Friday 30 December 2011

Just a catchee-up

This is as far as I got in regards to the Christmas Tree this year. No decs, and  not even having its artificial branches fluffed out. I put it back into its box yesterday apologising to it for my lack of effort. It's not that I didn't want to make it pretty with baubles and lights, it is just that Christmas seemed to arrive quicker than I expected, overtaking me with a speed which was quite surprising.

But at least I did put a little bit of dressing on our front door, the Christmas wreath having been kindly donated by a Dutch friend.

The tall plants either side of the door are small olive trees. They set up quite a good show of olives earlier on in the year, most of which remained right the way through the summer, and even now some still remain. They taste awful though. Perhaps they will improve as the olive trees gets older. I think, though, that they have a long way to go.

The little chick is still doing alright, managing to finally get up the high step into the Tall barn unaided. Fuzzy Sideburns, the little chick's mum, has a tendency to march into the barn and not wait for the chick, who is left to run up and down along the bottom of the step chirruping frantically to remind her that she didn't ought to be doing that. In previous days we have rescued the chick, but today it managed to fly up onto the floor of the Tall Barn unaided, and then it fled over to where Fuzzy was, all furiously racing feet and wildly flapping wings. They really can move when they need to, the little ones.

Our builder paid a visit yesterday, and is now booked to put the ceilings up in the kitchen and the dining room. Hubs had thought about doing it himself with me as his 'go-for'  but it was a relief when Danny stopped by and gave us the quote. If we do the work it will take us many months to get started let alone finish the job, so better to pay Danny to do it. He is also going to get moving with the shower and loo. It will be nice to stand in a waterfall of water to get washed, rather than rubbing a flannel over myself. And Hubs will be able to go to the loo in peace, because he has insisted on having a separate loo rather than having a shared loo and shower room. He says that it will be a relief to sit behind a locked door and take his time. I don't quite understand his thinking on this. I think it quite chummy to have a chat when he is on the 'throne', and the dogs like to visit him as well to see how he is getting on.

We have had some glorious days of sunshine, and now it is wet and rainy. Rain is good. Cold is good. Wet and cold is not good. Never mind, the new year beckons, and soon 2011 will be done. Wishing you all a very happy new year, and thank you for popping in to have a look at my blogs. 

Monday 26 December 2011

Hot chicken, frozen chicken, head butts.

"Vera" Hubs called, "Come and look at this". Dropping my knitting mid-row, I hurried to see what was the prob. 'Twas in the Sheep Paddock. It was Jacob, the Jacob ram. Alarm ran through me. Had he succumbed to magic mushrooms the same as the young sheep had done a few weeks ago, when Hubs had found her, flat out on her back and totally spaced out. Only Jacob was sort of stiff. Upright but stiff. Then he took a few stiff paces backwards and sort of jerked his back feet to and fro, then he charged forward......straight into the nearby fencepost. Headbutted it he did. Thwack! Then he reversed a few paces, still stiff, then thwack! He repeated his attack on the fence post.

So what was that all about! First strong frost of the winter here this morning, so no mushrooms are about. Why did he do such strange behaviour. The ewes will not be in season, well I don't think they will be, so why did he try and fight the fence pole. What had the fence pole done to deserve such treatment.......

Christmas dinner was a bit of a hurried affair yesterday. Didn't cook it until late afternoon after having spent most of the day outside in gloriously warm sunshine cutting the brambles down in the front garden. Pride of place for the meal, though, was the hen whose leg had got in the way of Gus's mouth back in late summer. Well she had  been making a raid on the remaining dog food in Gus's dog bowl, he having left a few morsels of food to have as a snack later on, and I had shouted "Get out" at her, which acts as a signal to Gus to go on guard dog duty, but I don't think he meant to actually bite her, rather, I think, her leg found its way into his mouth when he was open mouthed and in the first stage of making a bark, and unfortunately was not removed fast enough so that when he shut his mouth to complete the bark her leg became broken by the closing action of his jaw. I do not think he meant to bite her.

We put her in the 'emergency room', which is Boolie's old puppy kennel, for a day or so. Was not sure about whether we should put a splint on the leg or not, but decided that she needed to head towards the freezer when she started to become depressed and look sad. So she completed her life as a hen of our flock, and into the freezer she went after Hubs did the necessaries. And I saved her for a special occasion because she was one of our special laying hens and had given us good service. And thus is was that she was removed from the freezer, defrosted, and cooked. With reverence this was done. In fact I washed her outside under the cold water tap before she went into the oven, giving her once last outing across the Courtyard to do so.

Do you think me strange that I should do such a thing? Or perhaps weird? Ah, but when we eat the meat of the animals here we are totally aware of their history, and that gives us much respect for them.

So that hen fetched up hot and cooked, unlike her other flock members who have insisted in sleeping up in the fig tree despite being continually soaked by recent overnight rains. They have got shelter but they have stubbornly refused to use it. How they managed to keep on those slender branches of fig tree during the very strongly gusting winds a couple of nights ago heaven only knows. Quite expected them to have been blown away like carrier bags when I fed them the next day.

As I have already mentioned, we had frost last night, a very heavy frost, a frost so heavy that it gave everything a dense coat of ice crystals, including the hens and cockerels of our flock. Crikey but they looked like they had had a turn in our freezer as well. So I gave them a good helping of warm pasta and fed them more grain than usual, by which time the sun had risen to carry on the process of warming them up, by which time Hubs had lit the fire to keep us warm, by which time I felt quite frozzled by the cold, by which time it was time for a cup of tea and some toast.

Fuzzy Sideburns, the hen who has just hatched a chick, is looking after that chick very well despite occasionally standing on it. I think that the chick is a cockerel. Although only five days old it's tail feathers have just begun sprouting in an upwardly pointing manner. Fuzzy Sideburns is called Fuzzy Sideburns because she has head feathers which stick out just like a man's sideburn would do if they were left to grow scraggly.

Another cold night here. Electric blanket is warming up the bed. Fuzzy is in her nestbox lined with straw to keep her and Juniour warm. Max and his girls are snuggled up in their piggy cabins. The sheep are cosied up in their barn. The chickens are up the tree.

The little hen and her little Christmas chick

Saying bye for now, and hope your Christmas is proceeding along quite, quite, joyfully.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Just to say......

......just to say that I wish you all a peaceful end to 2011, that the Christmas season is a good one for you, and that you are able to recharge your batteries before you launch into 2012.

Blessings to you ....................

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The geese they are a-laying

....or rather the one female goose is! And what a  surprise it was when she produced this egg:


And on Hubs' birthday too which pleased him greatly having been informed by the French farmer who sold the three geese to us that they would not lay until Spring, and that they would need a pond to procreate. Well ours didn't need a pond. They seem to be managing in the plastic trough which is just below my washing line in the photo below:

And what the two boys are doing here is prancing about in the Courtyard telling the World that an egg is being laid. Now wouldn't you think that if an egg is on the way, that it should be done discreetly so no one knows about it? And the hens are the same. They make such a fuss when eggs are going to be laid, or about to be laid, or have been laid. We hear the news. So do others, like Bools, Gus, the crows, and the magpies. Often it was a race as to who would get to the egg first during Spring and Summer. I think, in the end, that it was fair shares all round.

