Thursday 26 August 2010

The ongoing meat thing

Being bold, having recent memory of trying to eat the deceased young cockerel, done unto death by Hubs because of the dissent in The Land of The Chicken Hut, which led to an unhappy meal time with both of us prodding the meat round the plate trying to pluck up courage to eat the cockerel's cooked remains, I decided to keep the meat momentum up by plunging my hands into the freezer a couple of days ago, and coming up with two hefty packages labelled '4' and '3'. '4' is the ram, '3' is one of the lambs, only they were really young adults and not the fluffy, prancy little darlings that one normally associates with the word 'lamb'. Anyway, a bit of the ram and a bit of a youngster headed towards the newly bought fridge (thankyou to Hubs who purchased said item at the weekend. Whooppppeee! No more traipsing to and fro the kitchen caravan to use the abysmally small camping fridge!) 

Ram was cooked yesterday, with intent to feed our dogs thinking that he would be a bit on the tough side, him being not very young. And I didn't mind that because in my mind I remembered him the night before he became deceased, sniffing the bum of one of his ladies, then getting himself hoisted up on board her, having been servicing all his girls of late. And possibly his daughters as well, which is why he had to go. If he had stayed, then they would have had to go. Incest is not condusive to the overall well being of the flock. The same goes for the young males as well. They would have tried to get on board their mums and sisters. Having a talk to them to explain the protocol of social correctness, I think, would have been a waste of time to their ears!

Anyway, one piece of ram into the pot, and cooked. Several hours later, and wow! Out came the tenderest piece of meat. Shame it was designated for Bools and Gus, but then they are part of the family so need to be fed with good food as well. I don't believe in only giving them dried dog food. I think that mucks up their intestines. And canned dog food has them blasting a hell of a wind from their backsides, such that one cannot imagine what has actually gone into the contents of the can. So despite the cost, Bools has always had meat, and so does Gus since he came here. 

They loved their dinner. And I felt love in my heart for the ram, and kept the picture of him frolicking with his girls as I cut the chunk of cooked meat up. 
This is the life of living on a small farm. 

Today, it was the turn of the youngster. Into the pot, after being marinaded over night because Hubs said I should marinade the meat. Two hours later, and all done. 

Now I have a problem. I don't seem to have a picture in my head of that lamb doing frolicky things. Indeed, I don't know which of the lambs '3' is, because they all looked the same both alive and deceased. There was no character trait which made one stand out from the rest. And I need a picture in my head to justify the progression from field to plate. Hubs doesn't. He can't wait to wade into his plate of food. But I had a tiny morsel of the ram, and it was OK. Not enough for me to then wade my way through a pile of his meat, but the tiny morsel was OK to handle and eat. Because I knew he had fun just before his end. 

And I don't want to seem maudling, or difficult, or silly. It is just that when one feeds, then recycles one's animals, after having been conditioned to getting meat from a supermarket shelf for years, well, it does take some adjustment. Which I am doing. Step by step. 

Smallholding, or small farm living is the best of lives to live but one has to learn new ways, create new habits of thought, grapple with many new activities, not mind that one's hands and fingernails no longer look pristine, or that one's clothes do not seem to stay clean for very long because there is always something or someone wanting to leave their mark on you. And the tiredness which accompanies this steep new learning curve. That, too, can be draining. 

But it is all worth it. I only have to flick my mind back to the lifestyle I had in the UK, with its high levels of comfort zones, all of which were contributing to a life tiredness which I left on the shores of the UK. I might be tired sometimes, but I have life energy. And at 63 years of age, that is the best blessing I could ever had.

So if you are thinking of heading off into other directions in  your life: do it! You might not be watching your recycled bit of sheep bubble away in a pot on your cooker, but your new direction might require of you some steep learning curves as well. This is good. Because it takes you away from the stuckness which bogs down other people, who are too afraid to break the day to day cycle of their lives and therefore become old before their time.

I'm going to be old someday. When I am 104. Meanwhile, I have to go put that piece of lamb in the oven to give it a bit of a roasting.

