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Monday 27 June 2011

I’ve been doing my litter vigilante bit this morning. Someone had dumped an oven (which looked to be in quite good nick) on the side of our road. It had fallen down a steep bank & was resting against a large tree fern. I’ve been driving & walking past it for a few days thinking we must do something. This morning I drove Luke to the bus because we were running late & stopped on the way back. Having tied a stout rope to the back of the ute, I used it to lower myself down the bank, tied it onto the oven as best I could & then towed the latter out. All the fixing points snapped so I had to do a bit of (wo)manhandling as well. It was far too heavy for me to lift onto the ute, so it’s now sitting – somewhat incongruously – right on the edge of the lane. While on a roll, I drove just past our gate, switched into 4WD, clambered into the blackberry bushes with a rope & tied it onto an old van cab that has been there since before we arrived. Mostly it’s so buried in brambles that it can barely be seen, but lately it’s been more visible & has niggled at me. It took several snapped ropes before the ute finally heaved it too onto the side of the road. I’ve rung the council & hopefully they will come & collect them today.

While at it, I picked up the various beer cans, cigarette packets, bottles & take-a-way wrappers that the four-wheel drivers chuck out of their cars en route to or on return from joyriding in the hills above us. Sometimes people stop & empty the contents of their cars onto the side of the road, including dirty nappies & an ashtray load of butts. I wonder at the type of people who would do this. Do their own houses & backyards look like rubbish dumps? Perhaps that’s why they also treat the environment & everyone else’s backyard as tips too. It beats me why someone would drive 8km from the main road up windy dirt lanes in order to dump an oven, when there is a tip twenty minutes away. They must have spent as much on fuel as they would have done on tip fees.


It has been a bit of a meat-fest here the past few days. On Thursday morning I left late to pick up the meat from George (the pig) & Manny (the goat), having plucked & gutted the rooster that had been killed the day before. I arrived at the abbatoir at eleven o’clock expecting the staff to be champing at the bit ready to leave, but instead the abbatoir was a hubbub of activity. Vans & utes vied for position & butchers sliced expertly at the carcases hung (in this cool weather) in full view. It was all rather fascinating (except for the fact that I ended up being there for an age instead of the few minutes I was expecting). Perhaps the fear of the abbatoir closing at the end of this month had galvanised people into action – it certainly influenced my decision-making.

Back at home all the meat was unloaded into the cold, erstwhile TV room (currently vacated: the TV has migrated into the lounge next to the wood burner). Luke came home on the bus (stroppy) & we finished all the outside jobs together before I phoned into the frog (Forest Reference Group) meeting on behalf of the WWPG. A deal has been struck at last between the ENGOs and industry (yeehar!), however, it still remains to be seen how much of our patch (West Wellington) we can save ( But back to the meat – that evening I was up until late slicing, dicing & sorting. The pork was finally all consigned to the freezer (chops, stir-fry strips & roasts) and the curing vat (the hams, cut into sizeable lean chunks). The following evening Manny was reduced to 4kg of mince – with just a knife & hand-mincer. I put it all through the mincer twice to ensure it was fine with no chewy bits! The plan had been to make various flavoured burgers & rissoles & freeze them ready to cook, but it was too late & I was just too tired. If you’ve never tried goat, it’s a cross between lamb & pork, finely grained & delicately flavoured.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

As usual there has been no lack of drama here over the past week. Just today I planned a jaunt further south to pick up three goats I’d agreed to buy (collecting Luke from school en route) & it turned into a marathon. We bought twenty bags of feed first & loaded them into the back of the ute, in dry, relatively sunny weather. Of course almost as soon as we set off it started to drizzle & looked likely to continue. We stopped & piled as many of the bags as possible into the cab, such that Luke was in danger of being swamped by layer pellets & I could barely change gear. It also occurred to me that the ute was possibly overloaded since it was carrying 400kg of feed & pulling a heavy float - & it would only get worse once we loaded the goats. It took an age to find the address, by which time it was almost dark & the weather was closing in. It also became apparent that there was nowhere to turn around & we had no choice but to back out down a long, dirt drive in the wet dusk with an unwieldy ute. Having finally seen us safely onto the road, the seller remarked that she was quite glad to get rid of the goats. After all the effort we’d been to I replied that she ought to have paid me to take them away rather than the other way around!

Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of our troubles. While navigating a winding dirt road in streaming rain, the dash lights went out. As this had happened before, I knew it meant we had blown a fuse & thus had no tail lights either. I eventually found somewhere safe to pull off the road (luckily there had been no one behind us up to that point), then fumbling in the dark, found the correct fuse & replaced it with one that wasn’t in itself vital (from the clock & radio circuit). We managed to drive back home without further incident. However, since it was still bucketing with rain, I was obliged to reverse the trailer into its narrow gap in the tractor shed in order to keep the goats dry overnight. There are no outside lights, the night was pitch black & every time I hopped out to check on my position I got soaked. I only managed it finally by placing a torch on the ground in strategic places as I reversed & also putting on the Suzuki lights, which was parked in the shed.

On the subject of goats, I am thrilled that I finally managed to finish clipping hooves, drenching and vaccinating the entire herd last week. I also treated a couple that seemed to be suffering from an eye infection. It appears to clear up without any harmful effects but I’ve not identified the source. I also took the last of the wethers to the abbatoir, along with George the pig, on Sunday – and am looking forward to picking up all the meat tomorrow morning. A rooster also bit the dust this morning, but I’ve not yet found the time to prepare it – a job for tomorrow now.

On the pig front, I managed to catch the last two weaners, nose-ring them & transfer them to the weaning pen with their siblings. Connor the boar was then released to visit Vicky & console her for the loss of her babies. He did rather more than console however & pursued her relentlessly until she gave in & stood for him. I wouldn’t have thought it possible that Vicky could get pregnant again so quickly, but she’s been so fecund in the past, that I shall put a note in my diary for three months & three weeks’ hence, just in case! They are as chummy as newly-weds now, nuzzling snouts, rubbing one another’s flanks & snuggling into the new bedding I’ve provided them.

Our two bunnies, bought as pets for Luke but now living happily outside with the chickens, have proven so easy to keep that I’m considering buying a pair of English Giants (I think that’s the name of the large meat breed) & adding rabbit to our menu. Boris & Bertie, our current bunnies, are in separate pens since Bertie kept duffing up poor Boris. They have plenty of grass & I provide them with horse & pony pellets daily. However this does not stop them eating with the chickens – a bit of a worry since I often cook up meat & add out of date yoghurt or milk to the bird mash. I have never heard of carnivorous rabbits before, but they appear to be in rude health. Oddly, while he’s eaten their food, the chickens have pecked Boris’ small hut to bits – it was made of polystyrene to which they must have taken a fancy. I’m not sure where he sleeps now – probably in the chickens’ hut.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

It seems barely possible that another week has passed. It’s been so busy here that at night I’ve fallen into bed with the same overwhelming relief you feel when you are really unwell and have finally succumbed to the need to lie down. Today has been no exception & ended with Bronte & I out in the cold & dark, digging the ute out of the veggie patch where I’d got it firmly embedded this afternoon. With poor foresight, we stored all our hay in a shipping container (intended as a large garden shed) then spread goat manure knee deep over the access to it. With the rains of last week (which amounted to over 75mm in the end) it has turned into a sludgy mess – the ute just sank into it, whereas the little Suzuki has skimmed across the top. I had to get many bales out for bedding as well as feed which was why I chose to use the ute. I feel terribly guilty as I ended up being unable to phone into the Environment Tasmania Management Committee meeting this evening.

