Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Is it a pig? Is it a sheep? Or a “shig”? Or a “peep”? Or perhaps even a cow? If you think you know the identity of this gentle and a little overweight lady, answer by posting a comment below and we’ll try to think of a prize for the first correct answer! And don’t be so sure that you know the answer, as it’s already foxed a few of our farming friends here.

On my list of “things to do today” was a visit to the vet to buy some sheep medicine: insecticidal and antibiotic sprays and a worming potion, in fact anything to keep our newest charges upright and breathing. Not that they are ill but it’s just that in the business of catching all manner of diseases and ailments and dying, sheep wrote the book. One of Life’s paradoxes: when you consider the Welsh mountain sheep stoically braving a blizzard, for example,you’d be forgiven for thinking they were extremely hardy; which they probably are but they can also be fragile. So, while I’m getting to know our new characterful charges (Gabrielle’s away for ten days) I’m diligently reading my beginners guide to sheep keeping, and stocking up with an arsenal to keep foot rot, fly strike and intestinal worms at bay.

We have also benefited from a lot of good advice from several friends, click on the names to have a look at their own blogs. There’s Val, a sheep farmer in Somerset, England, who I met through the first article I wrote for Permaculture Magazine and the second article explains what happened (click under links to download the article as PDFs to read). She’s always ready to spend some time dispensing advice over the phone or via email. She’s contemplating the pros and cons of moving her farming business to France as all her land is rented and she has no opportunity to rent or buy a barn where she is currently. When she was recently over here, she visited Renée to give some advice and a demon-stration of feet trimming (see photo). We sub-sequently bought our ram from Renée, who is a fully qualified veterinary nurse and runs her own dog kennelling business. She’d be the first to admit that she’s no expert in shearing sheep, but she has huge amounts of experience clipping dogs’ coats and this has stood her in good stead as our ram’s coat is immaculate and she showed us a Ouessant fleece she’d sheared off in one neat and single piece, chapeau!
(The French for “I take my hat off to you”).

Also in France, is Sheepish, a scientist-turned-French sheep farmer, who’s finally unleashed her creative bent and is furiously blogging away, attempting to condense 15 years of smallholding life into a putative year: preparation for the book she wants to write. She’s already emailed us some advice and we shall continue to read her blog avidly for more pearls of wisdom and hard earned experience. And at a distance, is Monica, who has a smallholding in Georgia, USA, where she raises raising Icelandic sheep and Irish Dexters but is currently really struggling with drought and hoping (!) for a hurricane to bring them a splash of rain.

One currently trendy permaculture idea is living in ecovillages, an idea pioneered in Denmark, where there are several good working examples. People live in their own house but share communal space and buildings. The idea appeals to me but Gabrielle is not so sure, having spent many years in two different communal living situations and having experienced people problems first hand. Having said that, Sally, one of the friends she met in the first housing coop, has this bit of personal philosophy, “I’d rather deal with the problems of living with people than the problems of living without them.” In the meantime, we have our “virtual” ecovillage of farming friends giving help and advice via their blogs!