Last days at West Kidland Farm (until next time?)
16 Dec 2011
A really busy weekend with markets. Adam and Camille went to Killerton with Catherine for the Friday night market. A bit of a disaster as far as sales go. Many cooked burgers went unsold after a short burst of sales. Unfortunately it is just one of those things. The burgers take a while to cook (they are quite thick), so it is not something you can chuck on the grill and have ready in a few minutes.
Tony and Mathilde were up before the sparrows on Saturday to drive to the farmers market at “the Big Sheep” at Bideford. It was a busy market, slow to start with the burgers but once it cranked up it was good, and we sold out before noon.
The next market was one organised by Catherine for Sunday afternoon at Morchard Bishop, in the village pub carpark. Bit of a cock up as the notices advertising the market had the wrong times showing (an hour early), and people started arriving as everyone was setting up. Oops. Then it blew a gale and then it POURED, bucketloads. They had to move fast to get everything inside the van, from where Camille and Adam cooked burgers for the remaining customers that hadn’t headed home. Another stall holder joined them in the van selling pies, so it was a bit cramped.
By Monday we all needed a break, and Catherine needed a break from all of us. She gave everyone an extra day off with the instructions to bugger off and leave her in peace. We had the option of going to South Molton or Tiverton to head further afield, however instead we decided to chance the weather and take a walk along the many public pathways around Knowstone. The nearest pub is 45 minutes walk down a muddy track and we decided that would be a good start (and maybe a good end). We set off at 11am with no real plan of where we were heading and how long we would be gone. It was a good opportunity to spend time with everyone as Camille, Mathilde and Tony were leaving at the end of the week.
The weather stayed mainly fine (it briefly tried to rain, but gave up after a few spits), and was almost mild, except when we were on the hill tops where we endured the biting chill wind. The track to the village was fairly muddy and flooded in many places, but everyone is wearing wellies. We trek through wooded areas and across a stream, the walk takes us about 45 minutes. It is Monday, and the pub is closed (bugger), so we headed on to East Knowstone, and walked in a big loop round through Roache Hill. Back at Knowstone we take a path though we are not sure where it will lead, but so far it is in the general direction of home…
After walking across the hill tops (chilly wind) we head down steep, leafy (and slippery) tracks to someone’s back garden. Tony recognises the property as Ruth’s, an 83 year old widow here in the middle of nowhere, so we call in for a short visit and a cuppa. The track runs out at the bottom of her drive, and we walk along the road to Cross Woods, then head cross country to the stream. There is no bridge, and we walk along the bank for a while looking for a suitable place. There is a tree down across the stream, and Antoine is silly enough to cross here. We all wait with cameras at the ready, but he disappoints and crosses successfully. Further downstream there looks to be a shallow section, so some of us cross here, there is a deep bit and the water is quite swift, threatening to send us arse up into the water if not careful. However we take our time and manage to cross and keep dry. Ka-Wing is the last to attempt to cross, she decides to walk over the tree, but then reconsiders and walks across there, instead of downstream. Oops, she ends up with wellies full of water, and it is damn cold.
It is a bit of a hike up the hill (it is not called the “ski jump” for nothing!) We have been away four hours, so we are a bit hungry by the time we get home.
On Monday night the weather took a turn for the worst. It blew a gale, and rained hard. There was a lot of banging and crashing through the night keeping many of us awake. There was a bit of snow during the night, but it didn’t settle on the ground. Tuesday morning rounds were bloody miserable, it blew, it rained, it hailed and then it snowed. We looked to work inside as much as possible. Tony went to bring CharlieHorse inside, but he didn’t want to know. After trying for ten minutes to get him to move the sun came out so Tony left him in the field. Later the snow started again, and it was a lot colder, it took a lot to get the stubborn bugger moving. Later Adam and Tony worked a bit more on lining the roof of the dining room (an extension to Catherine’s static caravan), but it was frustrating work as the nails were crap to work with and bent very easily.
That evening we had another helper arrive, Wendy is a 62 year old from the States. She is a bit shocked at the cold and the mud about, but it is winter after all.
In the morning we are told she is a snorer, LOL. Wendy is not impressed at the lack of indoor plumbing in the bunkhouse (and had to have a pee in paddock – with a near blizzard blowing, LOL). Tony didn’t work much with her during the day, but she struggled with the physical work and the cold.
