Friday 2 May 2008

Friday in the Sunshine

I thought I’d start with a picture of the May blossom. I actually took this picture a week ago but that tree and the one up by the house are still blossoming and scenting the warm air.

The first job today was to clean the trailer as I was not able to yesterday. Cleaning entailed removing all the straw and droppings, then I pressure washed everything and scrubbed the floor. After that I gave it a good spraying of disinfectant, which I left for a while. I then noticed that my boots weren’t clean and I had traipsed some mud back into the trailer so I hosed and disinfected my boot, hosed out the trailer and sprayed it with disinfectant again and left it to dry.

Having done the trailer I also cleaned and disinfected the feed trough I use for the alpacas and their catch rope as that had got rather trampled on yesterday while trying to get them loaded.

Next up it was ‘dose the alpacas’ time; in the bucket are the harnesses, catch rope and wand, some emu oil, a stack of tubs containing individual doses of wormer for them, the syringe and the feeding extension for the syringe. To the left are their granules and the thing at the back is their feed trough.

Getting the alpacas into the catch pen is no problem; they love their granules so I feed them in the catch pen and as yesterday I just close the gate once they are in.

Once they’ve finished eating I then catch them individually and place the harness on them and tie them to the edge of the pen. They are beginning to get used to this and while they don’t want to let themselves be caught, they tend to give in gracefully once you have the rope round them.

You may have heard the old adage, ‘you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’, well I have a new one. You can hold an alpaca and open it’s mouth (just) but you can’t get it to take it’s medicine!

The extension tube thing I got does make it easier than just using the syringe, well that was until the tube out of the syringe broke. I think I can safely say that as long as the wormer can be absorbed through skin, I should be totally worm free. In truth, the alpacas swallowed a lot more using the extension tube than they have of anything else not using the tube so it was a success.

When the two brown alpacas were shorn it was then easy to see that they hade mites and as part of the treatment for that I need to soften the skin that has been damaged by the mites. I’m told the best thing is minted udder cream but it’s not available here in France. I have some udder cream – my mother used to swear by it as a hand cream, especially after gardening. I do have some mint oil somewhere but I wouldn’t know how much to add so I though I’d give the emu oil a go as it is supposed to be easily absorbed and good at softening the skin. I’ll see how well it’s done tomorrow.

Yesterday, as soon as I’d got the alpacas home I’d gone through the catching routine and given each one a dose of spot on anti fly and mosquito treatment as the flies are out and about again. I’m also a bit concerned about Blue Tongue as it is in areas both to the north of here and to the south. I was really pleased to see practically no flies around the alpacas today. Yesterday there were a few and the alpacas were missing their blanket of dense fleece that kept them away from their skin.

After an hour or so's mowing, the major part of the afternoon was spent removing a support pin from the cultivator that tows behind the tractor. The pin that was there was very worn and too small for the hole it was in and the nut was rusted solid. It was this pin that had moved and allowed the cultivator to shear the attachment pins and then bounce crazily behind the tractor, cutting the tyres.

A bit out of focus (sometimes I just cannot get the camera to focus on what I want – but I won the camera so I’m not complaining) but this is what it looked like after a couple of attacks with the angle grinder. Thankfully, the grass is still damp as the cutting process generated lots of sparks and although I did cut into the cultivator its self it was only a couple of light nicks. I finished off using the hacksaw to cut the final piece off, as I wasn’t confident I would miss cutting a slot into the main unit.

New bolt in position and looking good. It will be getting a test drive over next week as long as the weather permits.

And finally the collection of bits once I’d finally managed to cut the off the nut.

Posts may get a bit erratic over the next week as my good friend Sue L from the UK is coming to visit.

Thursday 1 May 2008

A Day Out for the Alpacas

There was no blog last night as I was getting myself far too stressed. A change to my routine was looming and I was finding it hard to deal with – a left over bit from my panic attacks. No matter how hard I try going through everything logically there is still a bit of me that panics – but I get a little bit ahead of my self.

Monday was as I said a nice dry day but just in case you think the weather is fine here this is Wednesday as a downpour hits and there is thunder and lightening over the nearby town – which is the nearly obliterated hill in the distance. So Wednesday was potter around inside a bit more.

I found and set the humane trap for the mouse I’d seen the other night and it popped out and into the trap. It popped in and out so quickly it was able to grab the bait and get out before the door shut. That’s why the trap is now sitting on the edge of the mat to try and make the door drop more easily. Did it work, well no, the trap was sprung this evening and both bits of bait I’d put in there are missing. I’ve re-baited it but with a bigger piece of bait this time in the hope it will slow the mouse down just long enough to get trapped.

Today is May the first so a Public Holiday here. It’s also the day for Lily of the Valley, well this (slightly out of focus picture) is what’s left of mine; It’s just about over but I did find a couple of blooms to grace my table tonight.

