The Reprieve

Sunset

This evening as the sun set on the horizon the sheepies were in the third paddock instead of the abattoir.

I walked down the fields to call them up, followed by hopeful pigs. Hopeful that I would let them in as well. But whatever about the sheep, there is no chance the pigs are getting in at this time of year.

The sheep galloped over as soon as I called. I’m glad they’re still here really. I wasn’t looking forward to sending them off one little bit. I will miss their quiet calm presence as they wait in anticipation for breakfast every morning when I go out.

The reason for the reprieve – the clutch began to fail in my jeep around the end of October. Last Sunday reversing in the wonky black van for Cake Dames’ first market was the icing on the cake (pun intended) and the smell of burning was something else. In fact I can still smell it when I walk past. It’s sickening because it has less than 85k on clock and it’s only 4 years old.

Waiting for breakfast

However, we are where we are and the sheepies get to stay here until the beginning of January or when the abattoir gears up again. They will still be classed as lamb as they were born last March.

The turkeys have really begun to fatten up. They were very small for ages but recently I realised they’ve been helping themselves to the pigs’ buckets left ready for the next feed in the shed. They’re not the brightest birds but they’re not stupid either. I’m an awful eijit but I’ll miss them too. They’re a nice presence about the place as they whistle and cluck to each other going about their business.

November was a horrible month. I think I hate it most of all the months. I hate the dark evenings and mornings – it always seems endless. The only redeeming feature this year was the autumn colour which was spectacular but the relentless rain and wind took it’s toll on every creature here. The ground normally dry was a quagmire and I saw the pigs taking convoluted routes to avoid the worst of it and standing at the fence looking longingly at the good grass fenced off.

December has started off promisingly and it’s only 19 days to the winter solstice and “a cock’s step in a dunghill” as the days begin to slowly lengthen. You start to notice the “grand stretch” from the beginning of January and somehow the cold and rainy days seem less grim thanks to the light.

Hopefully we have experienced the worst of the rain and the wind although I have never lived in such a windy place before. The wind is unreal. I had two gates damaged until yesterday, when a neighbour arrived with a drill. Gates that were bolted or wedged with a big stone. Didn’t make one bit of difference, the wind still slammed them shut breaking one hinge and knocking a latt off the other.

Christmas draws ever closer and for the first time I will have produced my own turkey and ham. I don’t think you appreciate how much work or how much feeding goes into an animal until you do it yourself. But at least I know mine had a good life and good feeding and somehow that makes me feel better about it. I also have a couple of young roosters who will soon be ready for despatch.

So another year comes to an end and now I’m here just over two years. Hard to believe how time flies. I’m already looking forward to ordering and getting a real polytunnel for next year. I still have the Mickey Mouse one and who knows I might even get it covered with proper polythene. The list of stuff “to do” never shortens unfortunately but that’s the same for everyone I’m sure. You are certainly never finished in an old place.

Sunset

The Dawning

Yesterday I drove back to Camolin to collect my pork and bacon. I had got a phone call unexpectedly the previous evening to say it was ready. They had said it would be the week following the bank holiday. I get my bacon dry cured which delays the process.

I frantically started to defrost the smaller freezer, firing all the stuff in it into the huge one and switching it on. That and clearing out some stuff that was “past it” made a bit of extra space as luck would have it.

The dawn in every sense of the word

I couldn’t believe the amount. Last year I had filled the boot. This year I had to put the seats down to get at least two extra huge sacks in. I wasn’t sure I would even have enough freezer space for it all and panicked. I contacted a few people who said they’d like to buy some and thankfully have sold a good bit already.

120kg of pork

I charge €10/kg (€12/kg for sausages) and it is a lot when pork is so cheap in the shop. But, let me give you an idea of what it costs me to get to this stage.

Two weaners €65 each plus diesel to collect them.

Straw for the first week when they’re kept in and afterwards €2/bale x 10 plus diesel for collection.

Feed – rolled barley and peas for 6 months. A 25kg bag of barley costs €6-7. A 40kg bag of peas €12.

In the beginning they get a scoop of barley (450g) and a scoop of peas (600g) twice a day between them. So approximately a kg of barley and 1.2kg peas a day.

