The Transformation

From eyesore to landmark. Whatever you think about the colour, you can’t disagree with this statement.

Finally, over a month shy of three years, I got the hayshed painted. I loved it from when I bought the place. But I really, really wanted to get it painted and repaired. I asked around, I asked neighbours, but no one could recommend anyone; until I got the name of a good painter to paint my stairwell. He gave me the name of this chap and despite the “damn disease” which held it up by months, it’s finally done.

I drove up on the Campile road which is a good bit higher than my house and laughed my head off. Before I had to slow down and squint to see my place. Now it’s like a big bright beacon nestled into landscape. It’s wonderful.

The weather is changing after a pretty dismal summer. You can feel the chill in the air early in the mornings. The garden is neglected, the tunnel is neglected. There’s so much weatherproofing to be done yet on fencing. But I had no help all summer so it’s all become a bit overwhelming. Spending so much time baking for Cake Dames isn’t helping as it’s eating into my time.

Ducklings

The ducklings are growing rapidly. One is already bigger than his mothers. The last chicks hatched yesterday. They’re a Silkie bantam cross. The bantam had been sitting on them outside when Storm Ellen or Francis was fast approaching (they came on each other’s heels. I tried to put the top of a cat box over her to give her some shelter but she took grave exception and screeched off her nest protesting loudly. I then caught her and moved her and the eggs inside but she abandoned them. Luckily the Silkie was already on a clutch that hadn’t hatched so I gave her these.

The Little Shits

The weaner OSBs (Oxford Sandy Black) are finally beginning to grow. Blackbum is catching up with his brother. They’re funny, cheeky and into everything. I love the quacking sound they make when they come into the sleeping big pigs only to get snapped at for their trouble. Pigs have a distinct pecking order and whippersnappers are rapidly put in their place. The quacking is a “hello-how-are-you” sound.

Honky is still here after yet another setback. She celebrated her 5th birthday with a packet of chocolate biscuits but wasn’t in great form that day. For now, we’re taking one day at a time and she’s happy, relaxed and eating really well these last few weeks.

HRH

I’m not looking forward to winter but it’s been such a shitty year I don’t think I feel as much dread as I would normally. I just want this year to be over and the world and people to start living again. I absolutely hate the way we’re living now. I hate shopping, I hate going out anywhere I’ve to cover my face. Hopefully we will start to see the light next year.

Bad year for tomatoes

In the meantime I’m going to preserve as much of the food I grew as possible to enjoy over winter. My tomatoes are the worst ever (neglect and blight got the better of them.) The Mickey Mouse tunnel for all its drawbacks produced stellar crops in comparison.

Here’s hoping to a sensible, balanced and intelligent approach to the next year with plenty of people growing their own food because that might be the only good thing to come out of all the craziness. If nothing else we should realise now that our food security is held by a safety pin and it will take very little to disrupt it.

The Aftermath

Finally, we are slowly beginning to get back to some degree of normality. I refuse to say the “new normal” or use any of these dreadful phrases that have become synonymous with this whole disastrous episode in my lifetime.

Perfect imperfection

Life, apart from human life, carried on and nature bloomed and survived and even bettered. It was noticeable early on that there were more insects, even bees about. Somehow the air seemed cleaner. The weather obliged and we pretty much had sunny days since the end of March with little or no rain and now drought conditions.

Bantam and her Silkie chicks

The hormones were flying and both my little bantam and the new Silkie hen went broody. One of the ducks followed suit a few days later. Unfortunately the bantam is notoriously secretive about where she lays her eggs. Even leaving one in a nest is not enough to make her keep using it. She had vanished again and I’d assumed she’d gone broody rather than been taken by a fox. But I had quickly forgotten about her when my daughter appeared at my door back (from Australia) as a surprise. I couldn’t say much at the time because of the outrage that would have caused. She flew from Sydney to Hong Kong to London to Dublin and then came down to visit me. No one died and we had a nice time catching up. But unfortunately I had no idea how long the bantam was missing and it took me ages to find her.

Often they are lying in plain sight but you’d be hard-pressed to see them. This was the case with her. One day when she had hopped off the nest to perform her ablutions, I checked the eggs. They hadn’t been fertilised. How did I know? I shook them and I could hear the liquid swishing about inside. I removed them thinking she’d give up but she stayed put so I got a brainwave and put the Silkie’s eggs under her. I didn’t think for a minute she’d stay another three weeks but as luck would have it the duck went broody so I could pop the eggs under her if she gave up. She was sitting on six. Then the Silkie went broody so I put the remaining four under her.

