Holidays and the Holiday season
Well it has been a while since I wrote anything. And to be honest looking out of the window today does not fill me with a great amount of inspiration to be creative. It is raining, again or still I have forgotten which would be the better choice of word after this summer in SW France. It has certainly been a peculiar season, but not unheard of I checked our old weather book and the years 2007/2008 were also quite cool and wet. One of these days I will purchase a rain gauge that does not split every year and take up the weather book again. It is a remarkable acheivement that in a world where plastics are reputed to survive forever, it is utterly impossible to have a rain guage that can survive one freezing winter. Congratultions capitalism and planned obsolescence.
My regular market people already knew that Gavin, Alice and I had been on holiday to the Pyrennes this summer. It was the first holiday of more than overnight that we have had together since 2004. A very relaxing time was had by all and it was quite difficult to come back to work afterwards. The scenery was beautiful and the weather was warm and dry for the most part. We did lots of walking and ate and drank fine food, beer and wine whilst we were away. Many thanks to our kind friends for the invite.
Also a big shout out to everyones favourite internet provider, Orange, for cutting off our cell phone signal at home by making a perfectly good system, Femtocell, obsolete at the flick of a switch. Having read their help pages I know that there are many, many people in the same position as us in France. Having had one attempt at fitting an aerial to the roof we are waiting for the next part from the radio mast people. Our signal is so weak here we have to buy a parabol and several internal aerials. Bienvenue á la campagne.
In light of the fact it is only 95 days until Christmas I need to let you know that I am taking orders. If you are after a Christmas Gammon please let me know as soon as possible. I have already had orders. The price this year is 19 euros/kilo. The last order day for gammons will be Saturday 13th November
The last order day for other orders will be Saturday 4th December
If you think you have ordered already but have not sent it in an email format, or have not watched me write it down in a lever arch file at the market please, please, please send me an email so I do not lose you. email@example.com
I am fully aware that last Christmas was not ideal for everyone at the market as there were some long queues. I am also aware that the last days for Christmas markets are 17 and 18 December. So I will try and come up with a plan so that there can be pick up points during the week immediately before Christmas to alleviate the situation. I will keep everyone updated as the plan develops.
See you all soon
A little experiment
Gavin and Patrick are often plugged in to some podcast or another about farming or politics or cooking, which supplies a never ending source of discussion. The one Gavin made me listen to the other day talked about salt in the diet of dairy cows helping to reduce the acidity of the animals. When the sward of grass available to eat, or when the diet available in feed stall barns is more acid than alkaline, then the animals can be more susceptible to pests, like flies and worms. Amongst other things, this is very abbreviated for the point of this blog.
With regard to pasture we have more fly strike, (when flies lay eggs in the wool of the sheep and then you get flesh eating maggots in the sheep not nice) with the sheep when the grass is more woody than when the grass is lush. Lignin, the stuff that makes plants woody is acid. The man in the podcast said that it was better to put the salt in the drinking water rather than as a block and then to offer saltwater and plain water to your animals so they can chose what they wish to drink. It is important to use seasalt preferably organic.
Now we have had some logistical issues with accessing wormer for the sheep so we thought well lets give it a go. I have no data for the affect on worms or pests, but we were all astounded to observe that every single sheep chose to drink the saltwater not just for one day, but every day over a period of 4 days. They still have the choice of one of the other and will always finish the saltwater before the fresh water.
This is not a randomised control experiment I am sure, but it certainly shows how much the animals require extra trace minerals that can be found in seawater, but not in the soil. This area of France has been cultivated for between 2000 and 7000 years. I have not done enough reading to be more accurate than that, but let's face it, it's a long time. I am sure that in the beginning farming was much more cyclical in nature than it is now. Fewer people, less system pressure and everything that comes with that. We have a lot of catching up to do on rehabilitation of the soil to catch up with all the losses. But it is not insurmountable.
If anyone wishes to listen to this podcast this is the link
Ep. 196 - Steve Campbell - Remineralizing Cattle with Salt on Working Cows with @TuneIn. #NowPlaying http://tun.in/tlkUI9
If you would like to see the video which shows none of the sheep drinking the fresh water the I will post the entire length of it on our Facebook page later.
