Tag Archives: Sheep

The Good Life

Sunrise/sunset: 04:05/ 21:30. Daylength: 17hr 24mins

I said earlier in the week that if I didn’t post, I’d be swimming in photos by the weekend. Despite doing so, I still have so many things I want to share with you that this will be a whistle stop tour of Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

There are lots of tunnels in Norway. Many roads which used to go through mountain passes, or clung to cliff edges around insane bends, have been rerouted to go through or under. Sometimes, the old road stays open, either because there is a village or walking area, or otherwise to provide an alternative route in the event that the tunnel is closed.

There is a tunnel on the E6 just south of Sørkjosen and Birgit recommended, on Tuesday evening, that I explore the road it replaced. The first section was flat and of the clinging to the cliff face variety. There were road signs reminding drivers not to forget to go round the bends and I wondered how many unwary tourists, distracted by the scenery, had gone over the edge before they decided they really ought to put up notices. The view really was worth looking at. One of the first things I saw was this classic red barn, built into the mountainside above the fjord.

Red barn with fjord and mountains on Jubelen.

The road itself is called Jubelen and Birgit told me that like “Rest and Be Thankful” in Scotland, it was probably named by people who were heartily glad to reach the top of a stiff climb. Shortly after the barn, the road began twisting its way up the fellside. There was a car park at the top, where a frozen lake was surrounded by warnings that it was drinking water and shouldn’t be polluted. The way onwards was blocked for cars and impassable without skis, so I climbed out of the car and decided to take a walk back down the road to take some pictures.

The road onwards was closed to traffic.

I walked quite a way down the road. It was a bright day and the sunshine warmed my back as I tramped down the hill. I have been noticing, for the past week or so, that there are patches of green appearing through the snow, particularly on banks that face the sunlight. Often when snow disappears, there can be weeks where everything looks brown and dead, but some of the ground cover here is so hardy that in places it is pushing its way through the snow. After months of white, these intense patches of colour are very cheering, as is the wonderful chatter of newly flowing streams that fills the air.

Further down the road, there were beautiful views across Reisafjord to the mountains beyond.

Reisafjord from Jubelem
Reisafjord from Jubelem

There was also this wonderful frozen waterfall. I guess it doesn’t get much sunlight, being on the north side of the mountain. A mixed blessing for me as it was hard to photograph with the bright sky above and behind, but I hope you can get some idea of the blue, icy beauty.

It was slower, walking back up the hill. I noticed a few things I thought I’d like to share with those of you who live in warmer places. The roads in Norway are kept remarkably clear, even when there is heavy snow. Gradually the snow builds up on the verges until there are piles so high that in places, you can’t see over them. A friend commented on Facebook that if she was driving here, she’d never get anywhere as she would stop so often, but once the snow arrives, there are very few places you can pull off the road. The laybys and passing places all have to be cleared and side-roads and entrances become narrow and hemmed in.

As the snow has begun to melt, I have noticed that it happens unevenly. Quite often the piled up snow has begun to resemble castle ramparts with regularly spaced clumps of ice perched along the top of the wall.

Winter is obviously hard on asphalt. Lots of the newly-revealed roads have deep holes. During winter, they were filled and masked by the hard packed snow and are only becoming apparent as it melts. Long cracks also appear, many of which look like they were patched up last summer, only to have widened again.

For now, the roads are dry, but when it rains, or the snow melts, there is nowhere for the water to escape. And so as we begin to approach spring, those clearing the roads have begun to create gaps in the ramparts so that some of the water can escape into the ground.

One last picture. As I drove back down and reached the bottom of the hill, I stopped to take another photo, looking back towards Sørkjosen. If you zoom in to the bottom right (thank you Lara!) corner of this picture, you can see the hotel where I was staying!

Zoomed in shot – hotel on the left and the surviving pre-war building opposite

Wednesday night was quite the contrast. As Birgit had warned me on Tuesday, the weather closed in and by Wednesday evening the skies were heavy and there was snow in the air. Birgit had invited me to eat with her at home and so after work, I followed her on the road that led north from Storslett and out to her house.

I have posted about the wonderful red barns here before, and to my delight, Birgit has one of her own.

Birgit’s fjos.

Birgit has a small herd of Lyngshest that she and her partner use for breeding and riding. She tells me that once a week, a group of local pensioners come and ride out with her partner, Geirmund. I have often thought Norway is a good place to grow old (often the ski slopes are free for over 70s) and this sounds like one more wonderful discovery of active retirement. She led me into the barn where we found the farrier working.

This is Rein, who is 22 years old

We went in the house and were greeted by the lovely aroma of food in the oven, and by Birgit’s seven year old Bouvier de Flandres , I Mo. He was as warm and friendly as Birgit herself and very soon, as we stood in the kitchen, he lay down on my feet to keep them warm.