Monday 23 August 2010

The freezer has been fed

'They're coming tomorrow', Hubs said, breaking into my washing up reverie. 
"Who's coming", I said, posting up a list of things to do for 'them', whoever they were, in my head such as 'do 'they' need feeding and if so will 'they' make do with a cup of tea and a slice of cake, are 'they' going to need a tour of the house which means having a quick tidy-up of all including Courtyard, the house, and everywhere else.
"The men who are going to do the sheep".
Ah those men. 

So another list became posted up in my head: knives, freezer bags, buckets, tarps, empty kitchen to make work surfaces available, try not to get ratty with Hubs because I wasn't sure how I was going to manage the experience of seeing four sheep made deceased, try to be patient with Hubs as he prepped himself to be hands on with the deceasements. 

D-Day: Saturday morning. Tensions between us. Out into The Paddock. Catch the sheep, separate the four, let the others go on with their day. Not so easy. Sheep knew something was afoot. Wouldn't be caught. Up and down The Paddock we went, they went, round and round, all getting hot and puffed out. 

"Let Bools and Gus in" yelled Hubs as the sheep circled away from us for the enth time. "Perhaps they'll help".
In they came, and no, they were of no help whatsoever, preferring to romp around, Bools barking joyously, Gus finding a stick and preferring to chew on that. So out of The Paddock they were put. 

Finally, the three male youngsters were held in The Alley at the back of the Sheep Arbre. The ram was still free, his plan being to stay in the middle of the females so they acted as a barricade. 

We gave up. Other things to do. All sheep to stay in The Paddock. The young males to stay in The Alley. 

6pm. And arriving at the front gates came two Frenchmen, handsome young men but with stern faces suggesting meanness of spirit. A glance between me and Hubs: 'Don't want to make those two cross' is what that glance between us said. Paul, from down at La Maison du Chameaux, appeared as well. He had organised the Frenchmen and was going to help us.

So the freezer is now full of meat. Quickly the three young males were dispatched, then  deheaded, skinned and cleaned out of their interior systems. This we thought we would have to do ourselves. With relief we realised that we would be spared that particular experience this time. But the ram was difficult to catch, and Hubs had to do a flying rugby tackle on him to finally pin him down. However, none of the sheep showed fear, and the killing was done fast so they didn't suffer. Will not go into details of exactly how it was done, but suffice to say that it was done with great efficiency by the two men. 

Hubs stayed with them to assist when he could, and I worked in the kitchen with Paul, who is an ex-butcher. At one point we had one sheep, now in carcass form, on the long 'worktop', two on the 'dining room table' together with a middle sized Vietnemese Pot Bellied pig waiting to be 'cleaned' and so thus still entire, the ram in a wheelbarrow in the 'lounge' again in carcass form, and four Vietnemese piglets in a large container in the 'hallway' also waiting to be 'cleaned'.  Paul had asked if his piglets could also be done here because Carla, who was the mum of the piglets, had not been particularly fussed with seeing one of her offspring being barbequed the night before. On the floor by my feet was a large container of 'soft tissue' such as the livers. Sounds grim, doesn't it! But it wasn't because we didn't have time to think. We had a job to do so we gone on with doing it.

Once the Frenchmen left, who actually proved to be friendly hommes and very likeable, Hubs came into the kitchen and Paul showed him how to cut the meat up. I then bagged the portions up individually and got them into the freezer. Thank goodness I have been used to handling the dog food meat! Even the sight of Paul 'cleaning' out the piglets wasn't too bad. 

11pm and all was in the freezer, and the piglets were on their way to their own freezer.

The flock seems quieter now the males are no longer with them, but soon the Jacob ram will join them. No babies yet, though, but I think that most are expectant and will have their lambs this autumn or next spring. We were told by the Frenchmen that they could sell the lambs for us at 80 euros each. This is encouraging because it means that we can have some money coming in to help with feed and vet bills, so they will be paying for themselves.

All in all, it was one hell of an experience, and I have needed a couple of days to recover! But I held my ground, didn't go silly and girly, and got on with helping Hubs be a farmer-type man even though he threw a hell of a wobbler on Saturday morning because he was so worried about whether or not he would go squeamish and faint. This he only told me when we had finished. Bless. 

