26 September 2007

I'm off to England, then to Wales for a few days.

My dog Max seems to sense the atmosphere when I'm getting ready to go away. I haven't left home for more than two years but after a long time of looking after Fabrice's uncle and getting on with all the things we need to do I here, I really do need a holiday.

I'm going to stay with some good friends who live near my old stomping ground in Essex, England then I'm meeting up with Ali one of my wonderful internet friends and we're driving down to Wales to a very important wedding which will be attended by at least a dozen women I've been in contact with almost daily on the 'net for the past few years.

I'm so looking forward to seeing everyone - some for the first time. I'll be back on Monday.

18 September 2007

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

Well the first roof beam has gone up without incident.

One of our neighbours came round this evening after work to help Fabrice put up the roof truss. First of all they nailed the middle section to a metal post high in the air in exactly the right spot, then piece by piece moved each section into place and joined it to its neighbour - tapping the wooden stakes in one by one after the joints had been tapped into place.
They finally joined the middle holding beam just before nightfall.

Merci Maurice!
Roof beam up - thanks Maurice !

16 September 2007

Making the extension roof beams in green Oak

Fabrice started making the roof beams last week and so far he's finished one which will be put in place tomorrow evening with the help of a few strong neighbours. (I'll be taking the photographs!)
He'll make two beams like this, plus a third with a sloping side for the end of the roof. That one will be done last - after the experience of making the first two.

Close up of the roof trussHe's never done this sort of thing before, and I really wanted to have them made by a professional, but it's impossible to find a good carpenter near us who is available and Fabrice felt confident that he'd be able to do it.

We designed the "ferme" to be visible from the inside of the roof. It's such a shame to use beautiful wood like this and hide it with insulation. This is the finished drawing and if you click on this photograph you'll be taken to a bigger version which has notes explaining the structure.

This is the original plan for the roof beams

The wood for the beams was cut from our woods in SpringIn Spring this year, we spent a long time in the woods looking for straight Oak trees that would be suitable for the beams.

We don't like cutting trees down, so there were some very difficult decisions to be made about which ones were for the chop. We chose those too close to each other, ones with broken branches and mis-shapen heads and had quite a few heated discussions! You'd think it would be easy to find 40 straight Oak trees in 50 acres, but it's not. So the task of choosing which trees would be sacrificed for the roof was a long one.

To start making the charpente, Fabrice drew the shape of the roof truss on our back terrace with great precision because that plan determines the final cuts and joints in the wood.

Tracing the roof beams on the back terrace

The next step was to choose each beam, cut it straight and rub it down.

Then each section was placed on the plan using small wooden supports under each one to ensure that there was enough overlap to cut a good strong joint.
The cutting and cleaning process took about two days and I've got a lot of confidence in Fabrice's abilities as a craftman (Did you know that the name Fabrice means "Craftsman"?) but I just couldn't resist

asking - just a few times - if he thought it would be OK.

Section by section the joints were cut, then each one had to have the internal joints made. One thing I'll never understand about Fabrice is how he can take so much care over his work yet he refuses to buy himself a decent saw.

Fabrice using a cheap Frence saw to make the roof trussSo with a plastic French saw and and old chisel and hammer, the joints were made one by one then the whole thing was fitted together and we did a trial run with the metal and wooden rods in place and voila! - it looks great!

I can't wait now for tomorrow evening to see how it looks.

8 September 2007

Goat shearing time again

For the past few days we’ve been busy shearing our Angora goats.

The first Angora to be shorn is a mature female who leads the rest of the flock inside on cold eveningsAngoras need to be shorn twice year and we normally do ours in March, just before kidding and in August at the height of the heat in summer to make the goats more comfortable and ensure that they have a good regrowth to keep them warm in January and February - the coldest months of the year here in South West France.

For the sheep, we hire a contract shearer who comes for a hour or so and has the herd finished as fast as we can catch them, but shearing Angoras is much more difficult than shearing sheep. The first reason for that is that we want to get the maximum amount of valuable fleece from the Angoras and the second is that goats aren't shaped like sheep and if the shearer goes too fast he'll injure the animal, and ruin the fleece if it gets blood on it.