See you all soon
It has been quite difficult to find the enthusiasm to post a blog, not to mention what kind of photographs I should be putting in the blog in case it becomes a gateway for knowledge for theives. The battle with stock protection from theft and getting any support from any gendarme in our area has been dispiriting. They have not been seen even once in our area for the whole month since the livestock thefts despite being told they would come out on patrol more often. Even worse I now know how little is known by the general population about livestock theft, which is rife throughout France but obviously not dramatic or interesting enough to make any media outlet. My neighbours have all sorts of items, animals and fuel stolen every single year. It is disrespectful, exhausting and just plain flipping annoying. Time wasted with paperwork, unecessary stock counting and looking for replacement items. Not to mention stress and worry due to business shrinkage.
I am sure some of you have watched Jeremy Clarkson farming show on the telly. An hillarious progamme from both a farmers and a general viewers perspective. So far he has shown a few of the battles that we experience in farming paperwork, administration, weather etc, but what I have enjoyed the most though is his willingness to give anything a go (I know he has quite a bit of money to protect himself) and his delight at being able to get something right. It is heartening that he is questioning the methods he is currently using with regard to his soil health and a joy to realise that he has understood the importance of animals within a farming system.
The shearing has been completed, apart from the rams, without too many incidents, and with some willing arms to help with wool collection and catching the sheep. Wow..! the biting flies were fierce though in the shearing pens. And mosquitos exceptionally hungry and robust.
I made my first batch of soap with mutton fat, olive and sunflower oil and lavender and it looks fabulous. Also much harder than the pork fat soap I have made in the past. I am discovering the delight of making chutney in the slow cooker, chuck it all in, bring it up to temperature then let it bubble away with lid off. It can take a while, but so much easier than standing over the stove when there are so many other things to do. Made my first ever strawberry chutney, delicious. Alice has made some more of her plum cordial this year. We have not bought any cordial since her experiments during last years confinement and hope to go through to next years fruiting season with what she makes this year. There never seems to be enough storage space at this time of year for the quantity of produce that appears from everywhere.
The family from the Netherlands has been and visited and returned to the Netherlands to work. It was lovely to see them as always and they will be missed as always.
All things being equal we should be back to normal services this coming weekend at the market. I will come laden with all things meaty and delicious.
See you all soon
Deliveries, Rain and cars
This week included a trip up the long road on a delivery run in the northern areas of Dordogne. I was very lucky with the weather as it was considerably cooler than the previous week when I would have baked in my non air conditioned cab. In 2020 I did this very same run in 40 degrees and ended up at one of my clients houses with her delivery, late in the day, whereupon the lovely lady took one look at me deposited me in front of a fan with 2 pints of water, a cup of tea and a piece of cake. I am very lucky I know so many kind and considerate people. The trip through the countryside was invigorating and full of splendid scenery, beautiful greens filling the landscape after so much recent rain.
Of course all the rain means the sheep are inundated with delicious quantities of grass, making farming so much easier in some respects. And also no requirement for the summer water carting that is more normal at this time of year. The weather reminds me a little of Zimbabwe at Christmas, shorts and an occassional light jersey (sounds like a weather forecast). Here are some photos courtesy of my-in-laws. Just because it is nice to remember the beauty of other places from time to time. And comforting to feel connected through the sky and its similar hues no matter where you are in the world.
The butchery after 10 years of faithful service is having a full make over and expansion. Requiring decisions about positioning of sockets, cold rooms and colours and types of paint. Not my usual remit. Our builder friends are doing a fabulous job and have managed everything so far with little or no inconvenience for me. Gavin has decided he would rather carry 10 rolls of fencing over a 10 hectare field than sand a ceiling. And Patrick has decided that mixing concrete would not be his first choice of occupation though ok for a change for a very limited period.