Birgit’s house was wonderfully cosy and filled with photographs of horses and Birgit and Geirmund’s family. Her children, like mine, are mostly grown up, but as we walked into the living room, we were greeted by one of her two cats.

Tigra is three years old.

Once the farrier was finished, Geirmund came in and we ate together. After that, Birgit took me on a proper tour of the barn, or fjos, as it is called here.

It felt like a slice of heaven to me. As well as the older of the Lyngehest tied up in stalls there were chicken and sheep. Lead ropes and sheep-bells hung on the walls and there was the sweet smell of horses and hay.

The younger horses are outside. Despite the patches of snow and the dampness of the ground as it melts, they too seemed to be thriving. Birgit tells me they are very even tempered and cheerful, even when faced with injury or difficulties.

This beauty is Reisa Virko. Virko is Sami and means lively.

Despite the mud and the snow, we went for a short walk afterwards down towards the fjord. I stopped to take the photograph of the tractor and floats. I saw them on top of a bank as we walked past and I couldn’t resist. Farming and fishing, thrown together, old, but probably still working. Note also the boat with the green deck in the background. The far side is filled with holes, but perhaps there are parts that can be used. And you can also see the ubiquitous wires that spread over so much of the landscape in Norway. Often I try to photograph round them, but here I felt they were very fitting.

As we passed the tractor again on the way back, Birgit told me that in winter, there was an otter slide on the bank beside it. Presumably the otters will head into the fjord shortly for the summer, if they haven’t already gone. As for me, I hope that I will be back here very soon. Thank you Birgit for a lovely evening.

A Road Trip… and a Walk

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

A lot to get through this week, but come with me first on a road trip. Thomas and I took off into the darkness on Tuesday morning on a three day mission. With coronavirus, the Mattilsynet team that covers Troms and Svalbard was a little behind on one of the annual campaigns that had been set at the end of last year. The plan was to roll up unannounced at a number of farms to check whether the animals had their full complement of ear tags . In Norway, farm animals are closely tracked from the time they are born until the time they die. All of them should have two tags, one in each ear, and that was what we were going to check.

Being efficient, Thomas had added other parameters onto the list. If we were lucky enough to find some sheep or goat farmers in, we were to check whether the farmer knew the symptoms of scrapie (a disease like BSE that causes neurological problems) and what systems they used to monitor the movements of animals on and off the farm.

It’s a bit of a hit and miss affair rocking up at farms unannounced. Farming is a job with irregular hours and it’s common here, where farms tend to be much smaller than those in the UK, for farmers to have other jobs in addition to their animals. Nonetheless, by the end of a fairly long day, we had managed to get round two herds of cattle and three flocks of sheep. I hadn’t reckoned on it being quite so exhausting. When I worked in the UK, we travelled round farms pulling on the same pair of waterproof trousers and wellington boots at each place. A quick wash at the end and good to go. Here, before entering each barn or byre, we have to enter what’s called the sluse, step over a bench or line of some sort in your stockinged feet, then pull on a papery jumpsuit, big white boot covers and a face mask. For all those who wear glasses and have worn a mask in cold weather, you will appreciate how hard it is to check anything once your glasses are well and truly steamed up. What with that and the freezing air and rough snowy roads, I was very tired by the time we arrived at the hotel where we were to meet Birgit who had been on a similar expedition of her own.

It may have been the best shower I’ve ever had. By the end of it, I could feel my toes again and the aroma of animals had been washed out of my hair. Birgit had retired early, so it was just Thomas and I that met in the hotel restaurant for dinner. After that, we retired as well, having arranged to meet for breakfast to plan the next day’s manoeuvres.

We set out in darkness again on day two. When the light did come it was lacklustre and overcast with the kind of distant, undefined sky that often heralds snow. Though the countryside was beautiful, it was close to monochrome with only the occasional splash of colour of the traditional red-painted barns.

One of the farms we visited was very impressive. As well as some 250 well-kept Norwegian white sheep, there was a brand new barn where they are building a glassed in warm room with leather armchairs for watching the sheep overnight at lambing. You can see the window of it here on the right of the picture.

I had been intrigued on the drive north to see a layby that was designed for lorry drivers to stop and put chains on their lorries, but I was even more fascinated to see that even tractors need them here.

Back at the hotel, more of Mattilsynet’s staff were arriving. There was a departmental meeting in the morning where the work would be planned for next year, but tonight the plan was to enjoy some food together.

Everyone was very cheery as we sat down and enjoyed a fairly traditional Norwegian Christmas feast: two different kinds of fish pate, a selection of meats including ribbe (a cut of pork from the flank) pinnekjøtt (salted lamb cutlets and ribs) mutton sausage and various vegetable accompaniments, then rice pudding with raspberry sauce.

