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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.

Thursday 6 October 2011

I can’t write this in the evenings as normal because I hired the box set of the first season of ‘24’ from the DVD shop & Bronte’s become obsessed such that we have to watch three episodes every night! If I miss one the rest won’t make sense. To salve my conscience I am gradually making inroads on the huge mending pile although it’s not doing my eyes much good. Several of Luke’s trousers have now been neatly patched and lengthened. After two beautiful days of sunshine and breezes, it is drizzling again today, so I’ve taken the opportunity to catch up.

Luke and I have started training for the Point to Pinnacle race in November! Bronte has been training for it (sporadically and not very enthusiastically) since earlier in the year, but owing to repeated muscle strains (he refuses to warm up before training believing he is still 30), he’s decided to enter as a walker rather than a runner. The race is 21km from the Hobart foreshore to the top of Mount Wellington at around 1200m altitude. So I’ve said we’ll walk with him but not hold him up if he wants to go faster. We’d become rather slack about walking to the school bus, but now we are marching there with renewed purpose through rain or shine. I’m not sure if there is a minimum age which precludes Luke and we’ll have to see how he copes with a dry run up the Sleeping Beauty track from Mountain River.

We got in a bit of practice by walking to Snug Falls the other week. We’d never been there before and were surprised to find it such a popular spot. It’s a fairly short, easy walk and at the falls themselves there are many flat rocks and pleasant spots to picnic, which is exactly what several families had determined to do. Unfortunately we were frog-marched back up the track at tremendous pace by Bronte because we’d somehow mislaid Bruce the dog on the way! I’d cut his hair with scissors the day before and was a bit ashamed to be seen with him he looked so peculiar – plus he often wanders off for ages & then catches up on our walks. On this occasion however, he’d obviously become rather confused and followed a different family back to the cars & then some way back down the road, before following a ute back up & finally meeting up with us again at the start of the track. Poor Bruce, he was so tired and so relieved to get in the car with us again. He had a large drink of water and collapsed. Rosie rode tied up in the back of the ute because I couldn’t face her throwing up on the back seat again. It seemed to suit her as she wasn’t sick this time.

On the way back we saw a Wedge-Tailed Eagle feeding on roadkill right at the side of the road – what a magnificent sight. Talking of wildlife, one of the WWPG members has just sent me footage of a healthy Tasmanian Devil feeding in one of the forestry coupes above us in Mount Wellington. It was such a wonderful thing to see and so sad to think that Forestry Tasmania is still clearfelling on the far side of West Wellington, within the 430,000Ha assigned in the recent Intergovernmental Agreement on forestry for ‘immediate protection’. I had a letter published again in the local paper The Mercury, highlighting this fact and noting that the demands of Ta Ann (Malaysian veneer factory in the Huon Valley) were driving the destruction of coupes from which over 70% of the timber will go for woodchips for which there is a declining market and no profit. 7% or less of the West Wellington coupes are suitable for sawlogs and around 20-25% can go for veneer. Given that the government ploughed millions of dollars into the set-up of Ta Ann and that so little has been given back in return, it seems a pretty poor deal. Ta Ann employs around 100 or so people but that is the only benefit it brings – and some of these people are brought in from Malaysia.

Along with a lady from ET and another from a campaign group on Bruny Island, I had the chance to highlight what was happening to the Federal Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, on Monday at a Community Cabinet event in Kingston. We were given around 15 minutes to present our case – we thanked them for their commitment to achieving a forestry deal and maximising conservation outcomes, explained why the nominated areas should be protected, showed evidence that Forestry Tasmania was still logging within the 430,000Ha and explained how plans were being developed to enable these areas to pay for themselves, if given appropriate backing. He was polite, reasonable and clearly exasperated with the State Government and with Forestry Tasmania’s intransigence. However, he gave the impression of being focused on the bigger picture – the end game in Mar-May next year when legislation is brought in to ensure wood supply and protect more forest. We may have to lie in front of the bulldozers yet!

