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Watch out for angry wasps in Normandy
9:00am Wednesday 18th July 2012 in Property
RUMPS are being fussed over on the Cotentin peninsula. It is not the long silky eyelashes, but backsides and udders that draw the competitor’s eye, leading up to the Fete des Vaches Normandes this month in St M`ère Eglise, where cows are weighed up back to front, writes Penny Lewis.
This dual purpose breed are still, thankfully, omnipresent here in north-west France. Explaining the volatility of the UK rose veal market, the predominance of Holstein Freisians and that some UK farmers are reluctantly despatching calves at a day old, my neighbour shudders incomprehensibly at the waste: “quel gaspillage!”
This is a man who picks a braised chicken’s skull bare, savouring the comb as a delicious morsel. The admirable use of the fifth quarter may have a lot to do with the calf carcass price in France;
dishes like Osso Bucco, made with calves’ shanks are regularly on menus and whole tongues line supermarket baskets . Rose veal calves are either raised in groups in straw-bedded barns or as
top-value suckler calves raised on pasture. Given the intensive pig and rabbit farms dotted around the region, if you are a thoughtful carnivore, veal seems a decent choice.
A bovine animal consumes between 20 and 50 gallons per day (depending on dairy or beef), which makes a duck’s needs, bathing included, look like a drop in the water tanker. So, as we are fortunate in not (yet) having to curb the hosepipe, filling a small daily pool for ducks and recycling for vegetables, seems reasonable.. By mid-summer, the garden pond and its feeding stream are dry, so by placing and tipping a pool at the edge of the veg plot, it is an irrigation system as well as a splash-about. Teenage ducklings who manage to jump in, don’t always have the paddle power to get out, so for Muscovy ducks with claws that can grip, towels suffice, with one end in and one end out, rather like the bath version to enable spiders an escape.
Perhaps a manufacturer will produce an attachable inside/out ladder to the blue oyster-shaped, plastic paddling pool - surely now used more for ducks than children. And tiny ducklings are at their
happiest in up-turned filled dustbin lids, hurling themselves in like little fluffy yellow buoys. July is when my Muscovy girls become holiday reps, doing running dives for guests in the holiday
accommodation and generally showing off. The drake however has been known to give guests a nasty turn, paddling past the bathroom window breathing heavily, as male Muscovies are inclined to do. One
poor woman said she jumped off the loo-seat in fright, thinking there was someone “hanging around outside”.
Balmy evenings bring out all the foragers here. Along the lanes, people are picking elderflowers or scything into wire baskets - greenery for the rabbits (still a culinary mainstay for older
farmers), kept in a line of hutches in the poultry yard. So I fit in quite well, crouching in the ditch, peering at the banks, notwithstanding the murmurings of (not farming) finger waggers: “Oooh,
be careful, there may have been a fox, who happened to lift his leg at the very place you choose to pluck your leaves or your delicate fruits”. Yet, when I’m happily replete with delicate wild
strawberries, plonked on a hillock on the verge, the silent peddler tends to catch me out. Blokes on racing bikes rule the roads here. Large, 70-somethings in tight yellow and black lycra, weaving
periously round the lanes at high speed like a throng of angry wasps. As a sit-up-and-beg kind of cyclist, I’m all for a girly ride – wind in the hair, trousers in the socks, dreaming of a warm
rhubarb tart when I get to the boulangerie. But these chaps are dogged, hunched over the handlebars, peddling furiously in a sweaty huddle, brows lined in furious concentration. On my last
strawberry foray, just as I was marvelling at the diversity of what grows on a ditch bank, there’s a flash of wasp, heads bowed for extra speed. And a second after they pass me, as if they were
indeed making their territorial mark, the sound that only male cyclists make: a one-sided-nostril-blast. One hand off the handlebars to press against the left, a quick turn of the head towards the
verge and...Splatt! Fox pee? Pas de problème.
n Penny Lewis lives in an isolated community of traditional dairy farmers, on a very small holding in Normandy, north-west France, 40 minutes drive along the west coast, from the naval port of
She benefits from a quarter of a hectare – historically the standard plot for a farm labourer to be self-sufficient. She lets holiday accommodation to guests who enjoy the company of ducks, sheep and geese, pottering and foraging along the bridleways or lazing in the dunes (www.normandylets.com).