Our original electric car which we have had for 5 and a half years finally had to go into hospital for a diagnosis and finally a new battery. Gavin was grief stricken as his favourite car was away from us for 4 and a half months. After having rather too much money going out on fuel he managed to convince me a month before the old car returned, that we needed another one and already knew where we could get a cheap, second hand, slightly crumpled, ex postman vehicle (have I been played?). So we are now fleet owners 😂 Fortunately the government are still running their subvention scheme for lower energy vehicles so we only paid one arm for the car rather then the usual arm and leg 😉
See you all very soon
This week we lost our first furry friend in France, Bluey. She was 17 years old and had been chief of all she surveyed for the last....well.....17 years. A friendly, furry cat partial to bird in her younger days and in her latter years liver was her particular favourite. Best remembered and loved for peeing in my brand new sandals, they were never the same again. And for her daring leap from the first floor window when we moved out of our single storey house :-0 . We knew she was fine on landing as she had a quick clean and looked about to make sure everyone was aware the whole acrobatic thing had been planned. She had definitely gone slightly doolally in her senior years and took to sleeping in more bizarre locations than the standard sofa or bed. Her company is missed.
Thank goodness for the rain. The sheep are happy munching through all the delicious greenery and the vegetable patch is looking in fine fettle. I will add some beans in next week I think, they are quick to grow and yummy. We have built a worm bed with an old bath, compost and worms from the pig zone and we put all our cardboard and plant clippings in it to breakdown. The run out from the bath is used as a fertiliser for wherever needs it. It seems to be working quite successfully. All our frosted dead looking plants have sprung back to life and the citrus trees have gone into a mad flowering session. The bergamot is way ahead of the reast and is making tiny fruit already.
The markets are back to usual with people circulating to have coffee with friends as well as do their shopping fro the week. I have become so accustomed to seeing people with masks on that I barely notice anymore. A new kind of normal reigns for the moment. I have seen some people in the last couple of weeks whom I have not seen for a year or more. Bizarre and heartening at the same time. And some new faces have appeared as well to join the social scene at the market.
Despite the pig rustling incident we are feeling quite positive about life. There are many projects coming up this year to keep us distracted and busy and with any luck the insurance are going to pay out for some of the losses accrued with the pigs and fence damage. We will have to be vigilant for the up and coming public holidays in July.
See you all soon
End of lambing....we think ;)
Well we are never really sure that it is the end of lambing. There are always one or 2 stragglers that take you by surprise and arrive in mid June. But certainly the bulk is done. Now all we have to do is keep them alive. The whole flock was put back in together last week and moved to fresh pastures. The wet spell has come in the nick of time for some grass growth, and for our neighbours maize which came through beautifully. Let's hope there are no silly hot temperatures now so everything has time to grow out properly and take us through to the autumn with enough grazing without panicking.
The rain clouds are blowing away and we are looking forward to a pleasant week. The lambs can romp around, and munch on green grass with the ewes.
So there I was linking sausages and listening to BBC radio 2 for some musical entertainment and my peace was detroyed by the news. Usually I can drown the noise out with some machine or another, but this headline got me listening. The HS2 train in the UK is going to have a large portion of tunnels built as part of its line about 128km worth, I looked it up on the official site. Unfortunately for my brain I had watched Seaspiracy the previous week, as I thought I should, so I could keep up with public thought processes. and then I started connecting dots and here we are......
It seems to be that if you can't see what is happening then you can devolve responsibility and make yourself believe that no damage is occurring.
Although I did not agree with all of what was said on Seaspiracy a lot of it was true there is a lot of damage that we don't see in the sea that happens because we eat indiscriminately, without recognition of where anything comes from.
Soil is the same as the sea. It is out of sight thus it does not matter what we do to it because we cant see it. Especially at 90m underground where some of the HS2 tunnels are going. We have all established that trees, bushes, hedges, marshes and grassland are important. And some of us are in agreement with the people who have proved that plants communicate with each other through the fungal network that lives in the soil to maintain a happy healthy ecosystem. So why oh why is it not ok to chop down an old oak tree, but yes ok to dig up 130 million tons of earth????? Jobs? Money for the boys? Did anyone think to look and see if there was a better option, cheaper and more environmentally friendly???? I am not surprised that the soil is tired and worn out with the abuse and lack of recognition that without it we cease to exist.
And please don't anyone even try to tell me that that is the reason they have invented soil free food production, because seriously that is a long walk off a short cliff material.
