We arrived in Paris to a
cool clear morning. Spring
was further along in France than in Blacksburg, with lots of
green everywhere. Trees were blooming, including lindens, and
roses were cascading over the bridges and walls along the
freeway. The Ibis hotel had a room open early, so I went up to my
ninth floor room and collapsed. Great view, with the typical
mixture of old and new so common in European cities.
The conference bag is a
felted bag from Noir du Velay sheep. Very nice touch! The book
Dawie du Toit, put together is fantastic. Very professional and
worth referring to time and time again. It has chapters on
various sheep breeds, issues of breeding and conservation, as
well as on color and its genetic control. No time to read it now—it
will have to wait!
Michael Imhoff, the
Publisher, presenting the Congress Book to the Editor, in
finally had the pleasure of meeting Olafur Dyrmundsson from
Iceland. He is tall, elegant, and very thoughtful. Always
thinking. We had a very nice conversation about Stefan
Adalsteinsson and how much he had meant to both of us. In many
ways I think we knew and appreciated the same man, which is not
always true when people start to reminisce about departed
colleagues. We had both noted the same personality traits, and
had valued them highly. Stefan is sorely missed!
The author of this Review, Phil
Sponenberg and Trudel Andrag at Roquefort
Dinner was a chaotic but
delicious Italian meal across the street. Four cheese pasta.
These meals are always chaos, but fun. This one was half German,
half English, and a good deal of laughter!
The morning broke clear
and cool, with wonderful sunlight streaming through the city and
lighting up the buildings. The view across the street is half
modern, half very old, and all beautiful. The breakfasts are
wonderful, with croissants, some with chocolate chips, cheese,
fruit, and yoghurt. A great start to the day, especially when
eaten with old friends I have not seen in many years.
informed us about Icelandic sheep. The colors are variable, and
he had some interesting photos of grey, mouflon, and tricolored
chimeric sheep. Leader sheep are still important, as they can
sense changing weather and get the flock to safety. Most of
these are colored, and the whole behaviour is heritable. There
are about 1,000 of this type in Iceland. Iceland has strict
internal quarantine laws, so sheep movement is heavily
restricted from zone to zone. They have national AI centers to
collect semen and distribute it both in Iceland and
internationally, and this moves more freely. The AI center
collects semen from two leader sheep rams each year, and an
occasional four-horned ram just to assure continuation of
variability in the breed. Most of the selection is for meat
production, and the best meat ram in AI is currently a grey
ram! This is remarkable, as colored sheep are inherently
smaller than white ones, so this ram must really be exceptional.
One great presentation
was on Norwegian sheep, Villsau, from the west coast of Norway.
They are out all year. The breed was only saved from extinction
because their coarse wool is irreplaceable for sweaters and
mittens for seagoing people. The sheep are out all year on
islands, and are wintered in the open air with no supplement of
any sort. Right before winter they can be 20% fat (carcass
weight). They eat a lot of heather! Norway is only 3%
arable land, so resources like this are important. Hilde Buer
who owns these has 500 of them, and the ones she keeps are tamed
at five months old by sitting them up on their tails (like
shearing), and scratching their brisket and feeding them a few
feed pellets. Takes the ram lambs about 3 minutes to relax, and
the ewe lambs 5 minutes. Then they’ll follow her anywhere,
including on to the boat for transfer from island to island. To
move them she just needs to let them know she’s there, and
they all hurry to get to her. Beats a collie any day!
After sheep breeding was
improved the coastal folks always kept a few of this type, and
for a while didn’t even consider them to be “sheep,” so
they slipped through the cracks when sheep populations underwent
a census. Finally someone woke up to the precariousness of the
situation and figured out that they were indeed becoming
increasingly rare, although in the 1990s up to 6,000 survived in
these precarious small flocks. They organized, and numbers are
now much more secure. Management is interesting and
entertaining. To separate the rams and ewes, they just load up
the rams on a boat, and take them to a different island! About
20% of the ewes are horned, and the breed flocks strongly. They
have had ewes lamb at 20 years old.
Lunch was slabs of duck.
I have no idea where they got ducks that big! The taste was
exquisite, and followed by chocolate cake. Bernard Denis,
President of the Ethnozootechie, was
there, from COGNOSAG days in the 1980s. All those years ago he
was always drinking wine, and saying “we are not animals, we
do not drink water.” He did so, and we all happily joined him.
One delightful Shetland
sheep breeder, Mary Gibbings from Somerset ,gave the most
wonderful and engaging talk on her sheep and wool. She was in
her eighties, first time speaking, and she outshone all
others! A real firecracker, with a great sense of humor. I
was fortunate to be seated next to her at lunch, which we both
enjoyed. Her eyes and her wit sparkle.
Only one presentation
was in French, so things were easy to follow.
I did meet the Portuguese
team with the Black Merinos. Their English was weak, and my
Portuguese is nonexistent, so we successfully resorted to
Spanish. Poor Roger Lundie found this confusing, as part of the
conversation became English, part Spanish, and part Portuguese.
They have an interesting breed, with some interesting grey and
brown color variation. We hope to pursue some details in the
future. The flocks are usually around 1,000 head, and the breed
association really doesn’t mess with anything under 500 head
in a flock. Very different approach! The wool was used in WWI
for military uniforms.
Dinner was a $30 salad
(yikes). Pretty good. We talked Ouessant sheep (island sheep
from Brittany), and the Black Merinos. After that the bed seemed
Christian Mendel presenting his paper on the Alpines Steinschaf
Olwen Veevers, presenting her
paper on the Wales Woolfest
Today was cloudy, with
off and on rain. Not too heavy, but should make the field trip
interesting tomorrow. The weather is indeed fickle.
our own American Romeldales, along with some fascinating work on
the Alpines Steinschaf from Germany and Austria. They take a
group of rams up to the high alps in the summer, leave them, and
then bring them back to the town in the fall with bands, food,
and celebration. Looks like fun, and something to try to do one
It turns out that few
French breeds go back before introductions of Merino or British
breeds. The oldest include the dwarf Ouessant, and also Brittany
Heath sheep. A second presentation on German sheep included the
giant Bergamsco, started in 1808 and now a huge lop eared, roman
German breeds included
the North Prussian Skudden, which is a northern shorttailed
breed. These are usually white, with rare black sheep. The black
fades to brown, and some are moorit brown. These moorits have
the poorest fleeces. The Skudden have a double coat, where the
central primary fiber is a kemp, and the other two of the trio
are heterotypes, each group then completed by about eight
secondary fine fibers. The diameter of each of these types
overlaps the others in histograms.
ladies from Germany
Heidi Greb's exhibition of
21 May 2015
The first stop was Rambouillet.
This is a huge state farm with sheep breeding and other
programs. The whole place is certified organic, which is
amazing. This was the first experimental farm, started in 1750.
It was a training center for agriculture. Before that it had a
shepherd school, and a huge hunting reserve. Artificial
insemination of cattle and sheep were first done here…
complete with a commemorative plaque!
