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 Now

It’s almost mid-summer. I’m now here going on 8 months but I feel like I’m here so much longer. The feeling of unfamiliarity has almost gone. I had to ask initially where everything was. The feed supplier, hardware, recycle centre, health food shop, butcher (non-existent), the baker, the candlestick maker. I’m sure I drove my neighbour daft texting her, asking stuff. The drive home from Dublin, Meath and elsewhere is now familiar and I have reference points to know how much longer it will take. It’s very disconcerting in the beginning when you have no idea.

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The animals have all taken to it like ducks to water. Indeed the very first ducks were born here the other day. And hopefully in a week or so there will be chicks to join them. Will I breed pigs again? I’m tempted to but not with the present stock. I think the way to go is breed pure bred rare breeds. I’m waiting for my inspection for my new herd number. I didn’t realise the old one was related to Meath. The vet rang me last week and said they’ve a big backlog and he will be out towards the end of next week.

I have decided I will grow a few sheep next year because I have way too much grass. The end paddock is the biggest one and I didn’t use it in the winter and now the grass is waist height in it. My neighbour is cutting it every day but that day hasn’t actually arrived. Probably for dock and other weed control it would be an idea to stick a few goats on it but the thoughts of them escaping…………. Sheep don’t thrill me either apart from eating them. From listening to other sheep farmers they seem to have one aim only and that is to find ways to kill themselves.

Who knows what the future will bring? Would I do it all again? Definitely. I never loved Meath. When I moved there initially, I said “six weeks and I’m gone”. Not sure where to but I found it really backward and insular. We had moved home from living in England for 6 years with two small children. It drove me crazy how limited the shops were. I used drive to SuperQuinn in Blanchardstown once a week to do my grocery shopping and then later in Blackrock on my way home from visiting my parents and that was before the Clonee bypass never mind the motorway.

I suppose I gradually just got used to it but I do remember when the kids were small driving back after being in Wexford with them, how much I hated going back. There is an invisible line at Clonee where the weather changes. You leave Wexford or Dublin in glorious sunshine, hit that line and the sky darkens, without fail. When I was house hunting last summer it happened every single time. I would leave my house and the wind and rain and drive to Bray or Ashford depending on who was coming with me and the sun would come out. For the 10 houses I viewed (some of them twice) it only rained for two but it was grey and dreary on leaving, every single trip.

The locals laugh here when I tell them the weather is miles better in the sunny southeast. They don’t think it is, but they haven’t lived in Meath.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day and it’s the first without dad. In truth he hadn’t a clue what it was for quite a number of years. Dementia had robbed him of everything. We all wished him dead. Sounds an awful thing to say but to watch someone you love go through that dreadful illness is the worst form of torture for you and for them. If an animal had that poor a quality of life you would be accused of cruelty not to humanely end it. Humanely? We treat animals humanely. We treat people abominably.

I’m so glad I decided to write all this down before I forget, because at the back of my mind is the dread that dementia is genetic and I will go the same way. I hope if they can’t find a cure they at least find a way to put people out of their misery if they make a decision in advance that is what they wish.

For now, that’s the end of this chapter. But I’m sure there will be many more.