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.