Sunday, 28 January 2007

New Kids on the Block!

It was in May 1994 that we acquired the first of many animals. Through the ladies at Travail Manuel I met a goat breeder, she made cheese from her herd of goats so always had kids for sale. I bought two sisters at 5 days old. Our grandchildren named them Isadore and Figaro, which soon became Issy and Figgy. They started on bottles 5 times a day then as soon as possible graduated to milk in buckets 4 times a day. Over the coming weeks this was reduced to three times then twice a day and eventually they were weaned off milk and onto pellets and grass at about 3 months of age. The photo was probably taken at about that age. They were absolutely adorable when small but quickly established strong characters.

We had bought them to help clear land round the farm buildings, goats love brambles and other weeds and are an excellent environmentally friendly method. However they do have a fundamental drawback, they cannot differentiate between weeds and flowers, scrub or garden!!!

We soon realized that the only way to keep them where we wanted them was to keep them chained up. This probably sounds worse than it actually was, during the day they would be on long chains close enough to see each other but not be able to get tangled up, at night they were loose in a good size building. And on many occasions they were left to roam free in the wood. All in all not a bad life, especially as they would have been fattenned for meat if we had not bought them. They made a visible impact on the land round the buildings and saved us a great deal of hard labour. They were however probably the most difficult of all the animals we have kept in terms of keeping them under control and quite hard to leave for other people to look after. When fully grown they were quite a handful and if you are not used to dealing with horned goats then they were a bit scary!!!!!!!!

We never bred from them but Figgy provided us with milk on several occasions which is very unusual, normally they need to have a kid before milk production starts. I used to milk her by hand twice a day and we got quite used to drinking goat's milk. I dried her off whenever I was due to be away as I was the only one who could milk her.

Figgy died from natural causes at the age of seven and Issy lived to the age of ten when we had to have her put down as she had very bad arthritis and was having dificulty in moving. I think on the whole they had a good life.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Daily chores.

It's snowing quite hard here at the moment which reminds me of some of the inconveniences of being a Sheep farmer. Every day there are a certain number of jobs that have to be done, and thats every day, rain snow or shine , 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year.

In the Winter I get up at 8am, there's no point in getting up any earlier because it's dark outside until after 8.30. The first thing I do is put the kettle on as I don't function to well before my first cup of tea. The second job is to light the kitchen fire, we have an open log fire which we use all Winter [I bring the kindling in the night before so it's ready]. Then I check the wood burner that runs our central heating, if it's stayed in then I put in some more logs and turn it up, if it's gone out then I relight it. Next job is to take the OH a cup of tea in bed [alright for some I hear you say] then I take the dogs for their morning walk.

Next job is to feed the horses about half a bale of hay between them. Then let the chickens out and check for eggs. Finally feed the three cats, they don't live in the house but in one of the outbuildings and get fed there.

Then it's back indoors for another cup of tea provided by the OH this time. When we were lambing the next job would be feeding the ewes this is a two man/woman job. The photo shows what it was like at this time last year. And if it keeps snowing today then we will have to put hay out for the ewes as they cannot get to the grass. The rest of the day always includes bringing in logs to keep the fire and woodburner going [about two wheelbarrow loads when it's cold!!] and at the end of the day feed the horses again, put the chickens in their house,feed the ewes again, feed the cats, feed the dogs. In between these two times we have a wide variety of jobs to do which I will talk about in later posts. Two days are very seldom the same and although we try and plan what jobs we intend to do unexpected events often take over, again more of this later.
We have reduced considerably the number and variety of animals that we are keeping so life is a lot easier now than last year, which is why I am able to find the time for this blog and the novel I am writing. But looking after 65 ewes still takes time, they still need a commitment on our part, their well-being is important to us.
In our 15 years here we have had sheep, pigs, heifers, goats, horses, turkeys, ducks, chickens, rabbits and quite often all at once!!!!!!!! So I am really looking forward to sharing some of my experiences, the good and the sad, the triumphs and the disasters, warts and all.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Bread or Rabbits.

Before coming to live here permanently I had been to Night classes to try and improve my schoolgirl grasp of the French language and thought I was getting on quite well, but the reality was a shock. People here didn't sound anything like my Teacher and spoke at a speed I found amazing and for the most part incomprehensible.

Each morning I would spend an hour on improving my vocabulary and leaning grammar, I watched documentaries on French tele and went each week to Travail Manuel to chat to the ladies but it was slow going.

I had not been here long when I received a visit from an unknown Frenchman speaking French!!!! He said he did Bread deliveries and wanted to know if I would be interested in him calling at the Farm. I explained that I was normally on my own and didn't eat a lot of bread, but he was quite persistant so I asked if he had his van with him but he said no. He said he would come back in a few days and I said that I would think about whether I needed regular deliveries and let him know when he returned.

A few days later he came back and I said that because I was often alone there was no point in him calling as I would very rarely need bread. He then asked if he could have a look at something in the garden, I wasn't sure what he had said!! Now you are probably a little worried for my well-being but this was rural France 15 years ago and I had no worries about being on my own with a stranger. He obviously knew the property and went off to look at some rabbit hutches that had been left behind by the previous owner. It was when he offered to buy the hutches as I didn't intend to breed and sell rabbits for meat that the "centime" finally dropped.

He had not been offering to deliver "le pain" or bread, but wanted to know if there would be any "lapins" or rabbits to collect, which is what he used to do for the previous owner. Somehow I managed to extricate myself from this "faux-pas" and said that we might be producing rabbits at a later date so would not be selling the hutches. He went off seemingly unaware that I thought he was trying to sell me bread.

