26 May 2009

Fabrice and one of our new Basco Bearnaise lambs

We got these sheep as a gift from two women farmers from the Pyrénées who came to Bourrou several months ago with the promise of taking over a farm from a retiring farmer.

They packed and stored their belongings and transported their tractor and farming equipment along with with their herd of 150 pregnant sheep on to their newly rented farm, hoping to start commercial milk production in the spring of this year.

After two months and for reasons known only to himself, the farmer changed his mind, sold his barn and rented his land to someone else. Threatened with expulsion, the girls had no choice but to dry off their ewes, keep the herd off the spring grazing and keep them inside in cramped and unhealthy conditions for several weeks while searching for somewhere to put them.

In desperation, they came to ask for our help and fortunately we found them enough land and a barn on an exploitation just a few kilometres from their temporary accommodation near our farm.

Basco Bearnaise lamb's faceThe girls have managed to sell some adults in their herd and almost all the lambs have gone for meat but these two little females from exceptionally good stock were bottle fed and it seems criminal to kill them.

They are big lambs - these two are just over two months old and, with a strange "Roman" face and a good appetite for milk! (We're still bottle feeding for a while to get them used to us.)

The Basco Béarnaise originated in South West of France, they're a good all-round breed and give milk for cheese, meat and wool and they've been designated a HERITAGE breed.

Heritage Sheep Breeds (HSBs) are defined as genetically distinct, geographically concentrated and adapted to their environments.
Basco Bearnaise lamb from the sideTypically, these sheep breeds are "local" breeds, traditionally farmed for commercial use and play an important role in the culture and rural economy of the regions in which they are managed.

Heritage Sheep Breeds are already used to support the environmental and economic sustainability of local rural communities and may reasonably be expected to become even more significant in agriculture in the community as low input farming systems are prioritised. In addition, with the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), breeds such as HSBs that are environmentally adapted to their local geographical regions will become even more important given the de-coupling of subsidies from production, with increased focus on the environmental status of agricultural holdings.

We've called the very white one Juliette and the bigger one Coco and we're hoping they'll do well enough to provide us with milk for cheese next year, I've already started Googling for recipes !

24 May 2009

RIP our lovely Griffon Vendéen Judy.

Judy RIP
Au revoir Judy, originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

Our Griffon Vendéen Judy died on Thursday but I was too upset so soon after Max's death to post anything about her in the blog.

She was a big happy silly dog who spent her last six years with us at Bourrou. We got her from Yan's (The Spice Man) parents who found her badly injured by the side of the road. They took her to the vet and were presented with a bill for 6000 francs. She had no collar or tattoo and wasn't chipped and despite trying for several weeks they never found her original owner.

They nursed her for three months until she was well and called her Lady because she was so elegant but as she was a hunting dog, Small photo of JudyJudy did what she loved to do and ran off regularly to hunt - sometimes disappearing for several days. Yan's parents were concerned about her having another accident, or causing an accident - not to mention the havoc she would cause with the local wildlife. Having her became a constant worry for them and Yan asked us if we would be interested in taking her.

We were warned to be vigilant and we were - but despite that Judy would be with you, then you'd turn your back for a second and she'd be gone. A door ajar was an open invitation, she managed to just disappear when you least expected it and you'd hear her baying miles off in the woods. Judy escaped several times in the first month we had her. All the hunters in our area were supplied with her description and each time she was spotted, caught and brought back, tail wagging.

Fabrice is the local gamekeeper it just wasn't on that we had an errant dog, so, regretfully, we decided to build a compound for her where she'd be secure when we couldn't keep her on a lead.

She hated the compound with a vengeance (It's now become a park for weaners when they first arrive so we can see them from the house.) and sulked and moped and looked so sad at not being included in what was going on, so we bought a chain and she was like many other dogs in France tied up under a tree just behind the back terrace and she was quite content!

She'd obviously been loved in her last home. She was affectionate with Fabrice and our other dogs and loved children and knew what a sofa was for but at first she completely ignored me. (Which is very disconcerting indeed!) For the first six weeks she was here she never responded to her name "Lady". During those first few weeks we acquired a Mynah bird, Arthur, who's owner was going back to the UK. He (Although we found out later Arthur was a "she"!) was a real character with a good vocabulary and every so often he would shout "Judy" in a high pitched voice. We noticed that as soon as Arthur shouted "Judy" Judy would look up at Arthur, so we decided to rename her Judy and from then on Lady became Judy and we had no problem getting her to respond to her name!

