Friday, 17 November 2017

Hey! Those are MY Legs!

2 Calendars from the OSB Facebook groups. Pork on the left and
whole pigs on the right. 
As well as the Village Calendar, which I have already described in this blog, we get involved in a number of others. For the Village one, Liz is the main 'mover and shaker' and my contribution is in the photography and sometimes, collecting the box of printed ones from the printers (DS Signs of Ballaghaderreen, in that case).

Those are my whole legs on the left, being cured for the 'Parma'
style hams and bottom left on the right hand calendar is me
serving this year's pair their Guinness for their 6 month 'Birthday'.
Both these pics have appeared in this blog.
2 others come out of the Facebook groups for the breed of pig we have kept for the last 2 years, being 'Oxford Sandy and Black' or OSB for short. One group is for the pig keepers and breeders, so tends to go in for proud pics of people's lovely healthy pigs or cute piglets. The other is for the meat-production and charcuterie side so attracts the butchers, sausage makers, bakers and chefs. A lot of people are in both groups though I guess there are those who like their pigs as pets and friends and draw a veil over the original purpose of keeping OSBs. I have no problem with that. Each to their own.

All quiet in the Autumn sunshine. Pig Paddock.
I am in both groups and enjoy posting nice pics of our pig activities throughout the year and I was delighted when the lady in charge (Kim Brook) posted that she was assembling these calendars for 2018 and had liked some of my pics. She wanted clearance to use them which, of course, I gave.

Blue has been up on the chicken house roof. 
Both these calendars follow the same format, with not one big picture per month, but little montages of 5 or 6 images. They are very reasonably priced, so I bought one of each and, leafing through them I was delighted to find 3 of my pics, all of which have appeared already in this blog (and in my Facebook feed, of course).

Bobtail with three of her 4 ever-bigger chicks. We love the little
'Mini-Me' on the left, almost certainly a pure-bred Buff Orpington.
My pic of the pair of whole legs being cured for the 'Parma' style ham is there and the one of me crouched down with this year's pigs, serving them their Guinness at 6 months old. Both these are on their respective May page. Then on the December page for the 'meat' calendar is our old chum, Help-X Frenchman, Augustin. That neatly solves any problem we might have finding a small Christmas Present should we need one but shhhhhhh. Secret Santa! He may still be reading this.

This tiny rooster has avoided the cull by charming the Lady
of the House with his lovely iridescent green tail and red cape.
Green and red, so obviously he picked up the name 'Mayo'. 
Not much else going on as we cruise gently in towards Winter. I have already covered that the village drama group have settled on a play (Anyone Could Rob a Bank) which sounds like a real hoot of a hilarious farce. All parts have been cast and all other main jobs handed out. We'll say no more at this stage as I don't want to be stealing anyone's thunder or letting any theatrical cats out of bags.

Horse chestnut buds.
The cull of spare roosters has been parked up for now. We finished the biggest and most troublesome 6 and it has now gone very quiet and calm. The remaining young pretenders are keeping a wise low profile and not challenging our status quo or, indeed, trying to seduce any of the original ladies. If they keep that up, then they can stay for now. No more Death Warrants will be issued.

Always the last to go to bed. The ducks would hang about in the yard waiting for Mr Fox if we let them but they are happy to be shepherded home to the safety of the barn by about 5 pm. Everyone else is away and perched up long since. On that note I will also wish you readers good night too.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

'Oveja' está en el Congelador

A fine looking carcass
'Oveja' está en el congelador ('Oveja' (The ewe) is in the freezer). One good up-beat story tonight and, I'm sad to relate, a couple of less happy ones. First up, after the mixed feelings of slaughter-day and taking our bought-in ewe lamb (Oveja) on her last journey to town, a week later we get the happy job of seeing the carcass butchered up and bringing home the product.

Ignatius splits the carcass
We have a lot of time for the guys down there in Castlerea (Joe the Slaughterman and Ignatius G (Victualler). It is lovely to watch them work and we chat away. Do we want the legs as halves? Do we want the full shoulder or gigot-chops? Do we want the chops as 'racks' and how many chops to a rack?