Thursday was a very long day, we started a little earlier to get the morning rounds over as soon as possible. Another new helper arrived early as well, Dave is from the UK. He was told he would be thrown in the deep end with a busy day, but he was up for it and arrived around nine. Matt the butcher and “Little Matt” the 14 year old son of last years butcher arrived soon after ten. Some of us were a bit iffy about having a 14 year old working with us, but he was a hard working kid, and knew his stuff. He had been doing this since before he could walk.
Wendy had come to West Kidland early to help with the plucking of birds on Thursday, but that lasted just a few minutes too, and she spent most of the day inside, bringing the rest of the team hot drinks and at lunch some sandwiches. She told Tony of the romantic image she had of farming, and the reality of this quickly destroyed any notion of working more in real farming (she had previously helped on a hobby farm).
Tony was not too keen on the killing and plucking side of things, and would have got out of it if there had been half a chance! Others, like Adam for example, were more blood thirsty and dead keen to watch the whole process. Catherine had taken on the slaughter and plucking of birds for others, so we had 69 in total to prepare. For those not keen on the gory bits, skip a couple of paragraphs!
The birds are taken one at a time and placed into a cone in a bucket with no base, on a stand about waist high. Matt holds his hand over the bird’s eyes (so they cannot see what is coming), and slits the throat. Some stun the bird before this, but looking at the two options, the way it was done seems to have less stress on the bird. There is a bit of flapping, but not too much as they are upside down in a bucket. After the bird has been bled for a few minutes, it is hung in the stable awaiting a hot bath. The turkeys did not get a dunking, but all the other birds had about 15-20 seconds in boiling water, followed by a cold dip. Then we could pluck them by hand, usually working in pairs.
Everyone worked well, and at times it got a little playful to relieve the boredom. Tony was plucking a bird, and Antoine started putting feathers back on the bird where Tony was working. Tony just ignored it and carried on working, but everyone thought he didn’t notice. That was the start of a few feather fights to liven up a long day. At least the birds were not being gutted and dressed today (phew). The plucking was a mixed bag, and the warm water thawed a few cold hands. Some birds were very easy, and others a real challenge. The ducks had started growing new feathers (something they do every three weeks, so it wasn’t really the right time to be doing this, but Christmas is coming…).
Once we all got into the swing of things it was not too bad, even though the fingers got a bit sore after a while. Some of the feathers would come out with a bit of a rub (massage anyone?). We stopped briefly for lunch, but didn’t take too long a break as it would have make a long day longer. We were all done soon after 4pm. The girls had done the feed round, so it was clean up time (a lot of blood, straw and feathers). Meanwhile the two Matts had gone into the diary to butcher the cow that had been hanging to mature for the last five weeks in the chiller (it gets a bit of a blue mould on the skin, but the taste of the beef is terrific). Catherine and Tony followed to do the vacuum packing and labelling. They had a good chat and Tony asked Catherine for a reference, which she gave him later that night. It was a fantastic reference, Tony has a lot to live up to! Meat was needed for the Christmas holidays, so Tony got some nice cuts of topside and also some sausages (pork, beef), and beef burgers. Tony had mixed the meat for the sausages and burger himself, and after Catherine used the sausage machine, Tony “twiddled” the sausages.
It was dark by the time the horses were able to come in, a bit of a challenge for Adam. The last job for the evening was to place all the birds in the chiller, it was a bit of a tight squeeze, but we got them in. We all sat down for a well earned rest, and Wendy had cooked a chilli for tea.
And so the last day on the farm came to an end. Catherine had gifts for Tony, Camille and Mathilde, unexpected but so much appreciated, as she had appreciated their help so much. The girls had been there over two months, and been a terrific help to Catherine, taking over many feeding rounds that she hadn’t trusted many others to do. They are going to be missed, most off all by the cats that received constant attention from the girls.
Tony is going to miss the farm, and the people he worked with. Catherine will miss everyone too. Tony and Adam usually managed to keep up the banter at the dinner table, albeit with some “unfortunate” choices of subject matter at times. They shared with Catherine a particularly warped sense of humour that had people in tears (with laughter) at the dinner table many nights. This we will miss the most…