Monday 31 May 2010

On alarm clocks, etc.

When in the UK, during the working week, our getting-up time was governed by the alarm clock which would ring insistently until we answered its call. (I used to put it on the other side of the room so I had to get out of bed to switch it off)

Then we came to France, and for a magical two years we have been minus the alarm clock regime,  using it only if there was need to get to the airport, which is not often. So the only form of awakening has been the dogs getting restless, or a loo-trip, or the arrival of the builders. 

Since Hubs doesn't have to be on his PC until 10, France being one hour ahead of the UK,  most times we have been waking up by natural means, and if we linger then it doesn't matter as he has no commute along the M25 to do anymore so can fall out of bed and fall onto his PC, cup of tea in hand, without any effort. 

However: now, at about 8 every day, and never later, one sheep will us that we should be up. It is said insistently. She is not to be ignored. And her voice seems to penetrate whatever sleepy state we are in, although most times I am up and about but doing other things not relevant to sheep-care. It is as if she is telling us that the day has started, so why haven't we.  But she won't keep on speaking. No, she will quieten down. But her voice would have become implanted in our heads, such that we know we must move, get into action. And if we don't? If we don't act? Well, like the best of repeat alarm clocks, she will speak again after a while. She will not be switched off, and neither will she run out of battery power.

Sometimes we make an immediate response, and catch them out. The flock will be half asleep themselves, and take a moment or two to get themselves going, having to be shoo-ed across the road before a car comes along, whereupon they will trundle across Station Field with shoulders hunched down, and 'We don't want to do this today' look about them. Just like Hubs used to look when I waived him off to work in the UK. 

But if we are late, then they will be queued up at the gate, giving us 'Oh doooo come on' looks.' Across the road they romp, quickly trotting out into the field along their own M25-type road, both the Paddock and Station Field now starting to get sheep-tracks where they regularly walk. Normally the boy-lambs will be pushing ahead. They are a naughty bunch and are often evicted from the Sheep House by the others who are still asleep, although always they will be accompanied by one ewe, plus the ram. If she can't control the hooligans, then he will step in to keep control. He keeps a tight ship, does the ram, and will stand no nonsense. But mostly the little ones, who are now nearly the size of their mums, will just aggravate each other by practicing the movements necessary to make the future generation, or headbutting, and generally being boisterous.  Like all young males really, just being thoroughly annoying to all!

SHEEP WOOL PROJECT: Well it isn't happening at the moment. I keep looking at the pile of fleece, which is starting to look grubbier by the day, thinking I ought to start and not knowing how to. I have searched on the Internet for help, and all I am told is 'sort the wool, disregard the dirty' and that the wool fibres must be 'at least two inches long' for spinning. But when I pull out some wool and separate the fibres I can't suss out the length of them because they stick together. 

So: am going to risk the other fleeces rotting, and put them in plastic bags to stop them from getting dirtier, and work on the tattiest of the fleeces, which came off Mr. Sheep. Despite being the biggest of them all, he produced the least impressive fleece, his energies, I guess, going into keeping his testerone levels up which I suppose he needs to keep his girls in order. Anyway, this is my learning-curve fleece:

I think 'bon courage' is what I am needing, don't  you think! It is as mucky as the photo says it is. Not to worry, though. I will give it a go. 

RABBIT PROJECT: Mum is doing well, and the babies, despite what they think, are now not babies but little rabbits. Hubs is yearning to handle them, and has decided to give the Rabbit House a clean up, an excuse, I think, to pick them up. However, this is yet another occasion when Gussy especially, and Bools, will have to be shut in the house. They are already moaning about being shut in for all of five minutes twice a day when we cross the sheep to and fro their Paddock. All they want to do is be involved, but their endeavour to help only ever produces more chaos. We are not, as yet, wanting to have the rabbits scampering about all over the place, so the boys will have to stay un-involved. No doubt they will fiercely voice there opinion about this. 

HOUSE PROJECT: Jean-Pierre is now pulling down the side wall of the Tall Barn. It was found to have four major cracks in it so was mortally wounded. It hurts me in my heart to lose yet more of the original dwelling, but it will pull down the Gate House and the Office if it were to fall. 



 Ah well. Has to be done. But, as I say, it hurts me to see any of the more of the original be knocked down. 

And now I am woken up. Hubs has also gotten woken up. So the Lady Sheep has done her job. By the way, one of them has an odd shape - she has a swollen stomach to one side, but is eating well, and still looking chirpy, so no vet at the moment. Another is looking elderly so is probably on her way to Sheep Heaven. Now being devoid of their fleeces, we are more aware of their shapes, which has drawn our awareness towards these two. Bless. 
Off to clean up the Sheep House and Paddock now. Good news here: I am getting one whole barrowload of poo and wet straw each day from the flock. Which is good news for Veg Plot One, Veg Plot Two being supposedly worked on by Max, our Tamworth Boar,  which he does in between long patches of sleeping. Awww Bless. 