Labelled for the freezer after cat inspection
I love the old chopping block in that shop - a massive lump of wood on a robust looking stand of darker wood. The block is actually made as a parquet-floor style bundle of smaller blocks, surrounded by a rim of thick planks and strapped at each corner with thick wrought-iron 90º pieces.

We got one rack back as chops so that we
could give a couple to a neighbour.  We
"tidied up" the rest in house.
By now it is shaped into big sweeping curves where they have chopped out big 'valleys' over time and left ridges, then obviously spun it round 180º at one stage and turned it over to use the other side. (I should have grabbed a photo, shouldn't I?). I asked them how long a block like that would last. Ignatius told me that 'this one' was 35 years old. The lads have had the shop about 40 years at this stage and there is an equally venerable block out 'back' which they got when they first bought the shop and had it 'done up'. Lovely.

A lovely "pie" to go with those chops. Leeks and cream cheese
The meat is now home, labelled and stashed in the freezer. This was only one lamb so we both doubt the store will see the year out but all being well the first 2018 babies might be born in January, so by June/July we might be able to restock. That's if Pedro (our new ram) continues to behave himself.

The 'late' Prada from my post on 19th Aug
My first "less happy" story involves the sad loss of our good friends, Sue and Rob's gorgeous St Bernard dog, 'Prada'. Sorry for your loss, S+R, we know how close you were to that lovely, soft old girl and how much she will be missed. Our commiserations.

Red sky in the morning? It rained all day.
These massive dogs do not tend to live very long because (Sue tells me) the heart was never really bred to cope with the size of the dog. S+R have always had St Bernards but have never managed to 'keep' one beyond about 5 years. Prada was 7/8 so the longest lived St-B they had ever had and they were always amazed by her. Rest in Peace, you gentle giant. We will miss you too.

The last of that lovely cream cheese went with bagels
and (properly) smoked salmon.
Finally another loss and this one I need to do on that 'no names no pack drill' basis which I do when I do not have the blessing of the main players. This one is the sad loss of the biological mother of a little girl who is very dear to us. Our deepest sympathies. Those concerned will know who I am talking about here. Sorry for your loss.

Rob took this lovely pic of Prada just
enjoying the company of their Grandson
as he fished. Happy days. 
That is probably enough for this post. Look after yourselves

Friday, 10 November 2017

Cull a Cock Curry

Skinny light-weights. These roosters we are
culling are not even 21 weeks old yet, so
they are only making weights of 1.5-1.7 kg
in oven-ready form.
A genuinely short post this time as very little is currently happening. Even the one positive 'story' we had planned for today was postponed for 2 weeks. That was the arrival of our two new Guinea hens. The friend who was going to arrive with them was not, for various reasons, able to identify 2 females for us and then isolate them. Sexing Guinea Fowl is notoriously hard and usually based upon the females calling "buckwheat buckwheat" and the males not. If you are looking at a pen full of birds who are not calling, you are a bit stumped, as you can imagine. Better luck in the next fortnight, Billy.

What's in YOUR freezer? Although ours (plural) are well set
up, organized and everything labelled we do sometimes get nice
surprises, like this goodly rack of venison chops.
We have started the process of culling out these spare roosters. I killed 2 last night after lock-up. Going in there in the dark with just the head torch is the quietest way we have found. Nobody panics around flapping. The bird just allows himself to be "grabbed" enfolding his wings and carried out. Our normal system here is for me to rear and then kill the birds, which are then presented to Liz who processes them through the plucking and cleaning out stages. She loves that job and gets herself set up with a Radio 4 "In Our Time" pod or an Agatha Christie play on the laptop.

4 litres of goat's milk for the next cheese.
Thanks Sue and Rob.
The roosters here are being culled out to remove a 'too many men' problem, rather than because they are ready to eat. They are less than 21 weeks old so quite light-weight and, when plucked out look very rangy and skinny. They weigh in, oven-ready, at 1.5 to 1.7 kg which looks and feels very little when you are used to meaty Hubbard carcasses which go 3.5 kg at 80 days.