The bantam stayed the course and hatched five out of the six and two days later the Silkie hatched two. I had broken one accidentally lifting out a rogue egg laid by another hen.

Under perennial cover

I was so thrilled that the little bantam was finally a mother after seven long weeks and what a mother she has turned out to be. In fact they both are. It’s humbling to watch them care for and teach the chicks. Nature really is marvellous.

My poor goat Bad Lola then appeared to develop mastitis and was miserable. I had noticed a couple of days before she wasn’t interested in her feed and seemed hunched and listless. Then I saw her “elder” as they say in these parts. It was engorged and red looking and she had difficulty walking. (Her elder is her udder). I rang the vet and they gave me an antibiotic which had no effect. It was around the time Honky had got sick so I have to say she didn’t get as much attention as she would have done normally. I had assumed it was mastitis. But when the antibiotic didn’t work they gave me another. When I got the second vet out for Honky, I asked him to have a look at her. He told me “to milk all the poison out of her” and showed me how to. It was the first time I’ve ever milked anything but I got the hang of it pretty quickly and it seemed to give her huge relief.

I’m not sure but I said to the vet this looks and smells like milk, not poison but heck I’m not a vet so who am I to argue? The next day I decided it most certainly was milk and the more I milked her the more she’d produce so I stopped. She seemed to get better but to this day still has a huge elder. My son’s girlfriend asked if there were mares and foals nearby. Apparently goats regularly have phantom pregnancies. Not only were there mares and foals beside me but there was a pony in foal in the field with her.

Poor bad Lola

Because I was so wrapped up with Honky I really neglected all my seedlings in the tunnel and they either died from lack of water or damped off. I also planted peas out before a cold snap and they perished. Even the newly emerging potatoes were zapped by frost. The irony being we’d only had a handful of frosts all winter. I also had really really poor germination across a range of seeds. I re-sowed a lot but still nothing. Very frustrating. As a result I’m behind with beans, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Peas and beans

The hens have got in a few times and caused major destruction. The wind blew the doors open one morning I was out walking. Another time the door probably wasn’t bolted properly. Earlier on the ducks got in and savaged all my lettuces and got drunk on the beer in the slug trap. You couldn’t actually make that up.

The lettuce I picked up on the beach just before they shut the country down is still providing. A group of gougers as my dad would have called them had a bbq and left all their rubbish behind them. I picked up one of those “grow in the bag” ones they’d chucked and planted it. It survived the drunken duck attack too so it obviously is the lettuce equivalent of a cat!

I got two new piglets. Pedigree Oxford Sandy and Blacks or OSB for short. They’re tiny. But they’re the best electric fence trained piglets I’ve ever bought in. People selling will always tell you they’re used to electric fencing. But they almost never are. Thank goodness they’re not like the pair of curabucs I had last year. I had enough stress to be dealing with so I went and bought some plastic mesh netting and surrounded the electric fencing with it. It worked a treat but I don’t think they were going to dive through the fencing like all the others did. I only increased their area last weekend and it took them most of the day to venture into it.

Meeting HRH

I decided not to get sheep this year. I still have a freezer full of lamb. I think the Zwartbles breed, although lovely sheep are just too big for me and too lean. The meat hasn’t a scrap of fat on it. I do miss having them though. Maybe next year I’ll go for a smaller rare breed like Jacobs.

And finally after SEVEN, long stressful weeks it looks like Honky is on the mend. I’m almost afraid to type that but I have to have hope that all the effort, time and money I’ve spent won’t have been in vain. I got her portrait sent to me as I saw that the framers was opening after being closed for weeks. It’s absolutely her, The artist, Rachel Dubber captured her essence from a photograph. I left it in last weekend to be framed. I can’t wait to see it.

It’s almost the longest day of the year. Hopefully the second half won’t be as miserable as the first and now we realise what’s important. I can’t wait to start cooking for friends and family again. I can’t wait for people to act normally again and stop looking fearfully at you as you pass. I can’t wait for us to start being human again.