Have a lovely week ahead. And don't forget eat more soil, it is good for you, to plagarise and slightly modify a very good friend of mine.
frost and farming
Once upon a time there was a planet covered in vegetation with great big animals and small animals, bacteria, and fungi (and other stuff we probably don't even know about anymore) wandering and living all over it, disturbing the soil, breaking the vegetation, pushing over trees, eating the grass and leaves and pooping.
It is difficult for us to imagine what that was like we have moved so far away from it. But it was probably noisier (as all intelligent people know nature is a noisy beast) and full of many things that we are afraid of like snakes and spiders and insects that make you jump in the night. And I imagine enormous flocks of birds that darken the sky as they pass and also poop considerable quantities of poop over the planet. They may well have been the planet microbiome manager as they distributed different organic material everywhere from other places. Essentially mixing it all up so the planet stayed healthy. Probably an important function of migrating sea animals like whales, the seas microbiome managers.
Patrick recently did a course entitled "Syntropic agriculture". In short it was about trees, and organic matter and growing food. Very interesting. I admit I have a short attention span for absorbing information, lack of practice I guess. So I rely on the boys to filter and feed me titbits during the week until I have a picture of what different systems are trying to achieve and how it could work in our system.
Some while back I had a FB conversation with a Frenchman living in Austrailia whose grandfather and great grandfathers were winegrowers in France and the grandfather remembered when all the trees were taken out of the vineyards so fields were larger and it easier to use equipment in the vines. And then I read another article about agroforestry in vineyards, there is a vineyard that practices this not far from us, which touched upon the connectivity in plants and protection from the weather and other stuff. And then I got to thinking about frost......
All of which is very lengthy to cover here... But a few thoughts were if vineyards and orchards were smaller and surrounded by hedgrows and trees of differing heights or even completely mixed up then would the effect of frost be so large. A textured landscape with ups and downs creates air movement as the air bounces off the different heights and textures of plants. If vineyards were mulched would the heat created by breaking down plant material be enough to disturb settling frost. If soils were healthy and full of microbial activity would they be warmer and prevent settling frost. If we were less obssessed with monoculture for ease and simplicity would animals sleeping in orchards and vineyards increase the air temperature enough to prevent frost damage.
There have been many incidences of lost production due to frost recently so maybe it is time to change productions methods to find a way of living with changes in climate rather than battling againct it. Many cereal farmers will have cursed that patch of green wheat that grows under the tree in the hedgrow and is always green when the rest of the field is ready to harvest. And is also never damaged by frost.
The workers resting
On the other side of the coin the forests around us, though they glorious to look at, are often stagnant underneath, there are no Dinosaurs, Mamoths and Aurochs to move around breaking up and mixing up the soils. there are no fresh pools of grass dappled in sunlight as the canopy is so dense it blocks the light required to create growth and new life. Another monoculture.
We are here on the planet and have already interfered with the natural cycle of things. The answer to global health maybe to adapt, modify behaviour, mix it all up, blend in and be less rigid. In a straight fight with nature, trust me there is no way we are going to win.
See you all soon
I know you all think my french is fabulous..... ha ha ha, so I must admit that the lovely Marie photographed above with my youngest last summer, does all my translating. You do a fabulous job, Marie, and I am eternally grateful that you have the time and energy to pick through all my colloquial English. xx
Winter days and education
Today we had a zimbo family Zoom meeting. It was good to see everyone and lovely to note how little people change. It gives a little bit of consistency to a convoluted world. The sun was shining outside and the air was chilly with its Siberian breeze. Sadly our 17 year old cat Bluey is having a bit of a rough weekend. She is curled up in her box by the door enjoying the rays of sun that have been on her all day. Our first Franklin Farm animal and hunter😻. No longer capable of catching any of the dozens of Blue tits we have outside the house these days. Bird has always been her favourite snack.
