Archive for the ‘The farm’ Category

Long hot summer

Currently enjoying the long and lazy days of summer. A life lived more outdoors than in, seeking respite in the shade from the fierce heat in the middle of the day, and basking in the balmy warmth of summer evenings spent with friends, a BBQ and plenty of local wine.

The sheep were sheared in early June, before the heat really took hold. Clearing up afterwards the following day, Eddie made a surprising discovery in the barn – a forkful of straw destined for the wheelbarrow turned out to be a forkful of baby hedgehogs. Mum was close by, and didn’t seem put out by the disturbance.

The hay is made and safely gathered in. A fantastic crop this year due to a wet early spring and then warmth and sun which led to the grass growing much quicker – and thicker – than last year. Eddie can manage most of the hay making process himself, but help is needed to get the bales off the field. This is something that needs to be done as soon as the hay has been baled. Unlike the large round bales which can be safely left out in the fields, the small bales we make must be kept dry, so it is always an anxious race between us and the inevitable storm which always seems to follow a period of hot dry weather. Luckily we have good friends who always turn out to help, and an ingenious machine called an “autochargeur” which picks the bales up off the field, sends them round its helter-skelter like innards, and then spits them out back at the barn.

My parents were with us last week, giving us an opportunity for some days out. A summer would not be complete without at least one trip to the Pyrenees: every time we drive the roads which take us up into the mountains I feel my heart lift, and we have been lucky enough this year to go twice in a week.

Our first trip, with my parents, was to the Cirque de Gavarnie, a UNESCO World heritage site. The pathway from the village to the Cirque is a reasonably gentle stroll, even on a scorching day, and there is always the option to cool off hot feet in the icy stream which runs alongside the path.

Our second trip, with our walking group, was to the Cirque de Troumouse. A much higher, more arduous walk but so worth the effort for the most spectacular views. In spite of the intermittent cloud, and the fact that the altitude made it seem a lot cooler than at Gavarnie, the sun is fierce at that height and we all came back with sun kissed / burned faces!

A great day was had by all!


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Last year we made a deal with our mayor, Gerard, who has a smallholding in the village. He wanted to buy two of our Jacob lambs and we wanted to buy some of the ornamental waterfowl he breeds, so we agreed to do a swap. He took his lambs in June, and in early August turned up with several intriguing boxes. We didn’t want to enclose the lake so he had chosen breeds for us which like to spend most of their time on the water, and don’t tend to wander. None of them can fly, having had their wings clipped soon after birth.

So, a small group of ten ducks and geese joined the menagerie.

I don’t know what breeds they all are, but we love having them and they have settled in very well in their new home.

It has to be said that ornamental waterfowl are not big in this part of France. Ducks on the other hand….. Gascony is the home of “magret de canard” and of course the notorious foie gras, which is made from duck livers as well as from goose liver. It’s not a particularly pleasant process and having eaten it, I can’t say I liked it but it’s part of the local culture and considered a huge delicacy. Our next door neighbours farm about 230 hectares which includes a vineyard, various crops, a milking herd of cows, and ducks. They buy in the ducklings (which are all infertile males) at a very young age and raise them until they are old enough for the “gavage” – the process by which they are force fed corn to enlarge the livers. At this point they get sold on and a lorry arrives to transport them to their final destination.

One Sunday morning last November I was about to drive up to the village to get the bread and paper when I noticed a strange object on the wooden platform which juts out over the lake. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a small young duckling. He was lying flat out on the platform, clearly absolutely exhausted. He still had much of his downy feathering, and was absolutely filthy. We decided that somehow he must have escaped when the lorry came to transport the latest batch off for the gavage. Given that the distance from the duck housing to us is well over a quarter of a mile, it was no wonder the poor little chap was exhausted. We let him rest for a while, but he was soon keen to make his way down to the water. Tentatively, he tottered down to the water’s edge, paused for a while and then launched himself into the water. And promptly sank. His feathers were devoid of the natural oils that would normally keep him buoyant.

The other ducks were very curious and we wondered how they would react to him but we needn’t have worried. They accepted him into their little flock without any problems and over the following weeks he blossomed. He regained the oils he needed to be able to swim; he lost the last of his baby down feathers, and emerged a very handsome chap. He also GREW, and now dwarfs all but the pair of geese.

How did he find his way to us? We don’t know, but have heard that ducks can smell water. What a frightening and hard journey for such a little mite, but we are so glad he found us. Saved from the destiny of becoming an overpriced, overrated delicacy, we hope that instead he will have a long and happy life with us. We think he’s earned it.

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