Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Goats? Perhaps not.....

Of all the animals we have here, the goats are the least easy to get on with. They have reduced the hedge on the Home Field to a point whereby it is almost on the verge of collapse, they are forever finding the smallest weakness in the fencing to escape although do not go far, they are forever arguing and head butting each other, we have to find a separate space for the male goat, they give us milk but nowhere near as much as our cow, and they are not animals which like to come up to us for a fussing and stroking, unlike our cows, the sheep, and the pigs.

So...... do we no longer have them here, that is the question.

The sheep give us most of our meat, their fleece I use for spinning (and weaving eventually), and they emit a calmness which is very soothing, unless they are in ditsy mode, and then they can be a barging force of collective bodies.

Lissie, our cow, has been giving us milk since March 2013. She gives us back a lot for looking after her as well as we can. Soon we shall let her dry out so she can have a rest until her new calf is born in August. Bonny, her 2013 calf, will be artificially inseminated later on this year, or early next year. That means that there will be times when we have two cows being milked, producing a splendid amount of milk for a smallholding, so lots of cheese, lots of yoghurt, and the food bill for the pigs can be reduced. Bonny and  Elise are friendly and approachable, and feel part of our team here.

On the subject of our two Tamworth pigs, sometimes we think that they are not as productive as they ought to be, but that is only because we have not been able to organise them properly. To have breeding pigs we need to have more paddocks, and this we are in the middle of doing. Fencing poles have gone in, and once they are wired up then we can manage the pigs better. We are also giving them more food from the smallholding which helps the food bill. And the pigs are friendly too, and are always willing to have their backs scratched by a garden rake, or their ears tickled. They also like to have a chat. They are interactive with us, so are part of the team.

As for the chickens ...... they are definitely part of the team, particularly when it comes to making a raid on any food that the dogs have left in their feed bowls. Frequently we find little piles of poo scattered over the floor as evidence that a raid has taken place, or else we catch them mid-raid, and then we have a lot of ditsy panic as they head towards the front door, often with the rottweiller girls hard on their heels. And there is always a hen or two hanging round the front door, and when we are outside it is not often that there is no chicken following us to see what we are up to. They are definitely team members.

As for the geese and the Muscovy ducks, they are themselves.

But as for the goats. We had a lengthy discussion yesterday about the keeping of them. It is likely that we shall not be keeping them in the future. In truth, I do not think that they fit in very well with our smallholding, and I don't think we fit in very well with them. If an animal feels that it fits, then it is interactive with us, enjoys life, is calm, looks content, then, and only then, can we slaughter it for our food table and then enjoy the meat it gives us. It is the cycle of life on a mixed farm-type smallholding. Our animals are not pets, but they are respected and valued. If they are happy, then we are happy. We do not think the goats are happy. Perhaps it is in their nature to be aggressive with each other, perhaps they are just being goats, but they give us an uneasiness which the other animals do not give us.

Before we came to France we often had discussions about whether we would keep goats or a cow. I favoured goats, Lester favoured a cow. And then, in summer 2012, within two days, we had purchased both goats and Lissie. It would appear that having two cows is going to be the way forward. We shall see........

Sometimes hard decisions have to be made for the sake of the whole. 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Scrumptiousness & Odiferousness

And oh, wow, but I have made the most yummy, scrumptious, perfectly gorgeous, bacon. And yes, I know that I am perhaps overdoing the description of this bacon , but believe me when I say that it was perfection.

Now I am not a person who does something and then expounds at length about how fantastic what I have done is. I am critical of whatever I do, and if it is rubbish, then I shall say so. I rarely compliment myself. I am my own worst task master. I do not put myself on top of the heap and say 'look how fantastic I am'. So when I say that the bacon was flipping gorgeous, it really was.

I have made bacon from our pigs, but it has been too salty and not very nice. It has been eaten, but not with any particular  enthusiasm even after soaking the bacon slices to get the salt out, which only reduced the saltiness by about half, so my thoughts about making bacon again have been minimal.

