Sunday, May 29, 2016

Death in the valley

An evil shadow has been spread over the tranquil fields of La Chaise. Some errant dog, or dogs, have been stalking the flock in the early morning hours and killing lambs..
The flock in early morning mist

Apparently, according to a sympathetic, official passing expert, they are likely to be domestic dogs, not abandoned, not starving, for they do not eat their trophies. They are hunting for that is in their doggy nature.. So the blame lies with their humans.

For us, although we know most of the lambs are destined for slaughter, sacrifice is the more popular French word, the loss is heart-breaking. We feel we have failed to keep them safe.
One that we failed to keep safe

There is nothing, and yet a lot, that can be done to protect the flock during the hours of darkness. Firstly, they can be brought into the sheep shed, fed and closed in. This is much resented by all. The ewes have already spent more than 3 months closed in during the worst of the cold and the best of the lambing. The lambs are bored in the barn – and consequently get themselves into trouble. Also, since the furthest pasture is a kilometre trip, aller-retour, this is no fun for Alex either.

Were it permitted we could put heavy duty electric cabling round the outside of the property – all 4 kms of fencing. (Audrey checked the fencing by walking all round it – wearing a 'fitbit' thingie). This would need to be on the top and bottom of the fencing which already has two rows of barbed wire at the top, one at the bottom. Never mind the trouble, or the cost – we would be in serious trouble if some child, or other illiterate, tried to get through and got shocked, perhaps fatally.

A more long term solution is to invest in a sheep defending dog – as opposed to sheep-herding dog.

What we are permitted to do is to shoot any unaccompanied dog seen in our fields, an option as unpleasant as the killing of the lambs. But then I have to remember where we put the shot gun, and the shot – and none of us are shots of any kind. And I strongly suspect the dog, or dogs will not stand still whilst we aim. One can only hope they are trained enough to come to heel when called and so be caught.

Obviously we all have extremely unfriendly, not to say evil, thoughts about the humans involved with this dog or dogs. But we remember that, deep down, dogs are dogs. Our dear Czeta, our first black Labrador, came from an impeccable home, was extremely well trained. I even managed to train her to close the front door after she had opened it to come in. But, on arrival, she had to be discouraged from killing the farm chickens – forcibly. A chicken carcasse dowsed in diesel, and 24 hrs with same attached to her neck in the dark and smelly chicken house, subdued that instinct. So, until she had pups, the chickens lived and happy, fear-free life.

We kept one puppy with her, the future 'Edward, the Black Prince of La Chaise'. (Not so fondly remembered in Aquitaine, probably.) As soon as Edward was old enough, Czeta, as a good doggy mother, taught him to kill chickens. So he too had to go through the diesel sodden dead chicken in dark shed for 24 hours training.

It worked. But it did not stop him running away, especially after he was the father of nine pups with a female black Labrador, just over the hill, not so far away. Not that he ever came back by himself. He would plonk himself down at the neighbour's house – where he and his mother had lodged for a few weeks – and wait for us and our car to be summoned. But, to the best of our knowledge, he never killed any animal whilst on the run.

He once brought a leveret home in his mouth - alive!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

slowly, slowly, grow the meat...

In the village of Chanterac I once got to know a farmer who specialised in duck rearing, making his own foie gras, confit de canard and other delicacies. He had invested heavily in what he called his laboratoire, the hygiene certified place in which he sacrificed*, cut – up and processed his ducks. He had a display and tasting room and visitors could see his ducks wandering around outside – males and females separately.

He wanted my help in marketing his holiday chalet business. The English are very odd, you know, he confided to me. They will come and feed the ducks, taste and buy the produce – but they refuse to visit my state of the art salle d'abattage. It was clean, quiet and he 'sacrificed' only a few ducks at a time.
A muscovy drake and one of his ducks - Muscovies can live up to 15 years
- they are the main breed used in producing a fat liver - but only the males.

There is a mega industrial duck crisis in the South-West of France. The region's 4,000 odd commercial breeders and foie gras producers, spread over eight departments, have been instructed to close down their operations. Their stock has to be killed, the production hangars thoroughly disinfected and where necessary brought up to certain hygiene standards. A four month long vide sanitaire has been declared.

This is an attempt to eradicate avian 'flu – a first case was signaled in the Dordogne last November on a family farm. Everyone with poultry has been asked to confine their birds to a limited area, roofed over to avoid contamination by passing wild fowl. Avian flu is deadly for fowl, nasty for humans but only passed onto to humans in very rare cases.

There is no need for me to spell out the hopefully temporary economic disaster for the area or its repercussions on the associated businesses. The region produces 80 per cent of all French foie gras. Some of the major producers are saying that – given the shut down is only for four months – there will still be foie gras du Sud-Ouest for Christmas and New Year festivities.

But I have been culpably unaware of the industrial scale of foie gras production, the sheer wastage and cruelty of it. Perhaps because I have seldom bought branded duck meat or foie gras and now will certainly consciously avoid doing so. As I occasionally observe to the visiting holiday makers, if possible, only eat meat whose origins and upbringing (parents if you will) you know. Obviously easier in the country than in town.

Man may have been given dominion over animals by God or gods but I do not think this gives us the right to turn animals into protein factories.

* Fishermen refer to the cosh they use to stun fish as a
'priest'....some remnants of respect,