In a few short weeks they get this each. So 2kg barley and 1.2kg peas each per day.

Then as they begin a rapid growth spurt this doubles again so 2 scoops barley each or 4kg a day and 2.4kg peas.

If I calculate the full amount over 4 months and half approximately for 2 months this is

Barley 24 cent/kg x 2kg = 48c x 30 days = €14.40/month x 4 = €57.60 plus €28.80 for 2 months.

Peas 30 cent/kg x 12kg = 36c x 30 = €10.80/month x 4 = €43. 20 for 4 months and €21.60 for 2 months.

So per pig feed = €151.20 plus diesel to drive and collect it all.

Abattoir plus butchery in total €300 plus 4 trips of 52km pulling a trailer for 2. Lots of diesel!

And my time – over an hour a day every day for 6 months. Incalculable!

So what I can actually calculate amounts to €376.20/pig or €752.40 for 2 pigs.

And each pig butchered is about 60-65kg. So at €10/kg you can see I’m only barely covering my costs.

I’m not in this to make money thankfully and if I cover most of my costs by selling the excess, my wages are paid to me in pork. So next time you think a small producer is ripping you off go back through these figures. Because a small farmer/smallholder is not even paying themselves a living wage never mind the minimum wage for dragging out in every type of weather twice a day for 6 months.

But, the pigs have a lovely natural but short life, living as pigs should – grazing, rooting, mud bathing, sleeping and socialising. And the poor tortured pigs on intensive farms don’t have a life in comparison. I know which meat I’d prefer to eat.

And this pork is produced from locally grown barley and peas (no imported GM rain forest, orangutan slaying grain). It supports local co ops and their employees as well as the farmers growing the grain. It keeps a local abattoir and their butchers in jobs.

By buying local you are supporting so many people.

The Goodbye

We finally laid dad to rest two years after his death, in the sea off Kilgorman beach. It was a sad but magical day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the wind and waves were gentle.

As we walked over the dune carrying his ashes and red roses, I saw the sun glinting on the sea almost directly opposite “the gap”. The tears immediately began to fall.

That was the first of many signs.

I had scribbled a few extra lines onto a well-known poem the day before his anniversary after a walk on Duncannon beach. We had read the original at his funeral and when I saw the sun shining across the sea and on the shells I thought of him, as I always do.

Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am the sun glinting on shells

I’m the sun’s reflection on tide

I am the wind that blows your side

I’m in the darkening clouds that cry

I am there where you are, I did not die

The second sign – the roses we threw in after his ashes, were washed back onto the beach, in a line, along the shore where he always went for a run after a swim.

The third – a seal appeared and swam where we had scattered the ashes. In all the years we have never seen a seal in that close and generally they are only at either end of the beach at the rocks.

I’m not religious and after he died I tried to feel he was still here (as people say) but there was nothing. He was gone and it was final. I found that the hardest aspect but gradually began to accept that once we die, that’s it. There is nothing else. Of course that doesn’t stop you thinking of the person, remembering them, missing them.

But yesterday that changed. I really felt he was watching us, that he approved and he was happy. He was somewhere behind the scenes orchestrating the whole thing and sending that seal to make us realise.

I tried to take a photo of the seal but his head vanished out of sight only to reappear a few seconds later when I wasn’t ready. Then we saw 3 roses bobbing in his place.

The clouds darkened as we walked off the beach and began to cry. But it was shortlived.

Later that evening, driving home the cloud formation and light over the county Wexford countryside from the new M11 motorway was breathtaking.

And even later the sunset spectacular.

I’m glad we waited as long as we did to lay him to rest. It felt right, it felt final, it was a good goodbye.

Rest in peace dad, dadad, Gerry dad.

The Last Supper

The bully

Today was D day. The pigs were trained for the last few days to charge up the ramp of the trailer for food. If you do this a few days in advance they have no fear of it and there is no stress on loading (especially for me). Generally I find they gallop up the first day you put the ramp down but if you were to rely on them to do that, it wouldn’t happen. I reckon they’re like horses and can sense your mood. If you’re desperate for them to go in; there’s two chances they will!

