Thursday 27 September 2012

Cow pats, the delight of.....

These little beauties have just started appearing in the Paddock. Sprinkled here and there, donated from the rear end of Elise, our new young heifer, they are welcome additions to the farm.

They are good manure.

And the Bools and Gus love them. Think they have the most heavenly of perfumes therefore must be rolled in. 

At first the donations were quite firm and non-rollable in, then during the last week, since she has arrived, they have become quite, quite squelchy therefore making them into a heavenly mulch. Just right for sticking to the coats of Bools and Gus.

Bools has always enjoyed the sheep poo, (on the left in the photo) as do the chickens, crows and magpies. No-one seems to eat Elise's leavings though. They remain little mountains across the surface of the Paddock. Unless they become squashed by Bools, Gus, or my boot if I do not pay attention to where I am walking. Like I said, it is sticky stuff. 

Elise is doing well, and most times obeys our requests of her eventually. She takes the milk from the bucket easily now, although this can be a bit of a performance because the sheep also want to drink the milk so some barging can occur, but all in good humour. She has not got her voice back after mooing herself out last week, but hopefully that will come back soon. 

Now off to move the hay from the Tall Barn into the Middle Barn because we urgently need to build a pen in the space where the hay is being stored. Unfortunately Elise and our little band of goats are not letting the sheep into the Sheep Barn, which is just about bit enough for everyone to sleep in,  but Elise and the goats don't think so. Yesterday it rained hard during the night and the sheep had to huddle round the edge of the barn. It was not cold and it did not rain hard, but we have realised that we need to separate the flocks. So Elise and the goats into the Tall Barn, leaving the sheep with their paddock. 

If we manage to find the money to put an upstairs in the Tall Barn and make into guest accommodation, then whoever is staying up there will be woken up by the goats and Elise  when they are wanting to be fed or milked. Ah well, it is a farm after all!

Rabbits: 14 originally, now 13 deceased from myxomotosis. 1 remains. She has just had babies. She also now has myxi. Don't know whether to end her life, or not, just yet. It is quite heartbreaking to see the squirmy little ones who will no doubt have been infected by their mum. Ending their lives is going to be very, very, hard. So we do nothing at the moment, just watch, hoping for a miracle which we don't really think is going to happen. 

Blessings to Tommo, who lost Sprocket recently. 

...and the dogs are banned from the Sheep Paddock.

Thursday 20 September 2012

The hen in the ditch

"What was that!", said Hubs, as he flung back the duvet, waking me up from that delicious slide into sleep. Gus barked. The hen!

It had been a lovely day, a quiet day, not hot, not cold, not rainy, not anything really, just gently warm, a time to prepare for the winter ahead, but meanwhile to rest, to recuperate from the heat of the last few weeks, but that was for the sheep and goats out in the field, most of whom were lying down and dozing.....

........... and the chickens in their den under the trailer......

....the geese doing their usual waddling to and fro.....

..others of us had things to do...

......wood chopping time....

...yes, but first there was the need to gather the kindling in from the top of the heap of woos which came from the house when it was cleared out before the renovation started. It is a huge pile, mostly big beams, some smaller, then even smaller ones, and these were the ones Lester uses for kindling. I think the effort of hefting the axe was a little too much for him, but at least he had thought about doing the chopping of the wood.

Meanwhile, I was sitting in the Courtyard, peening....

....putting the scythe blade on the anvil and giving it a jolly good wallop with a hammer. I was following the instructions which accompanied the anvil (its that bit of steel thingy sat in the chunk of wood), but couldn't seem to apply them to the hammer, anvil, and scythe blade sufficient to thin the edge of the blade so it could be then sharpened with a 'wet stone'. This thinning of the edge is called peening.

I couldn't do it. A simple task, but it would not engage with any of my brain cells. Hubs to the rescue. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. "That's how you do it", he said, pointing out to me that I was sitting the wrong side of the anvil, so no wonder I wasn't managing to peen properly. And, so, well, I sort of managed. The scythe is cutting better, not much better, but at least it is not as blunt as it was. We have worked very hard this summer, the scythe and I, and we have both become rather bluntened.

