A four-month old lamb in rural France
A four-month old lamb.
France, September 2016.

We start with a bowl of coffee. Mine’s black. The children, even the littlest, have milk with just a splash of coffee, it’s off-white but sweet. The grand-parents* drink theirs with milk and sugar.  I spread the jam on my bread with a teaspoon and balance it precariously on my saucer. This is apparently how things happen here. Grand-mère dips her toast in her coffee, I don’t.

Once breakfast is cleared up, I let the chickens out the hen coop and check for eggs

Only one today. Grand-père checks his emails and then we start on clearing up the land after last night’s terrific storm. I drag the leaves from the swimming pool and we stash the ping pong table in one of the barns before going to tend to the vegetables. The tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and courgettes need watering and those that are ripe need picking. I conduct a taste test as I go along.

We drive out to go check on the sheep

Giving them a couple of buckets of grain and moving branches that have fallen in the storm on the way. In the field, one sheep stands separate from the herd, and in the charge for dinner, she falls down. Grand-père is quick to pounce and pull her aside. He’s worried.

I drive back in the little electric vehicle we use for getting around the estate, Grand-père sits beside me clutching the sheep. I try and fail to avoid the worst of the bumps in the ever so bumpy road.

Back near the house, I take hold of the sheep whilst Grand-père prepares some antibiotics

She’s only four months old. I hold her upright whilst he injects her with the medicine, hoping we’ve been quick enough. Her head lolls against my knee. Sheep, Grand-père says, die easily. He’s known them to catch fevers, to drown, and almost impossibly, to hang themselves by getting one of the pieces of string that tie up the hay bales stuck around their throat and then jumping off a rock.

We take her down to the woodland, where the male sheep are living, and guide her into an enclosure beside the boys. We want her to be safe from them, but not alone. She needs keeping close to the house so that we can keep an eye on her, but she still needs the company of other sheep. Loneliness and depression kill.

Back at the barn, we collect more grain and a bucket of water to take to the lamb

This done we go in search of a suitable shelter in case there’s rain, finding, at last, a plastic wendy-house that the children have deserted. It’s the perfect size and fits on the back of the little electric car. I shove hay inside to make the lamb a cosy bed.

And then we pick figs for dinner before taking another drive to go check on the donkeys and the goats. Perhaps goats aren’t fussy eaters, but these goats have no chance at getting the stale bread. Watching the donkeys chasing away the goats I realise I have significantly underestimated their ferocity.

And only then is it lunchtime.

*Not mine.

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