The Lock in

Won’t see this again for a while

As of last Saturday (March 28th) we’ve been on lock in (or lockdown as they say in America). The Friday before, I walked the beach twice. Little did I know it would be the last time for a while. In the morning it was empty as usual and it was glorious. I took the above photo of teenage girls running in and out, laughing and shrieking at the cold.

Then later that afternoon my Scottish neighbour asked would I go with him for his last walk before returning to locked in Glasgow. It had transformed and was jammed with weekenders. Cars were parked on it. A real bugbear of mine. Really can’t understand why they allow this. Duncannon is (was) one of the most beautiful beaches in the country with the fabulous Fort at one end and unspoilt Ballystraw at the other. Between the cars, atrocious planning and really ugly development it has been ruined.

(Incidentally I discovered ancestors with the same name as my own, had lived and owned a lot of the land around Ballystraw. A complete coincidence I ended up living here. It is an unusual name -Kinchela, and one that doesn’t seem to exist in Ireland anymore. There are a lot in Australia, all distantly related to me.)

However I digress, I said to my neighbour it was like a bank holiday weekend in mid-July and was hard to believe we were in a pandemic and people were supposed to be observing strict social distancing. Even the playground locked and with a big Covid-19 notice on the gate had kids in it; who’d obviously climbed over.

Hardly any wonder then, that they were left with little option but to ban people moving about. Now you are not allowed to go more than 2km from your house for exercise. I’m 4km from the beach so that is the end of beach walks for a while and it has seriously affected my mood. I love the beach and it was the main reason I moved to Wexford. Not being able to go is absolutely killing me.

Duncannon Fort in distance

I finally made the decision to get rid of Cedric the cock. In truth, I’d only kept him as long as I did because I knew he annoyed my neighbours (the ones who made up all the lies about Nelly.) I think the final straw was finding three hens with almost every feather ripped out of their backs and it was freezing. I briefly contemplated buying chicken saddles on line but the only place you can buy them seemed to be from UK or China through eBay or Amazon. I refuse to buy anything else from UK sellers because they have a “snail mail” category that takes as long as it would to walk from there to here. There is Parcel Motel but if I’ve to schlep into New Ross 17km away to collect, what’s the point in that?

I was out feeding and watering one evening when I looked up to see him roughly having his way with the poor hen who’s broken leg I’d fixed last summer and who was actually red and sore from him. I picked up a stone to chuck at him and missed, hitting the new polytunnel. Of course it made a hole in it. I saw red and phoned the poultry guy I deal with and booked him in.

Cedric’s last journey

The following day I went back to collect him “oven ready”. The the youngest son carried him out to me half-plucked and not gutted. I looked at him and said no way. I don’t have any decent knives here anymore and I’ve been meaning to go and buy some but as an aunt of mine had on a mug – I never got “aroundtoit”.

They told me wait ten minutes and they’d be back with him. They were and barely an hour later he was in a big pot to slow cook. So far I’ve got loads of glorious stock from him, made a big pie and have two bags of meat in the freezer. The dogs got the rest minus the bones. Alas, poor Cedric, we knew you well.

The same day I rang to book him in, my poultry man said when he heard my voice he was delighted because he had a Silkie hen for me but he’d lost my number. He told me he had bought 10 the previous weekend and he’d only 2 left (at €25 a pop). There’s good money in them! I brought home Mrs Thomas for Silken Thomas (my little Silkie cock) and another hen on point of lay because I don’t like bringing in a single new hen to face the posse here and their pecking order. There’s a reason it’s called “pecking” order! I was hoping he’d have had two Silkie hens but no, he only had a pair left and I definitely didn’t need another male.

I keep new hens in for a week but I’ve devised a series of gates so they have access outside to a confined area. It’s a bit of a pain because when it comes time for the rest to roost you’ve to try get the older ones in without the new ones shooting out in horror. But the new Silkie hen seemed desperate to get out and Silken Thomas was gazing forlornly in through the wire door at her. I opened the gate and she strutted out, with him in abject admiration behind her. He hasn’t let her out of his sight since. It’s very heartwarming because when I first got him, he was the same with his first missus until Nelly killed her. Then he took up with my old broody, Aunty Bessie. The fox got her and he was dejected. I bought a couple of bantams for him next but they didn’t gel at all. Then finally he seemed to pair up with a Bluebell hen but it was very much a one-sided affair and she seemed to play him off against Cedric. The tramp.

