Spring is, most definitely, our favourite time of year at the windmill. Tiny flowers start opening their heads from February, but the real colour show comes in March, April and May. The heather and gorse flowers arrive, and then the rock rose, and finally the best of all, the wild lavender (and those are just the ones I know the names of!). And it’s not just around the windmill, any journey in central Portugal in spring is accompanied by the most beautiful yellows and purples. To coincide with the natural beauty of spring, the weather warms up and the clocks change, so that lunches and dinners can be eaten outside. We look forward to spring very much, especially after the cold and wet winter we had.
Are you kidding?!?
This spring we had something else to look forward to - the arrival of the baby goats. Simon and I eagerly read up on goat birthing, we had all the equipment ready, the vet on speed dial, and we kept a really close eye on the two mums-to-be, Rebel and Savannah. There are many signs of approaching labour and we were feeling and examining the girls every morning. A friend told us that baby goats always arrive on the full moon so we were on high alert when the snow moon appeared on the 27th of February. But the kids were not so prompt and it was 3 days later when I came back from a dog walk that I spotted something moving beneath Savannah. There were two tiny goats staggering around her, she had done it all on her own! I raced up to the windmill shouting ‘twins, twins!’ and then we went and sat close to the new family. I picked one up to examine it only to exclaim “Damn it, a boy,” then I picked up the other one, “Damn it! Two boys!” But we couldn’t help but love them. They were instantly curious of us and friendly. Their fur was licked clean by Savannah and once they had dried off in the sun they were as soft as plush toys.
Four days later, on a Saturday, Rebel started showing signs and we stayed with her while she gave birth. Just as the books had said her kid was born in the perfect diving position, hooves first followed by head. It was amazing to see this slick little creature slip out of the mother, and we were overjoyed to see that it was a girl.
The baby goats grew more entertaining as the days passed by, and Simon and I enjoyed many a glass of wine sitting on camp chairs and watching them interact. We named them Archie, Philip (or Pip) and Thea, and the three of them gained size and confidence quickly.
The reason for having goats is two-fold for us. Firstly, we have lots of land to clear (goats are good lawnmowers), and secondly we want to make goats cheese. Obviously in order to make goats cheese we need to get goats milk, and this is easier said than done! When Thea was first born she was only feeding from one side of Rebel and so we had to milk the other side, but after this brief period of yielding to us, she does not want us near her udders, and neither does Savannah! The kids are almost two months now and are eating plenty of foliage and hay, so in theory we should be able to start taking milk, but in practice the ladies are dead against it, and those back legs give a good kick! So that is a work in progress… However, they do a grand job of clearing land so they are at least doing 50% of their jobs.
Olives and Vines
As well as the goats clearing land, we needed to clear a sizeable chunk ourselves, since our most ambitious planting project this year was an olive grove, planted in February. With the help of a friend with a digger, we cleared and terraced a large patch of previously impenetrable brush, and spent an enjoyable day tramping in the mud, digging holes and planting trees: a mixture of the local Galega olive variety with a little Picual for some diversity.
As well as the olives we've planted fig, chestnut and pomegranate trees (all gifts from friends - thank you!), some alders along the riverbank to try and help stem the tide of invasive acacia, and of course more vines for the vineyard. Most of our vines from last year have got through the winter fine and are happily shooting up, and we've added more varieties - mostly Portuguese - to the mix (for any wine geeks among you, this year we planted Síria, Antão Vaz, Moscatel, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Franca). It will be fun seeing which take to our soil better, and this year we may even be getting some grapes from the vines we planted back in 2019 (see our 'Micro Vineyard' blog!).
