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Saturday 20 August 2011

We’ve now got four little goat kids – twins Esther & Ditsy were born to Dusty yesterday and Ginger had tiny Coriander a few days ago. Looking up the hill this morning I see that Super-White has a little mite with her that I need to ear-tag and whose navel needs disinfecting. The mums all have to be drenched once they have kidded too. I try to give the babies names that either rhyme with their mum’s or has some other connection. That way it is easier to remember which kid belongs to which doe without looking it up.

It’s a rather less stressful enterprise this year because I’ve gradually weeded out the rotten mums or those that have required help with kidding. I had one doe that would always reject one of her twins, going so far as trying to squash it against the wall of a hut, such that I had to restrain her until she accepted both. Even then one would never get as much food as the other. Another doe refused to feed her babies at all – I tried my hardest but in the end had to put the kids down because her milk dried up & they wouldn’t drink from a bottle or lap from a bowl. This time the only uncertainties are the two young maiden does and the two does I bought in kid a few months back.

I’m having a lot of trouble with the goats’ feet at present, owing – presumably – to all the rain & the ground being so soggy underfoot. Three of the young ones have persistent problems despite all my efforts with betadine and formaldehyde. The problem is there is nowhere dry I can put them to recover. At first I could see nothing wrong with their feet, but when I looked more closely it was the gap between the cloven hooves which had become sore. Unfortunately it is the most skittish of the young goats that are suffering, hence it is a nightmare catching them for treatment.

It’s been a while since I updated the blog, as we had a guest from the UK staying with us for a few days & then Bronte & I succumbed to an evil stomach bug that she’d brought with her from Brisbane. She arrived somewhat under the weather, saying she’d had food poisoning, but it turned out to be of a very contagious kind! So last weekend was a complete write-off with both of us groaning and incapacitated. My stomach’s still feeling rebellious despite copious amounts of probiotic and Quickeze.

Before the bug struck, our guest and Luke & I (Luke fortuitously had a ‘pupil-free’ day), went to Pelverata Falls. Despite being here 7 years we’d never done this walk before. It turned out to be quite a marathon and extremely muddy. Towards the end the path was quite treacherous involving scrambling over rocks with a steep drop-off to one’s right. However, it was all worth it as the Falls are quite spectacular. We anticipated a good flow given all the rain we’ve had but hadn’t imagined the setting itself to be so awesome. The first glimpse of the Falls is on arrival at the look-out point – from there you look up and left to a towering escarpment, from which the Falls thunder down 114m to the valley floor. The walk was signposted as 3hrs return. Luke and I managed it in 2 – but we’d kept up a fairly fast pace to achieve that. Even Rosie-dog was a little weary! She accompanies Bronte on his fitness runs and never breaks into a pant.

Slippery Falls - visible just before getting to Pelverata Falls

My current project is making a double kennel for the dogs, which can sit on the deck outside the laundry door. I am so fed up with clearing up poo and pee in the mornings I plan to banish them outside as soon as the kennel is complete. Rosie seemed to get much better but then Bruce suddenly started up (I’ve since treated him for worms and he seems to have improved) and now Rosie has started again. They will sleep outside now until next winter when hopefully they’ll be better behaved. However, like all my constructions the kennel is turning into a mammoth labour of love. I decided to make it double-skinned for insulation, which seemed so simple a concept, but turns out to be decidedly complicated in execution. Oh well, I shall persevere. I haven’t told Bronte yet, but I’ve incorporated the slats off an old pine double bed of his which was stored in the garage. Frankly, I thought that if we hadn’t missed the bed in 7 years, we never would.

