Tuesday 24 April 2012


Rain plus soil, more rain, then more rain equals a muddy slosh everywhere. Look on meteo, the French weather station, see more rain, and more rain, and more rain forecast. Dare not look at the sheep barn. Know the pig paddocks are all a-swim. Still, trees look happy, so do the geese who are trundling along from puddle to puddle quite cheerfully. Everyone else is looking miserable. Last night the new sheep mum was standing at the field gate with her two day old lamb, her stance saying ‘Get my little one out of this weather.’ Couldn’t do that because she would expect all  the flock to come too. They travel in a heap do sheep. One for all and all for one, unless a pile of maize is lying on the ground, and they will head butt each other and forget the team spirit which most times they have. The other night a couple of people came to collect two more of our black lambs. The sheep knew what was going to happen this time and would not go into the places where it would be easy for those lambs to be caught, like the Sheep Barn, or the sectioned off part of the Paddock. People think that sheep are stupid, but they aren’t.

Benjie and Tooey, our two bottle fed lambs are no longer being fed milk, so are weaned. They don’t think they are though. They think that they are still deserving of milk. Aw bless. Tooey in particular tends to break loose from the flock when Hubs is herding them back into their Paddock for the night, and will come and find me if she can. It tweaks my heart strings when she does that. And they can both give off quite a mournful bleat, perfect it sounds, just right for making me relent and give them a drop of milk. But Hubs says no, so I don’t. But what I have started doing is roughing them up a bit, giving them a hearty fondle, a bit of a pat, just to let them know that I am here, sort of like a surrogate mum figure. That seems to be all they need. Just a bit of mum love.

Haven’t been sleeping too well these last few nights. Rain pounding on the roof made me concerned for the sheep in the Sheep Barn. I slept, but that concern was in the back of my mind. Then we heard the geese do a shout about in the Courtyard. It was the early hours of the night. Got up to investigate, worried lest it be the fox come back for another meal, but no, the female goose had decided to lay another egg. Quite why she was doing it at that time of night is beyond us. Ah well, I suppose the urge was upon her and that urge had to be obeyed.
After the fox got our best laying hen the other night, the chickens have become very sensible about where they spend the night, some staying in the tree but getting higher up, and the rest in their little hut, with none sleeping on top of the hut, which was their habit even during the freezing temperatures of last February when I used to give them hot pasta for breakfast to warm them up, as they were covered in layers of frost, particularly over their backs. Would have brought them inside to warm up, but the house was not much warmer, the doors being open for most of the time because our builders were working here. Had to have porridge for breakfast ourselves to help unthaw us.

The foxes are hungry. One goose taken from down the lane, and twenty hens taken from our friends place in Madiran, most of those twenty not eaten but carnaged, mangled, wasted. Heads, bodies, feathers here, there, and everywhere.
We now have two piglets left out of the nine, so seven have been sold. Mum was not too pleased, looked sulky, didn’t eat her food. Alright today. Spent her time digging a stupendous hole running the length of the fence dividing the Pig Paddocks. This is a bit alarming. Max and her sister are currently residing in the other pen. Wouldn’t want everyone to get together. Maxt harm the littl’uns although he does chortle and chat with through the fence. Might be different if no fence was between them. He might eat them, or attack the little male piggy. Best to do something about that weakened fence. Not sure what at the moment. The rain it raineth. The mud it groweth. The other day Hubs / Keeper of the pigs had to go into MumTess’s paddock to sort out the electric fencing again. Had wellies on, but they leaked. They also kept getting sucked down in to the muddy muck. Had to go barefoot. In the cold wet mud, he had to tread with naked feet. He was not a happy bunny. Strode off to the house in diva-mode. OK, though, after a shower.

Ummmmmmm, upon casting an eye over Max and his girlfriend, I noticed a difference to her rear end. It is getting plump and juicy looking, but not erotically so. What I mean is, that it is not for Max's attentions that the plump pinkness is happening. What I mean is, that she resembles Mum Tamworth. What I mean is, that I think she is preggers. And this morning I looked again, and the teats nearest her rear end have started to show plumpness as well. What I mean is, that she is most definitely preggers! Don't panic, I keep saying to Lester, we have a while yet to sort out her maternity accommodation. What I mean is, really, Do Panic, because I don't think she is too far off.

And the rain it raineth. And the wind it bloweth. And **** I wish this weather would clear up. Always at the back of our minds there is the welfare of the animals. At this moment I am aware that the sheep are out in the Side Field getting soaked. Oh I know that they have fleece which is heavily oiled so moisture does not get through to their skins. But this still does not stop me from being concerned. The chickens I am OK with at this moment. They will be in the Tall Barn. It's during the night that in the background of my mind there is an awareness of foxes. The geese will be rollicking about in puddles, so they are OK. Again, it is night time when I am aware for their safety such that if they do have a mutter between themselves I wake up. I am learning their voices. I know when they are upset, and have also learnt that the huge fuss they make, and which has had me shooting out of bed to go and rescue them, is not fox-alert but heralding the dawn.

