House sitting at Christmas

Don't work with children and animals....

Don’t work with children and animals….

Here are some of the animals we’re looking after on a farm near Bordeaux. When you’re looking after other people’s animals it’s a big responsibility. These are Nikki’s ‘inside animals’ – there are plenty more outdoors (more on them later). We thought we’d get them into the Christmas spirit (and keep in touch with Nikki at the same time) and they were quite happy to have a play! There is one missing –  the very ancient black cat who is too old and fragile to move around. We just keep changing his bed everyday and he likes a good brush behind the ears.

When  you’re housesitting you can do other things nearby. We went to an antique market (‘brocante’ in French) in a town called Monsegur, a lovely bastide town. I bought a picture with a hole in it (see mantlepiece) and a clock that doesn’t work – I was happy. Hope you don’t mind Nikki I’ve rearranged your mantlepiece – just to try them out. I’ll put everything back – promise!

A good website to find out more about housesitting and petsitting is http://www.trustedhousesitters.com

Week 2 on the farm……horse coiffure

 

Vianne, Twiggy and Bertie await the grooming....

Vianne, Twiggy and Bertie await their grooming….

These 3 are getting a groom today, manes, coats and hooves. Checking for ticks is also on the agenda…..oooo lovely! The sun came out for us today too….

Twiggy being led by Stellla

Twiggy being led by Stellla

Stella came along form a neighbouring farm to handle the equines. If anyone is going to get a good grooming then Stella is the one to do it. I really admired her handling of these large animals, very calm, very skilful and very kind.

Searching for tics

Searching for ticks on Twiggy

Last week Stella applied the tick medicine, a bit like applying frontline on dogs, it had to be applied along the spine of the horse and on the bottom part of its legs (fetlocks?). Last week before the medicine was applied, she found loads of ticks, this week – not too many. Stella also gave Twiggy a bathe of her eye which seemed a bit runny, cleaned her other eye being careful not to reinfect, and nostrils too. Twiggy really loved that part and was almost falling asleep.

Detangling and brushing Twiggy's mane

Detangling and brushing Twiggy’s mane

It was getting quite warm by now. Stella is using a special brush and a spray to help detangle the mane. After this the mane and tail were lovely and luxurious. ‘Losty’ the Billy Goat kept trying to get in on the act – so he’s getting a brush too.

Still searching for ticks

Still searching for ticks

The ticks seem to congregate under the chin and in the armpits. Stella uses a special piece of equipment to remove them and then drops the engorged ticks into water to die. They have to be killed otherwise they’ll jump back on the animals and yes you’ve guessed it – cause all sorts of bad things…….

Bertie the donkey showing his teeth

Bertie the donkey showing his teeth

Bertie giving Stellla a big kiss! She deserved it after all the brushing, de-ticking and general grooming she gave Bertie – he loved it!

There he is looking gorgeous

There he is looking gorgeous

Next up was Vianne – she really enjoyed the brushing and hoof clean up

Stella cleaning Viannne's hoof

Stella cleaning Viannne’s hoof

Stella uses a special hoof cleaning tool to dig out the mud around the ‘frog’ . There is a little brush attached to brush mud off the hoof.  Apparently you don’t do this when it’s muddy in case you brush mud into a cut which could cause an infection. She did a fantastic job – All the animals say “Thanks Stella we’re looking forward to your next visit!”

The Llamas……

One of the female llamas

One of the female llamas

Nikki has five llamas on her farm. A family unit of parents and children. All the males have been castrated. They haven’t spat at us either! When we said we were going to be looking after Llamas many people asked us that question. They only seem to spit very occasionally and at each other – as a kind of discipling system in their pack order. The horribleness of the spit depends on which part of the stomach they decide to use. They rarely have any spats but on one occasion two of the males had a little spitting and running spat. Jon was in the way – but they stopped abruptly very near him – so that was lucky!

One of the male llamas

One of the male llamas

Llamas are used nowadays quite often for trekking and I suppose that figures if they were bred as a pack animal. They all like to stay together. Apparently llamas are intelligent animals and they can learn simple tasks after a few repetitions. This is born out by them being able to open the lids off their own food bins and know exactly where to stand in order to get their hay. They love dust baths!

Grazing llamas

Grazing llamas in France, east of Bordeaux

We think they are very like camels and I’ve just read on Wikipedia that they are from the camel family. Theses llamas are very quiet and gentle and don’t make much noise apart from a kind of muted ‘mwah’ like sound on occasion, normally when we are a bit slow in getting their food ready. They’re eating mainly fresh hay.

Another llama

llama and goat grazing together

Nikki doesn’t shear her llamas, so they are kept quite cool in summer and warm in winter as their coats act as great insulation. Llamas are originally from South America and were bred for meat and as pack animals by Andean cultures. Llamas typically live for 15-25 years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llama. The wool produced by the llamas is very soft and lanolin-free. DSC_0068

Route de la Noix – Perigord, near Sarlat, Dordogne

Sorting walnuts on the conveyor belt

Sorting walnuts on the conveyor belt

We were driving through the Perigord region of France a few weeks ago and realised we were on the ‘Route de la noix’. It was a lovely golden coloured day and walnut trees covered the fields on either side of the road.  Walnut orchards are an important part of the Perigord landscape. Walnuts have been cultivated in the Perigord for centuries – back to to early modern humans, 43,000 years ago. In this area the process of cracking the nuts and harvesting the kernels is called the ‘Denoisillage’.  In the old days, the walnuts were cracked with a boxwood hammer in front of the fire by the older women.

We stopped at a farm to buy some fresh nuts and were lucky enough to be able to  watch the whole process of sorting, drying and dehusking of the nuts.  ‘La Grandjean’, la Corne, and ‘la Franquette’ are the three authentic walnut varieties grown here and have the AOC label of ‘Noix du Perigord’ to protect the quality. Although this looks like an industrial process it really is on quite a small scale – and as the farmers above said, no-one gets rich growing walnuts. A beautiful area and worth visiting.

Walnuts with their green husks

Walnuts with their green husks – this machine dehusks the walnuts

We bought 5 kilos of lovely big Grandjean walnuts – only to discover the walnut season had also started in our area of SW France.  Our neighbour’s grandfather planted walnut trees on the perimeter of his fields and she invited us to come collecting nuts with her. So now we’ve got walnuts coming out our ears. Her walnuts are smaller and a different variety and have a slightly different taste.

Walnuts that have been dehisced

Walnuts that have been dehusked

The route is a fascinating meander through the walnut orchards of the Perigord area and there are lots of lovely places to stay and eat http://www.fermedupech.com/index.html

More info on the route here http://www.noixduperigord.com/gabarre.html

Collecting walnuts  - ready for the industrial dryer

Collecting walnuts – ready for the industrial dryer

Covering a chair with French linen sheets

Chair covered in French linen sheets

Chair covered in French linen sheets

Bonjour mes amies! So sorry for the very long delay in posting anything……..here we go, a new project that I’ve been working on. I bought this comfortable old armchair at a car boot sale here (a vide greener) and covered it with a lovely old linen sheet, I’m quite pleased with my effort. Don’t look too closely though or you’ll see all the mistakes!