2 years on……

Maisy

Skippy dressed up for Xmas

Maisy looking feisty
Louise farrowing
Pippa with 3 day old piglets, Skippy I centre of photo before we realised she was injured

Wow, how time flies, almost 2 years since the last update in which I promised to blog every month🙄.

The farm is doing very well, last year we dedicated a lot of time to planting, growing, improving the land. We’ve been converting the vegetable garden to no-dig, and it’s working well. Our biggest successes last year were definitely the pumpkins, squashes and melons, they were prolific. We had 3 crops of watermelons from the same plants, some weighing as much as 7kgs! Tons of Petite Gris de Rennes canteloupe, which tasted like honey or brown sugar, delicious and definitely worth growing if you can find the seeds. The rabbits loved them too, so we had to over them with plastic olive crates as they ripened. We grew about 10 different varieties of pumpkin and squash, including spaghetti squash and oil seed pumpkins. We were inundated with courgettes and cucumbers and grew a lovely yellow tomato called lemon tree, which was good eaten both fresh and cooked.

We planted more trees, lemon, lime, grapefruit and avocado. Had our first (small) crop of apricots and nectarines – had a much bigger crop of apricots already this year – and the June berries produced abundantly for the first time. The apples and pears have improved every year since we’ve been here, we harvested at least 60 kg from one pear tree last year, and that was after thinning out the crop in June, and feeding loads to the pigs as we were picking. We canned a lot of pears, made pear butter and pear wine – which was actually delicious.

The grape harvest was ok, we made 60 litres of wine, but unfortunately, like all the wine produced in our village, it has an after-taste of cheese and onion crisps 😖

The figs were great again, and I dried many kilos, froze a few kilos and made about 30 jars of fig chutney. That fig chutney has become legendary around here, and I’ve given loads away, and even had chutney making sessions with friends!

Animals….

Maisy had her calf in October 17, a bull we called Bo, for various reasons we still didn’t get round to milking her. Bo grew into a strapping beef steer, and is now in the freezer. Maisy is due to calf again any day now, and she will be milked!

We still have Georgia and Hazel, and they are producing 1.5 litres a day, which is enough for us. I make feta, mozzarella, halloumi, chevre and paneer. Gave up on the cheddar as it was too sharp.

We’ve been unlucky with our sheep this year, one ewe died (We think pregnancy toxaemia) in the New Year, she was pregnant with twin lambs; one of our first time mum’s wouldn’t feed her lamb, so we bottle-fed her, she’s now fine. Another first-timer had a lamb that died after 3 or 4 days, during a cold snap, either the mum wasn’t feeding enough, or not keeping the lamb warm, so very sad.

Pippa, the spotty pig, had a litter of 12 piglets in September, unfortunately one was ill and had to be dispatched, and the next day Pippa crushed one of her piglets and sat on another, breaking both its legs! That piglet was struggling to survive, as it couldn’t get to it’s mum to feed, so after a few days of bottle feeding her, we decided to bring her into the house. We called her Skippy, as she could only hop around, rather than walk. An X-ray confirmed that she had 2 broken femurs and the vet said she was unlikely to walk again. Skippy lived in the house with us for a couple of months (which was interesting) and then when she was 2 months old, we built her a house in the garden, where she lived, and ran around, until she was 6 months old. There came a time, as we knew it would, when she would get too heavy to be able to get around easily, and when that time came, we dispatched her humanely, through floods of tears, and into the freezer she went!

In September we acquired another sow, Louise, a British Berkshire. She came to us for our boar to ‘service’ her, and decided to stay with us 😁. She had 16 piglets on 30th December, not a great birth, as piglet no. 3 was stuck inside her. Our daughter, Holly, being the less squimish, and having the smallest hands, went in at the business end and pulled that piglet out! Piglet 15 was still-born and piglet 16, the runt, was nowhere to be found next morning, either it wandered outside the run and Louise was too exhausted to stop it, or she ate it, knowing it was unlikely to survive. Anyway, Louise was just the best mother, never getting upset when they constantly tried to feed from her, exceptionally gentle when she laid down near them, and all 14 survived. We still have 2 of her daughter’s.

We did little to the house last year, but we did build a log cabin for guests. This year we plan to finish the house, and are having a new roof put on the main part of the house at the end of this month

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Feeling hot,hot,hot!

