Thursday 16 September 2010

Brewing and bottles and stickiness

This was my kitchen table this morning, full of remnants of doings from the previous evening. 

re: Figs. Hubs has been picking figs. Loads of them. The previous years some of them have been jammed,  and a goodly portion donated to the compost heap, recycled but not through our tummies. This year I have a fridge, bought almost on a whim by Hubs a couple of weeks ago, but which has proved the hugest of blessings ever since its arrival. It is now full of figs. 

In total I have made about sixty pots of assorted types of jam. Approximately one pot per week until next years harvest plus some for use in cooking. A lot of those pots contain fig jam. But I am figged out. So what to do with the trays of figs still resident in the fridge. "Where's my wine making equipment" Hubs said yesterday morning. Ah so that's what's going to happen to those figs!

But that was in the morning. I hoped, as in the manner of Hubs and I think all men, that once the idea had been aired that it would just drift away with the breeze. It didn't. It locked in. 

Now normally I have to find stuff which is needed. Hubs expects me to have automatic knowledge as to where everything is, including the screwdriver he had only a moment ago and has put down somewhere but he can't remember where, the same with the watering cans which I hardly ever use but he does several times a day, and so on. Bless. Anyway, I kind of knew the possible location of the brewing gear - in a couple of plastic bags shoved away in a corner of what will be the larder room, only I didn't say. Just kept quiet. Hoping that, as I say, that the idea would drift away. 

Now it might appear to you that I am being hard on my would-be Homebrewer Hubs. But in the UK he was a blasted nuisance with his wine making, which he didn't do very often, but when he did it was always with a such a fuss, and the wine jars put in the most inconvenient places that they were an irritation. I do sound a bit grumpy about this don't I! Oh well, that was back in our old life, when we didn't really have the space or the  right mindset for lots of things including homebrewing. But: smallholding life does incorporate homebrewing, or at least that is what John Seymour (an excellent author on how to do smallholding life) says.

And so another portion of stickiness was added to the overall stickiness of ourselves and the kitchen, and that was the process brewing fig wine, two jars bubbling away at the moment, with a huge pot of figs on the stove waiting to be cooked. Wish he would get a move on with that pot, though, as there is queue of food, like a chunk of recycled lamb from the freezer to be pot roasted, and some courgettes waiting to be souped and then frozen for winter use, that are requiring of that pot.

So that is why there is a wine jar on the table. And infront of the wine jar you can see a plate which looks like it has string on it, plus a couple of ball-like objects. This is wool ready to be knitted with. Haven't mentioned anything about the Spinning Project, but over the summer I have learnt to spin wool from the fleece sheared from our sheep in June. And behind the wine jar is an upturned stool draped with a skein of yarn which has been washed and dried, and is ready to be rolled into a ball ready to knit or crochet with. And that produces another tad of stickiness, although more pleasant than sugar associated stickiness, and that is the stickiness of the lanolin oil present in the fleece, which covers my hands with a sheen of grease, and my clothes as well if given half a chance, when I am spinning the wool. Lanolin is a delight on the skin though, and is very softening.

I brought the lambs back from Sarah's place yesterday morning. It was time to do so. Time to take up the responsibility of learning how to look after them. Two things we could have done: Have them here in the Courtyard so that they become a part of our home life such that they imprint behaviours from their life living so close to us. Or put them out in the Sheep Barn, where they would not have this imprintedness happening, such that they would stay true to what they are meant to be. This would mean leaving them alone for stretches of time during the day but not at night when the flock would be in the same barn, but not actually in phsysical touching distance. What I mean is: Have them here in the Courtyard where they would be frequently picked up and cuddled, probably play with the chickens and dogs,  and possibly start coming into the house, - in other words they would become pets.

And in front of the wine jar is the feeding bottle for the lambs. For the last couple of days I have been learning how to feed our two lambs, the making of their milk always ending up with another portion of stickiness either on the work surface in the kitchen because I have dribbled the milk whilst making the milk and filling the bottle, or tipped the bottle over whilst trying to get the teat onto the bottle. Then there is the testing of the milk to see if it is the right temperature which adds another trickle of stickiness over the back of my hand.

