Friday 31 May 2013

Two feet appear....

It was the two feet coming out of the rear end of our cow that stopped us in our tracks. We were in the middle of milking the goats. Elise had laid down. We thought she had gone back to bed. She hadn't. She was in labour. 

Now this was a surprise to say the least. We had thought that her bright red fanny and her enlarged udders were something to do with her coming on heat for the first time. We have waited expectantly for this event for some months, although were not in a hurry to mate her, we just wanted to know what her biological rhythm was so we could plan artificial insemination later on in 2014. 

However, the two feet coming out of her backside said that this plan had become irrelevant.

So how had this come to pass? How had our young heifer been brought to the brink of motherhood. For ages we mused on this, and arrived at the conclusion that she must have been 'got at' by the resident bull at the farm she was born at, just before she came here.

Once the feet were out, the rest followed quite effortlessly. By now Sara down the lane  and her vet students had come to lend a hand. They were angels. I was in a fug so just watched. Lester was in an even bigger fug and went off to see to the other animals. We were both feeling a tad stunned. Seeing feet coming out of your supposedly virgin cow is not something that one's head can easily deal with. 

Meanwhile, the river continues to rise.......we are at orange alert for the Adour. 

Feeling unsettled.....

it's not very good here at the moment. We try to stay upbeat but it is a bit of a job. It's the rain and low temperatures which are trying to push us down. And I think of other farming folk over the years, how hard it is to grow food for one's self and others when nature is being so temperamental, when nature is being its self. 

In the safety of our homes we are sheltered from nature, and in control of our environments, the same for our daily work, whatever it is. Not many of us are reliant on nature. Most of us have stepped away from that reliance, keeping away from the outside, and away from the natural world, living our lives closetted away indoors, unless it is warm and sunny, then we will venture forth. 

And then some of us up took an opportunity to make a change, to move away from living indoors, to live more outside, to discover that nature is the boss, that we are but just midgets in comparison, that nature is mightier than us, that we can never hope to control nature even if we try, that nature will always win, one way or another. This we have learnt since coming to France. 

An email in from Sara down the road, to say that we are under orange alert again for rain and flooding. Third time this year. We are not surprised. It has not stopped raining since January. We can, and do, moan about this. But there is no point. It is the way of things. 

I look at the grass and try not to fret that we have lost the hay it would have made. I look at the far field and see the wild pea starting to seed itself, knowing that it will turn the field into a tangle of vegetation as it does so. It was a good hay field last year. This year it will not.

I look at the tomato plants, now deceased, at the potatoes, some of which are doing well, but a patch not so good because they are in a lake, at the intermittent lines of mangel (sugar beet), the patchiness of the seedlings due to the munching slugs, the slug pellets not working because of the rain, and try not to fret. Instead, I look at the strong growth on the pole beans, onions, and garlic, and I marvel at a very strong line of seedlings growing although have forgotten what they are. 

I stand in the rain and watch the piglets romp about in their hut, and feel pleasure at them doing so. I try not to worry about the swampiness of their paddock, nor the wetness of the other paddock in which Max and the other sow live. But I look at the sheep and do worry. They look in a state, their fleeces are mud caked and ragged, their barn and paddock sopping wet. For most of the day they are out on the field, so have relief from their home environment. Otherwise, we keep putting straw down in their barn, but the floor needs to come up. It will make excellent manure when it does, which does not help matters much at the moment. 

The chickens have gone off-lay, although I am managing to find up to two eggs per day, if I am lucky enough to get to them before the magpies and dogs find them. Am relieved, that when we had a glut of eggs, I froze about thirty. I think that that is an experiment which has paid off. It is encouraging to think that I have a small store of eggs.

It is also encouraging to look at my eight jars of canned food, and know that I have eight meals already cooked. At the moment I am concentrating on learning how to use my canner, so keep the food in those jars simple. Four have lamb mince in tomato sauce, and the other four contain goat mince in mixed veg and spices. Lester said that he thought I should have bought a bigger canner as mine will only take four one pint kilner jars at one time. I said that the size was just right because four jars filled with the same filling was enough, otherwise one would get fed up with eating the same thing. 

My freezers are full of food, and that is encouraging as well. Means we are much less dependent on the supermarket. I also have a small stock of DIY soft goats cheese in the freezers, plus four one pint jars of DIY goats yoghurt. 

All these things are positive, and help to keep the spirits up when one is waiting to see if one is going to be flooded again. And if we are? It is the way of things, it is the way of nature, and there is no point in getting upset and moaning on and on and on about it. 

