For the next two weeks, we are staying on a farm in France, somewhere between the Lot and Dordogne Rivers. The nearest really big city is Cahors, probably 35 to 40 minutes away. Gourdon is a smaller town nearby (and there are two Gourdons in France, so if you look on a map, you might wonder how we could be near both Cahors and Gourdon.) Gourdon is only about 20 to 25 minutes away. Toulouse is probably two hours away.
This is a house sitting arrangement. Though, I suppose it is really a farm sitting arrangement. The house is in no need of us. No, why we are really here is to feed and care for 18 chickens, 12 horses, 2 dogs, and 2 cats.
Cats and dogs, you're thinking, sure, Erich, that's straightforward. Maybe even chickens isn't so hard. But horses! Erich, what do you know about horses?
The answer is, a lot more than I did a week ago. We arrived here several days early so we could learn how to take care of the farm, primarily the horses. After several days of training, the family who lives here, and does a wonderful job keeping every animal happy, headed out to visit relatives in Finland. (I know, Finland in February! Cold, right?)
So now it is up to us. Certainly the horses need the most care. We make feed mixtures for some of them. We fork hay for most of them. We shovel poop in barns and paddocks. And we move certain horses to certain pastures or fields at certain times of day. Plus, if we have any energy left, we can exercise the horses by taking them on walks.
Five of the twelve horses live “downstairs” which is to say in lands attached to the barn that is lower in elevation than the other. (There are no stairs involved.) These are the brownies (because they are all brown.) The leader of the brownies is Phoenix. With him are three of his kids (whose names I do not know, though Alrica thinks one of them is called Jack) and a mare named Quinta. Horses, have a pecking order, and in this herd, Phoenix is king and Quinta is the peasant.
The other seven horses live “upstairs”. I know the names of all of these. The head of the order here is Pretoria, and she will happily steal anyone's food if she gets the chance. There is a very old stallion named Attilus (also called the big guy, because he is big! His butt is at my eye level. His shoulder blades are taller than me. And when he wants to get past me to steal some other horse's food, he can just lift his head right over mine.) Attilus no longer has back teeth, so he can't eat hay. He gets fed other foods and gets more time in the pasture so he can eat grass. There are two more mares here named Shan and Silja.
Then there are also the pony girls. They aren't small like ponies. They are just younger and more spirited. They are Flame, Julia, and Fanny.
In addition to our twelve equine friends, there are the chickens. These are not nearly so work intensive. And Carver has taken it upon himself to handle the chicken needs. He must open the chicken coop in the early morning. He collects eggs sometime in the middle of the day. And he closes up the chicken coop at dusk or dark.
There is also the matter of chicken feed. About every five days or so, it runs low and we need to make another batch. Carver tells us when it is running low and we refill it.
Of the eighteen chickens, fifteen are hens and three are roosters. The hens don't have names, except one who is called Princess Leia. That runs along a theme with the roosters who are named Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Fred. (Okay, Fred doesn't fit the theme. Which I enjoy.)
The two cats may have names, but I don't know them. They are called the indoor cat and the outdoor cat. The indoor cat lives in the house at night. She can go out in the day when she wants to. The outdoor cat lives outside all the time. She gets fed up on the front porch, but she doesn't come in. That's partly because she and the indoor cat fight and partly because she is afraid of one of the dogs.
The two dogs are Izzy and Lincoln. They eat boiled chicken, boiled rice, dry biscuits, and they each get one pig's ear a day as dessert. Izzy loves to be wherever people are. Lincoln loves to be with people when he feels like it and loves to be by himself when he feels like it.
So after feeding and caring for twelve horses, handling eighteen chickens, dealing with two cats, and giving proper attention to two dogs, a man gets tired! You would think I would sleep like a log, right? Well, maybe I would. But sometimes the roosters and dogs have other plans in the night.