger volume, but not so good quality. We always make baled silage, which we store near the shed and feed in sheds or to supplement pastures.
Huw said he raised steers and some females to the point that he described as “looking their best.” The cattle are sold at the Ruthin auction and bought by farmers who finish them with a fattening ration. The transportation of cattle to auction and the purchase of new calves continues throughout the year.
Questions about the auction resulted in an invitation to accompany the delivery of four animals the next morning.
The Williams sheep farm is operated on a separate rented farm. It contains 200 Suffolk crossbreed âmuleâ ewes. The term “mule” in British sheep farming refers to a cross between a lowland ram and a purebred mountain or mountain ewe.
Pregnant ewes are scanned in mid-November. All carrier twins or triplets receive protein supplements until lambing.
In mid-January, lambing begins indoors. The ewes and their lambs come out two to three days after lambing. The ewes are fed silage bales at lambing and continue to be fed forage outdoors for a few months until grazing begins.
After the farm tour, we met Ella, a warm and informative hostess.
The two-story house has been completely renovated and can accommodate eight people. Our bedroom, with en-suite bathroom, was tastefully decorated and afforded a splendid view of calf pastures and rolling countryside.
For our supper we were directed to a number of locations in Ruthin which has a central plaza, historic buildings, narrow winding streets, and plenty of dining establishments.
Border Collies greet visitors in the courtyard of Williams Farm, and at least one accompanies Huw as he works. He explained that one of their four dogs was for sale, and pointed out that a named Tess had mothered 24 puppies to date.
When asked if he trained the dogs, Huw replied, âGod, no! Sioned takes care of dog training.
Sioned (pronounced “Shon-ed”) and Llinos are daughters of the Williams. Sioned works in a veterinary practice in Ruthin and Llinos is a teacher and mother of two.
Sioned also helps Ella and Huw with lambing time and takes care of the farm when her parents go on vacation.
âIn the vet department, Sioned is the one who takes calls from breeders and tells vets where they need to go and what it is,â Huw said. âShe enjoys talking with the farmers and understands why they need the vet, and she enjoys the job very much. I think she will be the farmer when I stop.
For the early morning auction, I got a loan of Huw’s rubber boots and stood where he loaded four animals over 1000 pounds onto his Ifor Williams cattle trailer pulled by his pickup truck. Toyota Hilux. Cattle were easy to sort and load, with a Welsh rancher, Border Collie, and Canadian tourist strategically standing alongside.
Commenting on my difficulty driving the narrow lanes, Huw joked, “No worries, plenty of room for everyone,” as he used the full width of the twisty lane.
Driving in Wales is complicated by the fact that all road signs are in Welsh with the English translation seemingly an afterthought. They also make a point of not having a lot of road signs. Whatever the challenges of the journey, the Welsh are friendly and happy to help lost travelers find their way.
Huw said Ruthin was historically a market town and continues to be an important agricultural center, with equipment dealers, veterinarians and other agricultural services, in addition to the cattle auction.
The large cattle sales building was busy for our October 10 visit. A number of farmers in the area invested in the cattle auction when it was rebuilt about 25 years ago, and they now have stakes in the operation.
The fall sales will bring 50,000 sheep and 4,000 feeder cattle to the auction. The cattle sale we attended included 3,800 sheep (breeding and market) and 385 cattle. Most of the cattle come from within 30 miles of Ruthin.
Huw explained that auctioning cattle requires a lot of paperwork. He reserves specific animals before delivery to the sales barn. He said every animal needs a printed “passport”. The information includes identification numbers corresponding to the eartags and a history of farms and sales in which each animal has participated since birth.
The auction facility includes a cafe, which Huw says is “where all the real stuff is covered.”
A GOT FROM WALES
Back at Tyddyn Chambers, Ella announced that our traditional Welsh breakfast was being prepared.
The breakfast conversation revolved around family participation in choirs. In addition to learning the Welsh language in primary school, the tradition of choral singing is also an important part of the education system in Wales. For a taste of Welsh singing, Ella put on a CD with Huw in his barber quartet.
Our third farm was hosted by Ceinwen Nixon from Brynhir Farm in the community of Llandrindod Wells in central Wales. The Nixons operate a sheep and cattle farm. They have a guest room in their beautiful old stone farmhouse and also have a guesthouse nearby.
The Nixons were excellent hosts and suggested that we plan our next trip to Wales to coincide with the Royal Welsh Show, which takes place near their community in July. Unfortunately we had to return our rental car the next day so there was only a short time to see the farm and the neighborhood.
If a visit to the British Isles is in your plans, farm stays are a great way to see and interact with rural and farming communities. The prices are correct and the breakfasts are excellent.