But it is alright to have a tinsy bit of a moan. 

We are, after all, only human. 

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Lardy Balls!

I started off sharing with you my efforts at making lard from our Tamworth pig fat, but the experiment did not end up quite how I thought it was going to.........

If  you can't access the video through this link then try the one below.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Ah, so that's why!

At choir was given the info that the passes in the Pyrenees are still blocked with snow, and that the farmers cannot take their animals up onto the summer pastures in the  mountains because they can't get up there, and anyway, there are no meadows as such because where there should be flowers there are deep snow fields. This info perturbed us somewhat. Sooner or later it will get hot, sooner or later that snow will melt, sooner or later it is going to take a trip out to the sea and a chunk of it is going to come past us. Hopefully it will not linger on our land. A third time of flooding would be a bit silly. Already Home Field is not usable again because the gate entrances are flooded because of the high rainfall, so everyone is out on the Side Field again. Hope we don't crash into a heatwave though. That field has no shade. The sheep can't be sheared because it is too cold and wet, so their fleeces are thick this year. They might get sunstroke, or fly strike, or both, should the temperatures suddenly rocket up, as they are prone to do here.

But at least the bees got out and about today, and the geese had a lovely day romping in the water on the field, and Gussy was happy because we cut his tangled coat off, and I was happy because it was warm enough for me to lay out on my sunbed for an hour, and the piglets were happy because the ground in the pig pen was dry enough for them to have a little romp, and Lester was happy because it was Sunday and he could have a day off. 

And apparently, the upset weather is because: "After an episode of sweetness in mid-April 2013, since May 10th  a major part of France has had cool and dreary weather. Indeed, Western Europe is affected by two anticyclones. The anticyclone "Azores", centered farther north than usual and bordering the west coast of Europe, is flowing clockwise round another anticyclone, the winds this creates bringing in from the north disturbed weather. Further east, another well established anticyclone blocks these depressions on Western Europe while promoting unusually warm temperatures in Russia." (Info from Meteo France, via Google Translate and some editing by me). Ah, so that's why! 

Perhaps these anticyclones will sort themselves out soon, and we can get out of thermals, and the sheep can get out of their thick coats. It will be a relief all round. But we did get a drop of sun today, and it didn't rain at all, although the light in the sky suggested it was more towards October rather than it being the end of May. 

It is an odd year in many ways.

Friday 24 May 2013

Butter? No. A mess? Yes.

This is a photo of a milk separator. You put the milk into the pan, you crank the handle, you open a spigot in the pan, and after a moment skimmed milk flows out of one tube to hopefully land in one handily placed bowl, and out of the other tube flows cream, again into a bowl. That's the theory anyway. 

I have a milk separator. It is the same as the one above, but white. I assembled it, guided by several YouTube videos as to how to do that, the instruction pamphlet being in French translated from Russian, so there wasn't a hope in hells chance of being able to use Google Translate to get it into understandable English. 

Time to make cream. Pour warmed goats milk into the pan. Crank handle. Spigot open. Milk flowing nicely, not through the tubes though, but from a small orifice in the casing. Stop cranking. Turn spigot off. Observe the flow. Yell for Lester. 

Boffin Lester dismantles unit. Prods and pokes about. Says he is not convinced that this bit of kit is going to work properly, but reassembles it according to how he thinks it should be assembled, which was the same as what I had done anyway. 

Warm milk up again. Milk in pan. Repeat result. More milk puddles on table, none in the bowls. Dogs now interested in drips running on to the floor. 

Unit dis-assembled again. Lester notices a piece of wire across the inside tube at the bottom of the centrifuge. Says it should fit on the corresponding insert piece on the body of the machine. 'No one on YouTube mentioned that', I said. 

Re-assemble machine. Warm milk up again. Repeat result. More milk puddles. Now mopping up with tea towels. There are a pile of them, all soaked through with milk. Getting cross about the waste of milk. Lester notices a hole on the centrifuge. Says that that is where the milk is coming from. Says that the centrifuge needs tightening up so that the little nobbly thing above it actually sits in the hole to block it up. No YouTubers mentioned that either. Centrifuge tightened. Hole blocked. Unit put back together. 

Milk warmed up again. Into pan. Lester now in charge of cranking. Revs up. And Yes!! We have milk coming from the tube. And Yes!!! Cream coming from out of the other. 
Lester says, "That doesn't look like cream, it looks like milk. I'm still not convinced about this machine. I going back to the computer. Got work to do". So off he goes. 