Silken Thomas and Mrs Top Knot Thomas

My little bantam is “clockin” as they used say up in Meath. That means broody to you and me. I only discovered where yesterday. She’s really secretive where she lays and anytime I’ve found her clutch, she’s moved on, even if I leave a couple of eggs in it. Still, it makes a change from under the eaves of my old stone shed in the middle of November like last year where the fledglings would’ve needed a parachute when they hatched……

I’ve been transferring tomato seedlings out into the tunnel and sowing more out there because I literally have no space in the house for trays and very limited light (small sash windows). But, although it’s been lovely and sunny there’s a bitterly cold north wind that’s not helping the temperature.

I ordered seed potatoes on line and hopefully will get them planted in the next few days. I also ordered saddle soap and neatsfoot oil to finish off the sheepskins. They’re almost dry. They went through a bit of a stinky stage as the instructions I’m following said they would. They’re hanging up in the roof of my patio/deck area. They seem to have shrunk sideways so are long and narrow and I’m a bit concerned some of the wool appears to pull out very easily. They may end up being dog beds yet.

So that’s all the news for now from the locked in Three Paddocks here in South county Wexford. As of yesterday there were 12 confirmed cases in the county but they say you can add another 100 to each of the 12. Seems a very small number for such drastic measures but who am I to argue. Hopefully and it’s a slim hope I think, this will be short-lived.

The Virus

At the time of writing a strange new virus (Corona/Covid19) has gripped the world and been declared a pandemic. There is pandemonium, panic buying and empty shelves in shops. It’s at times like this I am glad I produce so much of my own food. Today there were no eggs in one supermarket, but when I got home I collected 10.

Madeley kale

In another, the vegetable shelves were bare. Up to this veg here has been fairly scarce but I discovered that the kale I’d planted last summer, which had all but disappeared thanks to caterpillars and then sharp-beaked hens had begun to make a comeback. The leaves are lovely and tender and cook down on a pan with olive oil and butter, like spinach. The purple sprouting broccoli is also just beginning to shoot.

Chicken and wild garlic pesto pie

The wild garlic season is just coming in and already you can pick young leaves in the woods in Tintern. It makes a great pesto until basil season. We also picked sea kale on Duncannon beach. This is also lovely sautéed on a pan in butter and olive oil.

So I think with my freezer full of lamb and the rest of my pork, a duck, a turkey and a cockerel all produced here, I won’t starve for a while!

My first Workaway left today after a month here. She was a terrific success and got loads of jobs finished (mostly inside because the weather’s been so crap). It helped that she had a great way with all the animals, although she was a bit wary of the pigs in the beginning and the goats played merry hell the one night I went away. Honestly they’re like a pair of kids (no pun intended).

Gaëlle and Nelly

In return for her help, I taught her to make sourdough bread and she’s now become proficient enough that I was able to leave her to make bread for Cake Dames. She really wanted to learn and rolled her sleeves up every evening and helped cook. I had been told that Workaways were generally older and more interested than Woofers and certainly with her, this was the case.

She loved Ireland and couldn’t get over how people who don’t know each other stop to have a chat on the beach; sometimes for ages. She found it hilarious that my neighbours asked her in for a cup of tea and she went. She told me afterwards that she felt she would learn more English by speaking to people with stronger accents than me. She jumped at the chance to ride another neighbour’s horses. Finally, before she left she decided she wanted to bake a cake for all my neighbours who she’d had contact with and then trotted off yesterday to give them to them. She insisted on buying the ingredients herself and getting recipes from home.

It really is true when you are open, friendly and interested in people that you get accepted and welcomed by a community. She got so many invites to come back and visit if she returns to Ireland in future.

I began to cure the sheepskins although I’m wondering is cure a big word for the process. They’re probably twice the size of a normal sheepskin and consequently twice as heavy when wet. It takes me all my strength to lift them. I mixed the oxalic acid in warm water as advised and then put them to soak in my water butt barrel. The idea is to stir them around in the salty oxalic acid solution every day for 3 days and I gamely tried with a tree stake. I’m convinced I heard a puncturing sound and panicked and then didn’t try again.

This morning I drained the water out to rinse them and soak them in washing soda but I’m convinced they need another go in more oxalic acid, so I’m going to order more and soak them individually this time. Sure lookit, it will either work or it won’t and nothing ventured; nothing gained.