The sheep breed named
for the place started in 1786 or so, when Carlos IV of Spain
sent Louis XVI of France (his cousin) 400 select Merino ewes and
rams. They walked to get there, and it took four months. Once
here the Spanish shepherds taught the recipients how to care for
these sheep, which were quite different than the local variety.
The results must have been amazing, because merinos are
dry-adapted and this place is wet, wet, wet. They still maintain
a closed conservation flock there at Rambouillet, with 118 ewes
and 30 or so rams. They only use rams for one or two years in
order to control inbreeding with same bloodlines since 1786, and everything is closely
monitored. It did not seem that the breed was economically
viable on its own right, but the government is committed to
keeping it going.
One structure on the
farm is an old pigeon cote. Landowners were only allowed a set
number of pigeons, and the number depended on the hectares you
had. This one held 2,000 pairs, one for each hectare.
The shepherd school is
now closed, but it is still a training center for sustainable
agriculture. They also have a riding school, and house 100
horses, including four draft horses for pulling carriages around
The Ile de France sheep
breed was also developed here from Rambouillet and Dishley
(Leicester) crosses. It remains a popular breed in France,
providing many of the rams used to produce market lambs. More
lately the Romane sheep was developed from Romanov (Russian) for
prolificacy, and the French Berrichon du Cher breed for growth
rate and muscling. Interesting name, as there is nothing Italian
about the breed!
The grounds at
Rambouillet were immaculate, and had an assortment of great
buildings and barns. Lots of roses everywhere. It was raining,
so we went on to Versailles.
Versailles is a huge estate, still. It was an
official center and hunting preserve, and up until recently the
castle was still used to house dignitaries from foreign
countries during their visits. They could even shoot pheasant
and duck if they wanted to. After WWII Roosevelt funded the park
restoration, with the condition that both sheep and
cattle be on the grounds, outside, all the year round. The sheep
are an odd lot, but the cattle are select ones on loan from the
breed associations, and they rotate in and out. We did not see
The grounds are huge, and there is an orderly
network of roads lined by tall trees all trimmed to be perfectly
square as tall hedges. They now have a laser-guided machine that
does it. Earlier it must have been quite the headache. Very few
natural trees were around, because most are trimmed into the
most unreal shapes and appearances. We did not see the castle,
but went to Marie Antoinette’s “weekend getaway house,”
which was palatial enough! It was not huge, but was opulent. She
liked to get away from it all, and this is where she did so. She
also had a small self-sustaining farm, with fun buildings around
a nice pond. This area was much more natural, but also included
some huge flower gardens with roses and peonies in bloom. The
roses included some highly double rugosas that were wonderfully
We ate a sumptuous
salmon lunch in a huge fancy room, which was quite the treat. I
remarked that none of us was likely to starve on this trip! This
is certainly the case.
Lunch at Versailles
lunch we walked, and walked, and walked, and saw lots of
buildings and gardens. We even saw a bright yellow snail, much
to everyone’s amusement.
We finally loaded up,
exhausted, and drove back to Paris in the rain.
22 May 2015
We got off to a good
start on the post Congress Tour. A little rain, but not much,
and we all fit into the bus with one empty seat. All we need to
do is track that one to make sure everyone is on board.
Our host in France, Pierre Del
Porto, left, planned and organized for us a varied, memorable
and most exciting tour through France. Amelie Quenet, right was responsible for the logistics and did an excellent job.
We visited Marie-Therese Chaupin, centre, of Wools of Europe in Saint-Chaffrey
towards the end of the Tour
As we go south from
Paris the land becomes flatter, with lots of grain fields.
Several of these have huge windmills for electricity production.
France gets 85% of its electricity from nuclear power, then the
rest from hydroelectric, wind, solar, and finally coal as the
smallest share. There are occasional huge power lines to
distribute it all.
This is on the banks of the Loire, which can flood
unpredictably quickly. They do have a day’s warning in most
cases, so livestock and people are safe. This is the only river
to be solely on French territory.
We are visiting a Solognote flock. These are local
sheep with an unknown origin going back several centuries. Its
home range is the Loire valley, along with two other breeds, the Berrichon
de l'Indre, and Berrichon du Cher (from Berry,
which is this region). A few other regional breeds are now
extinct. In the past they had two colors, white and striped
(whatever that means!). In the 1600s and 1700s they found that
the red sheep had proved more hardy than white, so more reds
were selected for reproducing the breed.
A flock of Solognote
Sheep on the banks of the Loire
The sheep are dark red, with light red-brown wool
that fades with age. In the 70s only 300 ewes remained. Mr.
Crèche is now the breed association president, and he was our
host today. When he started there were 11 breeders with a total
of 500 ewes. There are now 60 breeders and 3500 ewes. The breed
was endangered after WWII by the intensification of farming.
Currently they use the ram lambs mostly for meat,
and the ewe lambs for breeding. The color of the wool has been a
problem in the past, with a low sale value. They have now
developed a local market so color is a plus, and sells at the
same price as white wool (0.70 euros/ kg). There are not enough
lambs produced from enough farmers to get a designation of
origin, so a local regional co-op was started that sells the
lambs and wool. 17.33 kg carcasses, at 8-9 months old. The lambs
are grain finished, but outside and not in a barn.
A landscape conservation
program is essential to the breed’s success. Grazing keeps
land open and diverse, and so is supported by a subsidy. They
graze 1800 ewes on 1000 acres. The land involved is the state’s,
managed by a conservatory which is an independent organization.
The land is assigned free to the flock, and must be shepherded
constantly because there are no fences. This means someone is
there 24 hrs/day. Crèche also has 250 Limousine cows,
plus foie gras ducks, and poultry. The sheep are grazed
from 15 April to 15 October, and have been for 15 years. His
allotment is 250 acres right on the river bank. They graze a
strip about 30 to 300 meters wide.
The shepherd of this Solognote
The sheep are athletic
and fit. The ewes are dark red, with one black one! There is
about one black one born per hundred. The others are dark red at
birth, with dark red fleeces. These fade, so the ewes have
lighter wool and dark red heads and legs. The fleeces were
shedding pretty well, so I imagine the wool has a lot of hair in
it! They did indicate that they never do shed all the way and do
need to be shorn.
did have a light rain on the visit, but with yellow iris, other
yellow flowers, and wild roses it was a very nice setting on the
banks of the river.
From there we went to a
sheep dairy that uses Lacaune sheep. The sun was bright, and the
day much nicer without the rain. The Lacaune ewes have a
lactation of 220 kg, while nursing their own lambs. They wean
the lambs at one month. At ten days they separate them from the
mothers during day, and feed them grain, peas, and maize.
For lunch at this farm we started with
white wine mixed with rhubarb syrup. Tasted like apple juice
with a bit of kick to it. They had roasted whole lambs, which
were delicious, and had a great salad topped with a soufflé.
Beans with rosemary and bay leaf, and then soft and hard
cheeses. The hard cheese was exquisite, and I asked to take a
photo of the cheese maker with some cheeses. She was pretty
proud, and also showed me the cheese cave for aging the cheeses.
I would have bought it all if I could have kept it cold! The
last course was a custard with caramel. Ymmmm.