We have used a shearer once when Fabrice had a bad back, but more than half the flock were cut and had to be treated with antiseptic spray and inspected regularly to avoid flystrike. The finished fleeces were full of waste from second clips. (That's when the shears don't go close enough on to the skin and some of the locks of hair are clipped twice.) The goats looked ridiculous and I had to trim all of them with scissors to make them look presentable.

So we shear them ourselves and we take the time to do it properly, checking the goat's teeth, eyes and feet at the same time. The atmosphere in the goatshed is relaxed and the animals are calm and easy to manage. The dogs usually come in too and our pup Didi has learned a lot about respecting the goats from just being at very close quarters to them when we're working.

We always shear on a fine warm day when there's no risk that the fleeces are damp because after they're ready, they're packed tightly and often there's a few weeks delay before they're sent to the spinners, so we can't risk them rotting. Obviously, when it's warm, the goats are more comfortable and their body heat helps the shears slice through the slight waxiness of the fleece preventing them becoming blunt and overheating.

We normally shear around the full moon when the new growth makes it easier to push the shears into the the fleece We try to shear just before the full moon when the machine goes between the individual hairs more easily. The regrowth of the fleece seems faster and there's nothing prettier than an Angora with a month's worth of white, shiny curly hair.

Getting everything just right this year was difficult, we've had a very wet summer, but this year's shearing went well.

We always shear the older females first, it's easier because they stand well and they're used to us, but the main reason is that that if we start with young goats or kids, they stay naked outside with the herd (Our goats sleep outside in fine weather) looking cold and miserable and we have to bring them inside. If we do one or two older ladies first, they automatically lead the rest of the herd into the goatshed for the night with a metre of straw under their bellies to keep them nice and warm.

Our preferred method for shearing is to start with the goat standing. I clip the tails, around the anus and vulva and tidy up any other areas which have been stained by urine or ticks. We keep that wool aside for the compost heap and it rots down within a year. The rest of the fleece is shorn by Fabrice using electric clippers

Clipping the Angora goat around the eyes, horns and neckWe then put the goat on her side, and using very sharp scissors, I clip between the horns, around the ears and at the side of the face, finishing off the neck, under the legs and around the udder or penis, remembering to leave the large guard hairs around the sheath so that when the boys urinate the urine goes downwards and it doesn't dribble on to their legs!

After the goat's been shorn, we check the teeth, removing any hair which is caught between them and assess their general condition. If an older goat is losing teeth, we make a note to check up on her to watch if she's eating properly and not suffering from any abcesses.

We also check that the "milk" teeth in year-old goats have come out cleanly, sometimes the tooth is lodged behind the new one. If that's the case then we remove it - they come out quite easily with a good tug.

Angora goats' eyes are very beautifulWe check the eyes, and if there's a discharge we look for grass seeds or ingrowing eyelashes which can cause a lot of discomfort and are so easily remedied by forcing the lid outwards. I use superglue to stick the lashes down against the skin and after a week or so, they grow back normally.

Angora goat's eyes are lovely, some brown, some blue but all of them have that same sweet look.

Then finally, we clip the goat's toenails. Here's a short video showing me clipping a goat's nails, and unfortunately I cut too deep into the nail and made it bleed. This happens especially if I've let the feet grow for too long, and when it does, I wipe the nail and spray with antiseptic and it's fine in a day or so. So this is how not to cut a goat's toenails !

Our dogs enjoy chewing the toenails, and I'm sure it doesn't do them any harm, so we let them have a few and save the rest in a jar for doggy treats for the next few weeks. Weird eh?

Angora goats having a good scratch after shearingOne by one, the goats are shorn and of course the first thing they do is have a good scratch. After they settle and lie down, the chickens inspect them for lice and ticks which are pecked off with a speed and efficiency that's surprising. The goats are quite happy to let them get on with it and so are we.

There was a time when we treated our goats for lice just after shearing and despite the power being an organic one, we found four dead hens in the goatshed. Never again! If there is a lice or tick problem - touch wood that hasn't happened for a while - then we treat between shearing times when the goats' wool is long enough to hold the powder next to the skin for as long as possible.

The last two goats are shearedFinally, they're all done and although they look a bit scrawny after shearing, they'll look fine in a couple of weeks and we can now put them into the most bramble infested part of our land for a feast without having to worry about them being tangled in the briars.

The next step of course is to sort out the fleeces...