And then out to the Sheep Barn to feed the two of them, because that is where we have decided to house them in the hope that they will naturally engage with being sheepy sheep rather that sheep-pets, I sit on a stool, hold the bottle and receive more stickiness as the lambs feed, one of them normally nuzzling and trying to suck my hands while the other one feeds. We have only one bottle unfortunately, the problem being that the special lamb teats are so narrow that they will only fit small screw-top bottles, which we can't find. The bottle we do have was donated by the receptionist at the Vets, but she wouldn't give me two. Nor would she give me another teat as she only had one left. But we manage.

Did you know that lambs have teeth? Well they do because I have been nibbled. And did you know that they 'break wind'? And that the aroma can be quite rich? Or that they snore, or rather 'zizz' because they are only little. Or that they delight in nuzzling bare skin? Or that tufts of hair start growing on the naked skin of their ears making them look like they are reversing the process of being bald? Or that their 'doings' seems to stick to anything that the squelch comes into contact with, and that as it dries it leaves a glorious bright orangey-yellow stain? And did  you know that if a lamb doesn't have a sheep-mother, that a lick around by the family dog particularly in the area of the poo-hole can solve the problem of the gunge which can accumulate around that orifice and which does not seem to wash off with a flannel and water? And that one should not pick up and cuddle lambs because this humanises them, but one can always sit with one's back against the hay bale or barn wall, on the floor, at their level, and they will come and have a sniff at your face and you can sniff at theirs and so you and them will be bonding but not on your terms but on theirs.
Just passing on these titbits of info just in case  you should find yourself in a similar position, of being a temporary parent to young sheep.

By the way, when they came back from Sarah's place we put them in the field with their mum who came running towards them with great joy, but then head butted them and walked away. It was a sad moment. While they sounded like her babies, they didn't smell like them and so she said "No, I don't want to look after them", thus producing another raft of lessons to be learnt for us. Not to worry. We are managing.

Also, and this is a hugely long blog but there is lots to write about, one of the eggs hatched in the Chicken Hut, but the chick was evicted by its mum. Crikey, but we do not seem to be having much luck with mums and their babies! Anyway, chick now in situ in the office, beside Hubs, and has been joined by two more, Hubs having decided not to risk their mum chucking them out of the nest again, so he has removed them from their mum as soon as they have been hatched. Will write more about this, but the lambs are imprinting me as their main parent, and the chicks are imprinting Hubs as their main parent. Who'd have thought, three years ago, that we would be feeding milk to lambs and water and feed to chicks. Crikey, but if one keeps taking up opportunities which come along, it is amazing what experiences one will have subsequently!

Back to the table: The candle holder beside the wine jar doesn't really produce a stickiness as such, but I light a candle  and send a thought up to the Universe for help when I am feeling like I am slithering backwards. It is lit often of late. Sugary stickiness sticks you to things, but lighting a candle and asking for help unsticks me from that backward slide and starts me moving forward again. Passing that on to you in case you  are having a 'backward slide' moment.

Better sign off, and if you stayed with until this point, then well done and blessings to you! And off I go to try to reduce the stickiness from my kitchen!

Monday 13 September 2010

Sick sheep: Part Two

So lambs down at Sarah's place where they are being fed frequently. They are less dehydrated and looking good. Argument raged through my head as to whether I should stay there and help with the night feeds, but I was shooed away by Sarah who said I needed my sleep. The guilt washed lavishly through me as I drove away, with the instructions that I had to milk the mum sitting uncomfortably in my head.

So I made a return to Labartere. The ewe was standing at the field gate, looking better in herself. Hubs and me got her over into the Paddock. She went quickly, thinking that her lambs were going to be there. Hubs had computer work to urgently do. He moved off, with a 'Good luck with the milking'. Crikey! 

So I followed the ewe back into the sheep barn, to find her conveniently nosing about in the small pen at one end, the one where she had stayed with her lambs. I shut her in. I tried milking. Ooooerrrrr! First of all she wouldn't stand still. She is a big sheep, and I am but a mere human girl. To grab at her coat to keep her in one place took two hands. Those I had. But then there was the milking bit to do. Obviously this needed more hands. Only having two, this proved a difficulty. Anyway, I had a go. One hand holding the mum, the other feeling around her undercarriage. Oooh, but that was a strange experience. She was all hot and her teats felt rubbery. I did a bit of a squeeze at the end of one. She bucked and shoved me away. Not to worry. Small enclosure, not much room for her to escape me, so I tried again. Nope. Wasn't going to work. 

