26 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd

I once had a goldfish called Fred. (Warning: longer suffering readers will have heard this tiresome allegory before). He lived in a bowl for years. We then decided to dig a pond and it seemed only right that Fred should stretch his, erm … fins and enjoy the wide open spaces of that pond. Only thing is, after we released him from the confinement of his bowl and into the pond, he continued to swim in the same tight little circles he’d always done.  

It was the same thing for us when we moved to Brittany. After being shoe-horned into a terrace for years prior, it was almost impossible for this family to comprehend the amount of space we now owned, let alone set about using it properly. I can vividly remember walking around the field in the beginning feeling like a flea on a giant’s back.

Eventually – slightly more slowly than Fred did – you start to adapt and start to wonder how such a big farm ended up with such a small amount of land. The rather tedious answer is a clause in the conveyancing process here in France which ensures that real farmers get first call on agricultural land before it falls into the hands of enthusiastic, but clueless, amateurs – like me! Thus the French countryside is protected, land holding is consolidated and rationalised, hedgerows grubbed up and ancient field systems turned into prairies. That kind of protective progress thing. The outcome for the unlucky farm, thus denuded of its land, is an interesting proposition financially, if you stop and think about it (I didn’t!): a big old farm with very little land… Many of them stand unwanted and unloved by sensible locals, until someone comes along from a place where a few acres costs a million… 

Fortunately for him, there’s always someone on the look out for disorientated new arrivals and our outbuildings were soon full of other peoples’ stuff. However, after your bank balance has been similarly cared for, there comes a point when even the most determined dreamer has to realise that this abundance of outbuildings has to pay its way. In their very different ways the gite, the greenhouse, the goat house, the hen house and the pig barns have all performed this necessary transformation.

But the conundrum presented by the imperative to float a titanic collection of buildings on a tiny pond of land remains partially unsolved. In our case it’s The Hangar which is the epitome of the challenge at hand. Built to store enough hay and straw for a hundred cattle, I haven’t got the grazing land to support a single cow (yet). I’ve got six pigs, a vagrant duck, two cars, a trampoline, a tool shed, two rondes of hay, two wood piles, a ton of junk and a manure pile in there and it’s still at least half empty. I guess that’s inevitable when the thing occupies over 215 square metres!

I’ve known for some time what the hangar really needs, and what this family is going to need next year: a lot more poultry and fowl. Now I have to put my money where my mouth is. Ideally suited to a big, airy, old building – another outstanding advantage of winged animal protein is that you can kill and butcher it yourself. (The very nice lady down the road does this with her pigs, but she’s made of sterner stuff than I am…). Geese and hens and I get on very well. My track record with guinea fowl and ducks is a little less proud but I’m determined to keep and breed them again.

So, the plan is to use the back of the hangar to accommodate all these new birds. The wooden structure of the building provides me with at least half the supports I need for the internal enclosures and there’s lots of spare material from roofing the place still lying around to help construct the walls. With the assistance of a lump hammer I’ll be able to break through the back wall and afford the birds access to the field and their external enclosures.

It must have been cold so far this week,  I’ve even drawn a plan:


So this week will be spent tidying up in the hangar and setting posts. Although it seems unlikely this farm will ever regain its former stature, I hope we can at least come up with enough creative plans to keep it – and us – chugging along for a few more generations.