So what I have done in the past was do a dry cure, which requires the soaking of the bacon in salt, brown sugar, and spices. Put everything into a ziplock bag, then leave in the fridge for a few days, turning daily. The salt draws out the liquid from the pork, shrinking it into a more solid mass which can then be kept for ages and ages in the fridge or freezer. I also tried leaving the pork on a rack so that the liquid drained off rather that the meat being left to soak in the salt liquid:

.....but no matter which method I used for the dry cure, the bacon remained salty. So, the Bacon Project has been left on the back burner.
And then a chat with Sara down the lane produced the thought between us that perhaps we should try wet cures to make our bacon. Here in France the supermarkets have Pork Fetes, whereby pork can be bought at a silly price, and Sara had bought a huge slab of belly pork (actually it was the complete side of a pig) for 8 euros (about £6). Christmas was coming, so she thought she would make some bacon for her guests but was not enthused about dry curing. We were also rich in pork, but from the recent culling of our large female Tamworth. Putting our head together, we thought that perhaps a wet cure was the way to go, and it is. She did the experiment first, and was enthused about the end product. So I have just had a go. (No photos yet because I am still trying to understand my new camera.)
So I made a solution of: Half a gallon of water, 1 1/4 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp brown sugar, and sundry seasonings (bay leaves, garlic, black pepper, etc) The salt content seemed very small, so I added another tablespoon. I put everything into a saucepan, and brought the contents to almost a boil. Then I let the liquid cool down again until it was almost the same temperature of the pork, and then I put it all into a plastic container which I put in the fridge. 
The meat was in the brine for four days. It looked anaemic and still floppy when it came out of the liquid, and didn't look particularly appetising. With the dry cure I could see that something was happening to the meat because it shrunk and became a hard lump, but with the wet cure the meat stayed soft and about the same size. This I did not think was healthy. Lester said to change to the cure and add more salt to it. So I drained the brine away and let the pork sit for a few hours, after first giving it a wash. But then it firmed up and did not feel so much like dead lump of nothing, so I thought I would fry up a morsel just to see what it tasted like. And wow. And wow again. With just an pleasant hint of saltiness, which was mostly overlaid by the seasonings I had put into the brine, that morsel was superb. So I put the slab of bacon into the freezer for half an hour until it was firm enough to cut into slices. Then I froze the slices individually so they didn't stick together in a clump. When they were rock hard I put them into bags.

And now I shall end my enthusiastic report about the re-awakened Bacon Project before I bore you silly! Oh but I really wish I could give you a taste as well. I am sure that it would inspire you to have a go at making bacon yourself.
However, the odiferousness of this seasons goats (chevre) milk would put you off ever wanting to have anything to do with goats milk. Just as I was enthused about the bacon, so I am equally as un-enthused about the goat milk. Last season's milk was lovely, and taught me how to handle milk coming into the kitchen twice a day, and how to make cheese. We drank the milk as well, and enjoyed doing so. However, when we mentioned using goat milk  and goat cheese, people would respond with horror, saying that the cheese and milk tasted 'goaty'. We thought that these people were being divas, and that when they refused to have goat milk in their tea and coffee  during a tea-and-cake visit and did a 'Quelle horreur, I won't have that horrid milk in MY tea' attitude, that they were, well, being downright rude.

However........ had our first chevre milk of the 2014 season a few days ago. It was much looked forward to. Lissie, our cow, is still providing us with milk, but it is very rich and heavy with cream so best used in small amounts for drinking, otherwise it can bloat the stomach out because of the lactose it contains. So.....first litre of chevre milk. Now I thought that it had a funny smell to it when Lester made our late evening milky cup of Bournvita with it. I didn't say anything though, just thought 'Wahoooo, that smells a bit pongy'. Breakfast the next day. We were having our usual 'start of the day' tea and toast picnic, with Lester still in bed and me perched on the edge of the bed. I took a sip of tea. As my nose hit the close proximity of the tea an odiferous aroma assaulted my nasal passages. It was not nice. But I rode through the odd smell and took a sip of tea, only to find that the odiferous aroma seemed to travel down my throat as well. It was as if the smell had locked itself into the liquid. Yuk. I tried again, not wanting the truth to hit me, that this indeed was the reason why people do not like goats milk, and I cannot blame them for doing so, not at all. Lester followed me with these thoughts, as he, too, started drinking his tea. He, too, left his tea unfinished.