I thought I had sold Vicky & Connor, our main sow and boar. However, it seems that the purchaser now doesn’t want the boar and can’t take Vicky until the middle of September. I’m wondering whether it is worth selling them at all now, since Vicky is due to farrow mid-September and I’ve already had to feed them for a month since the sale was agreed. I may as well just keep on. I could always sell Vicky after the babies are weaned. The main problem (besides not getting more time to spend on the goats) is that their pens are decidedly boggy. I don’t have a spare pen since destroying the pear-tree paddock with the ute (see earlier blogs) and don’t want to spend time making another when I should be concentrating on goat fencing.

Talking of pigs, I’ve been listening to various debates about meat and the long-term sustainability of eating meat in the quantities to which we are now accustomed. There is an interesting concept of ‘default meat’, ie meat from livestock which are grown without using feed that could otherwise be used to feed humans. For instance, there is a great deal of waste food that can be fed to animals plus there are grazing animals grown on rangelands which are not suitable for any other sort of agricultural production. The argument is that as a rule it takes many more resources (land, feed and carbon) to grow animals than it takes to grow the equivalent nutritional value of vegetables or grain. Therefore, growing meat is depriving the world of extra food that could be used to feed the starving millions. But if you can grow animals using waste food (or byproducts from other industries) or use land fit for no other purpose, then you are adding to the world’s food harvest, not detracting from it.

Our pigs fit neatly into this category. They take up little space and are fed almost entirely on waste products – mostly potatoes and apples that would otherwise be dumped, supplemented by dairy products past their sell-by-date and cast-off salad veggies. What wonderful creatures pigs are! The goats, however, do not yet fit into this category as they consume a great deal of grain grown on land which could otherwise be used to feed humans. Once I have more paddocks and they are feeding off the land, we’ll be more eco-friendly, because our land is virtually unusable for growing crops.

9 August 2011

Yesterday was an extraordinarily tough day. It is so wet underfoot & still persistently drizzling such that everything takes an extra effort. I managed to slop round to all the birds with food & fresh bedding & had to wheelbarrow the food up to the goats. The yard was in such a state I scraped it afresh with a wooden board. It took an hour & when about half-way through I'd set up a 'pyroclastic' flow of liquefied mud & poop that oozed under its own volition through the gate & down the hill - it was quite horrible in a fascinating sort of way! The Suzuki gamely battled across the mud & slippery grass & - by taking scenic routes - I managed to get new bedding to each of the goat huts. Rosie accompanied me until she finally got zapped by the electric fence & howled pitifully. I put her in the Suzuki then & she was much happier.

I'm still coughing well. Bronte says I'll get pneumonia out in this weather, but a new magic inhaler is doing wonders.

Despite the flu & the weather I did manage to construct a new hay dispenser for the bucks - to keep the hay off the ground & as dry as possible. It's made from an old bed base & a $5 old school desk, both from the now recently-resurrected Margate Tip Shop.

Brian Cox tonight - we enjoy our weekly fix of his oddball physics commentary. I can't help noting how he likes to pose on skylines or with the rising sun creating a halo behind him, but Bronte defends him stubbornly. Anyhow, posing doesn't detract from his message which is excellently well communicated. We need some climate scientists with the same passion & zest for clear communication.

My hown town of Bedford, UK has been mentioned twice recently (I was actually born in Cardington, 3 miles outside of Bedford, home of the enormous aircraft hangers & the R101). On my ipod there was a discussion about the strange cult called the Panacea Society, of which some ancient stalwarts still exist in the stately Victorian brick mansions around Shakespeare Road. Also, there was a feature on ABC TV about Wrest Park, a dilapidated stately home & park which I've visited on several occasions. Apparently it has now all been renovated & opened once again to the public - I don't know why it warranted a news item here in Australia.

I'm lapping up my latest Lee Child book. I recently discovered his Jack Reacher series when I left my Jon Cleary on a Brisbane-bound plane & bought a Lee Child from the airport bookshop (my stepdad is a great fan). They are ridiculously over the top (Jack Reacher against the world), but good adventures & you can't help but want to find out more - I keep putting the light out much too late because I can't put it down. Amazingly, when I got this one, Luke instantly remembered the title of the last one I had (which was back in November) - that child has got the most extraordinary memory & observation skills. We went to see his teacher at tea-time yesterday for his report & to find out how things are going. To our great pleasure, it seems he's doing extremely well, in many cases beyond the grade 2s that he shares a class with. More importantly, he's polite & helpful & his behaviour generally has improved greatly, which was a great relief to hear.