I observe the wondrous mess that has been created. Already on the table I have the leavings of yesterday's cheese making effort to clear up, the large bowl of whey, the cheese cloth in the colander, etc......(I made six small pots of chevre soft cheese from a mesophyllic starter from one gallon of milk, and it was yummy). There are also half dozen jars of goats milk fermenting into pot cheese, a fascinating process to watch as the milk separates itself into curds and whey. Next to learn about is how to make ricotta cheese from the whey (the watery liquid left after the milk has formed into the white curd clumps), and so far my cheese making efforts are getting better as my experience increases. 

It is not hard to make goats cheese. My first effort (Apple cider vinegar into two litres of goats milk to make curds and whey) was not as good as this last effort, but that is the nature of gaining experience, that one gets better as one progresses providing one keeps practising and does not give up. 

However, butter and cream remain elusive because we can't seem to work out how to get the separator to work so it does its job. We have put enough oil into its body, because the splashes on the little plastic window says we have. We do tighten up the centrifuge enough because it doesn't leak waterfalls of milk where it shouldn't. We do have a dribble of milk from the cream tube, and yes, the rest of the milk does go through the other one. 

However, the bit of 'cream' in the small bowl is not far off the consistency of the milk in the big bowl. However, there seems to be a frothy thickness on the surface of the milk in that bowl, which does look like cream. However, since the contents of the small bowl is cream, because YT vids say it is, I thought I would have a go at making butter with it in my food processor, which can be used to make butter from cream because YT vids says you can. I couldn't. No matter what food processor gadget I tried, (the whisk, the knife, the liquidiser) the 'cream' remained as it was. I stopped this experiment when the body of the food processor started getting hot. I didn't want to blow it up. It is too handy a gadget to have in the kitchen. 

Lester says that it would be easier to skim the cream off. He said that he had looked on the Internet and found that piece of info. Said that it would be less hassle because it would mean less mess, this being said while he stood and observed the mess on the table. 

Onwards then. I shall not be defeated. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I am one of those people who refuse to give up. Presented with a challenge, I tackle it head on. Lester is the same. Neither of us lets things go. I suppose that is what got us here to France, that accepting of a challenge which came our way via the Universe. Call it madness (a lot of people thought us daft when we said we were going to live in a ruin), call it stubbornness, call it whatever you like, but we don't give up, although we sometimes falter.

I am faltering with that cream separator. Tried again this morning, this time with the morning milk. Less cream this time. Ended up by skimming the froth of cream from the big bowl of supposedly skimmed milk with an ice cream spoon. Had a go at seeing if I could make butter with that. No, I couldn't. 

.....not to worry, there is always tomorrow's milk to have a go at, and another mess on my table to look forward to. 

Blessings to you. 


Monday 20 May 2013

We think we have six!

Yesterday afternoon there were three little heads. This morning, six, we think. But we won't know until they start moving about. But do you can have a flavour of what is to come, here is last year's lot:

...and this is what happened when we let them out into the electric enclosure:

Lester is building a proper pen for the littl'uns this time. Said he got fed up with chasing them. Said that we have a 'proper' veg plot this year. Said that it was not the place for little feet to be romping all over. 

So well done mum, and we look forward to the new lot of scamps. 

Sunday 19 May 2013

A dopey day

I do far too much, this I know, but I am a workaholic I think, or is it because my mind gets so interested in things. Anyway, the cream separator has arrived from the Ukraine, not sure who delivered it, but I found it this morning sitting on top of the tractor which is parked up in the porch. I was pleased that it had arrived. Have been itching to have a go at making some cream so I can make some butter and buttermilk. 

However, the body of the separator needed to have oil put in it. A cup, said a lady on a YouTube vid. Three cups later and there was still no sign that it had enough oil in it. The project is now on hold until tomorrow because we have run out of oil. Lester said to give it a go anyway, but I said better not, better to wait until it was full. 

I have a dopiness on me today. Sunday-itus, that's what it is. I keep looking at the clock to see what time it is, and the hours are dragging. This is what is called 'having a rest'. This I do not do very well. Much better to be on the go. Be productive. To look back at the day and think of what one has done seems much more preferable than to say to one' self 'Gosh, that was a nice snooze on the settee I had'. Do I sound a little bit grumpy? It's this darn weather. I need the sun. My head needs serotonin. My body needs warmth. 

