Friday, 18 June 2010

The morning queue

So here they are, still in their early morning fogginess. They know that we are up and about because they have heard us, but they are in no hurry to get going today. Sometimes they are still in bed in their house, sometimes up at the gate moaning about wanting to get out into the field. Today, though, they are calmly drifting about in a state of mental fogginess, watching to see what's going on, interested in the world outside of theirs, but feeling safe within their own.

"Come along everybody" Hubs says, as we walk along the drive beside the Paddock. Up they get, trundling towards the gate.

Time to move. Bools and Gus are inside the Courtyard, their help not required at this particular moment, because it is time to cross the lane. The ones in the front group are this years youngsters, all wanting to be first to get through the gate. The back group is led by Mr Sheep, with his girls standing behind him. They are patient creatures, unless it is raining and they are still out in the field. Then they will make endless complaint until we bring them back in again. 

Now it might seem strange that we bring them to and fro across the lane, so that they spend the night in the Sheep Arbre. Most flocks are left out, some all year,  so why go to all this effort?  Because we will be slaughtering some of them ourselves. By our own hands will we be doing this, although this year we were going to take them to the local abattoire which we can't do now because the Vet said it was closed and the nearest one is Tarbes, and no way are we going to subject our animals to a longish road trip before going into an environment which is hostile to them. 

So we are going to recycle them ourselves. Hubs is familiar with the process, me not so. But I will not absent myself when the time comes. Out of respect to the animal, I will stay close by to give it ease as it breathes its last. And the routine contact they have with us ensures that they will be calm, hence the toing and froing across the lane each day. It makes us all a team.

A car whizzes by as Hubs starts undoing the gate, but not too fast because it is a neighbour. 

And this young female always says hello to Hubs, sniffing his hand as he continues to undo the gate.

Yippeee! Across they go, at quite a trot today. Sometimes they meander slowly across still half asleep and not really interested in getting a move on, but today they are keen to get into their day.
Nearly across......

And through the gate, with Hubs chivvying up the last ones. Sometimes  the leading sheep get seduced by the grass growing near the gate and stop to have a munch, thus creating a traffic jam, or should I say 'sheep jam', which is not the best of situations to have given the speed of some of the cars which pass by. 

And off they go, into Station Field. The green swathe in the centre, through which they are walking, is minus dock seed heads. This is the part I have been working on before they get up, before anyone gets up actually. The other day I was doing my 'three wheelbarrow loads' target, which has to be done before the sheep come into the fields, so it was  about 7am. Bools and Gus had gone back to sleep under the caravans, Hubs was still in bed, Max the piggy had got up to have a chat with me and then had gone back to bed, as had the sheep.  The rabbits had not even bothered waking up. And so I had the early morning all to myself. Apart from Claudine, over at the Chambre d'hote, halloooing to me as she opened her bedroom shutters. 

And did you know that sheep's ears go floppy in the rain? Well they do. We have been under orange alert here for a couple of days, as monsoon-type rains have hit the south of France. Yesterday afternoon we were working in the office, listening to the torrent of rain hammering down, when Hubs realised the sheep were still out. Huddled in misery they were, waiting by the gate to come back in, all droopy and forlorn and unloved and letting Hubs know that they were soaked right through by shaking themselves as they passed  him, to let him know how wet they were just in case he didn't already know because by then he was as wet as they were. It was a hell of a downpour which lasted for hours.

But at least their coats are growing after the shearing a couple of weeks ago. Only we had hot weather straight after the shearing and some of them got a little bit sunburnt. Bless. Unfortunately applying sun factor was not an option.

Last night I stood for ages in the Arbre when they came in from the field, watching them as they bedded down for the night. It was magic.


Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

You have blue sky this morning - what happened to our share?? It is still very grey and overcast here:( Diane

Tommo said...

Another cracking read Vera. Marvellous stuff. Must be terrible to know that eventually you'll be slaughtering the blighters. Still, that's a centuries-old problem.

French Fancy said...

Gosh Vera you are a braver soul than I would ever be. There is no way I could get this close a bond with an animal and then watch it being slaughtered. I thought they were all going to be pets - silly me.

