26 March 2010

Freak hailstorm in Bourrou !

Hailstones in March, originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

Yesterday we had a hailstorm which only lasted for about ten minutes but made a terrific racket on the plastic (hail storm proof) roof of the terrace. The hailstones we get here are huge and come down with an amazing force, bouncing off the ground like golf balls and they can do a lot of damage. Our little old van a has a few more dents but one of our neighbours borrowed our truck to pull his trailer when he went to get some building materials and as luck would have it he left just before the storm started and came back after it had finished. Where he went they didn't have a storm, so the Nissan was undamaged. The solar panels have been through this sort of thing before with no problems.

Hailstones the size of golf ballsThe plants don't seem to have suffered much - I haven't started to fill the garden up with seedlings and the perennials are almost all covered with protection to stop the chickens eating them - so that probably helped stop them being damaged.

I can't use our greenhouse which was badly damaged in the storm last year but I'm breathing a sigh of relief, because I almost repaired the roof. The corrugated plastic sheeting which I'd have used isn't hailstone proof and it would have been full of holes. Sometimes laziness pays !

17 March 2010

Protecting the vegetable plot from free range chickens

The weather's getting better and we've had quite a few sunny, warm days. It may be because we've had more chickens than usual this winter or because there's been very little growth of grass and weeds around the house
but the chickens have really pecked down every single thing that they can find to eat and the vegetable garden looks like the aftermath of an atomic attack !

If I don't do something to protect the perennial vegetables and self seeded Parsley and Coriander coming through they'll be destroyed, so covering everything has been the priority for the past few days. I can normally just lay a few sticks across the seedlings but the chickens aren't finding much to eat elsewhere so they're particularly determined and a light hand just won't work.

To protect larger plants like Rhubarb and Artichokes I normally use old fruit boxes or make bamboo criss-cross frames but last year we cut down a lot of trees suffering from Horse Chestnut Canker and so this year we've loads of Chestnut whips growing from the stools. I decided to use them to make lots of plant supports and for weaving around raised beds and they're perfect for making cages for protecting the new growth and certainly more aesthetically pleasing than old wooden boxes.

Our friend and lodger, Laetitia has started her new job just a few kilometres from here at Montagnac la Crempse just next to Villamblard. She's hoping to start learning how to make chestnut furniture and garden supports with the association "Les Enfants du Pays de Beleyme" so she got a bit of practice at the weekend and gave me a hand into the bargain.

Update two weeks later....

11 March 2010

Waiting for planting to begin - the only time my earth is bare

We're very busy at the moment building a new drive at the front of the house and planting fruit bushes and trees before spring comes.

The lambs are growing fast. We've a problem with the dreaded foot rot unfortunately, which is also taking up a lot of time.

1 March 2010

Clearing up after the storm and almost the end of lambing

We had a really bad storm in Europe this week and although the Dordogne wasn't too badly hit, it's given us a lot more work to do and the animals are stressed and jittery. There wasn't any damage to our buildings but a few trees have fallen on the fences and in the veg garden and we've been collecting debris, cutting up trees and mending fences for the past two days.

Some people in Bourrou still don't have electricity and of course we've had a lot of visits from people who need to borrow lighting, 'phone EDF or contact family and friends in other parts of France which are suffered badly after the high winds and flooding.

The weather has made working outside difficult for us some weeks now, first the bitter cold and winds then snow. Now we have rain almost every day. In the morning we put the sheep out in warm sunshine then it starts raining and we have to go and get them back in again.

The changeable weather doesn't matter too much when the sheep don't have lambs, they're hardy enough to decide for themselves whether or not they want to come in but I don't like to think of the little ones outside on the damp grass because it's still quite chilly here and lambs can go downhill quickly if they get too cold. That's one of the reasons we like to keep our sheep inside for lambing but they do get bored and there's a risk of footrot if the bedding gets damp from constant use and of course there's a higher incidence of external parasites.

Thankfully, all the births this year have been trouble-free and the lambs are up on their feet and looking for food within minutes. We've had no problems at all with new mothers and every lamb has a ewe and plenty to eat, so they're growing fast. Although it's nice bottle feeding lambs the powdered milk is expensive and not as good as the ewe's milk and after having done it for a few years, early in the morning and late into the night, the novelty soon wears off !

To begin with we had just single births which seemed a bit strange but in the past few days we've had three sets of twins - two within an hour of each other.

We had a problem with one lamb of the second set born yesterday who wouldn't stay with her mother and kept going over to another ewe when she called for her twins. We put her with her mother who then rejected her but we persisted and the problem seems to have been resolved. Yesterday evening the ewes had worked out which lamb belonged to which mother - as you can see in this video.