Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cattle prattle

Amazing. Looks like this is the fifth day on the trot that we've had glorious sunshine with clear blue skies and not a cloud to be seen. Been warm too, so I've been able to conserve precious wood supplies by letting the kitchen stove burn out overnight and not re-lighting 'til the evening cooking session. Do that in the icy grip of winter and it means certain death by frostbite. Been keeping the little upstairs stove going though. It burns slower so it's more economical. Funny how heating becomes a big issue out here in winter, unlike back in the UK where it's almost taken for granted.

With all this recent sunshine, I've taken the opportunity to tidy up the Golf in preparation for tomorrow's visit by a prospective buyer. I'd probably keep the thing if I could replace that damned malfunctioning Digifiz dashboard (see previous posting), but I can't, so it's gotta go..., hopefully tomorrow. Bloke sounds keen and apparently has a Digifiz that works, so he may well buy. Then I might try and sell the VW camper van. And if that sells as well, I'll just be left with the smelly old dogwagon. Might be a good time to look around for a decent car. Maybe something more modern than my usual 'classic' vehicles. Trouble is, these modern cars are just so bland. And pricey. Ah well, just have to see what happens.

Evenings are getting lighter. Back in December I used to set off for the evening dogwalk at around 4ish and get back just before dark. However, the last few days I've been setting off around 4.30 or 5ish. And yesterday, I set off at 5.30. Sun was low but still bright. Went up the back field, through the copse, under the barbed wire fence and into the field over the back of the hill. Up there it's all in shade but across the valley the hills were pink with the evening sun. Meandered along to the recently cleared copse. It's an area about an acre in size that used to be completely overgrown with old trees and brambles. The trees have been felled and cut into logs, all neatly stacked in a couple of long piles ready to be used as heating for next winter. Brambles, undergrowth and tree branches have all been burnt. Next stage is to seed with grass, then, probably next year, it'll provide extra grazing for the farmer's increasing number of Limousin cattle.

Apparently the French government are encouraging (by subsidising?) farmers to increase cattle numbers. Which is why they're clearing woods and expanding their grazing areas. French cattle, especially the Limousin breed, are highly regarded for their excellent meat. I spoke to our local farmer a while back and he said a lot of Limousin meat is exported (hence government subsidies to encourage exports). Apparently there's growing demand throughout Europe but especially from Italy. Somewhat surprisingly, it's meat only, no milk. Our farmer doesn't do milk. Probably no money in it. Which reminds me...

Saw a telly prog a few weeks back. UK supermarkets forcing down milk prices, thus putting a lot of small-time farmers out of business. Terrible shame. Gave a glimpse of the future. Huge cattle sheds. Cattle penned in individual slots where they're treated like milk machines. Never get outdoors to romp in a field. Interviewed an American farmer who has already invested in such a system. Said the cows are quite happy. Lead very contented lives. My bloody arse, mate! If that's the future, it damned well stinks. I've seen our farmer unload a bunch of cows into a field from a trailer and they've literally jumped for joy at being in the great outdoors. Anyone who reckons cattle are happy being chained up indoors is an idiot. It's total bolleaux. Grr...

If people are happy (wrong word but it'll do) to pay 6.50 quid for a gallon of petrol (which is what it now costs!), surely they'll be prepared to pay around 2 quid for a pint of milk from farmers with small herds of outdoor cows. Hey folks, stop buying your milk from supermarkets. Same with eggs. Look around and find a retailer who deals directly with small farmers who don't treat their livestock like..., er... dirt (I was about to say 'animals'!). Might cost a bit more but it's worth it. Try inconvenience shopping for a change. Go the extra mile.

Anyways..., where was I?

With hands in pockets and absent-mindedly kicking the dirt in that newly claimed field as I pondered the terrible future of dairy herds, I was suddenly aware of my dogs looking at me and wondering why we'd stopped. "Sorry lads, I was miles away. Onwards..." Headed back the way we'd come. Hit the sunlight again at the top of the hill. Sun just setting. Orange, in a clear blue sky. Church bells clanged six in the valley below. A few crows headed home overhead. Jock and Sprocket gave chase, barking. Always makes me smile. Put Sprock on his lead and ambled off downhill with Jock following. Into the shadows then home.


  1. Great photos and comments. I can hardly afford to drive down the road now the cost of fuel is ridiculous but it is still too cold here to use my bike:( I am looking forward to my return to France next month. Diane

  2. I work in Animal Health and, even in these huge factory farms, if they ever get built, welfare conditions are still far better than in many French farms and checks and balances are far more stringent too.

    Not long ago a report was published about the ingredients that make their way into animal feed at some of France's leading manufacturers, investigators found they include slurry from animal sewage treatment plants; liquid waste including dirty water, blood and other body fluids from animals' cadavers; and solid waste trapped in filters through which pass all the factories' waste water--from cleaning, treating skins andhides, and from septic tanks.

    A report prepared for the French Agriculture Ministry shows that in France animal feed is laced with antibiotics for 98% ofpiglets, 96% of young turkeys and 68% of chickens and you have to wonder how Brittany manages to produce 55% of France's pork and 40% or its chicken and eggs when it only occupies 6% of France's agricultural land. The answer is factory farming which is alive and well in France. For veal calves, there is no legal requirement to provide any bedding after 2 weeks and they are kept in multi-storey pens with slatted floors and barely enough room to life down. Oooh, I could go on for hours about how adulterated French food really is. The situation with the dairy farmers is just the same in France whichled to the milk riots a few years back. They have to sell it for less than the cost of producing it.

    It's a shame that the French government is suppporting deforestation in this way. The same thing happened where I used to live except that it was for crops not cattle. The end result will be flooding. Increased cattle numbers and deforestation are a recipe for disaster. The cattle compact the land making it more difficult to absorb groundwater and with no trees to provide a natural barrier the land will flood.

    But on the positive side, we have the cheapest petrol in the South West of England in our town and despite the recent price hikes I'm still paying less for a gallon that I did when we left France.

  3. Farmers (and anybody else with a suitable amount of land and borders) can get subsidies to replant hedgerows. You may know that Defra and its previous incarnations did the same thing in the UK, paying farmers to rip hedges out and latterly paying them to put them back (ah, don't you just love forward planning?).
    I also understand, from farming neighbours, that farmers HAVE to have a certain percentage of hedges for the amount of land they own, so it's not all bad.
    We own woodland and through the CRPF, have learnt that the amount of wooded land in France has increased over the last few decades.
    And finally, I hesitate to blame farmers, it's the customers, the public, who are now obsessed with food being cheap and not, as you so rightly say, seeing the proportionality with fuel price rises, which they're happy to pay. We should all shop ethically, and that includes making sure our clothes aren't made in sweatshops, our trainers by Asian schoolkids as well as paying farmers a working wage to produce our food.

  4. Dunno how I missed this post until now. Interesting.

    It's wrong to blame the public. Near to us we have acquired a new Tesco and I give the small shops a few months or a year before most of them are closed down. They probably only have to use 10% of their business before they are no longer viable.
    If there wasn't a Tesco, people would happily continue shopping at their local little shops but Tesco come along, undercut everyone, monopolise the car parking situation and the rest soon becomes history.

    We lost our milk delivery a few years ago and had no option but to shop at the supermarket but now the small farm down the road has set up a delivery service and a hut at the end of his lane selling milk, cream, eggs and bread. That's where I now shop. The eggs are much cheaper and fresher than in the supermarket but I'd still buy them if they were slightly dearer. But I don't think it's reasonable to expect people to go too far out of their way to support small producers. Fuel is too expensive for a start. It's the power of the supermarkets that is to blame.