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Friday 9 December 2011

Wow, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do – I’ve been itching to get writing for a week or more but the rigours of season four (4 of 8 – eek!) of ‘24’, Bronte not going out chopping bracken after Luke’s gone to bed and general knackeredness have conspired against me. I have at last got to the bottom of the mending pile however – yippee! Just two more skirts to take in and that’s a complete overflowing bin-bag sorted. I shall be so pleased to finish and be able to start crocheting again. Most of the mending was Luke’s of course – he ruins clothes so quickly. We had to get him a new pair of school boots as a matter of urgency after he returned home from school with his feet hanging out of the front of his shoes! Bronte sent him off to school the next day (it was his fortnightly day off) in the same shoes & I had to tear off after the bus with a pair of trainers so he’d be comfortable and not look like a deprived orphan.

The sewing and mending chores are not helped by Luke regularly winning more badges at Little Athletics that then have to be sewn onto his top. Last week he broke the Huonville Centre under 7’s discus record (by quite some distance). I’ve told him that for each record he breaks henceforth he can have an extra 45 minutes computer time. He loves to get on the computer to play Cyclomaniacs & we currently restrict his access to an hour each Sunday, so it’s a great incentive for him. He’s only 15cm off the long jump record and has beaten the shot put record at home on several occasions – he just needs to repeat the performance at Little Athletics instead of being so nonchalant in front of his chums that he swaggers up and makes a hash of it!

The countdown to Christmas has started with Luke terribly excited re his advent calendars. Mum sent him a traditional one that we’ve stuck on a sliding door so that the light shines through the gauzy pictures when the windows are opened. I also bought him a chocolate one for a bit of fun. Each morning around 6am, I hear him thundering upstairs to open the advent calendars and switch on the Christmas lights. The house is swathed in lights such that it looks like Santa’s grotto at night and the little Christmas tree is drooping under its weight of decorations.

I’ve been unusually organised and have bought Luke’s and Bronte’s Christmas presents & Bronte’s birthday presents off eBay (can’t tell you what they are yet of course ..). I’ve also started to muse on food for Christmas – I plan to have everything home-made this year: mince pies, brandy butter, a baby Christmas pud and a Yule log (rich choccy cake rolled up & covered in chocolate icing to resemble a log). We’ve decided to sacrifice the most white of the geese for dinner (she’s not proven to be much of a Mum either) and I’m thinking of going all Heston Blumenthal and stuffing it with a young chicken itself stuffed with home-made sausagemeat. This last hopefully will be made easier by a new purchase – a little electric mincer and sausage-filler, only $25 off Gumtree. I’ve not had a chance to get going with it yet, but I do have two very large chunks of pig in the freezer to be de-boned and minced sometime soon. Unusually there will just be us three for Christmas dinner. Bronte was going to visit his Dad in Adelaide for a few days between Christmas and New Year but the air-fares are around 3 times the normal rates.

Stumpy the pig went to the abbatoir a couple of weeks back and after collecting the meat I spent an evening putting two sides of bacon and a whole ham on to dry-cure in the fridge and portioning up the rest of the meat. I sold the other ham and a few other roasts and cutlets. I’ve been pleased with the way the new abbatoir owners have performed – so much more professional than the previous owners and not actually that much more costly. They hung the meat for longer too so it should be even tastier. Today I smoked the ham and bacon – smoking myself too in the process – and the ham has just finished cooking in the oven. The bacon has been sliced up (laboriously by hand) and the whole house is infused with that mouthwatering odour of smoke and pork. I do the smoking in a 44 gallon drum over charcoal and soaked pearwood chips (from our ancient tree). Can’t wait to taste the results!

Another by-product of the pigs is fat, which we render into lard and use to make soap. Rendering the fat is a fairly horrible task, but luckily when our soap stores starting getting low, I already had a load of rendered fat in the freezer, so was able to quite quickly knock up a batch of soap. It’s the preparation and clearing up afterwards which takes the time, rather than the soap-making itself. Because lye (sodium hydroxide – added in small quantities to the lard to make the soap) is so alkaline, all worktops and surfaces local to the mixing process, have to be thoroughly protected with newspaper. Plus, I always wear goggles, a fume mask and rubber gloves because the fumes from the lye are pretty toxic.