So I gave up. 


Into the house I went, and there I had a tear. Not a big one. Just a bit of one. And for all of two minutes I had it in my head that I wanted to go back to the UK. Sell. Go. Do what others are doing. Retreat. Trying to build a new life, with all its attendant difficulties, was proving far too much for me. 

And then swiftly did those thoughts evaporate. This was too self indulgent. One makes decisions to try something new, therefore one must persevere, and with a smile on one's face as well. This I did, helped by Hubs coming into the kitchen and seeing my tearfulness. "Come on," he said, "Lets go milk that mum"

So we did. Having milked cows Hubs knew how to milk the ewe, and quickly the milk was squirting into the bowl, despite the ewe's disinclination to help. We managed to get the pressure off her udders although didn't clear all the milk because she was still too sore with the mastitis and she was p*****d off with us. Well wouldn't anyone be, having their milking equipment manhandled!

Back in the house, me and Hubs sat, both exhausted by the efforts of it all. One can do several things when one is in this state of being. One can either moan and complain. Or have an argument with one's partner to relieve the tension. Or discuss selling up. Or one can go make a lovely plate of egg and chips. Which I did. Then off to bed, putting an end to a day which had been, quite frankly, fraught. 

Not to worry, another day ahead, and I am off to see the lambs shortly and help Sarah with setting up a website by way of thanking her for her efforts. I think we will have to have a go at milking the ewe again before I do so. 

My spirits are up. There are times when one has to stay up on one's feet despite the nagging desire to go to sleep for a hundred years! Ah well, better than sitting in front of a TV, which I did loads of when back in the UK.

By the way, I looked at the Black Cockerel this morning, and my intuition said that he will be needing to be recycled soon, the reason being that he is starting to show attitude. But he didn't have the mop thrust at him last night to get him out of the tree in which he was trying to go to sleep, because he was actually inside the Hut. Mmmm, perhaps he is aware of treading a fine line now! One of the other hens has gone broody in the  empty rabbit hutches that they decided to use as nest boxes. But Hubs booted her off, because she had taken unto herself all the eggs laid that day, which were four in total. No doubt she will keep on wanting to sit on a clutch. No doubt we will try to encourage her not to! 

So bless this smallholding life. Now where can I buy a penny's worth of patience!

Sunday 12 September 2010

Sick sheep and hens that swop eggs

The babes are doing well out in the sheep's paddock, but mum is not. Last night she was tottery on her legs, after being a tad on the mopey side all day. Not sure if she is missing her chums who were out in the field across the lane as per normal, or whether she is having the equivalent of 'baby blues'. Oh these steep steep learning curves re the animals!

And the interaction between her and me changes as well. For the first day it was as if her and me were pulling together to get her twins moving in life. Then she detached from me, and became a ewe with her young. Last night she was forlorn, her eyes saying 'I'm not feeling too good'. So I gave her a rub on her head to say I was here and would do all I could, meanwhile the two lambs frolicked about at her feet. Crikey but this smallholding lark can be hard on the emotions!

In the Land of the Chicken Hut, all is well. Apart from the fact that in the middle of the hut two speckled hens have decided to make themselves two nests side by side. Into those nests they have laid eggs, plus being donated four others from Sarah down the lane's chickens. Not sure whose eggs are whose though, as every time I check the nests, when the hens are off having a quick feed, the nests do not have the same numbers of eggs in, although the total always remains seven. It would seem that they swop eggs with each other. Bless. They sit in the same position for at least twenty three hours fifty five minutes of each day, all fluffed up, not moving, just keeping those eggs warm. 

Meanwhile the White Cockerel is doing his job as king of his girls, looking after them, mounting them when necessary, telling all in the neighbourhood that this is his patch. He is a grand little cockerel. But the Black Cockerel is now getting bigger, although not being a trouble. I thought that these first arrivals (three black chickens, one bare necked chicken) were going to be trouble, and they are. They refuse to go to bed at night, sitting in the fig tree until I hassle them with my mop. They eat the pot plants, which none of the others do. They remain aloof from us, not interacting with me and Hubs, nor Bools and Gus. It as if they are in their own world, a world that we are excluded from. 

