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Friday 9 December 2011

Wow, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do – I’ve been itching to get writing for a week or more but the rigours of season four (4 of 8 – eek!) of ‘24’, Bronte not going out chopping bracken after Luke’s gone to bed and general knackeredness have conspired against me. I have at last got to the bottom of the mending pile however – yippee! Just two more skirts to take in and that’s a complete overflowing bin-bag sorted. I shall be so pleased to finish and be able to start crocheting again. Most of the mending was Luke’s of course – he ruins clothes so quickly. We had to get him a new pair of school boots as a matter of urgency after he returned home from school with his feet hanging out of the front of his shoes! Bronte sent him off to school the next day (it was his fortnightly day off) in the same shoes & I had to tear off after the bus with a pair of trainers so he’d be comfortable and not look like a deprived orphan.

The sewing and mending chores are not helped by Luke regularly winning more badges at Little Athletics that then have to be sewn onto his top. Last week he broke the Huonville Centre under 7’s discus record (by quite some distance). I’ve told him that for each record he breaks henceforth he can have an extra 45 minutes computer time. He loves to get on the computer to play Cyclomaniacs & we currently restrict his access to an hour each Sunday, so it’s a great incentive for him. He’s only 15cm off the long jump record and has beaten the shot put record at home on several occasions – he just needs to repeat the performance at Little Athletics instead of being so nonchalant in front of his chums that he swaggers up and makes a hash of it!

The countdown to Christmas has started with Luke terribly excited re his advent calendars. Mum sent him a traditional one that we’ve stuck on a sliding door so that the light shines through the gauzy pictures when the windows are opened. I also bought him a chocolate one for a bit of fun. Each morning around 6am, I hear him thundering upstairs to open the advent calendars and switch on the Christmas lights. The house is swathed in lights such that it looks like Santa’s grotto at night and the little Christmas tree is drooping under its weight of decorations.

I’ve been unusually organised and have bought Luke’s and Bronte’s Christmas presents & Bronte’s birthday presents off eBay (can’t tell you what they are yet of course ..). I’ve also started to muse on food for Christmas – I plan to have everything home-made this year: mince pies, brandy butter, a baby Christmas pud and a Yule log (rich choccy cake rolled up & covered in chocolate icing to resemble a log). We’ve decided to sacrifice the most white of the geese for dinner (she’s not proven to be much of a Mum either) and I’m thinking of going all Heston Blumenthal and stuffing it with a young chicken itself stuffed with home-made sausagemeat. This last hopefully will be made easier by a new purchase – a little electric mincer and sausage-filler, only $25 off Gumtree. I’ve not had a chance to get going with it yet, but I do have two very large chunks of pig in the freezer to be de-boned and minced sometime soon. Unusually there will just be us three for Christmas dinner. Bronte was going to visit his Dad in Adelaide for a few days between Christmas and New Year but the air-fares are around 3 times the normal rates.

Stumpy the pig went to the abbatoir a couple of weeks back and after collecting the meat I spent an evening putting two sides of bacon and a whole ham on to dry-cure in the fridge and portioning up the rest of the meat. I sold the other ham and a few other roasts and cutlets. I’ve been pleased with the way the new abbatoir owners have performed – so much more professional than the previous owners and not actually that much more costly. They hung the meat for longer too so it should be even tastier. Today I smoked the ham and bacon – smoking myself too in the process – and the ham has just finished cooking in the oven. The bacon has been sliced up (laboriously by hand) and the whole house is infused with that mouthwatering odour of smoke and pork. I do the smoking in a 44 gallon drum over charcoal and soaked pearwood chips (from our ancient tree). Can’t wait to taste the results!

Another by-product of the pigs is fat, which we render into lard and use to make soap. Rendering the fat is a fairly horrible task, but luckily when our soap stores starting getting low, I already had a load of rendered fat in the freezer, so was able to quite quickly knock up a batch of soap. It’s the preparation and clearing up afterwards which takes the time, rather than the soap-making itself. Because lye (sodium hydroxide – added in small quantities to the lard to make the soap) is so alkaline, all worktops and surfaces local to the mixing process, have to be thoroughly protected with newspaper. Plus, I always wear goggles, a fume mask and rubber gloves because the fumes from the lye are pretty toxic.

This batch has not been an unmitigated success. I decided on honey and oatmeal, but failed I think, to thoroughly mix in the honey. All additives have to be added at the last minute so it’s always a bit of a race against time. I would perhaps have had better results if the honey had been dissolved in hot water first. While it’s definitely soap, it looks a bit odd and some of the bars have soft bits of not fully integrated honey! Also, it smells of lard! Well, there are 2 more weeks to go before it is fully cured, so perhaps it will improve in that time (or perhaps not).