Right so what was I so worked up about? Well the alpaca shearer is in France and having only 4 alpacas and no facilities for easy shearing I had to take my alpacas to another alpaca owners where they could be shorn. This would be only the second time I’d driven with the trailer and the first time with the animals in it. I have a fear of trailers stemming mainly from being a long term passenger in a car towing a caravan regularly at 80 mph causing the caravan to lurch the car back and forth and occasionally get into a sway despite there being a stabiliser!

I have a little, 1-meter by 1-meter trailer and I’ve got really used to taking that out but the livestock trailer is 8ft long so a bit different.

I had been told that I would need to take the alpacas along either today or Friday. Since I’d heard nothing yesterday I thought it would be Friday. 8:15 this morning the telephone rings and I’m asked if I can get my alpacas up for shearing for 10 am. Real panic! The shearer was about an hour and a half drive from here and the trailer was still in the barn. I agreed to get there as soon as I could.

Plan A was to take the trailer over the field to the alpacas with the tractor since the rain had made the ground so wet. I fitted the tow hitch I’d borrowed to the tractor and then found I was missing the piece that stopped the hitch rotating. There was no way it was going to keep the trailer attached.

Time for plan B; I hitched up the car and took the trailer across the front lawn so that I could drive down the slope to position the trailer. This lot took a good half hour but the trailer was then in position.

I got the alpacas into the holding pen and then tried to herd them up into the trailer. They were having nothing of it, no way were they going to go in. By now I was getting more stressed. Eventually I picked up Ashan, the cria and put him in and then Chestnut who is a lovely boy and very docile. I then tempted Silver in with the granules and put a hurdle in place to keep them in while I worked on Noisette. Silver being her usual self (she’s the escape artist) found a way out, she barged the hurdle down bending the retaining hook.

Time was ticking on, this was already over half an hour trying to load them; a bit more granules and Silver was back up and in and with that superhuman strength that comes with desperation I managed to manhandle Noisette up enough that she decided to eat the granules too. You will not believe how quickly I closed the gate behind her. It was now 10 am and I resembled a beetroot.

Next question, would the car be able to pull the trailer off the field? The answer was a resounding yes, I programmed the address into the Sat Nav and off we went.

The trip was wonderfully uneventful and the trailer towed like a dream. I would love to show you pictures of the shearing but I totally forgot the camera in all the rush but here are my lovely 4 looking far thinner that they started the day.

I am off to have 2 glasses of wine with my supper and hopefully a good nights sleep with tomorrow being a calm and relatively stress free day.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Tuesday Came and Went

I’m trying to think what I did today; I’ve been busy all day but don’t feel I’ve achieved much.

The sky was a bit overcast this morning but I decided to risk putting the clothes I’d washed yesterday on the line. A good move, as the forecast rain hasn’t materialised. I also got another couple of loads washed and dried today too.

I then did a bit more on the kitchen. Last night/this morning I put the remaining doors on and eventually sorted out the misaligning false drawers, finishing at about 1 am. No wonder I didn’t want to get up today.

This morning’s task was to fix the worktop to the single unit by the cooker (not in this picture) and then try and decide what was going into each cupboard. Not too difficult but I still have problems when it comes to making decisions so I started off with the single unit. It was then that I noticed I’d put one of the cross pieces to support the worktop in the wrong way round. The nice wood coloured finishing strip was behind and the rough chipboard finish to the front. The draw front and the worktop would cover most of it but I knew it had to be changed so I found my hammer and the trusty piece of scrap wood I’d used to put the unit together and proceeded to wallop the unit apart. Gulp. Thankfully it came apart without any damage, the offending piece rotated and it’s all back together and ready for tiling.

In between time I had also been to the vet to get some more anti parasite stuff for the alpacas. I’d spent some time on Excel working out the dosages I need to give them and realised I only had half quantities. Everything is off label for alpacas and the dosages are usually greater than for horses or cows and is dependant on body weight. The vet didn’t have the strength I wanted so I’ve also had to make allowances for that. Once calculated I then did an Internet search and found someone else’s stated amounts and found to my relief they tallied with the result I got.

Since tomorrow will be dosing day, after I’d fed and cleaned out the alpacas I then set about re-arranging the hurdles to create the capture pen for tomorrow. I lure them in with their granules and close the gate behind them. The treatment tomorrow is oral not an injection which they had the last time (I wimped out) and is supposed to give a change of medication to increase the spectrum of parasites treated. Those few lines cover nearly an hour’s work.

The chickens have had their visits, they get 4-5 per day not counting just going up to watch them; one to let them out, one to feed them and pick up any eggs, one to pick up eggs laid later in the day, one or two to see if they’ve gone to bed and to lock them in for the night.

