Wednesday 24 November 2010

Chickens, potties, refflections.

Well it has been a touch on the wet side of late. Monsoon time, no less. We are all soggy of foot, but not in spirit.

And our Chicken Mum continues to cluck about, maintaining a high profile so that all can see what a grand chicken she is. Top of the pecking order now, she can claim pole position when food is around, and also chooses her own nest site at night. Her babes are doing well, and learnt today that I represent food, so every time I appear they launch themselves at my feet. Little hooligans.

And off they all go for a walk, heading towards the junky environment of the ex-kitchen caravan, the one that is wearing it's awning as a hat. 'Twas the wind that did it!

Turning your eyes towards the left, and that is where we are sleeping. Love caravan life. Would prefer it to be history now though!  And see that little white boxy looking object? That is our retired porta potti, still sort of in situ just in case it is needed in a desperate moment during the night. But a trot across the Courtyard to the house, even in the nuddy, and even when it is freezing, is preferable to wrestling with that appliance.

Et voila:

The reason why the porta potti is going into retirement: the proper potty! Delivered unto us by friends Val and Ron, when they visited a few weeks ago.

But it did not remain in its resting state. Because Ron twiddled about, and hey presto! Uno toiletto!

Proudly the new potty stands upon its own plinth, making it very comfy to sit on. And it is a joined up potty, so one that does not need emptying by Hubs. What I mean is, that it is connected to the fosse, so everything that our bods don't need, and which then gets deposited in the loo, goes into our very own waste disposal system. Our deposits stay here, to fertilize our own land. Cool heh!

Have a bit of prob with the seat of the potty, though. It came with a fragile plastic seat which kept coming apart such that one was in danger of being launched sideways at an inopportune moment if one did not concentrate on staying in the right sitting position. So a nice firm wooden one was purchased. Didn't quite fit the toilet itself, but not to worry, it cushions one's buttocks wonderfully well, and makes the loo experience totally satisfying. For me. Unfortunately the new loo seat does not allow for the abundance of the masculine nether regions. Apparently it is too squashy. Not to worry, though. If care is taken, then all is well. Apparently.

The loud roar of a truck shattered the calmness of Labartere yesterday:

And these beams were deposited. Today they were lifted up onto the Tall Barn roof. Progress!

The temperatures are starting to take a dive, now around freezing, but it is the end of November, so we can't complain about the cold, because we haven't had any really. Just rain. And lots of it. Making us ever so pleased that we can stay under one roof for the hours of our days. A quick trot across to the bedroom caravan at night, and then back again in the morning. Not too far.

And we have a Half-Loo. Why 'Half'? Because it has to be 'flushed' by hand, which means going to and fro the cold water tap out by the main gates to fill the watering cans with which to do the 'flush'. But at least we don't have to scramble about with the porta-potti now. Sometimes things got quite risky. Fumbling about with one's clothing, plus stooping over to get the porta potti sorted out, did take precious minutes. Difficult, if one had an urgency upon one.

So the days are shortening. We are in better shelter than what we were last year, so better prepared for the winter ahead. As my daughter Karen said in an email today: 'Amazing how you deal with stuff when you have to. And when you look back, you think 'My god, how did I do it'..... Human nature - very strong!!! Good to test it.' On looking back to the last two winters, when the house was still unliveable, I would agree. How did we manage! But we did. And still could if we had to. Stirling stuff, the human spirit!

Friday 12 November 2010

The morning queue

Opening my door this morning, and look:

The girls and boy parked up and waiting for their breakfast!

Barging their way in!

Aw. but they were stirling troopers yesterday. With the weather being a tad on the wet side, the sheep have been in their barn more that usual. We had managed to get the floor cleaned up and fresh straw put down, but they had still been in that space for more or less twenty four hours. Upon a quick recce at lunchtime, I saw that the straw was now trampled flat and overlain with copious amounts of piles of poo, which was going to take quite some time to clean up.

But no time to do it, so abandoned the task to go do lunch. Left the paddock gate open. Me and the dogs walked through it, passing the White Cockerel, calling out, "Come on girls, follow me", on his way into the paddock.