Our Griffon Vendeen Judy and Fabrice PlayingDogs like Judy need a lot of exercise and in the summer Fabrice and his hunting colleagues take their dogs to a training and exercising park to re-hone their skills, train new dogs and initiate new hunters. Judy started going with them and it was obvious she knew exactly what was expected of her. When the hunting season opened Judy went out with the pack and from that day onwards she never ran away from home.

She was always Fabrice's dog - a man's dog - and I never played a big part in her life until about 18 months ago when she "retired" and I started to care for her more when she became weak with the cancer which finally killed her.

It seems ridiculous now to think that I was afraid of her when she first came. Wary, because somehow I couldn't "connect" with her. Judy was the most gentle, placid dog I've ever known and we're all going to miss her.

Lovely Judy

23 May 2009

Always wear your Rose tinted specs

Rose with a Renette

22 May 2009

Hooray, the hoops and the temporary shed have gone thanks to Fabrice and Nic !!

...and Jacqueline !!

We had two blue "sheds" that have been really useful but they were so ugly.

We made them from hoops and tarpaulins our pal John brought over for us just after the terrible storm here in 1999. The tarpaulins are still in good condition.

We emptied one of them moved all the stuff and now it's gone and there's loads more room at the side of the house.

17 May 2009

Chickens and chicks helping get the raised bed ready for planting and mulching

9 May 2009

"Compost Awareness Week" and making more raised beds

Hugelkultur CompostingDid you know that it's "Compost Awareness week ? No, neither did I until someone in the GROWVEG forum posted about it.

We've got several different ways of making compost, some methods work quickly and some are incredibly slow. The slow way we have of making compost is by using all the organic "waste" materials we have when we first clear a patch of land, adding more roots, weeds, branches, twigs, brambles, sheep and goat daggings and dog and human hair.

I've just found out from a reader of this blog that this system is called Hugelkultur.

Twiggy compost heap rotting down after five years HugelkulturThe pile then gradually becomes a home for all the insects, snakes, lizards and other animals we've disturbed during the clearing and gives us somewhere handy to throw organic materials. We don't have to burn our waste - we simply walk round it and in doing so shape the paths and add form to the garden.

Hugelkultur compostingAfter about a year we cover the top with used goat litter and leave it for a few weeks to settle down then we use the pile to grow easy vegetables like pumpkins and plant some climbing plants like Ipomea and Virginia Creeper to decorate the heap. We never disturb or move the heap except to throw more and more things on top of it and despite having thrown many square metres of organic matter on it it never seems to get any higher.

Raised bed made on Hugelkultur Compost heap surrounded by tree rootsOur oldest heap had started to sink and last year we decided to leave it to rot completely to make a new raised bed.

We were going to use chestnut poles as we've done almost everywhere else in the garden but we were clearing roots out of the pig park after the pigs had dug round them and it seemed a shame not to use them to make something nice. So Fabrice hauled them round one of the old compost heaps and we'll use them to retain the earth for a raised bed. We also gathered up lots of stones and used those and the remaining branches to backfill the roots to improve drainage in the hope that they'll last a bit longer.

I've started planting around the outside of them already and the chickens are still "digging" the middle bit for us and getting rid of all the grubs and insects.

Linden tree with Hugelkultur Compost bedWhen we cleared the little wood at the back of the house to make a garden, we decided to keep the well-shaped trees which were too beautiful to cut down. They give us a bit of shade and interest and provide nesting sites well out of the way of our cats and the birds don't seem to mind our presence.

Under the trees, I grow raspberries and other shade loving plants and store cuttings for potting up and they do well in those conditions. There are a few Oaks and one beautiful Aspen Populus tremula, where the Collared Doves nest each year.

The Aspen's roots go on for metres and send up new little trees every so often but I just work around them trying to keep the planting between the roots and the veg far enough away so that they don't suffer too much. At the south of the tree we've had a compost heap which we've also made into a new raised bed this week so there will be loads more room this year for summer veg.

1 May 2009

Irises and Euphorbia cyparissias Clarice Howard enjoying the rain

This Euphorbia is very invasive but looks lovely squashed in here between the pale blue irises.