The capital of the region
is Bourges. The cathedral here is basically copied from Notre
Dame. The two bishops that oversaw the construction were
brothers. They were in close contact, with a little bit of
competition. This cathedral has no side branches off the main
nave, and so looks longer than Notre Dame even though it is not.
This one also has 85% of the original medieval glass, which is
especially nice. The early glass was indeed stained through and
through, cut, and then leaded between the pieces to make the
final picture. Later technology was basically enamel on the
surface, which lends a different look to the final product.
is an old wool town, and the town symbol is three sheep for this
fact, and three fleurs de lys because they remain faithful to
the king. This is a holdover from the religious wars, as the
Huguenots held the town for a while. They defaced the cathedral
a bit, especially by taking down the large front statues,
beheading them, and the burying them. They found the statues in
this century, but not the heads! The result is a bunch of
reinstated headless apostles on the front of the church. The
glass was fortunately not damaged, and they removed the windows
during WWII in order to store them away safely. This city was
never bombed, because the important bridges were a town or two
away. The cathedral also had a wonderful large tapestry in one
side chapel. Our guide led us through the way to read the
windows, bottom to top, and selected the one depicting the
prodigal son for this. It was fun and interesting.
The local breed here is
Berrichon de Cher, from Berry. It was formed in the 1700s, from
a Merino x Dishley (Leicester Longwool) cross. We never did see
this breed, though.
We headed for Clermont Ferrand for the evening.
This is a region with volcanoes, and the local stone is black.
The cathedral, only seen from a distance, is indeed black. We
must have done elaborate circles in the town, because I think we
ended up with every possible distant view of the cathedral from
all possible angles. The volcanoes loom to the east, and I was
always trying to get a good photo from the bus (tricky at best).
I found, to my delight, that my hotel room was not only huge and
comfortable, but had a great view of those very volcanoes! By
the time the day wrapped up we were pretty tired, so I just
headed for bed. But we did notice one restaurant serving grilled
antiquities. I am sure something got lost in that translation!
23 May 2015
The morning was cool and
clear. I had a great
view of the volcanoes and the town creeping up the hillside
towards them. I think the volcanoes have been extinct for long
Breakfast was a great
spread of eggs, sausage, bread, and three cheeses. The cheese is
wonderful, and always to be enjoyed!
In this region the
castles are perched on low hills or rises, always in sight of
one another. This is so they could signal by fires or trumpets
and alert one another to the presence and location of enemies.
The local breed here is
the Bizet, and we are visiting Mr. Jean Luc Chauvel, who is the president
of the breed association for this breed, and also for the
umbrella organization of all sheep breeds in France. He has a
mixed grain and sheep farm, with 500 Bizet ewes, and 80 Ile de
France ewes. They organized their association in 1905, first
here and in Auvergne. In 1935 there were 300,000 ewes, but in
the 1960s this was down to 5,000. Now they have 8,500, and 400
are in the genetic improvement program. 15 farms have registered
sheep, and this is the group the program works with.
A flock of Bizet sheep
sheep are basically black, but the fleece is a grey color. There
is no wool on the head, and it looked like they were shedding
off the lower neck, belly, and rear. This seems common in
several breeds. The fleece does have kemp, and they tend to
produce a 2 kg fleece each year. The Bizet has a longer fleece
than the other local breed, Noir du Velay. The Bizet breeders
and Noir de Velay pool wool, and get 1.2 tons between the two
breeds annually. They use it for felting and handicraft uses due
to its color.
Chauvel has one of eight
farms that share 3 laborers, and also share heavy equipment. The
total of all is 3,000 acres. They do produce their own hay. A
shearer is hired from outside the farm, and the current one is
first place in the world after a competition in South Africa.
The Bizet sheep lamb in
the spring, as well as in September, and December. At 4.5 months
the lambs produce an 18 kg carcass at 40 to 42 kg live weight.
The male lamb’s tails are not docked (by regulation), although
the females are. They have a black head with a broad white
blaze. The ewes are not horned, but the rams have nice heavy
horns. They have to have at least one white sock and foot. The
bellies are clean of wool. Lambs are born black and then fade to
The ewes are kept outside
except for lambing. There were some large raptor birds soaring
around, and I don’t know if this was a threat or not. The ewes
produce about 1.5 lambs each, and are productive up to 8 years
The Noir du Velay
provided the wool used for the felt of the bags for the Congress
participants. We were shown the products from this felting
workshop. This is for the handicapped, to give them social
inclusion. They provide work for six people, each works
for 26 hours per week which they consider full time.
Another felter is a young woman that selects the
fleeces herself. This is a hardy walking breed, and so is
lighter and more athletic than the Bizet.
The regional breeds
include the Bizet, Noir du Velay, Blanc de Massif Central,
Limousine, Griset, and another hardy breed, Rava, with longer
wool. The colored breeds are well adapted, and this provides
them a secure place in the production systems.
The farm has solar panels
everywhere. They cost 500,000 euros to put in, and generate
20,000 euros per year. It’ll take a while to recoup the
investment! They insisted that there was no subsidy, but I
cannot fathom how it would work without one.
In this region in the
early 1900s salmon were so numerous that contracts for farm
laborers actually stated that they could not be fed salmon all
days of the week, but had to have at least one salmon-free day.
After the waterways were dammed for hydroelectric power the fish
declined. The fish
are now individually tagged with transponders to keep track of
them and their movements. Many return upstream after 6 years, to
spawn. The streams and rivers have fish ladders in order to help
the fish survive.
Brioude was our next stop.
This is the second largest regional town, with 7,000 people. We
had an exquisite lunch in a large hall. We had an appetizer,
salad, ratatouille, a pork chop, and then wonderful cheese’s:
Saint-Nectaire, Cantal, Salers, Blue d’Auvergne, Fourme d’Ambert.
Lunch with Mr. Jean Luc
The cheeses at Mr Chauvel's
The French have 56 sheep
breed associations, one for each breed. Each association has two
parts, one for selection, and the other for the more economic
side of promotion and marketing. The representatives from all
the different breeds meet once a month, which keeps
communication good and information flowing.
The Massif Central is
high and rugged, and the producers there need adapted breeds.
They do produce less meat, but are hardier and useful for that
reason. Within the breeds there is always one group that keeps
purebreds, and a second group that is crossbred for meat
production. Purebreds are selected for adaptation, lambing
characteristics, and then finally for meat qualities. Rams are
tested in stations, and sold back to breeders. The details on
this are hazy, but it sounds like they have to submit their best
two or three ram lambs for this. These best ram lambs go to a
central station, and are compared with progeny testing over 1800
ewes, giving 3000 lambs. 120 rams are tested per year. At
certification 20% of the rams are culled, 80% sold to breeders.
There are currently 5,000,000 ewes in France, and they still
have to import quite a bit of lamb.
insemination is used in French sheep, it is only for the
specialized meat and milk breeds. So, there is no AI in the
Bizet breed. For the Lacaune dairy breed, 700,000 to 800,000
ewes are mated by AI per year.