Late afternoon: into the paddock I went, with wheel barrow and shovel, ready to load up. Nothing. There was no sign of poo-piles anywhere. Plus, all the straw had been raked around and fluffed up, looking almost as good as new. The White Cockerel's girl-gang had been and done the housework for me! Now I wonder if I can get them to 'do' the floor of the house for me. Oh of course they would. Eagerly, and with great joy, as can be seen by the charge through the door in the photo above.

One problem, though. Unfortunately they go to the loo wherever they feel like it, so perhaps not in the house. Oh, by the way, as well as being recyclers of sheep poo, they are also providing a solution to the mouse problem. Hubs has to keep mousetraps down all the time, and catches one or two per day. They don't live in the house, but come in from the rough ground of the Middle Barn and Tall Barn through the holes in the walls. Can't stop them from doing that at the moment, but also can't have them running about in the house. Hubs has already caught two frogs, but these he puts outside. But the mice have to be trapped.

But what to do with the dead mouse. Easy. Give it to the Limousins, which are the large greyish/white hens in the photo. Down in one go, thats what happens to the mouse. Great recycling! The hens get the mice, we get their eggs, and they lay the biggest eggs of all of the girls, so are deserving of a treat.

Back on the sheep front: The ewe which is almost ready to lamb was looking very weak and wobbly yesterday. Looked like she was going to lamb at any second, because she was holding her tail away from her rear end and we could see that her botty looked active. Trouble was, that she also seems to have got the runs, perhaps because of the grain and hay which she has to eat because of the weather. She could have grazed on grass, but our girls do not like the wet, so we have to feed them the dry stuff. Hope she gets on alright. She is a nice girl.

The Jacob boy is getting brave, and has pushed his way into the feeding bowl of the lambs now, which I let him do. I don't let the girls push their way in, but him I do. Making friends with each other, that is what we are doing. Lambs are putting on a lot of fat now, which is good. Got some cold weather ahead, and they don't have a mum to cuddle up to.

Apart from that, have made my first skeins of spun wool. That spinning wheel! Makes yarn so fast! Tamworths are quiet, although their paddock is one huge mud bath at the moment because of the rain, so they are to go out into the electric fence paddock today to give them a change.

Remembrance Day yesterday: Went up to Castelnau village. Quite a crowd. Mostly French, some English. Stood to one side. And watched.

The memorial overlooks the plains of the valley. In the background the Pyrenees, snow covered now, the first snows of winter having now fallen. It is a magical view. And beside me the little service for the fallen. They individually read the names of the village men who have died in the wars. Two elderly man stand proudly holding French flags aloft. They flutter in the sunshine and light breeze. My poncho does the same.  I look around me. At the old buildings. At the history. And the reality of the First and Second World Wars are with me, because I am standing in a country which was actually invaded. This makes those wars seem more real somehow.

The minute silence. Tears drift ever so slightly in my eyes. "Crikey, I'm in France! Who'd have thought I would ever do this! Not me, that's for sure!" Then the French national anthem played on a portable CD player. The tears do a bit more of a drizzle. "Who'd have thought that I would ever get to be standing beneath a French flag," was in my thoughts.

If you are a life traveller, then you take up opportunities which come  your way, even if you are not quite sure where that presented opportunity is going to lead you. Trust that everything will work out OK, and it will, even if along the way there are times when the panic about making the opportunity work threatens to overwhelm.

And I met a lady, English and with a mum soon to be one hundred years old, both living in the village, who mentioned bees. And so the Bee Project is resurrected, but more about that another time.

Pigs  and sheep to get up and out, chickens to be shooed out of the house again (front door is open because it is warmer outside than it is inside), dogs to be fed and walked, Hubs to be got up with a cup of tea, chicken mum and babies to be cooed over, sickly ewe to be chatted with so she feels looked after. Ah the joys of smallholding. And the mud has dried up, and the sun came out and baked us yesterday, and I had a moving moment underneath the French flags, grew in appreciation of how it must have felt like to have a foreign army camped in your country, and felt a wave of amazement that I am actually living here.

Wednesday 10 November 2010


The Chicken Diary: Following on from yesterday, re: the black speckled hen who was nesting in the dustbin in the awning which is now a hat upon the caravan roof.