A little more on our pesky goats:
Since I wrote those idyllic paragraphs about the baby goats a few weeks back, Philip (or Pip) has grown into a little devil goat. He is forever escaping through the fence to nibble on the new vines, the new olives or our newly planted chestnut trees. There is plenty of food for him on the right side of the fence but he is a wayward goat intent on getting to the other side and eating all the things he shouldn’t be eating. At the same time, he often leads his brother, and sometimes little Thea astray and it is not unusual for us to get home from a trip to town to find all three of them happily nibbling on the olives. Princesa likes chasing them but will only do this once they are already running, and the goats are in no way afraid of her until she starts nipping at their legs, so we have lots of comic moments where the goats are eating the new olive trees and looking up at us as if to say “what are you doing here?” and we stand there saying to Princesa “Chase them, chase them!” and Princesa looks up at us as if to say “Well this is nice, we should come and stand around here more often.” So we all stand around for a while, and Simon and I try to get the goats running (which mostly just involves me and Simon running) and eventually one of the goats might break into a trot and if we are lucky enough that Princesa is looking the right way at the right time, she might chase that goat, and if we are really really lucky, she might chase it in the direction of their enclosure. So, I would say, that on rare occasions and under the right circumstances Princesa is a great shepherdess, but most of the time she is just as clueless as we are. If she could stand on her back legs and put her hands on her hips she would, and that would make three of us. So the baby goats are a challenge! We always knew we couldn’t keep the two boys, however cute they are, and now it has become blatantly apparent which boy has to go. In our next blog we will tell you the destiny of Pip.
Another thing that happens in Spring, which Simon and I were largely unaware of, is that animals get frisky! We castrated our male cat, Skittle, last year but because the female was so small she was yet to have her operation. She decided to make the most of her fertility by hunting down a boyfriend in March, but since we live miles away from anyone (and presumably any potential boyfriends) this must have involved quite a journey and a lot of determination on her part because she left us for 12 days! When she finally sauntered back up the hill, she was extremely hungry and enjoyed a good sleep, presumably needing some rest after her passionate holiday.
Princesa must have chatted with Smudge about her frisky foray and decided that she needed some romance in her life, because before long she also disappeared, whilst her GPS tracker sat charging on the table. Princesa is more of a concern than the cat because she seems more vulnerable, and despite having a few more years life behind her, she is far less streetwise than Smudge. Also, in sheer practical terms, she likes chasing things that move, and that includes cars which can be quite a hazard. So we set about trying to find her. Thankfully the friend who had found her back in December, spotted her whilst out on a bike ride a few villages away. It seemed she had got in with a crowd of dogs and was trotting merrily around the hills with them. We talked with an elderly couple who lived at the very edge of the village and they told us they had seen a very pretty little dog with a red collar, and in fact that same dog had joined them for lunch that day! One thing to note is that lots of people in the villages own dogs, and most of them let their dogs go off on walks by themselves, they probably think Simon and I are crazy for actually walking with the dog! We were happy to know that Princesa was local and that she had been fed, and we asked people around the village to look out for her. She had been gone 4 days, and I had a flight to England booked the following day, when we found her. We were in the car and I spotted a large handsome brown dog, “Oh look at that lovely dog,” I said to Simon, stretching around in my seat to see him again, “Oh, he’s with Princesa!” We got out of the car and Princesa was very happy to leave her holiday romance behind and hop in the car with us. Back at the windmill she was hungry and tired, and a little bit scruffy, but after a sleep and a wash, she was as good as new. Both Princesa and Smudge have now been for a visit to the vet, and should not be looking for boyfriends again!
This Spring we also installed four beehives on our land. We were introduced to Vitor, a friend of a friend, who has a little empire of bee hives around the area. He visited the windmill and we walked around the land to check out the landscape and the flowers available for his bees. He was very happy with all the wildflowers and lavender, and so he agreed to keep hives on our land. He cleared an area (away from the windmill but not so far from an access road), and in the dead of night he bought the hives over. The next morning when we went for our dog walk, there they were! And Bzzzzzz Bzzzzz, we certainly hear our little friends every time we walk that way. Once the bees are nice and settled, Vitor will visit with suits for us and we will go and meet our new neighbours!
Open for business
In March we opened the doors of the windmill for business and were really happy to start receiving guests. All our guests have been from Portugal so far, but we have bookings for late summer and Autumn from the rest of Europe and the UK. Spring is a great time to visit the mill, because the weather is temperate enough to take long walks, and the landscape is at its most colourful.