Wolves are the source of
considerable controversy. They came back about 30 years ago, and
for some reason they knew that last week there were 300 wolves
in France (maybe they have the same transponders as the fish or
the sheep ear tags!). They are currently in about 2/3 of France,
especially the Alps, Pyrenees, and now up to 150 km from Paris.
5000 ewes are killed by wolves each year. This results in 14
million euros in damages and compensation. They cannot shoot
over 24 per year in all of France. This is due to societal
questions and debates over animal use. Some factions are even
opposed to riding horses. They now are seeing some wolf/dog
crosses, but this detail was hazy. The owners of Great Pyrenees
guard dogs get some subsidy. The wolves were first in the
mountains, but are now in the valleys as well. Some wolves kill
the Pyrenean dogs. While the dogs do work well in some
situations, a major problem is hiking tourists interfering with
the dog, by taking photos, posing with the dogs, and generally
getting in the way of the dog doing its job.
The Noir du Velay has
190% lambing, with 23,000 ewes. 5000 to 6000 of these are in the
selection program. They have a dominant black, and other colors
of lambs are said to never occur. White crossbreds are
relatively common, but most are black. They can get two lambings
in one year. This farm has a 42% rate of multiple lambings. Some
individual ewes are very prolific, and have up to 5 to 6lambs.
This is the same gene for fecundity as is found in the Lacaune.
The fleeces are 1 kg of wool/ewe. The breed is only seen
locally, with fully 90% of the breed in this region.
The Noir du Velay came
from north Africa in the middle ages. The local cathedral even has Arabic
architecture as a reminder of the 300 years of this
influence. This is an easy hardy breed, with a label for
appellation de origin. The lambs bring 6.50 euro per kg carcass
weight (40 kg
males, 30 kg females at four months). This is a fairly intensive
system, which keeps the meat tender. The lambs are fed grain.
Ewes are kept outside except in winter. 10 males of the breed
are tested annually. This farm has 500 ewes, and they produce
1000 lambs in March, August, and December. Thirty percent will lamb twice
a year. They sell 250 pedigree ewe lambs each year.
Ewes with lambs are fed
silage for maximum lactation and lamb growth. Lambs gain about
600 g/day on grain, and are sold at 100 to 150 days old. At that
point the carcass is 20 kg, so a 40 to 42 kg live weight. They
can run 10 ewes per hectare, which is about the maximum possible
on really good pastures. There has been a breed association for
25 years. Each lamb gets a transponder ear tag with sire, dam,
owner, and other information on it. They use a different color
tag each year, which makes it relatively easy to figure out how
old an animal is. Sometimes they have triplets, but the third is
nearly always removed.
We were also shown the
products from a felting workshop. This is for the handicapped,
to give them social inclusion. They provide work for six people,
each works 26 hours per week, which they consider full time!
From the Noir du Velay
the fleeces are very black. When they cross the Noir du Velay
with Charollais rams (two “l”s, one “l” for the cattle
breed!) they get black lambs, with a very few white ones. This
is consistent with a dominant black genetic mechanism. They get
250 euros for pedigreed ewe lambs. These are black, and are only
allowed a white star, with or without a white tail tip.
piled back onto the bus, and it really did begin to rain. We
passed the Eiffel rail viaduct. I wish I’d had more notice –
this is a wonderful steel structure, painted red, that spans a
huge broad valley. It is beautiful, with arches and straight
portions. A real work of art, right there in the middle of
nowhere, and once essential for rail transportation in the area.
We saw Montbeliard (a dairy Simmental) cattle, as well as
Limousin for beef. The local cattle breed is Aubrac, which had
become rare but is now making a comeback. They are used for beef
now, but were for draft and once milked. They are going back into the old
stored semen to bring back the milking strains, with the goal of
cheese production up in the high summer pastures. Next week is
the week they go up there. The goal is local cheese production.
They will be milked, and the cheese will be processed in small
stone houses scattered around, with stone roofs made out of
largish flat stones.
Millau was our next stop,
for the night. This was once a center for sheep and lamb skin
tannery. We saw their new viaduct (high bridge) through breaking
clouds right at sunset. It is impressive, but I still like the
older, shorter Eiffel version better. The locale now is more
dependent on Roquefort cheese than leather work. It was a
delight to see some bright red peonies. There are flowers
24 May 2015
Our creaky hotel had
wonderful cheese and bread for breakfast, along with exquisite
white nectarines and cherry jam, We weren’t only Americans,
but also some talented Germans who were great
We glimpsed the huge
viaduct in the mist as we left town. This one is modern, and
somewhat spooky as it rose out of the mist.
We are off to Roquefort.
The cheese is based on the milk from Lacaune sheep. There are
300 to 1000 ewes per flock, that are in barns in the winter, but
are out during the day. For Roquefort, only Lacaune milk can be
used, and from Aveyron and the neighbouring counties Lozere,
Gard and Tarn. The maturing all occurs in an area 300 meters
wide, 2 kilometers wide, and 100 meters deep of the caves. So,
Roquefort is a specific brand from a specific local area, which
is becoming a common thread through much of what is going on in
France with foods.
The ewes are all
artificially inseminated on a specific week each year, which
results in a set date to begin lactations, and a set date to end
them. This is all highly regulated. The rams are all progeny
selected. The Société factory is one of only 7 cooperative or
private enterprises that
make the cheese, and is the oldest one as well as the largest.
It has been in operation since 1842. The cave has been used
since the 1600s.
The cheese are aged in caves, with fungal spores in
the air that make it blue. The area is limestone, with cliffs
and caves that have been used for aging cheese since the 1400s.
Originally the fungus came in through air channels that
ventilate the caves naturally. The tour was good fun. It started
with a darkened room, then a diorama of the area millennia ago,
then darkness, then noise, and then a diorama of the collapsed
earth that led to the final appearance.
About 300,000 cheeses are
made in each batch, between December to June. They get 1-3
liters per ewe per day, make the cheese, and introduce the
fungus at 14-25 days. They can cool the cheeses to 2 degrees to
slow fungus, then the cheese lasts 3 months to a year to get
them through the time when the ewes are not lactating.
The manufacturing site is
2 km x 300 m wide, 100 meters deep, and this is the only zone
qualifying for the appellation. The milk come 700,000 sheep.
They make three different cheeses. Société is the main one,
accounting for 80% of the production. Cave des Templiers is a bit
stronger, and is 3%, only sold locally. Caves Baragnaudes
is creamy and
strong, accounts for 18% of the production, and is also only
sold in France. The differences are related to different strains
Each one of these cheeses has its own cave to avoid cross
contamination (which occurs easily in cheese caves – you
either make all blue cheese or none, because there is no
halfway!). The vents have algae and moss growing on them from
the light. The name “Roquefort” was trademarked in 1863.
Milk for the cheeses is picked up daily from the farms, and it
takes 4 liters of milk for a kilogram of cheese.
Roquefort cheeses maturing
in the caves
The caves look like a
cathedral of cheese, with stone pillars holding up the roof.
