Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas blues.

This is one Christmas we will not forget, but not for any good reasons. On Christmas eve we had to have our lovely dog Shannon put to sleep, she had contracted Leishmania whilst we lived in Spain but thanks to the latest treatment that was available survived a further six years, and she had a good six years, but the day before Christmas Eve she suffered a heart attack, the next day she was clearly in pain so a lovely newly qualified vet came out to her and put her to sleep. She was always a good dog with no bad habits and will be missed for a long time.
 So Christmas day was a very subdued day for us and not helped by the fact that we also knew we only had a couple of days left before we would lose a very precious cat, Jason, a beautiful ginger boy, unlike Shannon who was twelve, Jason was only six, he had many health problems and had spent the week before Christmas in the veterinary hospital , we knew when he came home that he had just a short time left with us, the only thing that could have saved him would have been a kidney transplant, today he left us. He will always be a special boy to us, a cat that will never be forgotten.
Christmas day Sunset.

Yesterday we went to friends for a nice afternoon and a feast of Christmas cold meats, including turkey which we decided to give a miss on this year. Turkey is definitely back on the menu for next year. We also met our friends sister and brother -in -law and four delightful children, who were there for the Christmas period, it was lovely to be in company of children who were happy to play or read by themselves and not to be making constant demands for attention. These children come from a home where TV is strictly monitored and Mum cooks real food from scratch. No ready meals and no junk food, I am certain that it is because of the good diet and restricted TV that these children were such a delight , they clearly had a very good and close relationship to both their parents and Aunt and Uncle, a real family, in every sense of the word.
Thank you all for such a nice afternoon.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Seasons Greetings.

                                                    Seasons Greetings to every one.
Seasonal cake, marzipan, no icing.

 We awoke to bright sunshine and not a hint of frost, today has continued to be warm with a couple of showers and temperatures up to 54f - 12c not quite the weather you expect in Ireland at Christmas.
The last six weeks have been full of Christmas, it has been impossible to get away from it, the local radio station has appeared to have wall to wall Christmas records, normally this station has a good mix of music but they were determined to make sure no one missed a single record that has ever been made for Christmas. Many of these records should have been allowed to sink into oblivion. Today it is back to normal thank goodness.
Today we took time to recall childhood Christmases, of how simple they were. Decorations were always home made, paper chains, sprayed twigs, paper lanterns that we made ourselves, there was always a real tree, but one that had roots on it so it could be planted and have a chance of growing. Snow on the tree was made from teased out cotton wool, and on reflection, horrors , clip on candle holders with the small cake candles in them which were lit on Christmas day, what a combination for a fire hazard. Neither of us can recall a fire arising from this hazard but I'm sure there must have been. Decorations never went up before Christmas eve, and were always removed on twelfth night, the sixth of January, the 'Feast of the Kings', making the twelve days of Christmas.
Christmas presents were normally home made, a wooden toy, knitted toys or a set of new cloths for a favourite doll. Wrapping paper was always removed with care and folded up by the adults for use the next year, same with string, everyone would have had a string box where every piece was carefully stored.
Turkey was unheard of, chicken was a luxury preserved for Christmas and Easter, it would normally be a capon collected from the farm, vegetables were what was growing in the garden, Christmas cake and puddings were always home made. Every one stirring the pudding and making a wish on stir up Sunday. this was always the build up to Christmas.
You knew when it was almost Christmas as the Salvation Army would appear in the high streets playing Christmas carols, it was then the Christmas rush would start, no more than two weeks before the big event. Those times were magic, it was a time of sharing but not of excess.
I think I might have taken things a little too far this year as Christmas morning saw me hastily wrapping presents, I had also left decorating the cake until the 23rd, but everything that we are doing has been done, the veg are picked and waiting to be cooked, the pudding is steaming away and the bird is in the oven. The tree went up last night and will come down on the 6th.
Tomorrow we have been invited to friends and the coming weekend we have friends coming for a couple of days, so we have not skipped Christmas, just kept it as simple as possible.
Double yolker quail egg.

