Thursday 28 February 2013

I am not cold,.....

Hi there. Am cold. Message to self. Stop moaning. It is healthy not having any heating on. You could switch the electric fire on.... but you won't. So smile. Visualize inner hotness. Feel the sweat rise up. See! Not working yet? Try harder. You are hot, hot, hot, crikey but you will be glad when it gets colder so you can cool down. Phew! 

Ah that's better. 

Maz and Blue, our two young rottweillers. Who said rotties are horrid dogs, because these two are the sweetest things going. But they have been removed from the kitchen to the hallway now, as have Boolie and Gus. It was always my intention to have a dog free zone in the kitchen for those times when I need to  be animal free, like when I am prepping our meat, or cooking at the stove, or when I just need space from bodies which are glued to my every step, or eyes which are observing my every movement, and this I now have. 

It is also nice not to be immediately embraced by puppy piddles and poos in the middle of the night when one tumbles into the kitchen from the Half Barn, and by the time one has clambered over the temporary piece of wood which is wedged across the door opening between kitchen and hallway, there not being an actual door in residence at the moment, one has become sufficiently awake enough to watch for any immediate 'accidents' that should any be lying in wait for one's foot as one proceeds into the bathroom. 

At first I felt guilty about putting the puppies out there, but they had learnt that if they whined at the Half Barn door during the night, that I would get up and take them out to toilet. Oh they were quite good about going back to sleep, but it was getting silly because they were doing this little trick of getting attention more and more frequently as the days progressed. It had to stop. As soon as the builders had finished this phase of work, out they went, plus the other two. 

And it has worked a treat. For a start, the four of them are now bonded in a group, and there is hardly any 'accidents' being done during the night. However, Maz did a woof at 4am this morning, so I got up because I thought she might want to go to the loo. No, she didn't. She wouldn't get up, but her sister did, so did Bools and Gussy who then cleared off into the night. It was quite lovely standing in the cold moonlight, but for all of two minutes, at which point my toes started freezing and I got irritated. Blue came back, it being too cold for her, and indoors she went. No sign of the other two. They were out for ages, by which point the cold air had woken me up and there was no chance of me being able to go back to sleep. 

So is Maz woofing to try out her voice, or is she telling me she needs something, and do I respond again if she tries this out again tonight. Nope. No chance!

Otherwise, all is peaceful here. Lucy, the kitten, is out in the house now, having been evicted from her full time residence in the Half Barn after she got into the habit of having a manic half an hour just as I was trying to get to sleep at night. Hearing her scratching at our leather settees was most unsettling. But it has taken her about five days to get acquainted with the house, and now she holds prime position in the kitchen and is busy trying out her skills as 'Boss in chief' of the dogs, which she is managing very well. This morning she held all four of them at bay by baiting them from the kitchen chair, until all four huddled round me so I could protect them from this hissing fiend. Oh yes, she is going to do very well here. 

Two more lambs born this morning. They look spindly but alright. It has not been a happy lambing season for us or the sheep, the weather being detrimental to their overall well being. But everyone else if managing this end of winter cold weather. 

Hope you are keeping warm. I am hot, now all I have to do is tell my hands, ears, and toes that they are toasty warm, which, I think, might be a bit of a task! Might be better to go and find a puppy to hug for a warm up!

They are not supposed to be up on the chairs, 
but they were tucked up on my cardi and scarf!
Blue on the left, Maz on the right. 

And the now concreted stairs....just waiting for them to dry,
and then the wood will come off...

...and the dead tractor in quite a tidy Courtyard!

Saying bye for now.....

Sunday 24 February 2013

The dregs of a hissy fit

Well it was darn cold this morning out in the Tall Barn, but the milking went very smoothly, and everyone was calm. I even had a lovely moment with Rovi while Ice Cream was being milked. Must be about our sixth day doing this early morning task, and we are now getting into the swing of it. Fitting a new task into an already busy day does make for a bit of stress, especially if one's house is being hammered away at by Jean Pierre & Co, and I must admit to having one hell of a hissy fit yesterday afternoon, sparked off by the feeling of drowning in a sea of mess and dust.

My shouty hissiness was further fuelled by the arrival of a couple we know who took it upon themselves to bring their French neighbours along for a visit, in other words, they needed to fill in some time so thought they would come and have a gawk at us. And this couple don't do anything, just drift along, and there are others like that here...that when they have visitors and don't know what to do with them, they bring them here. And most times we are messy because that is the way it is at the moment, and we are always made to feel somehow as if we are specimens in a zoo. And when we were flooded, along they came with their cameras 'to have a look'. Crikey, but crikey!

Perhaps we should start charging gate money, so we can earn a bit of dosh to put towards the smallholding. 

Perhaps we should learn the word 'no'.

Perhaps we should start being rude. 

But yesterday, those French neighbours of this couple stood and complained that it was cold, that they didn't like dogs, and could they go and sit in the car. F*****  *****ff then!! 


Now I would not like to give the impression that I am still hissing, because I am not. But I do wonder about the ignorance of people sometimes, especially people who need to fill in time, who are drifting along in life, who are bored, who need entertainment, and who have a blankness upon their faces when we mention anything to do with smallholding life. 

There! I feel better! So perhaps there were still some shreds of hissiness left in me! 

The stairs are drying, and have not fallen down yet. 

It is cold, but dry. 

Lucy, the cat, is now free to wander round the house and get to know the dogs. She is not, however, particularly keen to do so at the moment so may need encouragement. The puppies have developed a passion for making excavations in her litter tray.

