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Sunday 24 July 2011

Wow, two historic things to celebrate today - Cadel Evans winning the Tour de France and an Intergovernmental Agreement to fund a forestry solution.

Over the past three weeks we've been getting rather excited about the Tour de France & began recording the night-time live races & watching them the following day. Bronte used to be an avid cyclist & - while not in his league - I too enoyed cycling, enough to appreciate the supreme athleticism of the contestants. As well as the racing, the scenery was fabulous - high Alpine passes, Chateau perched on clifftops and rustic picturesque villages set in a pastoral quilt of greenery. Of course, our interest and excitement reached new heights when it became clear that Cadel had a chance to win the overall race - plus I felt some British pride in Mark Cavendish winning several stages & taking the green jersey for best sprinter (although I believe that will be decided finally in the race into Paris tomorrow). Yesterday morning we watched a recording of the second stage in the Alps, terminating in an awe-inspiring switchback climp up Alp d'Huez. Cadel had trouble with his bike, having to switch to a new one mid-race & despite this fought back bravely to come in alongside his nearest rivals (then sitting at 1 & 2 in the overall classification): the Schleck brothers, Andy & Frank.

This morning we got up to watch the time trial - the penultimate stage & the decider. Cadel was over a minute behind Andy Schleck in the rankings & we honestly did not fancy his chances - Andy Schleck seemed so composed & confident. However, Cadel put in a magnificent effort coming in over two minutes quicker than Andy & winning the 2011 Tour de France. We were thrilled, particularly as he seems such a pleasant, humble chap (who incidentally looks a little like a worried gnome). I'm sure he will be a fantastic ambassador for Australia around the world, more so than many of our other sportsmen, who are so often full of their own importance. Cadel Evans is such a Welsh name, it would be interesting to know where his family hail from. I've adopted him as an honorary Brit as well as a true-blue Aussie.

The other matter for celebration is the aforesaid forestry announcement made today jointly by the state and federal governments. We've yet to receive feedback on the 'Memorandum of Understanding' from Environment Tas & the other ENGO negotiators, but from a quick read through it seems highly positive. It paves the way for a virtually immediate protection of 430,000Ha of high conservation value native forest, with the likely protection of the full 572,000Ha reserve ask within a year, plus a $276m assistance package to provide exit mechanisms and assistance for forestry workers, plus the development of a regional development strategy to diversity Tasmania's rural economy.

Saturday 23 July 2011

Well, it’s a while since I last put pen to paper so to speak. What’s happened? We’ve gone from snow, to frost & sun, to rain & back to frost & sun. Today was glorious following a hard frost & foggy whiteout first thing. We woke one morning to find several centimetres of snow on the ground & Bronte & Luke lost no time in racing up the goat paddock hill to sledge down again. Bronte’s first run (on a large plastic mattress bag) was one of the funniest things I’ve seen for a long time – akin to the most bizarre of the bruising slow-mo’s shown on Wipeout!

Last weekend we drove up into the Hartz Mountains National Park – plenty of others had the same idea. There must have been around 50cm of snow on the ground with blown drifts very much deeper. We followed other peoples’ ruts as we crept up in the ute – surprisingly first meeting some friends and then the family who’d bought a pig & Charlie-the-goat off us recently. A whole family hitched a lift with us, clambering into the back. We came to a point where the ruts petered out & decided discretion was the better part of valour & parked. A couple of other vehicles continued but promptly got stuck. We were amazed at how many ordinary 2WD saloons we saw trying to come up the road. We had a great time tramping through the snow, throwing snowballs and admiring the other-worldly scenery.

On the animal front, four more roosters bit the dust last week and I have a female turkey in the ‘sick room’ in the garage. This time of year is hard on the animals even with the best of food and housing – and the turkeys refuse to take shelter even in the harshest weather. This one looked pretty poorly, slow & not keen to eat. I thought a few days out & worming might do the trick. She’s looking well again but too suspicious of her doped mash to eat much. Hopefully, she’ll get desperate enough to finish it soon. Past attempts to force-feed birds with medication have been singularly unsuccessful so I don’t propose trying it again. The four new goats have been playing up. I feed the goats in a yard with sturdy wire fencing over 1m high so I can lay out their food without them trampling me & their food into the ground. The first time the new goats were introduced to this Chloe leapt clean over the fence & the others went through the electric fence again to try & get at the food. Needless to say they were all hauled back to the fence to be zapped – in order to remind them to respect the fences! They haven’t been through any fences since, although Chloe tried her leap again – I saw her take off & yelled, she checked in mid-air & fell flat on her back in mud. It seems to have put her off trying again!

I have at last started clearing a route through a jungle of bracken & scrub for a new paddock fence. In a couple of hours I managed a 40m long strip (~4m wide) & retired exhausted. Given that the planned perimeter is about 800m it is going to be a long haul.