The quail are now laying well and we even had some to give to a friend and his wife, we also had a large one laid which we used to brush the mince pies with, it was a double yolker,   quite unusual for a quail egg.
Bright and fresh with the personal touch .
 I eventually finished decorating the hallway, all 42 feet of it, with hand done stencilling the full length both sides. it did take a long time but we are both pleased with the result.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Magpies Nil, Us four.

I had intended taking a photo of our offending Magpies but apparently they have left home!  No a sign of them today, and for two days running we have eggs again from the main house. They had clearly tried to remove the rubber eggs yesterday and had even managed to get one off it's string but it was left behind.  Today there is no sign of these birds, I have an image in my mind of several very annoyed magpies sitting in the forest behind us, nursing sore beaks, (the rubber eggs had been pecked,) I do hope so. We did find the mustard eggs that they had clearly had a go at but left, I hope their mouths are still burning. So we have a respite from the saga of the missing eggs, I wonder how long it will be before it starts again.

Just one day to go to the longest night and we can then look forward to spring. So far the weather has been pretty mild and I have noticed that the buds are now swelling on the willows, the behaviour of our cockerels has also changed and they are now having a go at each other through the various fences, clearly they think that the breeding season is just around the corner.
 Christmas decorations are still growing in the hedgerows, we will pick some holly and ivy on Sunday ready to make some effort on Christmas eve and I must make some more marzipan just to decorate the cake, we don't ice as neither of us like it, but we love home-made marzipan, our excuse for making a cake.

It's nice to know that supermarket bosses can take on board comments from customers, a few weeks ago one of our supper markets were selling Organic bacon joints which they were convinced were Irish,  now we read labels very carefully and knew that this bacon was in fact from pigs produced in Denmark and processed in Ireland, we pointed this out to one of the under managers, today we hoped that they might be in stock for Christmas so asked one of the men, oh, you mean the Danish Organic joints, so our comment did not fall on deaf ears, although they don't have any at the moment.

We did have very vague plans of maybe doing a couple of lambs for our own use, however a friend of ours has just done three and has also done his costings, each lamb cost him 134 euro to produce with slaughtering etc taken into account, this is without the cost of fencing, which is a long term pay back. We asked our butcher how much a whole lamb would cost us ,ready for the freezer, his answer between 130 and 140 euro so I don't think we will bother with that idea especially as we would have to completely sheep fence an acre field, so we will stick to poultry which give us a good return and savings on shop prices. But it would have been nice to have sheep again, they are quite fun things even though they can be suicidal.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thieving magpies and the end of the world.

