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Friday 23 September 2011

It is so foul outside I’ve decided to stay in for a bit & catch up with PC work. After a couple of breezy, mild days during which the paddocks did start to dry out, it’s rained all night. I daren’t check the rain gauge – there must have been an inch or thereabouts. I’m still having trouble with the goats’ feet, poor things, so whereas once upon a time I would have reveled in the sound of the rain pounding on the roof, now I wince & worry about the goats’ hooves & the pigs’ pens.

Despite the rain gloom, there have been some mild excitements to report. The wild baby bunny turned up again – in the cage where it had been before. It’s a great puzzle. I’d been through the hay in there with a fine tooth comb & had seen neither hide nor hair of it. Anyhow, rather than pondering on the issue, I’ve popped into a smaller dog travel-crate from which it most certainly can’t escape. We’ve named it Beryl, it’s still rather cute & is happily eating dandelions & fresh grass which I (of course) get for it each day. At least we don’t have to buy any rabbits now to fulfill our promise to Luke. We just need Rosie to find another girl bunny for the other buck. Rosie’s turning out to be rather a menace on the wildlife front – playing with skinks until they lose the will to live & killing a baby native hen the other day before we could get to her. Some major training sessions are called for.

I’m pleased to announce that the dogs are now happily re-housed in their new kennel. It’s installed on the front deck following a major removals task with the help of the Suzuki. I forgot that a couple of screws poked a fraction out of the bottom & I’ve scratched some of the deck boards rather badly – I’m not sure Bronte’s noticed yet & I haven’t pointed it out. I poured water on them to try & swell them away. The kennel just squeaked into the space allotted for it, but I had to move the external powerpoint – luckily I managed not to electrocute myself & I didn’t have to lengthen the cable to move it across a couple of inches.

It is totally caulked & siliconed in every conceivable crack on the outside & on the inside is fully lined with 2cm thick polystyrene & building paper, all taped up so there are no frayed edges for the dogs to chew. Yesterday morning I made the bedding, stuffing hessian sacks with foam, sewing them together & wrapping them all in old blankets & sewing that in place. Hopefully there is nothing there that Rosie can chew or destroy (famous last words). I’ve stapled a piece of old sheepskin over the front doors (from one of Murphy’s old beds) & made a slit in each side, to reduce the windage into the kennel itself. Luke & I painted a name board that is now proudly displayed on the side.

I’ve also – at last – completed the crocheted quilt I’ve been working on during the winter evenings in front of the fire & the TV. Here it’s being modeled by the spare bed & draped across the sofa in the lounge. It’s all made with oddments of wool & recycled wool unpicked from old jumpers bought from op shops.

I’ve resolved to put away the crocheting for now & start tackling the huge pile of mending that has built up in the meantime, mostly comprising knee patches and letting down trouser legs for Luke. He continues to grow like a weed and is always grubbing about and falling over in mud and gravel. He loves his bicycle & had great fun at a vacation care ‘wheels day’ last week. Thank goodness he’s been back at school this week, it’s rather a strain trying to entertain him & get everything done here during the holidays.

The other minor excitement is that I have borrowed a large manual incubator from a neighbour (who has purchased a posh auto-turning one of which I am most envious) & it’s now almost filled with turkey eggs – 32 I think now. I’d thought the turkeys weren’t laying (or that the cravens were getting all the eggs) but found a batch of 13 hidden in hay - actually in the hut for a change. Since then there have been another 2-4 each day so I’ve been popping them in each time. My little incubator has geese & chicken eggs in it so once they hatch, I can transfer the turkey eggs into it for hatching as they become due. You have to stop turning eggs three days before they are due to hatch & also raise the humidity – which is why it’s not good to have eggs with different due dates in the same incubator. I dare say when I candle them, half will turn out to be infertile – this often happens with the first batch of the season – but I’m hopeful. At least the turkeys haven’t gone broody. Once this happens they stop laying & it is virtually impossible to break the broodiness. I’ve tried taking them for a drive (someone told me this was a failsafe cure) & chucking them into different pens, but nothing has worked for me so far. All three girl geese are now sitting, so we could be awash with baby birds soon. This is a bit of a concern because I’m going to need more space for them.

Yesterday I terminated the three big roosters which were getting rather bolshie and packed them into the freezer. I must have got the dunking just right, because plucking them was a breeze. I used water at 70°C & dunked them for 45-50secs. Talking of bolshie animals poor Luke had a bad day recently, when he was growled & snapped at by Bruce in the morning & attacked by William the gobbler in the afternoon. Bruce gets a bit protective of what he thinks of as his territory & gets a bit stressed by Luke’s noise & sudden moves. William has been a pussycat up until now – it must be the time of year I think. When I rescued Luke & shepherded him out, William leapt onto my back!