Ginger Wine (also from S+R). Sweet and
a bit 'viscous', more like a liqueur.
We don't mind that at all though. The Hubbards we always joint up prior to freezing because the two of us cannot manage more than a few bits (a thigh each or maybe 2 drumsticks). These little fellas do not need any of that - we will roast (or curry, or 'au vin', or spatch-cock or whatever) the whole bird and eat half each like you would with a poussin.

Cream cheese under construction. 
We took our fertile (we hope) duck eggs over to Sue and Rob's to go in their incubator, this being our plan to up the number of ducks on site. I took, as well, a load of empty plastic 2 and 3 litre milk bottles, which they use for the goat milking. I also took a small incubator part (con-rod for the egg rocker servo) which I had repaired, plus got a chance to admire their newly borrowed Suffolk ram. This guy has come from a nearby farm and was the lad we were also going to use but we then decided to keep bought-in ram lamb 'Pedro'. He is 4 years old, big and magnificent. He has already been 'at work', Rob told me, so they are hoping for lambs in April.

"Play" Station? Liz is inputting the entire text of the Drama
Group's chosen play into a word document.
When you go to S+R's bearing gifts, you never seem to come away empty handed. I came away with 4 litres of goat's milk, a bottle of ginger wine to try and a stack of old egg boxes, useful for when we next in 'glut' mode. Thanks Sue and Rob. You guys are the salt of the earth.

That's about it. Just a couple more pics because I have them. This one is of me sitting down to enjoy a farming 'pod' and quickly being invaded by dog 'Towser' and cat 'Chivers'. It was taken by Liz but I was very amused by the state of my feet which look about 2" too long and pointy at the ends. My socks must have ridden down when I was last in my wellies and I have not noticed. Ah well.

Then we found in the fridge, in need of using up by Stir-up Sunday, one of last year's Christmas puds - it frees up the silver thru'pences and the basin, you understand. In this house we go with the Hastings tradition of making the recipient of the slice choose whether the server cut to their left or right, so that they cannot see the coinage sticking out and 'cheat'. Here the coin is arrowed in yellow. And , no, I am not going to wish anyone a 'Merry Christmas' just yet - it's still early November.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

A Million Hens but No Eggs?

This very late cousin of "The Bishop" dahlia sneaks a few
flowers out before the first frost.
As I put out the 'Sold Out' sign on the egg Honesty Box again, I rue the bad timing that had me starting those sales just as, it seemed to me, the egg production dried up. I go round each morning and collect 2 or 3 duck eggs from the ever-reliable Khaki Campbells and then, at the moment, pick up the very sporadic 1-3 hen eggs through the day from the various hidey holes.

An unidentified fungus from the front lawn. 
We are knee deep in young chickens at present. We must have around 30 chickens total but regular readers will know that 26 of these are still deciding whether to shout cock-a-doodle-doo or to lay an egg. The old guard are currently on go-slow, presumably due to the weather.

Egg production stats.
It is not, in fact, as bad as it seems. Way back when we first came over, I used to haunt various Internet discussion groups on the subject of keeping chickens (Fowl.IE was one) and someone on there suggested we all keep score on our egg laying. I have done so ever since. I can see from these data that the current situation is by no means unprecedented and the current year is probably the best yet.

These things go in peaks and troughs. The total eggs produced in 2015 was 1639, 2016 was only 926 and this year we have 1563 so far and every chance of topping 2015's total by Dec 31st. Last year the hens laid fewer than 100 eggs per month from May right round to October even before half were wiped out by our fox attack in November. This year no months have seen hen eggs below 100 and we had 199 in May and 200 in August. Do not despair you poultry-watchers.

The late 'Oveja', bought-in ewe lamb.
Obviously we hope for a smart pick-up around Christmas as these new birds come of age and we are also upping the ante soon with our addition of 2 female Guinea Fowl. Also today, we have decided to increase the number of ducks so we have contacted friends Sue and Rob to arrange to bring them over half a dozen eggs to put in their incubator. These will be Khaki Campbell again though we may, at some point, look at a few more meaty birds - Muscovies for example.