We have a magpie problem, they are stealing the eggs. This first started late  summer so Simon made proper pop holes for the hens in the larger houses,  they had just been using the main door, an open invitation for the magpies, this worked well for a few weeks then the magpie discovered the pop hole and the eggs started going again. Now we can't be sure if it is the same bird each time but watching it from the kitchen I suspect it is, it has a fixed routine and route. So how to either get rid of the birds or protect the eggs, getting rid of the birds I think would involve a thing called a Larson trap, but you first have to catch a bird, place it in the trap to get the others to follow it, then when you have caught your birds, drive them many miles away to release them, and let someone else have the problem of disappearing eggs.
 We discovered some very realistic rubber eggs, they look like the real thing and even weigh the same as a hens egg so we bought a couple, working on the theory that once the magpie had discovered it's mistake it would give up and leave our eggs alone. Well, we were wrong, and in fact the damn bird stole both of the rubber eggs, no sign of them anywhere. Plan B. Mustard eggs, this works with hens if they are eating their eggs, we know it works as we have done it, so does it work with magpies? No, it does not, once again both eggs disappeared completely and this was within ten minutes of the eggs being put into the nest boxes. Clearly the magpie was not too keen on the taste  as we saw it within minutes drinking some yoghurt we had put out for the dogs . So will this experience put it off, I rather doubt it .
The rubber egg.
 We have bought four more rubber eggs, this time they have been fixed with screws and strings to the nest boxes, Simon's theory being that the bird will become either frustrated at not being able to remove it or it will discover that rubber is not nice to eat. We will see.
The quail that we bought a few days back have now started to lay so I guess they have settled into their new home OK. They are very cheerful little birds and highly active, come January we will incubated our first lot of eggs from them before we need the incubator for hens eggs.
The first quail egg.
It appears from news reports that many people are anticipating the end of the world this Friday , according to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, Nasa has reported many phone calls and emails from people who want to know if they should kill their animals to save them suffering, and hundreds of people in China have been arrested for spreading the Domesday rumour.
Things are changing, and things have to change but I'm sure not in the way that these people believe.
Many people have become aware that we can not continue consuming in the way we have become accustomed. There are more people who are trying to live a more simple life, produce some, if not all of their own food and be less reliant a consumer society. However it is not made easy for people to do this with so much state intervention. Many of the age old practices and remedies are now either banned or unobtainable, many blame the EU, and in some instances this is true, but member states seem to make up their own rules as they go along.
I recently tried to buy Feverfew tablets and was told that they were no longer available due to the EU ban on herbal medicines, this is not true, Ireland have not approved them. This week I tried to buy a well known herbal cough linctus  , once again I was told it was not available here as it had not been approved for use in Ireland, yet this linctus has been on the market for as long as I can remember and the active ingredient has been used for over three hundred years without harm, yet you can walk into any supermarket or chemist shop and buy such things as Lemsip and Benylin and Paracetamol which have over a doz possible side effects with no questions asked. I try to take responsibility for my health, I don't want to depend on Doctors, and I certainly don't want to depend on pharmaceutical companies who's main responsibility is to their shareholders. We try to shop local and we try to buy Irish, but more and more I find that I have to buy on line.
I'm sure it is the same in many counties, with stupid rules and regulations, and people not longer say Hey! This is not right, we are people not sheeple, we can take responsibility for the way we live. Change will come, but only when we stand up for what we believe in, not what we are told is good for us.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Chrismas Hype.

One thing we miss about Spain is the lack of Christmas Hype, when we first moved there nothing was apparent until a week before Christmas, no over the top and energy wasting lights and no big panic in the shops, this gradually changed unfortunately and by the time we left eight years later it was almost as bad there as in the UK or Ireland. Of course in Spain the main day is the 6th January, The festival of the Kings and most towns and villages would have a parade with the Three Kings riding through the towns throwing sweets for the children. I'm not too sure where this idea of the Three Kings originate from, as there is no mention of how many wise men there were only of the gifts they brought. This is the day that gifts are exchanged. Christmas day itself was low key, no roast turkey, turkey if the Spanish had it would normally come jointed and then cooked as a type of stew. Fish is another thing that many Spanish family's would have on the day.
Here Christmas starts in Oct, with TV adds telling you to spend, spend, spend . The adverts for food show tables laden and groaning under the weight of all the food that you 'must have' for Christmas Even in this time of recession the councils can find the money to have Christmas lights blazing away from mid Nov, and we have even seen houses with the Christmas lights on in Nov. I think it just takes away any magic that should come for the little ones.

 The last few days have been quite cold and wet so not much work is being done outside, the hens don't seem to mind it too much but they probably have a good old moan about it, us humans do so why should animals be any different?

Our older la Bresse cock now has his favourite girl, as there is only the two of them they are allowed full freedom to range, we had moved all the runs and could not incorporate another run for them, but he keeps a very watchful eye on her and there is normally a dog out on patrol, we would have preferred them to have been in a run but that will have to wait until the paddocks are rearranged again.
The Quail quad.

 We now have four Quail to add to our  collection of poultry, three hens and a cock who we intend to breed from. It rather feels as though we have come full circle, when we first started farming we had quail which we produced commercially and ducks that we also had a good market for,  we don't intend doing anything on a big scale, we aim to produce just for ourselves but we will probably have a surplus of quail eggs,  and fortunately one of our shops that we used to supply with organic eggs have said they would be interested  in trying them out.

Quite big.
Our carrots have done very well for us, even if they are a little on the big side, some of them are weighing in at just under 1lb in weight, but the average size is about half a lb just right for one meal.