The puppies did no poo over night, except one little puddle, but they had me up three times to go outside to toilet. It was freezing cold standing outside in the middle of the night while they went to the loo. They don't like to go outside on their own. They like to have company. 

Now have seven litres of milk in the freezer, and four in the fridge. Well done our goats. It is a start. They are not big milk producers, but we are novices so it is better that we are not overwhelmed with too much milk coming into the kitchen at the moment. 

Hope you have a happy Sunday. We have had a drop of snow, about five snowflakes actually, but it has snowed! Hope you are staying warm wherever you are. 

Saturday 23 February 2013

Milk, Eggs, Dust, Ski Slope, & Lucy

 The Cat. Her name is Lucy. She is a grand little thing. Likes to wander over our desks when we are working. We try not to get irritated, but we have a lot of things on the go at the moment, so our patience is fairly limited. 

She has also decimated one of our plants, preferring, it seems, to go to the loo in proper dirt rather than her cat litter tray in which is 'proper' cat litter. I am not sure I approve of this stuff, as it seems that one has to pick up the clumps of poo and wetness and put it in the dustbin in a plastic bag. I would appreciate advice on this subject, as I do not think that this a particularly eco friendly, not that I am a fanatic on this subject, but I am unhappy with getting rid of her poo in such a way. However, there is another method of poo removal in operation here, and that is the recycling machines of the puppies, Boolie and Gus. It is now an added task for me to watch over the cat litter tray and quickly remove any doings that Lucy does in it before the dogs get to it.

She is resident in the Half Barn at the moment. She was out in the kitchen, but we 'lost' her for a day and thought her gone forever. After three days in the puppy kennel, she asked to be let out, so we did, and then she 'went'. It was a worry. The builders were here and making a fearful mess and din out in the hallway. We thought that she had taken a fright about that, or it might have been the puppies barking at her in the middle of the night, anyway she went. But she did make her presence known again, so we broke our rules about keeping the Half Barn an animal free zone, and in here she is. 

.....and she is bored, looking for things to do, mischief to make, and needs a life, so she will be put back out in the kitchen, will have to learn to get on with the puppies and them with her, so I can have some peace when I am my desk. For her it is playtime when I sit here writing, but my writing time is precious enough, so banned from our desk areas she will have to be. 

Boolie is in here as well, removed from the kitchen because Maz and Blue thought it a hoot to aggravate him at frequent intervals during the night by romping over to his bed and bouncing on him, which made him growl with annoyance, which then woke me up, which then had me getting up to sort them out. Those puppies knew I would do that, they are not daft, they knew that I would come and rescue Boolie from them, so each night it was happening more and more. So now we all have a good nights sleep because Boolie is in with us.  


Milking is coming along nicely, although we are having trouble with little Ice Cream, who seems to be in a terror of being milked. Two days ago we were going to give up on her as she went all shivery and shaky, and stepped into the milk bucket when she half milked out so the milk had to be given to the dogs. Rovi is also showing reluctance to be milked, but Blacky is fine.  But what to do with the milk which is starting to fill the fridge up. I have no time at the moment to so things with it, so it came into my head to store it in the freezer. I don't know if it will alter its nutritional value, but it's all I can do at the moment. 

Some people freeze it in the bottling jars, but I don't have many of them and they are expensive to buy, so I thought I would use zip lock freezer bags. Seemed to work.  

We also have an abundance of eggs: 

Why aren't they in the fridge? Because there is no room, that's why. So what to do with them. Ahha! Try freezing them as well. 

I have loads of margarine containers, so I put two eggs in one of them, beat the eggs up, then put them into the freezer. Have now taken them out again, but in their frozen state, to see what they are like when they defrost. If this works it would save me from having to buy eggs when the chickens go off lay. 

In the red bowl is the bacon I made last week, and it is soaking in water to get some of the salt out of it. After this photo was taken I dried the bacon, then soaked it in maple syrup for a couple of days. It was still salty, but I fried small pieces of it with some onions, which was all then added to a mix of goats milk, eggs, and cheese, put into a pastry base made with our own lard, and voila! One quiche! And that bacon lost its saltiness and gave a good flavour, so I now feel that I have found the right use for the bacon, bacon and eggs - no, but in cooking- crikey, yes. This is a relief. And please do not think I am 'showing off' about this, but I do feel quite proud of the fact that the bacon, milk, eggs and lard were all homegrown. 

It took time and effort, and the process was a long one.... 
- from the feeding of the piglet for months, then the slaughtering and butchery process, then the learning of how to make the bacon and finding a good way of using it when it was cured,..... 
- of making the lard from the pork, which is not an arduous process, just a long one, of watching a pot of pork fat melt down into liquid fat which then has to be separated from the crackling which has stuck to the bottom of the pot, the fat then hardening into lard which tastes nothing like shop bought lard.
- Of the looking after the chickens, of trying to find the eggs because we have not yet got proper egg laying facilities for the hens sorted out, although they are quite happy playing the game of searching out nest sites which we can't find. And then there is listening for the 'I have just laid an egg' broadcasts, trying to locate the nest and get the egg before Maz, Blue, Bools and Gus get to it, and soon the magpies and crows will also join in the race to the egg.  Then there are other jobs, like catching, and putting into the freezer, the four  cocklings who have lately taken to gang raping the hens. 
- And of the milking of the goats. This morning it was minus five, and as I slowly froze my thoughts wandered to others smallholders who were milking this morning. Our minus temperatures don't stay with us long, but I thought of those in other countries whose winters are long, and who will therefore get frosty cold on many a morning. But we have not had the goats long, so have not had to manage the little herd. What I mean is, that we  have not had to cull them as yet, although Ice Cream heads towards the freezer every morning. 