This batch has not been an unmitigated success. I decided on honey and oatmeal, but failed I think, to thoroughly mix in the honey. All additives have to be added at the last minute so it’s always a bit of a race against time. I would perhaps have had better results if the honey had been dissolved in hot water first. While it’s definitely soap, it looks a bit odd and some of the bars have soft bits of not fully integrated honey! Also, it smells of lard! Well, there are 2 more weeks to go before it is fully cured, so perhaps it will improve in that time (or perhaps not).

It’s been a most depressing time on the goat front. I’ve had 2 grown goats die, which is completely unprecedented. I’m pretty sure of the reason for both deaths, but feel a failure for not having prevented them. Polly was a middle-to-old-aged goat, robust and a great mother - producing and raising 2 big kids each year. This year was no different, except that she seemed a bit slow of late and I twice had to treat her for bloat – with olive oil and bicarbonate of soda. She preferred to eat the fresh new grass coming up and was less keen on the chaff, grain and hay I provided. I had stopped giving hay but the incidents of bloat persuaded me it was necessary. Nevertheless early one morning I spotted her prostrate on the ground and when Luke and I went up in the Suzuki before school she’d been dead a few hours, despite having appeared to be perfectly well the day before. I’m quite sure it was bloat – this happens when a goat eats a lot of lush grass with insufficient roughage such that it ferments in the stomach and can’t be digested quickly enough. Her left side was distended and as taut as a drum and when I opened her up, she was totally full of fresh grass. I realise now I should have moved them earlier into another paddock where the grass was longer and coarser but I’d been keen to rest these for a longish period to reduce the parasite load after 18 months of mild, wet weather.

Collecting browse for the goats - a wattle tree that had blown over

I moved the whole herd - barring the bucks - into a new paddock a couple of days ago, but it was all a bit of a rush as I was doing it with Luke and needed to get back to get dinner ready. In so doing, I neglected to notice that Pascal, our oldest and one of friendliest does, wasn’t present. The following day I was struggling with the mower, trying to clear the grass from under the electric fence, when I noticed her in a hut in the old paddock. She’d clearly been dead for a day or more. Once again, she’d been well only a couple of days previously, but also a bit slow. However, she’d shown no sign of bloat or scouring or any other visible signs of illness. She’d eaten well and come up for her usual scratch. She’d suffered from scouring before dying, but it must have all happened awfully fast. I’m wondering if it wasn’t just old age since when I examined her mouth, she only had one tooth left at the front and the molars at the back were very worn.

I was pretty upset about the poor old thing and have been extra vigilant since. However, the remaining herd seems sleek and fit and full of life. I’m worming them regularly, giving them a variety of food and shelter and ensuring their vaccinations are kept up to date. I’m really not sure what else I can do. The only ongoing issue is occasional foot problems owing to the constantly wet conditions, but I just keep treating any limping ones and they quickly improve. I’ve made little progress with clearing the fenceline for the new paddock, although I reckon there is only another 50m or so to go (through thick bush on a steep slope). However, the 300m or so I’ve already cleared is already getting overgrown with bracken again!

My calculations say we’ve now got 46 chicks but I’ve not managed to count them to verify this figure. Apart from the four largest, which are out in the covered peacock run, they are seething and squawking in the garage under a heat lamp and electric bulb. Already the eldest of these are playing up & escape at any opportunity. If it stays warm I may put them outside a bit earlier than the usual 8 weeks. It’s been a pretty good success rate, with only two deaths so far, following a particularly cold night when I think the smallest got shoved to the outside of the pack. Now I molly-coddle them a bit more, putting an extra lamp on for colder nights. I haven’t quite thought where all these chickens are going to go when older. The roosters will eventually go into our tummies, but they will still need to be kept for 6 months or so.

Murphy 'guarding' the chicks

The turkey eggs have continued to be infertile, but I’ve got my own back on William the gobbler, by promising him to someone for Christmas dinner (that’ll show him). The only trouble is I now have to source another gobbler. I’ve put a ‘wanted’ ad on Gumtree but have had no response so far. In the meantime two daft turkey girls have gone broody again, sitting relentlessly on empty nests. In response, I’ve built a turkey ‘anti-broody cage’. It’s got an apple bin as a frame, is covered in chicken wire and mounted on Koppers’ logs legs. The idea is that that because the hens can’t build a comfy nest in it, they hopefully will stop being broody after a week or so. While it’s perhaps not the nicest thing to do, it seems to me that a short while in there is preferable to weeks on end sitting on an empty nest or infertile eggs.

