Well it has been a while since my last blog as we have been open and busy with our guests. I will post a separate blog with some funny stories from the 2017 summer season later but this post is related to the comings and goings of our animals, mishaps, problems, trials and tribulations….
We have had several disasters with keeping animals over the years. When we first moved here, I was a long time cat lover and Simon hated cats. His mum does not like fluffy animals at all and this fear had been implanted in Simon. Since then, I have devoted some time to trying to change my husband’s view of animals. Some to good effect, some to disastrous results. So here is a blog detailing the comings and going of our animals since we lived in France.
2006 – In 2006 we moved here with no animals and with a big building project ahead of us. I was pregnant, Sam was two and having animals could not have been further from our minds. Within about 2 months of being animal free we had about 5 families of mice living in our house with a huge number more in the outbuildings we were about to convert. With our belongings in storage, we suddenly noticed that there were holes in boxes and the final straw came when I took a box of cous cous out the cupboard for the contents to empty onto the floor as the boxed had been chewed out of all recognition. I sat Simon down and explained to him we needed a cat urgently. So we found a little kitten which we called Cookie and Sam and I were thrilled. Simon less so and he had only relented if we promised to keep the cat outside, not let it in and if it did get in, it definitely was not allowed on the furniture.
About a month later another stray cat rocked up one day. She was a pretty little tabby cat and whilst Simon spent a good few months chasing it around the garden with a hose the cat eventually won the game and we started feeding it. Simon was still insisting that the cats stay outside and not be allowed in the house but to be honest he was losing this war. With both Sam and I being big cat lovers and not being able to bear closing the door in the cat’s face each night a cat flap was installed and the cats were in, cosy on the sofa every night. I think I may have sold it on the grounds that the cats could not clear the house of mice if they were not allowed in it.
2008 – We opened our doors to the public for the first time with our first paying guests. All was going well until the harvest in September when enormous combine harvesters ploughed the fields and all the little field mice fled for safety to the nearest safe haven… our gites! With only two cats on the prowl they were no match for the displaced field mice and we once again started to fill up.
Early 2009 – I persuaded Simon that another cat was the only solution. Along came Jerry who we still have, minus an ear as we accidentally ran her over and she lost an ear.
In July 2009 we had a family arrive in Gite No. 3 and on arrival declared how much they hated cats and could we keep them away from them. Now any of you who know cats will be aware this is practically impossible. We have spent ten years now telling our guests to keep their front doors shut if they do not want a cat in the house. The cats know they are not allowed in the gites which I think make them even more appealing to them and they are in them in a shot if they see a possibility. Well for this family our cats were not the issue, a family of kittens had been dumped on their terrace, 5 in all and they were not happy. We phoned the Mairies, the local council, who arranged for their removal but by that time Sam now 5 and Evie 3 had completely fallen in love so we persuaded Simon to let us keep one of them, and Lucky arrived.
We now had four cats. Simon had been completely usurped, they all lived in the house, on the sofas, on the end of the beds and Simon was moaning like a drain about it. On the upside we had no mice and the gites were mice free. So we now decided that 4 cats were the optimum solution and were cheaper than replacing some of the mice chewed items that we had lost of the years. They seem to have a particular liking to the insulation and electric wires in dishwashers and had already replaced three around the place. Not to mention the hundreds of euros worth of damage they had done to our cars over the years. With varying electric faults all put down to mice damage by the mechanic up the road.
So now came the decision to get chickens. “Good for business” I said. “People love getting fresh eggs in the morning” I said. “They will be locked up in a run” I said. So we duly went off and bought 10 chicks from the market. We built a massive chicken coup around the back of the bar and all was well. Apart from after a couple of weeks when they had completely destroyed the grass and vegetation and I had just a baron patch filled with chicken poop I started to worry about the poor chickens being cooped up! I felt really bad and started mooting the idea of letting them out to run freely around the place and after persuading Simon that this was a good idea and we would get them back in each evening we opened the door to their cage. They were nicknamed “The Ladies” and formed a gang and went every where together. People barbecuing were terrorised for sausages, there was chicken poop everywhere and ladies with painted toe nails needed to be particularly careful as they had a penchent for pecking at them! Kids could no longer run around without their shoes on for fear of treading in poop and whilst we had very happy chickens with nice big eggs with bright yellow yolks from all the grass they were eating, we had less happy guests! Fed up with the kids treading in chicken pooh and when the toddlers and crawling babies were on site it was a particular nightmare! So after one free season we decided at the beginning of the next season to look them up again and I felt terrible. The chickens felt terrible. We moved their coop and gave them a much bigger run and this appeased them a little.
In 2010 Cookie our original cat got run over. Quite impressive really given that we only have about 5 cars go past the house each day. Anyway, we found her in the road and we were back down the 3 cats. Not the optimum number so off we went looking for another kitten. The kids were distraught and they decided on a Cookie Mark II, same colour, same name… Back up to four with 10 chickens in the field we were back in business! Then a friend of mine said ‘Any chance you could home some rabbits for me?”. He had a small holding and had decided to get rid of his rabbits. He assured me they were all male. The kids and I went to see him, without talking to Simon. Lots of long haired shaggy lion head rabbits and we thought how cute they were, googled on the internet that they could live quite happy with chickens and said “sure no problem, they can live in our coop!” and five little rabbits came home with us. “Good for business” I said. “People love feeding rabbits” I said. “They will be locked up in a run” I said.
