Cow wrangling in France

October 2021 (from Issue 37 of House Sitting Magazine

As you may know, Vanessa and I chose to settle for a while at the start of winter last year. Well... when I say "chose", what I really mean is we got stuck in France as the country went into a strict lockdown at the start of November 2020. So we didn't really have much choice but to stay here and see how things played out with lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Fast forward to October 2021 and we are still here, in the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region of France. We love the area, and thanks to the kindness of the home owners of our current house sit, we are fast-approaching one year in this lovely area.

Prior to arriving here our longest sit was 3 months, so we've beaten that record by a long way.

The house we're taking care of is a holiday home, so there are no pets living here, which means we haven't had any of the usual challenges of caring for pets.

However, we have had a few slightly unusual challenges to deal with recently.

Our responsibilities have been more about longer term maintenance of the property, which has quite a large garden. I've never done so much lawn-mowing in my life (in part because our own newly acquired piece of land here also requires a lot of garden maintenance). Vanessa has done a lot of shrub, tree and rose bush pruning too.

However, just a couple of days ago we had an uninvited visitor to the garden. We have a large chestnut tree at the very top of the garden, right by the fence, beyond which is a field of cows. Some of the chestnuts fall into the field, but most into the garden. The cows love them, and we often see them close to the fence, noses deep in the grass looking for a tasty snack.

It would appear that the other morning there were no chestnuts left to be found in the field, so one cow decided those in the garden looked obtainable, and had somehow got over the now trampled fence and wandered in. 

Our main worry was the swimming pool in the garden, now closed and covered for winter. The winter cover is green, quite similar to the grass. What if the cow wandered on to that and then fell through, into the pool? That didn’t bear thinking about. Action was needed.

While I attempted to lower the fence to ground level so we could get the cow back over it without it getting caught up in the barbed wire, Vanessa played cowgirl, keeping our visitor away from the pool. Once I had the fence prepared, Vanessa went to inform the farmer next door about his escapee, and I took over wrangling duties.

I feigned an air of breezy confidence as I tried to herd the huge beast towards the fence, but she just stared at me in a mildly indifferent manner. As I got closer she started to move, and I was amazed when she made a beeline (a cowline?) for the hole in the fence, and casually leaped over it like a racehorse.

We quickly raised the fence again, reinforcing it with some wood from the shed.

The rest of the afternoon was spent raking up the chestnuts, so the tempting treats were no longer in sight just over the fence. This will be a daily task for the next week or so.

Another household maintenance task which has been on the list over the whole summer has been to fix the chimney cap (le chapeau) before we light the living room fire for winter. The roof is very very steep, and quite high.

We’d been told we’d need someone with a crane on a truck, but handymen are in short supply in our rural area. Just yesterday I spotted our cow-owning neighbour standing a huge ladder up against the side of his house. He then produced some flat wooden roof ladders so he could access his chimney.

I quickly offered to hold the main ladder for him while he worked, and wondered if I might borrow it when he was finished.

These things are never as easy as you hope, and we were unable to secure the roof ladders on our house in the same way he had done on his... something to do with the roof construction. But our neighbour is very practical.

He is a farmer, after all, and being hands-on practical comes with the job. "I have an idea," he smiled.

Before long we had a tractor parked on the front lawn, and had the roof ladders held (sort of) safely in place by the bucket raised up to roof level.

I headed up onto the roof, assessed the job, and returned with tools and screws. The chimney cap is now firmly fixed in place, and we're ready to get the fire blazing for winter.

With our house sit being pet-less, we've had quite a bit of freedom to roam, which means we've been able to take on a few short house sits in other parts of France, and just 2 weeks ago our village mayor asked if we would look after his little Yorkshire Terrier, while he and his wife enjoyed a much needed break.

It's the first time we've ever done a pet sit at home, even though "at home" is actually house sitting. Of course we made sure our home owners were happy for us to entertain this tiny visitor. The smallest dog we’ve ever looked after!

However, a couple of other locals weren't quite so happy... the two cats who often come to visit us in the back garden weren't as keen about having a dog around for a week, and we saw a lot less of them for a while.

We're enjoying our different experiences of house sitting on our longest house sit ever.

We hope you're enjoying your current adventures too.

Ian and Vanessa

(currently long term house sitting in Burgundy, France)

  • October 15, 2021

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