As some of you know Brexit has provided some interesting logistical hiccups with the running of our butchery as some ingredients come from the UK. I am lazy I guess, and have not bothered up to now sourcing from within the EU. There are some things that I have been unable to find. so the delivery from the UK is now being cleared through customs, I hope (!), unless I have had a spam caller and I have just signed my life away to some bloke called Gaetan 😰. Those who have seen me during the last few weeks have been busy little tasters on some new sausage recipes and we have had some pleasant feedback, for which I thank you. Some new sausage flavours will be sticking around, along with the ones to which you have become accustomed.
As soon as I can I will be scooting around on deliveries to satisfy my further away people with their requirements. Fear not 😊
Whilst Emily has been house bound with snow in the Netherlands over the past few weeks we have been forced outside in large amounts of rain feeding hungry 4 legged animals. We also had a little helper for a couple of weeks to see what we get up to, and we hope we broadened his experiences for his course at Lycée. I assume, from the amount of sausages eaten, he was properly worn out after every day. Tired adolescents = happy adolescents.
I don't usually discuss abattoirs because I know lots of people like to think of our farm in a light and fluffy way. However, they are an integral part of our business, legislation dictates that we cannot sell or even give meat to anyone outside of our immediate family if it has not been dispatched in a registered abattoir. Ribérac abattoir has been closed due to financial issues. It is one of the last local abattoirs that will kill livestock for anyone who wants an animal dispatched in our area, the others require you to be a shareholder of their enterprise which means you have to have a certain tonnage that you process every year. Others require you to be a registered butcher and/or animal trader. Consequently small producers are pushed out of the equation for access due to lack of numbers or money. Not all abattoirs that are still functioning have facilties to kill all species. So if you have sheep or goats, finding an alternative can be difficult and may require a trip of 100km in each direction to deliver the live animal, and then 100km in each direction to collect the carcasses.
There are 250 abattoirs in France. In 2000 there were 340. In the 1970's there were around a thousand. During this time the tonnage of meat consumed in France has not change considerably. So..... This means the facilities are getting bigger, higher tech, more expensive to run, further apart and less personal. Is that a good thing? I know where I stand on that but I will leave you to make your own judgements.
The producers and parties concerned with Riberac Abattoir are having a second meeting next week to try and find solutions. Abattoirs are a public service, they should be regarded as a hub for a community, they provide employment, families who invest in their community, and they are full of skilled labour. It should be something that people are concerned about. An abattoir should be something that as a community you are proud of, should support and encourage.
wet and windy driving
This is a photograph of my mate Mr.Stink he has been sitting on my bathroom wall for a few weeks now obviously hibernating and readying himself for the new season which, I am sure cannot be that far away. I have come a long way from the squealing woman who arrived in Zimbabwe some 30 years ago and jumped at the sight of every bug that moved, and even the ones that didn't. Now I only squeal at fake plastic spiders left lying around by evil children.
Our family takes pride in our ability to improve our insect population through our more natural methods of farming and living adopted during the last 17 years in France, fallen into initially by a serious lack of capital and then continued through increased awareness and education.
The media publish articles about fewer or no insects on our windscreens, or birds found starved to death at odd times of year. I wonder what people think when they read about it? Lets give some money to a charity and absolve our requirement to do anything? Without insects the world will fall apart they all have a function many are involved in the clean up and processing of our rubbish into something that will become soil for us to use. Some are pollinators enabling us to eat. Some are pest controllers. some are seed dispersers....... the list goes on. In short we cannot exist without them. Cherish them in all their stinky ugliness and elegant, hairy, beauty.
In theory we should be open to change during covid-19, but it appears that change is a very difficult task. We have been spoilt for too many years being able to get what we want whenever we want it and are reluctant to accept that continuing on our slightly diverted current path is not the best choice. We have become so detached from our environment that we forget that we are one big ecosystem The Planet, and whatever happens on the other side of the world happens to you too. Too much talking not enough action it is dispiriting.
It was a long and depressing drive through the Charente last Monday on my delivery run in the pouring rain and floods. I had several diversions en route...... I try to speak out in support of my farming compatriots defending and explaining the reason why things are done the way they are. But after driving past so many naked fields, with no trees or hedges on the high ground from where the water runs, and not an ounce of sensible field cover with adequate root system to protect the soil from the rain and hold the water back to eleviate the flooding, I wanted to cry.