They got fed royally for the last few days. I went to Tintern (Colclough walled garden) to get the last windfalls and the gardeners were delighted to help me load up. I’ve promised them sausages and to keep them sweet I made them a blackberry cake. I love getting my own veg here. I take out annual membership of both it and the abbey for €30. Then I can get my own fruit and veg for an additional small donation. It’s all grown the way the monks would have done in the past. Because there’s so much wind here and because they have a huge variety of apple trees, there are loads of windfalls. Most people get them for horses but I’m one of the few looking for them for pigs and the gardeners don’t get sausages from the horse owners……

Apples for the pigs, veg for me

I always feel sad for days before the pigs go. It’s very hard not to get attached to animals (for me anyway) and to be honest I’m not sure quantity would make any difference. I fight with myself if I really want to do this. I wonder should I become a vegetarian more often than I have hot dinners, but the fact is I love meat. And then they do something to really annoy me, like knock me over or escape. But funnily enough these never did. In fact they were the only pigs I’ve ever had who never escaped (and it’s not due to better fencing). And they were a Duroc cross (nightmares apparently). My neighbour looking at all my fencing posts said it looked like a gallops. I think they were permanently confused by the layout and couldn’t be bothered taking a chance.

Multi species training

In training the pigs, I inadvertently trained the sheep and the goats. But with the goats that’s no achievement. They’re that nosy and adventurous they’d jump off a cliff. In fact they’re a damned nuisance. They managed to nibble the insulating tape off the wiring for the lights on the trailer. I hadn’t enough fencing posts to fence the trailer off from them. And I stupidly thought they wouldn’t bother because they’ve plenty to interest them. Never ever underestimate their ability to p*ss you off.

And then the woofer announced she had a dying grandmother. When I heard this I thought to myself – wow, French grandmothers go from alive to dying faster than a Ferrari does 0-60! I couldn’t help but be skeptical as the last French woofers had a dying grandmother as well.

I had been relying on her being here to help with loading. I had also asked her to stay an extra week to mind the animals while I’m away en famille scattering dad’s ashes, at long last. So all my plans were upscuttled.

However, today went smoothly and to plan and next weekend I have the young lad to who minds all here while I’m away (and is very capable and reliable).

Next month I’ll have to do it all again with the sheep. And I’ve decided to try and cure the skins. It’s a shame there are no tanneries left on the entire island. Using sheep skin and wool is far more sustainable than synthetic fibres. How have we become so advanced and yet so backward? So many skills are being lost, rearing your own food, butchering, tanning skins, knitting, even crochet.

Sausage mixes

At least I can rear my own animals for food and I can knit and crochet. It remains to be seen if I can tan skins.

Meanwhile I made up spice mixes for my sausages and gave them to the butcher. Making traditional breakfast sausages is no problem. Making dinner sausages (fennel and red wine and apple and sage) a bit more of a problem. I asked could they use a coarse plate for mincing (they only have one) but normally mince twice. So they’re going to only mince once. I think the solution is to get my own mincer and sausage maker, not the Mickey Mouse one I have.

Speaking of Mickey Mouse, my poor tunnel bit the dust before Storm Lorenzo even hit. But I managed to save the last of the tomatoes and it didn’t do a bad job at all. I’ve a freezer full of tomato sauce cubes for use during the winter and I’ve eaten my fill of fresh.

The last tomatoes

In two weekends it’s two years since I moved in here. In two years I’ve achieved a lot and I’m happy with the progress. I knew it would be a marathon and not a sprint. I’m staying the pace and I’ll get there eventually, but meantime I’m becoming more and more self-sufficient and eating better than I ever could have imagined.

There isn’t any number of stars that can be awarded for that.

The Slimdown

Final days

Next week the winter slimdown begins. The “small” pigs will be booked into the abattoir in Camolin. The sheep will have another 6-8 weeks – I should be able to say of peace – but their main tormentors are the goats who aren’t going anywhere.

They will be fed in the trailer in the field for a couple of days in advance so they get used to it. Then they’ll be driven up the afternoon before and settled into straw-filled pens for the “off” first thing the following morning. I’m sure I’ll feel dreadful when the time comes but right now they are incredibly annoying teenagers. They run straight through me for food and even brazenly annoy the big pigs who swing their heads sideways to spear them with a tusk. I happened to be in the firing line one morning. Thank goodness I had jeans on. I still got a hefty red scrape down my thigh.

