Sunday, 1 March 2015

A bit of shepherding....

Been shepherding the flock today, no photos though because I have lost the battery charger for my camera having put it somewhere safe last time I used it so this wouldn't happen. Anyway, the sheep can't get on to the main field because of the lake of water which is sitting  across the field entrances,  (geese still loving the water though, ....this is the best time of the year for them) and the side field across the lane is eaten down to almost nothingness,  and because they moan about having to stay in their barn and paddock and eat hay we thought it a good idea to see if they would behave themselves on the back field where the veg plots and pig pens are. They did. Lots of grass on the paths, lots of nibbles along the fence line. They were happy sheep, 'proper grass', wow! you could see the pleasure on their faces.

But we don't have the drive fenced at the moment, so they could, if they have a mind, wander out onto the lane and from there across to the farmer's field opposite which has three inch high oil seed rape growing. So we had to shepherd the flock away from the driveway. It was quite a pleasant occupation. Two chairs, a bit of sunshine, a cup of tea and a slice of cake, me and Lester, chatting away about this and that while watching our sheep wander round. We were reminded of why we love doing what we do, which can be forgotten sometimes, especially during the wetness of this time of year.

So we were thinking about where to put the poly tunnel when we get one, hopefully soon but not this year because we need to focus on the house and getting the chickens and geese out of the courtyard, which means building a proper house for them. Plus we need to finish the fencing off out in the fields, and Lester has loads of gates to make so that we can move the sheep and cows from field section to field section rather than letting them roam over the entire field areas, which is encouraging the animals to be selective about what patches of grass they eat, leaving some patches of grass to grow rough. We think that this will be the last year of putting the smallholding infrastructure in, although the hay bales will be needing a special covered area eventually, but that will be later on, it is not a priority at the moment. Lester also wants to build a low flood barrier to keep the water further away from the house when the river floods. (It is a strange thing but the river never used to flood anywhere near as much before we came here, and certainly not several times every year!)  Anyway, the poly will be a sort of gift to ourselves and will signal the end of the infrastructure work, and we look forward to pottering in it, especially in the not so nice weather.

It was nice being shepherds, watching our flock, feeling the tensions melt away, getting back in touch with being smallholders. We only kept the sheep out for a couple of hours though as we had other things to be getting on with, but they went back into their paddock very easily, and were quite affable about eating hay for the rest of the day, with not a moan coming from them unless it was the ewes calling their lambs to them.

It was a nice day, even though rain set in at lunchtime. The river remains heavily in flood but is stable in its height. The sheep are happy because they got to eat some decent grass. The cows need to get outside to stretch their legs because they are getting bored, so we think we might take them out for a walk tomorrow.

Off to have a search for that battery charger, bye for now.


Thursday, 26 February 2015

On wetness, ......

Oh 'tis raining here. And away up in the mountains the avalanches are happening. Put the two together ........and we are in flood time. 

Oh yesssss!!!!! The lakes are back, ...... the geese have the time of their lives, the sheep are moaning about being either stuck in their paddock or across the lane on the side field which is very low on grass and 'why do we have to keep eating hay?' they loudly complain, while the cows stand calm but bored in the barn, but the pigs remain unaffected in that all that has happened for them is that their pens are now a muddy swamp instead of the normal mud bath. 

We try not to let our nerves get stretched. We try not to keep watching the water levels. We really do try not to keep measuring the distance the water is away from the house. So we went out today and bought two interior oak doors for the house. Seemed like the best thing to do was to get away from it all for a few hours. Seemed to work. It is raining again at the moment. It is late evening. We shall sleep, but with an awareness that the nearby river is having a struggle to get all the water away. 

But the backdoor is proving such a boon to keeping the wet away from the house, and for that we are pleased. Lester can look after the cows without getting soaked, and I can get the dogs in and out of the house without them dragging muddiness all over the floors. And there are no flies or mosquitoes to bite us to pieces, we are not being baked senseless by a ruthlessly hot sun, neither is the wind howling a gale and threatening to blow the roof off, so all in all, it is good that we all we have at the moment is a drop of rain! There is always a silver lining if one searches hard enough for it!