Anyway, Lester was woodying, I was peening (or trying to), and.......
"Vera", Lester yelled, "Come here....." Urgent was his voice. Worried did I become. Something dire had happened. Goats gone missing. Sheep bust loose. Pigs AWOL. Problem with the heifer.

Opening my mouth to demand what problem I was being called to help out with, secretly pleased that I had been called away from my hammering of the blade,....
"Listen", he said, shushing me......  
Sheep I could hear. Elise I could hear. Couldn't hear the goats, but could see them. Pigs quiet, so must be asleep in the wallows.....and then, in the middle of the general noises, was a tiny twittering sound...and there, tucked away in the ditch, (photo at start of blog)  was the little red hen who we thought had been eaten by something or other, because we had not seen her for some time. She is a horror of a bantam. Bullies and pecks all the other hens, mounts them to show dominance, and has attitude with a capital 'A'. She is not friendly. She is a fiend. But, and I don't know how, that little red hen had sat on a big pile of eggs, probably laid by all the other hens because I don't think she lays eggs any more, and had hatched one chick. Awwwww...

The day raced on, busy, hectic, with me eventually off to a choir rehearsal, Lester on to his PC to work for the evening. The little red hen became forgotten.

So I waited for Lester to return to bed, regretting that we had not moved the little red hen to safety. 
"There's no sign of her, or the chick, or the eggs" he said with a sigh as he got back into bed, "Gone, they are all gone."

Ah, but then, come daylight.....

...... not only with one chick, but seven, all sunning themselves (they are tucked in around her in the photo). So task of the day is to catch her and the little ones, which will involve getting into the thicket in the ditch and probably getting scratched to pieces in the process. 

Ah well, at least Elise is settling down.

She is still mooing, but seems to be calling to the sheep, as the wander about the field, rather than for her mum, and they seem to be answering her back, but with a different voice to the one they use for each other. Goats are OK as well. Last seen they were busy pruning one of the young oak trees on the fence perimeter.

And we still don't know who made that scream last night, but no-one seems to be missing.

Rabbit Update: 14 rabbits. 12 now deceased with myxomotosis. Two remain.

Chicken Update: The little red hen has hatched 11 chicks. 

Life goes on.........

Monday 17 September 2012


Our baby Jersey cow......


Sunday 16 September 2012

Those ********* horns!!

The goats have settled in, but shame about the sheep. It's those horns. I think they are  freaking the flock out. Or it might be the bell which chimes quite merrily every time the little white goat moves. (It hangs round her neck on a bright red strap). Last night the sheep kept up a right old din until Lester went out with his torch to see what was going on. Apparently the sheep all charged towards the light, asking to be let out of their Paddock. Couldn't stand the clanging of the bell. Lester told them to stop being silly and go to sleep. Trouble is that the goats want to be part of the flock so they keep going to make friends with the girls, which then clangs the bell, the sound of which then freaks the sheep out. Up and down they chased all evening, and most of the night. 

And those horns, used very successfully whenever there is food in the offing. No more does Jacob, the ram, hold sway over the flock. No more is he able to barge everyone away from the morning or evening maize so he can have his fill first. No, as soon as the maize is put on the ground there is a rush to get first mouthful, the goats, being the new ones, are slow to act because they are unfamiliar with the routine. Ah but they are quick minded. They look, take in what the sheep are doing, have a quick think about whether they ought to be involved, charge, head butt the flanks of the sheep, and wahoooo, they have won the maize. 

At the food trough this evening there was no battle however. The bums of the sheep were huddled round the trough as usual and eating the maize kernels, the goats went in amongst the sheep, the sheep quickly dispersed. I think it was the horns this time. They are big horns for such little heads. Being smacked in the face by one of them would not be nice. 