They had a wonderful operatic light show in the dark, including
Vivaldi’s Gloria with two of us singing along (me and the
elderly English Simone). Up until the 1960s they cultured the
fungus with bread in the cave, which yielded uneven results. Now
they rely on three lab strains. They still use a mixed rye/whole
wheat flour to culture the yeast in large flat flasks. In 8 to
10 weeks the fungus has totally consumed the bread in the
flasks, and the powder can inoculate 500 liters of milk. Wood
for the aging racks is 100 year old oak. The packaging is porous
flexible stuff, and some of the cheese wrapping is mechanized,
some still wrapped by hand. One lady has quite the reputation
for wrapping cheese, and can wrap 100 cheeses an hour.
We also visited a farm
producing the milk. It was 150 hectare (330 acres or so), and was
run by only two people. Half of the land was in pasture and half
in hay and grain. The feed has to be local for Roquefort cheese,
and most has to come from the farm. The sheep are on pasture
from March to October. In winter they get hay and grain. This
farm has 420 milking ewes, 85 ewe lambs, and is a pedigreed
flock with artificial insemination. They inseminate the ewes on
May 22 after synchronizing oestrus. They then do the ewe lambs 2
weeks later. They lamb from October 15 to 22. They have a 70%
pregnancy rate, and pregnant ones have a 190% lambing rate. They
have 1, 2,or 3 lambs, nurse lambs for only one month, and then
wean them and begin milking the ewes. The ram lambs go to a
co-op for fattening, and they save 80-90 ewe lambs for
replacements. The rams are usually a live weight 14-15 kg at
weaning, and are then fattened. Milk goes to Société. Breeders
get different prices for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd
milk. First goes to Roquefort, second for other dairy products,
third for yet other manufacturing. First brings1.1 Euro/kg,
second.45 Euro/kg, third is .25-.30 Euro/kg. There is a quota
because of overproduction. Too much milk! They are now trying to
reduce it. This farm has added a few Aubrac cows in order to try
to incorporate another crop, and now have 18 head. Average
lactations are 350 liters per ewe in 165 days, plus one month for
the lamb which is not counted or measured. This is above the
breed average. The breeders do have some genetic work going on,
targeting a premium for protein production.
We saw the ewes in their
barn, along with their one goat, viewed the milking parlor, and
then they turned the hungry ewes out to pasture (we were late!).
They had a large tricolor hound out back. France has long been
the source of good hounds. We then went into a restored very old
barn, and sampled cheeses with plum jam and wine. They had nice
art cards with sheep on them, so we all lined up to get those,
too. The state gets one euro back for each lamb sold, for
restoration of historic buildings like this one. It is all about
preserving the local culture!
Whizzing down the road we
saw to Noir de Berry donkeys in a field. This is a large
mule-breeding donkey from this region. I wish we could have had
a closer look.
We now go through the
Larzac Plateau, “The
Colorado of France,” which is high, dry, grassland with brush
and stone outcroppings that make pillars.
We stopped for lunch in a
very remote place with the absolutely most energetic server on
the planet. One server for all of us, a vivacious woman that
spoke great English. We had a quiche, salad, prunes, potatoes
with duck fat, and slices of a leg of lamb that they put burning
fat on via a flaming metal cone. Quite the show! We also had
great cheese, including the Perall du Larzac sheep cheese. I
didn’t catch the name of the wonderful cow’s milk blue
cheese. This was topped off with an apple and pear tart and
coffee. This place had a Dogue de Bordeaux out back – big,
wrinkly, and not the happiest!
of lamb being prepared!
Next stop was a medieval town, La Couvertoirade.
This had walls, gates, and a big shallow watering hole for
sheep. These Lavognes are paved with stones to retain the water and to
control erosion. They are flat and shallow enough that sheep can
go down to water. They are seen on the sides of roads
everywhere. This one was built in 1895.
A typical watering hole,
Trudel Andrag, Richard Veevers, Pierre Del Porto and Amelie
Quenet in front of such a lavogne
village was full of artisans – a wonderful tourist trap. One
place made small bronze sheep sculptures (heavy!) and sold the
same cards as the Lacaune farm, but they were cheaper
here! There was a great T shirt place with sheep designs.
I only bought one, and this was unfortunate because it was the
last place to have them.
headed of the plateau to Provence, passing natural stone pillars
and limestone cliffs. The vineyards value the stones because
they warm the vines. Olive and cypress trees start to appear in
France has more sheep
than horses, and more cattle than horses. This southern portion
is the region of fighting Camargue cattle, and grey Camargue
horses that we see along the roadside. This zone looks something
like sagebrush flats in our own west. We pass fields of rice
grain, and they are also famous for melons and strawberries.
This is the Rhone delta area, and is very fertile. They have
canals for irrigation, and grow a lot of rice. We see many
flooded fields with young rice in them.
The next stop is Arles, founded in 46
BC by Julius Caesar. This is the largest city in France by area,
although not by population. We stop by a square with a café
that Van Gogh painted – still much in the same shape as he
depicted. This square had a few old Roman columns. A
statue of Mistral also graced the same square. Off of the square
were huge mansions, built in the 1500s to 1700s.
The coliseum had 20,000
seats originally, and is slowly being restored. Many of these
Roman structures were used as convenient sources of worked stone
over the intervening centuries, and using them as quarries did
little to preserve the originals. They had gladiator spectacles
here. Originally these were slaves and condemned criminals, and
fights to the death were routine. This then changed to
professionals, and the fighting changed from “to the death”
to “first blood.” Twice a year they still have Spanish bull
fights to the death. These are in September and around Easter.
The French style fights are not to death, but rather they goal
is to pluck white wool tassels off of the upright horns of the
local bulls, or a ribbon cockade that is on a string between
horns. The men doing this are dressed in white, and the bull is
not killed. Some talented bulls become very popular, with some
lasting to ten years old, then retiring in style. The local bulls
are 400 kg, the Spanish ones are 500kg.The local cuisine
features bull meat recipes. The secret is to cook it forever!
They also had an
Augustinian amphitheatre with 10,000 seats. There were three
ranks of seats, depending on who you were: nobility first, then
Roman citizens, then others. Whenever the play at hand had a
death scene they used a condemned person to play that part.
After the Romans were finished, these were used as fortresses,
then as quarries for other buildings. Fortunately a lot was
left, and is being restored.
25 May 2014
This region is Crau (say
“crow”).It is flat grassland, and they actually raise
appellation hay, all with appropriate regulations, region, and
special red and white twine so you won’t confuse it with
ordinary hay! To get the appellation for hay, they take the
first cut in May (required). They can then get two more
cuttings. Hay grows March to October. The appellation hay brings
180 euro per metric ton. The region is flood irrigated, and hay
gets water each 10 days.
We are here to learn
about the Merino d’Arles. France has four types of merinos:
Rambouillet, de L’est, (they are like the Merino Fleischschaf
of Germany, which are big mutton producers), Precoce (rare), and
Arles as the most numerous.
d'Arles (Photo Roger Lundie)
This is an experimental
farm. They have put out an exhibit of wool, and sheep bells hung
on bent wood yokes. The crowd descended on these like vultures!