So after I finished writing the blog yesterday, Hubs charged in saying; "She's out of the nest! She's left the eggs! She's got a couple of little ones with her! Can't leave her out in the rain! Got to find somewhere dry for her! Where can we put her! What about the wood shed!" this all gobbled out at a frantic pace.

Out we all trooped. There she was, all in a huddle by a puddle, of which there are many due to the torrential  monsoon-type rain we are having. Aw, she looked so worried. But then Gus and Bools were also 'helping', which didn't help matters much. She must have given up with the awning-which-was-no-more, or perhaps got p*******d off with the Limousin hen, which is three times her size, she being a Bantam and therefore quite small. The Limo has had the habit of squeezing in beside her to lay her egg, which she does most days. It must have been quite a squash. Perhaps she was worried about the safety of her chicks or perhaps she was ticked off about the awning, or perhaps it was a combination of both. Or perhaps she was fed up with me going in to get the Limo's egg. Either way, she had abandoned three eggs.

Hubs picked her up. One chick. Out fell another from her feathers. Two. Then another. Three. Into the Pig  / Chicken / Once upon a time office Hut she was put. A bed of straw was laid down for her, and the dustbin, still with its three eggs in, put in as well. Door shut. Upon a visit this morning, and upon being lifted up a foot or two above the ground, one and two and three dropped out of her feathers again. And then a fourth! Oh hasn't she done well! Only two eggs which didn't hatch out of six.

The Sheep Diary: It's been monsoon time here, as I said earlier. Out in the Sheep Arbre this morning, getting the wet straw up from the floor, with the rain pounding down on the roof, and all of us, which included all the sheep plus the two dogs, all of us in the dry. Normally the sheep will do a 'We are scared of you' charge away from us. Not today. Today they decided that we were their buddies. The big ewe's teats have dropped slightly. Would be best to have that lamb now really, as it is still warm.  Probably, though, it will happen in the first cold snap of the winter!

The Jacob ram is pushing his way into the feeding trough now, having decided not to remain intimidated by his future wives, all of whom are bigger than he is. I keep hoping he will put some height on, as I fear that he will have to have a step ladder if he is going to achieve his role in the flock, which is to father the lambs of 2012. The 2011 lambs were put in the pot by the ram now in the freezer, who, by the way, is delicious. We ate a bit of him at the weekend. Bless him. I remain in respect of him, and do not forget those last few days of his, when he was thoroughly satiated with procreative duties.

Oh goody! It has just stopped raining for the moment. Off to get some hay into the Sheep Arbre. Our sheep don't like the rain, and complain loudly that they are hungry, but 'Do not expect us to go out and get wet' is their attitude.

And this morning I had a precious moment, when us and our flock were in unison about the weather.


Tuesday 9 November 2010

She has, she isn't, and the awning?

January 2010

BEFORE: This, then, is the old 'kitchen' caravan. With awning still pristine, everything intactus.

November 2010

Oooohhhhdeearrr! And so the now redundant kitchen caravan has a new hat to wear: the awning. Taken up into the air and repositioned by one of the huge blasts of wind which came visiting during the night.

And so we have a mucky mess: mostly loads of assorted gardening paraphanalia, the old camping twin tub washing machine with which I had many a merry moment until the advent of the new washing machine, the old washing machine kindly donated by friends but which konked out after a couple of months, and the chicken.

And she has! Up off the nest she came a couple of days ago, to have a feed. And I had a look at her nest in the dustbin. A broken egg shell. And  a baby chick. So she has / had one hatchling. I say 'had' because I have not seen it since, and don't like to get her off the nest to have a look, because this hen has, with remarkable stoicism, sat tightly upon her nest, despite the awning flapping and blowing about around her

She ought to be moved. Not sure where we can put her though. We have minimal barn space here. Could have done with having the roof of the Tall Barn finished, but no sign of that being done any time soon. So she will have to keep camping out in her dustbin.

As for these two:

They continue to lay seige to the front door, waiting for the appearance of Dad Hubs so he can feed them. They are the lowest of the pecking order here, being the littlest and youngest, but are doing well nonetheless. Just wrecking my plants round the door, that's their fav pastime. But I suppose their thinking is, that while they wait for grain, that they may as well have a munch on what else is available. They are sleeping in Bool's old puppy kennel at night. Seems to suit them.