I can now worm all the birds & start installing my fishing line over the turkey pen to confound the cravens. That was meant to be today’s job but frankly I’m baulking at going outside in this weather. I’m also a bit worn down this week which has been pretty full-on. I’ve chopped & carted a large batch of firewood and Bronte & I unloaded and raked a tonne or more of topsoil last Friday to try & level out the area around the pear tree, which used to be a small pig pen. We spent ages scraping off the high bits & transferring the spoil to the low bits – it’s now more level than anywhere else on our plot. I was hoping to take back part of it for another pig pen but Bronte might not be so keen now.

Last weekend entailed early rising owing to Little Athletics starting again on the Saturday and a WWPG Open Day on the Sunday. I had to get the animals fed before going to each event. Luke enjoyed his Little Athletics & won all his events, but was so abominable that he was whisked home before his favourite event – the 100m.

The Open Day was rather more successful. The aim was to highlight the fact that Forestry Tasmania is continuing to log in coupes within the 430,000Ha designated for ‘immediate protection’ within the recent Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on forestry, & to promote the conservation values of West Wellington ( I’d not had much to do with the organization barring sending out invites to the membership & the media. Luke & I went along & had a good few hours, trundling along the 4WD tracks & logging roads & walking along part of the old Judds Creek Road, now isolated by Forestry’s logging operations. We left after lunch as Luke had been playing with two other boys in a creek & was wet, cold & tired. Luckily I’d had the foresight to take a change of clothes, but nonetheless he was about wrung out. We’d taken enough food for an army but managed to polish the lot off – Luke ate most of his on the way.

A few new faces turned up to the event & learnt what was going on & why we are opposed to clearfelling. A local journalist rang up that evening for a chat & was good enough to put a piece in The Mercury the following day (
Hopefully, it might help stir things up. I’ve been having a bit of e-mail liaison with the man who has Connor the boar at the moment – he challenged me on my environmental views with respect to forestry. I’ve asked that he not stick pins in Connor to get back at me!

I’ve just lit a fire, it’s so cold & miserable. I had to weigh up the comforts of a fire against the discomfort of chopping more wood. At least Murphy the cat will be happy. I might break my self-imposed rules & do some phone-calling of potential customers on a Friday, following up the marketing documentation e-mailed out recently for a neighbour. Anything to delay going outside.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

All my spare moments have been devoted to the deluxe 6-star energy rated double-kennel I’m still constructing - or I’ve been flaked out in front of the TV crocheting madly. Hence there have been no blog updates recently. Also my old Mum has been rather poorly in hospital in the UK with shingles and something horrid called cellulitis. So that’s rather distracted me too. Luckily she’s home again now so the various medications must be having some effect, but it’s a lot to cope with at 75 & has been a big worry for all of us. The time difference made it difficult to keep up with news & I felt guilty at not being there to help.

The kennel is finally nearing completion. Bronte keeps asking when it will be finished & I remind him that constantly updating the specification is bound to adversely affect the schedule. I gave up on a hinged roof (as requested by Bronte) because the construction technique didn’t lend itself to hinging (hingeing?) without a whole lot of extra work. The trouble is I now have to squeeze myself in through the entrances with an inspection lamp in order to insulate the ceiling & fit the bedding.

The goat babies have all arrived now. One of my does – a big, healthy Boer - doesn’t appear to have got pregnant at all, which is quite a concern. I’ll perhaps try her with a different buck next time around. We have rather less kids than last year but that was always on the cards. After a gap of around a week, two does decided to kid on the same day, at the same time – and in the same hut! I found three babies & neither they nor I could work out who belonged to which Mum. However, they seem all to be thriving & are treating both does as Mum.

Tragically I saw that another doe (one of my new ones) had kidded & went in search of the babies only to discover two tiny creatures lying outside in the cold – one already dead & one I also thought was dead until I saw it take a shuddering breath. I dithered for a time, wondering if it had any chance of survival or if I shouldn’t put it out of its misery straightaway. Eventually I ran back with it down to the house & held it immersed in warm water in the laundry for half an hour, keeping its nose above water. Remarkably it seemed to perk up. I dried it, wrapped it in a fleece with a hot water bottle, put it in front of the fire with the cat & dribbled into its mouth small amounts of warm milk enriched with egg yolk, cod liver oil & molasses. It swallowed & got stronger all the time.

