Farming in Painscastle and Rhosgoch
Since the Early Middle Ages this area has been well known for cattle and sheep production, although the number of traditional upland suckler herds has decreased in the last few years. The only arable crops are generally for home consumption, cereals, mainly barley or oats, or root crops of swedes or turnips.
Lambs are mostly fattened either off grass early in the season or on root crops and possibly finished indoors when the weather becomes inclement. There are some hill sheep flocks which graze on the surrounding hills, Ireland Moor, the Begwyns, and Bryngwyn and Newchurch commons, although again there are fewer true hill breeds kept, farmers prefering to keep larger ewes in order to produce a more marketable lamb. There are some pedigree breeders, specialising in producing rams for breeding. Lambing generally takes place from February through to April depending on the individual farm, while there are some farmers who lamb early to produce lamb for the early spring market. The ewes are mated in early autumn with a gestation period of five months. They are scanned roughly halfway through the pregnancy so that the farmer knows how many lambs each ewe is carrying. Multiple births are commonplace except in the smaller hill ewes, so the ewes are generally housed before lambing to increase the lambing percentage. Soon after birth, unless the weather is very bad, the ewes and lambs will be moved out to the fields.
Cattle are generally housed during the winter and calving can take place at any time depending on the system adopted by the farm. The calves are often sold as stores, although some farmers do keep them on to sell them fat. Because of the unreliability of the summer weather, silage rather than hay is the main forage crop, which is used to feed the animals through the winter.
A number of farmers in the Painscastle and Rhosgoch area successfully breed red deer for the growing trade in venison. Horses are also widely kept for recreation and visitors will frequently see horses grazing on the extensive common land here. Contrary to popular opinion these are not "wild horses" but belong to different farmers. They will be grazed on the moors for part of the year and be brought back down later when conditions dictate.
Although Painscastle and Rhosgoch are just a few miles from one of the most important fruit growing counties in England, fruit is not widely grown here. A notable exception is Welsh Fruit Stocks, based in Bryngwyn, where a wide variety of soft fruit is grown and sold online as whole plants to gardeners.
History records that King Edward I awarded rights to a market to Robert de Tosny of Painscastle in 1299, although the market is thought to have existed since 1265. The market was discontinued by the 19th century, but fairs for horned cattle, sheep and horses continued to be held regularly in the town, as it was then, on May 12th, September 22nd and December 15th each year.
These days local farmers take their lambs to markets at either Hay-on-Wye, Talgarth, Builth Wells or Hereford or sell them direct to the abattoir in Merthyr Tydfil. Cattle are sold at markets in Kington, Knighton, Brecon or Hereford. Farmers will often choose an auctioneer they like or one who doesn’t charge as much commission, or a market where they perceive they will receive a better price. That can sometimes depend on the type of animal. For example, heavy lambs will sometimes sell better in one place than in another.
Upland livestock rearing is in a completely different league from the huge arable farms and "agribusinesses" that can be found in the East of England and local farmers often manage pastures in different areas some distance away from their homes. They are very sensitive to the current market prices for lamb or beef.
To read what some individual local farmers have to say about the subject of farming please see our separate page on the Farming Year.
Agricultural Shows and Competitions
Even the earliest Medieval markets and fairs described above would not just have been opportunities to buy and sell livestock and other agricultural produce. These were usually regarded as social events and offered a chance to meet up with friends and family and other farmers whose secluded lifestyles precluded frequent social interaction over the many hundreds of years when motorised transport, telephones and the Internet were unheard of. Given that these events were often seen as joyous affairs, accompanied no doubt by much beer and cider drinking, it was perhaps inevitable that some forms of friendly competition would be introduced, as this is a basic human inclination.
The earliest organised agricultural shows in the United Kingdom date from the 19th century, largely as a result of the formation of various agricultural societies on a local, regional or national basis. These societies might have been general in nature, such as the Farmers Union of Wales, or they might be much more specific, such as concentrating on just one breed of animal, for example, such as the Welsh Pony and Cob Society. At livestock shows animals are exhibited and judged on specific breed traits asociated with their respective breed standard. It is serious stuff, but the prizes awarded at such shows are usually in the form of medals, cups, rosettes or ribbons. However, successful exhibitors can often sell prize-winning stock at the same show or shortly afterwards for a very good price.
Some of the smaller village shows local to this area may only have classes for sheep and cattle, for obvious reasons, but the larger shows will have comprehensive classes for a wide variety of species and breeds. For example, the famous annual show organised by the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society at Builth Wells, just a few miles from Painscastle, is run over 4 days and attracts entries from the whole of the country. Other excellent one-day shows are held at Brecon and Kington.
The larger shows will usually also include displays of new machinery and a host of other farming-related equipment, as well as general retail displays aimed at farming families and other visitors. There is actually something for everybody at these shows and the fun element is an important factor, with friendly competitions for dog obedience, sheep-shearing, tug of war, and log-cutting, for example, as well as cake-making and needlework for the younger exhibitors and competitions for the silliest vegetable as well as the largest leeks and carrots. You really should try to visit one of these shows soon to see the full range of activities for yourself.
In addition to the organised shows, separate competitions are also regularly held for farming skills such as hedgelaying and ploughing. Again, these are serious events for the competitors, but everyone enjoys them and the societies that support them are ensuring that these skills are continually passed down through the generations.
One of the most popular activities for young people in this area is membership of the Young Farmers (YFC), which is the largest rural youth organisation in Wales. This is much more than just a farming-oriented club and offers a variety of exciting and interesting opportunities for education and social contact. YFC members regularly organise events that ultimately benefit their own communities. There is a thriving YFC at Rhosgoch.