This was not the last time I would lose the plot but it taught me to be careful in making assumptions and to ask more questions if I wasn't sure. There are also many words that sound like English words but have entirely different meanings. I have worked hard with the language over the past 15 years and have learned a lot but still encounter problems from time to time, usually involving difficult accents or inveterate mumblers.

However I have made progress, people still know that I'm not French but they don't immediately know that I'm English!!!!

Monday, 15 January 2007

Making friends with the locals.

As our farmhouse was isolated I decided that I would have to make an effort to meet people, no-one was going to drop in as we were way off the beaten track. I wasn't sure how I was going to do this so I went to the local Mairie[village hall] were village life is run by the Mayor and his secretary. I had already met the secretary while filling in all the forms for a Carte de Sejour[no longer required for E.U. citizens.]

I called in one morning and asked if there were any groups that I could join where I would meet the locals. She suggested Travail Manuel[handicraft] I wasn't sure but said I would give it a try. She then got on the phone to one of the members who literally dropped what she was doing and popped over to the Mairie to tell me a bit about the group.

The following week I went for my first afternoon meeting, I was made very welcome. The group was about 15 ladies of varying ages who had a range of handicraft skills all way above anything I could master. I spent the next few years improving my language skills and learning such crafts as Painting on Silk, Basket weaving and Embroidery. I was never very good at any of them but then I was pretty busy with building up the Farm. My French improved though and it had introduced me to village life.

The ladies were impressed by the fact that for a lot of the time I was alone with all my animals to look after. I was also able to impress them with my cake making skills, something that they tend to leave to the local Patissier. Just aswell as my Handicraft skills never rivalled theirs! Eventually I gave up trying to make objects that I would never use and I went along just for the gossip, I mean conversation!!!!!! When I had too much work at the Farm then I would just pop along once in a while. Now I just see the ladies occasionally at the local market, but they helped me enormously when I was a newcomer and on my own.

I think I was lucky that when I arrived in the village there were no other English people in the area so I had to get to know the locals. When you work in a country you have a different perspective, and becoming an Agriculteur was probably the best thing I could have done to be accepted in such a rural environment. Although I was to find out that men still have some old-fashionned ideas about women and work!!!!!!!!!!! More of that later.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

A big move.

It was in June 1990 that we came househunting in the Poitou-Charentes region of France. We were looking for a holiday home but with a view to eventually moving to France. We had some spare cash for the first time in our married life and it seemed like a good investment. We were looking for a house with a few acres as I wanted to be able to have a horse when we finally moved fulltime.

On the last day of our 10 day visit we were shown a Longere with about 3 ha's of farmland and 4ha's of woodland. All week the weather had been quite miserable but on that morning as we walked through the wood to the meadow the sun came out and bathed us in it's warm rays. The sunlight glinted on the river that flowed through the fields and it was love at first sight.

We went back to the Immobiliers[agent's] office and signed the Compromis de Vente, the first and legally binding stage in buying property in France. The Acte de Vente was signed in late September and we had our farmhouse in the beautiful French countryside.

It very quickly became obvious that someone needed to be there all the time to look after the large garden and the land. It would have deteriorated without constant attention. We decided that one of us would have to give up work and live in France full time while the other partner would pay the bills, and visit as often as possible. It was a really difficult descision !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!but I agreed to give up my job and live in the most idyllic corner of France you can imagine.

After spending the Summer of 1992 at the farm on my own to see if I was happy, in November 1992 I collected my two dogs from England and took my first lone trip back to France. I was now committed to staying and I have never regretted my descision. I think it was one of the most important choices I have ever made and I think I have grown as a person because of it.

For the first time in my adult life I was entirely responsible for what I did and had no-one to turn to for help. I had no-one else to look after either and I enjoyed my new found freedom immensely. I always say how lucky we are to have been able to do what we have done but it took courage on our part and we have had to work hard for what we now have. I am lucky but very often luck is what you make for yourself.

It has not all been plain sailing and one of the reasons for this blog is to show some of the trials and tribulations of Sheep farming in a foreign land!!!

Monday, 8 January 2007

Taking the plunge!!!!!!!!!!!

One of my New Year resolutions was to start this Blog, so I hope this counts as one resolution achieved. Pretty good for only the 8th of Jan. It usually takes me much longer to get my ass into gear.

As a newcomer to this blog site it's going to take me a while to get used to what I can and cannot do. For instance I'm not sure yet how to post photos, or to add links to other bloggers. I do read other bloggers on this site so I will be able to ask for help if I can't work things out for myself.

As I have said in my profile I am intending to make a record of my time spent as a Sheep farmer. Each month of this coming year will track what has happened over the past 15 years following the Seasons.

I am a bit nervous about putting my writing into the public domain so I hope this blog will help me get over this. Sheepish by name and sheepish by nature. I am doing this for myself to close one chapter and start the next one at the same time.

January is normally a quiet time of year with regards to the Farm so for this month I intend to write some background details. And it will give me the chance to improve my typing, which just happens to be another of my New Year Resolutions. I write longhand in notebooks as I can't type fast enough to keep up with my ideas, then I have to transfer it onto my laptop and at the moment that is very time consuming. Hopefully by the end of this month my fingers will be flying over the keys.

Now I am going to explore how to get the most out of this site and see if I can add a photo!!!