We heard bells all the rest of the day on the bus, every time we
hit a bump in the road.
This farm has 1600 ewes,
Merino d’Arles, and all are registered. 200 have the Booroola
gene for high fertility. This is the only flock in France with
this gene, introduced from Australia in the 1970s. This breed
uses artificial insemination, but without synchronizing the ewes
first. They try to get lush grass to feed them all, with
irrigation. This place also trains shepherds. It is a one year
course, and many women take it. This location was the first
registered flock for the breed.
Our hosts at the
experimental farm being presented with a copy of the Congress
place also served as a transhumance museum, interested in
cultural conservation. The migration here is from Provence up to
the Alps, and 600,000 sheep are involved. They start moving them
now and continue into June. The timing all depends on grass.
They come back from the high country in September and October.
Currently they go by truck in contrast to the previous
migrations on foot. Each flock has a shepherd, trained at this
place. They train 15 to 18 a year, in a one year program.
In winter they lamb in
the open flat pastures at this site. They use a shepherd per
1000 to 1500 sheep, and most have at least two dogs. Most are
Border collies, or local Chien du Crau, but even these look
somewhat like Border collies. The flocks are protected by
Pyrenees dogs. They lamb in autumn, outside in
fields on non-irrigated pasture. They shear the sheep in April
to get adequate wool cover by the time they move to the colder
They get about 2.5 kg
wool per ewe, 4-5 for ram. The wool measures 19.9 microns, which
is pretty fine. It costs 1.8 euro per head to shear, and they
used to get less than this for the wool. Prices are now up to
1.8 euro per kilogram due to increased demand for the wool. This
was accomplished by working with a specific buyer over the last
several years. Since 2010 the buyer has become more and more
interested in wool quality. As a result, they remove the head,
belly, and leg wool right at shearing. They sell the wool to
Bergere de France for making hiking and sport clothing. In 2000
they got 50 cents per kg, now they get 1.8 to 1.9 euro.
The wool is 20.4 microns.
The shearers are all
trained locally. Lambing rate is 125% for most ewes, but
those with the Booroola gene are up to 225%.The breed has
283,000 ewes, with 150 bloodlines. No black sheep are ever
registered, to the chagrin of this crowd! Improvement
schemes are based on lambing percent, maternal ability, and then
finally on wool characteristics.
The flock also has
reddish Mourerous sheep, originally from North Africa centuries
ago. They used vasectomized rams of this breed as teasers when
they do AI on the ewes. This is an unusual breed, with fat
deposits on the back of head, much as the southern African sheep
The sheep that serve as
leaders are tamed wethers. They leave patches of long fleece
along the backs of these, then paint them so they can be picked
out of the flock quickly. The sheep are all branded with paint
on the back, and some are belled to keep track of them when in
Rams can either go up to
the mountains or stay below, depending on the owner’s
preference. This seemed a bit goofy, because the breed should be
non-seasonal for reproduction, so you’d think that they’d
have lambs all year. They evidently lamb from autumn to
February, so it all works. On the mountain the shepherd puts
them by night in electric fence with guard dog, or donkeys, in order to
Another breed, that we
did not see, is the Prealpes du Sud, with 250,000 ewes.
They did talk a bit about
the Crau dogs. There are currently about 400 of these. They look
a whole lot like border collies (if what I saw was indeed one of
this breed). I was mystified by the number of breeds, but
then they explained that they accept three new “old” breeds
a year, across all species. Over time this adds to the list, if
slowly. I think this is in response to EU support for rare breed
conservation, so they get extra money this way – if they have
lots of breeds!
We stopped at Salon de Provence, a wonderful town
with mansions from the 1800s built on the wealth that olive oil
brought. There was an old castle here, Emperi, dating back to
Roman times. This had an art museum, with many paintings from a
specific artist, Theodore Jourdan, that like sheep, goats, and cows! These
were usually in herd situations, with appropriate shepherds or
milkmaids. He had one great shot of African sheep being unloaded
in Marseilles.We were 24 km from Manosque and Gontard, the sites
of the genetics meetings in the 1980s.
view of Salon de Provence
Sheep being unloaded in
The painter, Theodore Jourdan,
(1833-1908) was born in Salon-de-Provence. He painted many
pastoral scenes with sheep goats. There is permanent
exhibition of his work in the Empiri Castle
This region raises a lot
of apples, and many orchards are under shade cloth as a guard
against hail. The restaurant near Gap at which we ate a
wonderful dinner was a 1500s barn, wonderfully restored. There
were rooms for cattle, sheep, people, and poultry, and all were
connected in order to keep everyone warm. They used oxen, in
addition to milking cows.
The meal started with
melon and salami (good together!), then sea bass, strawberry
sorbet stuffed into a white chocolate shell. It was exquisite.
We wound are way back down to the town.
26 May 2014
This day dawned cloudy
and cool because we were pretty high up on Hannibal’s road
that he took with his elephants all those years ago. They do
have big grey donkeys here, Ane de Provence, and we saw a few. The shepherds use
these to pack their gear into the high country. The cattle are
Tarentaise, Abondance(a dark Simmental). So the cattle change
with the landscape.
We did run into avalanche
risk flags, because we are now up in the Alps. The flags are
black and yellow checkered flags. Our visit was to a pastoral
farm center. The land is owned by a complex pattern of state,
municipality, and private plots. Each farm has a specific tract
for summer, and each family has a traditional range. New people
that want to enter the system start off somewhat at the bottom,
getting the worst allotment. Over they years they then work
their way up as vacancies occur due to deaths or retirements
The owner pays the
shepherd, without a government subsidy. They are paid once a
month. All are paid the same basic rate, depending one's
education, experience, size of flock, and specific tasks they
have to do. The owner is the farmer, and he is making hay, so
cannot shepherd. The pay scale is 1500-2500 euros a month.
The owner comes out once a month. Shepherds get one day a week
off. There is some subsidy from the EU, it seems, and .animals
are used to graze the ski runs. This keeps the grass short, and
avalanche risk less, because tall grass basically greases the
skids! The government also compensates farmers for wolf losses.
While there are a few bears in the Pyrenees, there are not in
One risk the shepherds
face is storm and lightning risk, especially because they are so
high up. They use leg crooks instead of neck crooks. Much of the
lamb is organic, which evidently has long withdrawal times
instead of “no use” policies. They de-worm and dip the
flocks before going to the mountains. This is especially
important when mixing the flocks in order to get the numbers up
to what a shepherd needs to warrant the pay. There are now lots
of ibex up in the mountains, although I remember heroic efforts
to bring them back 25 years ago. Two years ago they killed 200
of them in order to protect flocks from some disease (brucellosis)
The local mixed flock
included some Thones et Marthod sheep, which are white with black
spectacles, ears, nose, and are used for milking. They have long
twisted horns that stick straight out sideways from their heads.
The shop here was very
nice, with posters (they are pretty, but then what do you do
with them once you get them home?), sheep bells, and great
cards. They also had donkey milk soap – a first!
Briancon is the next town, at the crossroads of several valleys.