This has got to be the hottest year since we first started coming to Portugal in 2012. It’s been in the mid 30’s for several weeks, and 40 degrees for the past few days. We’ve had very little rain over the winter, the wells didn’t fill up at all (we have 2 that are overflowing by end of December usually), and I’ve been watering the vegetable beds since January! Fortunately we have a natural spring that never runs dry. The forest fires have started in earnest, 12 in our county today already, and a huge fire near Coimbra last night in which 25 people died and another 20 were injured, very sad. I’m hearing the fire-fighter planes going over us constantly this weekend 😢

On a brighter note, our female pig came into season within a couple of weeks of being here (I’m assuming for the first time as she’d been in with the boar for several months before coming to us) and after lots of piggy activity, she was pregnant. Gave birth to seven gorgeous piglets on 1st April and all survived. She’s a really good mum and fell in love with her babies the minute she had them. However, it was so hot when they were born that we had to stop free-ranging them and bring them in under cover, as they became sunburned on their very first day! We still have 2 of the boys, which we’ll raise for meat, the rest have gone to new homes. We gave one to a neighbour who has been incredibly generous to us since we arrived here, 2 were bartered for 2 truck loads of manure (black gold and costs a fortune here) and 2 were bartered for 2 days work (which will be tiling the kitchen floor).

Lucky, our boar turned out to be not-so-Lucky, and we dispatched him on a (rare) miserable day at the beginning of May, with the help of our friends Brett and Sandra. We didn’t weigh the carcass, but at a guess I’d say he weighed 200kgs dead weight. We shared the spoils with B & S, and when they do their boar, we’ll help in return for  half the meat.

Keeping the ‘anti-money’ theme going, we have 2 milking goats on permanent loan from Brett and Sandra (ours wasn’t pregnant, despite my wishful thinking in my previous post). They have too many goats in milk at the moment, and as we have none, they have very kindly made this offer. Our 2 loan goats, Georgia and Hazel, are giving us just over a litre of milk between them from once a day milking, but we really need to start milking twice a day as they are uncomfortably full in the mornings. So far I’ve made  feta cheese, yogurt and ice-cream, and have restarted my milk kefir culture.

And the reason we didn’t have any of our own milk was because we stopped milking Cindy, our lactating ewe (first lamb born on our Quinta, as mentioned in the previous post) as we’d bought a cow! Maisy, a seven year old Dexter who’s calf was being weaned (by virtue of Maisy coming to our Quinta) so that Maisy would be in full milk production. With an anticipated 5 -10 litres of fresh cow’s milk everyday, we’d give Cindy a rest. However, Maisy was having none of it. Any attempt to get near those, extremely full, udders was met with a full-on, aim to maim, kick! And for such a small cow she can really kick high – backwards, forwards, side-ways, any-ways. She hadn’t been milked in years, if ever, by humans, and she wasn’t about to start now! We tried the age-old trick of tying a rope around her belly, and whilst that stopped her kicking (traps a nerve apparently that prevents kicking until they get used to being milked), she wouldn’t let-down at all. Maybe moving house, losing a calf, new people, just stressed her out too much, because outside of the milking shed, she’s lovely, and getting friendlier by the day.

The good news is, Maisy is very obviously pregnant again, and must have been so when she came to us ( unless she’s sneaking out at night to party with the cows across the lane😳), so we’ll give her another go when she’s delivered, letting the calf drink first so that she lets down, and then Tom and I diving in, she’ll never know the difference…..

 

 

 

 

Flystrike!

I mentioned in my previous post that one of our goats seemed to stay away from the herd and was being picked on, we soon discovered why.

When Luis bought the goats up to us, two of them were hobbled – a nasty practice of tying one back leg to a rope around the neck. This prevents the goat from raising their head without losing balance, so that jumping, and therefore escape, is impossible  – it does not however prevent them from running and she easily dodged our attempts to catch her and remove the hobble. So for 2 days we observed that she kept herself to herself and spent a lot of time lying down in the shade. Not too worrying, after all it was hot and the hobble was obviously causing her some distress. But we also noticed that she wasn’t eating or drinking much, so we eventually corralled all the goats into a tiny pen so that we could just lean in and grab her rope, we cut off the hobble and let them out, however her behaviour didn’t change.

I had to fly back to Abu Dhabi that night, and next day got a panicked message from Tom saying that goat had flystrike, he’d manually scraped thousands of maggots out of her rear end, but she was obviously very ill and was still full of them. Flystrike is a horrible thing, blue or green bottle flies lay thousands of eggs in the skin or wool of an animal, and once they hatch the maggots feed vorociously on the flesh of the host animal, literally eating it alive. Once the animal has flystrike it gives off a certain smell that attracts other flies who also lay their eggs on the animal, so speedy treatment is essential otherwise the animal suffers the most horrendous death.