My replacement dehydrator arrived the other day. Have done some dehydrating in it. Wow! That's all I can say! Did some kiwi, apple, orange, and banana. Filled seven out of the nine trays. Filled several jars. Half now gone. The fruit was delish. Now we can snack virtuously, knowing that our nibbles are doing us good. 

Did I say that I was giving myself the day off today. And have I mentioned that I don't know what to do with myself. I have? Oh. 

We are in the middle of expectancy. Our smaller sow is in the middle of having piglets. We think. Since January we have closely watched her. 'Is she or isn't she' has been a favourite topic of conversation, and hardly a day goes by without us visually examining her. A few days ago her milk bar of an undercarriage looked like it was starting to fill up, and this morning she had a sort of pained expression on her face when I went to see why she was still in her hut and not outside eating her breakfast. She also did a 'Leave me alone' growl at Lester. I have had babies. My thoughts are with her. Best to leave her alone though. She would fret if we hovered. 

Think I might go and raid the dried banana pot, then I might make some goat cheese, then I could.......ah, but I am supposed to be having a rest. I promised myself I could have the day off last weekend when I was left in the kitchen to carry on sorting out the meat from the ewe we had dispatched the night before, then get the kitchen cleaned up, then cook dinner, and then do sundry other jobs, all of which I was getting on with doing while Lester played chess and watched films on his PC. I get narky when he does that. Go into drama queen mode, go all martyrish. 

So today I am having a day off and it is driving me crackers!

Friday 10 May 2013

Tilth! We don't have any!

I keep reading that seeds needed to be planted in seed beds with a 'fine tilth'. 

Wikipedia says: Good tilth is a term referring to soil that has the proper structure and nutrients to grow healthy crops. Soil in good tilth is loamy, nutrient-rich soil that can also be said to be friable because optimal soil has a mixture of sand, clay and organic matter that prevents severe compaction.

But we don't have tilth at all at Labartere. We have old river bed. Stones we have in plenty. Clay, we have some of that too. Tilth? Nope. 

Last year I started off a lot of seeds in our tardis......

.....this was not the resounding success it should have been,  mostly because I kept forgetting to cover the tardis up during the heat of the day so a lot of the seedlings frizzled. 

So this year I am going to plant straight out into the veg plots. However, another thing I am not good at is thinning a row of seedlings, always leaving it too late so either the seedlings have grown too big or the weeds are jostling them too much, making everything  grow into a mucky mess.

So I came up with a plan:
1. Make row,
2. Put little piles of compost along the row at regular intervals.
3. Put two or three seeds in each little pile.
4. Cover over each little pile with non-cloddy earth. 

Et voila!

It does take a bit of effort to do, but should save time in the long run. Lack of tilth is remedied by the compost, and not much thinning out will need to be done because the seedlings are widely spaced out. Well, that's the plan, now all I have to do is remember to water. 

.....and look! An edifice recently built by Lester and myself. It looks wonky but isn't. 

....and here is the patch I am planting at the moment. The potatoes are in the furthest patch. 

....and here is our pregnant sow....

....and here is Orpy Junior, watching over a hen who is under the tall plant. Much as I have tried to discourage this new communal nest site, Orpy is adamant that this is the right spot. He has spent days choosing it. The fact that it is a handy spot for nest robbers, like Bools, Gus, Maz, Blue, and the magpies, to reach is not something which is anywhere in his head. 

Re: the Seed Plan: just had a look in the veg plot, five rows of seeds up, evenly spaced, will not need thinning. Whooppeee! The plan looks like a go-er!

Sunday 5 May 2013

That was scary!

First of all this is NOT my kitchen........

......this isn't either. But it is the 'spare' kitchen because I don't have a 'proper' kitchen anyway, just a temporary one. Obviously this is a temporary space as well.   

Now may I draw your attention to the pot in both these photos, the first one being one I posted up on  a blog a few weeks ago after I mentioned that I had purchased an All American Canner so I can can, or rather, bottle. In the second photo you can see my actual pot.

Anyway, the pot arrived intact, unlike the Excalibur dehydrator (that black box sitting on the right of the pot) which had a crack on one side because the 'DO NOT DROP' message written on the top and sides was disregarded but somebody or other. I bought it from UK Juicers, who almost fell over themselves to sort out the problem and a new one is to arrive tout suite. 

Back to the pot. It has sat to one side while I have read, re-read, re-read, and re-read the manual, and spent ages looking at YouTube vids which have the All American in them. So today was the day, and may I say that if I had not had a pressure cooker years ago I would probably not been bold enough to have a go with this one. Apart from the fact that it is a giant of a thing, well it has to be because it is going to hold several kilner jars when I do get to do some bottling, it is heavy and intimidating to look at it. This is no pretty little ditsy bit of kitchen equipment, and this was only the middle sized canner. 