Talking of 'meat' I noted in the previous post that our bought-in ewe lamb, 'Oveja' had come up ready, so we had booked her in for her final journey on Monday. I still hate these days - they feel like such a betrayal - but we have now done them enough that I am more confident that all the feared things that might go wrong, no longer scare me so much - Will we be able to catch the lambs? Will the trailer break? Will the car break down? Will the butcher reject them? Will the paperwork be OK? Will we be able to kiss them goodbye?

First 'fruits' - the offal, which you collect on D+1. Left to right
 here, kidneys still in their (suet) jackets, liver, heart and lungs.
The carcass hangs a week and will be collected next Monday.
We are now almost casual about it. I was determined this time not to drive Liz the usual amount of crazy with my pacing, worrying and drumming my fingers on the table. We shared a leisured tea/coffee, ran the sheep across to the race, separated and loaded our required 'cargo' (just Oveja), drove to Castlerea, unloaded and processed paperwork, swapped instructions with the butcher-guys and adjourned to nearby Benny's Deli for a croissant-based breakfast. Pride in a job well done.

We even 'got away with' that risk of having to drop your one sheep into the lonely empty 'lairage' pen where she would 'baa' piteously at you as you drove away - the pen had 6 ewe lambs already in it, so Oveja sprinted in there to be with her new 'friends'. Safety in numbers... for a while anyway. Today I picked up the offal but I did not see Joe, the slaughterman. I had asked him to check for me whether the lass was pregnant. When ewe lambs are run with their brothers past 5-6 months this can often happen and in our case it might give us an early indication that Oveja's brother 'Pedro' who we plan to keep as our breeding ram, is able for this job. Not very "nice", but one of those hard facts of life.

Village Calendar 2018
Meanwhile, Liz has created the next year's Village Calendar again based upon pictures from the 2016/7 "Lisacul 365" project, our photographic portrait of the 18 townlands as a 'Year in the Life'. Liz decided this time to mainly choose 'nature' pictures, so they are, I am proud to say, mainly mine. The calendar is a lovely thing and, this year, they are selling at only €5 (it was €10 last year) and going like hot cakes. Liz is looking at a 2nd print-run as the supply dwindles. If you want one (or more - they would be great stocking fillers) go to the village website - .

Hard to beat a good 'Cosyglo' fire. 
Liz's other main project at the moment, the Village Play, is also progressing. The group have been reading through various plays proposed by the 'boss' (Tom C) but have only had print-outs of olde-font play-scripts in PDF format to work with, so Liz has started typing these into her laptop so that they have a live version they can mess with as desired. The first (Her Step Husband by Larry Johnson) was over 30,000 words so it took her a while. To no avail, as it turned out - the players have now settled on 'Anyone Could Rob a Bank' by Tom Coffey (1960) and all the actors have now been cast, so Liz is going to have to get the laptop out again and fiddle another 20,000+ words into it. Ah well. Life is never easy for an Assistant Producer.

While we are on creative writing, I have just completed another week (my 3rd) as curator of the @SmallHolderIRL Twitter account, the 'voice of Irish small holders', if you like. I seem to go down OK on there and it suits my style of chattering and wittering. My Dad would have used the words "Happy" and "Garrulous", I expect, but hey, it works for me. I always get good feedback and also I get asked back to do it again so it can't all be bad.

This is not my picture, but may well have been 'my' buzzard.
Pic is by Michael Bell, who goes on Twitter as @learnnature
and was taken in Ballyleague (Co Roscommon). 
Finally I am in between, currently, the various wild-life recording events to which I contribute, on the (Irish) National Bio-Diversity database. The bumblebee survey finishes at the end of October and we don't start the big bird-watch till the end of November. What I do in the meantime is input any sightings I see of anything note-worthy including roadkill. Exciting, then, to see my first buzzard since I've been here. I am not even sure it was a buzzard (though I thought so) - it was soaring in the blue sky with its wings held in a rather high 'V', so more like a harrier but it was against the sun, so I could only see the black silhouette. It was nice later that day to get a post by Liz re-sharing a pic taken by a guy (Michael Bell, who Tweets under the name @LearnNature ) who had photo'd 2 buzzards soaring over Ballyleague. That town is a good 50 minutes drive east from here, right over by the River Shannon, but I'd seen my buzzard at 10 am and he was making good speed over the ground, so it might just have been the same bird.

