The French village of Pincé in Normandy has got it right. The Maire is proposing to supply two chickens to every household that wants them in a bid to cut down on organic waste. Chickens eat up to 150 kg of food a year. That’s a lot of leftovers they could be converting into eggs – hens lay 200 a year – and handy manure. Chicken poop is wonderful stuff for the garden.
There are many benefits to the scheme. Companionship for lonely, older people is one. Chickens are fascinating birds and become quite friendly. Our Sussex hen, Cynthia, follows me everywhere and allows all of us to stroke her. And when a chicken owner has to go away for a few days, they’ll need to ask a neighbour to look after the poultry, which will get them talking and co-operating. That doesn’t always happen on its own.
I’ve mentioned the eggs already. By providing fresh, free-range eggs to the owners, these chickens will make a small contribution towards decreasing the traffic on the roads since fewer eggs will need to be carted to the shops. And how many times do folks nip out just to buy eggs, which are a fairly crucial foodstuff, using a small amount of fossil fuel and contributing a few grams of carbondioxide to the atmosphere? Quite a few I’m sure.
With less rubbish to throw away, since it’s being eaten by chickens, households will produce less waste which will mean less going to landfill. That can only be good. A chicken costs a few euro. It costs a lot more than that to remove and dispose of 150 kg of waste produce.
I sincerely hope other villages will copy Pincé’s example and hand out free chickens to people who want to make a real contribution towards greener living.
I made an impulse buy this morning. And I’ve bucked all the trends by doing so. I’ll explain.
1. According to research, impulse buys are most likely to happen in large towns and cities, and not in rural areas. I made mine at quiet Boussac’s Thursday market.
2. Young people are the biggest impulse buyers. Up to 90% of under 25s impulse buy, whereas it’s only 37% of 50 year olds. I’m not quite 50 yet, so there was, let’s say, only around a 38% chance that I would make an achat d’impulsion today. But I did.
3. Men are more likely to impulse buy than women. It’s true. And they spend more. In the UK men spend £25 on impulse buys, against £19 by women. This is a scary amount in both cases and adds up to around £70,000 over an adult’s lifetime. Wow! Well, I’m not a guy, but I also didn’t spend £19. I’m still not fitting the profile.
4. The most popular impulse buys are clothes, DVDs, books, booze and magazines. My purchase didn’t fall into that category.
So – what was my impulse buy? Two cou-nu chickens, about 5 weeks old! They cost €2.80 each.
It’s Chris’s fault. He needed to go to the hardware shop for some more plumbing bits and pieces. He persuaded me to come along for the ride, since I’m a bit down in the dumps at the mo. So I did. And after we’d been to Boussac Brico, we decided to stroll round the market. This ended up with us going to the poultry stall to order our turkeys (5 whites, 2 bronzes and 2 blacks this year), and that’s when I made my impulse chicken buy.
Now I unexpectedly had my young chickens, I needed food for them. I only have blé at home. So we had to go to Gamm Vert for that. That’s a garden centre, so that meant we also ended up buying more seeds, and also 15 lettuces and 12 beetroot seedlings to inspire our struggling ones at home. See what a slippery slope this impulse buying lark is?
Still, that should satisfy my coup de tête retail therapy urges for a while. Chris can breathe easily again!
At last the cycling season has started for us. We were a bit late this year. We’d meant to start a fortnight ago once the ice sheet had receded, but Benj coming home at the last minute for a short visit plunged us into chaos – very nice chaos though. And then last week we got swamped with broken down cars, trying to sort out the plumbing in the gîte and various other minor crises so the bikes didn’t get an airing. But at long last we’re back in the saddle.
I couldn’t find my cycling shorts anywhere. I have a vague memory that they fell apart towards the end of November. They are at least 20 years old and have had a lot of wear. So that explains my strange attire today. This cycling bib (I think that’s what the outfit is called) was the only suitable item I could find. It’s hotpants for cyclists basically! They’re not woman friendly since there’s the problem of knowing what to do with the straps at the front. Do you tuck them between boobs or loop them around the outside? Hmm. Quite a dilemma!