But to prove that I have had a go at using it, (cooked up some dog food) here is the lid off. Now all I have to do is calm down. Watching the gauge start rising, waiting for the weight to start bobbing and rattling, which it never actually did because I was so worried that the whole thing was going to explode that I shut the burners off so the pressure inside the canner would drop, all this watching and waiting, well, all I can say that I need some Baileys. Shame that I haven't got any. But I do have some stonkingly dark French cooking chocolate which just might be gone and got and nibbled on. 

The canner dripped, but the info said that it might for the first few times of use. The weight did not prance and jiggle like the info said it would, but it might next time, although it did do a couple of loud hisses at which point I yelled for Lester to come and help. 

Ducky is still here, in life. He seems to be 'half' calmed down. And we have nine chicks hatched. We did have ten, but one got squashed underneath it's mum's foot. Am also 'doing' DIY hay again this year. The sun and the long grass seem to have a seductive effect on me and my scythe. Can't seem not to do it. 

And my foot has decided not to work. In the middle of being busy, it froze around the ankle. Now I would not have minded if I had just taken a tumble, then I would have expected something on my person to complain, but I hadn't. And it flipping hurt as well. All I could do was hobble with a crutch, notably the spade, which is of a handy height to lean on. 

Couldn't put up with any nonsense from that foot today, so I have strapped it into my walking boots, which are supposed to be my outside boots, but which now are my indoor shoes as well, which means that mud and any other squelchy substances are littering up the tarpaulins on the floors. Ah well, makes a change from the odd bit of poo and huge lakes of pee from the girls, our rottweiller puppies. Two ladies came a-calling today, with bibles in hand, presumably to 'save' me. . Somehow the rotty girls managed to get through the gate and romped their way towards the women, one of which had a white skirt on, but which is now decorated with black paw marks. The women did not linger. I remain 'unsaved'. 

Friday 3 May 2013

Ducky runs amok

I am not sure whether I have mentioned this or not, but we have a duck. There used to be two, but one got took by something or other, leaving the drake to wander about for a while on his own before attaching himself to the geese. Well that was alright. For weeks he would waddle around pretending he was a goose, and even took up a relationship with the  female goose who didn't have a partner. He was a sweet boy, no trouble. 

And then it was as if a hidden fiend sprang up within him yesterday. Crikey but overnight he changed from being a biddable friendly chappy of a duck to being the most horrendous of duckies, his sole intent being to mate with the young goslings which Lester hatched in the egg incubator earlier on this year. 

Round and round he chased them, his little feet paddling the ground so hard it was if they were driven by an engine. So he was put in the naughty box for the day in the hopes that he would cool off. He didn't. So his days are numbered, especially after today when he managed to mount one of the goslings and did his male activity on her for ages until I shooed him away. Crikey but his hormones must be in a rage. 

No eggs for the last two days due to the patrolling activities of the dogs and magpies, broody hens, and egg heating hen. Don't know who that would be, but heaven help her when we catch her. But we do have four broodies. We did have five, but she kept getting bored with sitting on her eggs. Being a half hearted broody does not bode well for healthy chicks, so off her nest she was taken. And just remembered the sixth broody who ended up down the throat of a fox because we forgot to shut her in for the night. So far this season: Fox: 1. 

And then there is the cat. Lucy has practised, and become skilled at, hunting, the evidence being seen by the pile of dead wood pigeon with two bites out of it. She obviously has honed her killing abilities but not yet mastered the ability to eat what she kills. This does not bode well for the chicks which will be hatched during the next three weeks, who would have inevitably suffered attack by magpies and crows, and now death by cat is also a possibility. 

So we are going to get her a collar with a bell. 

I am learning new skills all the time, and apart from becoming more experienced with making cheese from our goat's milk, I am also becoming adept at fishing out the cat doings from her litter tray. The puppies are also adept at doing this task. They are also increasingly able to pee the most amazingly sized puddles. 

We think the Tamworth sow might be expecting. We keep watching her udders and fanny. They seem to be doing things which could signify the imminent arrival of piglets. Or not. She just might be getting fat because we have been feeding her extra rations of food! Ah well, time will tell. 

Off to bed now. Another day tomorrow. Hope Ducky calms down tomorrow. Hope we get to the eggs first before everyone else does. Hope the puppies get through the night without flooding the floor.