Our next project is to build Max a super duper home pen. I am tagging on to that a proper chicken hut and goose pen. I would like to start getting the Courtyard into some semblance of a garden. It is bare earthed at the moment because of the wheels from the builders van, the scratching and walking of the chickens, and the big flat feet and beaky digging of the geese. 

I think the potatoes we planted two weeks might have rotted.

I can't dig because the ground is so heavy with moisture.

I can't plant seeds because the ground is too cold. Not even the tomato seeds in the Tardis have appeared.

I have gone back into full thermals, including lacy long johns.

Our boots and shoes are continually sopping wet.

Still, on the positive side, there should be enough supplies of ground water to help us through the summer, when it arrives. And at least we are no longer in the caravans. At least we are dry.

Things I have learnt:
That smallholding in the rain is not a task that brings joy to the soul.
That if it stops raining then at that very moment one must get outside and do whatever jobs one can. That the rain cloud will not say 'I shall not oblige by dumping water on you while you cook dinner, put your feet up for a nap, surf the Internet, etc....  I shall do it my way, and that is to dump when I want to dump, and if that dumping is when you have just put your boots on to make time in your oh so busy day to come outside, then tough, you'll just have to get wet!'
That animals become like family members, even truculant Max, whose face can crinkle up at me so that he looks like a teddy bear when he is in a soft frame of mind.
That one can become quite upset when one of the family is taken away by stealth.
That there is nothing better than leading a smallholding life, even in the wet.
...even though sometimes one has to search very hard to find those blessings to count, 'Counting one's blessings' being a way in which to survive times which are not quite as good as they might be.

PS. Humungous gale just arrived. Sheep huddled at gate. All now brought in. Everyone is indoors. Pigs, chickens, sheep, dogs, us, all dozing away the hours of the gale, except me because I am chatting to you and the geese who are, as ever, paddling about somewhere.

Monday 16 April 2012

100 minus 65 = 35

My present occupation is darting in and out of the veg garden as this showery weather continues, trying to keep getting the plots ready for planting. It is good weather for digging, not so good for the spirit because it is a lot cooler, which means I am slowing up. The lower the temperatures and the higher temperatures have me lessening speed, somewhere in the central zone of temperatures I have speediness. That is when I zoom around.

I have 35 years in which to achieve as much as I can. The other day I had my birthday. 65. Now I could think 'Crikey, I'm getting old, I don't have much time left, I'll be 70 soon, etc', but this makes me feel old, that time is ticking on, that there is not much point in starting projects because I might not be around to finish them. This is defeatism. The less you do, the less you want to do. Ask a busy person to do something and they will find time to do it. Ask a person who has the time to do that particular something, and they will probably say that they are too busy.

I have a lot of things that I want to do, mostly to do with my work, most of which involves a million miles of writing. I also fancy having a birthday card from the Queen / King which you get when you are 100. I suppose that would still apply if one is not resident in the UK. If not, then the local mairie (mayor) will come and congratulate me. If not, then I shall be pleased that I have had my money's worth from living life as human being. I think that 100 is a good innings to have. I would have long history to reflect back on.

I am not fussed with doing activity things like climbing Everest, or going on treks down the Amazon, not because I think my body would not cope, but because I don't want to. I would like to ride a horse, but do not have the huge urge to do so. If I had that urge, then I would have a go. But on a very slow horse. I wouldn't want to fall off. Being sensible about what I allow myself to do needs to be thought about, if I am to have those 35 years.

So, this is my philosphy:

- that the winds of life can knock you about. This gives you life experience and makes you wise. If you let yourself live long enough you could become a wise guru. This I fancy being. But you must not get bitter, nor must you hold grudges or angers. Let these go. They only make your face, and you inside, miserable.

- that you must keep busy with projects, even if sometimes those projects make you frustrated and impatient. Keep your head engaged with learning new things. Don't say 'I can't do that. Say 'I'll have a go'. Better to have tried and failed rather than not having tried at all. Anyway, there is no such thing as 'failure' because you would have gained some modicum of experience.

- that you must live with your capacity of self, and be accepting of this, but not indulgent. It is easy to make excuses not to do something. Try not to do this. Have a go anyway.

- Keep the body on the move. Sitting for long periods of time in one position tends to make the body stiffen up like a plank. Learn to fidget. Keep stretching, moving, changing position. It might irritate others around you, but what the hell! At least you won't feel so planky.