The dried washing has been folded and brought in and a bit more plaster has gone into a major hole in the wall behind where the sink has been fitted. Working late last night I spotted a fleeting shadow and was just in time to watch a mouse dive down the back of the sink and into the wall where the old pipe work has been cut away leaving the gaping hole. Just another thing to add to the unending to do list.

The major occurrence today though concerns Mr Tibbs. He turned up again today and was very vocal as his food dish was empty. No problem, I quickly got him some more and he ate. I then found out he has diarrhoea, no I’m not going into details. He’s not feverish or showing any other symptoms other than being rather thin. I do wonder what he’s been eating over the times he’s not here. He’s also come back with lots of cuts and scars round his neck and shoulders and on one cheek. The cheek could be rat inflicted but I’m wondering if the neck and shoulder wounds are from being attacked by a dog. The scars certainly weren’t there a week ago when I wormed and flea treated him. The diarrhoea could have been triggered by the treatment as well.

Whatever the cause, he’s been by my side the whole day, curling up on the cat mat in the kitchen while I worked there and sitting out in the sun while I dealt with the alpacas. He even followed Cid and me when I took a stroll round the chicken paddock – the chickens hadn’t gone to bed so I had to go out again later.

I sat down to write this and realised he wasn’t in the kitchen; this is where I found him

And at one point Cid settled on the opposite corner and wasn’t hissing at him as he usually does.

Now can anyone tell me why cats are so perverse that after 4 months of trying to persuade him to be an indoor cat he finally moves in when he has diarrhoea?

Monday 28 April 2008

Rainy Days and Mondays

It’s rained today, in fact it rained during the night and for just about all today so the ground is unworkable again. I’m really glad I got as much done as I did over the last few days.

I though I might get more done on the kitchen today but when I got up, not only was I feeling exhausted but I found my legs didn’t want to move and when they did it hurt. I obviously haven’t used the muscles I used to brace myself against the rotovator for a while. My arms were a little sore too but not as bad as I thought they might be. I also managed to bruise both wrists and knees while I was trying to get the rotor onto the PTO the other day, and as for the calluses on my palms…

So that’s all my excuses; all in all I didn’t get much done but there is always tomorrow.

The Other Half of Yesterday – the Rotovator

I finished at the alambic at around 2 pm, I realised that the sun was still shining and the clouds were still high and white. The rain wasn’t coming in for a while so I headed back home to grab a few hours in the garden.

It was time to get the rotovator out and see if I could get it started. I’ve decided that there is a knack to getting pull start engines working. I have the Briggs and Stratton engines down to a fine tee and can usually get them going on the first real pull. The rotovator has a Husqvana engine and I battled with it last year.

In fact, last years experiences left me wondering why on earth do people use a rotovator; they just don’t work, as mine happily walked over the surface barely leaving a mark. Usually this was after me battling for half an hour trying to get it started and I would be left resembling a jelly that’s been left out in the sun.

I’d read a bit about what to get so had bought a reasonably powerful one, 5 hp, with about 2 ft of ‘cut’ and a reverse gear. The first problem became apparent when I tried to move it after putting it together. I could barely lift it! Then came the fun of trying to disengage the front wheel (transport wheel) to move it up out of the way, I still can only just get the spring to stretch enough but I keep telling myself that there is no danger of it dropping down while rotavating.

So I heaved the rotovator round to the side garden, moved the lever to the start position and pulled…and pulled and pulled the cord. Nothing. I checked the fuel again, that looked fine, I checked the spark plug cap was back on correctly, it was. Time for a cup of tea and thought. I decided to put more, for that read this years, petrol in and was really surprised by how much it took. The outlet from the tank must be quite high. There was a lot in there but it thought it was out of fuel. After a few more pulls I finally got petrol through the system and it started.

The weeds have sprung up in the last month to six weeks while the ground has been unworkable there is still a lot of wheat germinating from when this was field a year ago.

In my naivety when watching people rotovate I though it was just a case of starting up the machine and walking behind it while it did all the hard work for you. I was oh so wrong, if you do that it does just race off over the top of the ground leaving a few little cuts to mark its passing.

No the technique is quite simple, you have a 5 hp engine that just wants to shoot off away from you and your job is to stop it, act as its brake and force it to scrabble into the ground. So anyone out there thinking of tractor pulling or acting as anchorman for a tug-of-war team, I think this would be a admirable warm up exercise.

It was hard work and I was really thankful I’d got a reverse gear; about every two metres I would be unable to hold the machine back and it would skip forward and not dig a bit. With the reverse gear I could back up easily without having to drag the machine back. It’s about as heavy as me and to the top of the handles it’s about three quarters my height and is very unwieldy. But eventually I got the first area done although I had to stop after every two passes of the 30 ft stretch. I now have an impressive set of calluses on my hands too, I don't usually use gloves as I find it really difficult to get any that fit and still be able to feel what I'm doing but I very quickly found a pair to give my hands some protection.