We didn’t go far, just round one of our shorter circuits since we had a few hours’ worth of tree lugging ahead of us, but it was brilliant. It was warm and sunny, the birds were singing, the roads were deserted, and it was the perfect first ride of the year.
It’s been a pretty perfect day all round really. We did our farm jobs first thing, nipped into Boussac to run some essential errands which involved getting red diesel for the tractor and ordering plaster board, which always means business. Then Rors and I got cracking in the polytunnel, planting mainly flower seeds today, while Chris carried on with repairs in the anglers’ shower room. After dinner we had our bike ride and then carried on with clearing away all the trees and branches we lopped off around the big lake last month. We used Rusty Deux the tractor today, loading the wood onto the hay spikes at the back. That’s a much quicker way of doing things. We finished up with a very satisfying bonfire.
Gigi our pseudo-Siamese cat with disastrously bad eyesight nearly had a completely perfect day. I don’t know when she’d managed to sneak past our usually vigilant defences and stash herself away at the back of the food cupboard where I keep our bread supply, but there she was. I spotted her just as we were about to lock up the house before going down to do our wood work. She’d have been one fat kitty by the time we got back if we hadn’t seen her!
And I must give Cynthia, our new Sussex hen, a mention. She’s out of the Eglu now (we keep all new poultry in there for a few days while they settle in) and pottering around. But not very far. She’s fixated on Rusty Deux and never ventures far from it! We call her the tractor chicken.
And to prove it was a good day I also got not one, but two free books through the post to review today. It’s a long time since I’ve had a dead tree book in my hands. I’m almost exclusively an ebook reader generally. (The only downer of the day was not having any Internet for most of the day 🙁 which is why this post is a day late going up.)
And talking of books, I’ve finally fixed a launch date for my travel memoir Heads Above Water. It will be 17th April, the same day as Caiti’s 18th birthday, an auspicious day if ever there was one. So if any of my blogging buddies out there could be persuaded to host a guest blog from me in the second half of April to help with publicity, I’d be eternally grateful …
Meet Cynthia! She’s a Sussex pullet, a pondeuse, and we bought her at Boussac market this morning. Ruadhri chose her. The lady on the chicken stall tried to steer him towards one with brown feathers, saying it was prettier, but Rors was adamant. He wanted Cynthia. She’ll spend a few days in a pen to get used to her new surroundings, and then we’ll let her range free with Madge and Limpy.
Now, what do Cynthia and a man called Franz Reichelt have in common? An inability to fly. OK, chickens can technically fly, but it’s more like panicky-fluttering-cum-controlled-falling. There’s always a lot of feathers and wing whirring and clucking. The record for a flight by a chicken is 13 seconds. None of my girls have come anywhere near that length of time. Chickens aren’t good at flying. And neither was Franz.
I missed the centenary of his death on 4th February since I’ve only just found out about him. He was an Austrian who came to live in Paris in 1898 where he soon became known as Le Tailleur Volant (the Flying Tailor) because he invented a parachute coat. He was obsessed with flying but didn’t follow some of his contemporaries into experimenting with large wings or flying machines. Instead he sewed up his special outfit, which weighed 70 kg. He generously intended it for other aviators, to hopefully save their lives if their rickety vehicles fell apart in mid air, which they often did.
The first few tests with dummies wearing the special cloak ended up with them smashing, but our Franz wasn’t put off. He worked on making his costumes lighter, and ended up with one weighing two thirds less at around 25 kg. He tested this himself by jumping 12 metres onto some straw. He broke a leg, but persuaded himself the only reason he had apparently failed was because his parachute outfit hadn’t had time to open properly. So he decided to jump off the Eiffel Tower. Just like that. He didn’t bother testing out with a dummy first and so, sadly, on 4th February 1912 jumped to his death from the first storey of the tower. His parachute cape had wrapped itself firmly around him. He was 34.