All the remaining bits of sheep and piglets were put in the fire pit out back, the hole which was excavated by the builders to be filled in with rubble but which has served as an excellent means of disposing of ruined tarps, and bags and bags of dock weeds, plus other unwanted rubbish. Into this pit was put the remains, some recently cut dock weeds, some wood, and doused with petrol. In went the lit match and up it all went, accompanied by an almighty explosive thud as one of the intestines exploded. "Lucky that was in the hole" said Hubs. Apparently the 'bang' would have been accompanied by a shower of stuff. 

Latest adventure for Boolie is do an explore into the now cold fire pit to see what is to be had. So far he has managed to find two feet, cooked and blackened but munchable. Unfortunately one of the Limousin hens also has a fancy for the feet, and troubled him no end for a morsel. 

So the freezer has been fed and we have sufficient meat for the next six months. Now looking for recipes to help me with the cooking of it. I will need loads of different recipes. There is a lot of meat now stored in the freezer.

Things I have learnt: That a piece of meat on a plate will have a history attached to it. 
That if one is going to be a smallholder then one has to square one's shoulders sometimes and get on with the task in hand. 
That for a few days afterwards, coming into one's mind will be 'snapshots' of instances which happened during the recent experience. It is important, therefore, to keep oneself busy with doing other things so these 'snapshots' do not become invasive.
That it is a relief to have a larder of food. Me and Hubs, in our lives we have been hungry, not knowing where the next meal is coming from for Hubs, and me having to keep to a strict budget. It feels good having our food sourced from us. 
That we can look after, and care for, our sheep because they will be able to help us with doing just that. 
That Hubs, if necessary, can remember his rugby days. 
That I, if necessary, can stand by his side and help him with some difficult tasks despite the fact that I would, probably, be a vegetarian! Ah but where would be the challenge in that! And the flock of sheep are having a good life, a better life that they were having before we bought them.

So any donations of lamb recipes would be of great help, and if any of you are in SW France and would like to have a munch of our meat, then book yourself in for a meal. Hopefully the porta-potti will be retired soon, thus enabling contributions to be made into our fosse via the absent-at-the-moment loo. 

Now what shall I cook tomorrow............

Monday 16 August 2010

The White Cockerel's day cometh

In The Land of the Chicken Hut there did come a problem. Friction reigned. Division  arose. Dark Cockerel  and White Cockerel were at war, with Junior Cockerel lending his quota of aggression into the war-pot.

Dark Cockerel started it. Here two days, and it came into his mind that he wanted to be King of  all The Land. And he took ownership of The Run, making it his territory and thereby controlling the food rights, delivered into the run from above by The People.

But he wasn't alone. With him were his girls, six in total: the two brown hens, the speckled brown hen,  the brown, black and white speckled hen, and two black and white speckled hens. This, then, was his harem. And the brown hens became his second in charge, raging war upon all who dared to step out of line. They laid down his law, did those brown hens.

White Cockerel was banished to The Hut, although was made to move out if Dark Cockerel felt he needed to claim that space for a while, after first making sure that his  tummy and his girls tummies were full of food, leaving scant offerings for the others.

With White Cockerel was Junior Cockerel, the two junior black hens, the Transylvanian bare neck hen, and the newly arrived Limousin hens. They were the ones who Dark Cockerel deemed not worthy of his company, with the brown hens reinforcing his dislike of them by bullying them as often as they could. It was not a good time in the Land of the Chicken Hut. Tension was too great, so the girls couldn't focus on egg laying, so none arrived. The People didn't mind that, but they didn't like the tension that was starting to emanate from The Land.

And then things got worse. Junior Cockerel started a sub faction of unrest by sectioning off the junior girls, bullying them into being in his start up gang. White Cockerel was avoiding any confrontation though, even though Dark Cockerel would frequently chase him round and round and round The Run, trying to do unto him harm. But worst of all was the crowing. Dark Cockerel would sound off about himself being The King of The Land to all within hearing range. For all of the day he would sound off. From first light, at 5 in the morning, all the way through the hours of the day. At first it was intermittent, but as each day arrived, so did his need to proclaim his kingship grow mightier.