Hubs was so happy about that goose egg arriving, and chatted on about how nice it would be to have lots of geese about the place. However: uno problemo.
For one: The nest is right by the front gates:

Aw, but she does look sweet tucked up beside the straw bales.

And so does this little black hen tucked up nearby....... does this hen up top of the bales. Can't see her? Not surprising as she decided to nest build inside the paper sack which was half full of hay waiting to be given to the rabbits. She has now been moved into the Tall Barn, my thought being that there was no way that little chicks were going to get on to the ground safely, should there indeed be any little chicks happening. And there has been one arrival at least because we heard chirpings yesterday.......

But back to the problemo. I foresaw a difficulty happening. I have been told that geese can hiss. Hubs say they do because he has been hissed at already. I have not been. A friend who has geese has also gathered unto himself some bruises from his male goose and another friend said she had to get rid of her male goose because it was attacking everyone. Presumably the males protect the females. Our female is sitting right by our front entrance gates.

So what would happen if we wanted to go to and fro the gates, which we do frequently during the day. And what would happen if someone came to the gates to visit with us, or came through the gates to get to our front door, which most do. Would we all be under attack from those two male geese as they stand guard over their girl on her nest.

With these thoughts bubbling around in my head, I therefore vetoed Hubs' plan for increasing our goose population, and the egg was removed from the nest and taken indoors. It was huge.

However....Hubs hatched another plan, which was to collect the eggs and put them in the incubator. So an autre problemo. I tend to be the one to whom the responsibility of the incubator falls. I turn the eggs several times during the day, not quite trusting the turning capability of the incubator. I am the one who keeps checking on the temperature and moisture levels. I am the one who then tends the hatchlings...getting them to have their first drink, making sure they are comfy, etc. And when outside, I am the one to whom they come for food. I am the one whose lap they fly on to. I am the one who is their mum for a while.

Do I want to do this with goslings? No. I do not see myself as a gosling mum, with those goslings following in line behind me wherever I go about the petite ferme. Already I have the dogs and chickens and geese keeping me company. Enough!

We eat the eggs. Problem solved. Was reluctant to break open the shell at first though. Had to ask Hubs to do it. Why? Because I half expected something, like a tarodactyle baby, to leap out at me. Ridiculous I know! But still that thought was in my head. I am not used to big eggs. But then it took a few crackings of our hen eggs before I felt comfortable about doing so. I kept thinking something was going to jump out of them as well. After all, for most of my adult life I have been purchasing shop bought eggs which I never had any thoughts about at all although I did buy free range whenever possible. But once the eggs were in the kitchen, I regarded them as ingredients for whatever food I was making. I never connected them with a hen's bum.

So for the moment we are in goose egg production, with five having arrived, three having been eaten by us, one eaten by Gus (our spaniel) although he might have raided more from the nest, and one waiting to be eaten which is safely indoors.

And with a whisper of a thought drifting about in my head that perhaps, just perhaps, I might have a go at incubating goose eggs at some point in the future I am off into my day...another wet day judging by the rain thundering down on the roof,..... and all the animals waiting to be fed and veggies waiting to be picked for lunch..... Oh the joys of smallholding in the wet!

PS. Have just found two more eggs in the nest which the goose had buried deep within the straw, and one hen's egg sitting on top. And the little black hen (the one on top of the straw bales) has hatched one little chick, and it looks like it is from the egg I put underneath her when she first started sitting on her nest. She already had a couple of eggs but she is tiny and I don't think Orpy, our huge cockerel, can manage to fertilise her. Most times she sort of gets squashed underneath him or else walks backwards through his legs when he is of a mind to do the bizness. So I put one of the other eggs underneath her and this is what has hatched.  

PPS. Everyone must have an inkling that cold weather is on its way because the hens have been laying siege to the front door wanting more food, the sheep have been making it known that they would prefer to be in another field as the one they are in is not to their liking, and the pigs have been rooting around in their paddock all day instead of sleeping the day away as is their normal habit. I guess that all are needing to put on some fat ready for the zero temperatures predicted. Perhaps that is why I felt the need to indulge in a choccie bar with Hubs!

Sunday 18 December 2011

Another sloshy day

For this day of paddling in the mud my feet were more sensibly shod in boots that had been so kindly donated by a friend who had no further use for them since they were too small for her feet. She had been inspired to donate them because she had caught sight of me in my other boots which were falling apart, and by 'falling apart' I mean just that. There were more holes than boot but they had been good friends and had walked many a mile with me and I was loath to dispatch them to Boot Heaven, but to Boot Heaven they went once the new ones arrived, sent there by fire having been put on the heap of our last bonfire. It was a good end for those hard working boots. Better than dumping them in a bin bag.

It had rained a lot overnight. To do some more sloshing about in the Sheep Paddock was required. Not wanting to expose my toes to a mud bath again, the wellies were ignored in favour of the new boots. And they were new when they came to me but now they have been baptized in the Labartere manure-mud. They will never be the same again.

So this has been the ongoing Mud Project:

All that water would have ended up in the Sheep Arbre so at least it stayed outside. At the bottom of the wall to the right you can see my engineering attempts to stop the flow of water going through into the barn. All I did was dug a small trench, not very deep because I have lady-arms which comprise a goodly balance of fat and muscle, well rounded I suppose you would call them, but lacking the greater force of man-muscle. So the trench was more a scraping away of the top layer of soil, which was quite rock hard there being loads of stone in the ground.

But I managed about six inches deep of scrape along the wall, and made it about eight inches wide. I borrowed some plastic bin bags from the kitchen and lined the trench, then put some upturned roof tiles over them. Then I espied some useful wall bricks at the local Brico and made a line along the edge of the mini trench to act as a barrier to the water, sort of like a dam wall which I think was quite effective seeing as how I did manage to achieve quite a sizeable puddle the other side of the wall, and the floor of the arbre, although quite damp, was kept puddle free the straw managing to absorb whatever water did manage to seep through.

But I solved one problem only to have another one appear, which was that I involved the old used straw in my engineering project. OK when it was showery summer weather. Not OK once the winter rains came: straw + sheep poo and wee + copious amounts of rain = sopping wet slush.  

Yesterday I had already made little streams in the manure-mud to get the water away, but it was not enough. More effort needed to be made, so boots on, everyone to the Sheep Arbre except Hubs who was reluctantly glued to his PC earning us a living, 'everyone' being dogs, chickens and geese most of whom remained on the grass outside the Sheep Paddock, them being the sensible ones, although several chickens did tiptoe over the mud very delicately to do a raid on the Sheep Arbre floor.

This hen has had her fill of sheep poo and is now evacuating the muckiness

With fork and spade and other implements I reformed the rivers I made yesterday, the sheep having collapsed the banks with their feet. It started raining. I carried on, shovelling the muck into the wheelbarrow, then wheeling it round to the new veg plots.

Gosh, but it was mucky work. It started raining harder. Hubs called out 'Come in now Vera, I've made tea for you'.

But I didn't want to go indoors.

Because I flippin well was enjoying myself!!!

Yes I was!

At nearly 65 years of age I seem to have developed a passion for messing about in the mud. Is this some frustrated urge that was not resolved when I was a child do you think? Was I denied the 'mud pie making' stage? And does this mean that I am reverting back to a child-like state of being again?