So, why was the last season's chevre milk alright and this season's not? Because last year our goats (all females) were already with kid when they arrived here. Then we let one of the male goatlings subsequently born mate with those females although it is not wise to allow inbreeding. But this was only a stop gap until we could purchase a Sanaan male goat, so for one season we thought it would be alright. And it has been. We have several goatlings born, and all are doing well.

However, our little herd of goats is a mixed herd, with the male goat continuing to stay with the females even though they now have kids. Now he is not very much into smothering himself with his own wee, so we didn't think he chucked up too much of a pong, but apparently he must do, because his pong is what was in the milk that we were looking forward to drinking, but couldn't.

What to do...... nothing for the moment because we have been too busy with other things. We have not milked the goats again because there is no point until the plan to make separate accommodation for the male goat has been put into place. At the moment we are concentrating on getting the back field fenced so our two pigs can get off the muddy soup of their paddock, and to also protect our veg plot from the foraging  antics of our chickens, geese, and ducks.

And to help with the veg production, this is what should be arriving here in three weeks time:

Yahooo, a second hand mini tractor! Lester is looking forward to playing working with this tracky. Its a B7001 Kubota, similar to the one in the above photo. And it is coming with its own plough, rotovator, and topper. Oh, and then we had to buy a remoque (trailer) to put in on so we can tow it back from the place we are buying it from. Its a sixteen horse tractor. It should manage our veg plot. Better than trying to rotovate with a clapped out machine whose wheels keep falling off, and which keeps getting jammed up with clumps of roots. Better than having to manually dig. Better to sit and enjoy the sunshine and let the tractor do the work, that is what Lester thinks, bless him.

But seriously, the purchase of the tractor will move us forward with the farm, the new fencing will move us forward with the veg plot paddocks, the chevre milk will alright when the male goat is interred in the freezer, because that is where he has to go. Then we shall look around for a male Sanaan, who should then hopefully introduce new blood into our little flock. And the bacon is fabbo.

And, plus, my back seems to have sorted itself out. In the end I did not mind the fact that I was slowed down to a fraction of the speed at which I put myself about the place. I probably needed to have a rest anyway, and it gave me time to think. Funny thing is, though, that as soon as I gave in to my sore back, and accepted that it was giving me a much needed rest, that that is when my back got better, making me feel sort of cheated out of having a slow time.

Ah well.... it is a lovely day here today. The fruit trees are starting to flower so spring is on its way. Thank you for sharing time with me, and I hope that you are feeling bright and full of sunshine, even if your weather is not too good at the moment.


PS. And do have a go at making bacon in brine. You will have to put the bacon into the freezer for storage after you have made it, but the slices cook quickly enough when you want to eat them.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

On laying on a hay bale in the rain

So it was time to get the animals fed. All are still inside, the rain having been falling, and the fields therefore still saturated. This means that we have to wrestle the hay from off of the big hay bales. It is not easy. We have to wear gloves because the stalks of dried thistle and bramble, which are also in the hay, make punctures and scratches to our skin. Not to worry, the hay smells like hay, and reminds of summer even in the rain.

I normally do the sheep, giving them six bags of hay in the morning, and then six again in the evening. Lester does the rest.

But a small problem has arisen. I can't walk properly. Too much sitting at the PC. Too much of not scything grass for the pigs. Too much of no outside activity. All this has stiffened me up, and my back has gone very 'ouchy'. Now that is alright for a day, but not alright for longer.