Jacob has horns, but they are tightly curled round his head, which is useful. Lester can grab hold of them and give Jacob a rollicking, which he is needing quite a bit of late. He has taken to hanging back in the mornings, letting the girls go out first, then charging Lester from the rear, giving Lester quite a clout. The other day this happened, and Lester grabbed him by the horns and frogmarched him back to the Paddock. Left him there all day he did. By lunchtime Jacob was looking very forlorn. But now the goats are giving him something to think about, so he is diverted from his need to show Lester that Lester does not have any rights over the ewe girls at all, and if any servicing is to be done, then he, Jacob, will do it. 

Max (our Tamworth boar) has decided to talk to me again. Had quite a conversation with him yesterday afternoon as I picked up the acorns beside his pen. Perhaps it was because I  was kneeling on the ground so was below his height, or perhaps it was because he was trying to charm me into giving him some of the acorn harvest. It worked. He can be quite a charming fellow when he wants to be. 

So the goats are settling in, and they are so charming, so alert, and so dainty. But one had a garland of oak leaves entwined around her horns this evening, a sign that they are stretching up the fence to get the oak leaves. It remains to be seen whether or not they will actually manage to climb the fence. We are watching them closely. The fence is 1.5 metres high. I thought it was too high when Lester first had it installed but watching those goats makes me think that perhaps a metre higher would have been better.

Will let you know about the little cow when we see her tomorrow morning. 

Saturday 15 September 2012

They're here!!!

So who's here? 

This is who's here. Four of them. Two chestnuts (Mum and daughter), and one black and white, all pure blood Rove goats. Then there is the tag-on, the white and brown girl who is a mixture of Alpine and Pyrenean, and has a bell on her neck which is a typical goat bell, deep and resonant.

They came out of the back of Jean Marc's van with a bounce, charged away from the vehicle, and headed straight for the permiter fence with such a spring and bounce in the feet that I really thought that they would go straight over the top of it. They didn't. But for one precious moment I thought they would. 

So they are here, our first goats. All are pregnant, except the younger one, January being the time of the goatlings arrival. 

The same time as the lambs. 

It looks like it will be full house in the barn again this winter. 

And here is Lester / Head Goat Keeper, giving our new arrivals their first feed. They are nowhere near as skittish as the sheep, who would not have come so close so soon after arriving. They would have skittered and diva'd all over the place. Lester is in love. 'Money well spent' he said. 

So, goat's milk next year. And Head Goat Keeper has a precious few months ahead of not having to get up at six in the morning to milk the girls, and again at six in the evening. For the moment he can enjoy lie-ins. From April next year that will finish.

And on Monday we see the little cow. 

Thursday 13 September 2012

Lester builds a rabbit hutch

We keep rabbits. I do not say much about them because people show a tendency not to like the fact that they are our main provider of meat. Rabbits, to most people, are cute little things, to be admired and petted but definitely not to eat. 

To house our rabbits temporarily Lester acquired concrete hutches, this being the practice here, wooden cages less robust and chewable, concrete cages being not so. We don't like these concrete hutches. We think that the rabbits ought to be on the field, doing rabbity things, feeling the sun on their backs and the wind in their fur, and for ages and ages we have been debating as to how to do this. 

Now to make a wooden run and hutch would seem quite a simple thing to do. Well to others it might be, but to us, who have never done any other similar project similar, it felt an awesome task. For ages we searched the Internet for helpful hints and plans, but there weren't any. But what we did see was many videos showing rabbits in various forms of housing, most to do with industrial farming of rabbits. It was horrible. Concrete cages, similar to ours, but not opened up to make longer runs. Concrete cages are tiered, ....

.... with partitions in each tier. Six rabbits can be housed in them, but in quite small spaces. We saw worse on the videos. Lester sometimes has to keep a rabbit in a smaller compartment for a few days, but most times he opens up the compartments so the rabbits have a long run. The cages are deep, deeper than they look in the photograph. 