Two of the bales were for Vicky the sow and the two piglets still with her. I threw one bale over the fence & in the time it took to get the second one, Vicky had already pushed and pulled the first bale into her hut. Pigs are remarkable creatures. I braved the mud and pigs to cut the twine & help her get the hut all cosy once again. I’d managed to catch the other four piglets yesterday & move them to the weaning pen, having fitted nose rings to prevent them from making too much of a mess (much like having one’s ears pierced – it just deters them from digging too much). I really need a more workable system. Currently, weaning involves me getting in the pen & grabbing piglets by the back legs (they squeal deafeningly during this operation), climbing back over the fence & stuffing them in something to transport them to the weaning pen. I’d left it a few too many weeks & the piglets were almost too heavy for me to manage. Needless to say after four I was exhausted (& covered in mud from head to toe) & the remaining piglets were too wary to let me near them. I plan to have another go tomorrow. I’m afraid that three are destined to be roasts in the very near future.

I’ve just had to break off typing to investigate strange noises on the front deck. I threw open the front door not feeling very brave then Bronte thought to release the dogs (barking madly) from the laundry. They quickly traced a possum which was clinging to the top of one of our porch posts. Possums are incredibly cute-looking but are brave, fierce little creatures. They appear quite clumsy on the ground but are more agile when climbing. Close up they have extended paws almost like hands & padded prehensile tails. When cornered by Bruce the dog they courageously stand their ground, leaning back on their haunches with front legs extended outwards, hissing through their teeth. Bruce is half terrier and very tough, but even he hesitates (I’m glad to say) to tackle a possum - although they drive him crazy.

It’s bitterly cold outside & the decks and cars are iced up already, although it is only early evening. In the mornings the grass crunches with frost & the hose I use to get water to the garage is stiff, refuses to uncoil & releases only a trickle of water. It’s not till 9.30 or so that the sun comes over the mountains & the sun is most welcome after the heavy rain of a week ago & the dull overcast days of the weekend just gone.

I’ve got Luke at home at present. It’s the second week of a short break before Term 2 starts. Luckily he & I get some respite from one another when he attends vacation care on occasional days. Bronte has taken a few days off too & he & Luke have spent them scooting around on the new buggy we indulged in when we went to Agfest in early May (Agfest being the premier agricultural show in Tasmania), playing cricket, kicking the footie (the pointy one) & watching kid shows on TV. On the other days, my work rate has necessarily gone down as I juggle farm duties with child care.

Apart from pig-weaning this last week, I’ve also been engaged in a great deal of donkey work: unloading and bagging around 400kg of piggy apples & an even larger amount of piggy potatoes, and shifting 34 extremely heavy bags of goat manure. It wasn’t until I started scavenging for cheap feed for the pigs that I realised the extent of food waste from agriculture, shops & food-processing plants. For rural economies such as ours I can’t help but imagine how a bio-digester would be an ideal way to generate renewable electricity. Bio-digesters are different to the burning of biomass, being instead like giant composters, releasing methane which is burnt to drive generators & providing as a by-product a great source of soil improver. Talking of renewable power, I heard the inspiring story of Woking in the UK, which now generates 98% of its own power & thus is very nearly off the grid. This story was in its infancy when we left the UK & it’s great to hear that it came to such successful fruition. The same man that drove the Woking project, is now in charge of a Sydney initiative which aims to create a virtually carbon-neutral city by 2030. All power to his elbow I say.

The abbatoir story progresses. I have received many replies to my e-mail circular, which seems to be radiating in ever-increasing circles, even reaching the state department of economic development, someone from where rang me yesterday. I got up before 6am yesterday morning in order to fire off letters to local media, but I’ve yet to hear if any will be published. The imminent closure of the abbatoir was also featured on local radio this morning – whether as a result of my mini-campaign I have no idea. I am hoping that with all this extra publicity a buyer might be found before the end of June deadline, or failing that, a lead buyer/ operator supported by a consortium of small investors might keep the business going.