So why is my time being so chewed up at the moment? Well, apart from getting another web site up and running, this is what is happening: 

We have our own mini ski slope! Wahoooo! 

......not really! Jean Pierre is working on the staircase, causing disruption and tons of dust. Not to worry, it feels like the house is taking shape. It also feels like home.

..... and this is the completed framework for the concrete pour, which they are doing today. Most of the oak beams are staying, it is just the staircase itself which will be concreted. Later on, non slip tiles will be laid over the concrete steps, and any other exposed concrete will be covered with either wood or lime plaster. 

So this is why my days are a bit disordered at the moment! Not to worry. We will get dust free some day, but not today. And soon we shall have an upstairs in which to store things, so we should also become less cluttered. Yipppeeee!!! And Lester has had work come in so we are financially solvent until the end of April. And I have had some work come in as well, which all helps. Onwards, dear friend, onwards........

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Milking a go-go

We are now in full milk production! Yes, we are! Oh, well, I know that we have only three goats in our dairy herd, but everyone has to start somewhere! 

So how much milk is coming into the kitchen? Just under three litres, and that is coming from the early morning milking because we are sharing the mums with their goatlings, so they have milk during the day, then the little ones are separated off from their mums when they come off the field in the evening which means that the mums are full of milk for the morning. 

It is hard work getting up early though. We are finding that if the goats are milked when the sun is properly up then they are fidgety and hungry. We do give them a bucket of food to eat while they are being milked, but they are still restless. They might also decide not to give us milk, because they have some sort of clamping action available to them which can stop the milk flow at will.  They might also sit down, like little Ice Cream does.  But if they are milked at sun-up then they are still dopey and dozy, and are far more amiable about being messed about with. 

So what happens is this: Armed with a milk bucket, a bowl of warm water, a wash cloth, a towel, a bucket of maize, a smaller bucket of maize, and a pan with a lid, Lester and I venture forth into the goat pen after first moving through the smaller pen in which the little goatlings are resting, and making mischief. Lester then 'captures' the big brown goat, Rovi, ties her to the railings, I stand at her head, if necessary gripping her wonderfully big horns to keep her in position if she is not wanting to be milked, and also holding the smaller bucket of maize under her nose in the hopes that she will become involved with feeding her tummy and not be too anti about what Lester is doing to her udders. It will take about ten minutes to milk her. 

Lester then hands me the milk pail, and there is a bit of a tangle while I try to take hold of that, plus refill the maize bucket, plus get out through the gate of the goat pen while trying to prevent the goatlings from getting through to their mums, then I have to negotiate another gate which is held shut by a block brick which is heavy to shift and scratches my hands, meanwhile hoping that I do not drop my precious cargo of milk in the bucket. Once through that gate I pour the milk into the pan, which sits on the hay bales. 

Lester, meanwhile, is organising the next goat, which will be Blacky. I fill the small bucket with more maize, take the milk bucket and this bucket through the gate, moving the ****** block brick again, through the goatlings, through the goat pen gate which the goats have tried to climb up so it is now hard to shut and requires the use of the foot to raise it up so it can be bolted which hurts the foot but not to worry we are milking, then over to Lester and Blacky, and off we go again, the same as we did for Rovi. Ten minutes. 

Repeat all again. Ice Cream now. She is a tarter of a flipping goat, but gives us as much as the other two put together. She was dopey this morning because we milked early, but yesterday we couldn't get out of bed so were an hour later and boy oh boy but didn't we pay the price for our laziness because she struggled and was a horror all the way through the milking. In the end I had to hold her horns to hold her still, but I scratch her ears, and stroke her face, just to let her know that we do not mean her any harm. 

All done. Thirty to forty minutes later, and off to the kitchen we go after first re-uniting the goatlings with their mums. That pan of milk is carried with much reverence because I am fearful of tripping and spilling the lot. I am also aware of the animals it has come from.  

Once in the kitchen, the milk is poured through a muslin lined sieve into big screw topped glass jars, which are then put straight into the fridge. 

And that is all there is milking! 

Now you might be thinking that this is an awful lot of effort, and wouldn't it be a lot easier to buy the milk from the supermarket, and at seven in the morning I would agree with you. Plus, I have to run the gamut of having a husband who is not a morning person, so tends towards grumpiness until mid morning. Now this I can normally avoid by being busy somewhere else, but now we are milking and it is a joint effort, I am a captive audience for him. Not to worry. In time we will have 'proper' facilities, like a milking ramp on which the goat can stand, and a mechanical milking machine which will probably be a hand operated pump,  although Lester is desirous of an electrical bit of kit especially since Elise, our heifer, will hopefully be in milk production in a couple of years. 

But for the time being it is his fingers which have to do the work because we have no extra money available, and if we did we would have to put it towards repairing the tractor which has become dreadfully broken, something to do with the clutch, or gear box, or something or other. 

So we have nearly six litres of goats milk in the fridge. 