Draining the water off

A painter here last year recommended someone to paint my hayshed and he (a very strange individual with a funny manner) arrived to have a look at it and give me a quote. So hopefully the weather will begin to improve so he can get started. It’s currently sticking up like a big red rusty sore thumb. To get it painted will really be the icing on the cake. I’m thinking of a nice dark green colour. If only the wind and rain would bugger off though now because the area around where the tunnel was erected is a sticky, slithery quagmire and I’m going to come a cropper there, sooner rather than later. I need to block the hens out and get grass seed down.

Speaking of hens, I cut an opening in the wire on the field gate so they could get out there rather than decimating everything green in my garden. It took them weeks to discover it and only after the dopey ducks did first. But then a couple of them got shocked by the fence and now absolutely refuse to go out. Sigh. They pecked all my newly planted bulbs emerging after Christmas so I have the grand total of one daffodil and a few bedraggled looking tulips.

I’m really worried that with this virus scare, there will be no applications from Woofers or Workaways. I always have maintenance work here in summer, mainly painting. I am also really tied to the place if I can’t get anyone reliable to mind all the animals. This was brought home to me when the young lad I use went to Australia for a month over Christmas and then when I was going to a family funeral in the UK, his grandmother died and I was left high and dry. Only for a massive favour from a friend, I’d have had to cancel.

So fingers crossed they get it under control and we can all get back to normal again. If not I’ll just have to roll my sleeves up.

The New Name

Today we renamed the third paddock (which up to this had been referred to as the hayfield). We planted seven oaks and two beech in it. As we were trundling up with the empty wheel barrow trying to work out how many of each tree we’d planted, I said “we planted seven oaks, we’ve got to call this field Sevenoaks now. “

Cue confused stare from Gaëlle, the Workaway student. I then had to explain how and why fields are named here.

I’ve already planted willow, alder, birch, crap apple and hornbeam as well as a hawthorn hedge. I had to make sure that the big tractors and balers could still get in to cut and bale so they’re all planted at the end of the paddock bordering the massive intensive field where all the hedges and trees have been ripped out. This means the south west wind comes barreling down until it meets my small hawthorn barrier between Sevenoaks and the Pig Field wherupon it laughs and high tails it through and barges into my hay shed.

A lift home

The polytunnel is finally up but the ground within is so wet and sticky, it’s virtually a no go area. The rain the night before they came to put it up didn’t help and the tractor putting in the posts a few days before made massive ruts now filled with water.

Today the fencing was finished beside it, just on time before Storm Jorge arrived.

I planted the peach tree, the vine and the salad seedlings just inside the door because for now it gets the most sun until the sun gets a bit higher and reaches over the hay shed roof, and yesterday I noticed the buds beginning to unfurl on the peach so happy days.

New fence beside tunnel

The wind here is a bastard. It is relentless and damaging. Every gate has been reefed off its hinges. The front gates which are massive heavy yokes have been wrenched out of the wall twice. The most recent time during Storm Dennis. Today I discovered the little green door into the hen shed has been pulled off its bottom hinge. And this was despite being wedged with heavy stones and lumps of wood which every door in the place has to be.

Now hopefully the last of the winter storms is causing havoc outside. The poor newly planted trees have been getting a right battering. But there was evidence of spring this morning in the woods at Tintern and some lesser celandine peeping through the newly emerging wild garlic and bluebells.

Lesser Celandine in Tintern

Last week I collected the lamb from the butcher and tasted it and have to say it was delicious but surprisingly lean. I still miss the sheep and am already looking forward to getting more, this time at least one female to keep.

Lean chops

The goats have been curiously subdued since they left and have been hanging around their shed most of the day only venturing out into the pig field when the pigs do. Have to say I’ve been surprised by this as they seemed to just “argue” all the time with the sheep.

My new Workaway helper is great. I decided to switch from Wwoof as was advised the people coming through Workaway are generally older and more useful. It’s just a shame the weather has been so abominable since she arrived, it’s made working outside virtually impossible. But we’ve had a few good days and last Sunday actually lay in the sun up on Baginbun and inhaled the glorious salty air.

Saltees in distance from Baginbun

It’s right about this time every year when the days begin to lengthen that you long for spring and warm summer days. They can’t come quick enough this year.