I very much hope so!!!!

And here is the 'harvest' of my efforts:

Thursday 15 December 2011

What did you do in the rain, Vera?

.....well I put my welly boots on, that's what I did.
So why did you put those old wellies of yours on?
....because I was going for a paddle.
Ah, so you wanted to go play in the puddles?
.....well, not exactly, no.
So, did you not go for a paddle at all?
....oh yes! I did!
And where was that, pray tell?
......well it was in the sloshy muddy mess in front of the sheep barn.
Now why would you, a person who has accumulated a goodly quantity of years stashed away behind her, why would you feel that this would be a necessary?
...because the sheep have to wade ankle deep in muck to get to their barn.
But why was the muck there in the first place.
.....because I had thought it a good idea back in the summer to put their old straw in the doorway to make a nice ramp they could walk over, and keep the water away from their bedding, me and Hubs not having had neither the time or the financial resources to make a concrete floor for them so they can keep dry in wet times.

And the plan worked. But in my novice state of being a trainee homesteader I had not realised that when the winter came, that the pile of old bedding would turn into a soggy swamp once the sun was no longer shining with its hot summer force to keep it dried into a firm state of being.

However, I paid the price. Yes I did. Because in my endeavour to make some drainage channels to get the mini lakes of water away, my welly got stuck in the mud, with my naked foot being a couple of metres away with the rest of me.

And I yelled and yelled for Hubs but he did not hear. Forlornly I observed my welly sat in the middle of the swamp. In my haste to be out of that area I had bounded across the patch. One can bound on dry ground quite well, but not on soggy, this I have learnt. One has to sort of glide lightly over bog. and not be heavy footed. But what to do.

In my dilemma I observed my welly sitting on its own, but with my sock inside it to keep it company. I looked down at my now brightly pink toes who were starting to complain about my lack of care of them in such a wet and dingy environment.

So what did you do, Vera?

....well I stood for a few minutes hoping that the welly would magic itself to me, or that someone might arrive on the drive in their car, or that Hubs would come and call me in for tea and toast.

"Oi" my toes called out to me, "We need socks, boots, dry, heat".
Nothing for it. I had to slide my toes plus the rest of the foot of course, into the wet soggy wetness of that mucky mess. Oooooh. It did feel strange. And gloopy. And sort of wrapped itself round my foot like a snuggly duvet, or rather a cold snuggly duvet. Two steps is what I had to take to get to my welly. And then my oh my, but another event almost happened as I struggled to pull my welly out of the mud which by now was regarding my welly as a long lost pal and didn't want to be parted with at all. I had to pull and pull, and suddenly it came out, so suddenly in fact that I nearly tipped over which would have made all of me, yes all of me, have a bath in that mud.

But not to worry. I stayed upright. I managed to get some channels made in the goop, and I did have the joy of having those channels turn themselves into mini rivers. If it had not been raining so hard I maybe would have made a paper boat to float along the stream of water.

A bit silly that, if I may say so, Vera.
......I suppose so, but hey! One has to see the funny side of moments of direness, does one not?
Indeed yes, I would agree. Anyway, so where was your Hubs?
...indoors making a roaring fire with the wood he had recently cut. And sitting at his PC in conference with his office in the UK.
...he had made me toast, though, and a cup of tea, and my toes unthawed infront of the fire so all was well.

So, Vera, will you continue with your project of making a barrier from the rainwater out of manure?! I am going to get the manure out of the doorway and put it on the newly made veg furrows which I shall tell you about next time. Not sure how we shall stop the rainwater from trickling into the sheep barn, but hope that an idea will pop into my head over night. We are now in the middle of the rainy season, which is much needed for future veg planting, but the sheep need to have the option of being able to sleep in a dry space. Funnily enough, though, they sleep outside most nights! I don't think they like having to paddle through the mud, although I did put an old table top on top of the mud so they had a nice ramp along which to walk.

Off to bed now. Bye for now.

Vera, you forgot to mention the geese.
...oh you mean the geese which now romp from puddle to puddle having a wonderfully happy time now there is lots of water about! Oh how joyous are those birds. But not so the other birds, our chickens. They do huddles in the Tall Barn, waiting for the showers to stop. Bless.

And you yourselves are dry now, Vera?
.....yes indeedy! No more trekking to and fro the caravans with wet feet, wet dogs, and frayed tempers. All indoors now, except when one has to do jobs like  feed the animals or make rivers of water flow!

Off to my warm and toasty bed now, made into this delicious state of being by the priceless electric blanket.......xx

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Man jobbies (1)

This lovely rounded man-rump belongs to Hubs / Head Woodcutter.

And the time has come for the chopping of the wood. First a local farmer came with his mighty powerful chainsaw to cut the beams of wood into more manageable pieces. Then this lovely helpful farmer-man showed Hubs / Trainee Woodcutter how to chop those pieces into smaller pieces. With a hefty axe he did this. His own hefty axe, as we did not own such a powerful implement at that time. Oh we had found some old axe heads about the place but with no long wooden handle attached to them.....well, they were best used as artfully placed decorative pieces dotted here and there about the place. Thought it gave authenticity to our petite ferme!

Anyways, our helpful farmer brought his axe with him to show Hubs the art of 'Chopping of the Wood'. Hubs face was a joy to watch as he did his first swing at the log and with a wallop the log shattered into several pieces which were just the right size for our small log burner. Then off indoors he went to get on with his computer work.

Later on, however, when the day was nearing its close, Hubs made a quick dash outside. I thought it was to water the flowers as men tend to do when certain needs are upon them, but no! A few minutes later, with much mortification, he flung himself through the door to announce that the farmer's axe was now dead, it having become deceased on the second thwack of the log.

'Twas not good, this killing of the axe.

But not to worry. Off to the shops he went, to purchase three more axes. A fairly light weight one for himself, which he ever so graciously said that I could borrow should I feel the need to do a bit of chopping myself which I won't seeing as how I am a lady fair so do not have the arm muscles required to heave that monster of an axe over my head  to make a chop, but I thanked him nicely for thinking that I might like to have a go. The second axe was slightly heavier than the first, and was to be given to the farmer-man to replace his now dead axe. He also purchased a long wooden handle to go with the now handle-less axe head. Then the third axe....crikey but that is a monster and ever so heavy that I can hardly lift it. Hubs has been banned from using this until he is efficient with wood cutting. He does have a tendency towards being accident prone, so I think the lighter weight axe should do less damage should it connect with his leg.

Da Daaaaaa!


Saturday 10 December 2011

Well that went well....

Well I think it did. The church was full. The people rose to their feet at the end to clap and cheer. Oh there had been a bit of a moment, right at the start, just after the children had sweetly sung Douce Nuit (Silent Night), when they had left the bit of the little church which was up the steps, the bit where the alter would normally be only it had been repositioned to one side so that the choir could have room to sing, well down the steps the children came so that they could sit through the carols they would not be singing, so they wouldn't fidget in full view of the audience of which there were many.

I had been loaned a music stand. I have never had a music stand. I felt quite grand when I put my music on it. Felt quite the business. Quite choir leader-ish.