Day One: Up prompt and milking with enthusiasm, and marvel at the milk in the jars.
Day Two: Slightly less enthusiasm, got a bit cold during milking.....
Day Three: Grumpy, and late up because puppies had got me up at 1am, 5am, and 6am. Think the goats 'caught' our mood because they had the grumps as well. Thoughts were "Blimey, we'll be doing this lark for years to come...what the hell are we doing......". Felt quite gloomy until saw the milk stash in the fridge.
Day Four (today): 'Good to go' today. Up at five, did some writing, got Lester up promptly, all out by 7.30, milking done by just past 8. Feel enthused about the whole smallholding lark, think I can carry on doing this daily until I am in my dotage. Need to be more organised though. Need to get the milking stuff ready the night before. 

PS. When does one's 'dotage' start? I am coming up to sixty six, should I not be in my dotage now, or perhaps dotage starts for a person when they have time to be in the state of being. 

Off to scythe some grass for the pigs to supplement their feed, but don't have to do that for the sheep, goats and cow, because they were finally able to get onto Home Field this morning, and no doubt will be gorging themselves silly on the grass which has grown during the recent six weeks of flooding. 

Anyone know how to make goats milk cheese? 

Saturday 16 February 2013

The Duck. The Cat.

So in the middle of the flood crisis, which wasn't a crisis really because we ourselves were not flooded, neither were our animals, but our fields got a soaking and loads of trees have got knocked over by the rush of the water and we have lost another chunk of our land, so no real crisis really, although in our heads there was, something to do with the water inching its way towards us. Anyway, coming onto our drive came two friends, who had decided to donate their mad duck and his mate to us. 

Now this duck had been terrorizing their two Toulouse geese, so he had to go, and the pair were put in the rabbit run, just for now, until we could sort them out. It took two days to do so. ( NB.  'the pair' I mean the two ducks, not my two friends)

On the third day, they (the ducks) were let out, and mayhem erupted. Gussy chased the ducks, the ducks chased the geese, the ducks turned around and chased Gussy, the two Rotti puppies joined in and chased everyone, I yelled at whoever to stop doing what they were doing, no one took any notice, round and round everyone went, someone chasing someone else. 

So I went indoors and left them to it. 

It became the afternoon and all was calm. But where were the ducks? Why, down on the flooded pond, that's where they were, and over on the far edge of the pond, right away from everything, and most definitely non-catchable. 

What to do...... nothing. We had lambs with sore feet, and goats the same. If the ducks were not going to make the effort to come up to the Courtyard, then they could stay where they were, it was their choice, and if they were eaten, then it was their fault. 

Come the morning, and the first thing I did was visit the pond, which by now was shrinking in size, and there he was, the mad duck, paddling up and down without a care in the world, but his mate was gone. This we were sad about, but, heyho, there was nothing we could have done to catch them. 

So the day went on, and late afternoon I went down to the pond with some food and tried to entice Mad Duck out, but was only marginally successful in that yes, he did get out of the pond, and he did take a few steps towards me, then decided that no, he didn't want to do that, so he turned around and waddled on back to the water. Stuff him, I thought. 

.....and then, up in the Courtyard, just before dusk, an almighty noise erupted as Mad Duck decided that he was not going to spend the night by himself, but that he would join up with the geese. Oh no, said the geese, and shied this way and that way, trying to avoid Mad Duck's attempts to become one of their gang. Crikey but they kicked up a noise, darting this way and that way trying to shake themselves from the terrible creature which was closely shadowing them. But everyone was got into the Wood Shed, even though the geese were in a terrible diva state. 

Everyone survived the night, and in the morning, Mad Duck went off to the pond, the geese went off somewhere else. Just before dusk, and Mad Duck appeared again, attached himself to the geese, who again went through a hissy fit about this infringement of their privacy, but let Mad Duck be the first one into the Wood Shed for the night. 

It is late afternoon again. I have just seen the geese, who are asleep on Kitchen Field, and snucked up close to them is Mad Duck, who seems to have calmed down now that he does not have a girl to look after. His future remains uncertain, but he is damned cute, and I really hope he can find a niche here. 

And this afternoon, a little lady cat was brought here from people who are going back to the UK. It will be interesting to see what the dogs make of her, and I have no doubt that she will rule the roost once she finds her feet. Her name is Lucy. She is white, with ginger markings, and is cute as well. We can provide her with a mouse as soon as she is ready because Lester disturbed one in the cluttered dining room / storage room a few moments ago. I hope she is a mouser. It would not do for her to totally disregard her natural instincts to hunt. Neither would it do for her to use these instincts to go hunt any chicks we might have in the future!

The water is draining away, and it is hard to think that there was so much water here just a week ago. No doubt we shall regret not saving a bucket or two when the hot and dry weather hits us! But the lambs are out in the fields soaking up the sun, and I am hoping that this will help them with their feet problems. They have been in damp conditions since they were born and this must have seriously set them back, although they are still putting on weight and we have not lost any as yet. 

Hope you all have a good weekend. Should be sunny here again tomorrow, and I hope that you too are having a drop or two of sunshine.

PS. Re: The Bacon Project. On first taste, the bacon was found to be saltier that the ocean, which was a disappointment. But I soaked it in cold water for a couple of hours, when it became less salty, but still salty. There is much room for improvement with this project. I feel that the meat itself needed more seasoning, that more fat needed to be cut away from the meat, and that it definitely needs to be encouraged to be less salty. But then the salt is to help turn it into bacon in the first place, so I will need to do an Internet search to see how other people managed to make bacon.  I am favouring putting all the salt and sugar mix into a plastic bag with the bacon next time, so that the sugar has more chance to sweeten the salt. I think that I shall also upt the amount of sugar I put in. I will let you know how I get on. 

Wednesday 13 February 2013

A wee drop more....

Actually, it all got a bit much as the day went on.....

