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.

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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 🙂

 

Oranges are not the only fruit!

Another fruit that is abundant at this time of year in Portugal is the lemon. We don’t have any trees producing fruit yet but our neighbour, Augusto, has 2 huge trees and he stops by once a week with a bag of lemons for us. Last week the bag weighed at least 5 kilos, and we still had loads left from the previous week.
So today I zested and juiced half of them. The zest is in the freezer, to be used in cakes and desserts when needed. The juice has been made into a simple lemon sorbet, really easy to make, 1.5 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar, 2 tablespoon of zest, 2 cups of lemon juice. Boil the sugar, water and zest until the sugar has dissolved (takes a couple of minutes). Wait for that to cool and pour in the lemon juice.

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If you have an ice-cream maker, pour the mixture into that and follow the makers instructions, if not, put it into a large plastic or metal container that has a lid and put it in the freezer. Stir the mixture every 30 minutes till it’s completely frozen, or if you’re away from the house, Wait for it to freeze and then whizz it up in the food processor for a couple of minutes and put it back in the freezer until you want to eat it, simple!

I also sliced a few lemons to freeze for popping into drinks, just freeze on an open tray and store in a ziplock bag

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Tomorrow, lemon curd!

The Renovations Begin!

So, after waiting months for 3 different builders to quote for our renovations, and none of them understanding what we wanted, and quoting a small fortune – we happened across a house in the village being renovated by a local builder (in fact the husband of the local shopkeeper) that looked fantastic, and we could see that he was using natural materials and doing a really thorough job. We asked him to quote for our work, which he did within a week, at a very reasonable price, and today, just 2 weeks later, the work began.

The original roof is off, and the rotten central beams replaced by reclaimed chestnut beams from a local demolition. The window openings have been knocked out, no small feat as the walls are 2 foot thick granite stone, and the lintels are going in.

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The lintels have been made from the large granite pillars that used to hold up the donkey- driven water wheels on our wells. Tom dug them out of the ground himself, with a little help from Duke

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Ella, being the lady that she is, preferred to watch from the comfort of the car

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The Eco-friendly timber preservative that we ordered from the uk arrived today in the nick of time, so Tom will be applying that to the cross beams and wooden sheathing when it gets a bit cooler today, ready for those to be installed next week after the walls have been rebuilt.

So excited to finally be making progress!

 

Quinta update 2

Having been at the quinta now for a few months it transpires that we have many more trees than we first thought.

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Antonio, our vendor, told us that we have 260 olive trees. That’s a lot of trees, but unfortunately we didn’t get any oil this year. The olive harvest was bad all over our region, and our local press didn’t even bother to open. By the time we arrived on 28th November, all the trees were bare, and the olives on the ground. Hey ho – I’m sure next year we’ll have a bumper crop.

We have 4 mulberry trees, double what we originally thought, which is very good news, mulberries are nutritious and delicious, and chickens, ducks and pigs love them. I’ll make mulberry jam and the animals can eat the rest.

We have 15 fig trees, both white and purple varieties, 20 orange trees, mostly navel type, and they have no pips, which is great, and a few bright yellow ones ( no, they’re not lemons!). Additionally we have 12 tangerine type trees, mandarins, clementines, tangerines etc, not sure how to tell the difference. Some are really sweet and some are horrendously sour. 32 orange trees is probably double what we need as they are all heavily cropping, as you can see in the photo, so the plan is to chop down any that don’t taste good or keep well, and replant with other fruit.

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We also have one peach tree and one apple tree that fruited last year, and 3 fairly immature trees that appear to be cherry, and probably have grown from seeds dropped by birds, as they are in improbable harvesting positions. We’ll move those to the orchard when we know whether they are worth keeping.

Additionally, we’ve also planted some trees in December – 2 lemons, a lime, another peach, an apricot, 2 nectarines, 2 red plums and 2 dark/damson type plums. We intend to plant cherry, persimmon, pear, apple, avocado, elder, hazel, sweet chestnut, almond, kiwi and soft fruit bushes next autumn.

We have about 50 grape vines, and this years prunings have been stuck in the ground to create about 100 new plants. They will take about 3 years to started producing in useful quantities.

My wonderful nephew, Chris, bought me moringa seeds and ash seeds for Xmas, and I’ve sown some in cloches. The moringa for food and medicine, the ash to be coppiced for firewood.