We felt less guilty about this living environment after we saw how others are keeping rabbits. Nevertheless, the need to get them out on to the field gradually became a driving force, otherwise the Rabbit Project would be closed. The concrete cages were to be broken up for rubble and used to more. 

It was done. After much effort and even more laughter, the field hutch was made. With angles all rather askew, nevertheless is still managed to be strong enough to withstand a fox bouncing about all over it and trying to tip it over, secure enough to withstand the invasion of rats and mice, and light enough to be moved daily. 

It was a good day when we took the hutch out onto the field. A week ago we did that. Into the run went three young rabbits. We spent ages watching them get used to their new home. 

Every time we walked past that area we stopped and watched them as they began a better life. It was not perfect, but at least it was a step in the right direction. Lester wants to make more units, but join them up with wire tunnels so they can run from one to the other. It's a good plan. 

We have had a summer of midges and mozzies. A couple of weeks ago it was dire. Either that or a fox came visiting and sniffed at the rabbits in the concrete hutches and dropped off some of its fleas. 

There are no longer any rabbits out in the field hutch. Lester has had to euthanasia them, and some of the others as well. 

They had myxomotosis. 

Not sure if the other rabbits are going to escape the disease. But the deceased ones did not suffer over long. As soon as their eyes started to swell around the perimeter and become dull and clouded over, as soon as their ears started to flop down, he acted. It was hard. We do not like killing the animals whether they are well or ill. I am glad that we find it hard. I hope that we will always find it hard because it stops us from taking the meat of the healthy animals for granted, the ill ones are put out into the woods to go back into nature. I hope we remain sensitive about this subject about providing out own meat. I hope we always feel a bit lumpy during the transition times of life to freezer. I hope we do not become hardened. If we do, then I shall become a vegetarian. 

The field hutch is looking forlorn out in the field. I feel forlorn when I see it. It was such a joyous and happy moment when we first saw those rabbits set foot on the grass, such a step forward it was for us. So we are going to bring it in and put it into the barn for the moment. 

Having the animals here has taught us a lot, and they give back as much as we give them. They are a delight. And the Limousin hen, her who regularly sits to lay an egg but never actually lays one, well this hen did lay an egg the other day. It is with other eggs in the incubator as a celebration of her endeavours. If the eggs hatch then the chicks will be housed in the ex rabbit field hut. 

The goats are on their way. 

Monday 10 September 2012

The Gathering, The Cracking

The Gathering

It has been a long summer. I suppose for most people it would be the same, especially if they have gardens and vegetable plots to look after. We haven't done well by our flowers and veggies this year though. They have not been exactly neglected but there has not been the time to look after them properly, what with my time being syphoned away out into the fields with my scythe, and Hubs having to spend many hours working on his computer and looking after the animals. I saw the tomato plants this evening. They are giving us tomatoes, but by crikey they looked very tired and sicky plants, for which I am sorry. They really should have been cared for better. I should have respected them more.

One of the problems we hit was the fact that we could not pump water from the river like we did last year because the brambles between us and the river had gone berserk with growth during the wet spring, and neither of us had the time to get them cut down. For a while the pond had water in it, but that dried up eventually. I have watered from the mains but the pigs require an awful lot of water so they had top priority. Since we are metered, I did not felt I had to use the water sparingly when I did have the time to water the veg. But the veggies have grown, just about, bless them, and we are getting a harvest in, albeit a smaller one than we should have.

So it came to yesterday evening. Jean Pierre, our builder, had just left. He had brought in the quotes for more work in the house: the last two ceilings, the stairs, the two mezzanines either side of the stairs. Do we go ahead or do we stop? Finances are sticky again if we go ahead, but then they have been since we arrived here.

We were sitting outside, enjoying the last of the day. No midges and mozzies about. We sat. Tired. A bit exhausted with it all, as most gardeners and / or renovators would be from time to time. And then a bird flew over our heads. More came in, swooping, diving, zinging with life. We became captured by their energy. More and more came until there were many. Up high, oh so high they flew, to ride the thermals, to give their wings a rest.