In the far distance of the above photo, this is where the river started flowing in,
resulting in our fields joining up with the flow of the river.
We are tired today,
not to worry, 
the river is dropping, 
the fields are drying,
and hopefully we will be able to get our sheep, goats, and cow onto this field soon
because the grazing over on Station Field is zilch,
and the DIY hay is just about done,
and we need some sun because the lambs are weakening in the cold and wet
even though they are warm at night.
This has been a difficult winter, 
much worse that last year, with -15C temperatures,
but very warm and sunny during the day.
This year, with this wet, the animals have suffered.
Nearly done now.
Looks like the weather is going to settle down
then the river can slow down
Home Field can be opened up again
and no doubt the animals will be hooraying as shall we.

We like living by the river,
and we know that we will occasionally have water on Home Field,
but not twice in three weeks,
that is silly.

and this is how the Adour looks for most of the time.

Have forgotten about the bacon in the fridge,
so am off to have a look at it.

Then we have a go at mending the feet of three of the goats,
then we shall retrieve my big pot from Sarah's place down the road,
because yesterday we joined forces in true British Dunkirk spirit,
and while they rescued their sundry animals from the water
I sorted out a communal lunch for nine. 
They returned my efforts by cooking dinner for us later on,
which we were grateful for
because we had just helped a plonker of a French chappie,
who had insisted on driving his posh BMW through the water on the lane, 
which was waist high in some places.
How did we know it was waist high?
Because Lester got the tractor out to 'rescue' him,
and get had to get down from the tractor to see if he could get a chain anchored on the car  so he could tow it out for the plonker-man.
He couldn't, mostly because it was getting dark,
and river water is freezing, 
well it would be because it comes down from the Pyrenees,
so I stood calf deep in the water on the lane,
to guide Lester back onto dry tarmac
lest he tip his tractor wheels into one side or another of the lane's ditches.
just like the plonker-man's had. 
So then it was down to Sarah's place
where be camels, goats, chickens, pigs and lamas, 
and in her place there was a blazing wood burner,
and a baby potbelly piglet, one mum potbelly with baby potbelly, four huge dogs, 
several cats and kittens,
chaos, mud, and warmth.
And we celebrated the fact that we had come through another flood, 
which was far worse than that of three weeks ago,
and that our houses were full of muddy wellies, soggy clothing, and tired bodies,
but that we were still up at the wicket,
building new lives,
running smallholdings
down here in SW France. 

Monday 11 February 2013

February thoughts

February is a funny month to be a smallholder, and by 'funny' I don't mean 'funny ha ha' but 'funny odd'. For a start there is the promise of spring, with the start of the growing season which one anticipates with both eagerness and trepidation. Eagerness because the days are getting longer, the weather is going to warm up, things will need planting, and the outdoor days will begin. Trepidation because the slow pace of winter will be giving way to the hectic pace of the growing season, which is long here, from March to October / November, and that is without having a polytunnel to look after as yet. 

February, when things start popping up in the flower garden, unless the chickens have been foraging and found the spring bulbs which were planted last autumn, although they have left the three hyacinth bulbs alone. And of wandering round the garden and seeing what has survived, what has not and of seeing buds filling out and hoping that a late frost does not pay a visit. 

February, when the body feels the lack of being outside and feels slack within itself making one worry about where the energy to make the effort to do all those outside jobs is going to come from. 

February, of watching the winter toll on the animals, of feeling concern for them out in their fields and pens, of hoping that they have had enough to eat, of wanting to protect them from the last of the winter weather, of knowing that there has to be a last sharp burst of wet and / or cold before it gets better for them. 

February, when one realises that one is running out of time to get those inside jobs done, of looking forward to starting new projects outside, of still having long cosy evenings before the manic push of the growing season, of toes and fingers feeling relieved that they will not be frozzled again for lots of months ahead. 

February, which is the start of the smallholder's year. Of wanting to hold on to the slowness of the month, but at the same time wanting it to hurry up so we can get to spring. 

Back in the UK February was always difficult. Central heating made the air dry which in turn dried me up, causing sinus and bronchial conditions which laid me low. Too much TV watching created too many bad eating habits, and without hardly any exercise to burn those calories off, I put on weight, creating more health problems. I had so much time on my hands, much of which was wasted. 

And then we came to France and became trainee renovators and smallholders. We don't have central heating, in fact we rarely have any fires on at all apart from in the bathroom, so we are in fresh air all the time and my sinus and bronchial problems have lessened. Over all my health is better. I still carry some weight and would always want to, but now there is a better percentage of muscle to fat. Life is simpler, we are healthier. And we are never bored. February is still a trying month, but far less so. 

Puppies: two visits to the vets, one a proper one and the other an emergency. All sorted. So should we get cats or should we get a Jack Russell dog. Neither appeal. One climbs all over the furniture, eats birds and chicks, makes little creatures die slow deaths by playing with them, and the other yaps too much, gets under the feet, and is too little. So how are we going to manage to rat and mice problem. Any ideas? 

House: Staircase coming on. Big upright beams in place, mezzanine over front door now waiting for the chestnut planking to be laid on it, measurements been taken for the concrete pour of the lower staircase and materials to be purchased today so the frame can be made. 

Us: it was a cold weekend because all the doors were open because of the building work, so we had the electric fire on on Saturday evening, but didn't bother otherwise. The continuing rain is pulling us down, mostly because of our concern for the animals. Otherwise, we continue to press on. 

