Try before you buy!

When we first set our sights on owning this beautiful little piece of Portugal and breathing new life into our tired little fruit farm, we knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy task. Nor was it going to happen overnight. We dreamt of learning how to look after the trees and vines and producing our own olive oil. Mark seems particularly keen on being self-sufficient and producing our own wine as well although this isn’t really the self-sufficient produce I was think of. We wanted to be as self sufficient as possible, growing our own fruit and vegetables and looked into what types of flowering shrubs, trees and flowers would grow well here. We did lots of research and even enlisted the help of our friendly RHS Wisley Curator, Matthew Pottage.

But never once did it enter our heads that we would enjoy looking after animals. Until recently that is.

A while back when visiting our neighbours at their quinta, we were interested to see their sheep and talk about the work that was involved in being a sheep farmer. A few weeks later, we called round again and found that they had increased their livestock to include goats. Again we chatted about keeping goats and generally about the benefits and pitfalls of keeping animals.

On the plus side there is the opportunity to breed and increase the flock size, to have meat for eating and selling and fresh milk for drinking and making yoghurt and cheeses. There is also the lovely feel-good factor knowing that the animals are happy, healthy, well looked-after and enjoying life. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case and we have seen some quite bedraggled animals on our travels. Dave and Julie’s goat are certainly characters and it is therapeutic watching their antics.

The downside includes the demands made on their time, the need to fence off trees and shrubs so they are not eaten by the animals and the ever increasing cost of animal bedding, feed and vets bills.

Not put off and keen to find out if this is something that we would like to invest in, we offered to help out on a weekend. I guess it’s like “trying before we buy”. The weekends have passed and we are enjoying our new responsibilities. Wanda walks around the corner with us and waits on the veranda while we check on the sheep and goats.

I think we must have been doing a good job as we now have our own gate onto the Handscombe’s quinta and I was touched to see it had even been given a special name.

Little did we know how quickly the herd of goats would expand when Dave and Julie invested in some more female goats who were already pregnant. The gestation period of a goat is five months, so it wasn’t long before we were trainee midwives!  Considerately, the goats chose to give birth during daylight hours and we were able to be on hand in case they had any difficulties.  Before long, 18 new kids had been added to the herd.  some mums had single births, some had twins and we even saw triplets being born.  They are up on their little wobbly legs within an hour and the mums set to cleaning and feeding their babies.

Nature does a pretty good job all by itself, so we weren’t really needed, although sometimes the babies can get separated from their mums so have to be reunited and Dave did need to help one of the kids into the world when it had decided to come out breeched.  We helped out with bottle feeding for a little while as one of the mums wasn’t managing to produce enough milk but it wasn’t long before the kid was running and jumping and feeding naturally from his mum.   It was so lovely to be able to experience this new life and we were a bit emotional at times although Mark and Dave swore blind they had something in their eyes!

Back to the benefits. Some of the mums are producing more milk than they need for their babies so there has been plenty for us to drink. It is not unusual to see a couple of litres left outside our gate, preceded with a text from Dave saying that two ton Ted from Teddington has been with his delivery. For those who are too young to remember who he was ……

Goats milk is the single most consumed dairy in the world with around 65% of the world’s population drinking it. This is possibly due to the ease of keeping goats compared to cows and also because of its nutritional value. It is packed full of minerals and vitamins and it much gentler on the stomach making it easier to digest. We found the biggest difference to us was how thick and creamy it is.

Turning to good old Google, I checked if it was safe to give to dogs and found that not only was it safe for Wanda to drink, it is also very healthy and highly recommended as it has tons of probiotics to increase the healthy bacteria in her digestive tract and support her digestion. Not only that, she absolutely loves it.

Meanwhile, back on our Quinta we are now living in the longhouse and enjoying spending in the rooms we have completed.  What a massive difference.  It is light, spacious, comfortable and has a bathroom that we don’t have to go outside to visit.

We still haven’t managed to install the log burner in the snug so imagine that our electricity bill will be significantly  this higher month.  We’ve been promised on a number of occasions that a Portuguese installer would come but unfortunately have been let down.  I know that at this time of the year demand is much higher and understand that.  I’ve also heard that some tradesmen are reluctant to work with foreigners as they have not always had a good experience in this area.  Whatever the reason, Mark is now planning to fit it himself with the help of another English guy who did this for a living when working in the UK and hopefully it will all be completed in a few weeks.

The oranges are in full fruit and have been for some time.  After so many were wasted last year we have made a conscious effort to make use of as many as we can so as not to waste any.  We have oranges for breakfast as we walk around the plot and often with yoghurt and honey as a snack.  I’ve made industrial quantities of both orange and lemon marmalade  which has been shared with friends and neighbours and have also had a go at canning.  We added to our stock of frozen juice which will be lovely in the hot summer months.  

My daughter sent me a link to some recipes which I tried my hand at.  The marmalade cake and tangy orange wheel was a hit.  But what to do with the rest?  I think there is just a little more room in the cupboard and freezer for preserves ….. 

For almost a week our little quinta with its bright blue skies and fresh air was transformed into a something resembling a scene from some strange sci-fi movie. The skies were orange, the birds stopped singing and everything seemed eerie and quiet. The white window frames and doors were covered in a fine yellow dust, the white clothes hanging on the line succumbed to a similar fate and the cars too had a yellow shimmer to them.

Apparently, there was a huge Saharan dust storm swirling over many parts of Europe including Portugal. The air quality was rated as “extremely unfavourable” and in Spain people were even advised to avoid outdoor exercise. We are all still wearing masks outdoors which perhaps helped a little but I can’t help but remember the benefit of having the air purification units around the building when working at Castle Park Dental Care.

On a plus note, we were relieved to hear that the storm front that pulled in the African dust was also predicted to bring rain shortly afterwards. As we don’t have mains water on our quinta, this was welcome news. There has been little rain this year and already people are worrying about water levels so the promise of rain to fill our water mine and wells was definitely good to hear.

As predicted, the rains came, the duststorm went and we set about cleaning up everything yellow. As we worked, we noticed the buds appearing on the vines and the trees. Nature was bursting into life (as it seems Mark’s beard is doing) and Spring has arrived.

Published by vinhadasalmas

a couple of fifty somethings who want to start a new life in rural Portugal

6 thoughts on “Try before you buy!

  1. Aww Gill you look to be having an amazing life. I am so happy for you and obviously doing things you never tackled before. So exciting. Enjoy your life and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your antics. Take care and stay happy and safe. Lots of love Shirley xx


    1. Hi Shirl – thank you so much for your comment. It is hard work but we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Everyday I learn something new, often by my own mistakes but its a good way to learn. Would love to see you if you ever wanted to pay us a visit. We now have hot running water and a proper bedroom to offer guests 🙂


  2. Great read cuz. Always progressing and satisfying for you both. I passed your regards on to John Coggin, and most definitely remembered you and gave you a glowing report on your office skills etc. I had lunch at the Trinity House with him yesterday and at another ‘House’ bash tomorrow afternoon.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Melia is super excited about meeting the goats and recons she might be able to persuade you into starting your own little live stock family too 🙂


    1. We can’t wait to see you all in a couple of weeks and introduce you all to the goats in person. They are so cute and quite mischievous and I know you will enjoy watching them climbing on all the rocks and playing with each other x


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