And as choir leader I stood in front of the choir, children and adults and others. And as choir leader I stood betwixt them and the audience, with my borrowed music stand, upon which was my music, as my companion.

The church looked lovely. I find the churches here in the Gers and Haute Pyrenees so simple and uncluttered. No dead people anywhere indoors, unlike the churches back in the UK which remind one constantly of one's own mortality by the presence of memorials and such like.

Arranged here and there along the alter space were candles, flowers, lights, and a patio heater to keep the pianist warm so his fingers would not get stiff with cold. The churches are lofty. No central heating of course, just big spaces, cool in summer, cooler in winter. But I did not need the heat from the heater because by comparison the church was colder than my house, but about the same as it would have been had we been still living in the caravans, so I am used to the cold, so no bother to me. Anyway, under my black ensemble I had thermal vest and layers and boots and socks and I was moving about, waving my arms and jigging about as choir leaders do, well as I do when I am in choir leader mode. I can't stand still and just lift my arm in miniscule movements to signal the beat of the bar. No, something else seems to take hold of me and I find myself in quite a flamboyant mode, urging the choir to sing louder or softer or not at all depending on what the carol needs. Not that they always obey. In fact most times they don't watch me trying to manoever them into singing grandly. Most time their noses are glued to their music. But I try anyway. I am not a 'quiet' choir leader. I make my presence felt. Not sure how or why I manage to do that. I guess it is a hidden part of me that springs to the surface when the occasion requires.

So, the children needed to come down off the front of the church. I had to get out of the way so moved me and my music stand to one side, mindful of the line of candles put along the front of the raised bit of church, at ankle height.

Children down. Expectant silence abounded. The audience was still stiff. All sitting. I felt like I was towering above them. The choir were standing expectantly, waiting to sing the next carol, which was 'Hark, the herald angels....' The pianist had his hands hovering over the keyboard waiting for my signal. I am not experienced with music stands. I grabbed the music stand upon which was my music, quickly I grabbed it. It did a tilt sideways, unbalanced as it was by the weight of the music, gracefully it tilted, and tilted sufficient to let slip, and fall, my music. I saved the music stand from falling onto the floor. Not so the music. That fell onto the candles. Oooopsy!

But not to worry. No bonfire did ensue. No fireman rescue was done unto me. The music was saved from an untimely death by flames, and so was I. With an 'excusey moi' said to all in ear shot I managed to retrieve the file of music, replace it on the stand, gather unto myself the attention of the choir, although by then I had it anyway especially the 'owner' of the choir who was standing central to the other choir members and sent unto me a deadly glare of 'behave yourself' which quite reminded me of the look my mum used to send me as a child.

We carried on and I did manage to get the audience to participate. I did get them soft and jellied up. I did get them to sing in appropriate places, and we did get a standing ovation at the end.

And at the end, when all were jolly from the effort of either singing or listening, when all were partaking of wine and mince pies in the Sal de Fete (local village / church hall), I tiptoed quietly away, my job done. I had got the people and place alive. That was enough. I had jigged and bounced and encouraged. Onwards I went to my home. To a cup of hot chocolate, the dogs, the geese, the chickens, the pigs, the sheep, and Hubs who came to the gate with a torch to guide me through the various obstacles between the car and the house.

I had just done my first concert as a leader of a small English / French / Dutch choir. I think it went well.

Sunday 20 November 2011

The stonking dynamics of artichokes

Phew, but the wind did bloweth a goodly amount here at Labartere last night. Aromatic in the extreme, we were almost lifted from our bed much to our surprise because we had had a busy day out in the veg plot.

In an effort to get ahead of myself, and taking advantage of the lovely weather we are having, the project of the moment is to get the veg plot reasonably tidied up so that it is not such a manic panic next spring. Usually this has not been done. The vegetation grows itself into mini jungle, with roots a mile deep in the earth which take a lot of effort to excavate. So I hatched a plan to get it tidied up before the winter arrives. Oh I know that it is almost here, and indeed the mornings have a whiff of frost about them, but the earth is still moist from the recent drop of rain, and the vegetation is still in its settling in stage so is therefore easy to remove.

And bless them, but Max and the girls wait in anticipation of the arrival of that vegetation. Nothing is wasted here. It is not sensible to make a compost heap here because our chickens flatten it to nothing. Before they arrived last year we had a huge compost heap, but now it has evaporated away into nothing. In an effort to thwart their efforts at maintaining Labartere as a 'compost-heap-free zone', we have been putting the manure from the sheep and rabbits in a heap but covered over with a tarpaulin. And yet that heap should be twice the size that it is. I don't know what those chickens are doing to that heap, but they are definitely on a mission to dispense with that heap as well.

Anyway, so no compost heap for the vegetation pulled up from the compost heap. But what I do is give it to the pigs. What they leave will be trampled into the ground so that at some point in the future we can use the pig pens for growing produce, the ground having been fertilised by the pigs from their rear ends, and from the leavings of the food we give them. It is a good plan. Hope we can manage to achieve it. Will need to build other paddocks for them though so more expense. Setting up a smallholding does take quite a goodly amount of dosh in the early days. If we worked out how much we had already spent on the barns, fencing, and general smallholding equipment and compared it to our food bill, then the cost would far outweigh the cost of feeding ourselves from a supermarket. But that is not the point. It is the lifestyle, the fitness levels, the tranquillity of mind, the sense of having achieved something when one views a newly weeded row of veggies, the harvest, the enjoyment of the seasons, the longing for the rain, the frosts, the resting up during the winter, the manic activity of the summer. It makes one feel that one is living one's life.

It came upon Hubs / Boss Man / Head Gardener, that the Jerusalem artichokes should be lifted. They were a late in being planted but had set up a good height and had given us a good show of bright yellow flowers. I thought it a good idea that this should be done because that would tidy up another section of the veg plot.

And wow! What a good crop! A whole tub of artichokes from quite a small row of plants. "Will definitely grow these next year," said Hubs, "We'll eat these ourselves. Better than potatoes, not such hard work".

So enthused was Hubs, that as soon as we had finished the harvesting indoors he went, intent to get some of them cooked up so he could see what they tasted like.

They tasted nice, although after eating the fifth Hubs said that he didn't like them so much, but I finished off quite a few and decided that they were a go-er.

Only in the middle of the night I reversed that opinion. They were indeed a go-er, but a rear-end go-er.

For those artichokes set up an everlasting production line of wind. A wind of the sort that has to be let go off. That cannot be sat on so that it leaves the body by discrete slippings out as one lifts the buttock just ever so slightly to allow the evacuation of that wind.

No, the dynamics of this artichoke-related wind was something else. There was to be no holding it back. It was a blast of a wind. Vicious on its way through towards its exit, making cramping pains in our abdomens during its transit.

And the aroma was something else. It was dire.

Fortunately for Hubs he didn't have to go to work in an office so could f**t away quite merrily and lurch to the loo when required. However, I had choir practice in the afternoon. In desperation to contain the outflow of wind, I took some bicarb. Dreadful stuff it might be but its effect was immediate. The wind stopped. But it didn't go away. No, it just laid in my stomach like a great wadge of air. But at least I managed the entire two hours of choir practice with no outpouring. Which was a relief both for myself and all others present.