This is not so with the others. For instance, last night I was sitting out front, enjoying the late afternoon sun, and swinging round the corner came White Cockerel and some of his harem, looking to see what I was up to. At least one of them is always keeping an eye on us. This makes us feel that they are interactive with our world. The same as the sheep keep an eye on us, watching our movements whether they are out in their field, or in the Paddock. The same for the pigs. But not those two black Gascon chickens and the Transylvanian bareneck (the fourth Gascon was a cockerel so had to be recycled.) We wait to see how the remaining Gascon cockerel gets on with White Cockerel. I noticed today that he was shepherding the Transylvanian away from the main flock, so perhaps he is the one preventing the other two from being in with rest. Perhaps that is why he doesn't want to roost inside the Hut at night. Tough! In he goes, always the last, normally with my mop up his bum! A thought: perhaps that's why he isn't fussed about me either!

Just checked the new mum, and she is still lying down but chewing the cud, at least that's what I think you call their digestive system's need to push the food through the mouth a second time. The two lambs have what look like dangly bits hanging from their abdomens, therefore they are males. This means that they will have to be recyled next year.  Felt like I wanted to go into her sectioned-off part of the barn and give her a hug to say 'Keep going'. But can't. Nature must take its course, the same as the recycling of the grown lambs also has to take its course next year. 

Off into my day now. Hubs has just started the tractor up, probably waking up all the neighbours as well. It makes a fearful din, this new tractor of ours, but we feel blessed that we have it here. I think we are shifting more hay bales. Hey ho! And I must go and check on yet another pot of figs, cooking gently away in the kitchen. Then its off to pick up more apple drops along the lane, and a couple of more bags of acorns, but that is after I go do hay bale work. 

30 minutes later: had a look in at our mum and my instincts said 'Not good'. Phonecall to Sarah down the lane (at La Maison de Chameaux) and up she came, still in her PJ's, for a recce. Said lambs were looking dehydrated, although still prancy, said she thought her teats looked too full and that they shouldn't be if the milk was flowing through to the lambs OK. She thought mastitus. 

Phonecall to the vet, and out he came fifteen minutes later. Mastitus it was. Off with the vet Sarah (by now in day-gear) went, to get the bottles and teats. We have the milk formula left here by the vet. Meanwhile, Lester managed to get five more bales of hay off the field, single handed, and got them in position round the Paddock. At least we are in advance of the hay requirement for the winter. Most other things we are always one step behind ourselves, trying to catch up. Eventually, I suppose, we will have trained ourselves to be organised in regards to the routine of living a smallholders life. That, I fear, is some distance off given the fact that in most things we are total novices apart from certain country skills learnt by both of us when young. Ah well, at least we will be able to recognise mastitus should it occur again, and at least some of the hay is placed in readiness for the winter ahead. 

So all other tasks put on hold for the rest of the day, as I learn to bottle feed our two young lambs. By the way, in case you wanted to know, sheep 'ruminate' (re: 'chewing the cud' mentioned earlier). 

And two hours later: Sarah has taken the lambs down to her place. Her experience is such that she will hopefully be able to bring the lambs through the next day or so until we can pick up the pace with the feeding of them: they need feeding every hour for today, tonight, and tomorrow. Mum is now wailing her loss over in the field. Because of the mastitus she won't be able to feed her babies and they can't be kept with her while they are being fed because the logistics of doing so is beyond us. I feel her unhappiness, but I would suspect that she is a little relieved not to have two mouths bashing away at her very sore teats. 

Got to rush off now and get ahead of myself for when the lambs come back here, probably tomorrow evening or Tuesday morning. Hope your day is a good one, and for whatever learning curve you are on that you have someone special who helps you through the experience. 

Sending a big thank you to Sarah, and also to Emma, her helper.

Friday 10 September 2010

Just a day....