....And that is enough for now. Good Luck.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

24 Years and Matching China

Happy 'newly-weds', 3rd November 1993.
Oldest niece (Kat) does the honours as
Flower Girl.
I have generally tried to keep these posts to a regular rhythm of posting on Tuesdays and Fridays and this one would, in normal circumstances, have come out yesterday. This weekend, however, two nice events conspired to shove me off course, Liz's and my 24th Wedding Anniversary and the Village Tea Party. In these days of Social Media (mainly Facebook) it is the done thing on Anniversaries to rake out some old pics and post them up on your "timeline" so that all your friends can chop in a suitable comment in lieu of posting you a 'Happy Anniversary' greetings card, though I must admit we never did send many of those out.

Liz and Kat in the limo looking drop-dead gorgeous
(in my unbiased opinion, of course)
An excuse, anyway, to dig out the old (pre-digital) photo album and remind myself (with delighted amusement) of how happy that day was and how drop-dead gorgeous was Lizzie in THE DRESS with her floral 'tiara', her basket of flowers and the signature pearls. Still IS gorgeous, of course.

In the Grounds of Malahide Castle
We are also remembering all the happy family and friends surrounding us. In some case with these we lost contact a bit while we lived in the UK and (as was normal) failed to write "snail-mail" letters or phone each other but have now happily made good friends again with each other and caught up since the arrival of Facebook. For me, FB came along just as I was leaving work and moving over here, so it has been lovely as a way of staying in touch with the UK side, as well as looking up all 'the Irish lot'.

Always good to let the OH know where you've vanished to,
 especially on an Anniversary
They are too many to mention but I will just pick out such as Billy Thuillier, who was my Best Man on the day and Kat (now Thackray), oldest niece, who is that sweet little Flower Girl in my pictures. She is, of course, still 'sweet' even though she is now all growed up and elegant and 'sophistimicated' an' all. A huge Thank You to all involved in that day and who have been such a support to us since and now are sending your good wishes to us through Facebook etc.

The Hall set out with all the posh new matching china and the
renovated kitchen, ready for the Tea Party.
The Village Tea Party, then, is an annual event held in the 'Village Hall' (sometimes known as the 'Memorial Hall' or by all manner of modern handles like "Resource Centre", "The Centre"). The Hall team lay on the facilities and all the groups in the village come along, bringing their own food and drink. These are usually the Active Age group, the Ladies' Club, The management and staff of the Pre-School, the Parent's Association of the National School, the Foróige (Youth Club) and is open to any clubs and Societies who want to come along - Drama Club, Irish Dancing, Yoga or what ever. They also set up a table for "waifs and strays" - anyone who wants to come but is not particularly affiliated to any group.

Tarte aux Blettes (Chard/apple/pine nuts/raisins pie)
When Liz worked at the Centre spanning across 2 winters, she was heavily involved in organising and setting up the 2015 and the 2016 ones and got quite a reputation as a genius organiser who thought of EVERYthing. This year the Centre has undergone extensive renovations including exterior insulation, a brand new, bigger, modern-design kitchen and, as there was money left over in the budget, a whole new set of 100 places of new crockery. Liz was very involved, too in submitting the bids and grant applications for all this generosity.

I love our pig area at this time of year with the pigs gone and
the beech leaves starting to fall.
They asked Liz to come back and organise this year's Party so she was very happy and proud to be laying out all the tables with the matching crockery from the lovely new cupboards in the pristine new kitchen. We even got a mention in the short 'Thank You' speech given at the end by Committee member Tom C. "....oh and before I close, there is just one more thing I need to tell you about. We have here tonight 2 people who are celebrating a Wedding Anniversary; their 24th! Take a bow Lizzie and Matt" (suitable red-faced stand-up and hugs).