Things I have learnt: That sometimes one has to teach oneself that which is not known, and ultimately it is the struggle for the learning that the greatest pleasure is gained.

Friday 28 May 2010

Gussy's troubled day

Well it all started to go wrong for Gussy when he went on patrol with Hubs. Off they went. Over to Station Field to make sure the flock had not vanished, and no they hadn't because Gus did a 'psyching out' at them whereby he stands at the fence and stares at them which has the result of freaking them out so they run off in panic. Soooo satisfactory for him, and worth the telling-off he gets for his naughtiness. He would much prefer to have a bark at them instead which makes them really freaked out, but that is being big-time naughty as he has learnt to his cost. 

Then off to see the rabbits. Not much going on there for Gus, although he managed a nose to nose moment with the male rabbit in the lower run, but the female in the upper run was busy eating so was not annoyable. All a bit boring for him really.

Now Max. Good fun to be had there. Can do a bit of a bark and have a general naughty carry-on while the piggy is being fed, often without being told off as well, Max being a very laid-back piggy and non-fazed by anything. 

 But today Gussy was too bold. Thrusting his nose through the wire to show off to Max, hoping to spook him like he does the sheep, only his nose got zapped by the fence, said fence being one that carries a very low voltage electric current. Wow but you should have heard him. To the Heavens above he yowled his outrage. Full pelt he sped his way to where I was in the house, yelling his indignation all the while to whoever cared to be listening. Laying his head on my lap he whimpered his sorrow. Oh poor Gussy!

But then he was diverted from his sorrowfulness by the arrival of Mr T's two sons, who wanted to go off to our river bank 'To look for stones which have diamonds inside them. You break the stones open' they said, waving a hammer in the air. Oh so this was a possible adventure to which Gussy and Bools were eager participants, so off we all trundled, off to the river, to arrive at a tiny mound of pebble-bank. 

Gussy's previous woes having been forgotten, into the water he plunged, encouraged by the throwing of stones by the boys who by now had chipped open at a couple of stones in their keeness to find a diamond but not having found any had become quickly bored and had taken up with a new task and that was finding stones suitable for skimming across the fast flowing water.

Oh so Gussy was very enthused with this new project of theirs. Standing on the river bank, I watched Gussy jump into the water after the stones. Watched him as he 'deaf-headed' me as I tried to call him back to stop him from swiming out towards the now sunk stone. Watched him as he turned to head back and got carried sideways in the current. Away he went. Not to worry, though, because he fetched up  on a newly formed shingle bank away's out in the river. 

Wahoo. Into the river plunged Mr T's oldest son. Over his knees the river fast flowed. Then half way up his thighs. Across to Gussy he went.  But as he waded towards the bank, Gussy jumped into the water to return to me, passing Mr T's son en route. But halfway across, although he was trying to swim forwards, the current took hold of him and tugged him backwards, moving him in a long arc back to the pebble bank. He tried again. And again. Mr T's son tried to encourage him to keep having a go at getting across, meanwhile earnestly engaging himself with a resurrected diamond hunt in between times.

So I went into the water. Yes I did. With my boots on as well. Plus Bools  swimming along behind me, him fulfilling his self appointed task as my guardian. 'Well this is not good,' I thought, as the current took hold of him and threatened to send him off in the same direction as Gus. So I unceremoniously grabbed hold of his tail, and sort of swung him round in a watery arc to push him back towards the bank where he was grabbed hold of Mr T's other son. 

Back into the water I went. Only I didn't get very far because the current was too strong. But I had to try and encourage my other little doggy to get across the water. It didn't work. Gussy tried to get across the water several times but was circled back to the bank each time.

So I went in a little further. Up to my mid-thigh. 'Come on Gussy' I yelled, and yelled. And he did try. And try. But back to the bank he was carried.

But Mr T's son to the rescue. Still over at the bank, he went into the water with Gussy. And as the current pulled Gussy away, he picked up Gussy. Gussy, meanwhile, seemed not to realise that he was in the air and not the water, because he kept on swimming. In the air his little legs were still paddling away. 

And we all laughed. And I am so miserable about this, but we were all laughing fit to bust, at those little paddling legs, although my heart was aching for the efforts little Gussy had been making. 

And the curious thing was that as he was put on the small pebble beach he headed straight into the water again, as if he needed to keep swimming. Nothing for it then, but to get him away from the water and help his head forget its recent experience. A fuss, a photo-shoot, and a rub over with a towel seemed to do the trick. 

Things I have learnt: That fast flowing water is a wonderful remedy for legs that are heavy with the heat of the day. Sort of gets the circulation going again.
That animals can be traumatised by things which happen to them as well, and so  therefore deserve our respect at all times. 
That little doggies have big hearts. 