Most definitely Jerusalem artichokes will never grace our food table again. But the good news is that Max and the girls love them.

And here he is opening his mouth to be given one. Actually, in this case, this was not quite why he had opened his mouth because Hubs was with me, and he was giving Hubs his 'These are my girls, not yours, so don't you dare come onto my patch and fiddle about with them' warning.

Oh I forgot to tell you. That wound on his flank which I was so worried about because it wouldn't heal up still wasn't healing. And then a wound on his other flank opened up. He stopped eating. Was depressed. The girls, meanwhile, who were in the adjacent paddock, were doing alright. Now nearly a year old, they are almost full grown.

Out intent was to keep Max and the girls separated until early next year, when hopefully we would be ready to mate them. Obviously this plan has been demolished because you can see that they are already together.

It was when Hubs rushed into the kitchen with the news that that other wound on Max had opened up, that my immediate instinct was to say 'Open the gate between the paddocks'. Funnily enough, those wounds healed overnight. So not sure what was causing them, but mightily relieved that they are healed.

Need to go now, as have a choir concert this morning in Maubourguet chuch. We are singing a Haydn mass during the Sunday morning service. Hopefully it will be better than the rehearsal a couple of days, but if it isn't then at least we had a go and letting the voice bellow out is an almight joyful experience to have. Sort of blows the cobwebs away. The mass is in Latin. Some of it is very fast. Too fast for me to fit the latin words to. So I sing the tune but sort of diddle away with my voice, not singing any words in particular but nevertheless making sound. This choir, by the way, is the French choir.

Anyway, hope you have a good day. And may I say that it is not a good idea to eat Jerusalem artichokes unless one has a cast iron stomach or one does not mind being nearly lifted off one's chair by the resultant through flow of wind.

Friday 11 November 2011

Oh no! Not another one!

The warm weather, interspersed with heavy showers of rain, has made the grass greener, and the remaining flowers lift their heads and decide not to allow themselves to die quite yet. Everything looks all shiny and washed: the new roofs on the house and barns shine, the car (which is never washed down) does not look quite so mucky, and the fields are bright with the colour of new growth. Of the spear heads of grass upwardly pointing. Of the plethora of mushrooms making pretty white blobs amongst the green. 

And gosh! How the mushrooms have flourished this year. Loads of different types: little button ones, bigger flat headed ones, and others. 

Inspired by this possible bounty, Forager Hubs picked a dishful and presented them to me, saying that perhaps we could have them with our bacon and eggs. 

But no. There was no way I was going to put those on a plate of food. I had read that mushrooms account for more deaths in France than anything else, so definitely no! I suppose I could have taken them to the local chemist for analysis, to see if they were poison or not, but that would have been another job to add to the already long list, so perhaps next year......but not this year. 

Those picked mushrooms now languish on the compost heap. 

A phone call arrived yesterday. In brief it went: "Carole here. Don't suppose you would like to help us out only our choir leader is going back to the UK forever and I don't want to lead the choir because I want to sing and since you play the piano so sensitively I wondered if you could take over the choir because we have two concerts between now and Christmas and we have invited two other choirs to sing with us and do you think you could do this for us it is for our Cancer charity so it is for a good cause."

".....but don't think you have to do this. I wouldn't want to feel that you obligated or anything.....
Oh alright! So I said yes!

And so why do I do these things. I have never in my life led a choir, even a small choir of about seventeen. Oh I can read music, and I can sing, and I can play the piano, but I am still not experienced in leading a choir. Ho hum. Will have a go.

And indeed I did. Because I have now been to a choir rehearsal. Sat on the sidelines. Didn't interfere. But did manage to make a few tactful suggestions. Everyone said that they hoped I would come again. So I will. Only thing is that it is a mixed choir, of English, French and Dutch, the communal language being French. Not to worry. I shall have a go.
In the supermarket, though, a man approached me this morning.
"Hello, Vera isn't it? How are those pigs of yours, and are you selling any lambs yet?"
Strooth, but so many people seem to know of us while we don't seem to know who they are.
"And I hear that you are leading Carole's choir. Will be at the concert so we shall see you there then."
Ummmmmm. That put pressure on me. Didn't like the thought of word getting around that I was going to lead the choir. Would have preferred to remain anonymous!

An event last night: Hubs /Flock Master to the sheep was doing his usual night time 'gathering in' of the sheep. One missing. Got the rest up the side path and into the Sheep Paddock. Went in search of the missing one. She was in the small woodland in which the sheep take shelter from the sun and / or the rain. She was flat on her back with legs all akimbo and tummy and undercarriage fully exposed, and a large pile of poo at her rear end. His heart did a flip. Not another loss. Not another sheep to be incinerated. Having already lost two to natural causes over the last couple of months, to lose another one would really put a dent in our confidence about raising a flock of sheep.

He scrambled up the steep bank, which is to the rear of the little woodland, to have a closer look at her. It was not good. Her head was flopped over to one side. Her tongue was lolloping out of her mouth. She was definitely not in this world, he thought. So he did a shake on her tummy, just to make sure.

Crikey but up she sprang with a leap, and off she galloped, as spooked as hell. Further into the woodland she went. It was getting dark. She was amongst the brambles. Leave her for the night, that is what he had to do.

For the rest evening and all of the night it rested in our minds that we would be making another bonfire in the morning.

But no. We didn't have to. Because she woke us up in the morning with her shouts of annoyance at not being with the rest of her flock. At full voice she did yell. Maximum volume. Loud. She didn't stop until the rest of the sheep were back in the field. And only after Hubs / P******d off Shepherder had had to scamble his way through the bramble patch to shoo her out onto the main field.

So no bonfire, which was a relief. As I say, we are still not very confident about animal management but are gaining much experience along the way. why was she so 'out of it' last night? Why was she so 'stoned'?

The answer lies in those pretty white blobs sprinkled over the bright green grass. We think she partook of some mushrooms. That they made her drugged up. Put her into another world. Blissfully, said Hubs judging by the relaxed flat on her back with legs and head all akimbo state of her.

Now must close. Choir music to look at. Mangel roots to lift for the pigs. Remembrance Service in Castelnau to attend to. Sheep Arbre to be poo-cleaned. Dinner to cook. Eggs to go-find. Mushrooms to be foraged for............

Monday 7 November 2011

Shenanigans in the duck pond

OK. A bit of an exageration. We don't have ducks but we do have geese. Neither do we have a proper duck pond. We shall convert the big pond down in the woods eventually. For the moment this is what we have on offer for the geese:

And yes, I do know that it is a bit on the small side but it is the best we can do for the moment. Anyway, they let us know when the water level drops below half, and anyway, of late it has rained. Therefore there are puddles. Especially out on the front of the drive. Super duper puddles actually. Splendid for the three to go have a splash in. Am having to go fetch them back in, because the little lane runs beside the puddle. Wouldn't want them to wander off. They respond with good humour though. With a quack and a honk they waddle off good humouredly back down the drive.

It is the chickens which have led them astray. The geese regard themselves as part of the chicken flock and are often to be seen wandering about with them. When the chickens roam, so do the geese. It is lovely to see. They truly are free range, all of them.