It is that time of the year again, when the summer birds of Europe start on their very long way south, down into the middle of Africa. Over the Alps they will go. It is a long way. And I write about this every year, because I am in awe of these little beings who have to fly such a long way on such small wings.

We feel very privileged to be on the flight paths of emigrating birds, the first visitors being the swifts. It reminds us that life is an effort sometimes but that one has to carry on carrying on no matter what species of animals or insects one is.

And may I take the moment to publicly apologise to the ants whose homes I have decapitated out in the field I am currently scything. It is getting late in the season now, and soon I shall have to stop work there (whooppeeee!), but for the moment I carry on. Swish, and swish, and swish the scythe goes, cutting down most of what is presented to the blade, if the blade is sharp enough, if I have put enough effort into honing it.

So I trundle along, cutting all, including the roofs of quite a few ant hills, un noticed until the deed is done.  At least the weather is calm at the moment. At least they can get their roofs back on before the rains come. I think I am aware of their disaster of being roofless because we have been roofless as well. And also apologies to the possible legless huge grasshopper. Unsure as to whether I had decapitated its legs I left it to waddle up a piece of grass, hoping that perhaps the sun would warm it up and get it moving, hoping that somehow it would become well again. Well I had been scything for over an hour and my sugar levels were starting to drop, which is a disastrous time for strange thinkings. Absent legs are not going to suddenly magic themselves into existence again are they!

When I am out working on the field I have taken to making a camp, just a little one, just a place I can put my things, like my bottle of water, my jumper, my scarf, my hat, my fingerless gloves, my sweeties, my chair, my hay rake, my scythe. When sugar levels are dropping I can then sit on the chair, and have a rest for a while whilst munching on a sweet. Or two. I don't take my knitting though. That would be too silly.

Anyway, as we sat and watched those wonderfully brave swifts, whose lives are so short but who are valiant in embarking on their long journey southward over the Pyrenees, our spirits lifted up. The various clouds became tinged with the pink of the setting sun. It was magic. Sometimes, just sometimes, one has to stop and have a look at what is around you. Sometimes, just sometimes, it is sensible to count one's blessings, which then gives one the energy to set foot on the next journey of one's life, even if it is having a new staircase and ceilings put in what once was a ruin of a house.

The Cracking

Oh so what was that horrid sound which happened early this morning, which even had some magpies, who had been sunbathing on top of the house, rushing away at the sudden loudness of it. Like a gun shot it was, only louder, sharper, and more worrying.

Hubs and me were talking about the ongoing plans for Labartere. And then the sound arrived, pausing us. The roof! Something has happened to the roof!

Hubs hurtled himself up the ladder to have a look. I hurtled myself outside, round to the back of the house I hurried, expecting to see a hole in the roof, but there wasn't, all looked normal. Nothing to report upstairs either.

Nothing to do but carry on, in the hopes that something dire hadn't happened to the house and that it was not going to fall down at any minute. A second, smaller, shot gun sound happened an hour or so later, this time in the front part of the house. Hubs didn't hear it though, he had his head phones on and was at his PC, and I didn't mention it because I did not see any point in worrying him. If the house was going to fall down it was going to do that anyway.

Jean Pierre came round for another look at the hallway where he is going to construct a staircase on site. Mentioned the loud cracks to him. He smiled. He could see our worry.

He said, "............................................. " in French of course because he is a Frenchman. Hubs interpreted for me, and this is my interpretation for you: He thinks Jean Pierre said that the oak main beams are still drying out. It will take 25 years to do so. That because the roof is made of wood, that wood, even though it is not now in the form of the original tree, that it is still a living thing, and that it will flex and move about.

Oh by crikey, that has made us feel differently about the roof and ceilings. All that flexing and drying going on above our heads. Not to worry. At least the cracking sounds are to be expected even if they will no doubt continue to worry us when they happen. 

Going to visit some goats tomorrow.