Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Oh, just a day in the life of us.....

Up early. Needed to get going with the day because we are off out to a small dairy nearby to see their milking operation, and we need to be there by 9am.

Everything going well. Cows out in field. Last one left in the barn was the little male calf. Lester went to fetch him. Put the rope on him to lead him out to the field, which he doesn't like. Resisted all the way, pulling backwards, sideways, and every ways, letting his upset about the rope be most thoroughly known. Nothing for it but to put a hand behind his rump to chivvy him along, something which Lester often does.....sort of pushing him in the direction he needs to be going in. So, hand behind rump, Lester still clean and tidy, calf does a squirt of milky poo from his rear end, Lester's hand deflects poo, ends up getting covered in a spray of poo, Lester now not clean and tidy. Not to worry, a quick change and off out to the dairy we went.

24 hours later:

So there I was, in the old Mercedes, driving up the lane from Sarah's animal park, following Lester on the big tractor which was towing the trailer carrying the blue wheelbarrow and spade. And I found myself marvelling at the experience of following my husband home along a very long lane in France, and felt a rush of gratitude towards the Universe for presenting the opportunity ten years ago to make the lifestyle change needed to release us from our old UK lifestyle. I also had a moment of feeling in awe at the courage it took for us to take up that opportunity. I remembered Lester going off to work in the time before we came here, smart shirt, tie, polished shoes, and suit, looking very pristine and shiny. I looked at him now on the tractor in front of me, and know that he is covered in manure, has yesterday's work clothes on because he had to get dressed in a rush, and that he is fretting about getting the tractor back home, because............

........ we are tired. We had a broken night's sleep having been woken up in the early hours by the rottweiller girls barking.  Heard another bark from outside, quite close to the house, sounded like it was coming from the sheep pen. "There's a dog in with the sheep" Lester shouts as he hurtles out of bed. I follow on, but much slower. Outside now. Very dark. Very cold. I am glad that I thought to put my dressing gown although my feet are slowly freezing because they have my indoor sandals on. "Here, hold this|" Lester says as he hands me the rifle. I do as I am told. I am, after all, his right hand man woman. Then he is off with the torch, after saying that the dog is chasing the sheep. I can hear the dog barking. I feel of rush of affection for our sheep. I hold the gun carefully.

Lester returns after a while. Says that a chunk of the perimeter fencing has been damaged. Looks like the sheep barged into it as they were being chased. Said he could only count six pairs of eyes. We have eight sheep, so there should be eight pairs of eyes. The dog keeps barking  but seems to be further away.

The rifle was not used. But if had needed to be then it would have been.

Previous to that.....

Back at the dairy yesterday....seeing four cows being milked by a portable milking machine, each milking taking all of five minutes individually which is so different to the thirty minutes (at least) that it takes Lester to milk one of our cows. Plus the milk went straight from udder to milk churn, whereas  the bucket placed under the udders of one of our cows being milked risks having a mucky cow hoof put in it, or being knocked over as the cow fidgets. We were also impressed by the serene and patient look the cows in the dairy had during milking. Ours often have a 'oh do get on with it' look when they are being milked, which is why they can get fidgety.

Lester is enthused about getting milking machine, but is not so impressed with the price of them, so he is thinking about building one out of the spare parts you can get online. This project, therefore, will be put on hold for the time being.

And then it was on to see where the cheese is made. I was very impressed, but not enough to want to invest in the equipment they had. I am perfectly happy using a two gallon stainless steel pot to make the cheese in, and have no inclination towards having a seventy gallon container, nor a curd table, nor huge great fridges. I shall potter along with my cottage industry style of cheese making because it is a more interesting thing to do.

A good visit though, and it was nice to see Lissie's mum again. (Our first cow came from this farm)

Back home, a quick coffee, and then off down the lane to Sarah's place, together with the tractor towing the trailer carrying the blue wheelbarrow, and spade. I followed on in the Mercedes..... it is due to be scrapped any day soon but still has half a tank of petrol on board so it is sensible to use it for short drives to use the petrol up.