I collected the turkeys from the place I get all my poultry. I had booked them months ago but he kept telling me to ring him on such and such a date. Then when I collected them I was almost told tuck them up in bed with a hot water bottle. The questions he asked me. Was I sure I had a good warm house for them, could I keep them separate from other poultry, could I keep them in a minimum of 10 days and then watch them when I let them out……. I finally asked had they just come off a heat lamp. He said they were off it a while but I’m not so sure. Anyway on day 7 they flew over the shed/stable half door so that was that.

I tentatively let them out into the field and they appeared to just be happy to potter about in front of the shed. So I kept an eye on them. Then the ducks decided to take flight. They do this regularly and usually just fly over the high wall out onto the road. But this time they were up a serious height and I knew by the sound they had cleared the neighbours trees across the road. I totally forgot about the turkeys who I had left snoozing in the sun in their open doorway.

I ran across the road but couldn’t see the ducks. Then I caught a glimpse of what I thought was one three paddocks over. All the paddocks had horses in them and all had electric fencing around them. Luckily I could hear my neighbour in the stables so shouted up to ask him to turn off the power. He told me the ducks had been in several times in his dunkel and the pond. They had obviously figured out a way to get back. We walked down through the field but couldn’t see them anywhere. Than lo and behold saw the three of them along the hedge being followed by a line of bemused thoroughbreds. We hunted them back and I caught them and clipped their wings.

I suddenly remembered the turkeys. Yep, they’d vanished. I called the woofer and the two of us went searching in two separate fields. I thought I could hear a commotion at the back of the hayshed so went to investigate. They were sauntering around with a lot of curious pig onlookers. The pigs on seeing me started demanding food and there wasn’t a chance in hell I could shepherd them back safely so I had to try to catch them. I managed to grab one and handed her to the woofer. I had to corner the other in the middle of a big pile of nettles and just reach in and grab her.

After this I decided I’d have to move them back into the sheds off the yard. The fields are just too open. The problem is that even though I’ve got four sheds, one is for feed and since the hens decided to lay in it I’ve had to move the dogs out, particularly as Nelly is very partial to an egg and has perfected the art of cracking it and eating the contents. That meant the last shed had to be converted for dog shelter when I’m out or away. There was only one thing for it, move them into the duck shed and hope the ancient grumpy Muscovy drake wouldn’t decide to eat them for breakfast.

I cleaned it out and put their straw bale in. Then set up a sliding door so they’d be at the back and the ducks at the front. Cedric the cock flies up onto a ledge at the back. This morning all were still alive.

New home

Yesterday when it started to rain in glimpsed out to see them trying to get out through the gaps in the green gate instead of turning and going back into shelter. My cousin reminded me that my grandmother always said they were the most stupid of all the birds. She kept goats and poultry. My mother had a school friend, a Jewish refugee called Annie Polesi (during the Second World War Castlebar took in Jewish refugees and they set up a hat factory). Annie was scared of the turkeys so my mother devised a system where she left stones on the pier telling her she’d left for school so she didn’t have to come up the driveway to call for her. She always laughs that Annie was scared of the turkeys. Geese I’d understand.

The last woofer of the year arrived a week ago. I need to get the last of the painting finished. So far it’s taken her a week to give the balustrading on patio one coat and with a bit of a push (from me) the gates. Last year it took the two wonder woofers two days to completely finish two coats. I think I’m done with wwoof.com. I registered with HelpX but there’s a fault in their system so if you don’t constantly update your listing you slide down the heap and get no enquires. So far I’ve only got mostly Americans looking for a convenient B&B.

It’s a shame really because the right people can benefit so much from it. 25 hours work in return for full bed and very good board plus a chance to experience another culture. But I suppose human nature being what it is, the vast majority see it as a cheap holiday.