Beryl Bunny was starting to go stir-crazy in her cage in the garage so I moved it into the main chicken run with Bertie bunny, thinking she’d settle down there and make little bunnies. However, since I opened the cage door I’ve not set eyes on her. Whether she’s still in there I can’t say – the grass is long and there are plenty of shrubs, but she might equally have just burrowed out.

Inscrutable Bertie

I’ve sold a few goats already this year. I’d determined to hang onto them until they were weaned in January (when 5 months old), but there have been so many enquiries that I relented where I knew they would be going to good homes. A couple of Bronte’s colleagues want four more and a friend wants another. At this rate, I shall have to fight to hang onto the handful of girls I want to keep for breeding. I’ve sold the youngest male peacock and the older brother is going tomorrow. Pasha, the Dad, is looking quite magnificent and displays regularly now. Unfortunately every time I have the camera he gets shy so I’ve failed to catch him in full regalia. Narnie, the eldest female, has begun sitting on eggs so we’ve high hopes of a batch of babies in the New Year. I’ve also sold quite a few dozen eggs (hens’ - not peacocks’), as for a time we were getting around ten eggs a day plus turkey eggs.

What else has happened? Murphy the Cat appeared one day with a large hole alongside his bottom. Goodness how it occurred. It didn’t seem to bother him or slow him down, but looked pretty nasty. I washed it out with chlorohexadine, dabbed it with betadine for good measure and finished off with antiseptic zinc barrier cream (which I use for virtually all animal skin ailments and wounds). It’s pretty much healed up now thank goodness.

Bronte managed to shut poor Rosie Dog in the garage overnight on one occasion and she was beside herself when let out by Luke and me in the morning. The next day she got zapped by the electric fence and ran howling all the way back to the house, thoroughly traumatised. I traumatised her further a few days later when she once again wrecked both hers and Bruce’s bedding inside the new kennel. I was furious. It’s such an effort hauling the bedding out, picking up the shredded foam and sewing everything back together. Fingers crossed, she’s not done it since.

Bruce content in new(ish) kennel

I saw a strange creature up on the hill in the main goat paddock a week or so ago. I still can’t be sure what it was. It was brown and the size and general shape of a wombat. It didn’t have the characteristic gait of a devil or wallaby, nor the long tail of a spotted-tail quoll. I’m quite sure it wasn’t a dog and it seemed altogether the wrong shape for a cat. It may actually have been a wombat I suppose, although it moved quite quickly – perhaps they do have a turn of speed when roused! I was alerted to it by the entire herd of goats suddenly all looking in the same direction and starting to move towards a particular spot. Clearly they weren’t frightened, but the mysterious creature was spooked into running away.
It continues to be very wet and in fact got quite cold again for a few days, with snow falling on Mount Wellington. After a hot humid morning today, thunderstorms rumbled around the mountains and we were suddenly struck by a terrific thunder-shower with hail. 10.5cm fell in 5 minutes – washing large rivulets into the drive and causing torrents of water to flow down our steep road.

There has been a bit of action on the WWPG front. On 21 November, we put up a stand at an information session on the Intergovernmental Agreement on Forestry – at which there were state and federal government representatives involved in progressing the IGA. I sat up until 1pm the night before writing and laying out a ‘West Wellington Reserve Proposal’ – building on the previous High Conservation Values Report I’d produced. It also includes tourism ideas and proposals for how tourism income might be forthcoming. The intention is that it can be included as part of a wider regional development plan for the Huon Valley. Feedback on our stand was very good. Earlier this week, we met with a member of the Independent Verification Group – a group of ten people appointed under the auspices of the IGA to determine the final boundaries of protected forest. This was a positive meeting, but our hearts sank when we learnt we may have to attend workshops in the New Year to get across the ‘social values’ of West Wellington (ie as an amenity, aesthetic part of our landscape, water catchment, recreation and tourism hub etc). It feels like the process never ends.

I’ve been busier than usual on the marketing front, helping my neighbour progress his ideas for weather prediction and analysis tools for the insurance sector. It’s bad for the farm, but better for the bank balance.