This seems to always afford a good site for a major town. The
six forts here are from the 1650s to 1750 or so. Now the major
attraction is ski slopes instead of fending off Italians.
Here we feasted on coq au
vin in a very picturesque restaurant. We also had a pasta salad,
stuffed pastry with goat cheese, and a blueberry tart. Coq au
vin is quite tasty, and my old roosters at home may be doomed
were going to the “Atelier” of Marie-Thérèse
Chaupin in Saint-Chaffrey, and I
had another brief media interview. I have no idea if these ever
get aired anywhere, or written up, but it’s fun. I think they
pick on Roger and myself because we are now the only geneticists
involved. The wool mill runs off of water powered electricity,
and sits right on a stream. I suspect that originally it was
direct power, but now it is converted to electricity first.
The wool is washed, dried, oiled for a day, then carded, combed, and
spun. They have three huge carding machines in one
line. They work with natural colors of wool, and have the
wonkiest set of machines. They make yarn, and have a sock
machine that makes lines of socks all connected. I think it
knits one, binds it off, then knits the next one. All they need
to do is cut them apart and then sew the toes closed. They also
have knitting machines, sweater machines, knitted fabric
machines, and looms. For garments the wool is fulled after being
woven or knit, and for blankets it is washed. They had “before”
and “after” samples, and the difference was dramatic. The
spin both warp and weft of their fabrics. They also have
skeiners, and sergers, and sewing machines. All of these
machines run off the power they generate. They have no power in
January because the stream is iced up.
They do own some sheep
but buy in a lot of wool. They also process specially the
Rambouillet flock's wool. They make yarn and finished products,
all sold privately at the shop (ski village!) or by mail. It is
a cooperative, and has been working for 40 years. The folks
involved are from France, Switzerland, and Austria. Seven people
work in the factory. They have been doing the same thing for 40
years, but now it is trendy and really taking off. This is a ski
town, so was dead right now in May, but comes alive in both
winter and summer.
They had an exquisite
merino shirt in a cream and black wool plaid that I could not
resist. The black was from the Portuguese black merino, so it
was a great souvenir of the conference and the trip. Portions of
the “Wools of Europe” exhibit were in an upstairs room, and
it was fun to see some of these objects “in the flesh.”
We also heard a
presentation from representatives of the Biella wool industry.
They will host the next conference, if indeed many of us survive
the five years until the next one! The crowd is aging out, and
recruiting very little in the way of younger folks interested in
picking up the pieces. One presenter was a Leeds man, Nigel
Thompson, who had worked in Italy for years. There are now 16
wool men in Italy, and that’s about it for Europe! They grade
and sort wool, and are a treasure of knowledge and experience.
The industry has moved to China because it is bigger and
cheaper, but also much riskier. 150 million kg of wool go to
Italy each year. The EU used to be first in the world in wool
imports, but now is second behind China.
After leaving the factory
we go up and through a very high pass, the Lauteret (2075 m.). It is windy, with rain on
the way down, and a very near miss with an oncoming bus on a
narrow mountain road. Our driver Rashid is very, very good,
though, and kept us safe throughout. We come across another
relatively empty hydro electric lake, with an old bridge exposed
at the bottom. As we descended the mountain the weather cleared
up, showing us great alpine vistas. They graze the mountains
here to keep the landscape opened up and not completely
We take our customary
afternoon rest stop, and several of the folks buy ice cream
popsicles. After that lunch! We stagger into Valence, and on to
the hotel. Dinner tonight is salami, smoked salmon, chicken and
rice. The raspberry tart for dessert is superb, though. We have
to walk back in a drizzle, but the lighted church towers are so
pretty that it is fine.
27 May 2014
West of the Rhone we
enter wine country with vines everywhere. It appears to be a
region of poor soils. As with most of the countryside, this is
indeed highly regulated, and you can’t just plant a vine
anywhere you want, but only in prescribed spots.
Today’s excursion is a
steam train ride. Just a very few steam trains still operate in France, for
tourism. These are run by volunteers, who have reopened and
restored all the equipment. This one runs twice a week up
to Lamastre, on market day. In the peak summer season it runs
more often. We have to go over a medieval bridge to get there
– imagine a multi-hundred year old piece of infrastructure in
the USA! This one still had buses and cars going over it.
Doug and I hiked through tall grass and a campground to get a
good shot at a photo of it.
The train at a station and an historic railway
We do get a more in depth
explanation of grape production. The hillsides are fairly steep,
and for some reason the rows run with the slope instead of
across it. I never did get an explanation for that. Each
producer owns an individual plot. In this region they tie the
vine to a post, and then trim the leaves above the grape
clusters so they get sunshine, and maximum size because the
leaves are not competing for resources. It is all highly
regulated. The vines are private, but grapes tend to be sold to
big companies that actually make the wine. There is some level
of organic wine production with horses instead of mechanized
It does turn out that the
towns get judged for the flowers they have in public and private
spaces. This explains the wonderful displays on roundabouts, and
also in private yards. The rose bushes at the end of rows of
grapevines have yet another function – the aphids prefer
roses, so the growers can evaluate the roses to see when to
spray the vines.
The train follows the
Doux river, which has flash floods occasionally. It is in a steep
limestone gorge, and the bottom is indeed scoured pretty clean.
The engine pulling is a 1903 engine that takes 800 kg coal and a
4 tons of water to make the trip (33 km).
This region was also big
for silk production in past years. The result is lots of
mulberry trees. On
the train Amélie and Pierre haul out sausage, soft goat cheese,
wine, and olives. We had plenty, so they shared with the most
expressive silver-haired gent in the next car. He struggled with
the cork, and made quite a series of fun faces as he worked his
way through it. He put out quite the show!
The trip was great, with
views of the gorge, the vineyards, and terraced slopes with
chestnuts. An aqueduct along the stream bed was dug by German
POWs in WW I, and was a source of power for years. At the end we
all headed for the restroom.
This is the most
protestant part of France, although I am not sure exactly what
that means. I suspect this figures into the previous religious
wars, but I don’t know if it persists. It was telling that our
South African was Dawie Du Toit, a name transplanted from France
to South Africa with the huge emigration of Huguenots.
In this region they
fatten pigs on chestnuts, which gives a special taste to the
pork. The end result is expensive, especially after a blight
killed many of the chestnut trees. Chestnuts are still
harvested, and it takes clean ground under the trees to be able
to do it at all efficiently.
We go to the factory of
Ardelaine in the village of Saint Pierreville. This is another wool
processor with a long history. This one is in a village with
steep roads, so the bus has to go back and forward to aim just
right. This is after being passed repeatedly on curvy mountain
roads by impatient car drivers. Rashid is amazing!
They have lots of wood
cut for winter fuel, which gets translated as “wood for ‘eating”
as the “h” is usually dropped! Fortunately we were treated
to a wonderful organic lamb lunch instead of a wood snack.