I’ve counted around 5 hawthorn trees in the hedgerow, so will take cuttings of those. Hawthorn is good for hedging and the prunings make excellent firewood. The Haws are a great source of food for wild birds over winter, and apparently makes good jam. I hope it doesn’t taste like the Chinese haw sweets my girls loved when they were younger, they taste like putty

We have at least 30 oak trees at different ages and sizes, and a small coppice of mimosa, which I expected to be a problem, it’s incredibly invasive, but actually is great for firewood, one large mimosa log will burn all night, so they can stay and we’ll harvest the larger trunks for firewood and the smaller saplings for pea and bean supports.

Quinta update

I can’t believe it’s been almost 5 months since I posted on the blog! A lot has happened since then. Tom and the dogs moved to Portugal at the end of November, I was there for almost half of December, and now going there every three weeks.

The people who sold us the house took nothing with them, so we had about 70 years worth of junk to remove, and it’s taken almost 3 months to fully clear out the place and clean up the land, which was strewn with broken glass, rusty metal and half-burnt wellies (you’d think that after the first 10 pairs didn’t burn, they’d have given up, but no! I cleared 2 wheel barrows full of charred wellies and the remains of other shoes).

On the plus side, they also left all the wine making equipment, including some fabulous antique wine jars still in their original carrying baskets, loads of barrels, olive nets etc.

Tom has spent his first couple of months making the house liveable, or at least one room, fencing where the perimeter wall is in a bad state, covering over the wells ( even though both dogs fell in a well on their first day – both whilst being supervised by me 😦 fortunately the wells were full to the top so they climbed out easily), moving massive granite stones away from the house, and preparing the land for planting, pruning the grape vines and olive trees and generally clearing up the place.

We had 3 builders survey to quote for the renovations, so hope to get started on those this spring. Tom will do a lot of the work, but some of the structural work needs to be done by a professional.

I’ll post some before and after photos when it’s done.

Quinta da Bem Paz (or the Farm of Wellness and Peace)

So we’ve finally found and bought our smallholding in Portugal!

After several visits and dozens of viewings we came across the most charming small farm, with an outstanding view. The land is just perfect, it has everything we need (almost). Gently sloping, south facing, walled in granite all round, and although it needs repairing in places, is basically in very good condition. Lot’s of fresh water from 3 wells, strategically placed around the land, and best of all, a fresh water spring situated at the top of the land so that we can gravity feed fresh water to the house. A large pond, also at the top of the land, for rain-water catchment, which we may convert to a natural swimming pool in future, or maybe use to feed a series of smaller ponds and rice paddy down hill.

There are approximately 220 olive trees, so we’ll have a LOT of olive oil (guess what everyone’s getting for Xmas!), lots of grape vines, about 20 orange trees (why anyone would want that many oranges is beyond me) 3 fig trees, a couple of peach trees and best of all, 2 mulberry trees, one black, one white.

Wild blackberries are growing all around the perimeter wall, some of which we’ll keep, and some of which we’ll set the goats to clear. I spotted at least 2 hawthorn trees, and there are several cork oaks at various stages of maturity.

The house is very old and made from local granite stone, and whilst it’s basically habitable ( well one room is) it needs a lot of work. We intend to renovate in natural materials, and are very fortunate that there are 3 tumble-down animal houses on the land built from the same granite as the house, so we have some of the materials already to hand.

Here is a photo taken from the top of the land looking down towards the house

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We intend to plant more fruit trees this autumn – cherries, plums, nectarines, pomegranate, apples, pears, lemons and limes; kiwi fruit vines; almond and hazelnut trees; raspberry, blueberry, gooseberry and currant bushes. Apart from olive prunings, there’s no firewood on the land, so a priority this year will be to plant a woodland of ash to coppice to provide firewood in the future (about 7 years in the future). The lovely people we’ve bought the farm from are leaving us all their firewood, about 3 cords, so that will see us through this winter, and as most of the farms around us are abandoned, we may be able to ‘scrump’ some fallen trees in the spring.

So very excited to be starting yet another adventure! Tom will move to Portugal with the dogs in November, and I’ll continue living and working in Abu Dhabi for some time ( or until the building work is finished :))