Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Do we have what it takes to be farmers?...

We’re sorry our blog has been abandoned for over six months. It’s mainly because we’re rubbish, but also because we’ve been very, very busy.

As we mentioned in November, most of the campsites in France had closed by the end of October and we had spent much more money that we planned to on our cycling trip. Basically, we needed somewhere free and warm to stay over winter. Thank you workaways!

We arranged to stay at two different farms, a 50 hectare Porc Noir farm in The Gers from November to December and a smaller 5 hectare farm, with sheep, horses, pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs and cats, in the Haute Pyrenees from December to January.

One of our dreams for the future is to live somewhere in the countryside where we can try to be as self sufficient as possible, by growing our own veg and farming some animals. This was our chance to find out if we have what it takes to be farmers…

Feeding sheep was easy enough
Louise used the hose to fill all the water troughs
While Rob preferred soaking Louise with it
We did have some concerns… Although Louise was brought up in the country and spent her childhood climbing on hay bails and running around with sheep, goats and horses, she fled to the city as soon as she was old enough, developed a fear of chickens and is terrified of rats and mice.

But we needn’t have worried, within a few days of our first French farm experience Louise was grabbing dead birds, ripping out their feathers and pulling out their insides at every opportunity.

Don’t worry, Louise’s fear of chickens didn’t turn her crazy, plucking and gutting poultry was a job that we learned a lot about while we were at both farms.

Louise is much braver around mice and rats too. Although she did bring a cat to bed every night, just in case, and wouldn’t go into the barn without these little rat hunters.

Rob added to his driving portfolio.

and Louise enjoyed getting a lift to piggy breakfast time
 It’s easy enough going forwards, even with mountains of pig food
But reversing takes a lot of concentration

Of course Rob perfected it, even on a muddy slope with a trailer full of piggies
We loved the pigs, especially the teenagers as we called them.

They were getting pretty strong by the time we left and we had to develop a tag team system of feeding them so we didn’t get knocked over. Louise would attract their attention, by pretending to feed them at one side of the field, while Rob made a run for the other feeding trough - it usually worked.

Not sure how Rob will get to the trough
They're on to us, run!
Moving them wasn’t quite so easy. We thought we were pretty good at running, but pigs are faster than they look and they ran circles around us on more than one occasion. We were very excited when some piglets were born at the farm, super cute.

The piglets keep warm under the heat lamp
Although we got quite attached to the pigs, we always knew that the reason they were on the farm was of course to be sold and eaten.

We were a bit nervous about butchering, thinking that we might be squeamish, but surprisingly we ended up really enjoying it. We helped the butcher by cutting, cleaning and packing different cuts of pork and we learned all about jambon, cured meat that is covered with a specific measurement of salt and pepper and left to hang in a cool room for a year, then sold for lots of euros.

We all love a sausage or twenty

And of course we enjoyed eating the meat. Unfortunately for us, most of it got sold at a local market, so we only got the leftovers. The flavor was amazing and it felt so nice to know where our food had come from, a lovely farm where animals live a happy life eating organic food.

French markets are wonderful and we love that so many French people still go to there to buy their food.

Apparently the French spend around 80% of their wages on food, while in the UK the average is closer to 20%. People in France seem to prefer to buy high quality food and like to support the local economy, it’s rare to find imported food even in the supermarkets. And don’t even ask for wine that isn’t French…

We helped out at the market in Mirande
Living with English families meant that we weren't speaking much French, so helping at the market was a good opportunity to practice our French. Then a night at the loto (bingo) got us up to speed with our French numbers. We couldn't believe how many people of all ages went to loto, we were lucky to get seats together.

It was exciting to be getting closer to the Pyrenees. And even in December, it was warm enough to sit outside looking at the beautiful views.

 Du pain, du vin, du Boursin 
Stunning view from the house, you can just see the Pyrenees
We managed to explore more of France on our days off.

We met D'Artagnan in Auch
Getting closer to the mountains...
Fresh mistletoe just in time for Christmas, lucky Louise...
The second farm we worked at was even closer to the Pyrenees, so we finally got to go and play in the mountains. We spent one day snowboarding at Perisud and another day walking and playing in the snow.

Shame we forgot the sledge...

Working at the Pork Noir farm gave us lots of experience that we used and adapted when we moved on.

It wasn’t just animals we learnt about. We spend a lot of time with some super cute and slightly crazy kids on both farms. We had a lot of fun running around, climbing trees and playing on trampolines.

We did some more butchering at the second farm, this time it was with sheep and we got even more involved. We assisted with the dispatch of two sheep, used a butchering saw – it’s really hard sawing bone - and learnt some new knots.

This time the meat wasn’t getting sold, so we could try out some new recipes. We tried to use as much of the sheep as possible.

We made black pudding with caramelised apple
Amazing kidneys with lentils
We also made some not quite as tasty lung soup... We enjoyed a very tasty leg of lamb and it felt exciting to be eating food we had helped dispatch and butcher, especially when we added veggies from the garden.

We think we might just have what it takes to be farmers after all… And are really looking forward to having our own place, where we can put all the skills we’ve learnt to the test, in the not too distant future.

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