The Deadline

For most of the last two weeks it’s been a race. A race to get stuff done that should have been done or at least organised weeks ago.

The sheep should have been long gone but finally the withdrawal period was up and I rang the abattoir to book them in. I got asked could I bring them in that evening because they had an inspection on their normal killing day.

I had to jump to it, hook up the trailer, get it into the field, lock up the nosy goats etc etc. Except when I went out to the fields there was no sign of goats or sheep or pigs.

I found the goats lying down in the middle paddock with the pigs but no sign of the sheep. I called them. Nothing. Bear in mind the sheep have never gone missing, ever. Panic began to well. I ran around like a mad woman calling them. Then went to check the third paddock where they were only ever let into. Low and behold they ambled up to the gate followed by a stray pony….. The relief.

Did they have some sixth sense? I don’t know because I didn’t even know they were going. But for a couple of weeks beforehand they’d become a right pain. This always happens with pigs and pig keepers often use it as justification to make the deed easier. But, they were constantly knocking me over when I went to feed them or getting in my way and I was beginning to lose patience with them.

Anyway I got them back and locked the goats in and was just about to try and get them into the trailer when my neighbour pulled up at my field gate to have a chat with a passing tractor. I called him to ask would he give me a hand. Luckily I did because otherwise it would have taken me ages to get them in. We had them loaded in a few minutes.

I had my shiny new triplicate Dept of Ag. sheep movement book and it needed ear tag numbers which are about 24 letters and digits. How the hell do you hold a sheep long enough to read that melee? I told the abattoir I couldn’t manage this on my own and they said don’t worry they’d read them there.

When I arrived they opened a pen for me and two men helped me unload them and then calmly and gently held each one so we could get the numbers. I have to say I was really impressed at how gentle they were. The sheep were relaxed and were occupied looking at a couple of pigs in the pen beside them. THE most important thing to me is that animals I rear are not stressed or badly treated at the end. If they are it totally undoes all my work.

I had to drive back up the next day for the skins. I had decided I would get them back and send them to a tannery in Wales. I made several phone calls to the veterinary department in Wexford and they were helpful but, what they wanted me to do was beyond ridiculous. Pack them effectively in a coffin sealed for no leakages. Traipse back to the abattoir with them in said coffin for them to open and inspect and slap a Category 3 label on it to scare the bejaysus out of a courier who had to collect them from there and take them to Wales.

I thought to myself what a load of nonsense. I know they have to be careful but honestly they go so over the top here they drive people underground so it utterly defeats the purpose.

I decided to ask my Scottish neighbours to take them over and send them by courier from Glasgow but on my way home began to think about doing them myself.

I started today by salting them and removing some of the fat and tissue.

Then as luck would have it got sent a video which makes it seem unbelievably easy. I just had to order oxalic acid on line which I’ve done on ebay.

Honestly all this sort of stuff was done years ago by every small farmer before Internet or YouTube so how difficult can it be? Well I’ll soon find out.

I asked the abattoir to send me the weights because yesterday Betty, the owner took me into the chiller to show me the carcasses. She was amazed at how big they were but yet not a scrap of fat. She told me a very good weight for a lamb is 29kgs. Mine were 36.6 and 36.7kg respectively. She didn’t believe that they had never had a single sheep nut.

New trees

Before this I’d actually done what I’d been procrastinating about for over a year and ordered some trees from Future Forests for planting in my third paddock. I planted 28 native whips including birch, hornbeam, willow, oak, crab apple, hawthorn, hazel and cherry. I was so thrilled when literally every sod I turned had at least one earthworm and some several. A sign of really healthy soil.

Then I ordered fruit trees from Heritage Nurseries and today planted 5 different apple varieties, 2 different plum and 2 pear varieties. It’s so easy now ordering trees from these sites and Heritage in particular I found really brilliant to deal with. He rang me and asked me all about my location then sent me a list of suggestions of species suitable for wind.

I also ordered a proper polytunnel. So no more Mickey Mouse tunnel which had my heart in my mouth every time there was wind which is basically 350 days a year here. I had to put him off until February 12th because I wanted to get posts put in for a fence first. The posts are in now and then my neighbour who had been promising horse manure all last summer arrived this evening and dumped several loads by tractor. So I am all set now for when they come to put up the tunnel.