In line with a decision to try & reduce my workload somewhat, I’ve regretfully decided to sell Vicky - our faithful & fertile sow – and her loyal swain Connor the boar. Vicky is in pig again & were they to remain I’d have another load of piglets to castrate, nose-ring, wean & feed in a couple of months - and a new paddock would be needed as the current ones are becoming mired in mud. Luckily I’ve found a good home for them both & they should be off in a couple of weeks.

We’ve still got two young ones from the last litter – Stripes, a ginger female and Stumpy, a neutered male (so-called because he’s a trifle short in length).

I plan to transfer them into the ‘veggie patch’ once the others have gone & thereby freed up an electric fence energiser. The veggie patch has been under construction for around 2 years now. It’s such a mighty edifice that we’ve never been brave or foolhardy enough to finish the corner bracing by balancing over 3m in the air. It’s frustrating that it’s still not done. The plan is to use the pigs to level the ground & mix in all the layers of mulch and goat poo that have piled up in there.

An equally painful decision was to resign from the Environment Tasmania Management Committee. I hated to do it & feel in many ways I’ve let them down; however having made the decision I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. I hate to do things by halves & felt I’d just not been able to commit the time needed to fully keep up to speed with activities & policy or to attend General & Annual General Meetings. Not that I’ve completely abandoned my environmental campaigning – I’m still active in the WWPG (albeit less so than last year’s frenetic pace) & continue to do a bit of stirring via letters to the editor. Last week I wrote to The Mercury’s angling correspondent re the publishing of triumphant pictures of people who have caught giant Bluefin tuna – a creature dangerously close to extinction. Re the woodchip mill which the government planned to finance (& subject of my previous letter to the ed), I’m pleased to say that it has now been sold to an environmental consortium. It also seems that the state is teetering on the brink of an historic forestry resolution.

Other tasks completed recently include a new batch of ham & re-graveling of the area outside the garage. I’ve been lent a fantastic book called ‘Charcuterie’ by Jane Grigson. I can’t even imagine making most of the creations in there, but it’s nonetheless inspired me to try some of the simpler recipes. So, according to instructions, I left my chunks of ham in brine for 19 days & then boiled them in a ‘court bouillon’ – basically water with the addition of onions, carrots & cloves. I allowed one lot to cool overnight in the cooking fluids & the other I took out 20 mins early, glazed with a mix of brown sugar, honey & orange juice & baked for half an hour in the oven. It’s now all in the freezer, but a sample tasting suggests that the glazed one is overly salty, but that the soaked one is juicy & delicious. Shortly, I’m going to have a go at making sausages although I’ve no easy way of getting the mixture into the skins. I’ve got visions now of making chorizos & salami!

Wednesday 13 July 2011

The bridgeworks were a constant source of fascination over the past few days ..

Sunday 10 July 2011

I’m sitting in our office looking out through the big corner windows at persistent snow & a waterlogged landscape. The weather has been extraordinarily grim the last week – if it’s not been snowing, it’s been blowing or gale or raining, or more likely all of those together. Working outside in this is a challenge - even the little Suzuki has baulked on a couple of occasions (there’s nowhere a Suzuki won’t go, in rain or ice or snow …). This morning everything that wasn’t nailed down has blown into the paddocks: lids of 44 gallon drums, feed bowls, all our outdoor chairs, the top of the rain gauge & even some large wooden boards. We’ve learnt from experience (when we bought an anenometer to test the feasibility of having a wind turbine here we regularly experienced gusts that went off the scale – 150Km/hr) such that all huts & similar constructions are staked down with heavy gauge wire.


The three little pigs did indeed go to the big sty in the sky during the week, although owing to various disturbances throughout the day, it took until 11 o’clock in the evening before various cuts were stowed safely in the freezer. The job was completed without undo trauma on either side, although the scalding & scraping process was a trial & I ended up skinning two of the three. I’m satisfied that should we survive an apocalypse, we’ll have enough food to hold out indefinitely! The small holding yard I’d built in the weaning pen was a success & enabled me to catch the pigs easily & swiftly – although I had to transfer them in a large chaff sack as it was too wet to get the goat float down to the pen. The pigs themselves were quite stoic & had no inkling – I think – of their fate.

Yesterday the poison dwarf Charlie was sold – hooray! To my surprise the people who said they’d have him actually turned up (unannounced) & also paid the outstanding amount on the piglet (Molly) they’d bought a fortnight previously. It’s restored my faith in human nature. I now have to focus on growing Seb on (the half Tog/ half Saanen buck I bought a few weeks back) & sorting out his scouring. I think his bellies are unaccustomed to the sort of feed he’s getting now.
Frosty nearly-new goats: Shiny, Super White & Seb

I appear to have ruffled some feathers in government this week. A letter to the editor, copied to the Department of Economic Development out of courtesy, sparked a near 45 minute phone call of justifications. I’d drawn unflattering comparisons between the criteria used to assess loan applications for the Triabunna woodchip mill versus those for the Cradoc abbatoir. Whatever the shortcomings of the abbatoir’s business model they pale in comparison to those of the mill, which I’m sure will prove unviable in the longer term. Certainly ‘market forces’, initially cited as a reason for not supporting the abbatoir, could hardly have been taken into account when assessing the mill loan application, since another buyer had already made a generous offer & required no government money.