What were we doing going off down the lane? Sarah's camel barn is full of the most scrumptious and
 crumbly camel poo, which is of such a good quality that it can be used immediately to grow things in. The barn needed to be cleared so that the winter bedding could be put down, and we shall be needing to fill the raised beds in the courtyard when they are made. So the task of the day was to use the tractor to dig out the poo in the barn, dump that in the trailer, and then bring the trailer back up the lane to our place, unload the poo in the courtyard, and then make a return to Sarah's place to reload.

I, meanwhile, sat and chatted in the glorious sunshine with Sarah, leaving our two husbands to get on with the work. Time to get the animals in for the night, and still three quarters of the barn still left to do. Tractor and trailer and blue wheelbarrow and spade all left down at Sarah's so work on the poo shifting could carry on tomorrow. Nice pile of poo up at our place though. Very satisfied.

And then the dog came to harass our sheep. If  it came once, then it will come again. It is worrying to think that this might happen when the ewes have their lambs, which is around the middle of December. So all plans changed. Need to have the tractor and trailer back here so the fence can be repaired, which is why I was driving back up the lane with Lester in front on the tractor. The perimeter fencing needs to be sorted out, that is now the urgent task of the day. The poo collecting will now have to wait for a while.

This type of lifestyle certainly requires us to be adaptive, that is another thought I had as we drove up the lane this morning, and 'hooray' for that!  Meanwhile, sending out thoughts to the owners of the dog to keep it under control. Meanwhile enjoying this lovely weather while we still have it.

Bye for now,

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Some 'firsts'........

First butter made this season. That is now in the freezer. Experience has shown that butter that has been made, then frozen, seems to keep fresher than if used directly after it is made.

First buttermilk cake made, not yet eaten but looks good.

First cheese made this season.... but not looking good. Turned out half the size as normal, and took forever to set. Don't think I shall age this one. Either will let the wheel dry for a few days, cover it with olive oil and leave another few days, then see what it tastes like.  Either us, the dogs, or the pigs, will eat then eat it.

Bonny has had her calf. He is definitely a male, and has the attitude to prove it. Milly, Lissie's female calf, is showing girlish ways, prancing and flirting round the male calf, practising for when she is older and needs servicing.

Both cows are being milked in the evenings now, and are producing nearly eight litres of milk per session. This will reduce as the calves drink more during the day, and when this happens then the calves will be separated for one of the feeds. Already Milly is nibbling at grass, which is supplementing the milk she is still getting from Lissie. Milly might be staying with us, eventually to become our third milking cow. Now investigating milking machines and cream separators. Off to visit a small diary near us to get further info tomorrow.

The udders of the cows are astonishingly big this season, presumably because they are getting older. I am in awe of the size of them. I was a mum too, a long time ago. I have memories of being in a state of milk production.

The Chicken Project is coming along, with the wire now up on a section of the chicken run. It seems to have taken an age to get this project moving, but then we have been busy with doing other things.

The Poly Tunnel Project is also on the move, but more about that in a future blog. Just to say that we have stopped the dithering about whether we need one, or not, and if we do then what size to get. It was a relief to get this finally sorted.

The Rayburn wood burning stove is now lit, although only in the evenings. And the delight of having the vague smell of wood smoke hovering in the air, of feeling that magnificent warmth oozing into the bones and chasing away the slight damp in the air which you get when you live in an old farmhouse, of being able to festoon the Rayburn with washing to dry overnight, of hearing the singing sound which wood sometimes makes as it burns, of feeling the live energy which the living fire in the Rayburn brings to the house. Of not panicking over much when the pump refused to work when the Rayburn was first lit. Of hearing the alarming sound of boiling water whizzing up and down in the pipes, ending with a loud whoosh as it finally ended up in the over fill tank upstairs. Not to worry (actually I did!), Lester quickly damped the fire out, the water cooled, no more bubbling. Off came the pump. Wasn't working. This confirmed by our friend down the road. Off to Tarbes to buy another pump after first ringing a French plumber. New pump purchased, to be picked up in a couple of weeks time. Plumber arrived. Undid a little grey knob on front of pump. Stuck his screw driver into the hole. Twiddled screw driver. Said pump was working, and was not dead. Put knob back. Said to Lester that he was to put the pump back on to the Rayburn system and that he would come along the next afternoon to see what was happening when the Rayburn was running. Rayburn lit that night. Pump behaving. Must have got stuck during its summer sleep, as indeed we all do.