Monday 24 May 2010

Nudey girls and boy

The looks on their faces says it all. "What have you done to us!?"
"Well, had your hot winter coats removed, that all. Aren't you happy?"
"Because we are all in the nude now. And where are our babies. We have lost them."
"No, you haven't. They are still in the Back Lane. When all you mums have been de-coated, then they come out." But somehow or other this was lost in translation with them, and they have had big-time attitude with us ever since.

And all that had happened was that Hubs had made a phone call to the Shearer Man to ask if he could have a look at the flock, and give suggestions as to how we were going to pen them ready for the shearing. 

For many a night our thoughts had pondered this question: How were we going to catch individual members of the flock. The solution we came up with was to section off the end piece of the Sheep House, (above) newly finished, and to fence off the end part of the Paddock as well so they could all be held in a small area. It was going to be another largish project, and being novices we needed the advice of an expert. So Shearer Man was phoned up. Was expecting a call back from him an hour or so later.

Meanwhile our neighbour popped over and somehow or other we got ourselves organised into a car ride of over an hour to go get some Soay sheep lambs to replace her poultry all of which had been horrendously attacked and eaten by another creature, leaving her with three ducks and another small black sheep who had now gone dreadfully skittish because of the trauma she had suffered when all her chicken and duck mates ended up dead.

Plans were discussed, phone calls made, lunch to be had and off on the road we were going to go. I am not sure why we volunteered for the collection of the lambs, but I think it was another translation problem, our neighbour not speaking a word of English and our French still being minimal. 

Phone call came in. Shearer Man. Going to come now to 'have a look'. Well that is what we thought he said, only when he arrived he suddenly began divesting himself of some of his clothing, and assembling what looked like a metal gibet (you know, those things one used to be hung from in olden days). Hubs was all of a flurry. "Got to get the sheep in" he said. 
"I don't know".
"Is he going to do them now? How is he going to do that? We haven't got anything ready.."
"I don't know". And off he went in the car to get some money, just in case Shearer Man was indeed going to shear them.
Which left me. 
"kfdnie lfa'sil , lloem.madkl" said Shearer Man. Well it sounded all gobble-de-gook to me. I ran through the routine of apologising in French for my minimal grasp of his language, he rattled off some more words. Blimey but I was starting to feel stressed. So were the sheep. They had been having their afternoon snooze in the shade of the one and only tree in their field, and were obviously not pleased at being robbed of their sleep and possibly their afternoon's eating session. 

Our neighbour ambled over with map in hand, and spilled out some more words in French, espying Shearer Man upon which her face lit up. He was tall. And dark. And very gypsy-ish. And she had her little sheep which needed her coat taken off as well. 

More words came my way from Shearer Man. Finally I understood that he wanted a rope.  And pallets. "Je comprend" I managed to utter as I shooed Bools and Guss off into the house, and left them to bark themselves silly because they were being left out of the goings-on, and grabbing my camera as I went.
The sheep were getting edgy. Shearer Man grasped my arm, and led me to the back of the Sheep House.

With the rope he tied a pallet to the fence, grasped my arm and made in clear that I was to stay put no matter what happened. "Je comprend" I again muttered. 

Shearer Man, with shepherd's crook in hand, went towards the sheep. And most firmly got them to go down the Paddock. Crikey but he was firm. And then, oh what joy! He got them into the Back Lane behind the Sheep House, and closed them in, having made another gate at the other end. Oh easy-peasy. And didn't cost a penny. 

Taking a moment to thrust my camera at my neighbour, asking her to take some photos, into the shearing we went. Only I don't know what button she was pressing but it most definitely was not the one which actually took photos. So: no photos. Not to worry. Hubs/ Trainee Shearer Man joined Shearer Man as his apprentice, and I remained as the Gate Lady, letting the sheep through as necessary. It was hot and dusty work. 

 All done. On our minds now was the necessity of honouring our promise to travel to Auch to get the lambs. Without a pause, except to grab some water, off we set still reeking of sweat and sheep, still in working gear and still with our boots on. Well, we are, after all, trainee smallholders. 

And the two lambs were got. 

This is how they were given to us, with legs all tied with plastic tape. We scooped them up, and were glad that they were being re-homed. Three hours later, even sweatier and dustier and near nightfall back home we found ourselves. The two babies were untied and scampered off into their new home. We parcelled up the fleece and put it as neat as we could on the bales of straw in the Sheep House. The sheep themselves were really mad at us as could be seen by the way in which they huddled down at the far end of the Paddock,  with the ram being in an extremely bad temper and ramming all his ladies  to show his displeasure about being tampered with. 

Day over. 