The Bacon: this is probably at the end of the salt and sugar soak because the salt crystals are now staying on the surface of the pork rather than becoming liquidized, but just to be sure, I have laid the bacon in the last of the salt and sugar mix for another day. 

So swinging along through February, and hope you are swinging along nicely as well.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Puppies, bacon, light.....

Bacon Update: Into Day Five, and looking good. Still having a difficulty with sorting out smoking apparatus, so will probably not smoke this piece. Would have a go at rigging a smoker up myself but it is still raining so any time spent outside is connected to our animal welfare. The lambs are definitely not as robust as those born last spring, but then it was very cold but also very sunny and that must make a difference to both the mental and physical well being of those little ones. We continue to give them hay, cut grass, and grain, but they need some dry and sunny days. Anyway, fiddling about making a smoker is not something I need to do at the moment. 

I found out on the Internet that the bacon can have all the salt and sugar added all in one go.... that you pack all of the salt around the piece of pork, then put it into a freezer bag, then into the fridge, and leave it for the seven days. Someone else did the same, but packed the salt and sugar (he used loads of brown sugar which I would not do because brown sugar is expensive here in France) around the meat, then put it into a plastic box, put a lid on it, and again left it. 

But I like the method which I first found, which is rubbing the meat with the salt and sugar, then putting it on a tilted rack to drain, and repeating this process over the seven days. I also did not know spices and herbs could be sprinkled on the meat before the salt mix is rubbed on, so something to try next time. 


....and the puppies. Things they have found put:
- that hanging from the clothes put out on the rotary washing line, especially trailing things like sleeves and apron ties which they can get a good grip on, is a 'must do'. Also especially pleasing if wind is blowing the washing about, then they can swing around as well. 
- that climbing is good either outside, (clambering up to the top of the pile of sand and gravel, then sliding down the other side) or inside on the chairs. Chairs have also been found to provide a good position for sleeping on. This is not allowed as we don't like animals up on the furniture, which is why we don't have cats here. 
- balls of wool are a fascination, more so if they can be unravelled round and round and up and under the kitchen table and chairs. If attached to a piece of knitting then all the better, or got from out of a box if this is not available.
- that when told off, if they look forlorn and miserable then they are quickly forgiven. Rolling of the eyes in a flirtatious manner also seems to work.
- that 'outside toilet' sung at them in a sing song voice seems to flick a trigger in them that they need to do deposits outside. 
- that if they squirm and cajole miserable Gussy enough, that he will wriggle his tail at them if they work hard enough at doing so.
- that electric fencing is something that does not need to be tangled up with.
- that the joy of egg hunting is likely to be met with a telling off. 
- that they can't pick goose eggs up yet.
- that men working in the house have things called tool boxes, which can be raided by stealth when no one is looking.
- that leads are meant to be played with puppy to puppy, and are not to be taken seriously.
- that there is a good result to be had from the goats inside the goat pen if they put their faces to the gaps in between the railings. 
- that it is best not to swallow a rat whole because that rat will be pulled back out.
- that chicken and geese poo are handy snacks for in between meals.
- that tall grass is great for outside ambushes, and for inside ambushes there is always the building stuff stacked in piles here and there. But that doing a toilet on top of a stack of new wood will be met with dire consequences.
- that dead flies are a treat. 
-  that chasing chickens is a no go, although this can be done by stealth if no one is around. 
- that trying to eat the maize put out for the geese and chickens will be met with hisses and pecks, but still worth doing all the same. 

We have lights! The electrician has been in and now most of the downstairs, has now got proper electric plugs, media sockets, and ceiling lights. And what a joy it is to walk down the hallway in the early morning to get the doggy band out for their pee and poos and not trip over things along the way. And we have a light right outside the front door now, so if we are returning home at night we shall now be able to cross the courtyard without risking falling over something in the dark. 

The electrician has also put in another earth for the electrics. Touching certain equipment, particularly the metal parts of the shower, were producing mild jolts which is not a nice experience when standing under running water. Apparently the jolt would not have amounted to a full electric shock because the electricity would have shut itself off before this happened. Well that's as may be, but having even a little jolt it not good. It also happened when I touched a part of the dishwasher. But we did have an earth, but now we have two. 

Jean Pierre in today, working on the hallway mezzanines. Staircase to be started soon. It is hoped that we will be able to have people here for rest and recovery. Sometimes this end target seems a long way off, sometimes it seems to be galloping towards us. Hey ho, it keeps life interesting.

Bye for now, and hope you have a good weekend.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

He saw the light & bacon on the go

Since the puppies arrived we have dispensed with the use of the loo overnight. Why? Because it is absolutely imperative that those two girls are not woken up at all, otherwise puppy mania erupts and all hell breaks lose. The loo is on the other side of the kitchen to us, and the girls and Boolie sleep in the kitchen. Even stealthy attempts to get to the loo do not work. Up they bounce, oh so happy to see us, tails wagging, full of life and energy, and off they charge on puppy adventures, like playing tunnels and ambushes under the chairs, or racing full pelt round and round the kitchen table, diverting occasionally to charge into the hallway to annoy Gussy. They like doing that. They like making him growl. 
And all this mischief, I am sorry to say, is not something one wants to be involved with at three o'clock in the morning. 

So I have gone back to using the porta potti, which isn't a problem because I have had several years experience of them, but Lester prefers to go the loo au naturelle, because he can, because we have no neighbours, because he can't be bothered to try and aim for  the small opening of the porta potti, because it is easier, because...... So he goes outside. 

