Sunday, December 19, 2010

Working for someone else – Part 1

Chris, Bruin, Hubert and me
Hubert, one of our farming neighbours, has 54 cows that he milks twice a day at an impressively efficient one and a quarter hours each time.  That’s every day, seven days a week.  He also has to feed them (this time of the year, they’re off the fields), change their bedding, look after the cows that are resting prior to giving birth, the young females, new calves and during the year ploughing, sowing and harvesting forage crops and renewing pasture and … and …

Hubert is a very busy man.  This is how food production works in our modern world.  But not so busy that when Gabrielle put in a request for a trailer of fumier (manure) for her vegetable production and I asked for some hay (difficult to source this year, following a very dry spring and summer) Hubert would’ve said “non”.

Day One – logging with fearsome circular saw
His farm is on high, so we could see him coming from afar.  Hubert had a large round bale of hay on the forks of his tractor, which was towing a trailer full of cow shit.  With the bale under cover, the manure dumped, and Gabrielle away making coffee, I got my wallet out: “je vous dois combien ?  In fact, he asked tentatively, if it didn’t bother me, he’d rather that I helped him prepare some firewood as he was too busy to do it all himself.

I’d already done half a day with him, chopping long logs with a Jurassicaly fearsome-toothed, large circular saw mounted on the back of an ancient tractor and had agreed to return for another go.  This time, though, we turned up mob-handed.  Gabrielle’s brother, Bruin, had come to stay and Chris, who’d previously volunteered came back for another dose of hard-work-for-great-food.  Busy Hubert was therefore treated to a happy surprise when a van turned up and not one but three willing chaps jumped out.
4 o'clock cuppa
The Spanish are renowned for their siestas, the French for their comprehensive lunches and the British for the “tea break”.  It’s a quest of mine to convince our French friends of the emotional and cultural value of a cuppa.  

To that end, on the stroke of 4pm, Gabrielle turned up with our Kelly Kettle, teabags, milk (coals to Newcastle on a dairy farm!) sugar, mugs and a freshly-cooked cinnamon bread wreath.  The lost time was soon made up with the renewed vigour that a tea break brings.

After a guided tour of his farm, we left a smiling Hubert with a huge pile of cut and split logs, bringing home two litres of very fresh full cream milk, which Gabrielle used to make crème caramel.  Before us, we had beers and hot showers but, for Hubert, another two hours of work with his cows before the day was done.
Work in progress