Things I have learnt: that it is best to put fleece from newly shorn sheep in another place rather than leave it in their vicinity. This will stop the effort of having to pick up bits and pieces of fleece from all over the place. It will also stop the fleece from getting a goodly quantity of straw muddled up with the wool itself which is going to be a nightmare of a job to get out. 
That it is nice to re-home two little sheep who were obviously not being properly looked after, and that hopefully the other little sheep will feel better now she has the makings of a new flock.
That it is going to be task indeed to get the fleeces all cleaned up. That the previous owner of the sheep, and Shearer Man, both suggested that I wash the fleece in the river Adour. Am not sure how I am going to do that. Only the fleece is mostly in bits now after the night-time gambols of the sheep. And if put in the river, most of it will swiftly flow away. However, pillow cases come to mind. And wellies. 
That the Internet seems not to be overly helpful about how I am supposed to clean the fleeces up. And not to get frustrated when I couldn't find a suggestion which said: 'Put your fleece into your washing machine, then take it out an hour or so later all nicely done'.
That it is necesary to be patient when one's flock looks upon you as the evilest of people, and will not want to come in from the field because you do the most horrendous things to them. And not to feel upset because they don't want to be friends any more. It will pass.

Meanwhile: I continue to go out into the field to cut off the seed heads of the dock weeds, which are growing rampantly now. The Mower Man came by the other day to say that in a week of two the field will be ready for cutting. This will oblige the dock weeds in their desire to make offspring since the tractor will gleefully scatter all the seeds from the ripe docks absolutely everywhere. So I go cut two black plastic sacks of docks each day. And have trained myself not to look at how many I have not cut. I just focus on how many I have stopped from reproducing. 

So off to start the Wool Project. Or rather, to think about the Wool Project. Bye for now!

Thursday 20 May 2010

On the joys of wallowing

And so it was a hot and bakey day today, so while Danny, our French builder, was doing the hole / fosse/ swimming pool/ to be decided....we thought it a good idea to ask him to pop the arm of his digger over into Max's patch to make our piggy a little swimming pool all of his own.

To destract Max from the work in progress after he had tried to play with the digger as it scooped the earth up, it came into my mind to provide him with some food. I find that to destract all the menagerie with food, including adult male human beings going by the name of Hubs, always seems to win the day. 

With Max still eating, Hubs/Chief Pig Carer-in-charge filled his little pool with water. Not a huge amount, though. Just enough to make a splash.

 And after a sniff and a pause, and another sniff and another pause, in he tiptoed. Straightway his nose dived into the water. Mmmmmmm, nice.

 And over he went. To be no more the pristine pig that he was when he arrived. Oh the joys of a wallow, for that is what his swimming pool had become: a wallow. 

And here he is coming to say hello to you, and offering you an invitation to come and join him in his wallow at your earliest convenience. He would like to extend this invite to you because he thinks that you would benefit from the experience of lounging in the coolness of mud during the heat of the day. Oh what a lovely pig. And how thoughtful he is to think of us all. So...handing the invitation over to you on his  behalf.

Work continued on the Tall Barn, with the beams going in. By now the camera was deciding it wasn't going to play anymore today, hence the black bits either side of the photo. Unfortunately the upper wall on the left hand side of the barn has to come down incurring more unexpected costs. Apparently it is a whisker away from toppling over onto the gate roof, thereby crashing into the ex Pig/Chick Hut which is now our office. Oh well. Caught in time then. 

Rabbit update: Bless her, but Mum Rabbit has managed, despite our concerns, to raise five youngsters. And a problem. Hubs/Head Rabbit Carer has fallen in love with the White Baby Rabbit. Weren't these all for the pot? Yes. I have managed to maintain a strength of thought with this. However, the White Baby Rabbit is to be saved. Because Hubs has 'always wanted a white rabbit'. Ah, bless. Anyway, Mum had the babies out of the nest today. Think it was too hot for them in the nest. It has been sweltering here today. 

Sheep update: Hubs has taken over being Leader in of the Sheep, making me redundant. So I have gone on strike with cleaning up the Sheep Poo. Only he doesn't know this at the moment, but he will when he reads this blog! 

Otherwise: filled three dustbin bags with dock Uuuuuuuururrrhghgrhasdasdfaslasdofiasdfwms. Did you see that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  A great big thing with wings just buzzed itself at me, making me knock over a cup of tea which has now gone all over me and I am soaked, plus the compy is covered in sticky sugared tea as well. Crikey  but I wish these flying things wouldn't bomb me at this time of night. 

OK, so where was I. Filled three .... oh now its fallen into the remainder of my tea! Oh just a minute while I throw it outside. 

I have now decided to evacuate the day. I am sticky. The computer is sticky. But the good news is that camera works properly again. So from sticky moi, bon soir.