We have a translator,
Phillippe, at our table. He is a distinguished retired
physicist, now turned ethical banker. It is a regular
bank, but makes 60% of loans for ecological purposes and
projects. Ardelaine borrowed 20 years ago from this bank to
start up, and still borrows to get over seasonal bumps in
income. This bank will mortgage land, but not houses,
because they never want to have to foreclose on a house.
The wool mill here
processes 70 metric tonnes a year, from 300 producers. While
they used to wash it all locally, now it is sent to Biella in
Italy for scouring. Originally the wool here was not fit for
international markets, and the breeders were not interested in
growing wool. The organization here decided to get
involved in all steps of processing wool to enhance the market.
They now have own shearers. They shear from February to June,
and then work in the shop to make wool-stuffed mattresses from
June to February. The group sorts the good wool from the bad
wool, and began paying a premium, so breeders started to pay
attention to wool quality. As the group started monitoring every
step the entire process started to improve.
Marketing the wool became
a problem. They started with mattresses, which worked quite
well. Thirty years later they now work with 250 owners, and
shear 50,000 sheep. The wool is sorted at shearing, and ends up
totaling 70 metric tonnes. They now have 50 employees, and are
the only closed-circuit wool endeavor in Europe. They have grown
to the point that even customers can now take an interest and
become shareholders. They also cater to tourists, about
20,000 per year. This area is a ski resort, which
translates into both winter and summer attractions. These now
include food, a restaurant, and the wool shop. The whole
endeavor is a cooperative based on all local resources. They
only sell locally, or by e-mail, and at a few fairs, and only on
The wool mattresses are a
tradition that nearly disappeared in the 70s.A group of 5
friends repaired the building, fixed the machines, and
ultimately gave value to wool. This go to the breeders interested.
Mattress wool is bulky, white wool from the Blanc de Massif
Central breed. One double mattress uses 22 kilos of wool, and
they now make two types of mattresses. One is from loose washed
wool, the other is from carded wool. This provides for various
degrees of firmness in the finished mattress. The mattresses
have a ten year lifespan, but can then be returned and have the
wool recarded, restuffed, resewn. The mattresses are stuffed,
and then tufted with long needles by hand. The cotton exterior
ticking has wonderful sheep motifs on it. All of the wool for
mattresses is white, as black wool is culturally unacceptable
for mattresses. The Americans and New Zealanders had a hard time
understanding that it might be irrational – but is just the
way it is!
The pickers, carders, and
other machines go back before WWII, and so are also maintained
as a sort of working living history endeavor. The whole factory
is classed as a living patrimony.
They did have a few sheep
in the barn, including the tiny Ouessant, a grey Corsican, and
the Thones et Marthod with black points,
horns, and used for dairy production.
Mary Gibbings then
started a discussion of Foula sheep on Shetland, which have a
different fleece type than most standardized Shetlands. She is
an energetic octogenarian (I think). At any rate, she has more
energy than just about anyone else on the tour! She very quickly
grasped the importance of the breed concept, of predictability,
and the fact that while Foula sheep may be purebred, they are
different. As a result, conserving them in the main Shetland
breed serves neither of them very well, and both are important
resources. Mary is part of a spinning group that made a fancy
christening gown that Princess Anne took a liking to, all made
out of Leicester Longwool yarn.
then went on to an animated diorama that the factory had put
together, with a story about a village, and the various folks
involved in sheep production in the village. It was great! They
put a huge amount of effort into these, and it shows. The
figures were illuminated one by one, as the narrator went from
shepherd and sheep, to shearer and wool, carder, spinner, dyer,
weaver, and the whole works!
After this we headed to
Lyon founded in 46 BC. This was a silk center in the 1700s, with
up to 100,000 silk looms. This is on the Saone river. We arrived
at our hotel, and then walked to a restaurant to enjoy potatoes,
ravioli, and pasta.
Here, as everywhere, the dinner ends with either us or the wait staff
stacking plates. Lots of plates, right at the
table. This is even in the most elegant settings, and no
doubt is one way to tell English tradition from French! Stack
the plates, put the dirty cutlery back on the table cloth. Then
you are in France. Especially if the food and cheese are
Following dinner we had a “digestif” (code for
high-test after-dinner drink!) made from raspberries. It was
crystal clear, smelled like raspberries, and burned all the way
down and also once it hit!
culinary delights and wine we had in France:
Breakfast was less eventful, and now we head through the
Beaujolais region. This is a6 week old wine, never drunk before
then. So, all on one day in November, over the whole world, the
vintage is opened and drunk with celebration. It is produced in
a mere six villages.
Burgundy wine is
protected by regulations as well, including quantity produced
and the area from which produced. This is a common thread
throughout most of the products we have encountered.
Off in the distance we
see Solutre rock which sports a steep vertical cliff on its
south side. Back in the stone age they used to run horses over
it in order to eat them. As a nod to that heritage they now have
the primitive grullo Konik horses from Poland running on the
We are also treated to a
great tour of the Beaune hospital dating back to the 1400s. This was
during the 100 years war and Burgundy sided with English.
Flanders was part of Burgundy, so the architecture and the
furnishings have a Flemish, English, and French flavor to them.
The tapestries were of English wool as well as silk.
The Hospital or hospice
This was a time of social
disruption, with famine and starvation. Nicolas Rolin was a rich
man, but felt guilty, and worried a great deal about going to
Hell. In order to stave off that fate he built a hospital for
poor people. The architecture reflects both Flanders and
Burgundy. For example, the many weather vanes are from Flanders.
The site also included a large pigeon cote, in order to provide
birds for the ultimate health elixir -pigeon soup. Nicolas’s
wife built the tower because, only nobility could build pigeon
cotes and she was the only one qualified to do so. Her name was
Guigone de Salins. She and Nicolas owned
vineyards, and even today there is a wine auction annually from
a 60 hectare vineyard. It is put into 228 liter barrels, which
are bought at two months and then left to age at the site,
finally to be bottled in 300 bottles as 5 to 10 year old wine.
The hospital itself was a
strange place. Beams overhead each were supported with the heads
of demons, breathing in the bad air. Around the sides were
paired animal and human heads, depicting both the strengths and
weaknesses of individuals. Included were pigs, rats, monkeys,
and others. The whole site was built over a river to aid
air exchange and disposal. Over the centuries other hospitals
branched out from here, all over the world. Two nuns who worked
here while it was a hospital are still living.
The site included a
wonderful chapel with a great painted altar piece depicting the
final judgment, and also a place with tapestries. They also had
a pharmacy, complete with old jars labelled “Anise vermifuge”
and “eye of crawdads (in French). Quite the place.
We are getting close to
Paris, with the land flattening out, and a few more details
emerge from Pierre. France has 5,000,000 ewes, and still imports
lots of lamb and wool. We also learn that Charolais are cattle,
while Charollais are sheep. Helps to know that’s how it works!
We pass lots of fields of
grain, with blue cornflowers them. Also lots of windmills again,
churning out renewable energy.
Roger Lundie, Marree
Winnecombe, Wendy Dennis and Bruce Tinnock attended all the
previous Congresses since 1979
Goodbye and thank you for coming
to the Congress and going on the Tour.
Dawie du Toit and Trudel