It was raining last night. Apparently mid wee an almighty great flash of lightning launched itself from the sky down into the ground just over the other side of the wood pile which was only a few metres away from him. He said he kept on weeing. He said he could not see anything anyway because he had become blinded by the flash. He said it was a near thing. He said he could have been done unto death by that lightning if it had been a few metres closer. He said he didn't fancy being singed....

The lakes of Labartere have grown again, thanks to the torrential over night rain. Crikey but it has been ssssooooo wet, and all the animals must be fed up with it. We got through six bales of DIY hay today because we had to keep everyone in, even though the sheep kept moaning about not being allowed out onto the field, the goatlings got rid of their excess energy by trampolining on the backs of their mums, Elise just played football with her hay and grain boxes, and the geese splashed about in the water. 

But we are getting worried about the state of the Station Field. It has been grazed on for several weeks now, which can't be doing either the sheep or the field any good. But the water is still laying across the Home Field gate entrance, and now water is laying across the part of the fence in which we were going to cut a new gate. Pierre down the road has offered us a part of his hay meadow field for grazing, but the thought of getting our sheep, goats, and cow to walk down the lane to his field is something we don't think we want to do. We think that it would be the equivalent to waking our puppies up in the middle of the night. Bedlam. Hither and thither chaos would reign. So, no, they and us will have to manage as best we can.  I cut grass with the scythe for them, we give them the hay we harvested last year, and we give them grain. 

The bacon is coming on a treat. Forgot to give it its salt and sugar bath tonight, but will do that in the morning. Day three, and it is the Maple Syrup rub, which is going to be sticky and messy. We had the electrician in today drilling holes, making dust, doing things with wires, it was cold wet and windy outside and with the front door open it was cold and windy inside as well, so I didn't want to add messy stickiness into that equation as well.

Day Two: this is the run off of liquid from Day One
Bacon was salted and sugared again, and put back in the fridge.
I had forgotten to weigh the piece of pork, 
it is about 0.5 Kg, which is just over 1lb.
Day Three update, several hours later:
Wow! Have discovered glorious Maple Syrup, 
and it isn't sticky, just sweet and tangy. 
It will now be a 'must have' in my larder.
Bacon now covered in it. 
Run off from Day Two was hardly a dribble.
I didn't put any salt or sugar on today because recipe didn't say so, 
hope bacon doesn't rot between now and tomorrow morning,
might turn the fridge up a bit to make sure it stays really cold. 


Monday 4 February 2013

 Lester is up a ladder.......

.....the sheep are still out grazing on Station Field because there is still a heap of water blogging the entrance to Home Field, which is the main field. It has been a rough winter for them, not cold, but wet wet wet, and Station Field is grazed right down now. We are giving them the homemade hay bales we made last year, I cut grass for them every day, and they have grain supplements. I think they must have known it was going to be tough because most of them have had only one lamb each this year. Last year nearly everyone had twins. Meanwhile the goats and Elise are being kept in a lot because of the wetness and lack of grazing. I think that we are going to cut the fence wire along from that water logged field entrance tomorrow to make another entrance so everyone can get out onto Home Field, which is now rested. That plan came into our heads today after Lester spent all day pumping the ditch out in front of that field entrance, but with overnight rain it filled right back up again. 

.......Maz and Blue continue to be hooligans: Maz is on the left and Blue on the right.

Should have been a vet visit this afternoon but other things happened, so tomorrow then. 

.....rummaging in Number Two chest freezer, thought I had pulled out some home raised pork chops, which once defrosted proved to be a neat little hunk of meat which had got squashed under other joints. Time to have a go at making bacon then.

........ had bought a huge bag of salt already, so ready to go. 

The recipe went like this: 25% brown sugar, 75% large crystal salt (not table salt) (4 ozs:12 ozs) Mix together, then rub into washed and dried meat. Done. This photo was taken after two hours, and you can see the moisture coming away from the meat already. Seven days is how long it takes apparently.  Won't be able to smoke the bacon though as we have no smoker yet, but at least we have made a start at the dried meats. 

Haven't milked the goats again, as we have a problem with separating the young from their mums. Need to make a gate in the Tall Barn between Elise's pen and the goat's pen because we have decided that morning milking is going to be better than evening milking, just in case Lester and me are tied into working at our computers. Goats milk is gorgeous! Can't wait to get a regular supply coming into the kitchen. 

So, Day One for the bacon cure, and six to go!

Lester has now come down the ladder, after having had an inspection of the work Jean Pierre is doing. He is now baby sitting our two puppy girls, who sound like they are having another patch of puppy mania, so I am off to join in the fun!

Saturday 2 February 2013

My milking squeamishness

It has been of interest to me as to why I felt so squeamish as I watched the milk flow from teat to bucket, after all I did not wilt when the cockerel's head flew off in a different direction to its body when Lester did too strong a pull on his neck when slaughtering it, meanwhile I was holding the cockerel Lester had already 'done' upside down by his legs as he did his dance of death, quite unfazed by doing so and definitely not feeling squeamish.

So why did the milking of the goats have such an effect. After all, it was only milk coming out of an animal. All milk comes from an animal, (unless it is soya milk which doesn't). All cheese comes from milk which came from an animal, (I am not sure if there is such a thing as soya cheese). And that animal which produced the milk must have had a youngster to start off the production of milk in the first place. Perhaps I was feeling it unfair that we should take the milk from our goat whose goatling was still taking milk from her, although was also eating grain, grass, and hay. But I don't think so. It was on my mind, but that wouldn't have made me squeamish. 