On the environmental front, I’ve been harassed of late by the man who borrowed Connor and the trailer – we now call him ‘The Horrible Hogman’! He recognised my name from the public meeting I presented at earlier this year and saw from my blog that I was a part-time campaigner for the WWPG. He began sending e-mails with his point of view which is clearly pro-logging in its current form and had a couple of letters published in The Mercury which were somewhat extreme in nature. He thinks anyone present when an activist is arrested, should also be arrested and locked up and even those who have given money to a campaigning organisation should be guilty if one of that group’s members later commits a crime. While I understand the frustration felt by workers when their work is interrupted by protesters, there is sometimes a need for such action to bring attention to practices that ought to change. Even in a democracy we need these people to highlight injustices.

Anyhow I wrote back and tried to draw a line under the debate by saying we would have to agree to disagree on forestry issues. I remained polite and tried to keep the conversation light. However, his e-mails became more vindictive and personal, finally accusing me of telling ‘outright lies’. I lost patience at this point and asked him not to write any more to me and only to contact me again when my piglets were ready. This clearly incensed him because he then tried to send something to The Mercury via their website in my name and also sent a vindictive paragraph about me to the same paper. I contacted their very nice letters editor who kindly said he would not be printing either of these letters and advised me to go to the police. Hogman’s contention was that since I live in a timber home, use firewood and live on cleared land, I must be a hypocrite. What he fails to comprehend, despite me pointing this out on several occasions, is that I am not anti-forestry, just anti-clearfelling and the current forestry model as employed in Tasmania. It is too high-intensity and the economics don’t stack up. The cost to the environment is far too great when weighed against the meagre financial benefit. Plus the fixation on forestry means we do not invest in alternative and more sustainable enterprises that could better secure our economic future.

What else has happened over the last couple of weeks? I managed to castrate, vaccinate and treat the feet of all the goat babies. I penned them in a small section of the yard then contrived a velcro device to hold their little wrists so they were suspended over the front of a chair – so it was much the same as if someone were holding them for me. They were very indignant at such treatment and I always feel rotten putting the bands over their balls! Most were fine but little Tolly obviously felt the pinch afterwards and went and snuggled up with mum baaing pitifully. I’ve also finally got around to making a couple of mineral shelters – I just roofed a couple of the little tip shop desks we’d acquired a while back and painted them the same colour as the huts. All the babies have gone mad for the salt and mineral licks. Our soils are low in some minerals such as selenium and iodine so hopefully this will address any deficiencies.

Still not a lot of luck on the egg front. I candled a further 21 turkey eggs yesterday and all were infertile. I also broke open the three geese eggs in the incubator to find dead partially formed embryos inside. All a bit grisly. I still have about 30 or so turkey eggs in the incubator but don’t hold out any hope. The turkeys all seem to have stopped laying now for the time being and I worked out they’d averaged 13.6 eggs each! Just a bit under the 15 that I estimated as being the normal batch number. The challenge now is to stop them going broody so they’ll start laying again soon. I spent some time on the internet trying to work out what was going wrong and I’m wondering if William the gobbler is just not quite old enough. He looks mature and seems vigorous and protective but perhaps he’s not quite up to tackling the girls yet. I could try and source another gobbler or I could bear with him and see if he comes good and in the meantime concentrate on chickens. I’m still undecided. I managed to retrieve the unhatched goose eggs from Darcy Bussell’s nest and they smelt absolutely rank. Bronte said they couldn’t possibly smell as bad as dead pademelons (when I went to a carers’ training day at Bonorong they called them ‘stinkies’) but it was tenfold worse.

I made my second batch of sausages last week. Again I had to hand-stuff them - they looked and smelt a treat, but were still not quite right. Bronte says they are too crumbly so perhaps there is not enough fat in the sausagemeat I made. Luke loves them so at least I have one fan.

Luke’s gone jigsaw puzzle mad recently. We hadn’t done any for an age and I casually suggested a few weeks back that we do a puzzle and since then, he hasn’t looked back. He’s just finished another 500 piece one that was clearly too easy for him so we’ve scaled up to a 900 piece fiendish looking affair with a picture as complex as one of the Where’s Wally scenes. That might slow him up a bit. It’s his birthday next Wednesday so I suppose we have to go through the agonies of a party the following weekend.

It’s actually my birthday first on Sunday (45 – gulp) so I’m looking forward to some treats and pampering from Bronte & Luke (fat chance). I did get a little surprise through the post recently however – one of our WWOOFERs who had stayed with us for ten weeks, had remembered I missed not being able to buy Baked Beans with Sausages and had kindly sent me three tins (the parcel had been opened by Australian Quarantine)! It’s been a great treat eating them for my lunch. I have written a few references for her recently, so hopefully they have paid off.