Until the day cometh when he ratched up the aggro. Upon his girls, each in turn, he put himself,. Rough,  aggressive, his passion to pro-create ruled any gentleness that the girls deserved. Often they would be squawking, not really involved with his passion. In his desire to be The King, he was harsh to all. In his voice The People heard this harshness. It rippled over the air waves, creating unease and unrest throughout their world, smashing the calmness which usually prevailed. 'Twas not good, this aggression which was increasing by the day.

And The People looked at the Dark Cockerel with dismay, for it had been told them that the White Cockerel and the Dark Cockerel were friends. Well they might have been in their previous land, but not in this Land. What to do. An urgent decision had to be made.

So into The Land did the Man Person go. Bravely did he venture forth into that place, on hands and knees,  The Land being tiny in comparison to his world. And he did bring out of The Land Dark Cockerel and Juniour Cockerel.

Junior Cockerel has already been recycled, and Dark Cockerel is in the freezer, plucked, drawn and ready for the oven.

Meanwhile, White Cockerel holds kingship of The Land. All the adult girls are laying well, (seven eggs yesterday), and are a happier band. He is gentle with them, and goes upon their backs with care. They never squawk their displeasure, but instead, when he has finished his job, they ruffle up their feathers as if to say 'Wow, that was good'. He even manages the large Limousins, although does fall off sometimes, they being bigger than him. But at least he has a go at pleasing them.

Peace reigneth now in The Land of the Chicken Hut. White Cockerel is a gentle King, singing when the occasion demands, but with sweetness rather than aggression. All is well.

Sometimes decisions have to be made for the greater good. For the chickens to live together in harmony, two had to be recycled. It makes one feel like one is playing god. This is an uncomfortable feeling, but goes with the territory if one is running a smallholding.

Lessons learnt: to immediately recycle, or put into the pot, a previously alive chicken is not a good idea. From life to plate has to take a few days at least because the actual experience of stopping a life does stay in the memory for a while, making it difficult to successfully manage the cooking, and the eventual eating, of that chicken. Freezing is therefore a good idea because it puts a space in between the living bird and the frozen bird.
Forever after, if we do purchase a chicken from the supermarket, I will be aware that it was an alive bird once.

And we are now in egg production, which means the girls are happy. But one of the juniour black 'hens' looks like 'she' is a 'he', or it could be a transvestite!

Wednesday 4 August 2010

An egg on the plate

It's was a wonderful moment, staring at the egg which our chicken had laid, which was laying on the toast  on the plate in front of me. But what was this! Curiously I found myself reluctant to start eating it! Why was I reluctant?  Because eggs normally come out of egg boxes which are purchased from a shop, that's why, and I don't think of the chicken which actually laid the egg. There is a food loop, and the origination of the food loop, the chicken, is not thought of, dismissed from my head as being irrelevant almost.

But the egg was there in front of me, fresh from the chicken's bum, and I did think of that chicken. Of the long drawn out process of the arrival of that egg into the world. Of the hours of cooing and long drawn out chuckling under her breath as the egg made its way through her abdomen, that is what I had heard.

Painful, her voice sounded pained during the process such that I was reminded of the time when I was birthing my children and I became in total empathy with that chicken. But I only had that experience three times, she does a similar process every day, of this I was aware as I observed that egg on the plate. I had shared that experience with her, cluck by  cluck. Being so close to the chicken run I hear and see most of what goes on with the flock, so I was made aware of the process of birthing an egg by the sounds which emanated from the chicken which was in egg laying mode, of the way in which the rest of both flocks quietened down while she laid her egg, staying out in the run, letting her have her space in the hut, not bothering her.

