Giving my husband a hand to put ear tags on the lambs the other day, I couldn’t help but look around the bergerie. Full to the gunnels with 270 ewes and about as many lambs, I marvel as always, at the logistics of caring for so many bodies.
During the winter months, he feeds them twice a day with as much ease as I do when cooking a family meal for four; unrolling the hay bales the length of the sheep barn like packets of ready-made pastry. I notice that buckets full of grain are already stacked in the corner, ready for the lambs’ evening meal, adding to the effect of “a little something that I knocked up earlier”.
In fact, the farm is totally self-sufficient and the pre-prepared meal dates back to last summer’s harvest. Although retired, my father-in-law still helps out from time to time, but the majority of work falls squarely on my husband’s shoulders. 25 acres of cereals are sown and harvested and 50 acres of grassland and alfalfa are cut and baled.
During the summer months, we re-enact Jean de Florette, part II. Huge battles with the elements and lesser ones with the neighbours over water are part and parcel of agriculture here. If the crops survive the drought, hail storms and onslaught from wild boar then the hay and grain is stored in the barn for use during the winter.
The hay bales may also be used on a rainy day in the autumn when the sheep can’t go outside. I suppose that makes it the farming equivalent of a home-made freezer meal, for those days when you don’t feel like cooking.