We’ve been out and about a few times, notably last weekend to the 200th anniversary of the Anglesea Barracks in Hobart. The highlight was a display by Australia’s answer to the ‘Red Arrows’ – most exciting. Luke was enthtralled.

I was recently allowed to cut Bronte’s hair for the first time – and I think I did a darn good job! Not sure he’s quite so enamoured.

Luke and I found a massive moth – bigger than his hand – when out one day. We brought it home, photographed it – being careful not to smudge its wings - then released it into the warmth outside.

I’ve been advertising for a WWOOFER to help out on the farm, but have been singularly unsuccessful so far, not sure why. Perhaps fewer people are traveling while times are hard worldwide.

Monday 14 November 2011

I am making up for lost time by posting two days in a row. Also on the goose front, I’ve recently installed a great new goose hut – it was high time they had proper shelter. Months ago I brought an old hut from a farm sale over in Collinsvale (together with a range of other old junk which we piled precariously onto the ute). It’s been sitting in the garage since then (much to Bronte’s disgust) & I finally heaved it out last week & put a proper corrugated iron roof on top of the crumbling hardboard. Gave it a good coat of paint & managed to get it into the goose pen by towing it with the Suzuki, then cutting the goose fence & manhandling it into place (having first cut a flat base in the sloping pen).

We have had further babies born on the farm – but not to our animals. A pair of plovers had been nesting in one of the pig pens (thereby rendering it unusable for the pigs) and they finally hatched last week. They had just 2 babies (the cutest things you can imagine, with speckled brown backs & little black collars) but I think they may have lost one since – probably to the horrible cravens.

Other things that have kept me busy include spraying around the smaller electric fences near the house (bucks’ paddock, weaning pen & 2 pig pens) and trying to make the kennel impregnable to Rosie’s teeth. Spraying under the electric fences is necessary to stop grass and weeds shorting out the fence, particularly in wet weather. Brushcutting is too awkward and short-lived to be practical. I spent an uncomfortable couple of hours one morning with my top half in Rosie’s side of the kennel nailing GI strap (galvanized iron strapping left over from the house build, where it was used for endless tie-downs) around the edges where she’d chewed the tape I’d used to fix the building paper in place over the polystyrene insulation.

The dogs gave us a scare one day. I noticed they weren’t around but just assumed they were rootling around in the sedge somewhere as usual. However, 3 hours later they still hadn’t turned up & we started to get quite concerned. Eventually after much whistling & calling Rosie turned up happy & boisterous as usual. We immediately thought the worst & assumed Bruce was hurt or dead somewhere, possibly from a snake. However, I thought to ring our nearest neighbour just in case he’d seen them around & it seemed they’d spent the afternoon with him. He’d let them in the house & they’d slept on the bed with him! No wonder they didn’t want to go home. What possessed them to go right down there in the first place I don’t know – possibly they were following a scent trail. Since then I’ve been much more attentive to them – giving them liver treats when they come to me, taking more time to make a fuss of them & taking them around in the ute on my trips to Huonville & the Grove Shop.

Rosie has been making friends with Murphy the Cat and they often lay close together out in the sun now. Murphy had a mad fit one evening & began chasing Rosier. This excited Rosie hugely and she tore around in circles - getting a whack from Murphy each time she came within range! She's also been communing with Beryl Bunny, whilst Murphy has been eyeing up both the bunny & chicks as possible lunch.

I’ve also been doing my best to scare off the wretched currawongs & cravens – I feel I’m feeding half the Tasmanian population at present. I dare say they’ve got babies & my feed bowls are easy pickings. While I was thinking dark thoughts about currawongs recently, I was listening to a programme about predators in Tokyo and Uganda. In Tokyo they have a problem with large, bold crows with 1m wingspans – gulp. Apparently they swoop down & swipe food from peoples’ hands! They delicately avoided the use of the word ‘kill’ but talked instead of ‘controlling’ them. In Uganda farmers were complaining about baboons, lions and even gorillas! It made my predator problems pale in comparison!

Sunday 13 November 2011

I’ve heaps to catch up on. Somehow every minute of the day seems to be busy at present – and despite having finished season 3 of ‘24’ I’m still catching up with the PC backlog in the evenings. Now it is approaching summer, each weekend seems to be fully booked up – we’ve had the Herb Fair at Cygnet, the Woodbridge Open Day, the Huon Show & endless Little Athletics. I've also been along to Luke's assembly and have the dreaded parent help coming up soon.