On a different & brighter note, I now have a shiny new-looking ute. It came back from the garage on Friday, cleaner than I can remember it with a heavily bling bull-bar & grill. Of course it’s got somewhat grubby since, not least when I nearly buried it in goat poo this afternoon, but I’m still chuffed not be driving a ute with a sad, crooked front. My bubble was burst somewhat when after picking Luke up a couple of days ago, the engine started making an awful noise & losing power. I thought the exhaust had blown or come adrift from the engine, but thankfully it turned out to be just the inlet hose to the turbo which had shaken loose.

In between farm stuff, Luke and I took a day out on Saturday to support an art workshop organised by & on behalf of the WWPG up in the forests of West Wellington. Having admired & speculated on the sculptures produced during the previous weekend’s workshop, we continued down to Billy Browns Falls, which was in spectacular form after the tremendous rain of the previous week. Then back to the studio to reflect our impressions of the forest in clay. The children produced a range of great objects using clay & items picked up on our foray to the Falls & all of us had a fun, uplifting day.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

A week has passed & still the piglets are not weaned, the goats have not had their hooves clipped, their yard cleaned, nor been vaccinated or drenched. The weather has been quite atrocious. I paced around until nearly midnight last night listening to the rain hammering on the roof of the house and the wind howling through the decks. It’s bitterly cold & there is no let up in the weather this morning. I haven’t checked the rain gauge yet, but it looks like over 50mm in 24 hours. The tops of Sleeping Beauty & Mount Wellington (when not shrouded in cloud & rain) are streaked with snow. Suddenly they seem very wild and remote. The creeks are raging & new rivers flow across paddocks.

The animals are extraordinary hardy. I can see the goat bucks out now foraging for food & nibbling at the bale of hay – now soaking – I put out for them yesterday. Vicky & the piglets are also out & about & wondering when someone is going to come & feed them. I had planned (once again) to tackle piglet-weaning today, but even I’m not masochistic enough to stumble around ankle-deep in mud with icy, horizontal rain driving into my face. I have at least prepared the weaning pen. The last two small goats have been moved out & indeed sold a couple of days later (as pets to a couple guaranteed to dote upon them). I’ve cleared out the straw & goat manure from around the goat feeding station, filling 30 feed bags in the process. There is no vehicle access & a wheelbarrow was awkward, so this seemed the only solution, but it was a back-breaking job. The only thing left to do is set up a pig-proof water container (I might set the one that’s there into the ground).

Other things occupying me include the probable imminent closure of our local abbatoir. This would be a disaster. It is the only abbatoir for hundreds of miles that kills goats & also takes individual pigs from smallholders & hobby farmers like myself. If it does not get sold, it may spell the end of my goat meat enterprise. I’ve met with the agent & talked to the sellers & am putting out feelers with respect to getting together a consortium, should a single buyer not emerge. We have until the end of June. Just from the point of view of animal welfare, a local abbatoir is a must – it minimises the time for which animals must be transported. Talking of which there is currently a big brouhaha here over live exports – an ABC documentary program revealed the hardship & cruelty that cattle endure when shipped to Indonesia for slaughter (although I’ve no doubt that similar conditions prevail in other countries). It comes as no surprise really: live exports are an abomination. Animals should be killed as close as possible to their home farm I believe, without being stressed by long journeys & hours spent in cramped holding pens. The terror & pain of the animals at the slaughterhouse is just the final end to their long trial.

I’ve had an unfortunate death here this week in fact. One of the goats who was got at when young by my rotten young buck & had twins, has finally succumbed to the illnesses she’s been subject to since then. I think her immune system was compromised & she kept scouring & became thin. I thought perhaps she was on the road to recovery as she’d seemed to pick up lately, then suddenly she took a turn for the worse & despite all my efforts became weaker. I went up there one evening to find her unable to walk. I got her to a hut & made her as snug as possible. I determined to use the shotgun in the morning if she was still alive, but she’d died in the night. I was rather sad as not only was it preventable (ie if I’d kept Charlie further away) but she also promised to be one of my best goats: handsome looking, a good mum & stocky like her mum.