Friday, 22 April 2011

Are our Cows on Grass - or on Grass?

Last year we made a video of our dairy cows going back out to grass after a winter indoors. It became the most popular of all the videos that we have put on Youtube. When I started telling friends that we were nearing that time of year again, Inga said ‘You must let people come and see this'.

Great idea, but David just scowled at me. Nothing in the farming calendar is totally fixed. What if we advertise it for a specific date and it rains? So we ended up doing it at very short notice. We checked the weather forecasts and decided on Wed 20th at 8.30am but only advertised it 2 days earlier.

When Helen and I met up first thing on Wednesday, she told me the story she’d heard the night before from another farmer - when they had let their cows out last year, one of their cows had died of a heart attack with all the sudden exertion. A moment of panic, what if lots of people turned up and a cow died – not good PR!

Amazingly over 30 people came. Lots of well kent faces at Cream o’ Galloway, as well as one family who had visited for the first time the day before when they had joined us on the Farm Tour. They enjoyed it so much, they decided to get up early to see the cows.

The cows did not disappoint. They bucked and reared. They roared and rolled. The weather was fantastic, in fact Helen and I couldn’t see what we were filming because of the reflection from the sun (how dare it).

I walked further up the field to get a wide shot of them all playing – and then I saw number 38. She was lying on her side, legs in the air - motionless, head flopped to the side. She looked like a Grand National victim. My heart sank, everyone moved up to see what was happening – even the cows. RIP number 38. David went in for a closer look. What a relief, she’d gone down after some over zealous head butting and ended up with her body at the bottom of a hill and her legs facing up the slope and she just couldn’t get herself into a position to get up. Phew. So David pushed her rear end round 180 degrees.  Up she got and frolicked away with the rest of them.  I'm sorry, but we didn't get any of this on camera, Helen and I stopped filming because we really thought she was dead - you can tell we're not professionals.

So David was instantly everyone’s hero (note to self: you’re beginning to sound like a politician's wife). He was even more popular when he announced that an hour earlier a calf had been born and was conveniently in the shed 10 yards away from where we were all standing. So we quietly sneaked in. The calf was gorgeous – still at the stage of trying to find her mother's teat – instinct just tells them to nudge away somewhere in her nether regions until they find a teat.

It was such a treat for us all. Everyone who came got to see the unrehearsed side of farming. And we got so many questions and suggestions, that I’m sure we’ll be coming up with a few new ideas soon.

And in case anyone is wondering, 2 mornings later I invited Inga  for a private viewing. You know what? The cows just stood there; already they are back into lazy cow mode: eat-sleep-milk!

See the highlights on youtube

Anyone want to join me at 6.00am next weekend to help feed the calves?  No I thought not.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

South Korea

There are 6 weeks of the year when we are in absolute overdrive. 2 weeks at Easter, one week at Whitsun and the 3 weeks at the end of July/beginning of August when the Scottish and English school holidays overlap.

So where is Wilma just now? At the helm driving things forward? In the office organising everything? In her counting house counting out the money?

Well no - I'm in Seoul! Yes, I'm in South Korea.

You see we actually have our first ever export customer. And since we do nothing by halves - we've gone for South Korea (check out - their TV promo is impressive - there's a prize for spotting how many times they say Galloway, Rainton Farm and malt whisky.

Mr Lee and his wife visited us back in May 2009. My return visit was supposed to happen sometime between December and February and I was secretly hoping that Mr Lee (our customer - not their president) would not ask me to visit at Christmas. I needn't have worried, he kept delaying and delaying. Then out of the blue he said that I had to visit in August as he had arranged a lot of customer visits, so here I am.

I had always planned to come here with Anne, our production manager. But sorry Anne, we can't both be away in the middle of August, so I've pulled rank. I know you bought a book on visiting South Korea - I've found it invaluable - especially the bit about women drinking in a bar on their own... Haven't actually found that to be true - maybe it is an age thing.

So what is it like? Well it is a long time since I've done any serious foreign business travel - a long time being 20 years. And it is the first time I've been in Asia. So far I've congratulated myself on finding a great cheap hotel that has internet, a kitchen (including an invaluable washer/dryer - it is 35 degrees out there!). It's beside a metro station and the airport bus stops outside it. So result! The fact that the British Embassy and Scottish Trade International staff haven't heard of it (and it is a third of the price of the hotels that they recommend) just makes me even smugger.