We are looking forward to the prospect of being stuck at home for the next two days. The bridge at the bottom of our road is being replaced & hence we'll not be able to get out by car. Bronte's taking the two days off & luckily Luke has a 'student-free day' at school on Monday. Unfortunately on Tuesday he has an excursion he doesn't want to miss so we are obliged to get him across the creek to the bus somehow (good job I bought some old waders at the last farm sale we went to ..).

Digger at work on our bridge

Wednesday 5 July 2011

Last week I seemed to have slipped into some sort of mid-winter stasis – lethargic and unmotivated. Perhaps I should take more vitamin D. I’ve plodded through the usual outside chores and kept up to date – just – with the marketing work and WWPG necessities and have tried to unburden myself of the Cradoc abbatoir campaign.

Mid-week I collected four more goats from Cygnet. Once again I found myself driving for miles along a winding coast road not sure where I was going – but at least this time it wasn’t in the dark & Luke was safely in school. I’d thought I was buying three Boer-cross does, but it turned out there were four & all a little smaller than I’d hoped. Anyhow I bought them for what I think was the right price & they obligingly followed the bucket of pellets into the goat float. The seller is a local character with whom I’ve chatted before re pigs and goats & is refreshingly laissez-faire re his animals, letting them wander at will across his property.

I should have foreseen that this habit would cause me problems. After clipping the goats’ hooves, drenching & vaccinating them & fitting them with new collars & ear-tags (two books of baby names bought from the Margate tip shop has greatly relieved the stress of naming new animals), they were released into a paddock with the two new does from the week before. The next morning they were out & half-way up the steep hill behind our house. Having loaded up with goat food, I chased up there with the Suzuki & Luke (who wanted to ‘help’ before going swimming with Dad), managed to grab them one at a time & rope them to the back of the car, before towing them back to their pen at a fast clip. Once I’d disconnected the other paddocks (I’m trusting that the main herd won’t realise & go walkabout) their fence rose to 9.6kV. As each goat was unroped, I stuck its nose against the fence (getting heartily zapped myself in the process) before releasing it to feed. I also cut down a load of blackwood and wattle branches for them to browse upon. That was two days ago & so far they remain very wary of the fence – although I’m still not confident about connecting up all the paddocks & thereby dropping the voltage on their paddock.


The Cradoc abbatoir continues to be a concern. The deadline of 30 June came and went without a firm sale. Several people were interested but either could not meet the deadline or raise the finance. Because I’d written letters to various local papers and also started an e-mail campaign to raise interest in the possibility of a consortium, I think I was being viewed as a potential saviour. However, I haven’t the skills to facilitate a co-op buy-out nor the time or energy to pursue it. I’ve therefore turned over all the information I’ve so far gathered to the Council & am hoping they will ensure there is a satisfactory outcome to this issue. I can see several possibilities – there are people who want to run & operate it & others who can raise a substantial part of the purchase price; therefore if the right combination of these people can be brought together we might have a solution.


I’ve begun feeding the piglets in a small temporary yard within the weaning pen, hastily constructed yesterday from two gates and a sturdy metal bed-base (also courtesy of the ever-useful Margate tip shop – said bed-base generally in use as a hay rick for the bucks). The plan is to shut them in this small yard, so I can select the ones destined for slaughter & transfer them to the goat float. I’d planned to haul the float down to the weaning pen this morning but that became impossible since last night the weather turned foul with a vengeance - I tossed & turned all night listening to howling winds & lashing rain - fretting about the animals & whether the tracks would remain negotiable to the Suzuki. Not only was the ground underfoot sodden, but was coated with a layer of sludgy ice. It started snowing at around eleven o’clock this morning & kept on most of the day, occasionally settling, often blowing horizontally & keeping temperatures down to around three degrees centigrade

I was satisfied that all the animals had shelter & plenty of bedding except the three bucks who were trying to fit into two small huts. Since Charlie the poison-dwarf Boer is due to be sold, I thought he should be the one to go elsewhere. The trusty Suzuki was roped into action again to tow him to the shipping container in the veggie patch – the only other place I could think of where he could be tethered and sheltered, well away from the young does. I had to haul him by hand across his paddock & then at the other end across the veggie patch, because in Charlie’s usual way he was stubborn, uncooperative & suspicious. He’s done rather well really as the shipping container is dry and full of hay & he’s got access to a grassy bank outside on which to graze. However, he confounded me instantly by managing to get himself tangled when I would have thought it impossible.

The forecast for the rest of the week is pretty awful. Wet weather I can cope with, but when with wind-chill the temperature is also close to zero I struggle to keep hands and feet warm. Gloves are always getting wet & drying in front of the wood-burner, the house is hung with dripping waterproofs, the dogs are bored and miserable and the laundry floor is awash with mud & wet newspaper. Only Murphy the Cat is smugly content in front of the fire.