I sowed some tomatoes, cucumber, chilli and spring salad yesterday. I can’t wait to get growing and there is already a real feel of spring in the air.

In a couple of weeks I’ll have my lamb back. Believe it or not they are still considered lamb because they are under one year of age, just.

The Christmas

How did you get over the Christmas? A common question asked here in Ireland at this time of year. The Christmas – as if it’s something you’ve got to climb over.

Well the Christmas is over now and the new year has just begun. The poor turkeys headed off to that great green paddock in the sky. I was heartbroken driving them in and I still miss them. It didn’t help that two of my Jack Russells managed to eat some sort of poison on our round the block cycle and had to be rushed into the vet at the same time. I drove the turkeys in and started to blab about how much I’d miss them to the chap I bought them from. He helpfully asked if I’d like to take them home. I declined but I did carry one to her end.

The day before

I was telling my mother how much I’d miss them and I’d decided to get a pair to keep next year and she told me my grandmother had loved her turkeys too. I had never heard that before (only that their stupidity frustrated her) so it was nice to have that connection with her.

I had been worried that they’d get mixed up with other turkeys and I knew the chap killing them (who I’d also bought them from) wouldn’t be that bothered. So I kept telling him it was imperative I got my own back. He insisted he was killing no other bronze turkeys, that the people who bought bronze birds off him were all killing their own. But I wasn’t convinced until I opened a gizzard to clean it out before making stock for gravy. It was full of my gravel. How do I know it was my gravel? Well because it’s a very distinctive ornamental gravel that surrounds the house. All of a sudden I remembered my mother showing me a turkey gizzard as she cleaned it out and explaining how it worked. I was so relieved that I definitely had my own birds. And boy was I impressed at how delicious they were. I have never had a more flavoursome turkey and last year I had paid almost a hundred euro for an organic one. But this one of mine was far nicer.

Turkey and ham sandwich

It was the first year I’d produced my own turkey and ham and all I could think was why I hadn’t done it before. It has become so important to me that the meat I eat is not only high welfare but I know how its been fed. I don’t want to eat meat from an animal that has been fed heavily-sprayed genetically modified grain like soy and maize. In fact this year when I brought home the turkey poults I realised how toxic the stuff is. Virtually all animals are fed GM here (unless organic). Without exception I have to detoxify them because they smell so bad. For a full week the shed they were in was so foul smelling I could’ve put a gas mask on going in. After a week there was no smell.

It’s the same when I buy in piglets but I can actually smell it off their skin. And once they process it through their body and are on a diet of natural grain, the smell vanishes. People often comment here that there is no smell from the pigs.

Why can’t we go in as well?

The sheep frightened the life out of me. I had been leading them down to the third paddock every day which has loads of grass. Last year the neighbouring farmer’s sheep had wandered in at will and he’s not that fussed about animal husbandry to put it mildly. It was no surprise that they picked up a bad dose of worms. I had wormed one during the summer when I heard him coughing but the other one was fine so I left him (I’m not keen on dosing any animal unnecessarily as the wormers kill dung beetles and other insects).

However, I’d asked my neighbours to feed the animals while I was away for the day visiting my family. For some reason they’d decided to lock both the sheep and the goats in overnight. Any time I’d done this was because of a storm and south westerly gales and rain blowing into the sheds or worse reefing the doors and slamming them closed. But I’d always given them both water and haylage. They just locked them in with nothing. I had got back late and hadn’t checked.

A couple of days later I knew something was up. They were both lying down all the time and had no interest in grazing and had bad diarrhoea. I rang the vet and was advised to dose them, which I did. One goat and one of the sheep were back to normal the next day but the worst sheep up to today hasn’t been great. All that was going through my head was how sheep like to find ways to die. After all my hard work to lose them now would be just a disaster. They should have been in the freezer by now not being wormed which means they’ve got another reprieve. The withdrawal period is 21 days but I read somewhere that they always underestimate this so I will leave them even longer. That means it will be February before D Day.

No matter how you plan, when you’ve got animals something almost always happens to bugger it up. I’m learning to go with the flow because often things happen for a reason and who are we to judge.

This was really brought home to me when I got news my first cousin in England was killed by a car driven dangerously as she was walking her dog with her partner. Life is short. Life can be taken at any time. Life is too short to worry about stuff over which you’ve no control. Life life as if there is no tomorrow.

RIP Emer.

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 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.