Plus One Tamworth

And here he comes, our piggy. Brought by Roy & Son, who was at this precise moment delicately manoeuvering his 4x4 plus trailor backwards whilst trying to avoid the huge water filled hole infront of him (fosse come swimming pool) and the huge piles of stones and earth to each side.  Bools and Gus were helping, as was raincoated Hubs. 

 And it was done. Would our Tamworth come out of the trailor? 

Yes he would! And who was going to get the first zap from the electric fence? Gus. That's who. Couldn't resist stabbing his nose through the fence to have a 'look-see'. Nose met wire. And Gus got zapped. We  knew he had been because of the ruckus he kicked up. You would have thought he had been mortally wounded the fuss he made. Then a squeal of indignation meant that Max had got zapped. But Bools, well he never has been. And after those first zaps, neither have the other two again. 
And introducing Max. At this moment he was peeing in his water bucket which had been sunk into the ground upon instruction from Roy. Apparently Max can be a hooligan if buckets are left to sit free. 

And Hubs making friends with Max, which is not hard because he is a very friendly piggy, chatting away and generally being  sociable with all.  Including Bools and Gussy, who has taken it upon himself to be a hooligan by barking and carrying on like some fierce watch-dog providing the electric fence stays between him and Max. Bools stays aloof. 

And so we are: sixteen sheep,  six rabbits ( four babies have appeared), two dogs, one pig. Our menagerie is growing. Hola! 

Things I have learnt: that sometimes there is a need to rest. In another life-time. For the moment we keep busily pedalling our bike here at Labartere and hope we don't get a puncture anytime soon.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Jobs I have acquired

Once upon a time I had roles which, although various, nevertheless took me through the hours of the day according to the whatever situation I was in at the time. This still applies. However, when living in the UK, these roles were far more minimal to what they are now. In comparison to the 'then' time, the 'now' time is multiplied many times over. 

Back in the UK I did my house duties so wore my house-maid's hat. I did my work, so wore my 'psychic person's' hat. My 'woman-living-with-her-Hubs' hat provided me with the role of partner, and sundry other hats, like 'dog-walker', 'chief gardener and DIY person', 'dressmaker and knitting person', 'erstwhile writer', etc, filled the rest of the hours of the day.

To which has now been added 'Chief Collector of Poo'. With a shovel, hoe and bucket I walk the Paddock each day to pick up the leavings of our flock of sheep. It is surprising how many 'leavings' are to be had from this merry band of munchers.

So why bother to do such a task? Well, the daily accumulations would eventually make the Paddock into Poo Paradise. And, anyway, the poo is like treasure-trove for Hubs/Head Gardener, who now has his much longed-for manure for the Veg Plot. 

So this is the Paddock looking from the lane towards the house. The Sheep House is in the corner to the right. And that is another added-on job: to sort out the bedding each day. To rake it back so the ground can dry, then to rake it back again so the sheep can be cosy-tosy at night. And another job: to go get the hay and straw. So on the way home from the Supermarket I now also purchase two bales of straw which can be just about crammed into the boot of the car, leaving the shopping rolling around in the back seat of the car. 

 Carol in the shop up in  Castelnau said that I have 'arrived', meaning that I am now an established farm-girl. Standing in front of her chill counter, having a chat, I felt  a sneeze starting to rise up. Grabbing into my pocket for a tissue to stem the flow of sneeze moisture, and out from the  pocket also came a handful of straw which drifted gently onto her pristine floor. Ah well. A farm-girl I have now become. 

We both remember me two years ago, newly arrived and still wearing skirts and shoes (this was before the time of mucky trousers and muckier boots), laying my head on her shoulder for a moment with the effort of it all. I have come a long way since then.

Another task: 'Leader of the Sheep'. At the moment we are needing to establish a routine for them. So, despite their reluctance, them wanting to bed down amongst the lush grass of the Station Field and not in the sparcer food-space of the Padock, they have to be moved. Normally they have parked themselved in the middle of the field, hoping, I think, that we might forget they are there. But at dusk, with a pot of maize in hand, out we go to fetch them.

And I call to them in a sing-song voice and rattle my pot. Meanwhile Hubs opens the gates. 

At first they pretend they can't hear me. Like Hubs does sometimes, and Bools and Guss. But all here have learnt that I cannot be ignored. For the sheep this is the same. Eventually they realise that to shut me up they have to respond. This they do. With a thundering charge they come towards me. Yahoooooo! Grandly galloping towards me they come. Timing now is critical. To get them across the lane before a car comes along is paramount. I wait. They are fast approaching. Hubs says 'Move'. I move, turning to cross the lane with a brisk stride, rattling my pot, calling the flock. Over the lane they come, charging at my rear. I keep marching on down the Paddock. At some point I hope to leave go my fear of being mown down by the sheep. The noise of their feet pounding the earth was quite fearsome at first. And they are quite big. 

