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Sunday 8 April 2012

Dolphin mosaic, made by Luke from kit sent from his Nanny Shirley

Contrary to the last general posting 3 weeks ago, a huge amount has happened at home and on the farm front. With so many animals, Luke and the WWOOFers, there is never a dull moment.

Just as Luke and I were about to leave for the school bus one morning, I looked out of the bathroom window and saw Connor, our boar, wandering around under the washing line - a long way from his pen. He looks awfully large out of his normal environment. I had to get Luke to the bus, but as soon as I got back, grabbed a bucket of choice piggy morsels and was able to tempt Connor back towards the pig pens. Each time I took the bucket away from him and ran ahead, he'd catch up & poke me in the bum with his snout - a poke from a 150kg pig nearly bowls you over. There was no question of returning him to his own pen as one side was completely wrecked. So I chucked the food in with Blaize and let him in with her. We can now expect more piglets in about 4 months' time.

It turned out that the electric fence energiser had been switched off. Connor's fence was connected to the bucks'. It may have been off for a week or more. Luckily the bucks hadn't cottoned on and it had taken Connor a while. Perhaps Blaize had come back on heat again and he was determined to get to her. However, his ardour was thwarted owing to her fence operating at 8,000V on a different circuit. I've since fixed his fence up and took the opportunity to renovate the whole pen.

The piglets had been weaned a couple of weeks before with Yona's help. We fed Mum and babies and as they stuck their noses in the trough I grabbed them one by one, stuffed them into sacks, squealing fit to bust, and Yona dragged and carried them around to the weaning pen. They settled down happily in there as it was full of lush grass and cosy huts. They've since dug most of it up. Mum pig was a bit upset for a few days. A week later I advertised them with a cute photo in the classifieds. We had an avalanche of calls and sold the 5 we needed to in 2 days, for $90 each. We've kept 3 for our needs.

Bruce, our 9-year old terrier cross, was a bit unwell for a time. He started limping and then developed sore places on the tops of his front paws. I put him on Murphy the Cat's steroids and we treated him each night with an antibacterial cream (taping socks over his paws so he couldn't lick it off overnight). He's altogether back to his normal self now though there are still a few scabs remaining. We wondered if it might be stress from Rosie being at him all the time - or from Rosie stealing his limelight.

Bruce, sheared and paws well again (oh, and Bronte too)

Rosie is slowly learning to fetch and has calmed down a little. She does have the bad habit of jumping in cars at any opportunity - usually onto someone's lap. The other day I shut her in the ute door as I leant out to slam it without looking. Shortly afterwards she got zapped on the electric fence so felt very sorry for herself during the rest of the day. She collects 'treasures' and assembles them in her favourite places: a bone, a goat's horn, a bit of wallaby skin (not sure where that came from), a special bit of stick, a collapsed football, a rawhide chew.

Yona and Simon have ferried a load of wood from wattles that have blown over down on our rough area, back up to the tractor shed, split what remained to be split and stacked it all neatly. It's not enough for the winter, but will get us a fair way. The first time I took Simon with me to recce a route for them I got horribly stuck in the ute. I looked at a possible crossing place over one of the seasonal creeks, said "yeah, the ute will go through there fine" and then promptly dropped in to a ute-shaped hole between two large rocks. While Simon went to fetch the Suzuki, I did amazingly manage to wiggle out, though it was touch & go! A few days later we took the mud-splattered ute to the 'Relay for Life' car wash at the fire station. They looked a bit horrified but I offered them extra money and we bought their cakes & sausages. Even the fire hose couldn't get the clay stains off.

There is insufficient wood to supply my pig brew needs as well so I've made a couple more trips and pulled great branches out of the brambles and weeds. Some took every ounce of strength to heave out. Luckily Bronte and Luke truned up the second time and helped out (eventually). As I struggled, Luke was yelling "Dad! Help her! Dad!" until eventually Bronte buckled and lent a hand. Much to my surprise, he chainsawed it all up for me when we got back. I still have a wary regard for the chainsaw (even though Bronte now refers to it as the 'little chainsaw' having acquired a bigger one recently). I would still use my old electric one but Bronte and Glen bent the bar and it doesn't cut properly any more.

We've had a bit of a sort out on the hen front. We caught all this year's young ones (barring the four youngest in the peacock run), made a guestimate of whether they were girls or boys and separated them into different pens. So far, we seem to have been largely right, although I think there might be at least one developing rooster in with the girls. A lady who'd bought a couple of 'hens' from us a few weeks back rang to say they were roosters so we went recently and switched them for actual hens. When they were separated it became clear that the roosters were generally more showy than the grils - the girls had much plainer colouring as a rule.

I'll soon need to cull the three eldest girls in the 'big hen' run and also replace the rooster there to keep the fertility and egg rate up. One hen is moulting dreadfully at present and looks a shabby mess. The egg-laying rate has fallen off a little with the shorter days. Nigel, our magnificent Australorp, is getting a little long in the tooth, so we'll either have to make another trip to the monthly Ranelagh livestock sale (always fun) or replace him with one of Henry's offspring from this last batch.

The days are getting shorter but it's still unseasonably mild, with many days being well over 20degC. While I hope the rain slows up a little compared to the last two years, I'd hate for us to move into a really dry period. Several of our lovely autumnal days have been blighted by the yearly round of forestry burn-offs. One day last week was particularly awful. A burn-off to the north of us, over the mountains, blotted out the sun for 2 hours and spread a pall of smoke from horizon to horizon. When I picked up Luke from school, the grounds were bathed in an unearthly amber light and the smoke was thick enough to burn the back of one's throat. I was so appalled - and embarassed in the presence of our new WWOOFERs from Canada and the UK - that I wrote to the paper that night and e-mailed a complaint to the EPA.

