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Tuesday 3 July 2012

..Also see loads of photos added to previous post (15 May)

Thursday 28 June 2012

Recent sunrises

I’m writing this on my new swish laptop, whilst enjoying a few moments of rest after a manic day. I had to take Seb, our amiable Toggenburg goat buck to his new owner, chop wood for the house, do some marketing work, cut wood for piggy brews and get them going, take water to the goats, food to some of the poultry, catch 4 roosters and despatch 3 of them. All of this before 2.30pm, when I had to leave to get the bear from school and get him to soccer practice. He is now roaring about the soccer field while I sit in the ute – occasionally I catch a glimpse of his orange-topped socks between the buildings.
The laptop came about after I mentioned to Bronte that I might be ‘more productive’ if I had a laptop, since I could catch up on marketing work, sorting photos, WWPG stuff and blogging in the living areas when he and Luke were home, whereas at present I don’t like to hide away in the office – it seems rather antisocial (plus I don’t like to miss out on anything). To my surprise Bronte thought this was a great idea and produced one for me yesterday. I was overwhelmed!
To return to the busy day; pretty much all days are like this at present – ever since we (well me really) decided to go the UK for a few weeks, later in the year. Getting the animals into an easy-to-maintain format is a real challenge. Neighbours (in fact the ones I do the marketing for) have offered to look after everything whilst we are away – but we clearly can’t expect anyone else to devote the hours I do to the farm.

Farm view showing farrowing pen & small goat pen

So far I’ve made feeders for all the poultry and the rabbits. With poor timing, we’ve acquired two new bunnies: large white does called Alice & Bronwyn. They are too young to breed so can’t go outside with poor lonely Bertie just yet. They are in relative comfort in the brooder cage in the garage with their own feeder (made from PVC fittings and a small nail-tray), plenty of hay, veggie leaves and Rosie to keep an eye on them regularly. Rosie is insanely jealous of the bunnies - every time I coo at them she whinges & gets in my face. The plan is that eventually they will produce eating rabbits for us.

Alice and Bronwyn


Poultry feeder

Rosie 'guarding' the new bunnies

Mostly of the poultry feeders last for over a week, but the birds in the turkey cage eat theirs in only 4 days. Hence I reckon if our neighbours top up the feeders every 4 days that should ensure everyone is happy. Although the birds still don’t have proper coops I’m trying to ensure they are as comfortable as possible by mucking them out, installing new perches and giving each pen a 20l waterer. They are rewarding me by providing us with plenty of eggs, even in this darkest and coldest time of year. There are still 4 roosters to decapitate before we leave and I might move the old peacock pair: Pasha and Narnie, in with the turkeys and the young peacocks. The danger is that Pasha might beat up poor Peregrine (the young peacock), but it will be easier to look after them there and the old peacock pen is looking fairly ramshackle. I’d love to build them a new one, but it won’t happen before we go.

One of the new perches

Sunday 1 July 2012

The hardest animals to sort out have turned out to be the pigs. I should have just got on and made them new pens, but foolishly thought it would take no time to create hard-standing in the corners of both pens. Where the pigs are fed and mooch about, the mud is so awful that it sucks your wellies (gumboots) off if you venture in. I started by tackling the corner pen – collecting large rocks one by one from within the pen itself. This was exhausting since each step was an effort. Then I found a couple of large old rock piles up in the goat pens – the first was a pain, as each time I went in and out the goats tried to follow me. At last I found another pile in an empty paddock. I made so many trips with poor Suzuki laden to the gunnels, but still the rocks kept sinking & the mud kept oozing through.

Hard-standing underway in corner pig pen

Eventually I got to the point where I could start adding gravel. I had 8 tonnes of hardcore delivered, but since the truck couldn’t get anywhere near the pig pen it was dumped on the drive & I’ve now shifted about 6 tonnes of it by hand, shovelling it into the ute & unloading it the other end. I’ve finally topped all this with several inches of FCR (finely crushed rock mixed with cement). I reckon it will work pretty well except I’m worried about the edges crumbling. The pigs have little sharp trotters & weigh over a 100kg each so it won’t take them long to break it down. My latest plan is to split down some large koppers logs (treated pine left over from our deck supports) & bash these in around the edges. Fingers crossed this will work! Trouble is it has taken so long that I still haven’t made any sort of self-feeder for the pigs & time is running out – aargh .There’s also a possibility that Blaize might drop more piglets in about a week’s time.