About 2 months later Simon’s sister came to stay from New York. The green grass, large garden, lots of animals, clean fresh air and all the space was a welcome change for her. On her first morning, whilst I was busy cleaning a gite she went up to see the rabbits and collect the eggs. She came down saying “aaawww, they are so cute and so tiny, how old are the babies?” I said I didnt know but they were not that tiny and there are no babies. Putting it down to her spending way to much time in the city and no knowing one end of a rabbit from another I took not a lot of notice. Later that day, Evie came running in…. “Mummy, mummy… You know those tunnels the rabbits of dug, well they are full of babies”. The rabbits had been digging tunnels in the hard ground under the coop.
They were up and down them like a rat up a drain pipe. I put this down to normal rabbit behaviour. Had no idea they were building a large network of underground tunnels to house hundreds of rabbit babies! Within a couple of months the rabbits had dug completely out of the chicken coop, we had about 60 rabbits and it was like Teletubby land in the field. The kids that year loved it. Lots of beautiful baby lion head rabbits were everywhere. I am not sure the farmers thought the same thing but they were out and about and I could no longer control them. We still see rabbits in our field today and the normal wild rabbit population of Henansal has certainly changed. No longer are they just little grey wild rabbits, but they are magnificent Lion head rabbits that roam free around Henansal.
In 2011 we lost the chickens to big bad Mr Fox and after clearing up the devastation I declared we would never have chickens again!
In 2012 Cookie Mark II had an accident and had to have one of her back legs amputated. Our animal count was now 0 Chickens, 3.75 cats and only wild rabbits in the field occasionally. I think perhaps the farmers crops had taken a bit of a battering but nothing was ever mentioned!
In 2014 we decided to add the lodges and the chicken coop was destroyed and replaced with three lodges for guests. We also covered the pool. Cookie Mark II who had coped admirably with her missing leg also had an accident and died. Again another cat was searched for that Christmas and another black kitten was found. The kids were told they could not call it cookie as the name was bad luck and Marmite came to live with us.
In 2014 I also decided that the memory of the fox attack was behind me and that we should try chickens again. Simon reminded me how much the chicken poop annoyed me and how they peck and how they are a pain in the bum at times and again I ploughed on with the idea. “Good for business” I said. “People love getting fresh eggs in the morning” I said. “I will only get two of them this time” I said. “There will be a lot less poop” I said and Nando and Kentucky came to live with us. Nando was a fancy bantam chicken, completely white and fluffy and looked like he was wearing leg warmers. Kentucky was a plain brown hen. I bought them a nice new chicken house, situated it outside the back of our house and waited for our first egg. Now regardless how posh a chicken coop you have, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to lay their eggs in it. Especially when there is a open terrace just across the courtyard with armchairs with comfy sofas on it. It because a morning ritual for all the guests to race over the soft play to watch the chickens lay their eggs on the cushions! The problem was, they didn’t just lay eggs! All the guests thought it hilarious but by the end of the summer having washed two cushion covers every day for 6 months I had had enough of the chickens. Also at the end of the summer, when all the guests left the complex and the chickens had no more attention in the back garden they turned their attention to my front doorstep! They camped out there everyday. Pooping all over it. And if you left the door open they were in the house! This had been known in the gites in summer too. Many a guest I heard tell the story that they had found a chicken on their sofa, or worse still …. their bed!!! Fortunately, it was all taken in good humour and became a bit of a talking point in the bar.
Late 2015 I found a young entrepreneur of 13 years old who was selling chicken eggs with is herd of chickens and asked him if he wanted two more. He did and Nando and Kentucky were re-homed. They are still going strong today and he is still selling eggs. We also lost Lucky, he was squashed on the driveway by one of our builders. No bonus for him! Children distraught as he had become a big part of the family and we down to 3 cats. At the end of that summer a rather raggedy long haired cat turned up in the garden, looking like he had mange! Again Simon spent months chasing him around with the hosepipe but Uggy had arrived and we were back up to 4 cats. Uggy is now a magnificent beast of a cat, looks like a Lion and is a big part of the family!
In 2016 I looked at the empty chicken coop and thought what I can put in that…. Guinea Pigs were the answer. “Good for business” I said. “They are no bother” I said. “There will be a lot less poop” Three long haired guinea pigs were found and came to live with us in 2016. We attached a run to the chicken house and Monica, Pheobe and Rachel (kids were going through a Friends phase) had arrived. Finally, I had hit the jackpot. They really are no bother. Everybody does love them. They are so happy and sing and call to you. All the children love them and in the winter they come and live in the house. So Eureka… I had finally after 10 years on living in France hit upon the optimum solution… 4 cats, 3 guinea pigs. Everyone is happy!
Except I cannot leave it that, in August 2017, our busiest period in the year by far, when we are stretched to maximum capacity, tired and in need of a rest, I decide to get a dog and along came Frosty for Evie as her birthday present. Frosty is a Coton Tulear, 3 months old and is gorgeous and fluffy. We have never had a dog, are complete beginners. We left the pet shop with Frosty in tow being told to lock him in a cage overnight, do not let him upstairs and be very strict. Frosty has been with us one week now… He sleeps at the end of Evie’s bed each night! Simon however is completely head over heels in love. Gushy as anything. Frosty particularly likes the guinea pigs – I am not sure this is for the right reasons. The cats do not like Frosty and Simon, whilst being in love with Frosty, has resigned himself to a life of 4 cats, 3 guinea pigs and 1 very spoilt puppy…. What will be around the corner next year???? Watch this space.
From a family of animal lovers.