The WWPG had a stall at the Cygnet Herb & Organic Fair, with the aim of highlighting the continuing lack of protection for West Wellington’s forests and possibly raising some funds by selling plants & home-made crafts. I put together some pictures of West Wellington flora & placed them in small frames we’d had for years & also assembled some other pictures and lace items I'd made a while ago & had no use for. The only people who bought anything of mine were those manning the stand!

We had hoped there would be no further need for the WWPG by now, but unfortunately the signing of the Intergovernmental Agreement has not so far brought about the promised ‘immediate protection’ of the nominated 430,000Ha. Since the Herb Fair, the infrared camera in one of the coupes above our house has captured wonderful footage of another healthy devil – this one apparently a female with a full pouch. It would be terrific to get footage of the cubs at some stage. We keep hearing that places like the Tarkine are the last stronghold of healthy devils & yet places like West Wellington, where we know they are living, are completely ignored. Take a look at the video:
Last weekend was the Woodbridge Open Day. The attraction for us was that the Marine Discovery Centre was open – somewhere we’ve wanted to visit, but that is rarely open to the public. Luke had been once before with the school. We had the chance to poke about in the touch pools and I felt sorry for the creatures (shellfish, starfish etc) being mauled by all the kids. Stripey trumpeters (I love that name), a wrasse, flathead and a Tasmanian giant crab were kept in a large tank. The whole facility is educational and mainly aimed at schools and older students. It’s based in a picturesque bay with shallow waters teeming with oysters, crabs and starfish.

The Huon Show was yesterday and we had a rather longer session there than usual – from 11am to 4pm. We were exhausted on our return! The dog jumping was the highlight – it took a whole hour for us to see Clancy (a Staffie cross who looked like a bigger, chunkier, less pretty version of Rosie) win by jumping a wall 2.5m high! Mighty impressive. I was also very brave and took Luke on some awful ride called Energy Storm which whirled you around in the air and upside down. It was pretty hair-raising and produced quite as much adrenalin as I could handle in one day! I was probably double the age of everyone else on it. Luke put on a brave face but I suspect he was a bit shaky afterwards too! He was awfully quiet on the ride itself. Other attractions included draught horses, dodgems and a snake display.

Little Athletics continues to take up a quarter of each weekend. This week it was at the Domain in Hobart and all the Southern clubs were there – 300 kids! Luke got some stiff competition for a change. He was beaten by a dynamo shrimp in the 70m much to his chagrin, but he got his own back in the 100m when he just pipped him at the finish. We’ve bought a discus and a shotput as they seem to be the 2 events where Luke has the potential to be quite good. He’s very strong & quite coordinated. We can practice at home and it saves me having to always take him to coaching sessions.

Things are largely going well on the farm, just very, very busy. I’ve done another complete round of goat hoof clipping (all 35 of them), plus treated all their feet in case of rot, gave the youngsters booster vaccinations and drenched all of them for worms. I’m being much more vigilant on the worm front now & have written myself a schedule. This continuing damp, warm and humid weather is just the set of conditions that parasites love.

I’ve got quite a demand for goats for pets. Normally, I wouldn’t wean them until 5 months old (January) but I’ve agreed to let a couple go early to people I know will care for them & give them extra feed and attention while they continue to grow. All spare hours have been spent bashing a route through the bush in order to make space for a fence that will create a large new paddock for the goats. I shall feel so relieved when I’ve finished making the route – but then of course, I’ll still have to build the fence!

Fenceline slowly being driven up the hill through the bush
The birds are all doing well. I’ve been producing chicks willy nilly, such that we’ve now got 25 good quality Australorp crosses cheeping away in the garage. Four are rather larger than the others and are partitioned off where they act like rabid vultures, always appearing to be hungry. In fact Luke and I worked out that we’ve just reached a total of 100 creatures on the farm.

