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Wednesday 8 February 2012

Fabulous sunset a week or two ago. We sat watching TV in the lounge room  and I suddenly noticed
everything had  gone pink outside. When we looked at the sky it took our breath away!

So much has occurred in the last month I hardly know where to begin. To name a few things: we’ve stored 414 bales of hay, brush-cut a track through the bush for the new goat fence, spread 14 tonnes of gravel, hauled an enormous fish-farm net into place into the farrowing pen, mowed (by hand) a big fire-break around the house and been on many adventures and outings.

The boys have gone now having had three weeks with us. Tracy and Katrijna - the WWOOFERs - have also moved on. We now have a lovely German girl staying with us, but for all too short a time. A couple booked for next week had to cancel but we now have another Northern European girl starting early next week. I need to make the most of WWOOFERs at present, since once it turns cold in a month or two’s time, I shan’t feel able to ask someone to work in the cold and rain (even if someone were willing to brave Tasmania in Winter!).

Getting the hay in was a major achievement. It took all of one afternoon and evening, then as I couldn’t sleep for worrying I started again at 5.30am the following morning. Gradually, the boys joined me and we finally got finished late morning. As a reward we went to Hobart, watched a movie (I don’t recommend Happy Feet 2) and joined Bronte at the Hogs Breath Café for dinner. It was a fearsomely hot day with no relief in the restaurant.

Another marathon effort was spreading a truck-load of rough gravel on the other side of our tractor crossing en route to the goat paddocks. It lays wet there and gets terribly rutted and difficult to negotiate over winter. This time it had left great holes and was a real mess. So I got the truck to roughly dump the gravel over the area and then spent a couple of hours getting it level. What a job – I realised then why the women tennis players grunt when hitting the ball as hard as they can, I was grunting at each shovelful with the sheer effort. I’m pleased with it now – there must be 250mm or more thickness over the wettest part so I’m confident it will last a fair while.

Bronte took the boys (and Luke) for a day of mountain biking on Mount Wellington and Tolosa Park (North Hobart). They had a great time and Luke was very brave and determined on his new bike over the bumpy tracks at Tolosa. They also had a day of making their own boomerangs. The boys spent an age sanding and decorating theirs – they were works of art. Luke made a lovely job of his too. Bronte finished Tracy’s for her and we all signed the back of it – hopefully it is a nice souvenir of her stay here. The boys mowed a cricket wicket between the house and creek and tried manfully to roll it flat with a concrete pipe (they were on a hiding to nothing there - even worse Michael broke his first boomerang on it). Sean made some great stumps and bails - although Rosie chewed up the bails before they could be used!

View from Mountain Bike track on Mt Wellington


Towards the end of the holiday I went with Luke and the boys for a creek adventure. We headed up Crabtree Rivulet, negotiating slippery moss-covered rocks and many fallen trees, before eventually reaching Willies Falls. The Falls weren’t in full flow but still looked very impressive, set in a great gully with smooth sheer rock sloping up on one side. At one point the whole steep bank above us was a scree slope balanced atop a large, half-rotten fallen tree. Michael tempted providence by sitting under it and Luke scrambled across the face of it while I had my heart in my mouth. The boys and Luke set such a great pace going up the creek, that I was quite knackered when we got there. It was clear that Luke was too but wouldn’t admit it. It was only after a couple of mishaps that I made him slow down & stick with me – much to his chagrin.

On another day I took them all to Hastings Caves and Thermal Springs. I let them go up into the caves – which are incredibly impressive - while I waited at the Springs. They all seemed to greatly enjoy the tour and we all went on the local walks and had a swim in the warm pool afterwards. If only it wasn’t such a long drive, I’m sure we’d be tempted to go there more often. On the way back from the Caves we picked up 'Clive' a 4-month old turkey gobbler, who looks like a mini-Darth and hopefully will prove in time to be more prolific than William (he couldn't be worse). We also went round to the 'brethren' - frankly we are not sure what they are, but they appear to be some sort of religious community who live in Glendevie. We've bought goats and a gobbler from them in the past - this time they had no spare turkeys, but we came home with some luscious plums and blueberries from their roadside stall.

The boys and Tracy came and supported Luke at Little Athletics, both in Huonville and at a multi-centre event at The Domain. Mike was able to compete at a local championship as a guest 'under 15'. It made it altogether more fun for us to watch two competitors. It was made more interesting by Mike having only opponent, a certain 'Wes', who is a darling of the centre - Mike really gave him some keen competition, thrashing him in the 800m and the discus.

There have been a few incidents on the farm front. Little Pea, the younger peahen, hatched out 4 peachicks which all promptly died within a few days. No idea why, but they didn’t seem to figure out what to eat, despite us putting out tempting dishes of crumbles and other goodies. The pigs as usual have proven their worth once again by producing another litter of 8 little cuties. This is Blaize’s (formerly ‘Ginger’ or ‘Stripes’ or ‘Mrs Pig’) first litter and she’s been a great Mum, very attentive. It caught us by surprise and I had to rope in the boys to help mend the fence on the other pig pen that I’d mowed down with the Suzuki and goat-float only the previous week. It was too difficult to move Mum & piglets so instead we shepherded Connor into that pen (now mostly covered with fishnet to discourage digging). He’s a little disgruntled but is coping well. Tracy and I caught the piglets a couple of days later and castrated the boys and notched the ears of the girls. As usual there were more boys than girls – 6 out of 8! However, the castration was over very quick and they were fine once back with Mum.