On the piggy front: Tess. Is she or isn't she? She isn't. Upon frequent examination of her posterior, we have noted an increasing pinkiness. So, no, no babies were made last time. Which is just as well really, as we are still in the process of building another paddock. And Max has quietened down as well, which is a relief. Although he still lays his ears back and dribbles and snorts when Hubs is anywhere near him. I keep telling Max that Hubs is not interested in Tess as a possible mate, but he doesn't listen. Like all males,  he seems to switch his hearing off when it suits!

Copious amounts of rain have fallen over the last day or two, but the temperature remains quite mild so we haven't had fires on during the day. But we have had our newly purchased electric blanket switched on all night. OoooohhH! Getting into that bed, out in the caravan, which is toasty warm, is like getting into a deep bath of lovely warm water. I slide into those sheets, and submerge myself into the welcoming warmth. It is quite, quite delightful! And I firmly push to the back of my mind any stray thoughts about being electrocuted and should I wear PJ's just in case.

Thinks we have learnt: That it takes team effort to get a smallholding up and running, and that patience is a 'must have' requirement in regards to the animals one has on one's smallholding. They all have individual needs, and will not hesitate to speak if they are upset or in need. Not only are we having to learn French, we are also having to learn the body language and vocal language of thirty six other beings. Patience, as I say, is a 'must have'.  

And so: what are we going to do about the seeds to be sown next year now the awning has become a hat, having been recycled from its previous role as our potting shed. Don't know. So will await inspiration on that one.

Meanwhile: Have a good day!

Friday 5 November 2010

With legs a-trembling

I am all of a wobble. My heart is pitter-pattering, and from the waist down my muscles feel as weak as if I have run a marathon. And what have I been doing? Spinning, that's what. And I have spun for an hour, having spent a couple of days trying to get the yarn to stay put on the spindle. Endless Internet viewing, and the solution was to tighten the tension. Which makes it harder to paddle those paddles, which drive the wheel which turns the whorls which rotates the spindle which makes the yarn. And all driven by my two feet powered by  my calf muscles attached to my creaky knees powered by thighs which have seen better days, which fetch up hung from my botty. From my toes to my waist, that is the area needed to power that wheel. Oh and then there is the air bellows system of my lungs, which are needed to pump that air into those various muscles to drive those various parts of the spinning wheel.

Crikey!  What effort! But I did it! I have made yarn.

The Tamworth Project:

On the piggy front, is she or is she not? That is the question we keep asking ourselves as we view Tess's rear end to see if it is looking fetchingly pink signalling that she is getting ready to receive the attention of Max who, if you recall, was seen completely on board under the moonlight three weeks ago. Twenty one days. That is the interval between her coming into season. It is the twenty first day today.

And doesn't Max know it! Strewth  but he is being a pain in the proverbial butt. Keeps on trying to tangle with Hubs. Not sure why he is doing that. Worried in case we have a mad piggy on our hands. And Internet search fetched up the info that male pigs apparently go through a temperamental and difficult patch about eighteen months to two years old. Like teenagers I suppose. Or he could be getting a whiff of Tess's imminent season if she is going to have one and doesn't want Hubs to take his place on board his lady love, so is protecting his patch. Or he might be getting frustrated because he is having to wait for his moment of trying to procreate. Or he could be sensing she is with piglet and gone all protective. Or he might be just being an ***e.

To give the Tams more room to stretch their legs, Hubs and moi organised a new paddock for day use:

God bless electric fencing! Although the ground looks just bare earth, it is actually covered in acorns, which the Tams love.

They love it. Race through the passageway with great enthusiasm. Or rather, they did. Now Max grumbles and growls his way along, with ears back, and all foamy mouthed. Something is going on with him. And they keep cuddling up with each other, all lovey-dovey. As if they want the world to go away and leave them in peace. Will let you know how they get on over the next few days.

The Sheep Project:

Ah, the lambs!

Fed by hand, they are big boys, now minus their male accoutrements thanks to Ron of Team Val and Ron, friends of ours who came and helped us out a few weeks ago. And they brought with them these two:

Not the two in front! They are the lambs. Its the young sheep to the right and the spotty one lying down, which is our new ram. Team V & R collected him for us, and donated one of her own lambs as well. He is  a Jacob. Lovely little chappie.