And yesterday afternoon, the rain was falling, the wind was blowing, and it was a not very nice outside. Nevertheless, I was determined to help my man get the animals done. So I started trying to pull hay from off the bale. It was slow going. When the bale is being used from the outside, all goes quite fast.  And then the inner hay is met, and that is so compressed that we can only grab a small handful at a time to put into the bags, and it is sooooo slow. When the sun is shining it does not matter. One wants to linger. Not so when the wind and rain are upon us.

So Lester said that perhaps it would be a good idea if I were to put my weight on the bale to lift it apart so that he could grab better handfuls of hay. So I did. And my back went 'oops'. And there I was, stuck half upright. Oooohhh deeaarr!

And all I could do was laugh, and tell Lester to get a move on, and would he then help me get back on my feet properly, and would he mind ever so much if could waddle me through the rain, wind and mud, back to the house, and that I could carry on from there, and he could carry on with getting the animals done.

It took me ages to get from the front door to the kitchen.

And then John and Kathy came round with his new thingummyjig which comprised a piece of wood a metre long to which was tied a long piece of strimming cord, and a large green garden waste bin, plus an amplifier and a microphone. It is John's mission at this time to get Lester attached to an amplifier via his fiddle. The stick, the cord, the bin, these were all fitted together (bin upside down, stick fixed to ridge of bin, cord inserted into bottom of bin via a wee hole) and a DIY bass strummy thing was made. And as John and Lester were doing their man things with the instruments, Kathy and I shopped at Hobgoblin (on the Internet) for a bodhran (small drum) for her because she thinks she might like to have a go at beating the drum after borrowing mine.

My back, it was dying a death. Not to worry, it was fun messing about with music, and today amplifiers for our computers have arrived from Amazon so we have Irish and Scottish music skipping about in the air over our heads.

I collapsed into bed like a pole axed tree last night. But my back was alright this morning, for all of half an hour or so, then it said that it really did want to do anything much, but I did try to help Lester with the hay again, but he sent me inside. I did keep up on my feet for a while, and then I dragged Lester to bed, and we had a gloriously sinful late morning nap, because we are self employed, and can take time out when necessary.

I rubbed my back with Vick, and a painkiller was taken. I have not taken a painkiller in years. But I could not let Lester carry on the farm work without some assistance, even if it was only to cook the lamb for lunch tomorrow, and bake a cake. And I made myself a walking stick from a long piece of tree branch, to which I attached some bits and pieces of fabric and wool which made it look quite arty, and this got me round the house, although did not assist me over much when I tried to walk the dogs round the back field for toilet business.

I keep bending over to stretch my back out, and I keep visualizing the blue light of healing flowing in and around my lower back. The pain will soon go, of that I am sure.

Message to self: Remember to purchase some back rub stuff as Vick is for blocked up sinuses and not really for aiding stiffness of the bod.
- the thought of rolling about on a cold tiled floor to do some yoga stretches might not be an attractive proposition during the winter, but if you do not do that then your back will get like a plank of wood. Be a good girl, go down on that rug, go do some stretches, but make sure all the dogs are elsewhere because they will join in too, the outcome being a jolly good romp, which is not going to help your back, although might make for a jolly good laugh. 

Hope all your bits and pieces are working OK.....


Monday, 10 February 2014

Bees? Yes!

