Monday, June 23, 2014

Follow that Hen!

The hens are on strike.   No longer do we - that is Audrey or Alex - find three to four eggs a day in the hen-house, at best there are two.  After more than a year at La Chaise, with freedom to roam all over the front courtyard except for Audrey's vegetable garden, egg production has virtually stopped.

Obviously there are seasons for egg-laying and seasons for repose when the hens are moulting, growing new (more glamorous) feathers, for example. But that should not be the case now.   Perhaps it is because of the unseasonable heat.   Perhaps, Audrey opines darkly, the hens are 'laying away', which being translated means they are hiding their eggs prior to brooding on them and raising chicks.  Pause for an 'aaah-oo' moment.
The hens, and cockerel, in morning conference.
But since we still want eggs, prefer them to fluffy little chicks that will be attacked by every furred and four footed menace in the woods, some one is going to have to spy on the hens to see where they are laying. For a human, stalking a hen is not easy, they scare quickly. But we are all on the alert, watching to see if any hen is behaving oddly, in places where she should not be.

What is the Little Black Hen looking for?

Often, when A&A are out late, it is my privilege to close up the hen-house, checking first with a torch to see if it has its full complement of birds.  A ripple of irritated chirping accompanies the sweep of my torch beam.  Sometimes I even let the birds out in the morning if I think their overseers are oversleeping.

A new dimension has been added to this occasional task.   There are now a flock of chickens-for-eating at La Chaise.  At present they are small and noisy, live in the woods near A&A's front door and sleep in a chicken caravan. This was created especially by Alex so that he could move the flock to new grounds if it seemed they had exhausted their existing territory.  So far, not necessary.  
A caravan fit for fowl - roof closed.

One night I went to close them up - and found them all perched at the back of the open roof of the chicken caravan.   Now i loathe handling hens.  They squawk, flap their wings, are apparently insubstantial and, once scared, become very stupid.   So i took a deep breath and pushed them, one by one, down into the belly of the chicken caravan, then quickly lowered the roof. And even more quickly went to pull up the ramp  that closes their terrace.

in the process I managed to lose an ear-ring - an elegant silver set garnet pendant hanging from a black pearl clip.  A day later Alex found the garnet in the scratchings around the feed bowl, two days later I found the pearl clip near the water reservoir.   My luck was in.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

For once, rain would be appreciated

Still it has not rained.   If one was on holiday at La Chaise, this is happiness.   But we live here and have a golf course and around 60 sheep, with their lambs, to maintain.  Green grass is essential for both.

Fortunately, la grande Kim, was free to shear the ewes, relieve them of the extra weight of winter wool.  Not that either were particularly pleased with each other.   Clun Forest sheep have a bad reputation amongst shearers for they will not sit still, they wriggle and bawl.  And when you are trying to hold still 80 kg of irritable sheep, with electric shears whizzing in your other hand....One can understand why the sheep are ambivalent about the process. On the one hand the weight of wool must be unbearable in the heat, on the other - they do look angular, almost silly, without it, especially the ram.

now we are all skin and bones we refuse to pose...


 Meanwhile I have been 're-colonising' my house.   After many months away, insects inside and birds outside are taking liberties with my space.  I have resumed the never ending battle against spiders, soon to be joined by flies, the fruit flies have already arrived.  Two sparrows suddenly decided to come look/see inside and got themselves stuck at the top of the stairs, beating vainly against the plasterboard ceiling.   It took the tallest of us - Alexandre - armed with the pool net - nearly an hour to persuade/frighten them out through the bathroom ceiling window.

Meals on the terrace are delightful, as always - but the birds have got into the habit of picking buds from the vine and the wisteria and continue to do so whilst we are eating.   OK, so that is just extra greenery with our meal - but we cannot leave the food unattended, not even in dire emergencies such as having to get more wine, for there will be birds on the table.  We may even have to invite Cha-Cha le chat  to visit from time to time - but even then we could not leave food unattended.
Birds lurking in foliage - no, I cannot see them either

And now Alexandre has had another idea....he would like to add some nanny goats and a billy to the 30 breeding ewes plus one ram that are already here.  He has learned how to make goats cheese, sometimes even using some of my marmelade as a counterpoint flavour. The cheeses are very delicious.    But, whilst ewes and nanny goats may be compatible, I have my doubts about a ram and a billy.

Alex's mixed range of goat cheeses

The next challenge is the annual ear-tagging and weighing of the lambs.  And for this we really, really would appreciate seriously cool weather if not necessarily rain.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The only reality is sheep

All in all, with only a leetle number stretching, we - John and I - have been away from La Chaise for the first five months of this year.   We took  three months in Spain, then a brief visit home end March, followed by nearly two months in London.

The city was its usual hot, sticky, busy self.  Drivers have lost their manners, are nowhere near as polite to pedestrians as their Sant Feliu equals. London's drivers have re-discovered the horn. Even taxis hoot at white vans attempting an U turn across three lanes of traffic.   Only suicidal pedestrians would cross streets with moving traffic. 
Street art knitting in London.

The noise levels were horrendous but the shops were wonderful (early in the morning) and the Londoners - many of whom are French - very friendly.

We returned to France, to the fields, lawns and trees of La Chaise that were lushly, greasily green.  The grass in the now horse-less horse fields is higher than my knees. All types of purple orchids are lurking amongst the pink clover and a single Billy Goat orchid is behind the empty stables.
spot the orchid.....

The swallows are back!  They are nesting, in new nests, in what is now Alexandre's atelier, flying quietly in and out.   The nestlings peer out over the rim but are silent.  The golden oriole has returned to the fields but the wild ducks that visited around the turn of the year have not settled.   Obviously gypsy ducks.

Arnold and Alexandre have struggled manfully to keep the golf course playable, with a little help from the sheep.   Now that Arnold is away getting his knee fixed, Alex is on his own - except for the sheep, of course.   This is the time of year when one wishes some enterprising person had set up a 'Rent-a-Flock' business.   We need at least three times as many sheep as we have but only for the very short grass growing season.

The problem with sheep is that they are relatively picky eate rs - they will eat all orchids but eschew daisies and buttercups.  They are partial to the sprouting tops of newly planted trees, such as cypresses. Roses also apparently please the ovine palate, but only the flowers.   This is why sheep are not good lawn mower substitutes.  There are some grasses that they disdain, in particular one tufty, dense grass with broad bladed leaves which may be good for whistling with but also tend to cut tender fingers.

The current centre of my universe does not approve of daisies either.

The hot, wet weather has encouraged the early appearance of various wild fungi - the fairy circle a.k.a
la ronde des sorciers - of the basic field mushroom can be seen from afar.  Just look for the darker grass. A few early parasol fungi are growing along the sheep fencing.  Deceptively dangerous fungi, those that are not rare are likely to be poisonous, to be avoided.   Sadly, despite much enthusiasm in the rural press, especially the current issue of Le Chasseur Francais, we appear to have no spring burst of chanterelles, one of the finest fungi of all.

There has been a sudden flush (? perhaps the best collective noun) of fruit flies in the house and  I have killed my first hornet of the year.  Monday the ewes will be shorn, the lambs will receive ear-tags - and so farm life goes on.