Gorgeous George leads the charge but the geese are rather
confused by this new arrival in the orchard
That just about covers it for this one, but I have a few more photo's to use up, so I will sneak them in here at the end. First the geese investigating a left-over Hallowe'en pumpkin.

Next up  those young chickens, all coming up to 'make your mind up time' - do you want to lay an egg or shout Cock-a-Doodle-Doo? We love these three black and gold birds who are teasing us by being identical and also 50/50. We hope they are hens. Either way they are HUGE so we wonder.... big eggs or big oven-ready (rooster) carcasses?

Then there is this lovely tote-bag issued as fund-raising, promo, 'merch' (-andise) by the team behind the Irish Passport podcast which we love and which I mentioned in the last post.

...and my new favourite farming-garment of choice. I found this nautical-style sailoring smock brand new in the wardrobe, still with labels on. We are rather ashamed to say that we think it must be a gift but neither of us can recall from whom it came. Who ever you are, many many thanks. I love it. Especially as the weather turns cold, it is deliciously wind-proof.

Finally, one last pic of the bought-in ewe lamb 'Oveja' being the Spanish word for 'ewe'. She is standing on the right of this picture and we think she is now meaty enough, so she, sadly, is booked in on he final journey to see our friend Ignatius G (Victualler) of Castlerea on Monday morning. Her brother (Pedro) is as big but seems to be keeping to his side of my 'deal' - I told him he could stay if he got all my ewes pregnant and didn't start attacking me.

And that really is it. Good luck now.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Things that (don't) go Bump in the Night

Kato is un-impressed by my carving skills.
A quick (and short) post tonight as Hallowe'en night slips by almost un-noticed by the local Trick or Treaters. Or so it seems to us here, anyway. We have often only had one or two callers and on one occasion none at all. I think about 15 is our best score - across 4 families. Little armies of costumed un-dead usually safe inside Hi-Viz jackets and carted round by Mums or Aunties in big 4x4 vehicles. Some are let come up the drive by themselves, others come up shepherded by a parent.

They are invariably very well behaved, very polite and nervous and try to take only one or two chocs from our proffered tub. You have to insist and persuade them that it is OK to grab a hand-full. They look for re-assurance from Mum to check this is allowed. This is very different from the kids we got in Kent (UK) I remember, particularly in the Medway Towns where there was a real risk of running out of sweeties half way through the night.

As I type this it is 20 to 8 so it is probably all done (though, as I have said before, never say 'Never') and we have had a grand total of 3 kids in one family group. These were little ones we did not recognise but it now seems to be the local modus operandi that you, the householder, advertise your open-ness with a pumpkin Jack-o-Lantern lit up on your gate pier. If you don't want the visits, no pumpkins and everybody respects that.

Hi-tech cheese presses.
The only "Trick" mean-ness I have heard of is some 'egging' of house fronts in the village. My Honesty Box was empty (sold out again!) but we brought it in under the trees out of sight of the road as a precaution. Our neighbour(s) have in the past brought their small gang of 7-ish along but not this year, so I guess they are all feeling a bit grown up now and such childish pursuits are maybe not 'cool' any more. The Silverwoods are, from the blaze of pics in Facebook, still leading the charge down in Co Laois - there has been a fun-shoot at the archery and all the family seem to be carving the most excellent and intricate pumpkins.

Cheese just out of the moulds, waiting for their dry salt-cure
Ah well. What else is going on? The short answer is plenty but not a lot I can tell you about. The 'plenty' is one of those "someone else's story" things where I do not have the blessing of the key players to 'report' the story on the Internet. Sorry about that.

Home made wine. 
Other than that we are chugging along making bread, making cheese and starting into our home made wine, which is really nice and quite a revelation. We are now on GMT, of course, so all the bird lock-up and evening duties are now moved forward to 5 o'clock and the long dark evenings are upon us and I am back to being woken up by the dogs at around 7 a.m.

I think I'll leave it at that. Have a good Hallowe'en. Don't run over any little witches, ghosties or ghoulies. Or the Feast of Samhain, if you prefer.