It started off as usual. Everyone fed, including the dogs and us, chickens off out into the Veg Plot and anywhere else they took a fancy visiting, and the sheep off across the lane into the Side Field.
"That sheep can hardly walk" Hubs said, commenting on the heavily pregant ewe who seemed to have been pregnant for months. "You'll know when she is ready because her udders will drop", we were told. Well they 'dropped' a while ago, but still she has waddled on. Been a bit worrying. Maybe things have got stuck in the pipeline. That's what I had begun to think. Thoughts of calling the vet out had also been drifting through my mind. 
"She can't have it yet", said Sarah from La Maison de Chameaux down the lane, "because it will be a new moon baby and they don't do too well. She has to wait until the full moon, and that's in a couple of weeks time". Looking at the sheep, who looked like she was going to burst at any moment, I had my doubts she would hold on for two minutes let alone two weeks. Still.......maybe she would. After all, as I have said, she has been 'ready to go' for some weeks. 

Meanwhile: dodging the showers, actually it was more like monsoon-like downpours, Hubs / Head Harvest Person, continued to pick everything which needed picking. And then his job ended and mine began. To the left: figs to be jammed. To the right, a tray of tomatoes, onions, and garlic ready to roasted and pulped. 

Got tired of the harvesting, so off out into the Sheep Arbre to pick up the doings of the sheep, and turn their bedding over to air it. Into the wheel barrow the soiled bedding went. Into the wheelbarrow also went the brown hens who espied a chance to make mischief. 

 The tree which Hubs has been harvesting the figs is in the background. It has grown mightily over this summer and is threatening to engulf the Bedroom Caravan sometime soon. Meanwhile I continued out and about, picking up acorns which the oak trees are now shedding in abundance, storing them to give to the piggies during the winter. The piggies, by the way, have been having a splendid time now we have had loads of rain delivered unto us via numerous thunder storms of late. They have been joyously ploughing up their paddock, which now has loads of water filled pot holes in it, proof positive that they have been doing what comes naturally to piggies, which is doing a 'search and find' in the soft, moist, ground.  And joy of joys for them as well, is to have acorns tossed all over the ground so they can do a 'search and find' above ground. Which is good for them when the soil is rock hard, which it has been for weeks. Trying to put one's snout into the cement-like ground is not something one is likely to do too much. 

Meanwhile: another heavy shower, and watching the rain thunder down from the doorway of the house. Me and Hubs, standing together in the front doorway, watching the rain. It was a grand moment. Better than being squashed up in a caravan, or standing in a dripping awning. Me and Hubs, standing together in the doorway of our house. 

Meanwhile, the day made its progression: Hubs in the office, me everywhere else. Doing jobs. This and that. Lunchtime comes and goes. No afternoon kip for me today: too busy. Hubs dives off to the Bedroom Caravan though for a quickie. Onwards the day plods. Off out for a quick dog walk late afternoon. But no, no dogwalk today for this is what I saw:

By the gate: one mum plus two babies. Just born they were, and still tottery on their little legs. I yelled full voice for Hubs. He rushed out, thinking that something dire had befallen me. But no: just our first born. And so we stood, me with tears in my eyes, watching this new life. It is late in the year for babies, who will have to get through the winter ahead, but we are in our first year of being shepherds and are novice at flock management. 
Panic stations: couldn't leave this little group out in the field, only the crows were flapping about over their heads. Had visions of one little lamb being hoisted up by one dark black crow off up into into the air. So Hubs took the dogs for a walk instead of me, and I sat in the field and watched over the mum and her babes with the rest of the flock standing watching me from across the field, wondering, I think, what the hell I thought I was doing, puzzlement etched on their faces as they stood and observed me. 

Hubs back. "Can't leave them here" I said. He looked at me. Looked at them. Then each of us picked up a lamb and carried them back to the Paddock with mum trotting along beside us, relieved, I think, to be got out of the field."She'll have to stay here for a couple of days" said Hubs. But: a problem. After the rainless summer the grazing in the Paddock is minimal and not good enough to feed a feeding mum. 

Nothing for it: time to tackle the tractor and its lifting arm. 

....which he did. Lifting mechanism shifted and shunted into place, after a bit of cussing and swearing and carrying-on, and off across the Front Field he trundled, pleased that he was in the saddle again.

And hoopla! The minor problem of where to insert the lifting arm was solved after a couple of mis-aims, as was the problem of getting hay bale to stay on once insertion was done. This required me to lean into the hay bale to offset its tendency to want to topple over as it was being lifted. Bools and Gus stood by in attendance, just in case their help was needed. 
And off we all went. Back to the Paddock, there to bed down the new mum and feed her some of our very own hay. Another job done. 

