Back on the ranch, no Skype or email, but we have a bath

So after nine days back in Rzemien to respect the ‘All Saints’ holiday and let me fit in two English teaching days, we headed back to the ranch with the intention of ‘getting things done’. Easier said than done it seems as our enthusiasm wanes along with the sun. We did manage to clear most of the wood that we cut down to make way for the electricity cable to supply the new house, which is just as well as we need to feed the koza (wood burner, it also translates as goat) a fair amount to heat the water and to keep us warm in the stable. We do have a good stock of wood that we have seasoned over the last two years, but it’s all too big for our scaled down wood burning goat, so a good four or five hour stint dragging the culled silver birch and willow to the stable to be reduced to 20cm (ish) lengths by lopper and chop saw filled the fuel buckets and boxes for the next week or so. I may have mentioned this before, but the old saying that wood heats you up three times is as true today as it was when it was first thought up; first when you fell it, second when you chop it and a third time when you burn it, I was reduced to wearing a T-shirt despite the cooler weather.

Keep feeding it and you can cook, heat up water for the bath and keep the stable warm!

Talking about burning wood, we also fired up the piec for more than half an hour, building up day by day, to today‚Äôs big burn of about six hours. It heats up nicely, with the brick structure slowly retaining heat but I need to make some fine adjustments to the cast iron hot plates as they don’t quite sit right; the grinder needs to come into play. We also fired up the bread oven, but we have to take this a little slower, giving it more heat every day for a month until it will be finally ready, we intend to add some fire bricks to the base as well to help retain the heat more so it will double as a pizza oven ūüôā If only the house doors had arrived as planned then we may have kept some of the heat in the building!¬† As we were in the house we managed to strip the protective film from the windows and frames, removed all the wedges holding the widows in place whilst the wonder that is expanding foam set and in turn filled the new gaps with more expanding foam. If I had of known that the window fitters would have worked to such a wide margin of error I wouldn‚Äôt have spent so long with the frames; my 2mm tolerance could have been 20mm, it would have made little difference to the final fitting! Still as they say in Poland ‘Z tego sie nie strzela’ (You don’t have to shoot from it)

With this saying in mind Gosia and I decided to take on the soffit ūüôā

The wild boars have made a few more appearances whilst we were away, or should I say they have left evidence; nobody has actually seen them yet, but I fear its only a matter of time; dogs close by, knife in pocket whenever I go out past dusk, it’s that time of year. It also means that the deer are coming in closer as well and it’s almost a daily event to see them on the land now, sometimes at the side of the road (track) that leads to our land, only running off at the last-minute, within 20 meters or so of us in the van. The same can be said of foxes as well, maybe not as often, but they are a frequent sight; are chickens such a good idea next year? Will they be feeding us or will we be feeding the foxes?

There you go you see, I started to ramble on without mentioning the big event this week; we found a bath, or should I say that whilst we handed in the scrap that we have collected over the last couple of months, old tin cans, beer cans, rusty nails and the like, Gosia spotted an old rusty cast iron roll top bath and after a brief negotiation with the proprietor we handed over 140 Pln (about ¬£30) this was after we had received 43 Pln (about a tenner) for the scrap we handed in. Gosia has high hopes, whilst I’m glad we don‚Äôt have to fork out a small fortune for a new one! Remind me of this statement when I’m cursing the bath as I try to re-enamle it next year! I will follow-up with a photo when I have a fully functional laptop again. At the moment I’m limping along running my operating system from a USB stick, but not to worry, Amazon are sending me a new hard drive and I hope to be back to normal with Skype and email after the weekend.


Sheep, mutton, hogget and lamb.

Our first attempt at keeping livestock

As I mentioned in Ba ba Black sheep we kept a couple of lambs over the summer to fatten up for the freezer and we intend to do the same again next year, possibly keeping a couple of ewes long term, I thought it would be a good idea to document things in a little more detail.

Armed with a book I found a book on ebay a couple of years ago ‘ Backyard Sheep Farming’ I thought we had enough¬†information¬†to get started; first things first though, lets look at the equipment list:

  • Fencing:¬†We decided on electric as it was cheap and flexible, very important if you intend to move your sheep about. We managed to pick up 500m of wire, 100 insulators and an¬†energizer¬†that can be powered by¬†battery¬†or mains for less than ¬£60. We had wooden posts left over and reclaimed¬†from¬†when we set out our batter boards marking the house foundations and I utilised the orchard trees if they formed the perimeter of our paddocks. I also just happened to have a couple of old spare car batteries that I have kept in cold storage, just waiting for a purpose. Once charged up I alternated the two batteries once a month to keep the system live.
  • Housing:¬†As a¬†Yorkshire man I had not imagined keeping the sheep indoors,¬†even¬†if¬†that’s¬†what people do in Poland, however it does get hot in the summer so I knocked up a shelter against the side of the old house to provide shade if required. The shelter is about a meter and a half square made from old shuttering planks and some ashfelt left over from the foundation damp course, all very thrifty stuff.
  • Food: What’s green and grows all over the place? Grass, and we have plenty of it; although I had read that sheep¬†don’t¬†like long grass, so I topped the long grass in the orchard with the tractor a couple of weeks before the lambs arrived. We also invested in a ‘salt lick’ which supplements the trace elements if they are not present in the normal diet. The salt lick was placed in the shelter. We also used a bucket and plastic trough for water, both positioned in¬†shaded¬†areas to stop the water heating up in the sun. We did¬†splash¬†out ¬£10 on the trough, but it later became one of our mixing¬†bowls¬†for the earth plaster on the house, no doubt it will be a trough again in the summer ūüôā
  • Lambs:¬†Apparently you are able to buy lambs on the black market in Poland if you know the right people. We bought two and completed all the paperwork (which I won’t bore you with) They were¬†about¬†3 months old and weaned. the lambs cost around ¬£120 for the pair, although this cost was shared with our friends Steve and Dorota; the deal¬†being¬†that we would keep them as long as they arranged the slaughter; a deal which worked out well.

I initially set out the fence with two wires spaced at 30cm and 45cm from the ground, providing about 150 square meters of grassland around an old wild plumb tree for shade along with the shelter that I had built; this took me about 3 hours to complete.  After the short journey from their previous home, quite stressful for all I think, we reversed the van to the paddock, let them find their way out and closed the fence behind them; easy!

I did stay and observe them for some time to check on their general¬†well being¬†and to make sure that the fence did the trick. I have read in several books that electric fencing is not the best solution for sheep as the wool can insulate them, the one¬†thing¬†that isn’t often mentioned though is that sheep are quite¬†intelligent¬†and once they have had there first shock (about 30 minutes after they arrived) they stayed away from the fence; or at least for the first month or so ūüôā I did become a little worried in the first week as they didn’t appear to be drinking, but then the water level started to slowly go down, I did later read that they get most of the water they need form the grass, especially when its freshly grown. However we still provided fresh water on a regular basis and if you watched them for long enough you would see them taking a slurp or two. As they lived¬†relatively¬†close by to the stable they were checked every day at least once, more often than not several¬†times¬†a day. They became quite a draw for any visitors, especially if they¬†had¬†children; many a time I made the mad dash to turn off the electric fence before a small hand¬†reached¬†out to touch the sheep:)¬†Unfortunately¬†I didn’t always¬†remember¬†to turn it back on again which may explain the few times that an escape took place.

After about 10 days I decided to expand the fence to cover the entire orchard, splitting it in two to create a second paddock. The intention was to graze them in one half, then the other, to prevent the build up of worms and parasites; in reality this never happened and they ended up with around two acres of grass and orchard to charge around in, more than adequate I thought, but I will plan better next year.

We then settled down to a long hot summer and with the generous help of our¬†neighbors¬†added beat leafs and oats to their diet, only a fist or hand full each day. They also enjoyed a couple of young fruit trees that I had¬†inadvertently¬†left within their reach along with windfall apples and plumbs; seeing the plumbs go in and the stones spit out was funny to see. We also discovered that they had a fondness for dried bread which then became the treat food that they would follow you anywhere for. In the end we could call them from over 50 meters away and they would come running (bouncing) towards you for the promise of a little dried morsel. This¬†allowed us to open the fence up every now and again and let then run free around the barn and stable and the greener grass on the other¬†side; I¬†even¬†took them for a walk to see the house and surrounding area, well over a miles walk!¬† I¬†have¬†since read that they are as¬†intelligent¬†as dogs (don’t tell Jackie and Scooby) and can¬†recognise¬†faces,¬†which¬†goes some way to explaining their tame¬†behavior¬† Incidentally the dogs showed the lambs no aggression and we had a few entertaining face off‚Äôs between them and the young male who always seemed to chase the dogs off in the end ūüôā

In the end though we knew they had to go, it was something that we had planned right from the start and especially as the male was starting to get boisterous; ¬†I was worried about my ability to handle him anymore, even with a loaf of dried bread to hand ūüôā I wont go into detail of the slaughter as there is not much to tell, it was over and done with¬†quickly¬†and we split the¬†carcasses¬†so that we could share out the meat with Steve and Dorota. We did our own butchering and have enjoyed several¬†glorious¬†meals to date; a couple of roasts, a curry and a shepards¬†pie; the meat is sweet and tender,although I would like to hang the¬†carcass¬†next time to improve the flavour and make butchering easier.

For the record we collected over 50Kg of meat, for £120 plus capital expenditure of say £80; which should be be spread over say five years; £16 per year, so 50Kg for £136 = £2.72 per Kg. The cost to cure two fleeces was around £38 if you include transport costs.

