I don’t know if you’ve read one of Julia Donaldson’s many brilliant children’s books, called “A Squash and a Squeeze”, but it’s been a bit like that in écovallée.
We started with land, just as we’d planned.
We took in a horse, to eat the grass (of course).
We raised some pigs, who grew pretty big.
Then added some hens, who lay eggs in their pen.
We were given some rabbits, that bred, um, like, more rabbits.
We tried a duck, but he went home (worst luck).
Then we had geese – mild, not wild, geese.
Add to this crew the cats, dogs, kids and us two.
At 12.5 acres, the smallholding began to feel just that – small. And every next animal we discussed – a cow, or goats, or sheep – seemed like an additional strain rather than an exciting new possibility.
Because apart from food, water and the occasional vet visit, a cow needs a shed and a shed needs building. Goats need a smaller shed, and very good fencing. Sheep need good fencing and big holes digging, when they die for no reason (whatever the season).
And when you do everything in the most labour-intensive way – by hand – without money – often alone – all of these things are quite daunting. (It would have been easier to start with existing farm buildings, but all we had was a field.)
Last year, having hand-sown, grown, scythed and gathered a crop to cut down the animals’ Winter fuel bill, but not having the time or energy to process the harvest, we realised we’d reached our holding’s limit to growth.
We said goodbye to the last pig – and the workload now doesn’t feel quite so big.
I’ve always said that pigs are easy – that they look after themselves. But that’s not quite true. Once the fencing’s up and the pig house in place, they’re good for a few days, although it’s worth checking the fence regularly to make sure it hasn’t been earthed up. And every few weeks, it’s worth pulling all the earth piled up near the fence outside the fence for the same reason. Then it’s just a question of feeding and watering the pigs twice a day, in our case carrying it all up hill (they’ve been living up hill for years). Watering in winter can be annoying when you fill their trough and they immediately turn it over so you have to fill it again. But it’s only really annoying when you have to carry the water 500 metres from our bathroom to start with because the outdoor tap is frozen.
Then there are the hunters. Or rather, the dogs. Hunting is a popular hobby in rural France and wild boar is one of the most popular targets. One big problem is that a hunting dog doesn’t know the difference between a wild or domestic pig. Twice we’ve had our pigs attacked by innocent-looking terriers. And every time we’ve heard a dog barking – usually on a cold and misty Sunday morning with the first cup of coffee in hand – we’ve donned clothes and boots, then jogged to the pig area to protect our livestock and shout at people with guns.
Now we don’t have pigs, we can enjoy our coffee in peace. The urge to run is still with us when we hear the bells round the dogs’ necks, but it will fade in time.
Without the pigs, feeding time is more fun. There’s more room to give attention to the rabbits, chickens, geese and horse. I look at the hill where the pigs were and am glad I don’t have to carry heavy buckets up there. I won’t get flabby – there’s plenty of other heavy stuff to carry (outdoor kitchens to make, platforms to build etc.).
And the other animals are all eating more interesting kitchen scraps.
So yes, we’re all happy. We’re really quite pleased.
It’s not such a squish – more, a breeze.