Many inventors have died as a result of the thing they invented or discovered. Marie Curie died from cancer after studying radiation, Horace Lawson Hunley drowned in his submarine and John Godfrey Parry-Thomas was killed in his record-breakingly fast car Babs. You can’t help thinking that their deaths occurred because they were contributing towards general scientific advance, whereas that of Franz Reichelt … well, wasn’t. He went off at a bit of a tangent from mainstream progress. But you have to admire his confidence, courage and spirit. Rest in peace, Franz.
Finally the thaw has started but things are still chaotic. We had the heaviest snow fall of the year last night. This was forecast at vigilance orange level, but bizarrely even though the départements to the north, east, south and west of us (Indre, Allier, Corrèze and Haute Vienne) all made the decision to cancel school transport for today, the 14th, good old Creuse didn’t. I guess someone forgot to wake the Préfet up to ask his opinion! There was no way the roads were safe for transport of any kind this morning, and it seems that some transport companies providing ramassage scolaire (school buses) wisely made the decision not to run. Anyway, we’d already decided to keep Ruadhrí at home.
We trekked down to the big lake to carry on the tree trimming and did a good couple of hours of chainsawing and lugging. The snow turned to slush around us as we worked and the rain came down. Even though we’re only just above zero, the snow and ice is melting extremely quickly. Luckily we’re about done, because I don’t fancy dragging trees around on softening ice above 5 metres of very cold water for much longer!
Le grand froid has been hard work. Chris and I are exhausted from all the extra farm work and the bank maintenance jobs. On top of that my handy husband has been unfreezing the pipes beneath the bath every single morning (using Suze of Suze, Cycling’s foolproof method) and keeping the gîte fire going. And the fun hasn’t finished yet. We came back from tree chopping to find that the upstairs pipes had finally unfrozen after a fortnight’s non-co-operation, and one upstairs had popped a joint. Water was merrily dripping through the bathroom ceiling from Caiti’s room above. Chris has sorted that problem, but there are several burst pipes next door to repair, and those are the ones that are visible. We hope that nothing’s gone wrong out of sight. We’ll find out soon!
The cold has taken its toll on the livestock. We’ve lost our two oldest chickens, Molly and Black Chicken and four of the younger guinea-pigs, despite doing our best to keep them all warm. The camelids and sheep have been staying in their respective shelters most of the time and the remaining poultry hasn’t wandered far either. They’ll all be very pleased to see green grass again.
Wildlife has suffered too. We haven’t seen much evidence of ragondins (coypus) lately, apart from one frozen corpse which appeared yesterday morning. We’d heard rumours that these South American imports were killed off by extreme cold because they got frostbite in their tails and this led to their death. And it’s true. The chap we found, well, let’s just say his tail wasn’t pretty. Much as we detest these damaging rodents, I wouldn’t want them to go that way. Poor old thing.
And yes, I should be doing cheese since it’s Tuesday. So here’s a quick look at Boursin. Think French cheese, and Boursin is near the top of the list. I discovered it many years ago during a cycling holiday with three student friends. Every day for lunch we’d buy a baguette, a tub of Boursin, a 1kg bucket of chocolate pudding and a bottle of the cheapest wine we could find. The wine we soon gave up on when we realised that cycling after wine when you’re a bit giggly isn’t a great idea!
Boursin is a relatively modern cheese. It all began in 1957 when François Boursin set up a soft cheese factory in Normandy. Four years later a newspaper wrongly reported that Boursin was now making a soft cheese flavoured with garlic – another company was actually doing it. But that gave Monsieur Boursin the idea and he began experimenting. Boursin Garlic and Herbs was launched in 1963. Five years later it was the first cheese to appear in a TV advert. The same recipe is still used, but a variety of other versions have been introduced, such as pepper and walnut Boursin. And my top Boursin tip – add a dollop to mashed potatoes. It gives it a lovely flavour.
