Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Newsletter 2009


The year started with Chris breaking his ankle while asking Oryx to lie down, Jake and Marthe leaving him to cope with the farm with the help of the students while they visited Botswana and South Africa to investigate the possibility of interest in an international academy to teach the science of animal handling and teaching. We had written the first draft of a text book to be critically assessed by those handling elephants. While in Maun, Jake took part in a fun ridden cross country event, galloping through the water-lily strewn Okavongo river, and jumping over tables laid for smart safari dinners. He was lent a delightful pony, and won! There was some interest in the academy in Botswana, and we ran a workshop for people with horses which was fun, re-established our previous contacts , gave some riding lessons. Although Botswana is a quite delightful country, and would be very suitable for the academy, strong interest was at that time lacking.

A trip to the Cape in South Africa established closer links with the Knysna Elephant Paark, and there is a very real possibility that we may be able to cooperate with them in it’s establishment, something that is particularly relevant at present in South Africa with much opposition to captive animals on the grounds of causing cruelty. We visited KEP new nature reserve & farm right next to the sea where around 15 problem elephants are presently living.

Chris’s leg was bad all summer, and scuppered any ideas of long distance competitive rides, but he managed to keep driving the tractor until it went into deep decline from July to September when the summer hols were over, and the French mechanics start work again! This meant we lost the autumn cultivations which has in some ways put the farm back a year, but now the tractor is back and working at last.

The spring was slightly late, but the vegetables, (other than potatoes and onions) have done well, with several 100kg of carrots for the winter. ( visions of endless carrot soups and cakes!). A total of 56 varieties of fruit and vegetables have been grown and harvested during the year which can’t be bad, and we have a large range of jams, jellies, chutneys and other preserves for sale and consumption. Many of the fruit trees produced for the first time this year, with particularly delicious apricots, and peche de vigne.

The improved grass and lucerne is gradually coming, we still need to feed the soil more and pick the patches for improvement carefully, but we managed to make about 1/3rd of our needed hay this year. 2010 was planned to be the first year to plant and harvest wheat and oats for human consumption but with sick tractors, we have only managed a small area of naked oats. However we are feeling more confident that we will be able to complete the tenets of ecological agriculture in the next few years by becoming completely self-sustaining in human and animal fodder.

We sold some of the cattle which we considered were not up to standard, and intend in the next while to bring some really good South Devon heifers over and return to a pedigree herd of South Devons. Some of the sheep have gone walk about in the mountains, and again we intend to bring over a Suffolk ram when we have all the paper work and get a few high quality wool and meat sheep.

It was a very pleasant if hot summer, with a stream of wwoofers from all over the world, and 2 horse students, Jorinda from Holland and Delphine from Switzerland. They have recently completed their exams and gone on to other things, having we hope, learnt much from the Druimghigha horses. Jake has been helping on the farm, redoing the rooms, even putting in water borne WC’s, constructing buildings and fences, and had his first spring and autumn of Horse Riding Holidays, and articles in various newspapers. All seem to have been appreciative of the horses, the rides, the lessons, and the cooking of food from the farm, let us hope it now grows, do tell your friends and look at his website Horseridingfrance.com.

Primarily, this has been the year of the puppies. Kaz and Bear had a litter, of which 2 were saved in February and have grown up to be half spaniels, half kelpie/collies/Alsatians. The interesting thing is that they can use both their noses and their sight when working. Kongo is to be given to Sam ( he had a false trip to Calais, and was not allowed across the channel in July, resulting in Marthe traveling to Calais and back with him in one day on the TGV, hopefully he will make it to Suffolk in January). He is to be a retriever, working in wetlands, and woods. Aged 7 months he is very enthusiastic, and has learnt basic retrieving skills. Kananga stays with Jake and is supposed to become a truffle hunting dog, he retrieves some truffle paste at the moment, but there is further to go. They have been a delightful enthusiastic, bright, playful, demanding, lunatic pair as only puppies can be.

On the horse front, no foals this year, but Lantana (2) is now being driven and ridden over short distances, and so far has been a very willing, and easy pupil. Shindy and Lilka did a 20km ride, the only one we managed to fit in, and came first and second, even though Jake and Marthe managed to stop and stuff themselves with ripe peaches in one of the orchards that we passed! Shemal is pregnant to Oryx again, and their son Shimoni (4) has done some fitness training and is ready now to take the world by storm. Shemal and Obi are now doing all the movements of Grand Prix (except 1 x changes which Obi does while throwing his head about, and Shemal has not tried yet), and the indoor manege has proved a great asset with daily teaching right through the winter, although it was good to get out into the bigger outdoor manege in the summer.

So the farm is gradually beginning to achieve what we hoped it would. It is now a registered Organic Holding, and things are indeed growing. Financially, we are just covering running costs (with the help of subsidies), but still have some capital investments to make, particularly another lean to barn for the cattle and sheep, and an observation room for the wildlife on the cliffs, particularly the Chamois.

A very happy Christmas to all our family associates, friends, and well wishers and do come and visit and see for yourselves how things are going.
All at La Combe. 2 and 4 legged.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Welcome to Eco/Etho Research & Education Centre !

Le Centre de Recherche et d'Education Eco-Ethologique (Eco/Etho Research & Education Centre) at La Combe, is an extension of the Eco Farm established in 1996 at Little Ash Eco Farm.

It moved to in December 2003 to set up and run an experimental/demonstration Ecological Farm and Nature Reserve in the mountains of the pre-Alps in the Drôme région. This is the fifth experimental/demonstration ecological farm that the research team have developed.

In 2005, an Association of supporters of the Centre was created. We are now relaunching the Association. If interested please fill in the Membership Leaflet Application Form and return it to us at the Center.