I ought to mention that a historic forestry agreement was signed at the weekend, with Julia Gillard, our PM, making a flying visit to Launceston to seal things. It was drafted a couple of weeks ago but there was still quite some dissatisfaction on the part of the environmental groups, owing to the uncertainty attached to the conservation outcomes. We attended a rally organised by Bob Brown (leader of the Greens Party here in Australia) on Saturday morning which was quite rousing, despite the rain. There were some good speakers & a reasonably fair turnout. I was invited the previous week to join in a telephone meeting with Bob Brown & some of the other ENGO leaders to discuss the agreement & the rally. I felt most flattered to be asked but was down with the flu & it was such short notice - I had to cook, get Luke etc - that I declined & just sent in a statement. I'm sure they all think I'm such a part-timer & have no commitment to the cause! Maybe it's just that I have a life outside of forestry campaigning. The main upshot of the agreement for our little group, is that the majority of West Wellington is included within the area to get immediate protection from logging. We worked hard to defend the major portion of it intact, particularly that which adjoins Wellington Park & comprises the water catchments for Crabtree & Lucaston. We've even managed to get most of the Judbury catchment in there, despite the extensive roading & logging operations which have already occurred there.

I haven't reported on Murphy-Cat for a while. He & I are on the same steroids at present! He for low liver function, me for asthma. He's been a different cat since these medications - he also gets a large chunk of Nutrigel per day which always promotes a great battle. Often I end up with Nutrigel all over myself, Murphy, the carpet & the furniture. His fur has grown back lush & sleek albeit somewhat greyer than before - he resembles an otter with baggy skin. Rosie also went to the vets last week for de-sexing, she was such a miserable, hang-dog creature afterwards & it's taking a while for the bruising & swelling to go down.

He's not dead - just sleeping!

Monday 8 August 2011

I have nothing to report except rain. Dreary, persistent, grey, all-enveloping, demoralising rain. Not just rain for a day, but drizzle for days and nights on end, with no let-up. 35mm in the last 24 hours, 81mm in the last week. The only happy vegemites here are the geese - & possibly the trout. The goats are due to start kidding by the end of this week & I'm not sure I can get on the land to get bedding to them. I'll be feeding them by wheelbarrow today - back to the bad old days pre-Suzuki. An ex-colleague of mine from years back in the UK is visiting on Wednesday through to Saturday. When she rang, I tried to tell her how awful the weather was so she could choose not to come. She'll be flying in from Brisbane & said "Oh, is Tasmania different from Brisbane then?" Ho ho! At least it would be funny if it wasn't set to continue to rain for the entire week - a large low is sitting directly on top of us. In yesterday's paper Brisbane was reported as 'fine & 21°C', Hobart as 'rain & 11°C'. Even in the UK I can't recall experiencing endless rain of this nature without some respite.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

I’ve been listening to some fascinating podcasts of late. Two consecutive Science Shows (from ABC National) have focused on the future of meat in our diets. I’ve found the debates interesting & well-informed and many of the conclusions in line with my own thoughts. A future where everyone eats great slabs of red meat, such as in the Steakhouses of America, is not only not sustainable, but probably not even possible. Only by culturing meat or keeping animals in impossibly cramped factory conditions, could such quantities of meat be produced. The commentators on the Science Show, instead advocated a more respectful approach to meat, where animals are kept in mixed, free-range humane conditions, slaughtered close to home and eaten sparingly. It’s exactly the model we try to follow here on our little smallholding. I see nothing paradoxical about caring passionately about animals but nonetheless eating ones that are bred for that purpose. The important point is that at every point of the animals’ life cycle their welfare should be the highest priority.