Still no luck on the turkey front & I’ve pretty well given up for this season. Might just have to write poor William off & get another gobbler over winter. The case of the mysterious disappearing turkey has not been solved & I don’t hold out much hope for her return. One of the 3 remaining girls has a really sore bottom - it looks like piles or a hernia. Anyhow I’ve had the distasteful job of cleaning off the dried poo & treating her with betadine & anti-bacterial zinc cream. If that doesn’t help I’ll have to try Proctosedyl! Clearly in that condition, she’s not going to welcome any advances William does make, nor even feel like laying eggs. Otherwise she seems in good health.

No luck selling the 2 young male peacocks so far – I need to widen my net. They occasionally get put in their place by Pasha who is strutting around & displaying his magnificent tail. I need to get another nest box in there soon as the 2 girls will begin laying shortly.

The geese and goslings are doing well although eating us out of house and home. Until they get a larger pen we have to pick dandelions and cut grass for them (a bucket or more a day) on top of the soaked wheat and wet mash they are also given. I don’t think I’ve mentioned Gary Gosling. A day after the second batch of goslings hatched I went to clear out the nest & heard cheeping. A gosling was trying to get out but was upside down. I helped it out & it was awfully weak. After giving it a few drops of my usual bird elixir of cod liver oil, egg yolk, sugar & water, I popped it under the heat lamp with the little chicks & christened it ‘Gary’. Since then he's grown like a weed, cheeps frantically & does lots of smelly poos. As a result I’ve turfed him into the chicken run where he makes me feel guilty by tripping over the long grass, cheeping pitifully & having to sit down for a rest every couple of metres when chasing the hens. Bertie the bunny sends him frantic!

Monday 24 October 2011

I’m feeling somewhat shamefaced having lain down for a few minutes in order to catch up on sleep lost through coughing – and woke up nearly two hours later! Too late to go up the hill & continue clearing my new fence-line as planned, in fact too late to do anything useful outside. The weather’s turned foul again and it’s high time I caught up with events. 

The last couple of weeks have been characterised by endless computer troubles which have eaten up an enormous amount of time. We bought a new computer a few weeks ago from a Hobart City Council auction. Not having the patience to wait, Bronte bought the first decent one that came up, which happened to have Vista rather than Windows as the operating system. I’d set it up with the old screen and had begun finding my way around it & loading software but had been rather daunted by the prospect of trying to transfer e-mail information and other files. However, I was suddenly forced into action by the old computer beginning to disintegrate. At first, we couldn’t send e-mails (although we could receive them), then we were unable to search the internet and the internet options in Control Panel became locked. We were able to get around the e-mail issue by using a gmail account, but without access to address-book groups such as the WWPG it was most inconvenient. (If bored by computer stuff, skip the next few paras ..)

I had a steep learning curve to climb. Vista was quite different to Windows & took a great deal of getting used to – things were displayed and filed differently and often called by a new name. I took a bit of advice from my neighbour (the weather wiz) and also a friend in the business who lives locally. I was reluctant to transfer the old satellite internet connection & decided to risk moving to mobile broadband with Telstra. That entailed an age on the phone and some days awaiting the USB modem but it was simple to set up & operates OK if not super-quick. I have the modem on a long cable pinned high up on the window flyscreen to get a better signal.

One of the first hurdles was to sort out the issues with Vista and also the HP software that kept annoyingly popping up every time anyone tried to do something. First of all I had to disable User Account Control as it asked for permission each time software was opened, then delete the HP tools and security software containing something called ‘credential manager’. It was driving me potty by asking if I wanted to save login details after every keystroke. It’s easy to write these things, but they caused hours of work – searching for files and looking up how to do things on the internet. Then for some reason MS Office failed to work & it seemed the disk had exceeded the number of allowable activations. I had to bypass the internet & ring the Aussie MS number which eventually granted me an access code. 

I tackled e-mail then – firstly importing everything from Outlook Express into Outlook, such that I could put it into a format that could be transferred to Outlook on the new PC. Unfortunately before this could happen, Outlook Express lost all our e-mail addresses – all 297 of them. This was a blow, but there was nothing to do but persevere. I created a .pst file, put it onto an external hard drive & loaded it onto the new PC along with all our photos and other files. Again, this took an age as the old PC took 20 minutes to transfer each folder. I imported the .pst file into new Outlook and was relieved and amazed to see all our old e-mails appear in the inbox. I then spent an interminable amount of time going through these e-mails to retrieve our e-mail addresses. Luckily there were occasions where I’d done group e-mailing and forgotten to ‘bcc’ the addresses. I eventually populated Contacts with all 297 addresses once again! However, alarmingly, I could not find these when trying to send an e-mail & spent some time trying to work out how to display them in the address book. Then I couldn’t even locate incoming e-mails. Talk about a frustrating time. It seemed that Outlook was using the old .pst file as the default and not displaying our new account.