Later that night, its body temperature was good & it was bleating & drinking happily. So I set up the heat lamp in the garage, caught Mum in the dark & brought her down to the garage & reunited them. She had heaps of milk & I really didn’t want to have to bottle-feed a babe if I could avoid it. Mum & baby were overjoyed at being together again & I left them with the kid nuzzling Mum & looking as if it was about to feed. However, in the morning all was not well. The kid was lying at an odd angle, wheezing & clearly unwell. I can only think that as so often happens when trying to feed weak animals, some drops of the milk I gave it had got into its lungs. Animals seem to have no tolerance to this & can die instantly or get pneumonia, sicken & die. I made the decision to put it down & was quite upset – particularly after all my efforts to keep it alive. Its twin that I found dead hadn’t been cleaned up by Mum so I wonder if it was still-born. I don’t know why these two were so weak. They were very small & it’s possible they were born with a low body temperature.

I had significant shenanigans with pigs last week. I had offered Connor for stud in return for two piglets (fruits of his labours) when the time comes for the sows to farrow. However, this meant getting him into the trailer. This took careful trailer positioning (as per Vicky a couple of weeks previously) between bog areas & then Connor was most wary & unwilling to get in, even for his favourite foods (perhaps he remembered Vicky getting in & being taken away ..). When he finally got in, the other two small pigs were in there too & I had to shut them all in. With Connor one end & Stumpy & Ginger at the other end, I stuck star pickets through the middle to create a barrier between them, then climbed in to shoo the smaller ones out through the door. What a palaver that was – Stumpy bolted out straight back into his pen, but Ginger had to be bodily removed & then shot under the wire & straight up to the house.

When I eventually herded her back in, I got in the Suzuki to haul the trailer up to the tractor shed, only to find the battery was flat! That meant bringing the ute down & jump-starting it, but as the Suzuki won’t idle I was desperate not to stall it. Finally the trailer was parked in the tractor shed & unhitched, but then the Suzuki stopped & wouldn’t start again. I realised I’d have to charge the battery over lunch. As there is no electric in the tractor shed & I daren’t set up extension leads because it was pouring with rain, I physically heaved the Suzuki part-way to the garage but just couldn’t get it up a rise. Finally I used the ute to nudge it from behind, jumping out now & again to adjust the steering of the Suzuki & stopping before it tore off down the hill. At that point I pushed it over the point of no return & leapt in to steer it down to the garage, before nudging it under cover with the ute again. It was after this that I found the weak goat twins referred to above. That night, I felt as though I’d been beaten with sticks! At least Bronte had the bright idea of sending Connor off in our trailer rather than trying to transfer him into another one. When the man came to collect I was fast asleep on the sofa!

The three roosters due for the chop are still alive and kicking, but I’m keen to do the deed as the ones we are currently eating are delicious. I had a mad fit (which lengthened into nearly three hours) and decided to make a chicken pie from scratch with the roast leftovers. I’d forgotten what a pain it is making puff pastry with all that rolling and fat-spreading and refrigerating. In between times I made a batch of cakes as we are awash with eggs & this seemed a good way to get rid of some (Luke and I had boiled eggs, fried eggs, eggs & bacon and poached & scrambled eggs on toast for successive breakfasts the week before). Both the pie & the cakes were a success but we all stuffed ourselves so much we could barely move afterwards. Today I’ve put 14 eggs in the incubator together with the 3 goose eggs already in there so we’ve reduced our egg-glut for the time being. I’ve also just terminated Scruffy who used to peck me every time I went in to feed the layers & whose eggs were never fertile.

Luke’s been off school but attending vacation care three days a week. He loves it & it stops us both going nuts. Bronte’s taking a couple of days off this week so we’ll hopefully do some family stuff. The weekend before last was Father’s Day – an important day in Luke’s calendar. We’d bought Dad some plants & took him to Alpenrail – an attraction we knew absolutely nothing about, situated just north of Hobart. Bronte groaned, expecting a whimsically tacky railway & village model & a quick exit. However, it turned out to be quite amazing – an entire Swiss landscape built into a large room with viewing platforms and a quite extraordinary breadth of detail. It was all highly convincing & we were treated to quite a show with thunder & lightning over the mountains, mist rising from the lake, cable cars and a funicular railway all working merrily and various trains equipped with passengers, lights & freight. It was great entertainment, especially for Luke who has a real eye for detail.