We didn’t have any medication and the vet couldn’t come for another 2 days! So a quick search on the internet came up with a few solutions, wash the area out with soapy water and bicarbonate of soda, apply an antibacterial spray, cover the area in vaseline so the maggots can’t breathe etc, but the general consensus was that this was not overly effective and a specialist flystrike treatment was the way to go.

Tom did all of the above, and additionally squirted neat betadine into the wound, and next morning she was more perky and eating and drinking normally. That day Tom bought some flystrike wash and squired it into the wound a few times. He kicked the guinea fowl out of their house so that we could keep the goat contained and separate whilst we treated her daily with the wash (the guinea fowl happily went to bed in the chicken run that night, and every night since). The vet came as agreed 2 days later and was very impressed with her progress, said there was nothing additional she could do and Tom had undoubtedly saved that young goat’s life. She also gave our Billy goat an antibiotic injection as he’d cut his foot and it was showing early signs of infection, and she charged us just €20. A call out from a vet in Wales to give our pig an antibiotic injection for an abscess cost us £120!

So the young goat is now back in the field with the others and all looking well. We’ll be keeping a close eye on her to make sure she doesn’t get it again, some animals are just more prone than others. We are also going to spray all our animals with a 1% tea tree oil solution, which has shown to be effective at preventing flystrike in Australia. Fingers crossed we don’t have to deal with this again.

Sheep and Goats

Our land is predominantly an olive farm, and the previous owner ploughed the land over a couple of times a year to reduce fire risk (possibly as a condition to claim the European Single Farm Payment). Consequently, the land is rutted, so water run off is an issue, and the soil is in very poor condition, fortunately he took very good care of the vegetable garden and one field where he grew potatoes, and the soil in both of those is excellent, but I digress….

We want to improve the land in as natural a way as possible, so of course grazing animals to control the vegetation and fertilise the land was the obvious choice, followed by pigs turning over the soil and further fertilising. We thought a couple of sheep to start and then maybe a couple of goats in the future, all with added benefit of producing milk. Pigs possibly next year. We already have chickens (eggs and meat), muscovy ducks (meat) and guinea fowl (mainly to keep the tick population down).

We’d enquired in the village about the possibility go getting a couple of sheep and about 3 weeks ago our local sheep farmer, Luis, turned up at the house and asked Tom if he’d like to come up and see his sheep. Long story short, a hurried make-shift enclosure was erected for the 2 ewes and ram lamb that were delivered that afternoon!

But there’s more, Luis had a small herd of goats at his quinta, and Tom mentioned that we’d like goats eventually, to which Luis’ eyes lit up. He explained that he was looking after these goats for an old couple who couldn’t take care of them anymore and didn’t want them himself, so after a call to the owners and a very reasonable price agreed upon, we took possession of 7 goats- one billy (extremely friendly and affectionate), one nanny who is still lactating, one nanny who has 2 kids still feeding (one of each sex) and a female kid from a previous kidding who still hangs around her, and another young female, who was always on her own and gets picked on a bit (separate post to follow on this).

Needless to say, we were not set up for goats, and it didn’t take them long to break through the makeshift fence and head straight to the cornfield, where they proceeded to eat the tops off all the corn! We improved the fence, and it generally lasts a few days before they decide to just jump over it and look for fresh pasture. We’ve invested several hundred Euros in Electric fencing, so that we can strip graze them, and they walk straight through it. It was a kit supposedly designed specifically for goats – mmmm!

The sheep were thoroughly unimpressed with their new pen-pals and when the fence was broken down by the billy goat climbing over it, they took themselves back home to Luis’ farm ( who knew sheep had homing instincts 🙂 ). Fortunately the goats seem to like us and even when they do get free, they wander all over our farm but don’t go outside the boundary, which they could easily do as there are plenty of gaps in the wall.

On the plus side, they are eating the brambles and the long grass/weeds, and we are getting a few cups of milk a day (we’re novice milkers, and not very good at it yet).

Here are the sheep, and I’m trying (and failing) to upload a video of the goats. It took them literally one day to graze down that 200m sq.  enclosure.

Before the goats arrived
Before the goats arrived

One of the ewes is still lactating, and Luis can get about a litre from her in 5 minutes, we can get about 200mls in 20 mins! The goat is a little easier to milk, and she loves the attention, unfortunately my aim isn’t so good so only every other squirt goes into the bucket. Duke positions himself behind me to catch the stray squirts and usually ends up with milk in his eyes, his ears and all over his face, I really should video it 🙂