Yes there was a lot of rain I am not denying that but compounded with so little green cover did not help the situation. The headlines say how the government are going to support 7000km of hedge planting. Well p*****g in the wind springs to mind.
Cover the ground should be the new mantra, mixed and varied farming. No to moncropping. Get those animals out on the land and give those tireless insects some food to work on (if you are not keeping up with my thought processes, I mean poop) This should be something to be excited about my farming friends. No, just being organic does not count. I drove past several properties advertising their organicness with their bare monocropped fields shining and underwater. Back closer to home where we are surrounded by trees, hedges and permanent pasture there was a normal amount of run off from the ground.
Above is our water running off our permanent pasture. Please note it is clear. Why? Because the field has poop, insects and roots.
I am not going to apologise for being repetitive if you have read all this before. It needs saying often in several thousand languages to as many people as possible to spread the ideas to get down with the bugs and soil to help make some progress.
And fear not my fine farming friends next time I will be going all out for those people who insist on town planning with tarmac, concrete and digging up trees. Another depressing subject.
Ín the words of Spock "Live long and prosper"
Fixing the spillway on the dam
2021 The next chapter.....
Happy New Year Everyone and welcome to 2021
I hope that you all have had a pleasant festive season and are enjoying the beginning of the new year knowing that the days are already lengthening. I have checked our weather book that we found after 5 years of hibernation in a box in a barn and it says that in 2010 and 2012 cranes (birds, not construction equipment) were heading north on the 3rd of February..... so that means there is less than a month before it starts to feel like Spring is nearly here. Not of course that I am not appreciating a good cold spell. The nasty pathogens and more annoying insects and some diseases can be curtailed with the cold.
The birds are chomping through the food I have put out for them at a great rate around the house. If I had a go pro camera permanently attached to my head I could have had some nice video footage of our cat, Peaches, trying to reach the cat food meercat style and not fall off the back of the chair at the same time. She failed, quickly looked around.... and then started cleaning, as if the whole fall from grace had been part of the plan. Cats (◔_◔) always good for a laugh.
We had thought that after the hecticness of the Christmas period, some of you experienced it at the market and I thank you for your patience....... weeeellllllllll...... it didn't quite pan out like that. So 40 something sheep later we have done a rather intensive lambing in the freezing cold. Not the best environment to lamb outdoors in. So there was much too-ing and fro-ing in the trailer at all hours karting the mamas and the babas from field to the house and to the sheds. Not too many under red lights, not too many stillborns all things considered.
So next New Years day if you are feeling slightly under the weather then I recommend a brisk walk in the morning at minus something, carrying warm slimey animals, a bit of a jog and some rugby tackling of warm fluffy animals, followed by a few hours in the afternoon mucking out and moving manure from the sheds to the garden, to start early preparation for the vegetable garden raised bed, no dig system. Followed by an evening stroll at minus something to rugby tackle and carry fluffy or slimey animals again.
The key to survivng this regime, the Franklins have decided, are copious quantities of tea, large roasted meat joints, warming potato, pasta and rice dishes, pink fizz, beer, chocolate and ice cream. If there is no time to prep half a tables worth of vegetable dishes then throw lots of onions and leeks in everything and you are good to go.
The butchery has had a 6 monthly clean, paint and tidy up and now our rented cold room has been taken away I am trying to work out how to organise the butchery for the next year and wondering whether we will have to make some more permanent modifications. All should be ready to be back rat the markets this coming weekend ready for some more seriously cold weather. The key to weather management is appropriate clothing.
Gavin is going for his 3 month check up with the surgeon tomorrow for the next phase of decision making. The physiotherapist has already moved him on to the next phase of exercise and this week that included doing a squat on one leg and then jumping up out of it. Interesting. Now don't go breaking anything trying this at home. It is not a challenge. But let me tell you it is not easy. At all, even if you have not had knee surgery.
Take care of yourselves and happy eating during 2021
Helen 😃 xx
I am farming sheep and goats on the Dordogne/Gironde border with my husband and our 3 children. We have an on farm butchery and sell our meat direct to the public via the markets and delivery points in our local area