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 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 End

It’s just over a year since I upped sticks with pigs. Not sure where I’m going with this blog but glad I wrote it down as I remembered it. Having your dad die from dementia concentrates the memory. I don’t care how many people read this but I’m glad I’ve written it down now for posterity and hopefully my descendants.

The goats came about one evening when I was up a ladder waving a sweeping brush trying to get errant ducks down off a roof. The stupid duckers (that should be an “f”) fly up around roosting time. If they’d stay up there it’d be grand, but they don’t. The dopey duckers fly down once it gets dark and are sitting targets for le renard/brer fox. Well anyway my mobile rang in my pocket. Answer it and it’s D, my neighbour “do you want goats?” Sigh. “D, I’m up a ladder trying to shoo stupid ducks down, can I talk to you tomorrow?”……..

To cut a long story short, as dad was fond of saying (but he never did), I agreed to go look at them. A few days later he rang me to say he’d be down for me in 10 minutes. Five hours later still no sign. Could you explain this to any other nationality? But anyway to us Irish that’s normal. He explained later he’d got a “call out”. He’s one of the best tractor mechanics in the country I’m told.

We took off a few days later at short notice (me) to look at the goats. I jumped into his van and asked how far is it. “About 10 minutes”…….. the answer to every question in rural Ireland is the same. We got there in five. It was an empty, bleak, boring Irish cottage with a “garden”……..an acre. Around the back a ramshackle shed with two kids, one tied up. They were adorable and so friendly. I had been told they were male and female, unrelated and not “done”. The black one had horns so I assumed this was the male. I said to D “can we take them now in your van?” I was upset at the one chained. He said yes and proceeded to shove tool boxes up to the front. We lifted them over the wall and into the van and drove back with lots of “baas” and currant production in the back…….

I have to say that they were belong to his brother (who had bought them as pets for his kids but they’d got fed up of them). We weren’t just robbing them.

So we got them home and I took the chain off “the male”. I put them in the pigs’ stable and put back up the electric fencing around a paddock for them.

I named them Freddy and Fodhla (Fola). Days later I spotted Freddy squatting to pee. It suddenly dawned on me that Freddy was actually Freda but now they just respond to Goaty McGoatface and love when I sing “The Lonely Goatherd” to them.

They’ve done their bit climbing and escaping but not as much as I’ve been warned.

I can’t stay mad at them for long though because they are just so damn cute.

What’s new for 2019? Well hopefully I will continue working to restore all the outbuildings and get a garden and proper tunnel on the go. I’ll start taking Woofers again from spring and continue with AirBNB.

I got five ducks killed, plucked and freezer ready from a place I had bought new pullets in during the summer. The day I collected them I also collected my turkey from the farm shop in New Ross. I almost fell out of my standing when they told me it was €89. The farmer who killed my ducks almost fell out of his several times. He was killing and plucking turkeys the same day. He told me he will sell me a couple of poults next September to rear myself and he will kill and pluck for me and the two of them won’t cost the colour of €89.

I had my own ham for Christmas and gave one to my neighbour who supplied all my water during the heatwave in summer.

It gives me immense satisfaction to produce my own food but particularly meat. Pigs and poultry are reared in the most horrendous conditions in this country (for the most part). I know what I’m eating has eaten, how it lived and how it died. If you’re going to eat an animal, that should be the least it deserves. Pigs are supremely intelligent animals. We have to get off this pedestal we have put ourselves on (mostly due to religion). We are not better than animals. We share the planet with them and we must respect them. If we don’t, we are fucked. Not to put a tooth in it.