Two males and a female, that is what we have by way of geese, not the two females and one male we thought we had. But there seems to be a problem in regard to the mating ritual as can be seen by the attempted couplings of either the male to the male, or the male to the female, or all three together having a go. And all in the 'duckpond' because that is where water fowl mate - in water. It is a bit of a squash. They make a lot of noise. It is a joyful sound.

Geese flew overhead last night. Quite low they were. Thought it was our three taking off into the night. Not sure why they don't take to the skies. They race up and down often enough, flapping their wings furiously as if getting ready to take off, and then they come to a halt, all effort expired. Thought it was a bit late in the year for the wild geese to be going south over the Pyrenees and then down on to Africa. Glad we heard them though. We missed the leaving of the swallows and wagtails. They did do a gathering around here for several days and the air was full of their coming and goings. And then they went. For the last three years they have parked up on the electricity and phone lines before setting off so I have had a chat with them and wished them bon voyage. We find it a wonderful thing that these small creatures fly such long distances. We have a love in our hearts for the effort they make.

Meanwhile, finally, we put the fire on, not because it was too cold, but because we had got all sogged up when to-ing and fro-ing with the animals, the rain being heavy and the mud being squelchy thus making us feel damp. And then there was Gussy looking misty eyed at Hubs, begging him for the comfort of heat. Bools just sat all forlorn. He is good at doing that.

So the fire was lit for the first time this year. As per usual, though, we have been too busy to sort the wood out, so most of it remains on the wood heap, the contents of the wood heap being the wood from the house when it was stripped out prior to the roofs going on. It has rained, so the wood is wet. Not to worry. Did the same last year, but managed to get through the winter with sufficient wood. We are not hot house people. I think it was that first winter training we had. When we had just one caravan with a gazebo beside it. When Hubs worked on his PC during the day with his office in the UK, with only the thin plastic wall of the gazebo between him and the outside world. When my 'kitchen' was the other end of the gazebo. When I wouldn't shut the caravan door and stay warm in the caravan while Hubs froze out in the gazebo. When I wouldn't even put heating on in the caravan because it was not fair to be warm while Hubs froze.

This was the gazebo in its pristine state. Within a month it was covered over with tarpaulins because it leaked like a sieve. Not to worry, though, because it gave us a yardstick on which to measure how cold we can become before we need to put heating on. Living in that caravan and gazebo hardened us up after the softness of the centrally heated environment of the UK. It was tough, but it was necessary. One can't run a smallholding if one is going to be a wuzz about the cold.

Ooops. The chickens and geese are telling me that it is time to pay them some attention, so off I go into my day. Hope you have a good week, ........

Wednesday 26 October 2011

The choir, the maize, the barrels

Did a bold thing last night. Put the big lights on in the car, the ones which show a big beam of light. Don't normally used them. Don't want to be a bother to oncoming traffic. But it is surprising how much more one can see, especially when the road seems to be veering away in a different direction to the one I am going in. Crikey, but it was magic seeing where I was going!

So why was I out and about at night? Went to a choir practice in Maubourget. It is  a French choir, although there are some English. Joined in January. First six months quite hellish. Being surrounded by fast speaking French people made be feel swamped and isolated. Persevered though, but welcomed the summer shut down. But with enthusiasm did I pick up with the choir again in September. I have become addicted to that choir, to the friendliness of the French, of the comraderie with the English, of singing my lungs out, of wearing non-farm clothes, of wearing tidy shoes instead of boots, of bothering to make an effort to live a life in France rather than coasting along in a cosy English enclave like most of the English do here. And I get to sing in various venues, mostly village churches, which is sort of sightseeing but with a purpose.

And today our French farmer friend, Jean-Marc, is delivering one ton of maize. "Oh whooppee", the geese and chickens are going to think, "All for us?...." as they see it dumped on a tarpaulin on the ground. Methinks that it is going to be quite a battle to keep those little feathered beings away from it.

But Hubs is off to get some container bins to keep it in. Saw some large water barrels at the local Brico (equivalent to a DIY shop except loads more expensive) which should do the job. Will have to get the maize into those barrels. Hubs has a full day of work ahead of him, working on his PC as per usual. So guess who will get the task of shoveller? Correct! Moi!!! No doubt assisted by the feathered members of the Labartere team. At least I won't have to sweep up any escaped maize seed. Have seen loads scattered over the roads. They are harvesting the maize at the moment, and during daylight hours, and often into late at night, the throb of machinery is to be heard as the farmers harvest it, then take it away to the grain silos.

One of the tasks which hasn't been done has been the cutting of the wood for the fire. Jean-Marc has offered his services for this task. It is a relief. Takes one more job off our shoulders. Also means hours of a cosy burning fire for the winter ahead. We have a humungous wood pile comprising the old wood from the house. It will be nice to see it gone. Like the caravans, it has associated memories. It is also rat-city and mouse-village. Needs to go.

Hubs now off to Plaisance to buy the water barrels. Just going to help him hitch the trailer. Will try to not worry about those bins blowing off the trailer. Gave him some string to tie them on with. Said he could manage without it. I think it was the fact that the 'string' was made up of loads of bits of string which I had tied together. He said it was a 'Vera-job'. Not sure what he meant by that......

Monday 24 October 2011

'Twas a lovely Sunday

Out doing the final run of fencing. Sun blazing down. Got a thermal vest on now though, as is cold mornings and evenings. Mountain air cold, or river valley cold, depending on what the weather is doing. Sun, though, is still Mediteranean hot during the middle of the day.

Fencing is not necessarily hard work for me. Just requires standing holding the fencing wire, or helping unravel the long strands of holding wire. But my legs don't like it. So often I take a chair out to sit on for the odd moment here and there. Laid myself down on the grass yesterday though. The ground is still very dry despite it being the end of October. I stretched out. Looked up at the blue sky. Not a cloud in sight. I roasted happily for a while until fencing duties required me to do otherwise.

And, thank goodness, the fencing is finished for this year. Every weekend for the last three months we have  been working on the fencing line. It has been hot work. Now the sheep can munch on new grass. For that, I am sure, they will be happy.

Had a bit of a fright with Max (our Tamworth boar) last week. He had a wound in his flank, which was not big, just a small hole. Not sure how he came by it. This was at the beginning of the summer. Occasionally we would notice a small bleed coming from it, but nothing to worry about. Then the bleed became a big bleed. A drippy big bleed, with fronds of dried blood waving about as he walked, his flank having become covered in blood.

What to do. Couldn't have a look at it as he is not really a happy chappy when it comes to having visitors in his patch of the world. So Hubs took himself off to the vet. Came back with instructions to give Max a dose of sedative, wait for two hours, if Max calmed down then to call him and we could come and have a look.

Max wouldn't take the sedative, not from Hubs anyway. He doesn't like Hubs, Hubs being a male and therefore regarded by Max as competition. Max doesn't mind me, though. So came up with the idea of making a nice sandwich with the sedative sandwiched in between the bread slices. It worked. Took it from my hands quite gently. Even finished off the bits of crunchy sedative lying on the ground.

Vet called. In with Max he went. Not to worry, he said, can't do anything, will heal itself, looks worse than what it looks.