I have been involved with the end time of pigs, sheep, and chickens, but not the rabbits,  because Lester prefers to sort them out by himself as he finds it a hard job to do. So when end times of life arrive for one of our animals, whether it be if their bodies are heading towards the fire or freezer, I have stood my ground, been prepared to feel squeamish but never have. Other things I have felt, like the absolute peaceful silence which seems to surround the animal we have just slaughtered, the vague tears in my eyes as I follow Lester in the tractor as he takes the animal to the Courtyard, and various other emotions too numerous to mention, but never have I felt squeamish. Even when we start work on the body, I am fine. I was even fine when one of our young animals, who should not have been expecting more of her own race because of her age, was found to be doing just that. That should have had me flat on the ground in a faint, but it did not. Wouldn't have helped Lester to be doing that anyway. His was the worst job, he had to sort it out. 

So then, why did I feel really weird and squeamish during the milking of the goats. Perhaps it was because it was something coming out of a living animal which we were then going to consume. I remember when Lester gave me the first batch of eggs from our hens, how I felt odd about handling them. For years eggs had come in a box purchased from a supermarket shelf and I had hardly ever given a thought to where that egg actually came from. In my mind, hen and egg were separated. So when Lester gave me those still warm eggs, hens and eggs became united, that eggs came from the rear ends of those chickens walking about outside, which I surprisingly found mildly shocking. 

What is it with me. Was it living a modern lifestyle for all those years, with supermarket packaging  protecting the food from not only germs but also from awareness of its source, that eggs came in boxes, cheese in plastic wrappings, meat on plastic trays, milk in cartons, and everything else either boxed or bagged up, had this somehow 'damaged' my perception as to the original source of the food I ate, desensitized me in effect.

And then there was the absolute nervousness I felt when incubating eggs in an incubator, of being so aware that life was being created within that fragile shell. Of the marvel of seeing chicks hatch, of learning the rhythm of life. Or the feeling of almost terror when Lester brought into the kitchen our first goose egg, because it was huge. I thought it would have a baby terrodactyl inside it, that's what I thought, which was silly really, but it is the truth, that's what I thought. Took me ages to crack that egg open, but I did, and there was nothing inside it but what there should have been.

So, the milk. It came to be the time of the milking of the goats. It needed to be started because the goatlings are getting bigger and soon will not need the milk of their mums so the milk of the mums will dry up and there will be no more milk to be had until those mums are serviced by a billy goat which we haven't as yet acquired. 

As usual, we were completely unprepared, but Lester took charge, because he has milked cows in his early days in South Africa so knows the finger manipulation needed to get the milk from an udder because a  young Kafir farm helper showed him how to. Forefinger and thumb, followed by a gentle hand squeeze apparently.

It might have been because Gussy had just flattened Maz, our puppy, and caused a big upset amongst us all as a result. Gussy is miserable around the pups. His choice. He either accepts them or he doesn't. Nonetheless, it had upset us, me. And my sugar levels were low. And it was the end of the afternoon, and I am useless between four and five, not sure why, but I always am, so I was foggy headed and dithery. 

Lester meanwhile, caught Blackie, tied her up, sat down beside her, spraddled her legs, commenced milking. I dithered about around him. Gave her grain. Got a bowl of water. Shooed the other goats away. Felt squeamish. Felt mildly fainty. Felt mildly sicky. 

With a grin Lester handed me the bucket, with instructions to get it into the kitchen so it couldn't be kicked over. Blackie gave us a pint of milk, Rovie didn't give much because she is feeding twins, and Ice Cream is best not mentioned because she is a rascal and sat down on the bucket so Lester couldn't get to her undercarriage. 

I observed the milk in the jug, and I still felt odd, as if things were not quite in the right place in my head. I suppose that this is another hen and egg learning curve. It is the undoing of my old ways of looking at life, that's what it is, the undoing of my fixed assumption about things. It's only a drop of milk after all. Ah, but it is the connection of that milk to the body of a living animal, that is what I have been made aware of. Eggs come from hens and not from egg boxes in the supermarket, milk comes from the undercarriage of a mother animal not from a supermarket carton. Does this awareness  matter? To me, yes. To others, it is up to them because each of us has our own learning curves in life, but I am not a 'stirrer up of the populace', I am not a 'you must live the good life' person, I say 'to each their own', but would this really be the reason why I felt so odd about the simple task of milking a goat.

Lester asked me if I would like to have a go at milking. I said probably not. It is something about that warm teat and the dripping milk, that's what I feel squeamish about, this I have realised as I have chatted away to you. I have had children. Perhaps this milking thing is too close to home, reminds me of the twin dribbles down my front when my young didn't want to feed, of rock hard buxom bosoms, of feeling top heavy, of feeling sore, chewed upon, which is not itself a hard memory to hold, but it is the associated memories of what should have been a happy time in my life which I do not want to revisit, of the fists coming my way, of the bruises, of the near cracking of myself. This then, gave me my faintness, my squeamishness, when I saw Blackie being milked, it was the associated memories behind that flowing of the milk, in a time when my voice was stifled and I was in emotional blackness, before I had the courage to change things, get a divorce, and move on and away from that time. I know I have the key to my 'milking oddness', because I can feel a lump of pain wending its way up into my throat, which is a good thing because I am getting rid of stuff I no longer need to carry on my shoulders. I think I need to find a quiet place with a box of tissues to hand. I think I need to leave you in peace......

Thanks for listening

Lester thinks we will need to get a portable milking machine. Now that I could do.