Janine Marsh: My life in rural France with 72 animals

Janine Marsh: My life in rural France with 72 animals

With an extended family of 72 animals to look after, life in rural France can actually be just as busy as in a city, not to mention noisy, as Janine Marsh has discovered

Whenever friends or family come to stay, they’re a bit taken aback at how busy my life is in rural France. “We thought you’d be having a lie in every day, you know, taking it easy”. Yes well, that’s not quite how it works. At least not when you have an extended family of 72 animals.

I rise at 6am, as I always have. After life in London, the peace and quiet of my little village in the Sept Vallées region of Pas de Calais still surprises me. An owl might hoot in a barn, considering me inconsiderate for turning on the light in the courtyard so I can see my way to my way to the pigsty, now my office, where I like to start writing first thing in the morning. A pheasant may rustle its feathers in the hedge. Sometimes a tractor will pass. No traffic, no aeroplanes, no sirens.

However, as soon as I put the kitchen light on at the back of the house to make a cup of tea, it’s a different story. My cockerels Brad Pitt and George Clooney kick it off, crowing loudly at the artificial sun/kitchen light, followed by chickens clucking, geese honking and ducks quacking, shattering the peaceful tranquillity of the village.


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One year I let the ducks roam freely in the garden, and I loved how they waddled to the back door to greet me in the morning. “It’s fine,” I said, all blasé when my neighbour Jean-Claude tried to advise against it. “Don’t do it,” he urged. “Let them out and they’ll run havoc, you’ll be sorry”.

Quite why I didn’t listen when I know, after several years of him being my mentor in France, he is always right, I am not sure.

That year 52 ducklings hatched. I spent months re-homing as many as I could to new owners who wouldn’t eat them. There is now no roaming free. Men to the left pen, ladies to the right pen.

Once my tea is made, I turn off the lights, head to the pigsty and with the darkness, peace returns temporarily.

When the sun comes up, I feed the wild birds. The minute I open the back door there is frantic activity in the trees as chaffinches, sparrows, robins, finches, blue tits, great tits, doves and birds of all kinds get ready to swoop.

Then I serve the chickens, ducks and geese to a cacophony of squeaks, clucks, quacks, honks and cock-a-doodle-doos.

On the way back to the house I feed the escapees. Chickens Kendo Nagasaki, Barbie, Belinda and Beatrice refuse to stay in the pen and run wild in the garden where they dig holes for dirt baths, which I regularly fall over in.

Then I let the cats in or out, all screeching for food, cuddles, this and that. By now the dogs are barking to be taken for a walk. Did I say peace and quiet? All that’s missing at this stage is a marching band!

Janine Marsh is the author of The Good Life France and writes a regular column for Living France magazine


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