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.

Stocking the larder/ self-sufficiency

My sheep are hanging over me again – metaphorically speaking. Firstly they are getting pretty short of grass, though I’m glad to say that most of them seem to be prepared to eat the hay I made with the sweat of my brow last summer, as well as the sheep nuts which I am giving at a reduced rate because of the hay. Secondly, they have all got to be injected – at least the seven ewes have – but I’m putting that off, today, as it was a stormy night and they will all be wet today and unpleasant to hold still while X jabs them. The chicken are also hanging over me at the moment as they have practically given up laying, and I need a lesson in what to do next.

 

We are so cosy and warm in our log cabin, second winter. We built a larder/storage room this autumn, so now we have four rooms – very grand! I did a lot of canning again this year, stocking the shelves up with plums, pears, apples, apple sauce and jams and jellies for the winter. I have to say, I am getting quite a professional when it comes to canning!

Because of a lot of delays this summer, we never did get our house started. Next year for sure. I am quite content with our log cabin, at least for one year more.

 

After their initial flightiness and standoffishness my new chicks seem to be settling down. We are up to about four eggs a day from 6 so that’s not bad, and I have started selling them again.

Our neighbour’s wife and the two younger kids were away. His dogs took off after a pig and he came back to leave the older boy with us and get a dagger before chasing after them. By the time he got back supper was ready so we invited him in too.

 

The kitchen is my favourite, all logs and wooden shelves and workbench, and filled jars and rose hips strung out to dry for tea. Our garden came out well, and in fact we’re still eating carrots and cabbage and beetroot from it, and I planted some pretty flowers in front of the cabin. This summer we also acquired one cat  (to keep the mice away), two white ducks called George and Martha and five chickens, which actually are too young to lay eggs until the early spring.

 

Last week I heard a couple of shots and thought next door was killing off a sheep, but he phoned to warn us the butcher had come to butcher his cow, and the first shot sent it straight off and over a 4 ft fence to land dead at the top of our drive. As their Landrover was in the garage for a couple of days the remains of the poor beast had to remain outside our gate, loose head and all the innards until he could take them away. The rural postie hesitates as to whether to get out of the car to put our letters in the box, pools of blood etc. everywhere.

 

I got on reasonably well, in a slightly ill-disciplined way while they were up north. I never managed to make my bed until the day they were coming home, and most days forgot even to pull it together after breakfast – but I did several washes, and managed to cook a lamb casserole which lasted two days, and sausages which X left for another two. One day I bought a ‘boil in a bag’ meal from Woolworth’s, which wasn’t bad though I imagine one would quickly get tired of them, apart from the expense, and another day I fried some lamb cutlets. On Friday, expecting the others back in the evening, I was extremely domesticated, and very busy! Made my bed! Hoovered the house from one end to the other, and dusted everywhere, even the tops of the pictures and the mantelpiece which involved taking down all the Christmas cards and putting them back again. Cleaned the windows, put a coat of paint which has waited a long time on bits of the outside room, and cooked another large casserole and a fruit salad in preparation for them: I was exhausted. My performance amazed me!

The couple down the road came over Sunday week ago and collected the three black wether lambs which I had promised to let them have, and on Saturday when I had the car back for the trailer I went and collected three, a year older but white, from X to keep the summer grass down and prepare themselves for the freezer a bit later on. As the first couple were prepared to pay what I had to pay for the replacements that means we get about half our meat supplies for about 6 or 8 months more or less for nothing (well, not quite if you allow for feeding the mother ewes in the winter, and inoculating them etc., plus interest on the capital tied up in the fields).

Each day X has been away there’s been no water after breakfast. The first day the jolly new filter thing had come adrift; that was easy, I took out the filter and put the two bits together, deciding I’d rather have brown water than no water. The next day they were adrift again but ominously no water was coming out of the pipe, which means the holding tank is empty. I struggled up to the jolly tank – it was very frosty and very wet, but the tank and pipes were all in place. Only the thought of no hot bath kept me going after that. The neighbour had told me his rams were well behaved but I kept a wary eye out for them and took a big stick, so on to the bucket. I found a piece of rope tied across the creek and I presumed it was for holding whilst investigating the bucket, so I hoped for the best and did that, and found under the chicken wire and many leaves a branch had got in and blocked up the opening out, so I felt very triumphant about that but realise that I’m not so sure I like Heath Robinson contraptions as I thought I did! This morning the filter was disconnected again so I joined it up once more, but tonight something very odd is happening, it was full but didn’t appear to be moving so I rashly unscrewed one end and the full blast of water shot over me. X is due home tomorrow so I think I’ll leave any further efforts to him; I just hope I get a hot bath tonight.

 

X thinks her dahlias are smaller this year than last and that the answer is sheep manure. There were two possibilities – to try and rake it up from the fields, or to dig it out from underneath the neighbour’s woolshed. We chose the latter, but it was a pretty unsavoury job. Little headroom, long whiskers of cobwebs plus, hanging from the slatted floor above, and a good deal of it well trodden down where the sheep had been put in to keep them dry if it threatened rain before shearing. We contracted with the manager to pay him $10 for a trailer full – but called it a day a $5 worth! It looks a most miserable little heap now we have it sitting in the field waiting to be distributed. Never mind, next year I hope to have a nice pile of chick manure mixed with sawdust

 

We have built a new chicken coop and run. Our hens are laying six eggs a day, and very soon we’re getting a whole bunch of baby chicks, which may start laying in the autumn, or next spring for sure. This is the first year we have made it with our chickens, the ones we had the last two years never did anything much. Nothing is nicer than getting eggs out of the nesting box – especially when you see how incredibly expensive they are in the stores!