I told myself that I wouldn't rely on taxis and that I'd walk or use the Metro. The Metro is fantastic. Every station has a number - a godsend, considering I can't read the name of the station as few are translated. I've only once used a taxi and that was when the person I was meeting wouldn't give me his Metro station number - just his address - grrrr.

Anyway, I managed to impress Mr Lee today, when I was able to lead him through Seoul Station, but I have to admit that I'd done a reccy last night - that's my OCD kicking in.

Tomorrow is another day with the British Embassy. They will be helping me to research the ice cream market in Seoul. Then it is off to Mr Lee's city - Daegu. I'm going by KTX - Korea's bullet train, so I'll see some of Korea's countryside. Mr Lee says it is all mountains and little agriculture. But he's a city boy, and I reckon he just doesn't notice anything agricultural. I've seen plenty signs of polytunnels within greater Seoul, so I'm sure there will be more. Though I suspect it will be intensive indoor livestock.

Organic is big in South Korea, but this seems to be associated with 'organic = healthy'. Animal welfare does not appear to figure. Fairtrade is hardly on the radar.

So where is all this leading? Well who knows? I'm being pragmatic. At the moment, when we are in the middle of a recession in the UK, then business on the other side of the world is very welcome. Is it sustainable? Well, who really knows? Sending ice cream 8,000 miles doesn't seem logical and I'm sure Mr Lee's eventual aim would be to manufacture in South Korea. But if this sees us through the coming 5-10 year recession we seem to be facing, then maybe it is time I was learning the language.....

Meanwhile Howard (not his Korean name), the Scottish Development International representative in Korea, even asked me today if I wanted to be part of his Asia 10 project - a project to grow 10 Scottish Food & Drink companies' turnover in Asia by £1m within the next year. So I must still have a knack for the old bullshit...

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Summer 2009

Place your bets - is the weather just a blip and we'll soon be putting up the parasols again or was May and June our summer?

At home, the Aga is off and only a solar panel heats our water. It's produced as much hot water as we've needed so far this summer - until this week. What's wrong with a kettle and a standup wash? Not so sure the rest of the office staff will be so keen if it goes on for much longer.

Talking of renewable energy, what about the wind turbine? Yes, we admit it. It hasn't turned a blade in 3 months. Now I'm not technical. As I understand it, there is an unknown fault that causes the air brakes to come on (they're the bits that look like feet on the end of the blades). So instead of wearing out the brakes, we have switched the turbine off until we can find out what part of the system is telling the brakes to come on. We've called in the company that designed the system to track the problem. This is where it gets complicated - they've gone into receivership! We'd heard rumours for over a month that this was on the cards, but we didn't want to stoke the rumour monger fire and make the situation worse, but we had been working away in the background making contacts with others. So fingers crossed, there might be an engineer at it very soon....

Really noticing an increase in visitor numbers this month, which is great. Is it the credit crunch, is it the expensive Euro, is it swine flu? Whatever it is, Cream o' Galloway has had 15% more visitors so far in July than last year. A big welcome to you all.

Have you tried the bikes and karts yet? Boy are they taking off. We've had bikes for 5 years and they never really caught on - until now. Adding a bike skills area and making it one of the first things you see when you go into the adventure playground has meant that the bikes have been non stop since. Of course, with increased use comes increased maintenance and we are now working with the Break Pad at Kirroughtree to help us look after the bikes. And lo and behold, who has Sam assigned to looking after our bikes, but an ex student of ours - Ruth Asbery. Small world - well it is Dumfries & Galloway. Like most tourist businesses in the area, Cream o' Galloway relies heavily on students to work at the Easter and Summer peak. Behind the scenes changes completely when they are around. Of course they keep us young, though if we try to keep up with their partying we would end up physical wrecks. The best bit for me is watching them mature - the shy 16 year old soon becomes an extrovert 18 year old. Ruth last worked for us 3 summers ago and has been in Canada and New Zealand since. And now she pops up again - still playing with bikes. It is great to be able to make a living doing the things you love.