My main task over the past weeks has been getting on with the new goat paddock. Before they left, Yona and Simon made great progress building tree protectors for the 14 trees we'd planted that ended up within the new paddock. They include waratahs, banksias, willows and pine, so the goats would have decimated them. We're building triangular edifices nearly 2m high. It's an awful lot of work. For the largest 3 trees, I've cut the lower branches off and encased them in wire netting, to prevent the goats stripping the bark.

Now I'm pleased (and relieved) to say the new paddock is finished and the trees are all protected. When I tested the fence, it worked first time, which saved an awful lot of checking time. Amazingly, the big solar energiser is working OK, running all 4 paddocks up the hill, with barely a drop in voltage from when it was running just 3. I reckon the Gallagher Turbobraid is hugely more efficient (less resistant) than the cheaper stuff I got off the net for the last paddock. Now we need a day to drench the goats, trim their hooves, treat their feet and move them to their various new sites. I angle-ground the bolt off the goat-float jockey-wheel bracket (bent when I ran into the farrowing paddock a while back) and managed to find some threaded rod that fits so the float is operational again. I've worked out that Seb will have 9 girls and Handles 8, so Seb and his coterie will go in the new paddock.

New fence going up the hill

One drawback of working up the hill on the fence and tree protectors, is that I've been attacked by leeches and mozzies proliferating in this mild, humid weather. I don't emerge now unless swathed in Autan, Bushman or other forms of DEET. I'm sick of scratching bites.

I'm not completely certain if Handles will be able to perfom adequately this year. Not only is he getting on a bit, but we also had a health scare with him recently. He seemed to have a job walking and went off his food. Unable to make a diagnosis myself I called in the vet who said it was a neurologial issue and could be caused by lots of things, the most likely being a thiamin (B1) deficiency. He approved of the diet Handles was getting and said it's an odd thing that can crop up on one animal in a herd and never occur again. It can also be due to eating too much bracken, but there is no more than a handful of fronds in Handle's and Seb's field. Anyhow, following a few shots of B1 he seems back this usual self (I wondered if a few bowls of cornflakes would do the same job!). However, Seb now seems boss buck, often trying to mount poor Handles, plus the vet suggested the sperm count might be down for a few months after a health issue, however short. So my plan is to put the herd together again after 3 or 4 weeks so Seb can deal with any does missed by Handles.

Before they left, we took our previous WWOOFERs, Yona and Simon, to Billy Browns Falls and the Hartz Mountains, on sucessive Saturdays. It was a while since we'd been to Billy Browns Falls and - apart from the drive to get there - we really enjoyed it. The walk is through a mossy underworld of tree-ferns in a patch of virgin old-growth forest on the edge of West Wellington. It's relatively demanding but hugely rewarding and the falls themselves are impressive. We met a couple there who'd learnt about the walk via the press release sent by the WWPG to the Mercury and published by its bush correspondent. That was greatly cheering - we are making some difference!

En route to Billy Browns Falls

En route to Billy Browns Falls

Billy Browns Falls

Yona, Simon and Rosie at Billy Browns Falls

Billy Browns Falls brochure produced by the WWPG

It was just Luke and I that took them to the Hartz Mountains and we did the walk to Lake Esperance for the first time. We all really enjoyed the weird, eerie atmosphere up there. It was quite invigorating - blowy and mist-swept, such that we couldn't actually see much of the lake. En route we stopped at some of the sights on the Arve Road including a couple of short walks and the Big Tree.

Yona, Simon & Luke at Waratah lookout

View from Waratah lookout

Arve Falls

Me (by Luke) on the Arve Falls walk

We're currently without meat and have been for the last two or three weeks. We're managing surprisingly well really and don't seem to have missed it much. Nonetheless, I keep eyeing up the animals to see which is big enough for eating! Once the goats are moved I shall need to have a slaughtering session - much as I baulk at the thought. Jasper the wether goat, one of the piglets, the three young ganders and a couple of roosters all have their cards marked.

Luke is doing well and is currently at home for Easter driving us nuts. Bronte is also at home which is why I finally have the time and energy to update the blog. A couple of weekends ago, we got up at the crack of dawn on the coldest day of the year so far, to sit through a three and a half hour handicap race and Little Athletics presentation day. Needless to say, it seemed endless. My feet turned to blocks of ice, but at least it was enlivened by Luke getting a gold medal for winning the under 7's championship, 3 certificates for breaking centre records (in discus and vortex) and another showing his highest achievements in each event for the year.

We thought it would be good to get him into a a winter sport and I dragged him off to soccer practice last Thursday much to his annoyance. He complained and whinged and refused to get out of the car. However, once there with a couple of his mates, he was as happy as Larry and said he'd like to go every week! I felt sure he would enjoy it. Sometimes we have to make him do something new otherwise he'd miss out on so many enjoyable experiences.

Bronte (er sorry, I mean the Easter bunny), hid eggs for Luke around the house and land with clues attached to each leading him to the next one. He tore round the house first thing and found all the indoor ones, then could barely contain his impatience until we were all ready to go and find the outdoor ones. We were all puffing and panting by the time we got back from trying to keep up with Luke. Bronte got up at 4.30am this morning to put all the outdoor ones in place! Luke was thrilled with it all of course. We couldn't top last year's egg hunt extravaganza but it was a great effort and loads of fun. Our two new WWOOFERs - Amber and Fiona - have made hot cross buns and some great gingerbread bunnies. We are now awash with chocolate, cookies and the remains of a banoffee pie I made a day or two ago. It's a good job we're active otherwise we'd all be the size of a house.

Evil alien Easter bunnies!