Stocking the larder/ self-sufficiency 2

Coming home on Tuesday we hit a hare. X was reluctant to turn the car and collect it but in fact it was quite whole and will feed the dog for a week. I was quite sorry we weren’t going to have it – it looked so good.

Well there’s never a dull moment here. I’d just finished helping X drench the sheep when a call came from a name I didn’t recognise saying, ‘I’ve got the ram on the front seat of the landrover, but don’t know what to do with the children’. Then the penny dropped, it was the woman who said she’d lend us her ram! Anyway I said to hold everything and X would go down. He brought the children and she drove with the ram seated beside her licking her face!! A huge animal, but she assures us he’s very sweet and friendly, not like her other white ram who is twice the size!

The white ram’s arrival

A young couple we met a while ago came to say goodbye before leaving for the UK and brought us a 2 1/2 lb trout – frozen solid with all its innards in. I’ve kept ignoring it till X told us last weekend he’d dealt with one they’d had – stuffed and baked it – so not to be outdone I attacked ours today – complete with veal stuffing, broad beans and sauce. It was delicious – we only ate half of it, but felt that was too much, especially followed by plum crumble and cream.

Have deep froze case plums – hands delicate shade of dark purple.

We, with variable assistance from the kids, put in a couple of hours each morning on making a path, with a zigzag in it, down the hill from the gate out of the orchard. Partly to make it easier to go up and down that side without twisting ones ankle, and partly to gather together as many of the big stones as possible and (when I have had time to level out their holes and drop a bit of grass seed) to improve the field. We made a steady gradient with a wall of stones, filled in with others, and earth which I had spare behind the garage as a result of my drainage activities, and I have since sowed it. Apart from that major work there were a few other exercises such as moving my water-collecting bucket up to the top waterfall where it is possible to collect a better flow in dry times. Of course no sooner had we done that than we had a night’s rain, with the river up to the level of your fordings, and the creek roaring. I went up the next day to check it, and found the tank half empty and nothing coming in, so feared the worse. However, everything was still in place, and it turned out in the end to be another of the freshwater crayfish stuck in the entrance to the pipe from the bucket. They seem to regard that as a particularly secure and convenient sort of cave to make a home in. I’ve got an extra piece of gauze lining the bucket now, in the hope of confounding their house hunting.

Now I have bought a spinning wheel! – at least, a kitset which I put together a couple of days ago. Another first was making brawn. X bought a whole pig – half fresh and half to be pickled, hammed, baconed. She rejected the head! but when I was working out what the effective cost was it seemed we were throwing away about $10! So I got the half that hadn’t gone to be cured and tackled it with the aid of Mrs Beeton. We put one of the trotters in too, and got a nice stiff brawn, enough for three meals! And lots of stock as well. I could have had lard as well, but by that time I had had enough so the fat went in the rubbish bag!

We have six lambs alive, having lost three either at birth or within 48 hours. I think we chose badly as regards the (white) ram we borrowed as several of the ewes had trouble. Of the six we have one black, three white, and two if not khaki at least piebald. They are twins, one with an even more speckly face than its mother, and the other black with white ears and a white stripe down its backbone. When they lie among the rocks in the river field they are so well camouflaged even their mother has trouble in finding them!

We got rid of the ram this last week (hence moving the lambs back to join the others yesterday). I had arranged to sell it for its owner to the man down the road and he came to help catch it one afternoon. We spent about 40 minutes trying to pen the flock and they kept breaking away but eventually I got near enough the ram when it was only moving slowly to throw myself on it and knock it off balance and land nice and softly on its middle! After which we hauled it ignominiously, 2 legs each, to the trailer. In full view of all those ewes too!

The other unsettling factor, just at the moment, is having the sheep in the drive! Not only do you have to open and shut two gates every time you take the car out, which can be a great nuisance especially in the showery weather we have been having but also they make such a mess of the place and it is almost impossible to walk down for the letters, and back, without bringing defecatory mementos back on ones shoes. However, they are getting on nicely with eating it down, and another two days or so should see the end of that worry for the next three months.

