Saturday, 24 September 2016

Thoughts about rabbits......

Before 2008, and still in England:

Little rabbits, my oh my but how cute they are, with their long velvety ears, and fluffy, cuddly bodies, that is what I thought when Lester first mentioned that we should keep rabbits,
but not as pets but as meat for the table when we eventually moved to our smallholding in France.  And oh what a fuss I made, no, I did not think it a good idea at all.
'Rabbits are for pets, not for eating' that is what I said.
2010, and now in France:

So what do you do when an English neighbour comes calling, together with the two rabbits that she said that she had mentioned to Lester a few days ago as needing a home.
Not wanting to put a downer on things, if you were me you don't say anything,
but neither do you take much interest, that's what you do.
And then you become sensible and supportive to your husband, because his belief is that rabbits would make a good supplement to a homesteader's food table, and you are a team, so you stop making a fuss and accept his decision.
But, where to put them, and here is where they went....
against one of the courtyard walls....
(the fig tree is on the right)
...and what to put them in....
Concrete clapiers, that is where rabbits are housed here in France,
so Lester went and found one from somewhere or other,
and then had a grand time trying to assemble it.
.... and finished!

The Rabbit Project then took off,
and soon we had another two clapiers the other side of the fig tree,
plus lots of rabbits to put in them.
..... but eventually we made our first rabbit tractor so that the rabbits could be put out on to the field,
which we felt was a more natural environment for them. 

Unfortunately all our rabbits died of myxomotosis just as the tractor was finished, and that ended our enthusiasm for keeping rabbits for a long time.
'Taken from the blog of Sept 2012: And a sadness:
Of the fourteen original rabbits, thirteen have now succombed to myxomotosis. One, therefore, remains. She has just had babies. She also now has myxi.
Don't know whether to end her life, or not just yet. It is quite heartbreaking to see the squirmy little ones who will no doubt have been infected by their mum. Ending their lives is going to be very, very hard. So we do nothing at the moment, just watch, hoping for a miracle which we don't really think is going to happen.
Such is the life on a homestead,
the heart sometimes works overtime coping with it all.'
Although the smallest animals the rabbits are the ones most prone to fatal diseases, and then there is the tendency for the female rabbits to tear their young to pieces for no reason that we could ever see. Picking up little bits of legs, heads, and bodies, is not the most pleasant of tasks.

But on the whole, we missed having rabbits on the farm and so December 2015 saw us with another couple of rabbits, although we did not expect much from them. But surprisingly they quickly became parents and, as is the nature of rabbits, by May 2016 their numbers had multiplied to twenty.

However, a change of plan, mostly because we did not like having to keep the rabbits in the concrete cages, and thought they were more deserving of a better environment in which to live.
The plan was that the clapiers were to be broken up, which has been done, and a new set of runs, taller and longer that the concrete ones, will be built, but that is a future project, as is the  making of new rabbit tractors so they can be put out on the field during the day. 
One thing we have learnt, though, is that rabbits breed better during the winter and spring here in France, possibly because of lower temperatures and the lack of flying insects, so we shall encourage winter breeding in the future.
Meanwhile, we are gradually putting the rabbits in the freezer. Slaughtering animals is never a pleasant task to do, but the reality of life on a farm is that it has to be done if meat is to come on to the table. But the animals are loved and cared for, they are not pets, but are part of the cycle of life here, and therefore have our deepest respect for what they give us.
All the rabbits are now in the freezer.

September 2016

So, our thoughts on keeping rabbits, are:
- they can be prone to fatal diseases, but the possibility of that happening seems to have lessened after having successfully bred rabbits during winter and early spring.
- rabbit meat is the best meat we have had here, even better than chicken.
- I would probably not keep rabbits if I was on my own. They might be lovely to look at but the nature of the animal is something else.
- Lester was right in that rabbits are an excellent way of providing meat for a family living on a small farm. They breed fast, and come to a good size faster than chickens. They are quicker to skin and butcher than chickens as well.
All in all, we shall keep on having rabbits here at Labartere in the future.
They are worth the effort even if their health can sometimes be delicate.