We have a missing chicken situation tonight. When I went out to put the turkeys and hens to bed, I couldn’t find Limpy anywhere. Limpy is a Labelle chicken, and must be about three years old now. We bought her and five of her siblings for the freezer, but she was trodden on by a llama when she was quite young. She couldn’t walk at all for about a month, so every morning we carried her out to the garden and every evening we carried her back to a comfy nesting box in the hen stable. She became very tame because of that, and we grew fond of her, so she became a pet and escaped ending up as Dagg food.
She doesn’t wander far since, as you might have guessed, she’s got a bad limp. I’ve checked all her usual daytime haunts so the chances are that she’s settled down somewhere for the night. I was a bit late to see to them this evening and the weather’s bad, which often makes the chickens go to roost earlier than normal. It’s very gloomy in the barn so she might have been there somewhere and I just couldn’t see her. I hope she turns up tomorrow.
Chickens are very much in the news at the moment in France. Back in 1999, European legislation was put in place to ban battery hen farming by 2012. Why it should take 12 years to get round to supplying hens with slightly larger cages escapes me. With a bit of effort I’m sure farmers could have managed it within a year or so, and they certainly should have, morally. Politics obviously had a lot to do with it. Anyway, now chickens must have larger cages so that they have room to preen themselves and turn round. Until the present that hasn’t always been possible. It’s horrific, and is why I gave up buying battery eggs many years ago, long before we got chickens of our own.
There are in fact two types of hen accommodation that are allowed under the new legislation: 1. Enriched cages which give the chicken 750 square centimetres, and 2. non-cage systems with nests (1 per 7 chickens) and no more than 9 chickens per square metre. In addition, both types of housing must provide perches (15cm per hen), litter for them to peck and scratch at and access at all times to a feeding trough (12 cm per hen). These still aren’t overly generous allowances for them.
It seems so sad to me that battery chickens have been treated so abominably up to now – and still are. There is a high level of non-compliance. 1st January this year was the deadline, and European health minister John Dalli has said there’s going to be zero tolerance for farms that have flouted the law. Legal action will be taken within the next few days to stop hen farmers not meeting regulations from selling eggs to shops and supermarkets. This could mean a shortfall of 51 million eggs for Europe in the short term. Not here though. We always have fresh eggs to spare and there are still a load in the freezer.
Chickens are troopers. They’re stoic and adaptable and will put up with anything, and that’s why they’ve been so abused in the past. If they’d only stopped laying eggs in their rotten battery conditions then something would have been about it a long while ago. As it is, chickens just keep going. They’re born survivors. Long after humans have died out, there’ll still be chickens on the planet – mark my words!
It was time for a spot of food processing this morning i.e. time to get the chickens out of the field and into the freezer. The three very pretty, light brown labelles have been living on borrowed time for several months since we kept giving them a reprieve. We can’t really do any poultry despatching when gite guests are around and our last guests only went a few weeks ago. A lot of people still don’t like to think that their meat comes from what was once a living thing, and which had to be rendered unliving somewhere along the line. It’s not particularly nice, but it has to be done and there’s no point being soppy about it. We don’t wake up in the morning thinking whoopee, today’s the day we do for our chickens. It’s a job that needs doing from time to time. We bought the chickens to eat and they really do taste extremely nice!
We only succeeded in dealing with two of them. Number three took off at a run when Chris came after her, and is probably still running! There’s a chance she may potter back tonight to the hen house from force of habit, but I’m not betting on it. She’s definitely smarter than your average chicken. And Chris has come to terms with being outwitted by her!
Roly the cat was very keen to help with the plucking when the time came.
That’s my job. I’m a left-handed plucker. I’m actually right-handed in everyday life but can be heavy-handed with that hand when pulling out feathers. The result is torn skin. Very unprofessional.