First bread made in the Rayburn. Just threw the bread mix into the mixer, gave it a whizz through, did not knock the bread back to give it a second rise so put it straight into the loaf tin,  into the Rayburn oven when risen, did not expect much of a result but wow!!!! That bread was delicious, best I have ever made. Now not fussed with using the SMEG oven. Now enchanted with the Rayburn oven, and will start experimenting with cooking other things in it.

First batch of Greek Yoghurt made with our milk. Lots of investigating now as to flavourings, and freezing possibly to make ice cream. This is something we may sell at a later date. I am researching wholesale containers, probably pretty glass ones, to put the yoghurt in. This is another interesting project.

Have sourced the 'shed' for the shop, and thankfully the source is in Plaisance, which is just along the road to us. All the other potential sources were a distance away, and now we do have not have the pulling power of the Mercedes to pick up one of these 'sheds' in our trailer, we must rely on it being delivered. Have not yet decided on what style of 'Shed' we are going to get as there is quite a good range to choose from, all expensive of course, but not to worry, we need it so it must be got. Lots to do before we get to the stage of getting the 'shed' up, so time yet to keep looking at the various styles.

First drive our in our new little white van. Love it. Lester says that it drives like a boat. I have not driven it yet, but will soon. It seems to exactly fit our characters, and to exactly fit our farming lifestyle.

It is a lovely morning here. Lester has just come in to give me this news. The birds are singing, and the sun is shining with such a force of heat that it is making things steam. The calves have been romping together out on the field, with Bonnie and Lissie chasing after them. The sheep are quietly grazing. The dogs are sitting beside me waiting for breakfast. I need to go and make a super duper fruit crumble because we are off to  lunch at a friend's house today, and I promised to do the dessert. It is a roast dinner, venison probably, so we thought a crumble would sit nicely for the dessert.

In anticipation of a happy and joyful Sunday, and hope yours will be / or was, the same.

Bye for now.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Last harvest of the year........

We now have seven ewes and one ram. A week ago we had fifteen ewes plus their lambs, and one ram. The difference in the numbers between then and now is because we have now put eight of this years lambs into the freezer. We did two a day, but spread the work over two days for each two sheep. It was tough going. Not our most favourite task to do, but it had to be done if we are to have enough grazing for everyone this winter. We were going to put ten in the freezers, but we ran out of steam with the effort of it all.

It is not that it is dreadfully hard work, but working with innards and things does tend to sit on the mind after a while, which is why our minds could only manage eight. But I like that we are sensitive to the task we are involved with, as it stops us from being hard hearted, and helps us feel respectful to the animal who we have come to know over the previous few months. All the lambs were nearly a year old, and would have lambs themselves next Spring, which is why it was urgent to get the flock numbers down now.

But the job is done and the freezers are full, so my task this winter is to get as much of the meat canned as possible. Finally, after eight years of working to get a functioning house and smallholding up and running, it would seem that we are starting to get into the rhythm of farm life. It is a priceless way of life, but perhaps not for the faint hearted, especially if you are also providing your own meat.

Short sleeved t-shirt on today as I went out and about scything here and there in the lovely warm sunshine. Then some spinning. Then some patchwork. And all outside. Some people have had their wood burning fires on in the evening, but our house seems to be holding its heat, and anyway, our training with coping with cold weather when we were living in a caravan when we first arrived here tends to encourage us keep putting on warm clothing before we get fires lit.

Last task of the year in regards to the animals is getting the two adult pigs dispatched. With no signs of piglets at all after over a year of them being together we cannot but presume that they have finished procreating, which is not good seeing as how they are the most expensive animals to keep here. We have to watch the budget. The pigs can't be thought of as pets. So, just waiting for inspiration as to what to do with them. Either way, this will be another one of those heart string pulls, especially for Lester, who is very bonded to his Tamworth pigs. Ah well, c'est la vie.

Off to visit Lester in the cow barn. He has started milking Lissie in the evenings although Milly is still with her mum all the time, so two to three litres per milking at the moment. I am too busy with getting the recent meat harvest processed so don't have time to make cheese, so this is enough milk for us for the time being.

Bye for now.