Expat catching up with animals in France

It’s tough but rewarding work keeping livestock. We don’t have a great deal – llamas and alpacas for fun; an assortment of pets; sheep, goats and poultry for sustenance – but they’re quite enough.

Stephanie Dagg. 06/03/2012

I’m sitting here in a fog of fatigue. Our last pregnant ewe refuses point blank to give birth. I’ve been up every couple of hours to check on her every night this week, and I’m done in. I’m a nervous wreck since we lost the last lamb. He didn’t survive delivery, sadly. I’m hoping things go better with this sheep.

We only have two ewes. We had a ram until recently but he’s taken up residence in the freezer.

Little by little we are getting closer to our goal of self-sufficiency in meat.

We’re there with poultry, eggs and pumpkins – in fact, more than there with pumpkins. If you ever want potirons, well, you know where to come! Anything in the squash family does brilliantly on our llama-poop-enriched soil, but unfortunately, not much else does. The kids have taken against pumpkins and courgettes with a vengeance so we’re always over-supplied.

Our first pigs arrive soon. We are about to embark on a major pig fencing campaign. We’re bound to get it wrong to start with, though.

It takes time to tune into what each species requires to keep it where you want it.

Our first llama fencing was a joke, nothing like adequate. Amazingly we had very few sessions of chasing speedy camelids around 75 acres. Good exercise but stressful. Now we have it sussed. One or other may occasionally fall out of the field literally if they push too hard against a post for a scratch, or lean too far over the netting after a tasty morsel on the other side. However, they usually put themselves back in without a fuss. Llamas hate being on their own.

Stephanie Dagg 6.4.2012

Whenever the goats get off their tethers, they head straight up to the house to eat the few remaining flowers in the garden, and so are easily spotted and rounded up again.

Our rabbit and guinea pigs run free anyway.

It’s just the sheep that have to be watched. Put a sheep in a field with as much shade, grass and clover as you like, and the only thing it wants to do is get out! We put a lot of work into what we thought was sheep-proof fencing. It worked for a week or two, until the sheep decided they wanted a change of scenery.

They systematically worked their way along to find weak spots to break out through. We’d chase them for a while, eventually catch them, repair the fence and put them back. They’d find another spot. This went on for quite a while until we invested another couple of hundred euros in more netting and barbed wire, and finally constructed something that the sheep couldn’t outwit. Long may that last.

Stephanie Dagg 6.4.2012

So pigs will be a challenge, but we’re excited about getting our breeding trio of Berkshires later this month. They’ll be the most intelligent animals to take up residence here, with the exception, I hope, of us!

Alpacas, llamas, chickens, sheep and goats aren’t the brightest, although they all soon become friendly with a lot of attention, if never quite affectionate.

Turkeys, reputedly the stupidest creature, quickly cop onto the fact that people mean food and while you can never have a meaningful relationship with a turkey, you can have a sort of companionship. I’m looking forward to interesting interactions with our pigs. Once we’ve caught them …

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Stephanie Dagg

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