But I have learnt that they are gentle souls and only jostle. I have found this out by starting to let them feed from the pot and not dropping the maize onto the ground which I did at first fearing lest they bite me. Now I have started feeding them by hand. And I even get to have a fondle. And the Big Boy Male has started sniffing at the offered maize although still feels it is beneath his dignity to accept the food on offer. 

And then all is done, and I leave. And outside the gates we watch the flock settle down, the youngsters doing what all youngsters do at bedtime, and that is racing about like hooligans while the adults look on with weariness. 

In the morning it is the reverse process, but with no food offered so no stampeding rush. More of a shoo-ing of them from the rear as they plod on out into the field for their given task of the day, which is to get the field cut down for us, and provide us with manure, to grow good meat, and to give us pleasure and great joy. I hope we do the same for them and give them an equally good life. 

Things I have learnt: that my fingernails and hands are never going to be the same again. That one has to accept that one's clothing is always going to have some form of farm-life stuck to it. That the next role to learn is Under Pig Lady, because Max arrives tomorrow, and to be patient with this seemingly never-ending learning curve. 

And here is Gussy waiting for Hubs to open the office door, and guarding the day's treasure of a bucket of sheep poo.

Thursday 6 May 2010

'Character building'

I think it's called 'character-building'. You know, when things pile in and in and in, and you feel as if your smile is slipping a bit but you try and keep it pasted up anyway. And you and your partner are sort of having 'verbal dabs' at each other, and you have to keep reminding yourself that  your partner is really the bestest partner in the whole wide world and to be patience therefore. 

So this is all what was going through my head as I stood in the pouring rain. At midnight this was. In the dark. Looking at the white blobs which refused to move. Our sheep no less. Who were also standing in the pouring rain. Some even having decided to lay down for a snooze. And had not Hubs and myself spent the last couple of hours trying to get their house rain-proofed by hoisting up aluminuim roofing sheets purchased by Hubs with the help of Mr T earlier on that day. They were light, but bendy, and we put them up temporarily because the tarps were done unto death by the torrential rain we are presently experiencing. 

I, also, in my role as Under Trainee Shepherdess, had also thought that perhaps to recycle the tarp by putting it on the now muddy ground would help make the sheep feel cosier. Keep their feet dry. Make them feel warmer. Also, perhaps an old black tarp on the side wall, to stop the drafts. Little things. To make the flock feel happier. 

Soaking. We were absolutely soaking by the time we were done. It was dark. Into the house we trotted. Off we peeled our sodden clothes. Glad to be indoors and not in the caravan. In a degree of tidyness, even though it was cold. No fires in the house as yet. Good idea popped into my head: electric fire still in the now redundant kitchen caravan. Went and fetched it. Gave a tiny ring of warmth, sufficient to keep our toes warm. 
Heard the bleet of a lamb. Oh now what. Went out to investigate. All sheep in a row observing their newly refurbished home. Not inside though. Just outside moaning away. Expletives flew through the air at them. Left them to it. "Get wet if you want to", we said.

But we each have this dratted thing called a conscience, and on hearing a couple of more complaints we donned rain gear again, and out we went. Out came the ground tarp, off came the black side-wall tarp, in went some grain to tempt them to get in out of the wet, and off we went. 

 A while later: and they were still at the end of the Paddock. Getting soaked. At which point Hubs / Head Trainee Shepherd decided to go do something urgently on his PC. After first having tried to shoo them towards their house. They didn't move.

 And that is how I came to be standing in the pouring rain at midnight. With my large, half broken, black and white golfing umbrella, which I was waving up and down in an attempt to make them move down the Paddock. And all they did was stand and look at me in amazement. "What Do you think you are doing?" being written all over their faces. I get the same look when I am speaking soppily to Bools, our Spaniel. Now I was getting it from the flock. 
I tried making odd noises. I tried flapping the umbrella about like a sail. All they did was regard me with amusement. But I would not be thwarted. For ages I flapped and squeaked. Finally they turned round and ambled down the Paddock. They faded from sight. Not to upset them again, I turned down the lane, and crossed over to the gateway of Labartere across the front garden. Well, more like a front field really. With pot holes and furrows. But I remained in one piece nevertheless. I had already collapsed the umbrella over my head so it looked like a pointy hat and not like a kite. I didn't want to sheep to espy it and amble back up the Paddock again. Because now I could see that they had all decided to call it a day and had gone to bed. All in the Sheep House. Bless. Now all I had to do was unpeel myself from yet another load of soaked clothing and try and defrost. Which I had managed by morning. 

Our next arrival is Max. A male Tamworth pig. To be brought here at the weekend by lovely people down near Lannamazan. So: Tamworth Project. 