So why did the wound open up again? We think that the magpies are having a drink from the hole. We often seen them on the backs of the sheep and the pigs, presumably eating insects, or dried skin. These, we think, are the culprits. What to do about this problem remains an unanswered question at this time.

Off to give everyone their breakfast. Orpy (our cockerel) is crowing at the door to let me know that I ought to be attending to his needs. He does not seem to think it necessary to crow anywhere else or at any other time. Dawn seems to pass him by. It's his tummy which is more important. Warm pasta now its getting cold. They are all still sleeping in the fig tree, which is now providing them with less cover as it now continues on to its winter sleep and drops its leaves. Need to give the chickens a warm start to the day, so warm pasta it is. Then grain. Or they try and pinch the grain given to the geese. I  stand in between the two flocks armed with a mop. This is a useful piece of equipment when dealing with the chickens. Waving it in the air puts them into a fright, but if they are being stubborn, then a quick heft up their bums with the soft mop head soon shifts them. Stealing the geese's food is not an option for them. The mop says so.

Anyways, I laid out on the grass for a while yesterday. Wahooooo! And no more fencing for a while! Wahooo again!

Sunday 16 October 2011

A drop of the hard stuff!

So as the days are shortening, and the temperatures are dropping but only at night here because the heat of the day is still quite strong although not so strong as on the hottest of summer days. But, anyway, winter is a-coming. 

And so it is necessary to start swigging again. But I don't swig in the evenings, nor do I partake during the day. No, I am an early morning swigger. 

However, it is not of the alcohol that I swig, it is this delightful concoction:

No capsules for me. 'tis the hard stuff I imbibe. The juice. The liquid. The runny stuff. 

And yes, it does have an awful taste, and can produce hiccoughs which bring bits of it back up into the mouth. However, it does one good. Yes it does. And I have found a method of taking it which reduces the pain of the taste: Fill one spoonful, thrust it into the mouth with some vigour, gulp it down quickly, repeat for the second spoonful, have one slice of cake and a hot drink to follow. Done.

So why do I take Cod Liver Oil? Well years ago I ran a dress shop making clothes for the larger ladies. I had a client who used to buy from me, and she was in much pain with arthritis. I didn't see her for a while. Then she popped into the shop. She was totally changed. Gone was her bent over appearance and grey face. Instead she was bright, upright, and perky. Apparently she had been taken into hospital, only to be told that there was nothing that could be done, and that she would be in that state of being for the rest of her life. My mum was told virtually the same thing at that time, when she visited the doctor about knee problems. They would probably medicate you up to the eyeballs now, but this was thirty years or so ago when they didn't.

Anyway, what both my mum and this lady did, was to self medicate, and on to Cod Liver Oil they went. To be taken first thing in the morning. Neat. (But could be put in a drop of milk to get it down the throat). 

And thus I also became a CLO addict. When I stop taking it, I go stiff. When I take it, I go unstiff. 

Have just had my swig of the day. It is 6am. I have also had a piece of lemon cake, and working my way through a cup of drinking chocolate. Life is good!

Just to mention: the geese trio have started talking to the rabbits. Not sure what they are saying, but they are having a chat. Did some fencing yesterday. Nearly done now. Sheep, therefore, will have more pasture which is a good thing as they are munching at great speed at the moment and all are looking fat and round after spending the day scalping the two fields upon which they feed at the moment. 

Did some shelling of sweet chestnuts. Did an internet search to find out what to do with the nuts. Looks like some serious hard work to get those nuts out of the shells. Might give them to the pigs instead. An idea came into my head in the middle of the night. It was to use the tractor to rip apart the four old hay bales remaining from last year which are looking straggly and untidy out front.  Lester enthused with the idea. Any excuse to get on his tracky and do farmer boy stuff. Worked wonderfully well. I was happy because I do not have to spend hours trying to get the hay off the bales any more (we are using it for animal bedding). Lester was happy because he had had a play on his tracky. The dogs were happy because they had had a bark at us all. The pigs were happy because they had head high bedding to snuggle up into. The sheep, well the sheep sort of looked happy but preferred not to be bothered by their new bedding. Instead, they wondered off to see if any more pears from the ancient pear tree had fallen on the ground which could be eaten, and then they lay down on the grass to sleep. All in all, a good farm-type day. 

Burping ever so gently after the CLO swigs, I continue on into my day. Hope you have a good day too. 

Friday 14 October 2011

Travel in hope

I am still here, trying to be a smallholder, trying to be a writer, trying to manage the changeover from UK to France. 

It has been a manic three months, but now the seasons are shifting towards winter, everything is slowing down, quietening. We need the rest. 

So what I have been doing is concentrating on the writing of my books. I am self publishing, which is a task and a half, I can tell you! Not only does one have to find the words to write the book, one has also got to edit, format, and find some graphics to go on the front covers. It takes an age, but does keep me out of mischief!

Everyone is doing alright here. We have not had any mishaps with the eight young chickens we hatched a few weeks ago. This has been a surprise, only I thought that something from either the sky or land would have wanted to munch on them, but they haven't. 

The two Tamworth piggy girls are doing well. They have discovered their new little cabin and tuck up sweetly inside it. They are good humoured, friendly, and very lovable. Max, the Tamworth boar, is still his same self. Miserable. Not good humoured. Wee's on his food when he has only eaten half of it. Tips over his water container just for the fun. And yet his eyes look jolly. Since the two girls moved in beside him he has a sort of smirk in his eyes. He is a happy piggy. But he is a male, so does not show his happiness, only in his eyes does it show. 

The sheep are OK. No more mishaps. The lamb died, by the way. Quickly. Otherwise, the rest of the flock are calm, content, and growing into woolly balls as their fleeces start to thicken up for the winter. 

The chickens are themselves. The hens have evolved a new way of trying to get food, which is by doing a slow and drawling, moan whenever they get the chance to get near to us. Orpy, the cockerel, seems to have gone on strike with his crowing but seems to feel the need to stick close by us when we venture forth from the house. The other day I sat under the oak tree out back, with Bools and Gus as per normal, sat beside me. Also in attendance was most of the flock of chickens, plus the three geese. Rarely do I sit outside without any of the animals being nearby. It is nice. 

People have often said to us that they couldn't be bothered with taking on the responsibility of looking after animals. The life and death cycle of life. Of every day feeds. Of every day watchfulness. Sometimes we feel the same as we continue to learn how to manage a petite ferme. Sometimes we feel the effort is too much. Combined with the veggie growing, it is shear hard work. 

But the effort we put in is rewarded in equal measure by the pleasure we receive back. Of having two piggy girls romp with glee towards you. Of a piggy male smiling with his eyes at you even though he is pretending to be horrid. Of sheep who stand and watch you as you stand and watch them. Of the lovely sweet smell of them. Of the pleasure of giving ear rubs to those who want them. Of cleaning up the paddock of their poo, thinking about the exercise it is giving to the underarm flab. Of little chicks who romp and frolic around the place, all in a gang. Of the hens who park up outside the door. Who sometimes love sometimes hate each other. Of the geese, whose gracefulness is beautiful, even though they can look as awkward as anything sometimes. 

Meanwhile, as I have said, I have been concentrating on my self publishing work. Three books now. None selling. But they might. Travel in hope, that is my motto! 