The next task was to download all the freebie programmes we use such as AVG, Nitro pdf Writer, Free Download Manager (fabulous programme for people with unreliable internet connections), Adobe Reader, Shockwave, Flashplayer and some sort of image/ photo editing and drawing tool. After some research I chose Paint.NET which also necessitated downloading service pack 2 for Vista plus the NET framework. Even now there is more to do – load on Picture Project & AutoCAD, replace all our download ‘favourites’ in Explorer and re-build the WWPG mailing list. I’m looking forward to simply using the computer again!

Despite the computer and the usual farm work, we’ve had some excitements recently. It was my birthday a couple of Sundays ago – the weather being dodgy we opted to visit MONA rather than the Spring Fair at the Botanical Gardens. It certainly lived up to expectations and the more ‘fringe’ items failed to shock us. Apart from one notable exception (a video installation) these did not seem gratuitous and appeared to have artistic merit. There were some weird juxtapositions of exquisite ancient pieces displayed alongside flamboyant modern works. We started at the bottom & worked our way up (all of MONA is underground – much of it hewn from the rock) and by the time we reached the top and third floor, we were museumed out & failed to give it justice. We took Luke through the parental guidance areas and had no need to worry since he was transfixed by the hand-held gismo handed out to patrons in order to look up info on the displays. Afterwards we had a pleasant lunch at the Hogs Breath Café and went home replete. Bront brought me a directional electric fence tester and fault-finder which has already proven very useful!

Three days later it was Luke’s 7th birthday. We made a fuss of him on the day & I made a load of little chocolate cakes and took them to school for his classmates. I made gigantic profiteroles for pudding in the evening which we managed to scoff in two days. We arranged a party for Luke on the Saturday afternoon but for some reason he only invited three friends. As it transpired, that was quite enough and the assembly hovered on the verge of chaos for the three hours everyone was here. It poured with rain, so most of the outdoor activities we’d planned had to be abandoned in favour of indoor archery (arrows with suckers which stuck to the windows – Bronte drew a T-Rex as a target), 'pin the tail on the pterosaur' and 'hide and seek'. Another load of baking was required to produce an orange-flavoured birthday cake (delicious), ginger biscuits (odd) and brownies (yum). One of the lads was still sitting there eating long after the others had moved onto another game. We did get outside in the end & the kids smashed the piñata, cuddled the chicks and goslings and had a few rides in the go-kart (we couldn’t start the one with the engine so had to stick with gravity-assist only). We heaved a great sigh of relief once everyone had gone!

We had a further good family day out at the Hobart Show last week. Strangely, there is a public holiday for the show on Thursday and then people are expected to go back to work on the Friday or take a day off. I’ve always found the show more of an endurance test than fun, so this year we researched a bit and discovered that Wednesday was farm day. Bronte took the afternoon off & we kept Luke home from school and had a great afternoon. The weather topped 29°C – the hottest October day for several years – there were few people there and we saw all the animals and events we’d looked forward to and had several rides in the fairground section. The first event was the Braap and BMX demo which was a favourite for Luke & Bronte. We were also there in time to see the ‘largest bullock team in Australia’, and it truly was large in every sense – tremendous horned animals yoked together to pull a wooden cart. We watched the pig racing display which included two pigs diving into a pool of water and Luke had a go on the climbing wall. Luke and I went on some sort of bungee contraption and I had to get off early as it was so knackering. I took Luke on a few rides including a scary underwater simulator where we were attacked by a mock great white! Poor Luke was terrified. We bumped each other on the dodgems and then Bronte bravely announced he would take Luke on a ride called the Hurricane – he got off looking exceedingly pale and had to sit down in the CWA tent to recover!

As you’ll note the weather has been very changeable. We’ve had a few fine days and some pleasant temperatures but inbetween we’ve continued to get heavy bouts of rain and cold spells. Today I waited until the weather had cleared a bit before venturing outside, at which point it started hailing horizontally.