To stop Max from being lonely, we have decided to make him a new plot by the Veg Plot. Had plenty of time to do so. Only Hubs became attached to a nail on his foot, which slowed him down no end. Not to worry, still plenty of time to get the poles in. And then the rains fell. And the holes in which the poles were to be cemented became mini-ponds. So, no way can Max come this weekend. Not to worry. Next weekend then. 


And then the builders came to do some work. Only the rain was raining very hard, so no-way were they going to get up and down the ladders safely. Ah. Time to do the doorways in the house. Only I wasn't warned. So all is now covered with inches of dust, the main zone for the fall-out of this dust being the kitchen. 

Also: two of the doorways now have scaffolding poles holding the upper walls. On these upper walls lie the weight of the roof. Apparently the cement beams across the doorways will be done next week. Which leaves quite a few days in which to fret lest we fetch up with a collapsed roof. 

Hubs looked at the weather forecast. Apparently there is more rain on the way, and winds. Crikey, but somehow we have to get the roof of the Sheep House more secure, and hope that the wind does not shimmy and shake our house so much that the scaffolding poles can't maintain the weight of the roof. 

And this is all character building. That is what I keep saying to myself. And the River Adour has risen very high, but not much water has come onto our fields, just some in the woodland, so that is something to be glad about. The sheep are becoming more docile with us, although still regard Gus as a hooligan: they don't like the way he sits and 'psyches' them out. It puts them all in a lather. No noise does he make. Just sits and looks at them intently, which freaks them. We still have all the sheep, having thought that we could possibly have some mortality, what with the sudden change in living accomodation plus the sudden plunge into cold and wet weather. The female rabbit is pregnant. We still have a roof. The sheep still have a roof. Blessings indeed. And we haven't had to do one bit of watering. And the beam in the Sheep House which fell on Hubs's head only dented his head a bit and left a sizeable red patch. But he is still on his feet, damp though they might be because all of his boots, shoes and wellies are wet.

And we either have the makings of a swimming pool, or the makings of the fosse (which is the drainage for the loo, showers, and all liquid deposits in the house), depending on whether the water goes away or not.

And the sheep across the lane in Station Field, almost drowning in a sea of lush grass. And so life goes on here, down on the mini-farm in SW France. We are well, if damp and sneezy and our characters are continuing to be built. Not sure what into, though!

Sunday 2 May 2010

Trainee Shepherding

Water was trickling down my arm. "Come on, hold it up higher" Hubs yelled. 
"Oh stuff-it" I thought, "this is just too much effort for a Saturday morning." 

A sneeze woke up in me, and took hold. It was a big sneeze. A sneeze which needed both hands to stifle the volume of spray which always seems to accompany a Vera-type sneeze. Hubs says that its like having a shower, having often been caught in the outflow several times. This time, however, I was the one who became soaked, not by reversed sneeze-spray, but by a torrent of water of water pouring down beside me. 
"I said you should have held on tighter" was all Hubs volunteered by way of sympathy, just as a small head appeared, curious to know what all the fuss was about. 

Well, 'what all the fuss was about' was trying to make the Sheep House watertight for our flock of girls, boy and  little ones, the roof not being completed because we are waiting for Mr T to collect some wood from the local woodmill. So tarps are being used over one section of the Sheep House to give the flock some dry space during this wet spell. 

Only the tarps have been recycled from the house, and are now well past their best. In other words, they are useless and act like water reservoirs, one of which had just emptied itself down my back.

So it came into our minds to get another tarp from out of the pile of tarps waiting to be bonfired, and put that over the other part of the Sheep House, to give them increased space. 

We opened the temporary gate to get the tarp in. Intent on our project, our focus was getting the tarp up onto the roof beams of the Sheep House. The flock watched with interest. Particularly one of the flock members whose role seems to be in charge of the nursery. She is the most curious of sheep, and I think, could be the herd leader in terms of boldness. 

Because boldly she espied an opportunity to fill her tum with some lusher grass, the best of the Paddock grass now having been eaten all up. Boldly did she step towards the half open temporary gate. Boldly did she ignore my yells of warning to Hubs. Boldly did she step through that gate, into the land of Gus and Bools who are not allowed in the sheep-land of the paddock. But now the escapee was in their territory. Wow! You could see the delight on Gus's face, while Bools looked on with his customary aloofness. 

With speed did the Coe members in the Paddock leap for the half open gate to stop the rest of the flock from following. Managed to do so by a squeak of a whisker. Escapee was now trotting off with Gus bouncing around her. 

Hubs squeezed through the gate, "Keep the rest of them back" he yelled, which I was doing anyway, but it helped for him to have a yell because it was all rather tense. 

I squeezed out behind him. "Stay there" Hubs yelled, as he took a long arc round the escapee to head her back towards the gate. Gus was still bouncing at her heels. Bools was in the middle. 