The local Lions were demolishing a house and selling the bits yesterday and as I couldn’t go I made a bid for the old garage shed – reckoning I could get a hen-house out of it cheaply. They promised to do what they could and when I went out this morning I found a splendid pile of 4″x2″ (full of nails of course) and also two large sheets of glass in rather shaky frames about 4′ square each which will make an admirable cold frame for starting seeds off. I reckon the new cost of all this would be about $250, so I’ve not done badly for my $25 bid!

Have wasted a good deal of time worrying about our largest sheep, which after several false alarms during the week at last showed real signs of giving birth. She obviously has twins, and did after an hour manage to produce the first – which has taken after its father, being white in spite of her blackness. The second hasn’t arrived yet but she has broken off cleaning up operations on No. 1 several times, to paw the ground and fling herself down (luckily not with such abandon as to land on No. 1), so I hope that by the time we have finished lunch she will have achieved it. Talk about continuing drama – X reported that one leg of the second lamb had appeared, and after consulting my neighbour I managed to catch her, and X shoved it back again – the second one presenting backwards, it seems, as she couldn’t find any signs of a head, or even of the other leg so next door has promised to come over in an hour or so. He came over and managed to get the second lamb out – alive too. Promptly plonked it down on mother’s face to give her a taste for it. We left all three in the pen, and she seems to have accepted it and be cleaning it up. [Writer had farming experience as a youngster but X was a city dweller so showing a maternal interest in babies of all kinds! The neighbour luckily was a pro!]

The neighbour had some scruffy lambs of a friend in one of our paddocks, and a lot of them just couldn’t feed their lambs, so the owner ended up with 10 lambs by his fire being hand fed: he’d have done better to have found out a little more about them before he bought the ewes. We were given a shoulder of wild pork this week, it was delicious, and a dozen farm eggs – all very neighbourly and swappish.

I’ve got my surviving second-hand window fixed up as a cold frame and have a couple of seed boxes under it but otherwise things have been pretty held up in the veg garden by the wet. The only things that have actually been growing have been a couple of rows of greens and a row of beans (the broad variety). Those are now flowering – but are only a foot high where they should be five feet – so something is wrong there. And the greens have been progressively eaten down to bare stalks – I think by a pair of hares I’ve seen in the fields a couple of times! But my trees seem to have taken root. And we have a plum tree in full blossom – but no bees about. I can see that’s going to be the next venture after I’ve got chickens under way. Meanwhile there’s more fencing, and drains and repairs to the drive and wood cutting to keep me busy.

A large lorry turned up with a man who got out and said, ‘I’m a beekeeper. I’m looking for places to put some hives.’ So we walked around and he chose a place in our field opposite the house, for which he offered us ‘a taste of honey’. He brought ten hives on Saturday, and presented us with two pots of honey on the spot by way of a down payment which I thought was nice. It’s very good too and strikes us as an extremely painless way of getting a free supply, as long as the jolly insects don’t swarm all over the house. 9 hives = about 1/2 a million bees I think! He assured me that this doesn’t happen, with good management!

I got a large and expensive bag of sheepnuts – which is the essential factor in my plan for penning my sheep in future, without a dog, and without taking the fence to the sheep as before. Yesterday I knocked up the necessary wooden trough, put out some of the nuts and watched anxiously. They grazed all round the thing, but never touched it! However today at least three of them had a go, and all the nuts were gone, so tomorrow morning I will put out a new supply and beat on the fence at the same time, which I hope they will come to associate with the availability of a titbit, if only I go on long enough. I have only a week to get them trained to come gambolling and not notice me putting the pen round while they eat, as that is when their next drenching is due. I fear that is too hopeful, but we shall see.

I had to get the vet one day last week to one of the ewes whose feet I have tried in vain to cure. What with the vet (whose charge slightly exceeded the value of the sheep, I reckon) and then the sheepnuts they are chomping through daily, I need a good lambing percentage or I shall be very out of pocket.

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