Monday, January 12, 2009

New arrivals!

12th Jan

Before we went off to sleep last night, we had observed Barbara on the ‘Barbara-cam’, pawing the ground and behaving in an unsettled manner. I assured James that this was a sign that within hours she would go into labour (all the books say so!!).I was awakened this morning at 7 o’clock by James suddenly shouted ‘argh!’ as he came around from a dream about sheep giving birth. I was instantly wide awake and so I turned up the sound on the Barbara-cam. Barbara was making a very gentle bleating ‘murmur’ and my instinct told me that she was either giving birth or just about to. I rushed to pull on my clothes and told James that I was going to check it out. I arrived at her pen just in time to see her giving birth to a lamb and called James to come as quickly as he could. It soon became obvious that there was not one, but two lambs on the floor behind her. One had obviously been expelled earlier, but it was apparently untouched. Barbara began licking the twitching lamb which she had just given birth to, whilst James ran to rouse our neighbor (who had previously been a sheep farmer) and I began to try and revive the firstborn, unresponsive lamb. I cleaned its face of mucus, rubbed it with a towel and swung it by its back legs (as per the instruction manual), but the lamb seemed quite dead. I don’t know how long it had lain on the floor before we found it. Our neighbor arrived and we turned our attention to the second born lamb which appeared to be in a bad way. She was cold and unresponsive although she was breathing. We were just starting to see an improvement when something else fell away from Barbara. We went to look, expecting to see the afterbirth, but instead found that she had given birth to a third lamb! The morning was chilly, and James went to fetch a fan heater to warm and dry the two living lambs which were both small and feeble. After two hours of attention they were still weak and floppy and just seemed to want to go to sleep. Barbara kept pawing at them to try and make them get up, but they didn’t seem to have the energy. We persisted with the fan heater and about midday – success – both lambs stood up almost simultaneously and took their first wobbly steps.

Since then they have gone from strength to strength. They have to be helped to feed as they don’t seem to be able to find the teats on their own, but they are bright and alert and almost running around the pen already. Isn’t nature amazing? Imagine if we could walk and display such independence within hours of being born!

We haven’t chosen names yet, but tonight, over a bottle of wine with friends we discussed the possibilities. The favourites so far are brother and sister acts, ‘Donny and Marie’ or ‘Michael and Janet’. If anyone has any other suggestions I would love to hear them.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Magnetic moos

8th Jan

Did you know that cows swallow magnets?

James went to pay our milk bill at our friendly neighbour, the dairy farmer, and as is often the case was persuaded to stay and have a lunchtime aperitif (or two). He always comes back full of interesting facts about cows and this was today’s offering…

Apparently, whilst grazing, a cow might accidently ingest a piece of metal. This drops to the bottom front of her stomach. These pieces of metal can work themselves through the wall of the stomach and into her lungs or heart. Leaking digestive juices can cause infections that can be fatal to the poor old cow. So Jaques (and no doubt many farmers), have his cows swallow a large smooth magnet. The magnet falls to the bottom front of her stomach and it remains here, often for years, attracting the pieces of metal so that they do not penetrate the stomach wall. Amazing huh?

You learn something new every day. I must remember to tell the kids all about it tomorrow.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Big Brother is watching ewe

Sun 4th January 4, 2009
I haven’t managed to get around to writing my diary for nearly a month and yet so much has happened! Christmas has come and gone amidst a flurry of family visits, social engagements, overeating and late nights and now I am craving nights in, soup and my nice warm bed.
Barbara our pregnant ewe has recently been moved into the hangar next to the house where we can keep a closer eye on her. Today that eye got even closer because James rigged up a camera in her pen which displays to a little TV screen in the house. We are concerned that as this is likely to be a multiple birth, (she’s bulging out both sides which apparently indicates at least two lambs) we ought to be on hand to help out if needed. There is a microphone on the camera and it’s quite amusing to here loud baa-ing noises when I’m sitting in the lounge. It sounds like there’s a sheep in the kitchen!

We had a bit of an ‘incident’ with the goats and sheep yesterday. I was sitting in the kitchen when I suddenly saw a streak of brown animal leap past the window. This turned out to be Princess, the young female goat who had somehow escaped from the field where she and her mum had been left to graze with the sheep. James hastily caught her and tied her up in the hangar before going to check on the other animals in the field. Two minutes later he came racing back to the house, shouting for the boys to come to the field immediately to help him. It seemed that when Princess had jumped the fence she had damaged it in such a way that part of it was bent down to the ground. She had then come home, but the other goat and sheep had decided that the grass looked greener in the next field (our neighbour’s) and had trotted off for lunch. It took James and the boys some time to herd them back into our field. They were aided and abetted by Tony our puppy, which is half collie and seemed to know instinctively how to round them up and drive them forward! I wonder what he could do with some proper training. Our neighbours, obviously roused by the hullaballoo came to see what was going on, but just stood at the edge of the field and laughed! Fat lot of good that was…

Actually, there’s a bit of a ‘lurve thing’ going on with ‘Mama’ the goat and ‘Gilbert’ the ram. They won’t leave each other alone and she follows him around licking and nuzzling him. I wonder if it’s possible for goats and sheep to mate. Would they produce a ‘shoat’ or a ‘geep’?