Pig fence repairing

Fishing net spread in pig pen - Connor's new home

One day old piglets
There have been ups and downs with the goats. We sold 4 for a tidy sum early in the year and have only 4 young ones left now, one boy which we plan to eat and 3 does to grow on to enlarge the herd. It was clear that the weaning paddock was unhealthy (the babies kept scouring) so we moved them out of it after 3 weeks and got them into the smallest paddock up the hill and moved the mums too so they were separated by two fences. They all seem to have settled down. There has been a bit of sickness in the main herd too but we seem at last to have got on top of it and they all look in fine fettle now. When we’ve had problems it seems to have struck overnight – one day a goat is healthy and eating, the next it’s either very sick (scouring badly, lagging behind and not eating) or dead. Despite closely re-reading all the goatie health stuff I can find, I still can’t be sure what has been happening. I’m monitoring them very closely and any goat that looks even mildly off-colour is instantly treated for worms and given a large dose of my ‘kill or cure’ goat remedy: a mixture of molasses, olive oil, bicarbonate of soda, rehydration sachets, vitamins and concentrated garlic. It seems to work – providing I get to them quickly enough. The only answer is to get the new paddock finished and to keep them well supplied in the meantime with hay and browse, in addition to their grain and chaff rations. Today we struck lucky, finding that the Council had cut down a load of wattle branches on our road, prior to bringing the grader up. We asked the Council and then collected the lot – 4 huge ute loads. The goats aren’t terribly impressed as wattle isn’t their favourite, but I’ve no doubt it will disappear over the next few days.

The weather hasn’t helped things much recently, being either terribly hot and muggy (great for parasites) or pouring with rain (again great for parasites). Nevertheless it was gradually drying off locally, so we thought it important to completely tidy up around the house and beyond, to minimise our bushfire risk. Bronte has been slashing madly and I’ve been hand-mowing all the awkward bits around the house. Hauling the mower up and down the steep slopes was awfully hard work and just about finished me off. It didn’t help that the grass had got to nearly 2ft in places, having grown so quickly. Plus I was mowing in 30degC and 80% humidity. However, it’s about done now and does look very neat.

I’ve done a heap of brush-cutting too, partly on my new paddock fence-line, which is almost totally cleared now (helped by Bronte & the boys chain-sawing and moving a big fallen tree) and also on and around the veggie patch and some of the slopes which were just too steep for a mower. The veggie patch and its banks were so dreadfully overgrown that brush-cutting was the only option. No doubt the debris will make great mulch to improve the soil for when we finally finish building the veggie cage and plant something!

I’ve finally cracked sausage-making! The goose sausages referred to earlier were pretty awful as expected and were mostly fed to the birds. However, I closely followed a recipe another day from the book which came with the mincer and sausage-filler and – amazingly – the results were absolutely delicious. Just the right texture, moistness and flavour! Can’t wait to try some more now.

Sausage-making with Tracy
Have also tried my hand at making liquid soap, ie handwash, with mixed results. Several of the bars from the last soap batch turned out a bit peculiar, so I decided to have a go at turning them into handwash, having consulted several techniques listed on the internet. We grated ours in the food-processor, then added water at a rate of 4 x the weight of soap, brought it to the boil and simmered for 15 minutes stirring occasionally, then let it cool overnight. It was quite bizarre, like a really thick jelly. I consulted more recipes, added more water, boiled it again, added some salt and loads of rosemary and lavender essence and now it’s sort of usable. Having decanted it into various plunger and squeegie bottles, some seem to be better than others for some reason – for instance some are much too watery. I added more salt to one and shook it vigorously and that seems to have helped. Must do the same with the others. But it does wash ones’ hands quite well and smells lovely! Trouble is it’s a rather gruesome cat-sick colour.

 Kristina and Luke helped me clean all the windows in the entire house, inside and out a couple of days ago. I thought it would be a quick job, but it was a nightmare. For one thing we have an awful lot of windows, for another many are a long way off the ground! I removed all the fly-screens first and then brought the ladder indoors in order to clean the inside of the skylight in the dining room. That was quite terrifying in itself. Then I had to climb up onto the roof and clean the outside of the skylight windows. That was actually considerably less frightening! But then came cleaning the outside of the upstairs windows all around the house. The plan was for me to go up the ladder and scrub them with detergent and for Luke to hose them down afterwards. I’d been told by a window cleaner that this does a perfectly good job. The hitch was that the ladder was awkward and didn’t always reach and also that Luke didn’t believe that hosing was an important job and spent most of his time aiming at the dogs, me and Kristina or jetting the water into the ground. I gave up on some of the highest windows and scrubbed them with the mop from the inside – that was hard work in itself and somewhat precarious. We also had to wipe down all the flyscreens which were dusty and cobwebbed and then re-fit them all. I was quite exhausted at the end – but even though they are not perfect, wow, what a difference it has made!

Murphy Cat and Rosie Dog have been having good fun together recently. When it gets cooler in the evening, Murphy goes out and taunts Rosie from the long grass with his ears flat and eyes like saucers. Rosie comes crawling up excitedly and gets repeatedly whacked until she goes nuts and starts running round and round in circles whereupon Murphy leaps upon her each time she passes. It’s a scream to watch. Trouble is Rosie gets just a bit too rough for Murphy sometimes and I have to step in and rescue him.

We had a bit of bad news a while ago. I rang up the agent to find out the latest news on the land we tried to buy alongside us over Christmas. It seems that far from going to an overseas buyer (as we thought) it now belongs to the daughter and son-in-law of my arch nemesis: Peter Pepper, ex? Forestry Tasmania and now sadly, on the Huon Valley Council. It is he who sent out e-mails with lies and exaggerations about me, terming me a political activist and saying I was in league with extremists. There is no other person that I loathe with such a passion (even the Horrible Hogman)! I still feel bitter about it and get a pang each time I drive past the ‘sold’ signs. We are hoping that the daughter might be a different type of person but I daresay she has been fully briefed (with prejudice) about us, by her father.