DUTA said...

It was hard for me to read the line that says you'll be slaughtering some of the sheep yourselves. It will be very hard for you two to do it after treating them tenderly and getting somehow attached to them. You should perhaps wait for the abbatoire to reopen.

Vera said...

Diane:) Our skies went grey ever so quickly after these photos were taken, and at the moment are nearly black!

Tommo:) We mentally prepared ourselves before we got the animals, Tommo, and that has helped us keep a balance in our minds. Also, Hubs has experience with doing the necessary, so knows what to do. Hope you are well, and in good spirits.

FF:) Whilst we are forming bonds with the animals, we are not attaching to them. Instead, we are respecting them and the role they have here on our smallholding. We couldn't afford to keep them as pets, FF, if we did then we wouldn't have them in the first place.

Hi Duta:) It is possible to love and respect the animals that one has on one's small farm, which is different to being emotionally attached to them. There is a rythm to life, and that is what we are following through with here: to accept responsibility for what we eat, and to provide a cycle of life so that others can share it.

Ken Devine said...

Hi Vera
I echo the words already are very brave to slaughter yourselves. You will be doing something I know I could never do.

Another riveting read.

When is D-Day incidentally?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this wonderfully calm and calming post Vera. I think that it will be extremely gratifying to know that the meat you eat is wholesome, and that the animals were so well cared for. What better reward could you have for all your hard work.
Best wishes.

Land of shimp said...

Oh Vera, I do not envy you the task, but I greatly respect that you understand the need to do it. If we're going to eat meat, that is where it comes from, and I like that you are not shying away from that.

I think to myself, "Oh, I couldn't do it." but I'm sure I could, if I had the necessity of doing it. I have no problem with the food chain, but I appreciate when animals that will be used for food are treated well, and ethically while alive. I'm very glad you want to make sure that carries through until the last moment. All things dies, life comes to an end.

As per usual, you're making me think of a James Herriot story. He told the story of a farmer who would become very attached to his pigs, and every year come slaughtering time, would do his duty, but cry the entire time. "That pig was a Christian, I tell you! A Christian!" all while tucking into his pork pie for dinner.

It's all part of the reality of raising an animal as livestock. Anyone who eats meat, as I do, participates in it.

The first part of your post had me wondering of what do sheep dream?

Vera said...

Hi Ken:) D-Day? Haven't a clue, as the logistics are beyond us at the moment. But will have to be in the next couple of months otherwise the male lambs will be big enough to start mating with their mums! And it is surprising what one can do if one has a need to do it! Stay cool. Know it is a frustrating time for you, and if you manage to learn one word of French per day, then well done you.

Ondine:) Gosh, glad you felt calmness emanating from the blog. Hope it stayed with you for a while. Having animals does bring a calmness to the soul, and I am glad I was able to pass it on.

Lof S:) Great comment, and thankyou for taking the time to write it. The James Herriot story had me smiling: am not sure what I will be saying as I eat the meat from our animals. But methinks I will send a blessing out to the spirit of the animal from whence the meat comes from. As for dreaming: it a curious thing but often I feel that the sheep are saying to themselves "oh what does she think she is going now!" As if they are watching me with fond amusement! But dreaming? Perhaps, for ours, nightmares of not opening the gate to let them come back into their Sheep Abre when it is pouring with rain!

Anonymous said...

Oh! I forgot to say that I liked the series of photos of the sheep running into the field, it reminded me of those flick books that give the impression of movement.
Happy Sunday,

Vera said...

Thanks, Ondine, for the best wishes for a 'Happy Sunday' because I did indeed have a happy day! Hope you did too.

Previously (Very) Lost in France said...

Hi Vera, I echo the earlier comment about this being a lovely calming read. I love your blog for that very reason. It has this lovely gentleness to it.

I'm sure when 'the moment comes' you'll have a lump in your throat but you'll be safe in the knowledge that your sheep have had a happy, healthy life and they'll reward you for you care.

Vera said...

Previously Lost:) I am glad you felt a gentleness coming from the blog, and you are right, I will have a lump in my throat but I know that we will have done right by the animal, and that is very important. Hope things are good in your part of the world.