As if I don’t have enough creatures to look after, Luke & Bronte proudly presented me with a wet & muddy young bunny a few days ago. They returned from a walk during which Rosie had dug it out of the sedge. It was cute but I was worried it might still require milk. However, I installed it in the chicken brooder in the garage with water bottle, hay, fresh grass & pellets, with a heat lamp above to help it dry out & warm up. It seemed to be doing well the following day & we identified that it was a female which was a relief – when it grew up it could go outside with Bertie or Boris. However, this was not to be. The following day it had totally disappeared. It is a complete mystery how it got out of the brooder or where it could have gone. It must have been a Houdini rabbit. Luke was upset, so I’ve rashly promised him that we’ll buy two female baby bunnies when we can track down some nice (& cheap) ones.

Thursday 1 September 2011

First day of spring – yeehar! However, looking out of the window it’s grey, windy and drizzly & feels cold and decidedly unspringlike. Despite the weather it must be spring as there are signs of it everywhere: our clumps of snowdrops are flowering (the only bulbs out of 600+ we planted, that survived), the swallows have returned (a week earlier than last year), two of the geese started sitting today and the hens have gone into egg-laying overdrive. Out of 6 laying hens, we are getting 5 eggs most days now. I’ve started saving some for the incubator. One of my high priorities now is to protect all our birds’ eggs from the rapacious cravens (forest ravens). One swooped into the hens’ run yesterday while I sat here working, nabbed an egg a careless hen had laid outside the coop & was off before I could react. The turkeys are further away under the trees and hence are even more vulnerable – particularly since they prefer to lay their eggs in the open, rather than in a hut. I have a plan to string fishing line from a tall wattle in the turkey run out to the fence, like a spider’s web. I’m hoping the cravens will fly into this & be put off from trying again.

It’s been a high-stress couple of weeks, even by my standards, with goats kidding, a job interview, making a book character outfit for Luke for school (a red goblin from Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood), muck-spreading, kennel-building, bird moving, transferring Vicky the pig from pen to trailer to another trailer – on top of all the usual tasks. I caught and moved the youngest 3 chickens from the peacock run into the interim-age chicken run with Henry the Wellsummer cockerel, from whence they promptly escaped. I found them the next day in the young pigs’ pen, which is where they stayed as I didn’t have time to recapture them. Eventually they found their way back where I wanted them, presumably because they were starving by that stage. The 2 oldest hens have moved into the main hen run with Nigel the Australorp cockerel where they are happy & have started laying. I’m now eyeing up 2 roosters who need to go to freezer-heaven in the next couple of weeks.

Nigel the Australorp rooster, pictured with Bertie bunny & Scruffy
So far we have just 8 goat kids, I’m sorry to report. It seems to be a bad year on the goat-front. Most of the mums who have previously had twins, have only had the one this year, one aborted early on and another 2 are looking worryingly like they may not have any! I believe it is all due to the run-away worm problem I had much earlier in the year. I had problems getting on top of it & I think it affected fertility. Plus I had 2 does who ought to have been pregnant but couldn’t be put to buck as they’d had kids too early, courtesy of Charlie the poison dwarf, who got through the fences at them. I’ve still got 2 older does that I bought a couple of months ago that should kid very shortly. But altogether the tally is going to be pretty low. Having said that next year should be a bumper one as I’ve got on top of the worm problem and we have an extra 10 or so does coming on which can be put to buck in March/ April. Still having feet problems – no sooner do I fix one hoof than another one gets sore. I really need a concrete yard - at present the feeding yard harbours diseases and it doesn’t stop raining long enough for the yard to dry out.

It is as wet as I’ve seen it here, the grass is sodden such that everywhere squelches as you walk, and my track up to the goats is almost impassable. In fact I managed to get the Suzuki stuck last week, a virtually unheard of incident. I then almost got the ute stuck trying to rescue it and missed sliding into the seasonal creek by the skin of my teeth. I had to take a rather scenic route to get to the Suzuki in the end and even that was tough. When I’d pulled the Suzuki out (Bronte asked who was driving the Suzuki – no one of course), the bog from which I’d extracted it self-healed, closing up the ruts - it was spooky to watch!

The weekend just gone was somewhat hectic with visitors, muck-spreading and pig-moving. A friend of ours came around on the Saturday morning with her daughter, who is Luke’s age. They played in the same room with different toys, without apparently interacting, for an hour or so, before finally the ice seemed to have been broken and they actually began talking to one another. It’s quite bizarre, particularly since they’ve been friends since they were babies. Then later another set of friends arrived for dinner with their trio of youngsters in tow.