Hubs yelled hard-voiced at Gus to get him away. It worked. For a moment. The escapee stopped. Turned. Headed back. Gate half opened. Her babies trotting along beside her the other side of the fence. The rest of the flock still looking quite keen to come out rather than stay inside the Paddock. So couldn't open the Paddock gate any further. 

Escapee stopped. "Aha, this grass looks good" was painted over her face. Down went her head. Gus launched himself at her. Not aggressively, but just to see if something would happen. It did. Up came her head, and she came towards me. Then changed her mind, turned, and with a goodly gallop headed out onto the lane. 

Down the lane she trotted. Hubs frantically behind her, trying to catch up. Yelling at Gus meanwhile. Who was also trotting along with Hubs and the escapee, thinking it was all great fun. Bools, meanwhile, stayed with me. 

"Get the rope and some gloves" Hubs yelled at me, as she turned down the side of the Paddock and wriggled herself into the hedge of brambles, shrubs and trees. Closing the gate, I did as was commanded. 

Back I raced, to find Hubs hauling the struggling escapee along the lane. I put the rope round her neck. Boy oh boy but she was strong. 

And we hauled, and dragged that escapee back to the Paddock somehow. Gus and Bools getting in the way, but finally abandoning the 'let's play with the sheep' game as they realised by our tone of voices that we were getting cross with them. So Gus went and sat under the car which is his favourite cave for when things aren't going to well for him, and Bools slunk off but not very far. 

To the gate we managed to get. Half opened the gate with one hand. Unroped her. Pushed her rump through, and the escapee became no longer an escapee. 

Crikey, but that was a worrisome experience. First of all, we have realised that these sheep are not used to being handled. Secondly, that if they are going to make a bid for freedom then it is jolly difficult to get them back again. Thirdly, we have to get all fifteen of them across the lane today or tomorrow, so they can eat the grass in the side field, (Station Field). 

Which is why I woke up in the middle of the night with butterflies of tension in my stomach, which spread all over me for the rest of the night. Crikey, being trainee shepherds is a huge learning curve. 

And so, I have decided that I need to make friends with the flock members, so managed to get one of them to eat out of my hand this morning. Actually it was the escapee from yesterday. Pandy, from Pandora, is now her name. I think the only way to manage a flock is for them to see us as their mum and dad so they can keep with us with things are looking dire. Like when they find themselves out of the Paddock. Or heading down the lane. My theory is that they will come to us, like Bools and Gus do. 

Or maybe they won't. Got to close now, as Hubs /Head Trainee Shepherder, is out in Station Field putting out the electric fencing which we know is not going to work, but at least we will try to contain them in a smaller section of what is a huge field. 

Signing off, from Under Trainee Shepherdess: au revoir pour ce momente.

9pm. The evening: We did it! Hubs did a big surge and erected two temporary fences to be  placed across the lane from Paddock gate to Station Field gate. They comprise waist height wire, with several wooden batons attached along the lengths to stop the wire from buckling over when it is stretched from gate to gate. 

Did a temporary stretch across. Seemed to work. Looked like rain, so moi said to Hubs that perhaps it would be a good idea to leave the sheep in the Sheep House and Paddock, but Hubs was on a roller, and once he is going he is going to keep going. 
"No", he said, "We can't keep putting it off. Let's get them across". 
Since I am an underling, I was not able to voice my opinion. But hooray! Just as we were unrolling the wire fences up drove a car and it was Cherry, our friend. Just in time to be our Under Under Trainee Shepherdess. 

Anyway, she grabbed one end of the road fence, I grabbed the other, into the Paddock went Head Trainee Shepherd Hubs rattling a saucepan full of maize which captured the attention en masse of the flock. Up to the lane gate Hubs strode, followed by his flock. Aw! 

And across the lane they all went in a squelch of welly boots and thundering feet. Into the Station Field all went. Car heard in the distance. Moi and Cherry quickly rolled up the lane fencing. Hubs quickly shut the Station Field gate. We all looked at the sheep who had disappeared into the grass, it having rained of late so the grass is higher than the sheep. 

And they darted here and there, obviously delighted with the new grazing. 

And they didn't do unto the death the electric fence, and none of the sheep was done unto death by the fence. 

So we had lunch. Off for a nap. Was woken by thunderous rain on the caravan roof.
"Put your wet gear on" said Hubs, "We've got to get the sheep back into their house."

Crikey! What a palaver. They had only been in the field for a couple of hours. Aw! They were all piled up by the gate waiting to go home. Bless. 

So the road fences were unrolled, and the sheep were trundled back across the lane. That's twice today we have managed the trip. Phew! And they all went into their house, to get out of the rain, while we continued to get soaked rolling the fences back up and doing sundry other tasks to do with shepherding and smallholding.