Hard-standing nearly finished

I’ve come up with a self-feeder design which I hope will work, but no doubt it will need tweaking, just as the birds’ have. I put mesh over the feed trays of the birds’, but they managed to pull these out & then extract all the feed in order to pick out the choicest morsels. The geese managed to do this without moving the mesh. I’ve learnt my lesson & adapted their feed to the things they seem to prefer – mostly this has just involved removing the pellets & sticking with grain: wheat for the geese & mixed grain & crumbles for the others.
The wretched currawongs are hanging around all the time, but even they are a bit circumspect about actually going into huts to pinch food – the pigs’ food is currently all too readily available. Can’t wait until I’ve got the pig feeders working & to hear the cries of consternation from the currawongs (vultures I call them). When I brought a ute load of juicing apples home recently they were having a great time troughing into them while I had lunch. Later I unloaded all the apples & then looked out at the currawongs, who were all gathered on the ute looking at one another & grumbling & crying querulously. Ha-ha!

I set up a possum trap by the little pigs’ food because – despite my ‘possum-proofing’ of that whole area – there would be a fresh pile of possum poo & chewed potatoes there every morning. However, instead of catching possums I’ve caught about 12 wretched currawongs! They are quite a remarkable bird when looked at closely - enormous beaks (of which I’ve been at the receiving end a few times), terrifically long, sharp curved claws and large ringed, orange eyes.

The goats are now in one paddock – the new one I finished not so long ago with plenty of feed, and the old adjoining one so that I can continue to feed in them in the old yard. I got fed up with being knocked over by them when trying to put food out - & building them a new yard was not on the priority list. To get them all into one paddock, meant either agisting Seb or selling him, since I couldn’t let him get at the young does. My first chance of agistment fell through when the potential carers rang to say they were having to sell their own goats as they’d broken into their neighbour’s property & eaten all his garden! The second one was promising but I was concerned again re fencing, the wet ground and the short grass (likely to lead to foot rot and/ or worms). In the end I got a single call in reply to my Gumtree ad & agreed to deliver him the next day. I felt quite awful leaving him as he’s now tethered on the side of a main road (he’s never encountered traffic before) and is quite alone. I’ve told the new owners that I’d be interested in buying him back later in the year, so I hope they take up that option. He tried to follow me when I left him & I had to go back to give the smelly old friendly thing one last big hug.

Young goats


FCR also going down in goat yard (now finished by really needs
an extra four or five loads)

We’ve acquired a new rooster – a Dorking. He’s rather magnificent, white & grey with a long curving black tail. I collected three others at the same time but they all went into the freezer on the same day. We used to live quite close to Dorking in the UK so he reminds me of ‘home’. He’s been christened Donald, not after my step-dad but just because it alliterates.

Talking of the UK, I’ve been reading the Rudyard Kipling ‘Just So’ stories to Luke. We’ve really enjoyed them Best Beloved, so listen and attend … My favourite from when I was young was ‘The Cat that Walked Alone’ so we read that first. I was so pleased because I’d remembered the story before but just couldn’t think where I’d heard it. One of the poems in the book talks of the River Wey, Guildford Town, Shere, Bramley and Shamley – all villages and landmarks we were so familiar with in the 6 years we lived in Surrey before moving out here. The stories also prompted memories of Riki Tiki Tavi – a story of a mongoose. But I finally remembered how sad it was so I’m less keen now to track it down. The brave mongoose is left in charge of his owner’s baby & kills a large snake after a desperate fight. However, the owner returns & seeing Riki Tiki Tavi covered in blood, assumes he has eaten the baby & kills the poor animal. Sob.

I had a terrible couple of days a fortnight ago. It was freezing cold, icy and windy and I was setting up a little yard in the small goats’ pen, in readiness for catching them, doing their hooves, drenching them &, in time, catching them to put them up with the big goats. I made a triangle with a new bit of fence and 2 gates & began driving in a stake at the apex where the 2 gates met. You wouldn’t believe it but the metal stake went straight into the polypipe, just under the surface, that unofficially carries water from the weir at the top of our plot, over our land & down to our neighbour. Water came gushing up under 4 bar pressure (about 56psi) and began flooding the little paddock and the hay-feeding area. I ran into the house, rang the neighbour & then furiously dug a drain to both uncover the leak and take the water away from the paddock & into a nearby sedge area. By the time the neighbour arrived, I was tired, cross and sweating. He’s a bit of a mad scientist type, never stops talking, is always feeling sorry for himself, regularly refers to the ‘man upstairs’, is something of a misogynist and a mechanical genius. I’d got various things ready for repairing the pipe & would have got on with it had he not appeared, but nonetheless I was unable to get a word in edgewise & he treated me as if I was an idiot woman who wouldn’t know a tool if it jumped up & bit her.