Builder Jim is absent at the moment having gone off to the UK to pick up a digger. Bless him, he couldn't have worked anyway because of the wet, so he has chosen a good time to do the trip. He has done a lot of work in the study / dining room and it is well on its way to getting done. We hope he has a safe journey and that all is well with his purchase. 

As for us, Lester is busy looking after the animals and getting continually soaked while doing so, and I have been doing a lot of work on the Labartere website. Apart from that, all is well, and we do not mind the rain, well, not much, and keeping that thought firmly fixed in my mind to deaden the thought that tomorrow we might be paddling out of the courtyard gates because the water has kept rising, I go off to join Lester in bed. 


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Mutton fat......what shall I make with it........ ,

I never cook joints of meat with direct heat, as in roasting in the oven, although I do roast off small cuts like belly of pork. Instead, I always cook the joint first, either in the pressure cooker, or in a pot of water which has seasonings and vegetables added to it. So what I do is this...

- Day One: Joint got out of the freezer. Left to unthaw for a day. (If short of time I will put it straight into the pressure cooker still frozen. The only downside to this is that the meat does not have seasonings merge into it.) 
- Day Two: Joint put in big pot of water, together with bay leaves, onions, celery, carrots, and maybe a stock cube or two. Brought to the boil, then simmered for as long as it takes for me to remember that I have a pot cooking away on the stove. This could take a couple of hours, or more, depending on how forgetful I am. Eventually pot taken off stove, and the contents left overnight to cool down.
- Day Three: Now this is when I find out what state of being the meat is in as I fish about in the now cold liquid. If I have remembered to take the pot off the stove after a couple of hours or so, then the meat will still be intact, with the bone still in. I drain it, then into the oven for a few minutes to roast off it goes. If I have been forgetful about taking the pot off the heat, then the meat will have fallen off the bones, although will most likely still be in a big chunk. Not to worry, can still use it as a roast. If the meat has broken up into small pieces? Oh, that's easy. Can use it is a stir fry, or braised, or minced, but we shall not be having a roast that day. 

The pot roast liquid can end up as:....
- if I am feeling super duper efficient I might put it into canning jars, to be used later as stock for soups.
- or I might put it into the freezer, again to be used later as stock.
However, none of the above are likely because I have a habit of forgetting about the pot of liquid once the meat is taken out of it, and it has been known to sit around the kitchen for a further day or so, or even longer sometimes, thereby putting the liquid into a 'not quite as fresh as it ought to be' therefore making it unsuitable for canning or freezing.
So what normally happens is this.....
- if the meat is chicken, sheep, or rabbit, then the liquid is put into the pig food pot where it joins with all the cooking water of the day, plus various vegetables and pasta,  to produce  breakfast for the pigs for the morrow.
- if the meat is pork, then it is mixed up with the dog food. Nothing is wasted. 

Always there is a layer of fat upon the liquid of the pot roast, (see photo at start of post) which I mostly disregard, so it stays with the liquid wherever it's destination. However..........a recent browse on the internet had brought to my attention a rather interesting idea to I skimmed off the fat, then melted it down in a saucepan over a low heat. Once melted, I put it through a sieve, and this is what I got........

........ doesn't it look just yummy? Like white chocolate? All velvety and mouth wateringly seductive?
But....what is this? Are you declining my offer of eating such a treat? Oh well, I must stop teasing you and own up to what is in these pots.....

Face cream! Yes,.......face cream!!!!! 

So what I did was:......
- melt the tallow (which is the sheep fat which was floating on the surface of the now cold pot roast has to be fat from a lamb or sheep....apparently pork fat won't do)
- when cool enough to handle, but before the liquid solidified, I put it into jars via a muslin lined sieve, I then added some olive oil, not much, just a bit, then some drops of lavender oil. And hey presto!! Face cream.....

How cool is that! But,  "does it work", I hear you say. Actually, surprisingly, it does. But I don't slather it on, just dip the tip of my finger in the 'ointment', which is enough to cover the skin of my face. 

However, and this might be the only thing which might put you off, is that the lavender oil seems not to have been able to completely conquer the vague aroma of animal fat, not that it is unpleasant, but it might be off putting to someone not used to farm life and the harvesting of one's own meat. 

So, I shall not be making a fortune out of this latest smallholding experiment of mine by selling it on to the public as a beauty product. I shall have to keep it all to myself! 

In love and light