I guess the holidays are over and we'll have to start thinking about 'working' again. What a shame, we were having such fun!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thurs 11th
This week has seen the arrival of our two new goats. They are called Mama and Princess; both female and mother and daughter. They are very tame although a little timid. My only experience of goats was being butted by my uncle’s goat when I was a child, at which point I took an immediate dislike to them! However, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment, and so far they have given me no reason to suspect them. The mother is apparently still giving milk, although the daughter has long since stopped feeding. We have tried to have a go, but she is very wary of us going anywhere near her udders and we don’t want to frighten her. The previous owner told us that the last time he milked her was two weeks ago. If anyone knows how long it takes for a goat’s milk to dry up then I would appreciate a comment, because I don’t know if it still worth trying to milk her!

We have started reading Anne Frank, which I get the feeling the boys are finding boring. It can’t be as bad as Robinson Crusoe! I can remember reading Anne Frank as a child although I don’t remember whether I enjoyed it or not. We’ll persevere. I think it’s one of these books in which the impact is from what is left unsaid rather than what is said and also in the reflection of Anne’s fate afterwards.

Formal lessons have again gone by-the- by this week. We just don’t seem to have time for them! Admittedly the children have worked on their French and maths, but alone because Grandma has left them a lot of ‘homework’ whilst she is in England.

A very French affair!

Saturday 6th
Today we attended our first French wedding. Our friends Stephanie and Laurant had decided to get married and Stephanie had asked me to be her witness. I felt very honoured; I have never been anything special at a wedding before – except the bride of course! As this was the only French wedding I have attended, I can’t tell if it was typical or not, but it was hugely different from any wedding I have attended in England. For a start, there was no pomp and ceremony. The bride wore a simple, woollen, short, red dress and black boots, and the groom an everyday pair of trousers and shirt, but accompanied with a very bright red and white jacket : a testament to his zany character. The ceremony itself was held in the Mairie (the town hall) and was performed by Monsieur le Maire himself. It commenced with the playing of an old, crackling version of “Here comes the Bride”, to which our lively friends danced around the room to the cheers and delight of the guests. Then, the very brief formalities were spoken, the signatures were made and it was all over. Back at the bride and groom’s house the celebrations continued in this informal style. Drinks and canapés provided by the parents were followed by a delicious main course of ham and potatoes brought in by the local butcher; followed by a cheese course and then deserts which I had offered to make. I had prepared pears in red wine served with crème fraiche and flapjack, then a traditional (English) fruitcake, iced and decorated with flowers to have with the coffee. It all went down very well and our dear friends were very happy. After we had eaten, the groom’s brother, a marvelous singer, sand us two, ancient (medieval I think) French love songs, the father of the groom sang a wedding song, and Francis and James played some Irish and Scottish jigs on their guitar and mandolin. It was a wedding as weddings should be…all about the couple and those closest to them who wanted to enjoy the day with them and wish them well. England can keep its ‘20 grand’ weddings with its flash outfits, cheesy disco and expensive dinners in posh hotels!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Charcuterie chez nous

4th December
This morning early the farmer returned to do the butchering of the pig. James, Lizzy and I all got up early to watch the proceedings and very interesting it was too. I hadn’t realized there would be so much meat on her as she was such a small wee thing, but by the end of the morning we had about 50 pork chops, about 8 joints of varying sizes, two fillet mignons; which are my favourite for making the little round ‘medallions’ of pork, bacon slices, 12 jars of paté and 76 sausages.

There were lots of other odd bits which I haven’t a clue what to do with…trotters, liver and the like, but for now I have bunged them in the freezer. I suspect the dogs will end up enjoying them. Lizzy took an active interest in all this and helped turn the wheel of the sausage machine and then count the sausages and bag them. She’s really not very squeamish at all…just like her mother. By contrast, the boys didn’t even come downstairs but as usual, stayed at their computer screens. However, they were happy to sample the sausages at lunchtime (which were delicious by the way).

As frequently happens, our formal educating seems to have gone by the wayside – at least, as far as the children are concerned. I, on the other hand, am having a full and varied education in farming matters!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A pig's tale

3 December
After a night of tossing and turning, we awoke properly at about six o’clock this morning. It seems something had been stopping us from having a peaceful night’s sleep and the most likely candidate was the fate of poor ‘Big Face’ the pig this morning.

We came downstairs and made a cup of tea and James confessed that he just didn’t think he could face the thought of sending him for the (pork) chop. I did have to agree that it was an unpleasant thought and so in a dramatic reversal of fate (again!) we decided that the female pig would be our candidate when the farmer arrived this morning. Consequently, at about 10 past 10 this am, the female pig was dispatched and by 11.30 am she was hanging up by her feet in the old hangar. The old farmer was very matter of fact and admitted he had been doing it for 45 years. He was certainly very quick and efficient which was a blessing for us and for the poor old pig! He’s coming back tomorrow to carve the carcass into appropriate joints. She’s not a huge pig, but there will be two reasonable sized hams and he’s going to make us sausages and patés along with all the other obvious cuts. We’re going to pay close attention to the ‘butchering’ as the intention is to do it ourselves next time.

The children kept out of the way, although after it was all over, Thomas and Lizzy did venture out to have a look at the carcass. Lizzy (8) seems the least phased by it all. She wants to watch with us tomorrow to see how the meat is jointed!

I never dreamt that one day we would be processing a pig on our own premises. It’s been quite an experience for us all !