Social distancing with Anya, Astrid, Ann, Birgit, Ammar and Thomas

It was great to meet up with other staff from the offices in Tromsø and Storslett and I returned after all the visits and the meetings feeling I had a better understanding of how everything works.

And to finish off, let me invite you for a walk on Senja with John, Triar and me. Imagine the still, frosty air and the crunch of snow underfoot. The sky in one direction is a cool duck-egg blue. The other way there’s a wonderful sunrise that melts into sunset without the sun ever making it over the horizon. There is hoar frost on the trees and animal and bird tracks in the snow. And after that, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Killing Time

Sunrise/sunset: 04:57 / 20:37. Daylength: 15hr 40min.

On Monday, Hilde drove me over to the abattoir where I will be spending a good chunk of my working days over the next few weeks. With the short summer and long, hard winter, most of the spring lambs will be brought in before it’s time for the remaining animals to be moved into their winter housing. Vets play an essential part in the process. The health of the animals must be checked before they are humanely killed and the welfare and conditions are carefully monitored.

Afterwards, a team of vets and technicians inspect the meat to check whether it is fit for consumption. This is another chance to check health and welfare. All the information from the checks, both ante and post mortem, is recorded. Nobody could claim it’s glamorous work, but as well as ensuring the animals are treated well in the abattoir, the findings are used to assess whether there might be problems on the farms where the animals were raised. If the animals are too thin, have overgrown feet, or show significant signs of illness, then a message is sent back to the local Mattilsynet office, where their vets will contact the farmer and take measures to improve the situation.

On Monday’s visit I was fitted out with a uniform, boots, a locker and a card to open the door. Hilde brought cake again, and I met a few of the staff.

On Tuesday I drove through again with Thomas. I had met him on my first day at work and he seemed friendly, but I hadn’t seen him since. Now he was to give me my first taste in working in an abattoir in northern Norway.

For my part, I was most interested in the inspection of the live animals. It is hard to spend much time on the internet without seeing horror stories, but my impression over the course of the first week has been that most of the animals coming through are very relaxed. Though the pigs all had balls in their pens to play with, most of them were sleeping when we went to see them. Some of the sheep were more skittish than others, but many of them came and were nibbling on my wellington boots. All animals have fresh water in their pens and any cows that are milking are milked if they are in for any length of time. The surroundings are quite similar to those you’d see on the farm and most farms here in Norway are small, so a lot of the animals are used to being handled.

The slaughter process itself was quick and efficient. Thomas showed me how to time the interval between stunning and bleeding. With the cattle, we checked the animal was unconscious before being moved on to the next stage.

It’s a forty minute drive to get to the abattoir and the road is dotted with warning signs for moose. Thomas told me I would see more of them in the winter, though for now they are elusive. The filling station near the E6 has leaflets explaining what to do and who to call if you hit one. I hope it never happens to me, though it is possible I might be called out to do meat inspection on those too if they are injured and have to be shot.

It’s cooling towards autumn now. It was 4°C when I arrived at work yesterday morning. Though the trees are still clinging to their leaves, they are beginning to fade. The ground flora is wonderfully colourful and intensifying as a multitude of berries appear.

There was only one near miss with technology this week. Thomas handed me over to Ammar on Wednesday and he suggested some reading material. The season (as they call it) will begin very soon, and by then I have to be up to speed with meat inspection for lamb. Back in the office, I had chosen a pin code for the printer. You send your file, retrieve it and then put in your number. I assumed the process was the same in the abattoir, and so I went through the retrieval process and began to put in my four figure number. Luckily Ammar stopped me in time, before I set the printer in action printing out *9250 copies of an eight page document on red meat.

Friday afternoon was rounded off with waffles. In Norway they are traditionally eaten with strawberry jam and soured cream. It took me a while to get used to this combination, but now I love it. And what could be more Norwegian than a mountain of waffles to round off the week?

*Not my actual PIN.

Blissful Ignorance

Sunday this week: a lovely day, and the day I had arranged to go out and “see practice” with Jan-Arne. I had been hoping to do this for a while, but it had proved difficult to arrange. In the event I ended up seeing only one patient, though Jan-Arne did all that he could to drum up some additional business, first by telephoning the previous days clients to see if they needed a follow-up call, and secondly by driving me around the entire district in a vain attempt to run over an animal (or cyclist).

The single call was to a cow with mastitis. I walked into the barn and as with the small animal clinic, had an immediate feeling of coming home. I miss farm work so much. I love the sense of peace that I experience when I am in the presence of dairy cows. These large animals are so docile; they allow us to stand so close and rarely object to being handled, except now and then when they need to protect their calves and even that is mostly done with a doe-eyed gentleness. But there is also a sense of community in farming that is so very different from city life. Years ago in Scotland, working in a dairy practice, I felt almost (only almost) as if I belonged. I wasn’t born to it, and yet as a vet there was a sense of integration. I was wanted and needed within their society, and it is that feeling of belonging that appealed to me, almost as much as the animals themselves.

