What’s in a Name?

Several visitors to the farm have asked me what the ‘Fragnes’ in its name, ‘Les Fragnes’, stands for? And these visitors have been French! If they don’t know, then there’s not much hope for me. We had a theory that it might mean ‘hovel’ since there were two of them when we bought the place. (I’m glad to say they are hovels no more.) Not so very far away, across the border in Indre, is Le Fragne. I took the kids there for a look around, but I didn’t spot one of anything that we have two or more of here. So I conclude that ‘Fragnes’ is just a name.

Nestlé Moschops (Nessie for short) bravely hunting voles last winter

There are other mystifying names on our farm. These belong to the animals which the children are usually responsible for naming. There has been The Big Cheese (a rabbit), Panic Attack (a duck), Dreadnought (another duck), Evil Twin (a cat) and Leopard (a bantam). The currently best-named animals are Nestlé Moschops the dog and Majority the hen.

Since The Big Cheese we’ve given up naming the rabbits. They’re not pets, shall we tactfully say? I originally had a very organised plan of naming each litter with a particular letter of the alphabet, working our way through systematically. Letter A went well, as the buns all looked different from each other. However, next came a litter of clones which made it trickier. Then we sadly lost a couple of litters. Should we count those in the alphabetical run through? The system crumbled. So these days the latest female to have babies is always Momma Bun and if we give names at all to the offspring, they’re pragmatic ones like ‘And Gravy’, ‘Curried’ or ‘Tagliatelle’. (Do try Gordon Ramsay’s rabbit tagliatelle, by the way. Excellent.) We’re currently running down our stock of bunnies as we’re not especially fond of rabbit, apart from the tagliatelle dish, and they’re a lot of work.

Our first two turkeys were suitably and purposefully called ‘Cranberry Sauce’ and ‘Stuffing’. But since then we haven’t named them beyond temporary nicknames. At the moment we have White Turkey and Black Turkey. Black Turkey should really be Grey Turkey as she’s a dinde grise, but compared to our other turkey, she’s black! Both have been laying eggs for us, so they’re no longer oven-bound. Black Turkey is broody at the moment, sitting on three duck’s eggs which may be fertile. We had two batches of bantlings last year i.e. ducklings hatched and brought up by bantams. Will this year see turklings?

Our guinea pigs began with a gem theme, with Amber, Ruby and Jasper. We diverged slightly into fossils, Ammonite, and then an astromonical theme took over – Supernova, Stardust. Since then it’s become a free for all. We have Poorly Pig who was attacked by a cat when she was tiny and was very poorly for a while: there’s Archer, Mario, Blackberry and Scratchy – the latter because she is. Amongst the poultry we have Sham, Puma, Matilda, Hotel (he’s a duck and his mate was Tokio – but she flew away! If you don’t get that reference, then ask any tweens or teens in your household.)

Windermere Lady Coulemelle (aka Windy) - a calm, serene lady

The llamas and alpacas mostly have sensible names – Katrina, Ciara, Oscar and Bernard, for example. More unusual is Windermere Lady Coulemelle – but we didn’t come up with that one. She was prenamed by llama breeder Bernard Morestin. He called her Windermere after the lake and Coulemelle because she was an October baby and there were coulemelles (a type of mushroom) growing in the fields. She was also a similar colour. I think he added Lady because it sounded nice. We also have Lulin, named after the comet that was in orbit over the earth when she was born. It’s a cool name for a llama.

So what’s in a name? Quite a lot on our farm!

Naked for the Sake of a Good Yarn

The threat of nakedness is hanging over the animals at Les Fragnes. Why? Because I learnt to spin a week ago. Now I eye up every creature I see with a view to what sort of yarn I could spin from its fur/wool/hair. Everyone knows that llama and alpaca wool is wonderful for spinning. But cats, dogs and rabbits are excellent too. We have one very fluffy cat – she’s top of the list for an appointment with the scissors!

Caitlin and I spent two days mastering the age-old art of spinning with our brilliant teacher, Marion Gauvin, at Le Masmont, St Gervais d’Auvergne. We started by sorting though sheep fleece, learning how to ‘open’ it, ready for carding. Our first carding was by hand, which is extremely good exercise. It’s much easier using a machine, which we moved on to later. However, ‘cardeuses’ are on the pricy side so I’ll be carding manually and building up my biceps for the time being.

We started our spinning careers on ‘fuseaux’ (spindles). I’d had a go at this before but it was great to have a refresher course. The principles of handspinning and spinning with a wheel are the same. So when we moved onto ‘rouets’ (spinning wheels) we knew about keeping tension even and making sure we spun two separate threads with the twist going one way, and also about plying, which is the combining of the first two threads together by twisting them in the opposite direction. That way your finished yarn doesn’t unravel.

Caitlin really took to it and was soon producing very impressive yarn. I was a bit slower on the uptake but, thanks to expert tuition and the sheer enjoyment of it all, my early lumpy, bumpy efforts gradually improved, and I got better at keeping the wheel turning smoothly. It’s going to be a matter of practice making perfect. I have my own spinning wheel, which came along to the second day of our course. It’s a good, solid wheel which I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with.

So … that’s why our animals could soon be parted from their outer coverings. We actually already have some semi-naked creatures on the farm. I bought five cou-nu chickens recently. Cou-nu literally means ‘naked neck’ and these freaky little birds have, you guessed it, bare necks. Endearingly ghastly!

Electric Gardening

I often leaf through the some of the old magazines we inherited when we bought Les Fragnes. La Prosperité à la Campagne is one of my favourites. We have issues dating from 1932 and 1933.

In the July 1932 issue, I came across an article on electroculture – electric gardening basically! It looked very persuasive. The article explained how large metal aerials pick up magnetic and electric currents from the air and channel them into the soil where, by transforming the elements in the soil, they accelerate plant growth and development. Electroculture became popular in the 18th century, but the idea behind it goes back a long way. In the 9th and 10th centuries, people stuck metal poles in their fields, possibly as some kind of protection against lightning strikes. Better crop production was a lucky side-effect. Anyway, it developed from there, and had a lot of support in the past. In 1912 there was a huge conference about it at Reims, attended by Belgians, Hungarians, Russians and Mexicans, to name a few of the nationalities represented. The future of electroculture looked bright, so much so that fertiliser merchants were beginning to get worried. But for whatever reason, it didn’t take off to the extent anticipated.

I googled ‘electroculture’ and discovered that it is still practised today. There are companies that will supply you with everything you need to get going (such as www.agriculturecosmotellurique.org/). The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos on that page are very impressive.

The main equipment is the aerial. Here’s a picture of one from the website – my magazines didn’t include any illustrations sadly:

Am I tempted? I think I’ll wait and see how my gardening with the moon turns out first …