Rosie has been in a bit of trouble over the kennel – in which I still feel a swelling of satisfaction when I come up to the laundry door – for chewing off all the sheepskin I put over the front to keep the wind off, starting to chew the wood and pulling out the loose bedding. I’ve give up and taken all the sheepskin off – they’ll just have to be draughty – put cayenne pepper on all the corners of wood she was chewing and confiscated the loose bedding. I pulled the rest out and secured it as best I could before stuffing it back in. Since then there have been no further incidences.

I’m starting to feel a trifle overwhelmed with spring so far advanced, Christmas coming soon and so many jobs needing doing. I need to put fishing line over the turkey run, partition off the main chicken run and build some coupes, finish clearing the fencing line for a new goat fence and and – well the list goes on ad infinitum. I’ve been a bit low in energy probably owing to stress from the Hogman incidents and the Community Cabinet preparation etc and am struggling to get motivated.

I’m always hamstrung when typing, by Murphy Cat. For some reason he has to be on my lap or somewhere inconvenient around or on the keyboard when I’m in the office. He likes the warmth from the anglepoise lamp and hates being in the lounge on his own. He’s got a new lease of life with his steroids and nutrigel and has mad fits of skidding around the house and wanting people to chase him. I keep telling him to go outside where Rosie will chase him as much as he wants ..

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Wow, it’s been an age again since I’ve sat down and updated this page. I’m sitting here looking out of the large corner window in the office: the sun is shining (for a pleasant change), the currawongs are chuntering to each other in the swamp gums, Handles and Seb are lying down communing, the pear tree is shedding blossom like snow, the swallows are swooping low over the ground (and clanging about on the roof) and I can see the birds scratching happily in their pens. The four new goslings have been taken for a walk by mum & dad – who are fiercely protective. I tried to retrieve the unhatched eggs but the adults became so upset I decided to leave them. Arthur ran at me & looked as if he might leap up and attack.

Pear tree and little crab apple before they started shedding blossom

I’ve just taken three of the four new-born chicks out to the brooder in the garage – of the 14 hens’ eggs in the small incubator, 10 proved to be infertile when I candled them. I don’t know what Nigel the Australorp rooster is playing at. Even his girlfriend Nigella’s eggs (also an Australorp) were infertile, whereas last season they were always reliable. I am having even less success with the turkey eggs. I’ve got 44 eggs in the big borrowed incubator now & when I candled the first 16 all were infertile! William, who is so fearsome when one goes into the run (particularly to Luke) is clearly not doing his job. I’ve racked my brains to think of other problems but don’t think I’ve been doing anything particularly wrong – I’ve collected the eggs promptly, minimised handling and kept them in a clean, cool area. At least the dud eggs are not wasted, I either feed them back to the birds, or give them to the pigs and dogs.

Now the turkeys are all going broody and it requires constant vigilance to break them out of this state. Turkeys are not like hens, they will not lay eggs constantly. They lay a batch of say 15 and then sit on them – or sit on the empty nest if you’ve removed the eggs, they don’t appear to differentiate. And they’ll sit for weeks on end, while all this time of course they are not laying eggs. So my latest tactic is to hurl any broody ones over the fence into a barren pen (currently recovering from the ravages of the piglets) and leaving them there for a few days. One that I returned seems not to have gone back to being broody. Whatever I do, they will not lay another batch of eggs for some time. The season for turkeys is short too, from around September to April – sometimes continuing for a further month or two for a good turkey in fine weather. So I am keeping my fingers crossed for the remainder of the eggs (I replaced the 16 I candled, but am running out of ones in store).

In contrast to the turkey eggs we are utterly awash with hens eggs. I have been trying a variety of egg recipes such as orange curd with pancakes (pretty scrummy but you can’t eat much at a time), Spanish omelette etc. However, I’ve still ended up feeding a dozen now and again back to the birds or other animals or simply giving them away. Luke and I have been relentlessly eating them for breakfast, but we can’t keep up. If the turkey eggs in the incubator are a dead loss, then I’ll fill it with hens’ eggs – at least I know some will be fertile.