Rachet straps to tie down cover

The Mickey Mouse tunnel has almost done its job now although the tomato crop has been very poor. I think I stuffed in too many plants and they got mildew. Plus they are so late ripening. Some are only starting to ripen now. The wind began to pick up the other day (even more than usual). I have last year’s cover over this year’s, as it’s ripped in different places in an an effort to give 100% cover and some wind resistance. It’s worked so far but it was looking like it would take off last week. I got a brainwave and borrowed rachet straps from my neighbour. If I can just keep it on another few weeks……

I’m getting a proper tunnel for next year but as there’s a 6-8 week lead in time after ordering decided to wait until early next year to order it.

I’m not looking forward to the winter. I think I hate it a little bit more every year. It’s not the cold that gets to me but the dark. I live for light and the sun. The evenings getting darker and darker are soul destroying. The sooner they abolish daylight savings the better. Give me darker mornings any day. It means you get to wake up slower which can’t be a bad thing.

For now the push is on the get everything winter ready and to slim down the animal population and minimise the workload for the shorter days.

The 2nd Autumn

New chicks

The summer slithered into autumn as it always does but somehow it seems to do so earlier and earlier every year. It’s not even September but already there’s a definite morning chill even on a glorious sunny day. The work outside has somewhat stalled due in part to the rapid and early departure of the last woofers. But I was glad to see the back of them. I’m getting another for a month on 23rd September and already wondering if it’s a mistake. I think the key with woofers is to have somewhere for them to stay away from your house so everyone has their own space. A lot of these young kids are very clueless and don’t seem to have grasped the concept of personal space. Plus I will never take a couple again. Suffice to say you don’t get twice the work but you get twice the food bill.

The Airbnb ramped up a pace after a very slow summer. I discovered my place wasn’t coming up on searches for the area and got onto their helpline. They admitted there was a problem and worked to sort it. It’s still not at a level where it’s worth my while so I decided to up my prices. I don’t want clientele coming down here for a weekend drinking. I don’t want the budget traveller who just wants a bed for the night. Funnily enough when I raised my prices, much to Airbnb’s consternation (“you are now so many % more than similar accommodation” ) I got more bookings. I also decided to offer a cooked breakfast rather than the inclusive continental one, at an extra charge and got customers for it.

However, despite providing a better breakfast than most 5 star hotels I don’t think they are impressed. (And I have to say in my defence I judge hotels (for an award) for many categories, breakfast included. I know if I got a breakfast anywhere of even half the quality, I’d award full marks.

So now I’m wordering is Airbnb the right fit for here or should I try and get on a “farm stay” site. I think there are so many places around doing Airbnb already, it’s a scrabble for the visitor who hasn’t come to rent a holiday home or is in their own camper van or tent.

In the midst if all this, I decided to set up a business. Myself and another baking-loving woman bought a wonky black van to sell coffee and cakes from, at markets, festivals and events.

Cake Dames

We have officially set up the company, registered for tax and been cleared to start baking by the EHO. But there’s a lot of stuff still to do including lots of recipe testing, costings, sourcing environmentally friendly packaging, finding a coffee supplier, a coffee machine, a generator, sign writers. The list is endless. But all going well we’re looking at a launch date beginning of October with prosecco on tap, jazz and of course cake.

The pigs have grown so much that they’re almost ready for the off. They’re getting to that annoying stage now. They’re big and strong and very greedy and will run straight through me for food. Yesterday one even attempted to vault the electric fencing like she sees the goats doing. The goats are like grade A showjumpers, the pigs like a badly-mounted cob out hunting.

Long and lean

The sheep will probably stay here until early November although they too have grown and have taken to head butting me to make me move faster to the trough. One has even shoved between my legs and carried me backwards and I’m not light.

Wooly bums

And so inevitably autumn will slide into winter and my freezers will once again be full. The circle of life will continue and next spring begin again.

In the meantime I’m loving the 5 chicks scurrying around after their mother who clucks continuously to keep them in line and tell them where she is. The limpy hen who I found with a broken/dislocated leg and splinted is making a great recovery and everyone is enjoying the Indian summer.

Chicks
Limpy

The 2nd Summer

Hard to believe it’s my second summer here. Of course it’s nothing like the first but then I never expected it to be. I hear and see people complaining about it, but I’m out in it every day and believe me; it’s not bad at all.