But uno problemo possiblement. He is quite a short boy. Our sheep have long legs, and are therefore quite tall. Wondering how he is going to manage the making of the babies. But have been reassured that sheep will be quite obliging and crouch down if the male is having difficulties reaching. 

Both are settling down, and he has been having a sniff around the hind quarters of a couple of our girls, so he looks as if he will be keen to do his job when the time comes.

One of our ewes is looking like a tank at the moment, being as wide as she is tall. Obviously going to have a lamb soon. As are a couple of others. Not a good time of year to be having lambs but flock management went out the window this year, but then they must have come to us pregnant anyway so it was out of our hands really. Hope she manages to get that lamb born while the weather is relatively mild. 

Otherwise, the flock is doing well. All very tubby  through eating the Autumn grass, but looking good. 

The Chicken Project:

These little ones:

Who were looked after by Hubs when the mum-hen chucked them out the nest, are also doing well:

Bools sees it as his mission in life to clean up the botties of all the young animals, so has licked the bums clean of the sheep, and now is intent on doing the same for the chicks. Gus remains aloof. Even today, when one of the hens had a go at him, he remained aloof. But Bools wants to get involved.

Unfortunately we are now down to two chicks because one of them got deceased by a piece of wood falling down on it. But the other two are getting along fine. They are always to be found hanging around the front door, as are all the rest of the flock of late. Might be something to do with the daylight hours shortening, but they are definitely not as energetic as they have been. Still getting eggs, although having to do a search for them every day. One of their favourite places is under the rabbit cages. I have to almost lie down to reach the day's offerings. And one of the hens has taken it upon herself to take those eggs as her own clutch. But no! Off I take her. We already have one hen sitting on eggs in the dustbin-nestbox, and that is enough:

She is only allowed to have six eggs to sit on, all numbered. Sometimes one of the other hens squeezes in beside her and lays another one. But six is enough, so I take the other one away. And will any of those eggs hatch? Three weeks is supposed to be the incubation time, and three weeks is now up.

Ah, feel the need for another work-out. Think I will go pedal my treadle and make me some yarn. Bye for now.....

Things I have learnt: That there is a lot of making babies with this smallholding lark! And that animals have off days as well.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

On Spinning A Yarn

And here is my well used appliance. Used endlessly this summer. With great enjoyment. Now you might be questioning as to whether I am referring to the pot of struggling plant or the curious object sat beside it with the hook on its head. And yes, it is this object which has given me hours of pleasure of late, not the pot.

And from this pile of mucky fleece, which came off our flock of sheep:

With these tools:

I made these: 

Which are 'rolags'.

Applied to the object previously spoken about, which I shall now refer to as a 'Drop Spindle' possibly because for a lot of time one is having to retrieve it from off the floor, balls of yarn were made, then skeined.

Then washed and stretched and dried: 

And voila!

Yarn! takes a humungous amount of time to get the fleece into this state of being. So far, I have managed to yarn-up one and half fleeces, with seven and half still to go. Now winter is nearly here, other projects are resurrecting themselves, one of them being to keep on with my writing, and that alone takes up hours of the day. so the 'fleece into yarn' project looked like being put on the back burner, only it was a shame to waste the fleeces......

Hubs intervened. 'Go buy one' he said. 

And today it arrived. Packaged and partly assembled. 'An hour' said the blurb in regards to the assembling, six it actually took me. 

But look:

Oh yummy. A new appliance. Been on YouTube all evening looking at how to get yarn from this machine. I pedal it, the wheel turns, I feed it with rolags (rolled wool), it gobbles the wool up, twists it around and around itself, and I get yarn. Easy!

Mmmmmm. Perhaps not! Ah well, yet another opportunity to have a go at learning patience!

Things I have learnt today: That I wish men would ask women to write the 'How To Use' pamphlets, only the male mind assumes far to much by way of knowledge about nuts and things, which some of us women have trouble understanding. Therefore, to persevere as far as one can, and then collapse in a heap on the settee. But not to give up, because a short break might refresh one's enthusiasm for trying to read the gobbledegook in the 'How to assemble' pamphlet. Either that, or go make one's partner a cup of tea in the hopes that he might take over!