Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Come rain or shine

The recent early heat-wave came to an end earlier this month and the weather is now a bit more normal, wet, thundery and showery. Sometimes cooler, then, just before a storm, stiflingly hot.

New farmers to France often ask "is this normal?". The problem is none of us know what "normal"is. Since my family and I arrived in France 15 years ago, each season has been different each year.

As we unloaded the removal van in January 1996 in heat of 25-30 degrees, out came the sledges. The Frenchman we bought our original farm from said "you wont need those here". Famous last words! Within almost a week the weather was cold and snowy, and continued to get colder and snowier. That winter we had frost at -10 to -15 below. I hated it. To me it was colder than Cumbria, and far more hostile. At least in Cumbria I had my friend and neighbour, George, keeping an eye on us from the other side of the valley (about 1 km away). Didn't go much on it then, but sure as hell missed it in France.

However, in March of the same year I was lambing the sheep - well, those that didn't abort their lambs - in temperatures of about 20-odd degrees, and managing to get in some early sun-bathing. Out of 350 sheep to lamb that year, we ended up with only 100 lambs. We are of the opinion that the journey from Cumbria, unloading overnight somewhere in Dorset, to France didn't suit them. Some that were loaded in an iminent state of lambing fared much better.

Every year there are fears over the haycrop. Is there enough rain, is it warm enough and (especially) when will this bloody cold wind stop?

April can be awful. I remember moving the kids in with (my new) OH in April 1998, it was wet and cold, the kids were miserable, the washing piled up, the tumble dryer never stopped. I thought he might send us all back to (old) OH again! But we all survived and have lived to laugh about it and look forward to Louise's wedding in August. The photo is of us all in 2001.

Winters are unpredictable too. OH says France is a cold country that gets hot. Not a bad analogy. We have certainly been able to use that sledge that was unloaded in 1996, on more than one occasion. Some winters are wet, moving the sheep from one soggy field to another chasing non-existant grass is one memory that springs to mind. At least the young sheepdog had some repetitive work to help with his education. Feeding the cows that we had to winter outside, losing my welly in the sucking (yes, I said sucking) mud is another happy memory. Probably didn't say sucking at the time though! Running, after retrieving said welly, to the safety of the fence in my sock. There's no time to mess about when there's 500 kilos of cow - with horns - after the empty bucket.

This winter hasn't been too bad. Some snow and frost early on before Christmas. Then we had just housed some of the ewes before OH fell down the stairs and had a plaster on his leg for 4 weeks (plastered in more ways than one). But I didn't get too wet whilst doing the sheep. Not that I can remember anyway. If it had been exceptionally wet it would have stuck in my mind, or certainly in my throat.

And now we're back to haymaking time. Most of the farmers round us have done the majority of their hay. Those fields that are left have been waiting for some rain in order to thicken up in the bottom. The rain has dutifully arrived and obliged. We now need some sun so we can all get on with it. We're never satisfied are we?