Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Farm

I’m finally getting around to writing about the farm that I have been living on for five days now. I’ve either been too busy or too tired to write in the afternoons. The farm is in the Gers just outside of a small village called Montesquiou. The farm is owned by an English couple, Louisa and Stuart. They have two kids, a girl and a boy. Harmonie is 4, and Phoenix is 3. They moved to France 3 years ago with the intention of buying a small farm (about 5 hectares) where they could live off the land and be self sufficient. 18 months after they arrived, they bought this farm which is 50 hectares. Instead of just living off the land, they are now full blown farmers.

The Farmhouse

They have only been living on the farm for 18 months, so they’re still in the stage of getting everything going. They have a lot of animals! There are six dogs, two feral cats, two donkeys, three goats, about fifteen sheep, two sows (each with about five piglets), about seven other pigs, three geese, ten ducks, and maybe 55 chickens. They have a vegetable garden with tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, squash, carrots, grapes, strawberries, figs, and peppers. Their land is broken up into prairie, woodland, and fields for grains. They haven’t started growing grains yet, maybe next year. Everything is organic or in the process of becoming certified. The house is a typical old French farmhouse with lots of shutters and red terracotta roof tiles.

They bought the house from an old and slightly crazy woman. She had been living in the house with about 30 cats and a pig. The animals pooed everywhere. It was a total mess. Louisa and Stuart have put a lot of work into just making the house habitable.

The view from the front of the house. Sometimes you can see the Pyrenees.

My job is to help out on the farm for five hours a day, six days a week in return for a bed and three meals a day. I have a bedroom in the house, which is great because I thought I was going to be living in a tent in the barn or in an outbuilding. My main task in the morning is to feed most of the animals while Stuart and Louisa are getting the kids ready for school. I start at 8:00am. I feed the pigs (but not the sows and their piglets) and sometimes the donkeys, sheep, and goats depending on where they spent the night. I then feed the little chicks in the barn that are maybe a week old. Afterwards I move onto the chicken kingdom which is on a little hill behind the house. There are two hen coops, and then four smaller coops which hold either “teenage” chickens not old enough to be on their own yet, a rooster with a few hens for mating, or just roosters. There is another large holding pen for the ducks, two of the geese, and a lone rooster who likes hanging out there. The chickens are free range, so each morning they’re let out of the coops. They are free to wander around the farm looking for food and laying eggs.

The whole house with the barn attached

After I’ve fed all the animals, I look for Louisa and find out what we’ll be doing the rest of the day. Every day is different. So far I have harvested potatoes, picked tomatoes and strawberries, mucked out the chicken coops, walked the dogs, cleaned sheep wool, picked weeds for the pigs, collected donkey poo, and made sheep poo tea. I imagine you’re wondering what sheep poo tea is. Louisa collects sheep poo and then puts it in a pillow case, ties it up, and then puts the pillow case in a large barrel of water. The water becomes infused with the sheep poo and she then uses it to water the vegetables. And why do we collect donkey poo? It’s too strong to leave in the fields because it’ll kill the grass that feeds the animals, so it’s put in the compost pile. It also helps keep the weeds down in the compost. Another odd one is cleaning the sheep wool. There is a huge pile of sheep wool behind the barn. Today I had the task of picking big pieces of straw and chunks of poo off the wool and putting it into laundry bags. The bags are then put into the bathtub with boiling hot water which dissolves the sheep oils. Afterwards, they are laid out on sheets on the lawn to dry. Louisa and Stuart plan on using the wool as insulation. It’s going to be a slow process.

The view from my bedroom windown

In the afternoons I’m free to do whatever I want. I usually find something to help Louisa with in the kitchen. It’s harvest time, so she has a ton of fruit and vegetables that need canning or cooking. I helped her can a batch of pickle when I arrived. I’d never heard of pickle, but it’s a British thing sort of like chutney made from fruits, vegetables, and spices. I haven’t tasted it yet because it has to sit for 2 months before you open the jar. It looks good though. We also made plum jam the other night and we’ll make cherry jam soon. We have tomatoes coming out of our ears, so we’ll either can them or make tomato sauce. We’ve been drying the smaller tomatoes in the oven to make “sun-dried” tomatoes. They are then either eaten (delicious!) or put in jars with olive oil. Louisa even gave me a few of the jars to take home.

That’s the quick and dirty of the farm. I’ll fill in more about the chaotic life on this farm as well as each animal because they’re pretty funny.

View from the vegetable garden

1 comment:

  1. What an experience you are having, working on a farm. That is something no of us has done before. Looking forward to hearing more about the animals and farm life! xoxo MOm