June 2013
I have been shameful with my neglect of our bees, although my non-interference is probably to their liking because they have been left to get on with their lives, doing what they please. So they swarmed twice last year, which could have left us with no bees at all.
Yesterday I thought I would have a quick peek inside the hive. We still have them! And they came out to see what was going on. And I stood and let them thoroughly investigate me. (I did have on my beekeeping suit). We never made friends last year. Too much else going on. So I am going to make an effort to bring those bees on to our team, although they would probably prefer not be on anyone's team apart from their own.
Lester has been out in Home Field, repairing the flood damage of recent days. Only a couple of poles knocked over by the flowing water, but floating detritus  had compacted on the fencing wire to nearly half a metre in depth, thus creating a wall of drying vegetation which could allow any future flood water to push the fence over. Lester was right. It was expensive to put the acacia fencing poles in, but they have stood strong against the swirling current of river water during the recent floods.
The wetness of the ground has still not allowed for us to get the fencing poles up in the Back Field, leaving Max and his girl to endure their paddling pool of a paddock for a few weeks more. But I do make sure that they have adequate bedding, so at least they can have a little bit of comfort in their hut. Everyone else is indoors. They might not like being cooped up, but at least we know that they are warm and dry.
 It has been just over three months since Lester's job with the UK finished, and he became a full time farm man, leaving me more time to do what I needed to do. It has taken time to make the adjustments though, and I miss being outside as much as I used to be. I also miss the contact with the animals by way of their care because Lester now looks after them, and I have become more the observer. I have felt curiously redundant though. Odd that. And being pushed into spending more hours in the kitchen has been hard on me. Producing so much of our own food requires far more work in the kitchen. It will be easier when I have a proper kitchen, but that is still work in progress, so I have to manage in what is a chaotic and untidy environment.
Not to worry, life is good. I need to learn how to be organised so that I am not overwhelmed by the amount of work that running a farm kitchen requires. I can do it. And to see the jars of stored food on the shelves, and the freezers full of food, makes for a sense of wellbeing. To have Lester walk in after a morning of farm work, that is good as well, as if everything is in its rightful place.
During the last three months we have changed the pattern of our life here, and I feel blessed that we have. Lester is learning to be a hands on farm man, and also learning to be a DIY man at the same time. I am learning how to be a farm girl, and also learning how to spend hours on the computer without letting my mind get too tired so it then decides to surf the Internet, thereby wasting precious time. For this moment in time, we are where we need to be.
I had a look in the hive yesterday, thinking that all the bees had succumbed to their own mortality. To my surprise they are still managing to survive. So I made them some sugar water, and let them have a close look at me so they get to know me properly. I shall try to do better by them this year, although to them it will be more like interfering!
Signing off for now. Hope you have a good week.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


I have taken the plunge and bought a cheepo half size piano accordion online. After trying on a full size beast of a thing, I found that my worries about my bosoms were correct, and that they would get squashed to pieces by the weight of the instrument should I go for a full size one. So, after much deliberation lasting several days, I have ordered a thirty four keys, seventy one basses, three voiced, bright red accordion, weighing 8kgs, which is approximately 8 bags of sugar. I should manage that. Just need to get those arm muscles firmed up so I can get those bellows in an out.

Feeling a tad on the guilty side, I also ordered a bright red mandolin for Lester.....
It is not as tiny as the photo would suggest, but it is the only photo I could find!
Middle of March, that is the expected arrival time, so we await in eager anticipation. Gives me the push to get my fingers exercised, and try to get used to playing without music, relying on what I am hearing to give me the tune rather than relying on sheet music. That, my friend, will be quite a feat, as I do not have a retentive memory.
So is this an unnecessary expense and burner up of time. I don't think so, because there is nothing quite like making a noise (hopefully in tune) with someone else.
And then there are the two little chicks now resident in a box in the bathroom, newly  hatched in the incubator. They join the drying washing and the stored cheese in, what should be, a place of serious ablutions. But I have no warm and humid place to keep the maturing cheese, and the washing is drying in what is the only heated room in the house, and the chicks need to be put somewhere cosy, warm, and minus dogs, who would be very interested in seeing what those little chicks tasted like. I suppose that my bathroom is a farm bathroom, just as Sara down the road uses her 'sitting room' as a place to dry her small goats when flooding is happening to her land. Farm life ensures that one's house always has some of the farm indoors, whether it be animals drying, mud drying, boots drying, bits of hay and straw drifting over the floor, etc......
.....this is a rough idea of what comes up off the floor, some of it contributed to by the rottweiller girls..... and this is not an exaggerated photo!
Now to order a camera online. I found the camera I 'lost', and it was as I thought....the two rottweiller girls had thought it a thing to be played with, and the other day I found it lying on its back, definitely dead, because it had it's shutter half open, which made it look very sad, as if was it was looking at me reproachfully for being so neglectful of its wellbeing. So, a new fangly dangly camera... one that I shall have to study seriously hard to use, and one which I shall no doubt often get frustrated with. But I need a camera which will have to do several things well, so I have chosen a Panasonic Lumex FZ200 bridge camera. It's middle of the range. I hope I have chosen right. I am not particularly patient with techno stuff.
Off to help Lester get the animals sorted out for the night. All have been indoors today because of the weather,  including us, apart from when we need to get hay and straw from the bales. Today, therefore, has been a good day to do online shopping. It was that, or nodding off for extended naps!
Hope you are keeping dry and warm...
Bye for now....