By now it was getting dark. So no more could we do, apart from bed down the chickens. And raise a glass in celebration for the two new arrivals, blessing the mum as well, and blessing ourselves for having kept on with learning how to be super duper efficient smallholders. Actually we are nowhere near being 'super duper efficient' but there are times in all our lives when, for the moment, one must be self indulgent!


Wednesday 8 September 2010

Time for a change

With their normal field of the day now reduced to dried grass because of lack of rain, we decided to put them on the Front Field, which is has lush green grass but no fencing. Not wanting the girls to go off down the lane on a jolly, Hubs took a deep breath and bought some electric fencing to make them a temporary paddock. Good idea, we thought.

And it worked! Trouble was that the girls were not fussed with their new grazing. After first munching everything growing except the grass, they then spent the rest of the day complaining that they did not like their new patch even though they could get back to the Sheep Arbre for their afternoon nap. 

So what they did was keep on yelling at us their dislike of the situation, parking themselves up by the Paddock gate which was just beside the office. Hubs has had his head buried deep in data work the last few days. Needs to concentrate. Even I keep a low profile, taking cups of tea and slices of cake to keep him going. Difficult days, these, for him. The smallholding needs him, but bills have to be paid so at the moment he has to work, via the Internet, with the UK, doing a job which is mentally taxing such that he gets all twisted up in knots sometimes. Not to worry, though. The company he is working for is gradually falling on to the ground, so change is on its way for him, which in itself is a nagging background concern. But then we take ourselves off round the farm which always has a re-energising effect on both of us.

Anyway, the sheep were shooed off back to their temporary grazing area by an irritated Hubs, and there they stayed for the rest of the day.
And it became a precious moment for me towards the evening. There I was, picking up the acorns from beneath the oak tree, Gus and Bools looking after me as per usual. To my left, the sheep were grazing,  some of them now chomping their way through the compost heap. Also on the compost heap were some of the hens. Oh so up to the heap the White Cockerel marched, scrabbled up to the top, kept on going upwards onto the back of one of the black speckled hens, did his male duty, then slid himself off her and back down the heap, job done. The other hens were in the Veg Plot to the right of me. Off the White Cockerel went to see what they were up to.

And in the Tam Paddock Tess and Max waited for the acorns which I was harvesting for them. For a rare moment all the animals were surrounding me. Lovely moment indeed.

Oh and I must just mention the meat thing again. Yummy yums! Had some lamb cutlets at the weekend from the recycled sheep. Pot roasted them first, then into the oven to finish off. They were absolutely delish and even I had a second helping. It is unlikely that I will ever enjoy meat from other sources now, and if you have a parcel of land on which you can also make a small farm, then do it! But a word of warning: once you have got used to the work and responsibility of looking after animals, then you will become addicted both to the life and them.

Bbrrrr! Sitting here writing this blog at 6 in the morning. It has been my habit to rise early, and do jobs and other stuff, in the nuddy. Oooh, but it is a tad on the chilly side this morning, and methinks that I will have to think about ordering some new thermals for the winter ahead. For the last two winters I have worn pretty lacy thermals, which are very feminine but absolutely useless in regards to keeping my bod warm. So this year I am going to order some man-type thermals. They will not be very nice to look at, especially the long-johns complete with loo-opening, but needs must. I am also going to make some long cotton petticoats, after having found my box of winter skirts, which were not findable last winter so I had to go through the winter wearing two pairs of summer cotton trousers at the same time. So long-johns, long petticoats, long winter skirts, boots (just ordered), several layers of jumpers, topped off by a homemade crocheted wrap. Methinks I will look quite the farm-girl! 

Oh so now the chickens are kicking up a fuss, wanting to be let out so they can get on with their day. The sheep are still asleep, but will be heading out to the Station Field as per normal, Hubs having given up with trying to coax them into staying on their new pasture. Bools is giving himself a wash round at my feet. Gus is tucked up in the house, as is Hubs in the Bedroom Caravan. Those two, and the sheep, are not early risers.  Max and Tess will get up when they hear me, every hopeful for a handful of acorns. 

And I am getting more 'goose bumps', so bye for now, and I hope your day is a good one.