It’s been a most depressing time on the goat front. I’ve had 2 grown goats die, which is completely unprecedented. I’m pretty sure of the reason for both deaths, but feel a failure for not having prevented them. Polly was a middle-to-old-aged goat, robust and a great mother - producing and raising 2 big kids each year. This year was no different, except that she seemed a bit slow of late and I twice had to treat her for bloat – with olive oil and bicarbonate of soda. She preferred to eat the fresh new grass coming up and was less keen on the chaff, grain and hay I provided. I had stopped giving hay but the incidents of bloat persuaded me it was necessary. Nevertheless early one morning I spotted her prostrate on the ground and when Luke and I went up in the Suzuki before school she’d been dead a few hours, despite having appeared to be perfectly well the day before. I’m quite sure it was bloat – this happens when a goat eats a lot of lush grass with insufficient roughage such that it ferments in the stomach and can’t be digested quickly enough. Her left side was distended and as taut as a drum and when I opened her up, she was totally full of fresh grass. I realise now I should have moved them earlier into another paddock where the grass was longer and coarser but I’d been keen to rest these for a longish period to reduce the parasite load after 18 months of mild, wet weather.

Collecting browse for the goats - a wattle tree that had blown over

I moved the whole herd - barring the bucks - into a new paddock a couple of days ago, but it was all a bit of a rush as I was doing it with Luke and needed to get back to get dinner ready. In so doing, I neglected to notice that Pascal, our oldest and one of friendliest does, wasn’t present. The following day I was struggling with the mower, trying to clear the grass from under the electric fence, when I noticed her in a hut in the old paddock. She’d clearly been dead for a day or more. Once again, she’d been well only a couple of days previously, but also a bit slow. However, she’d shown no sign of bloat or scouring or any other visible signs of illness. She’d eaten well and come up for her usual scratch. She’d suffered from scouring before dying, but it must have all happened awfully fast. I’m wondering if it wasn’t just old age since when I examined her mouth, she only had one tooth left at the front and the molars at the back were very worn.

I was pretty upset about the poor old thing and have been extra vigilant since. However, the remaining herd seems sleek and fit and full of life. I’m worming them regularly, giving them a variety of food and shelter and ensuring their vaccinations are kept up to date. I’m really not sure what else I can do. The only ongoing issue is occasional foot problems owing to the constantly wet conditions, but I just keep treating any limping ones and they quickly improve. I’ve made little progress with clearing the fenceline for the new paddock, although I reckon there is only another 50m or so to go (through thick bush on a steep slope). However, the 300m or so I’ve already cleared is already getting overgrown with bracken again!

My calculations say we’ve now got 46 chicks but I’ve not managed to count them to verify this figure. Apart from the four largest, which are out in the covered peacock run, they are seething and squawking in the garage under a heat lamp and electric bulb. Already the eldest of these are playing up & escape at any opportunity. If it stays warm I may put them outside a bit earlier than the usual 8 weeks. It’s been a pretty good success rate, with only two deaths so far, following a particularly cold night when I think the smallest got shoved to the outside of the pack. Now I molly-coddle them a bit more, putting an extra lamp on for colder nights. I haven’t quite thought where all these chickens are going to go when older. The roosters will eventually go into our tummies, but they will still need to be kept for 6 months or so.

Murphy 'guarding' the chicks

The turkey eggs have continued to be infertile, but I’ve got my own back on William the gobbler, by promising him to someone for Christmas dinner (that’ll show him). The only trouble is I now have to source another gobbler. I’ve put a ‘wanted’ ad on Gumtree but have had no response so far. In the meantime two daft turkey girls have gone broody again, sitting relentlessly on empty nests. In response, I’ve built a turkey ‘anti-broody cage’. It’s got an apple bin as a frame, is covered in chicken wire and mounted on Koppers’ logs legs. The idea is that that because the hens can’t build a comfy nest in it, they hopefully will stop being broody after a week or so. While it’s perhaps not the nicest thing to do, it seems to me that a short while in there is preferable to weeks on end sitting on an empty nest or infertile eggs.

Beryl Bunny was starting to go stir-crazy in her cage in the garage so I moved it into the main chicken run with Bertie bunny, thinking she’d settle down there and make little bunnies. However, since I opened the cage door I’ve not set eyes on her. Whether she’s still in there I can’t say – the grass is long and there are plenty of shrubs, but she might equally have just burrowed out.