I must say I excelled myself on the food front this time. As Lucy is an excellent cook I felt I had to make more of an effort than usual and I’d planned the meal for a week or more (cooking is not really my forté). We had home-grown and -made chicken liver pate with port and orange, home-grown and -made pork terrine (courtesy of the heroic Jane Grigson), with home-made French bread toasted in the oven; followed by home-made goat burgers (delicious) and potato bake (also delicious) and salad; followed by banoffee pie which I adore. That’s the one where you boil the can of condensed cream in water for 3 hours so that it turns to caramel. Even my pastry base (made with egg yolks) was a triumph. We were so replete afterwards we could barely move! Poor Bronte had to go for a walk late at night and slept part of the night on the sofa with indigestion – serves him right for being such a glutton! However, I was equally bad as I had 3 servings of banoffee pie the following day to finish it up! Yum. After the meal the kids were fired up and ran riotously around the house until it was thankfully time for their beds!

On the Sunday Bronte & Luke went out while I saw to the animals and loaded up 30 or so heavy bags of goat manure onto the ute. Later Bronte drove the ute slowly around the hay paddock while the automatic muck spreader in the back (me) threw the muck out. It didn’t take long but was somewhat exhausting! Now Bronte has to do his bit and harrow the paddock tomorrow before the grass gets too long for it to make any difference. I’m onto my last 2 bales of hay now, so I’m hoping the grass grows fast – I don’t want to have to buy more for the goats. I plan to eke it out by cutting them some extra browse (blackwood and wattle for instance). I’m afraid the goat fence-line for the new paddock has not progressed since the last entry.

Later in the afternoon the buyer came for Vicky the sow (she was able to collect before mid-Sept after all). I’d got Vicky into the trailer on Friday surprisingly easily and I wasn’t about to let her out again. Manoeuvring the trailer into place had been a delicate operation as there were several evil blancmange-like areas I had to avoid. Then I had to set up gates either side to ensure she couldn’t make a bolt for it. Connor made things awkward by getting in too, but I managed to poke him back out. Vicky’s greed was her undoing – once she tasted the food I was able to put up the back ramp and bolt her in. Then the Suzuki managed manfully to pull the trailer back up the hill and I parked her in the tractor shed. Vicky was so cross at being shut in she systematically set about wrecking the trailer over the next 2 days. I’ve since had to carry out repairs on the flooring. I felt bad about her being shut in such a small space, but then remembered with a shock that most pigs live their entire lives in even smaller areas. We really should be ashamed of ourselves.

The following day I moved the 2 small pigs into the run next to Connor so that he wouldn’t be lonely. That was a labour-intensive task as I had to set up a laneway with electric fencing. Luckily once I’d constructed it and baited it with a line of cooked potatoes, they happily – and of their own volition – trotted down it into the new pen and were promptly locked in. The laneway then had to be broken down and tidied away. Once I’m sure they are used to one another I’ll open the gate between the pens and let them all be together.

The interview was for Business Development Manager at the Huon Valley Council. It was a 2-day/ week job and therefore might have been possible for me. It fit squarely into my areas of experience and frankly I could have done the job standing on my head. In fact I could have brought a whole lot more to the role than requested, given my previous jobs. However, I have just heard that I was not selected. Apparently, I scored highly on technical skills, but not so well on planning and organisation or on customer service! What a laugh! I’m possibly the most organised person I know and I plan everything I do meticulously. It’s hard to imagine that the person they’ve chosen could be any better. Not that I want to appear immodest but I do know my strengths (and weaknesses). And customer service is also another strength, goodness all my jobs have been customer-facing and I complain bitterly about the complete lack of customer service generally exhibited here in Tasmania. I wasn’t even asked about customer service at the interview. I can only imagine that these are excuses and that the real reason is that they didn’t think I’d fit in or they didn’t want me for some other reason. Most likely because I stir things up – just this week I had a long letter on forestry issues published in the Huon Valley News, sent in response to the diatribes published the previous week, courtesy of some of our more right-wing politicians.

In my spare time (ho ho) I’ve continued with my marketing consultancy work, which has hotted up a bit recently, carried on with the deluxe 5-star rated double kennel, and crocheting in the evenings when watching a bit of telly. I’m disappointed the kennel isn’t finished yet, but it’s so nearly there. Trouble is the spec has changed with Bronte insisting on a hinged (but still insulated and wind-tight) roof. Sigh. On the crocheting front I am busily fastening together 156 squares to make another big, colourful quilt. It will make my last one look like a pale, dull object in comparison! All my wool comes from oddments found in op shops and also from unpicking hand-knit jumpers. I’m crocheting it together with a lovely vibrant gold colour from just one of these jumpers. My neighbour wants a crocheting masterclass – not sure I’m the right person but will do my best!