The Other Half of Yesterday – the Rest

This is the soil in my saffron bed, apart from needing weeding you can see how it crusts and cracks as soon as it starts to dry out – the shadow is the nearest you’ll get to a picture of me too.

I decided to take a leaf out of Stonehead’s book and use the hoes that are common here rather than a spade or fork. Using the spade or fork is really difficult in my soil, which is a clay loam. I also figured that the locals must use the hoes for a reason and that reason is usually because they work in the conditions here.

Just before I got started on a trench for the potatoes I spotted this; it’s a field cricket and they are really common in the garden here.

I know the picture doesn’t really show it well but this is what happened when I tried to dig the trench. The soil is still wet just a couple of inches below the surface and I could only go down to the wet layer. Using the spade or fork would have not been any better, in fact they would have been a lot harder work and I would have given up before I’d have gone very far. The soil here is very fertile so I’m going to work on improving it from the top down. I hacked out a couple of rows and have added some rotted alpaca droppings. I’m assured by my friend SG that this is wonderful for the plants. She filled some raised beds she made with it and just and inch or so of top soil and had wonderful results, as did her neighbours who used it neat.

The sun was still shining and hot even though it was getting on for 6 pm and I needed a break. Following the old adage that ‘a change is as good as a rest’ I decided to try out this gadget I picked up at Lidl’s last week.

It’s a mauvaise herb (weed) extractor; the thing to determine was is it a gimmick or would it actually work. I have to say it’s the best-spent fiver on a gimmick that I’ve done. I don’t think it will be as good once the soil has set to concrete but by then I hope to have got most of the thistles out. I finally gave up on outside at 8:30, the chickens were thinking of going to bed and I knew if I did much more I wouldn’t have the strength or time to get everything put away; I could see the thunder clouds beginning to roll in from the west.

Patches though knew exactly how to spend a hot Sunday afternoon in France!

Sunday 27 April 2008

Fermes en Fermes

A curtailed post tonight due to the thunderstorms passing overhead, I may have the parafoundre (lightning suppression device) fitted but I still turn off the computer if I’m here. I found this site that tracks the storms and I can see if there are more due here.

Rain was forecast for today so I decided to take a bit of time out and visit a couple of farms that were holding open days. It’s a national thing organised by a body promoting agriculture and rural life. There are lots of farms listed in Lot et Garonne, my department, but not very many in my immediate vicinity so I had a look through and found a couple that sounded interesting as they were promoting environment and sustainability.

I set off for the first, only to realise once I’d programmed it into the GPS that it was a good three quarters of an hour away. I forget how big the department is sometimes. Still it was a lovely morning and I’ve not been out for a while so decided to go anyway.

When I got there I found out it was an apicurist, a bee keeper, and he gave a brief tour of his farm with an explanation of how the honey was produced and then processed. My French is getting better, I’m still not good with general conversation when everyone is talking fast but I understood more than half of what was being said. It did help that I’ve read a bit about bee keeping as I rather fancy a hive of my own one day. I think it comes with my name; Deborah comes from the Hebrew for bee.

The tour ended with a shop with a selection of their produce, honeys of course, mead, honey vinegar, honey sweets, honey cake, wax candles etc. The selection of honeys was great as there were tasters. I love honey, I love tasting the predominant flowers in real honey, not the sugar solution fed honey that is now marketed in oh so many supermarkets. My preference in texture is the crystallised variety. The consistency and colour of honey changes with the different pollen. I would have liked the sunflower honey but sadly they didn’t have any in the kilo tubs so I got Colza honey instead.

My learning continued today, I though it was rapeseed I had blooming in my pasture and I did wonder why I wasn’t sneezing and finding the pollen as obnoxious as I did in the UK. It turns out it is Colza, related but not the same. It makes lovely honey too.

From there I set off to a bio farm. There wasn’t much to do there but in the documentation he had I found that he sells bio beef at a reasonable price, around 12€ a kilo with a mix of everything from rump steak to pot au feu in either 5 or 10 kg packs. He also sells bio (organic) maize and wheat at cheaper than I am paying at the local co-operative for non organic. He is a bit of a drive away but I haven’t seen any organic foodstuffs available locally.

I then headed off to a goat farm to see their cheese making but when I got there I found that it had been cancelled as a venue for health reasons but that another farm near by was hosting a stall with tasters. Well you guessed, free tasters so I was off. This other farm was a good little find too, along with raising 4400 chickens, they had a travelling still (alembic) business and would come along and distil your fruit wine for you giving you eau de vie or firewater. Another little bit of information to salt away – my old apple tree produces rather a lot of apples that don’t store. Calvados anyone?