Hello again and Happy New Year to anyone who might be reading this.Hopefully you all survived the festive season in more or less one piece. Commiserations if you now have Aussie flu. It is now the middle of January and we have just returned from a great week of skiing in the Italian Dolomites. Unfortunately Tracey has gone down with the flu bug, probably as a result of breathing in germs from other passengers on the plane. We did have a fabulous week in Italy, despite the adverse weather conditions in the Alps. The Italians that we met were absolutely charming and couldn’t have been more helpful. We were staying in a hotel in Selva val Gardena, on the Sella Ronda ski circuit, which is one of the biggest linked ski areas in the world, with 1200kms of prepared piste. Almost too much for one piste map as I discovered when I tried to open mine in a light breeze at three thousand metres. Said map was about the same size as a paraglider and had enough information crammed into it to be virtually unreadable. Eventually we fathomed out the signpost system and all became clear-ish! We still skied down to several villages where there was no sign of a lift to get back up again. The tiny bus symbol on the piste map was then self explanatory. The lifts varied from tortuously long and slow two-man chair lifts, without canopies, to state-of-the-art eight-man gondolas with heated seats. The hotel – Posta al Cervo – was absolutely fabulous. Owned and run by Gunter and his family we can highly recommend it. We even had a bath big enough for me to wallow in, which is essential after a day of ripping up red and black runs with tired old legs. The in-house entertainment deserves a mention. The ‘Flying Scotsmen’ – septuagenarians  who skied like demons – and told hysterical stories ( if you could understand them!). Half the Jamaican ski team and his German wife, who new the Sella Ronda inside out, but had never heard of arnica. And an enthusiastic Welshman whose anecdotes and impersonations were nearly as entertaining as his skiing! All things considered it was a brilliant start to the New Year, despite the TWELVE hour delay at the airport, which meant being driven half way across Italy in the dark and arriving at the hotel at four O’clock in the morning. Trace has been in touch with TUI…………!

Hopefully, Aussie flu allowing, we are off to Rome in three weeks for a long weekend, to watch the Italy v England rugby. I always maintain that the Six Nations is the best sporting tournament of the year. Team to watch/beat this year being Scotland. Never thought I’d be saying that ! A close second as a sporting spectacle has to be ski-cross, or what you could call ‘rugby on skis’, which as part of the Winter Olympics will be shown at the same time. That’s February sorted out then ! Back in the real world we have now had a clear week with no illegal immigrants in the loft. Grey squirrels do not hibernate and will have their first litter in February or March so this could be the ‘lull before the storm’. Rosie and I are on constant alert but with Trace’ being so under the weather at the moment I have no loaded firearms in the bedroom, just in case !   The ewes are filling out nicely at the moment and lambing time is just six weeks away. They are having concentrates twice a day now and trough-feeding sheep could be my third favourite version of rugby. Misty, our working Border Collie, gets to the sheep-shed before I do and quietly moves the ravenous/greedy beasts out of the shed and backwards through a gateway where she holds them at bay until I can distribute their food evenly into enough trough space for them all to feed at the same time. We both then do a rapid about-turn and evacuate the area around the troughs, before the stampede. If either of us tripped and fell beside the troughs we would be trapped and trampled until they finished eating. We feed concentrates to ewes during the last six weeks of pregnancy to aid foetal development and prevent calcium/magnesium deficiency, and continue feeding for another month until the Spring grass and better weather arrives. Then, in theory, they can survive and thrive on good grass, as long as I can keep it growing fast enough in front of them. Lambing time is one of our favourite annual events in the farming calendar and can also be accompanied by glorious spring weather. We have some empty weeks in March so if you are interested in a long weekend or mid-week break, contact Tracey.

The ground is completely waterlogged now and the horses and ponies are always up to their fetlocks in mud. Moo, our miniature Shetland, looks more like a hovercraft than a four-legged beast of burden. It doesn’t seem to bother them at all. Judging by the way they roll in the wettest, muddiest places they can find they actually appear to revel in it. A bit like children I suppose !     Still, at least we aren’t snowed in, yet. Bye for now, Farmer Chris.