Inscrutable Bertie

I’ve sold a few goats already this year. I’d determined to hang onto them until they were weaned in January (when 5 months old), but there have been so many enquiries that I relented where I knew they would be going to good homes. A couple of Bronte’s colleagues want four more and a friend wants another. At this rate, I shall have to fight to hang onto the handful of girls I want to keep for breeding. I’ve sold the youngest male peacock and the older brother is going tomorrow. Pasha, the Dad, is looking quite magnificent and displays regularly now. Unfortunately every time I have the camera he gets shy so I’ve failed to catch him in full regalia. Narnie, the eldest female, has begun sitting on eggs so we’ve high hopes of a batch of babies in the New Year. I’ve also sold quite a few dozen eggs (hens’ - not peacocks’), as for a time we were getting around ten eggs a day plus turkey eggs.

What else has happened? Murphy the Cat appeared one day with a large hole alongside his bottom. Goodness how it occurred. It didn’t seem to bother him or slow him down, but looked pretty nasty. I washed it out with chlorohexadine, dabbed it with betadine for good measure and finished off with antiseptic zinc barrier cream (which I use for virtually all animal skin ailments and wounds). It’s pretty much healed up now thank goodness.

Bronte managed to shut poor Rosie Dog in the garage overnight on one occasion and she was beside herself when let out by Luke and me in the morning. The next day she got zapped by the electric fence and ran howling all the way back to the house, thoroughly traumatised. I traumatised her further a few days later when she once again wrecked both hers and Bruce’s bedding inside the new kennel. I was furious. It’s such an effort hauling the bedding out, picking up the shredded foam and sewing everything back together. Fingers crossed, she’s not done it since.

Bruce content in new(ish) kennel

I saw a strange creature up on the hill in the main goat paddock a week or so ago. I still can’t be sure what it was. It was brown and the size and general shape of a wombat. It didn’t have the characteristic gait of a devil or wallaby, nor the long tail of a spotted-tail quoll. I’m quite sure it wasn’t a dog and it seemed altogether the wrong shape for a cat. It may actually have been a wombat I suppose, although it moved quite quickly – perhaps they do have a turn of speed when roused! I was alerted to it by the entire herd of goats suddenly all looking in the same direction and starting to move towards a particular spot. Clearly they weren’t frightened, but the mysterious creature was spooked into running away.
It continues to be very wet and in fact got quite cold again for a few days, with snow falling on Mount Wellington. After a hot humid morning today, thunderstorms rumbled around the mountains and we were suddenly struck by a terrific thunder-shower with hail. 10.5cm fell in 5 minutes – washing large rivulets into the drive and causing torrents of water to flow down our steep road.

There has been a bit of action on the WWPG front. On 21 November, we put up a stand at an information session on the Intergovernmental Agreement on Forestry – at which there were state and federal government representatives involved in progressing the IGA. I sat up until 1pm the night before writing and laying out a ‘West Wellington Reserve Proposal’ – building on the previous High Conservation Values Report I’d produced. It also includes tourism ideas and proposals for how tourism income might be forthcoming. The intention is that it can be included as part of a wider regional development plan for the Huon Valley. Feedback on our stand was very good. Earlier this week, we met with a member of the Independent Verification Group – a group of ten people appointed under the auspices of the IGA to determine the final boundaries of protected forest. This was a positive meeting, but our hearts sank when we learnt we may have to attend workshops in the New Year to get across the ‘social values’ of West Wellington (ie as an amenity, aesthetic part of our landscape, water catchment, recreation and tourism hub etc). It feels like the process never ends.

I’ve been busier than usual on the marketing front, helping my neighbour progress his ideas for weather prediction and analysis tools for the insurance sector. It’s bad for the farm, but better for the bank balance.

We’ve been out and about a few times, notably last weekend to the 200th anniversary of the Anglesea Barracks in Hobart. The highlight was a display by Australia’s answer to the ‘Red Arrows’ – most exciting. Luke was enthtralled.

I was recently allowed to cut Bronte’s hair for the first time – and I think I did a darn good job! Not sure he’s quite so enamoured.

Luke and I found a massive moth – bigger than his hand – when out one day. We brought it home, photographed it – being careful not to smudge its wings - then released it into the warmth outside.

I’ve been advertising for a WWOOFER to help out on the farm, but have been singularly unsuccessful so far, not sure why. Perhaps fewer people are traveling while times are hard worldwide.