Meanwhile, the courtyard is now free of rabbits, geese and chickens. It does feel like we are taking a step backwards at the moment, but sometimes you have to do that before you can move forward.

Next step is cutting back the enormous fig tree,
and then we can start working on the ground works.
A potager is intended for this area.
Bye for now,

Saturday, 10 September 2016

It has rained!

Delivered by a long thunder storm yesterday evening,
which eased so much tension from the air that I suddenly felt a million times better than how I have been feeling over the last few days.
And it has got chilly enough at night for the rottweiller girls not to want to go outside during the night. Last night Maz wanted to go to the loo, Blue followed her as far as the front door but got no further as the cold night air wafted over her. They are such ladies, these rottweiller girls. They like their home comforts, as do the cows who will  have to start being brought back into their own overnight accommodation because they have taken over the sheep barn and will not let the sheep into it,  horning them to keep out should they try to get shelter. The cows and sheep have been out in the field all summer, with access to the sheep barn during the day if the flies or heat are a bother to them. But cooler nights have meant that the cows want to stay under cover, which is why they are bullying the sheep in to having to stay outside, which has been alright during this long dry spell, but now the rain is hovering around something has to be done.
Lester's job today is to clear out the rest of the manure from the cow pens, and put new straw down ready for the cows to be brought in tonight, and so the winter cycle of their care begins, which reminds me that I need to have a look at my supplies of cheese and yoghurt cultures as another season of cheese making is on its way.
I think it is a good idea that we have the calves at the start of winter. To make cheese and manage the processing of the vegetable and meat harvests would, I think, be just a little too much for me, but now the vegetable harvests are finished, which only leaves the meat harvest from this years lambs still to be done, which should leave space in the day to get the cheese made.
But a problem with the cheese....I have found that it is difficult to store it long term, especially the hard cheeses like Cheddar and Parmesan. This may be because I refuse to use animal rennet which help sets the milk into curds and whey, but instead I use vegetable rennet. The animal rennet comes from the stomach of new born calves. It is the traditional and commercial method of making cheese, but I can't bring myself to use it. There must be a difference between the two types of rennet which is giving me a problem with storing hard cheese. Not to worry, the solution is that I don't make hard cheese! But the semi hard cheese does alright, providing the cheese wheels are not allowed to mature beyond six months at the most. I am also thinking I might have a go at Brie and Camembert this season.
Meanwhile, I have been making some underpants for Lester, himself preferring the wide soft floppiness of DIY underwear to that of the commercially made pants, which, he says, confine him too much and scratch him in places he does not want to be scratched. I personally would prefer to be making some patchwork curtains for the kitchen, which is I think is far more creative.
Onwards with the day,
and hope it is a good one for us all.
Bye for now,

Friday, 9 September 2016

We are still in slow mode here......

We are still on slow down here,
with the hot and humid weather encouraging us not to want to do much.
In some ways this is good, as it is giving us a much needed rest,
but we are getting fed up with not being able to get things done.
No rain for a long time now.
This has been a very long hot summer.
But the tomatoes continue to flourish.
They seem to like being neglected even though they have not been watered for a long time.
I skinned and dehydrated these.
Meanwhile, Lester has been putting away his Kubota tractor and implements for the winter....
... and been bringing in to the courtyard four hay bales which a neighbour had kindly donated....
They are now under cover, and should last until late November.
The cows are getting bigger udders, and will have their calves soon,
so they will be brought in each night rather than being left out in the field all the time.
It has been a good summer for them, but grazing is non existent at the moment,
so Lester has started giving them hay. They have been also having a grain supplement for several weeks. They are looking good, our house cows.....
.... and one of the old bales of straw being moved round to the veg paddocks...

....... it just about stayed in one piece until it got there!
Not to worry, the dogs enjoyed rummaging through the straw for little things,
like rats, mice, etc....
And the log pile, covered over and done for this year,
One of these years we hope to get a better storage facility for the wood,
but for the moment tarps will have to do,
they might not look very pretty, but they do the job of keeping the wood dry.
All that is left to do is getting the kindling cut up and stored.
And already we have to be thinking about the 2017 winter supply of wood!
Saying bye for now,