Like last year, the hayfield (now named that officially) was cut and baled on schedule and in glorious sunshine. I opened the gate and all the animals streamed in, two by two as in the ark. They sniffed disinterestedly at the shorn grass and then headed for the margins where they all grazed happily as the sun sunk slowly on the horizon and the tractors across the gripe raced to cut the barley.

Cutting the barley

Woofers are thin on the ground this year apparently. I received an email telling me that some counties had little or no applications and as a result they had to lay off staff at HQ here. I was inundated but they all want to come in July or August. Obviously I would prefer they could be spread out a bit more, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Of all the applications I received, one couple weren’t put off by my grumpy reply telling them they would be on a week’s trial. I have found this sorts the men from the boys. They agreed by return so then I had to continue with my grumpy replies “sorry, I’m full”. I feel its only manners to reply. Unfortunately few reciprocate.

So far they are getting on fine. They won’t set the world alight but they remember to feed and water all and that’s the most important thing here.

Baginbun Head

They work here in the morning then have the afternoon free until evening feed. If they decide to go off for the afternoon on the two bikes I’ve arranged for them, then obviously I do the evening feed. But surprisingly most afternoons they hole up in their bedroom on IPads or on Facetime to friends and family. I don’t know, maybe it’s old fashioned to expect them to maybe want to see the area? I know if it was me I wouldn’t want to waste a lovely sunny afternoon in my bedroom.

They have finished painting the purple fence. I realised last year it was a monumental mistake but it had cost me a fortune so I decided to live with it. In trepidation I went to pick another colour. The guy who advises in my local hardware is a whizz and told me I really would have to use the same brand as anything else worked better on virgin wood. So because only a few shades come in 5 litres, I was restricted (the purple didn’t and that’s why it had been so expensive).

I chose cornflower blue and I’m happy with it.

Blue and green should never be seen…..

They are out there now touching up the lime green on the doors. Then when they finish that, some of the lime wash on the gable end of the old stone shed has come off (I think because the application was too thick) so that has to be redone.

The grass is struggling to grow thanks to a severe drought (the ground here is like a rock) and the hens. I had seeded the area and the hens were in constantly scratching and pecking so I fenced it off from them. It began to grow and appeared to be really thickening and greening up. I walked out there recently and realised it’s a dense groundcover of everything but grass. However, I’ve let the hens back in and I’m getting lovely deep yellow-yolked eggs again so at least they’re happy.

Beef tomatoes

My veg garden is beginning to grow after a very poor start. My tomato plants are drooping with green fruit, the courgettes are flowering and beginning to leaf up. I’ve been eating my own salad now for a few weeks and have started picking peas. I have kale ready and purple sprouting broccoli and cabbages coming on fast. The beans in the tunnel are flowering and the hanging baskets of strawberries and tumbling tomatoes are starting to produce. I’m not the most patient gardener. I get disheartened at failure. But I’m doing a lot better this year than last when I literally had no place to grow stuff. I tell you I’ve a heightened admiration for gardeners. Rearing animals is a hell of a lot more straightforward.

Rainbow chard and various brassicas

The fruit bushes I planted won’t do much until next year mainly because they were just kept alive for most of last. The raspberry canes were making great headway until the goats got in. I’ve now reinforced all the fencing and the gates and if they get in again it will be due to human stupidity.

Rhubarb and strawberry crumble

I made a rhubarb and strawberry crumble with some of my own strawberries and rhubarb I picked in the Colclough walled garden at Tintern Abbey. I had lunch a few years ago in a two star Michelin restaurant in Carcassone in France. I was underwhelmed by it to be honest, except for the way they had made the crumble. They had baked it first adding water and putting it in the freezer for a while before baking. I spoke to chef to winkle this information out of him.

It’s basically half butter to flour, rubbed in not too finely. Add sugar and then a couple of tablespoons of cold water to get it to clump. Stick it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes then spread out on a baking tray and put it in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so, scraping it in from the edges to prevent it burning.

You obviously need to soften your rhubarb in a pan with sugar first so it’s a bit more palaver. But believe me it’s so much better than soggy, half-raw crumble topping.