- Enjoy the blessings of being an eccentric. You have earned the right to dress as you want to, and be who you want to. The years have given you this right. But to not be cranky. That is unpleasant for you and for others. Instead, adopt a charming dodderyness that is not elderly in nature, but eccentrically driven. What I mean is, be yourself, but in a calm, gentle way, but always be yourself no matter who others try to pursuade you to be.

- Keep your voice strong. Learn to sing, or do singing exercises, or hum, or chant. Anything to keep your vocal chords flexible. Singing is good for the soul. If you let your voice become crackly with misuse then that will rob you of energy.

100 minus my present age of 65 means that I have 35 years to go. Thinking like this has dropped away from me the feeling of getting old. I am on countdown now for that 100!

Unfortunately, a long life was not do-able for one of our hens because this is all that is left of her:

.....just a pile of feathers. Taken by a fox we think. Worse than that, she was sitting on a large clutch of eggs which were just about to hatch. The gates were all closed, so we don't know how the deed was done. Probably scrambled up the gate, the wood of the gate having become plumped up with rain so its claws could get a grip. The death filled us with much sadness. She was our best laying hen. It was a sad ending for her.

Not so sad was the old ewe we have put in to the freezer, which is the second sheep we have culled. We have also sold twelve of the lambs, so our flock numbers are reducing. We have to lessen the numbers otherwise we shall not have sufficient grazing to get the remainder of the flock through the summer. We didn't like selling the lambs. We got a good price for them, but we do not want to earn our money acting as a production line for the public, this we have learnt. Not that we were attached to the lambs. Just that we do not know what their futures will hold. Whether they will be treated right, whatever their destiny is to be. We had to harden our hearts to sell them. We don't want to let that hardening become a habit. It would spoil us, we think. There is a middle line of thinking when one is a smallholder who wants to stay reasonably soft of heart. Staying on that middle line is not easy. I can understand how people who handle the life and death of many animals could become hard an uncaring. I can understand people who become so attached to their animals that they treat them as if they were their children. As I say, treading that middle line takes emotional effort sometimes.

Five of our piglets have also been sold, with two more to go in a few days time. ....and Hubs has just told me that we have the late arrival of another black lamb. Am secretly happy about this new arrival. It is the life of a petite ferme.

Monday 9 April 2012

Ma noow hat and other things

"Quality time with your husband" Hubs said as I pulled the roll of wire to tension it so he could fix it to the strands of tensile wire. Fencing is what we were doing. I had not felt much like fencing, seeing as how it was Sunday, and a bit of a dreary day for being outside, so I had thought to spend the day on my sewing maching in an attempt to reduce the pile of mending that had built up, mostly my clothes due to loss of weight. Hubs thought that it was a day to get on with the fencing which is not my favourite job in the world because my job is to stretch the roll of wire. It is tiring, boring, and chilly work for me. But I had brought my chair out in to the field with me so I could have a sit down now and again.
I knew it was going to rain, and it did. We were in the farthest paddock with no coats. Not to worry. I had a hat.....

....and I didn't get very wet, just my sleeve.

Early yesterday a man came and bought three of the lambs. Hubs  is not overly enthused with the selling of our animals. He said that the lambs looked at him with a, "What are you doing to me" look in their eyes when they were being put into the man's car. Two more lambs are due to go next weekend, to a lady not far from us. The flock is slowly being reduced. The grass is now growing. One of the sheep has a runny bottom. It can happen at this time of the year. This first growth of grass is very rich. Have not washed her down yet as it is still quite chilly. No flies, you see. Flies + mucky botties = maggots = disaster, as we found out last year.

And so what is this! A new loo tent? Noooooo! A new porchway into the house? Nope. Our very own Tardis? NooooOOOOoooo! It is our brand new greenhouse. Ok, so it is a tad on the small side, but it will start our seeds off. Have done the tomato seeds. Can squeeze a few more pots of something or other in. Now it is weighted down with pots, hopefully our baby greenhouse will withstand any puffs of wind which may try to take it away and turn it into a kite.

Thought that the numbers of chickens in the fig tree were not as many as usual. Thought I would go find the eggs, which I have not done due to inclement weather, and indeed eggs in plenty I found. Here a nest, there a nest, oh yes and in that corner a nest, and over there another one. And the reason why there were not so many hens up the tree was because three of them were sitting on three of the nests. Fodder for the magpies and crows, that is what these chicks are likely to become if those eggs hatch because in three weeks time those predatory birds will be driven frantic by the need to feed their young, so they will keep a close watch on what is happening here. Ah well, c'est la vie.

Our young fruit trees are in full blossom now.

And a question for moi: "Why do you take photos on rainy days which makes the photos look dark and gloomy?"
And moi answers back: "Because when it is dry and sunny I am too damned busy working!"