PS. The rottweiller girls are still subdued. No romping, playing, scraping up of rugs to make beds, no going into the refuse bin to see what they can eat, no endless wanting to go in and out. Hope they get back to normal soon. It does not seem quite right to have them so docile......

Sunday, 2 February 2014

They went, and came back

In the manner of all young dogs, our two rottweiller girls have the need to run away if they can, not far though, because we haul them back to base before they get too far. Perhaps 'run away' is a bit strong. Perhaps all they are doing is chasing the wind.

Well today they really did go 'chasing the wind'. An oversight on our part left the barrier across the courtyard open after we have finished feeding the animals this morning. We were both tired, having been out late (is 11.30 late?) razzamatazzing in a local bar cum café. (They don't have pubs here) Friends had coerced Lester into taking his violin along to the bar for an evening of Irish music played by a local band, just in case they would let him play with them. They did. Lester twiddled, fiddled, and strummed that violin very nicely, and I was chuffed to see him playing again. (Can you 'strum' a violin? Well, Lester did!) It was a grand evening, with a crepe each thrown in for good measure. (the crepe was on a plate, and was a free donation by the bar owner's wife).

We think that we might 'do' some music together, Lester and I. Lester thinks that I could very well learn the whistle, and also the piano accordion. I already play the piano (or electric piano at the moment because I left my proper piano back in the UK), and that it would be both a benefit and challenge to me to learn these other instruments. I did buy a penny whistle a while ago, but kept having trouble keeping my fingers over the holes, but I have become re-enthused after watching the fleeting fingers of the penny  whistle player as he romped his way through dozens of Irish jigs and reels. I am not sure about the piano accordion though, as it seems quite a weight to heft on my shoulders, and would my bosoms get in the way of the bellows of the instrument as I pumped it in and out. I would not like the bellows squashed or broken, neither do I relish the thought of having my own two very dear pillows of womanhood pinched or flattened. So I shall think on about the purchase of the accordion.

But I have purchased some Irish music sessions books. Now Lester is not pinned to his computer all day his love of music is starting to find the light again. Or, in his words, "A small fire is starting to burn in me again." A similar fire is not burning in me yet, but it might. I am a classical pianist. I do not jig and romp about playing Irish jigs and reels. Not yet. But who knows......perhaps this will be something I shall be learning for my soon to be 67th year.

And so, the followers of the wind. Tired out through the late night (anything after 10 is late for us), we were not as mindful as we should have been about the closing of the courtyard. Off our two black hounds went, to not be seen for hours and hours and hours. Up went my blood pressure, up went Lester's blood pressure, and together we steamed with anxiety about where those two were. Lester did frequent searches in the car, and a neighbour joined in with the search as well. I lit a candle and asked the Universe to bring them home, and then fretted. Night came. The house was unusually peaceful, Boolie (our Springer Spaniel) unusually loving. A bark. Then another. 9pm. They were returned.

They were put straight to bed. No fusses from me. I left that all to Lester. They are whining and carrying on. I presume 'the running of wind' activity has left them freaked out. They have never been dogs to like the dark or the cold, and it is cold and dark out there tonight.

But they are home.