Our animals are the trusting and peaceful companions for this terrestrial journey, which if we’re lucky , will last a few more years….
Every morning I get up to feed and water them, and to clean in and around their shed. It’s a moment of pleasure, it’s my yoga. I talk to them and check they’re all fine. Some people travel across the globe to be surprised, amazed, refreshed, rested….Here I am amazed every day. The ewes jumping for joy when the hay arrives, the donkeys smelling my hands before I get a chance to open the gate. If I have a piece of carrot or cabbage for them in my pocket, they know it instantly and wait. When they can’t smell anything of interest to them, well, there is no dessert today. I never tire or this daily exchange.
In the evening it all starts again. if I can’t see them when I enter their paddock with their hay, I call them, and they arrive galloping at great speed.
Sometimes the animals freeze all over sudden, all ears pointed in the same direction. There is a visitor somewhere out there, a deer crossing Robert’s field down below, or a fox on the edge of the forest, soon disappearing in it. Sometimes a few roebucks slowly make their way up the field, cautious, looking this way and that. They stop and fixate our animals for a moment as to evaluate the situation and the gossip, then run for their lives to get cover. When it is a hunter and his dogs on their round, the ewes express their disapproval by jumping up and down on all fours and spitting in the same time. It’s impressive!
This morning the sky was grey and it was raining a fine and penetrating rain. It had rained all night and the ground was waterlogged and soggy. After an autumn much too dry this rain is welcomed, the ground stocking up. When one is well covered for this weather conditions, being outside is so pleasant. The colours, the freshness, the trees that I imagine drinking, the level of the pond rising, the animals waiting for me, the slosh-slosh of my wellies….all is fun.
A braying donkey is for many a very sad and heart breaking thing. That’s how it is for Geoff. For me, Bijou and Bichette are saying Hello, or questioning us about a possible walk in the woods, or they are simply letting us know that the restaurant is now open and they would love their meal to be served…
When Bichette is yearning for her hay, the sound she produces is unusual and unique: It is soft and languishing with many octaves going up and down for a few seconds and always finishing with a question mark. The sound Bijou gives out is strong and loud when he salutes Mireille’s jennies on the other side of the hill. But when he doesn’t want to share his meal, he barks like a dog and the ewes run away.
Dini the ram has found the thing: He always manages to sneak up between the donks like an eel, as fast as lightning to avoid a kick, and then turns around to face them such that they can only retreat in order to avoid a nasty head butt in the legs or chest.
The ewes now pregnant stay well away from the backs of the donks to avoid their hooves. The semi-circle they use when necessary at meal times to go around them and reach the hay feeder is the exact distance to stay safe without having ever done any maths…same with their teeth, which could leave them with a bare patch in their thick fur, poor things.
Three years ago Diva had a miscarriage. I found out one morning when her tits were so inflated that I got really scared and called the vet who confirmed that she could do a mastitis if not dealt with and advise me to bring her to the surgery. Thankfully the next day her tits had reduced a lot and I decided she didn’t need the vet after all. I think she had been kicked. It was her first lamb.
It sounds as though the donkeys and the sheep should not be together, but to the contrary they are great team players most of the time. Where ever the donkeys are, the sheep is always around. To see them graze peacefully together and close by is such a lovely site.
In the winter they are together in the bottom paddock, quite steep in some places with a small woodland of mainly oaks and Montpelier maples, and a small pond in a V shape carved deep in the rock, home to thousands of frogs. Facing South means it is protected and more suited for the winter.
When the ewes give birth in the spring, and need peace, the donkeys and the ram are then moved to the top field where they spend the next six to seven months after which they are brought down again. In the summer Dini is pinning away for his girls and calls out for them. They look at each other from afar but unfortunately for him they are not interested and ignore him completely, sorry mate. As soon as they are re-united in the autumn, he doesn’t leave them alone for one minute and wears them down. The ewes can’t resist him for very long.
When a ewe is ready to give birth she calls out to let us know and I then prepare a space for her inside their shed and lock her in. I leave her to it and a couple of hours later we have two lovely lambs. A for ever moving spectacle(Dora and baby Diva, February 2013- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ83J46RabA). The mothers are kept locked in for a few days and they seem to enjoy the security and intimacy of their space separate from the other animals to bond with their young.
The lambs are sold as soon as they are weaned, to people like us who won’t make cutlets out of them. Their needs are so elementary, that a bit of grassy land, some fresh clean water and a shed will do with grass when there is some available and hay when there isn’t any….
The sheep droppings make a slow and mild fertilizer that doesn’t burn the vegetation. I regularly use fresh dung with the rose bushes and they are magnificent. Sheep droppings and donkey dung, how lucky we are! We’ve got exactly the right quantities for the vegetable garden, the orchard and the flower beds the whole year round.
Three years ago and from the Ile of Ré, FRANCE, on the Atlantic ocean side, Hervé and Isabelle brought us an old donkey cart, THE Ile of Ré donkey cart! Our donkeys are the same size as those little donkeys traditionally working on the salt marches over there. We’ve changed the tires and we need to do minor repairs and repaint it, but never mind any of this, when our donkeys will be old enough to pull it, and when I’ll be told that I am not to be trusted on the road anymore, that I am a bit gaga, I’ll go and shop in the village with our two friends! What a lovely thought…..