Saturday 1 October 2011

A runny posterior, and Jacob's doings

So last night, just at dusk, Hubs gave a strident call from out by the Sheep Paddock. And there, in the barn, was one of this years lambs, looking filthy at her back end and obviously suffering from a loose tummy. Upon cleaning up the paddock, I had noticed a green runny mess of a poo, so already knew someone was in trouble with their tum. Ah, so before me was the one. 

Nothing for it but to clean her up. Hose pipe, bowl of warm soapy water, washing up gloves, scrubbing brush, all assembled by Hubs under my instruction. Meanwhile I stood in the doorway of the barn, keeping the lamb, who by the way is now almost the size of her mum, in the barn, but observed by the rest of the flock who had heard the hullabaloo and was wanting a look-see at what was happening. Sometimes those sheep regard us as devils who must be avoided at all costs. Other times they are indifferent to us. And then on other occasions they decide we are their friends and they move in close for a nuzzle. They have a range of emotions, those sheep. Last night, they were on our team judging by the concern they showed for the lamb.

Hubs arrived with the equipment. Into the barn. Got hold of the lamb. Hauled her out onto the grassy Side Path. Straddled her to keep her in one place, sheep being very difficult animals to get a hold of, as are pigs. I think it is because of lack of neck around which to tie a rope. Anyways, Hubs on board facing rear end but found it difficult to reach the washing stuff. Thought it a good idea if he were to order me on board to take his place. I had a skirt and pinny on. Not to worry, "get on board anyway". So I did. 

And I bent over her head, holding her head between my hands, with my knees gripping her sides, sending her warm and positive vibes as best I could. Meanwhile I knew Hubs was starting the washing down of the rear end, and knew that the first phase of squirting the hosepipe over her had begun. I knew this because I could feel cold wet seepage starting to move up my skirt and onto my botty. Not to worry, there are times when needs must and one must stay put. Which I did. 

Also, it having been very hot here, at around 30 degrees, the mozzies were out in force, whizzing about for their dusk time romp-arounds. With glee they homed in on us. Delightfully they partook of a drink of our blood. Couldn't swot them away because our hands were otherwise engaged. They had a goodly feast. 

And then Hubs let out an awesome moan. I sent him for indoors for the scissors. Sent him back indoors for some Citronella. 

She, the lamb, had a lump on her back. Flystrike. And then the flies came in the hundreds, back for another go at her, hence the Citronella. 

But the Flystrike was in its first stage. Eggs only. One huge mass of eggs, all glued together in that lump. And then some more lumps scattered over her back. 

We swopped places, Hubs having become exasperated, he having had a long day, he being dreadfully tired. So I clipped and clipped away at her coat. Clipped away at her soiled coat. Clipped away at the eggy bits of coat. To drive the flies off I smothered her in Citronella. It worked. Off they scarpered. 

Then we could no more. Hubs got off and opened the gate to the paddock. I didn't have anything to hold on to, so she moved, but not towards the flock, no, she did an about turn and headed off down the Side Path and back onto the field. From thence she dived into the  hedge copse, and despite the best efforts of Bools and Gus, she would not budge and we couldn't reach her, so nothing to do but leave go the situation, and make a return indoors, whereupon I divested myself of my soggy clothing, and Hubs divested himself of his egg splattered clothes. 

A search on the Internet produced the info that lambs, even older lambs, are susceptible to runny tums, especially if they are eating lush fresh grass. The grass is just this at the moment. Normally, so the info went, their tums will settle down. Yes but she was flystruck as well. Ah well, see what the morrow brings. Probably a very ill lamb. Need to keep her indoors, away from the flies. Don't have that facility at the moment. Probably will have to cull her, to save her any more pain. Went to sleep with visions of her huddled up in the copse her life slowly ebbing away, and thoughts of how were we going to get her out of the copse, it being like quite jungle-like due to the brambles. 

AM. Up later than usual. Normally 5-ish. Today, eight-ish. Boots on. Go have a look at the lamb, preparing myself for the worst. "She's out with the others...look she's eating" is what Hubs said to me as I neared the field. Crikey, but that was a surprise. So, for now, we still have her. Will have a look at her rear end to see what manner of damage those flies have done to her. Eggs hatch into maggots. Maggots get hungry. Need to grow. Move in on available flesh so they can get the nourishment. They can leave one hell of a mess on the host body when they do this. We have already learnt the lesson from the chicken who suffered flystrike, which we didn't know about because her feathers conveniently covered the munching place of those maggots. 

Meanwhile.......While Max (our Tamworth male pig) is banned from cavorting with the girls (our two Tamworth female pigs) because it is not the right time to be having the patter of tiny feet even if Max is ready to get on board one of the girls and go go go, Jacob is. Getting on board. We think. 

The evidence we have had from this supposition is the scrapes of earth on the backs of the girls. Oh by the way, Jacob is our ram (of the breed Jacob), and the girls are the ewes of our flock of sheep. 

Now when they arrived they already had a ram with them, but he was already breeding with his daughters so he had to go. Into the freezer he went. So they ran ramless for a while, then friends of ours brought down from the Charente Jacob. He was very small. Looked like he would need a ladder to do his job. Hubs was not impressed. But I had researched the breed and liked what I had read: that they were of an ancient breed and so therefore resistant to many of the germs and diseases that the modern hybrid sheep are prone to. They also have good wool for spinning. But they are smaller than our ewes. 

So he ran with the girls. He has been with us for over a year. He is a sweet thing. Always hangs along on the back of the flock, never is a mischief, doesn't give us a hard time. 

But: A problem. We have nineteen sheep. They are too many for our needs. We need to cull the herd. Probably keep the younger ewes, and cull the older ones. That was our plan. Except that we couldn't find anyone to help us in the cull. So the year marched on. The other day an Internet search fetched up an instrument to help us with the culling (Pistolet Abbatoir which is a stun gun). So, we will do the cull ourselves. Hubs knows how to. I will learn. I will stand by him while the culling takes place. I will not go into a hissy fit and gallop off in the other direction. I shall not allow myself to feel squeamish. I am, after all, a homesteader-in-training. 

So, solution found. Just need to find the time to do the cull. Easier to cull one ewe at a time, less stressful for the flock, less stressful for us. Last years cull of four males in one hit was too much of everything. One at a time, that is better for us all. 

However, we don't know who Jacob has got on board of and done a proper job to. It would not be a good thing for us to cull a ewe only to find out that she is expectant of a lamb. This is why one is supposed to keep the ram away from the ewes. Ah well, lessons to be learnt again. Not sure what we are supposed to do now. Wait, I suppose, to see what transpires next Spring....has Jacob managed the task of procreation, or not!

Out at the Tamworth paddocks, the electric fencing seems to be failing again. We know this because Max can be seen prowling up and down the dividing fence between him and the girls. 

Chickens good though. All chicks (8) still surviving. Geese good. Still parked up in the Courtyard with the chickens and dogs, and coming in closer when their food is put down for them. We are good. Hubs has an increased work load though, (he is a computer programming whizz, working over the Internet with a company in the UK) but at least it gives us the income to keep sorting out Labartere and her land. I am busy bouncing around trying to do a million tasks, as ever! Ah well, still, life is good! 

But maybe not for the lamb. Will see how she is this morning.