On the farm front, we’ve had three deaths in as many days. On Saturday it was my turn to take Luke to Little Athletics so I got up really early to rush round the animals. Exasperated by Fifi, the last of our original turkeys who was constantly broody and laid only soft-shelled eggs, I sent her off to the great turkey pen in the sky. Later I cut out two substantial slabs of breast meat, which when tenderised and slow-cooked will be lovely, before roughly plucking the carcase and cooking it up whole for the pigs. If I’d had a spare pen where retirees could live out their natural lives I would have kept her, but we are short of pens and she was upsetting the other girls by bossing them around and kept sitting on other turkey’s eggs making them useless for the incubator (never mind that they are useless anyhow by virtue of being unfertilised).

The following day Bronte & Luke checked for eggs & found Boris bunny with his toes up in one of the hen houses. He’d been hale & hearty the previous day, bouncing around and chasing the hens. There was no sign of injury and he was in good condition, so his demise remains a mystery. Then today I found one of the youngest goslings dead in the goose run. Again there was no sign of injury but a little earlier I’d seen the geese chase off a horrible craven (forest raven). The cravens are getting bolder now they presumably have young. A wedgie (wedge-tailed eagle) soared very low over all the bird pens this afternoon so he must also be looking for food for young. Much as I admire the wedgies I’ve no intention of feeding them with our young birds. 

Also today, one of the remaining female turkeys had disappeared – it’s quite bizarre. They are in pens with 1.4m high fencing so getting out is not all that easy for fat, heavy birds. This was one I’d chucked next door into the weaning pen to try and shock her out of broodiness. Whether she’d just got fed up with me persecuting her and decided to nest in the bush or whether she was taken by a predator (no sign of blood, feathers or tracks), we just can’t fathom. Oddly, the dogs went crazy in the early hours last night – Bruce was barking madly down near the turkey pen and Rosie was yowling outside our bedroom window. Whether that was coincidental or related to the turkey’s disappearance I guess we’ll never know. So now we’re down to just three female turkeys – from five just a couple of days ago! And their wretched eggs are still infertile. We’ve given up and started eating the eggs instead of incubating them.

I’ve suffered a couple of animal attacks and injuries of late. When I approached the geese to retrieve their empty feed bowls Arthur the gander went bananas and leapt at me punching my arm with his beak. I was surprised how powerful he was. I can hardly complain – he’s just being protective - but I do wish they would realise I’m not going to attack them each time I go into their pen. The following day when I tried to catch Handlebars (one of the bucks), to do his feet and drench him for worms, he shook his head violently and his horns bashed into my wrist causing a large bruised swelling which has only just cleared up. Determined not to let him beat me, I pursued him round & round the pen until he finally gave up & shot into his little hut, from which I hauled him out. His flanks were heaving while I did his hooves, poor old boy, but he got his own back by making me and all my clothes stink of billy goat. I caught all the baby goats again in order to give them their booster vaccinations. Also did their hooves, drenched them and treated their feet at the same time.

A week last Sunday was a horrible day, with squally rain and even snow on the mountain flanks. Despite this, some of our hardy neighbours turned up keen to go fishing in the dam. We’ve had no luck recently at catching the trout we put in there as tiny troutlets a couple of years ago. However, our neighbours are clearly much more experienced fishermen as they quickly caught four and were going to throw them back until Bronte, alarmed, shouted not to. They took a couple and we kept a couple and it was a real treat having trout for a couple of evenings. The fish looked in great condition and weighed a little under 2kg each. I’ve been scheming about ways of catching them and plan to put a string on pulleys across the dam with removable lines hanging down from that. I thought we could set it up early morning or twilight and haul it in half an hour later, rather than standing there casting and re-casting for hours on end.

It has definitely felt like spring here recently despite the variable weather. One of the more noticeable signs is the cacophony of bird noise, especially in the mornings. The native hens scream and carry on at the least sign of danger, setting off the currawongs and the geese, the pair of ducks that have set up camp locally, various other unrecognisable creatures in the bush, the turkeys, then finally the peacocks, whose terrific wail tends to silence the rest and bring a temporary end to the commotion. Annoyingly, I’ve noticed that the two youngest peacocks that I’d thought were girls, are in fact boys. We'll have to advertise them because it wouldn’t do to keep more than one male with our two peahens.