Lessons learnt and plans for next year

  • The electric fence works well, but can be breached if they really want to, so keep your sheep tame(ish) and they will be less likely to go too far if they break for freedom. You could of course build an expansive fencing system.
  • Make sure that you have¬†separate¬†paddocks to¬†allow¬†the movement of the sheep to prevent worms and parasites; I¬†have¬†further reading to do on the subject but the principle should be¬†followed.
  • Buy some Verm-x, organically certified worming treatment.
  • Make sure that any male lambs we buy are castrated and the tails docked (male and female)
  • Buy two ewes from a registered source for future breeding, preferably a recognised rare or traditional breed.
  • Use an¬†abattoir¬†for the slaughter and slaughter later in the year, November¬†onward. Consider keeping one on as a Hogget (12-18 months old) before slaughter.
  • Make sure the¬†carcass¬†is whole and hang for a least 10 days, as long as the slaughter is done later in the year it should be possible to do this at home.
  • Keep the fleeces, I want that jacket Gosia ūüôā

Anything to add? Any pearls of wisdom will be¬†received¬†with gratitude, especially if specific to Poland and in¬†English¬†ūüôā

And if your interested and want to read more there are some great things on the web as well: The Accidental Smallholder  is a top read covering a wide variety of smallholder subjects.

Knife crime!

As you walk down the streets of many of the rural villages at this time of the year you will be surprised by the number of people carrying knives; not just young people, but middle-aged and even pensioners, all brandishing a variety of sharpened cutlery. Now if this were England then the local constabulary would¬†have a field day rounding them up on charges of carrying an offensive weapon; thankfully Polish law hasn’t gone too mad yet and having a knife on your person is in no way considered strange even less so if you also happen to have a wicker basket in your other hand and¬†especially if there are mushrooms in the forest waiting to be picked and trimmed with the veg knife and placed in said basket.

So, as we are back in Rzemien for a religious holiday (wszystkich¬†swietych) we thought it best to join the rest of the village in the hunt for mushrooms; after all last year was a poor crop, so the intention is to pick and dry enough to last two years, just in case. Personally I thought that after the frost and snow we had last week the mushrooms would have packed up for the year, but as the temperature rises again and the rain reaches¬†the forest floor new life is popping up all over. So the van is brought into service and stools from the kitchen provide temporary seating for extra passengers as five of us set off to the heart of the forest, Gosias¬†mum navigating. Right left and straight on where some of the first words I learnt in Polish (Pravo, levo, prosto) and I have had a few opportunities to practice as I’ve taken polish speaking only¬†hunting parties out in the past.

Our main crop this time is the Bay Bolete with the occasional Cep thrown in for good measure but then, just as we have decided to head home as we have no more space available in the five baskets we collectively carry, we stumbled upon five of the biggest Orange Birch Bolete of the year. So big in fact that decided to take a photo of the better specimens.

It is advised that you discard the stalks, they can be eaten but they are tough unless cooked for a long time; the flesh is fantastic used in a sauce, or like today, on top of a pizza. The young bay bolete will be pickled or dried, the older specimens will probably be a sauce to go with Sunday lunch.

Update 4th November: Back out on the hunt today, I have requested a bigger basket!

Update later in the day: don’t ask for a bigger basket, you will jinx the hunt; not so full baskets today, better luck tomorrow morning.

Update 5th November:¬†Defiantly¬†a jinx, took a smaller basket this morning and we all returned with aching arms carrying full baskets ūüôā

Bay Bolete identification below, notice the pours and the way the flesh turns blue when cut. The brown cap can lighter or darker in shade, the spores are always yellow when young, becoming darker as they age.

Ba ba black sheep

Well not anymore as we picked up our two sheep skins from the tannery, all soft, white and fluffy.

If you didn’t know we kept a couple of lambs over the summer as an experiment on ourselves to see if we could keep and kill animals for our own use; all part of the future self sufficiency dream ….or necessity.

DSC03736 DSC03949

We fed them well; beet leafs, grain, plumbs (as they fell from the trees) not to mention the apples, all supplemented their usual diet of grass; they had the run of the orchard. We even discovered that they were very fond of dried bread, which was handy as it allowed us to call them and move them about quite easily; even to their eventual journey in the back of the van to see ‚Äėthe man‚Äô.

They had a good life, no doubt longer and happier then they would have had otherwise and in the end we have and have had some great food, and as of today two lovely sheep skins. I think Gosia has her eye on one of them to make a hat and maybe some slippers, I wonder which one I get for Christmas Smile

It‚Äôs not a very popular meat in Poland, it seems to have gone out of fashion quite a long time ago, and peoples memory is of a very strong tasting meat; no doubt from mutton. Mind you, slow cooked in red wine with some garlic and rosemary and we have managed to convert Gosias family; we have orders for next years flock already, so don’t be surprised if you see me in a sheepskin coat next year!