And they, too, did quiet little clucks, even the Boss Ladies (the two brown hens belonging to Gang 2, the Dark Cockerel's girls), who think they are the queens of all and allow only themselves to poke their heads through the chicken wire of the run to nibble at the greenery still surrounding the run, the ground in the run  now having been made into bare earth by the  poking of fourteen beaks and the scratching of twenty eight feet. Soon, today actually, is the day the door to the run is opened. Today they meet the dogs. Today we may have less that twenty eight feet left to scratch in the floor of the run by the end of the day. But they must come out and explore the Courtyard and enjoy all that the evironment has to offer. This we must do for them so they have a good life.

And so I looked at the egg on the plate, and I thought of the effort which had gone into the laying of it, and my respect grew for that little bird which had given it to me. Forever after my awareness will stay, because I was with her all the way as she laid that egg, and with her when she yelled her joy at having released it into the world.
So when you have an egg on a plate in front of you, stop a moment and think of the origination of that egg. That it does not come from a box, but that it comes from another living being who has the same rights to a good life as we do, which will actually make the eating of the egg all the better for you. It did for me. It was a lovely egg. I knew where it had come from and shared in the excitement when it arrived, as did the rest of the girls. We all cheered, the chickens clucking loudly at speed and me hooraying!

Off out for a long dog walk now to tire Bools and Gus out, in the hopes that they will not be too enthusiastic about chasing the chickens later on. They are good boys, and will learn, that I am sure of, although I am equally as sure that there are likely to be a few ruffled feathers as they do so!

Things I have learnt: that food tastes better when one has been involved in the process of its creation.

Monday 2 August 2010

And then the rest arrived

So, anyway, I was having a browse amongst the Classified Adverts on the website Anglo Info, and my eyes chanced to land upon an advert posted a couple of weeks old: For sale: chickens. 

And for some reason, not sure why, I posted a response, asking if they were still for sale. Now already we have Gang One, arriving unexpectedly, and living in the recycled pig arc until we can get the Back Field fenced and their new house built. We have no room for anymore. Really. We Do No Have Any More Room! 

Yes. The chickens were still for sale, but the flock was to stay intact. OK, I says, will pop round tomorrow and buy them. Now why did I do that! What bit of my brain makes me take these leaps! 

And here they are: Gang Two:

And Gang Two comprises: 2 brown hens, 2 black and white speckled hens, 2 multi coloured speckled hens, 1 dark coloured rooster, and 1 white rooster.

Adding the two gangs together, that makes: 6 adult hens, 3 juvenile hens, 1 juvenile cock, 2 adult cocks.

Meanwhile, Hubs urgently assembled a run for The Gangs:

And then we went shopping. Come along, Sara says, to a market on Sunday. We went, there to purchase two more hens. Limousin's apparently, with the darlingest fluffy rears which looks like frothy petticoats. None of The Gangs have these fluffy bums, and they are smaller as well, including the cocks. These are  new hens are grand hens, creamy coloured with bits of white and black, and very, very elegant.

Back at base camp: there has been a division between Gang 1 and Gang 2. Gang 1 now has a leader, the white cockerel having taken it upon himself to become king of that little flock, which  comprises all the juveniles. I am glad for him, because he has found his role. And here he is with his little band:

The darker cockerel has the rest of them, which he probably always did have, but the new girls are undecided as to who to run with. And yesterday we had our first egg, delivered by one of the new girls. But I think that it was probably one which was in 'the pipeline' so to speak, and expect there  will be no other eggs for a while until they settle down. 

For two more days they will remain in their accommodation. Then the door will be opened and out they will come. They are free range chickens, and must therefore have adventures out and about. Bools and Gus wait in anticipation. 

And we are networked now. The Dark Cockerel makes it be known, to all who would listen, that he has arrived. At day break he starts, and twenty minutes or so thereafter he yells his head off. Most times he quietens down once I deliver unto him and his girls some food. They have the main arena, which is the exterior run, and maintain dominance over this patch when food arrives. I have to sneak the food into the back door of the run for The White Cockerel's flock. He has also started crowing. It can be quite noisy here. All day it can be noisy. Cockerels do not necessarily speak their voice at dawn. At any time during the day they can sound off as well. Ah well...such is country life!

So now we have two flocks of chickens, and Hubs will have to build two new houses. And we have our first egg! Wow! And somehow, in the space a few days, we have acquired fourteen chickens!