Hope you are having a good Easter break. When the mist rises we shall be out fencing again, but with my plastic chair to sit, or use as a hat, once the weather decides what it is going to do.

Our escapee Tamworth piglets:

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Baking, escaping...

Tooey and Benjie are getting naughty. They have lately come under the tutorlage of the Twins Mum. Twinnie is a rare sheep. She is the one who looked me square in the eyes, when we first went to visit the flock two years ago, as if to say, 'You have got to have us. You can't leave us here'. It was the first time I had been looked at like that by any other living animal, apart from our dogs. Straight eye contact it was. And so we bought them. She knew she would be coming to live with us, of that I am sure.

Twinnie is not stupid. If there is a way to get out of the particular field we have put them for the day, then it is her who will find that way out. It is her who will keep calling for attention if she is not satisfied with anything. It is her who, unknown to us, managed to find a way through the hedge to graze on the verges of the lane. We wondered why the cars kept sounding the hooters. We thought that the drivers were just being friendly. I only found out what she was up to when I took the dogs for a walk. There she was, walking down the middle of the lane without a care in the world. When she saw me a ghost of a flicker crossed her face, as if she knew she had been caught out, but instead of doing a mad gallop in the opposite direction, with quiet dignity she strolled ahead of me back to the Paddock, maintaining an aloof expression, not even minding the car which was zooming towards her but which fortunately was brought to a halt, a nasty bump therefore being avoided.

She has passed this tendency towards naughtiness on to her daughters, of which there are three. If there is going to be a break out then the perpetrators will be either Twinnie and / or her girls who are the culprits. And what they do is be alert for any weakness in the gates or fences, and they plot, I am sure that they plot, because they will wait for the right opportunity to come along, when we are busy elsewhere, probably late morning or lunchtime, and then they will summon the rest of the flock, and then they will barge through the weak place. They really do barge as well. Shoulder to shoulder, like a rugby team having a scrum, they push forward, and fast. Then whooppeee! Joyously they will charge around the new territory, getting into a feeding frenzy, eating whatever they can. If they see us, they will charge in the opposite direction, snatching whatever tasty morsel they can along the way. They have often landed up in our neighbour's field. Not the one which has the crops in, but the one which is a meadow. Aha! This is no longer going to happen because Hubs started that line of fencing today.

But that still leaves the hedge copse. There is wire across the lane end of the copse, and there is a profusion of brambles which has managed to thwart any attempts to make a breakthrough. However, the other day I saw Twinnie half way along the copse, and she had a little band of followers with her, Tooey and Bengie being amongst them. Teaching them her tricks, that is what she was doing because since then Tooey and Benjie have been quite naughty. In and out of the field they kept going yesterday. I kept putting them back, they kept getting out. Pure naughtiness. I knew they were being naughty because they had a naughty look about them, they were not coming to find me but seemed to prefer hanging about with the chickens under the Oak Tree, and they were skippy. In the end I put them back in the Sheep Paddock. They didn't like that. They complained no end about not being with their mates out in the field, but 'hard luck' is what I thought, and turned a deaf ear to their complaints. (Tooey on the left, Benjie on the right)

While those two were testing my patience, I had a go at making paté. It was a messy business. I had to use my cheese grater to get the required consistency, not having a mincer at the moment.

.....but by crikey it was gorgeous. I am not a lover of paté, being suspicious about what it is actually made of, but my homemade effort turned out delicious. I used up the rest of the liver from the old ram who has been in the freezer for nigh on eighteen months. He had the hugest of livers, half of which had already provided us with a Liver and Onion lunch, and Liver Sandwiches for Hubs at supper time. You can find more info about the paté here: http://foody-ing.blogspot.fr/2012/03/lambs-liver-pate.html

Further on to the previous blog about getting a proper light in the future kitchen, here is the light itself:

....I wanted an uplighter-type of light because I don't like a light bulbs shining into my eyes when I look up, and this shade works very well, emphasising the shape of the ceiling. It also looks like it has been there forever.
.....and here is the new hotwater boiler:

....and do please note the festoons of cables hanging from the beams. All of the house was like this up until a week ago, because now we have a proper electric box:

....and some of the house is properly plugged and socketed.

PS: Did you know that French electrical sockets do not have an on or off switch? That you just shove the plug straight into the wall socket without first being able to switch that socket off? Strooth, but I always expect an electric shock when I use one of those sockets. By the way, good news about Hubs: no electrical shocks from the Pig Pen fencing for the last three days!

So this is my breakfast:

Homemade paté, homemade apricot jam (from June 2011), homemade bread. Gosh, makes me feel quite encouraged to carry on trying to run a smallholding.