Anyway, one chicken is now in the freezer and the other is in the fridge for Friday night’s tea.
Friday is also carol service night. I’m doing one of the readings, and in French! It seemed a good idea at the time when I volunteered but I’m starting to feel nervous now. Caiti has run through the pronunciation with me but there are a couple of words that keep tripping me up. Grrr. Fingers crossed I’ll get it right on the night. It’s the reading about the three kings (les roi mages) arriving in Jerusalem and asking Herod where the new king is. Hardly subtle were they!
Back to food, it’s fish feeding season. The carp in our three lakes need extra noms (you have to know what noms means! – if not, go and look up lolcats) over winter. For most of the year they get well fed by anglers, and that’s on top of the naturally occurring food for them in their environment. All our lakes are stream fed which means edible microscopic goodies are constantly being washed into them. But the carp need a top up at this time of year to keep them in good condition. Since the lakes freeze for at least several weeks each winter, we need to get plenty of food – but not too much – in for them before that happens. So every couple of days, Chris and I lob in a carefully measured amount of carp pellets into each lake to meet the demands of its population. It’s a surprisingly fun job. The pellets make a lovely ploppy sound as they hit the water and it’s refreshingly mindless to chuck them about. The four-legged animals enjoy the occasion too. There’s a line of one dog and several cats behind us every time we head off. They snaffle up all the pellets that get dropped or misthrown (mainly by me) or otherwise don’t make it into the lakes. Even the goats like the pellets, which have a very strong fishy smell, but then goats like anything!
My quest to be better organised continues (inspired by www://orgjunkie.com). The latest thing I’ve tackled is the ‘library’ in our holiday cottage. When we used to go on holiday, pre llamas, I was always delighted to find a shelf of books offering some entertainment for quiet half hours, or if the weather was bad. So we’ve filled three bookshelves with books for our guests, making sure there’s plenty of children’s books (including some I wrote!).
But the shelves were constantly untidy and the books weren’t taken care of so I decided to create a more organised library. I’ve filled the shelves completely and put up book ends so the books won’t keep falling over and ending up in a heap. I’ve also labelled each book and given it a number – A1 etc for books by authors whose surname starts with A, and so on – and have an index book to record them all in. It took a lot of work, but finally, we know exactly what books we’ve got there! I’m working on the principle that if it looks like we value and take pride in our little library, then the guests are more likely to do so as well.
From shelves to shells. The hens are laying busily now that the sunshine has finally reached France. But, like every year, I was too parsimonious in my frozen egg usage over winter, not wanting to run out! So I have a lot of frozen eggs left, and now a new supply of fresh ones!
Freezing eggs works well. You can’t freeze them in their natural state though. You need to beat them for successful freezing. I do two at a time and store them in a yogurt pot with a plastic covering (cut from a bread bag or other recyclable plastic bag) held on by an elastic band. Lots of reusing there!
The egg looks a bit gunky when it defrosts, as you can see in the next photo, but it’s perfectly OK and works as well as fresh egg.
One hundred years ago there was an egg crisis in France. In 1905 a law had been brought in making it illegal to pass preserved eggs off as fresh ones. But six years later, the practice was still widespread. Eggs were preserved in lime in those days. The secret with any type of preserving is to keep air and bacteria out. For the lime method, 12 oz of quicklime was mixed into a gallon of water, together with small quantities of other chemicals (salt, soda, saltpetre, borax and tartar). This would be poured over eggs in a barrel, and the barrel was then covered with a cloth. The lime would tend to make the eggshell feel very rough, so that was one way of telling if an egg had been preserved. Eggs could keep for 6-9 months this way. Modern-day preserved eggs are known as century eggs and are common in Asian recipes. These are preserved using lime together with salt, tea and wood ash.
Give me fresh eggs straight from a chicken any day!
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!