Likewise when it comes to slaughter, we should utilise as much of the animal as possible & make it last over several meals. Last week’s rooster was eaten as a roast one night, sandwiches and salad for lunch the next day, curry the following evening & then the last bits were picked off the carcass to flavour a barbecue sauce for vegetables and cheesy mashed potatoes. Usually I’ll boil up the bones for stock but ran out of steam last week.

The other issue is that there is so much sentimentality about the harvest & culling of native animals here in Australia. By clearing forest and planting pasture, we’ve created an artificial environment which enables grazing animals to thrive and breed to extremely high numbers. Here we have a major problem with pademelons, small wallabies which can breed all year round. Without some culling, we would barely have a blade of grass at certain times of year. Likewise, in mid-winter or in times of drought, the pademelons themselves are in such high numbers that many starve or become ill – dying in a much more unpleasant manner than when humanely culled. Some speakers on the Science Show were advocating the sustainable harvest of wild kangaroos for food, to replace some of our demand for cattle and sheep. This seems supremely sensible to me since kangaroos are lighter on the environment and emit very little methane.

On a related note, I’m pleased and relieved that the Cradoc Hill abbatoir has been bought, and not by just anyone, but by someone with vision, drive, business-mindedness and a commitment to the rural community. He’s a young lad, apparently well-educated - and I’m sure if anyone can make it work and pay, he will.

Monday 1 August 2011

The previous week has been pretty grim with all of us down with varying degrees of the flu. Luke was off from Monday to Thursday & only went back on Friday because I felt so rotten I didn’t think I could cope with him at home! Plus we were both going somewhat stir-crazy being under each other’s feet all the time. Bronte’s been the least poorly of all of us, doggedly carrying on at work. I’ve lain in bed at nights imagining ponderous macrophages and fighter-jet killer-T cells battling against the evil virus in lungs and throat! I’m not sure it has hastened my recovery in any way – likewise the jars of garlic, zinc and vitamin C tablets I’ve swallowed.

Needless to say not a lot was achieved on the farm front. I did make sausages on Monday with Luke’s help. We had quite a lot of fun blowing up the intestine skins to resemble those long balloons people fold into animal shapes! Luke made water-bombs from them too. Actually stuffing the skins with sausage mixture was a trial & one I’m not in a hurry to repeat – at least not without the proper equipment. We ran all the sausagemeat back through the hand mixer together with all the spices & various ingredients we were adding, so we had a fine-grained mix. The sausages themselves were yum – but like no other sausage I’ve ever tasted! Luke loyally announced that “they were heaps better than the ones from the butcher’s Mum”. What an angel. Bronte was less enthusiastic. I think I’d added too much ‘quatre-epices’ (composed of cloves, black pepper, nutmeg & cinnamon) – according to Jane Grigson’s book, an essential component of ‘saucisson’. However, I was pretty satisfied with my first efforts & reckon that like our ham & bacon, the sausage recipes will improve with time.

I’ve started the next round of goat hoof clipping and plan to finish that this week. The wet ground means their hooves don’t get naturally worn, but instead grow into odd shapes which eventually cause discomfort & can get infected. Being in intimate contact with the goats, I’ve realised with a jolt, just how close they are to dropping their kids. Some of the does are very large with swollen udders, causing them to move around slowly & cautiously. According to the diary, the first babies will be due mid-August, but it's never as precise as that. Worryingly, it looks as though Star, who was put with the poison-dwarf Charlie (since sold) appears not to be pregnant. I now feel a fraud, since the people who bought him were expecting him to perform. It’s his final act of vengeance against me, having previously got at some of my best young does before they were properly grown.

The weather has turned very benign, almost spring-like. The days are milder with plenty of sun and the last of the overnight frosts was a week ago.