There were some interesting differences. Norwegian farms are strict on biosecurity. I was fascinated to see the gigantic pair of wellington boots that the farmer’s wife brought out from a cupboard. They fitted right over Jan-Arne’s trainers and he clomped around with feet like those of a yellow elephant. I had to make do with special plastic wellington boot covers. I had the tremendous feeling that I could just walk back into that lifestyle. It all felt so similar to the old days that I could almost see myself there.

Any delusions about that were shattered later when we visited a farm where Jan-Arne was friendly with the family. We looked at a couple of their bottle-fed lambs and all the time the conversation was rattling on around me. I couldn’t follow a word and the farmer couldn’t speak any English. They had a lovely young daughter though, who kept grinning at me conspiratorially. She wanted to show us her pet lambs and tried various methods to capture them, including an attempt to entice them with some food. Afterwards, she raced around the field chasing them, a streak of pink in a pair of purple wellingtons, childish hair flying everywhere. Finally she managed to catch one, a sturdy black lamb of a traditional Norwegian breed. My biggest regret of the day was that in my haste to leave the house I managed to forget my camera. Jan-Arne very kindly offered to take some shots of the field and the child and the sheep and here they are…

Jan-Arne's Sheep 1

Jan-Arne's Sheep 2

Jan-Arne's Sheep 3

Always difficult to get a good action shot, but it was a beautiful setting on a wonderful day.

The biggest revelation occurred when we got back to the practice where I had left my car. Jan-Arne pointed to the house next door.

‘I wonder if Magne and Gerd are in there, enjoying their day off,’ he said. ‘Did you know they lived there?’

Did I know they lived there? My mind was screaming.’Magne and Gerd are married?’ I managed to croak it out at last.

‘Didn’t you know?’ He was laughing at me.

Amazing the things I fail to register. Everyone else knows presumably and maybe they just forgot to tell me, but more likely I missed it. Perhaps they stand and chat at the desk about what they are going to have for dinner. I have no idea because after so long in Norway, my brain just switches off when other people are chatting to one another. They could be talking about me, and I would remain in a happy state of oblivion.

I realised recently that this was, in many ways, a blessing. When I return to Scotland, it always comes as a shock to overhear conversations which my mind automatically processes. There are so many preconceptions based around accent and word use, instant frustration at the banalities of life. Here I escape all of that. I wouldn’t change it, even if it means that occasionally things pass me by. I wondered recently whether this must be like for a young child, having a mind that passes over incomprehensible things that don’t really matter.

When I discovered Magne and Gerd were married, it leaped into my head that I should be worried about whether I had ever said anything reprehensible about one to the other, but of course I was able to dismiss that in an instant. I just don’t have those kinds of conversations. I would love to say I have never said anything offensive about anyone, but of course, there is Scary Boss Lady. Apparently the other staff found “All Change” so amusing that they had to tell her and she read it. Since then, she has tried to convince me she isn’t scary. She even appeared one day in a poncho with the words “Love Me” woven into it. I left no doubt, she told me over a mammary tumour, that it was her I referred to. In case there was any confusion, I had clearly stated “Dagny, the scary boss lady”. She tells me that it will follow her now. Even at the Christmas party, she is in no doubt that her name-tag will read “Scary Boss Lady”. Still, she can’t have been too offended. Apparently she told her friends in the cycling club about me on a train journey. I can imagine their wide-eyed shock as they asked her, “Did she know you would read it?” Of course, I didn’t know. But I was aware it was possible, because I had already friended some of the others on Facebook. Ah well, it’s always a good idea when starting in a new job to begin on good terms with your boss!

Weathery

Well as you can probably see from today’s featured image, we’ve been having some weather. Luckily I have a husband who is just as silly keen as I am on getting out and about, whatever the weather. We went for a walk on 25th January (AKA Burns Night) to build up an appetite for all the haggis.

Haggis
Haggis, tatties and neeps

The haggis looks rather cosy, not so the weather. It’s been incredibly stormy all winter, but this is the first real snow.

IMG_1706_1

IMG_1712_1

You can perhaps get the impression of the horizontal snow in the last image. Anyway, it was just as well we went out for some exercise. We were well set up for our Burns Night feast. As well as the haggis, I baked some Bridies, (a pasty filled with sausage-meat and onions) another Scottish delight that isn’t available here in Norway. The recipe for those is here.

Bridie
Bridie

Then there was port and shortbread. Recipe here.

Shortbread biscuits
Shortbread biscuits

I fear it’s all about food this week, so I may as well add that Lynn came round last week for a birthday lunch. She asked me ages ago to try to come up with a dairy-free recipe for chicken and mushroom pie, so finally Lynn, here it is. I also made her a cake, which I very hope was sufficiently decadent for 2014.IMG_1684