Well, I’m afraid I just lost it. All my pent up frustrations, tiredness, anxiety and hurt at some of our other neighbours’ attitudes & people like Hogman etc, just came tumbling out. Once the dam burst I couldn’t stop – I was shaking, crying and yabbering! Poor guy! Anyhow, he coped fairly well & in the end I reckon it did us both a bit of good. He learnt a bit about us that perhaps he’d not realised, and I learnt the reasons for some of the ostracism we’ve experienced at the hands of one of our old-timer neighbours. And the reasons were so perverse and parochial that I’ve stopped worrying about them now. It would appear that because we’ve dared to speak to the local council about things like stray dogs, trees poisoned and left to fall into the creek and so on, we have effectively found ourselves on the other side in an ‘us and them’ situation. It was made clear by the neighbour, that ‘you don’t talk to the council, you don’t talk to the law, you sort things out yourself’. By that he seemed to mean that if you’ve been here a long time, you may flout council regulations, ignore planning permission requirements, dump rubbish on the banks of creeks, let your cows poop in creeks despite downstream offtakes, let your dunnies overflow and put raw sewage on your garden upstream of others, drive while drunk etc.

It really all boiled down to the fact that we’d complained to the council about a stray dog which eventually turned out to belong to a nephew of these particular neighbours, who was living in an old picker’s hut (illegally of course) in a field across the road from our entrance (treating us as fools, the neighbours had said the hut was for ‘storage’). The dog was half-starved, was roaming the neighbourhood, frightening our goats & ripping open our rubbish bags night after night. I nearly said to the waterpipe neighbour, that had we sorted that situation out ourselves, we’d have shot the wretched thing – which would presumably have pleased them even less. The ironic thing is that we got on with the nephew himself OK. He’d done a bit of weeding for us, I towed one of his mates’ cars out of his muddy drive, chatted to him about the WWPG & helped a girlfriend of his who’d lost control of her car & ended up at the bottom of the paddock. Apparently our willingness to discuss the stray dog issue with the council was the main reason we were the last to know when the neighbours put up for sale the land adjoining us. That still rankles the most!!

These attitudes however, are sadly typical of Tasmanian small-mindedness, insularity and parochialism. This way of thinking is mostly rife amongst the old rural fraternity and much less so in townies and incomers. The irony is that despite all the efforts we have made in the name of the environment (eg the WWPG, wildlife rescue and the way we built our house & run our farm), we are also now ostracised by a greenie pair of neighbours who object to us culling some of the thousands of pademelons that live & feed on our land. This helps provide grass for our livestock but also helps maintain the paddy population at a level more likely to cope with prolonged drought conditions and freezing winter weather – periods in which food is scarce. For the first couple of years we were here, we regularly saw sick and dying pademelons, and corpses were common. Now this situation is much better – but there is still a massive population on our land. One only has to come down our drive at night with headlights on to verify that. Luckily there are some ordinary, intelligent, fun and level-headed neighbours with whom we get along famously. We may not agree on everything, but at least we can ‘agree to disagree’ and accept each other’s points of view.

The day after blowing my top, I drove Luke to the bus in the Suzuki as the ute was loaded up with gravel. The bus driver chose that day to leave early & we had to chase it most of the way down the road. The Suzi had been playing up a bit, not always wanting to start the first time. On the way back, it just died and I was left stranded on the side of the road. Luckily the lovely post-lady (whose sons are into Suzukis and 4WDdriving) saw me & towed me home. It was close to one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. She went quite fast, I was so close to her rear bumper and without windscreen wipers I could do nothing about the mud and water all over the glass. With almost no visibility and poor brakes I was pretty helpless. I can’t put into words how relieved I was to arrive safely home. I managed to push the car into position in front of the garage, by putting my back against it, pushing hard with my legs & tucking chocks under the tyres when I couldn’t hold in. I re-charged the battery & checked the things I knew to check but then I was at a loss.

I rang a neighbour who has 4 cars which often have problems & ironically he was down at the neighbour whose water pipe I broke the day before! They both kindly came up & fixed the Suzuki while I unloaded the gravel from the ute into the pig pen. It turned out to be a hidden ‘kill’ switch, presumably fitted by the previous owner, which had corroded or otherwise shorted out. I was immensely grateful & they seemed pleased to have resolved an issue without too many complications. I waved them off with eggs, soap and blackberry jelly & profuse thanks! I was most relieved that there was nothing seriously wrong with the car, upon which I’m so reliant.

This was not the only car trouble in the last few weeks. The tyres on my ute were worn right down so I got some ‘all terrain’ ones fitted locally at vast expense – much to Bronte’s disgust. But to have gone to Hobart would have meant a half or full day away from getting things done here. Turned out the bearings also needed repacking, so that’s also been done and the wheels aligned. This has been a most expensive month – with UK flights, tyres, applying for new UK passports etc. it will only get worse as the cost of putting the dogs and cat into kennels whilst we away is extortionate, plus we have to pay to park the car at the airport. The pets also need vaccinating before they are kennelled – it’s never ending. I’ve begun to get rather anxious about money and have continued to apply for part-time jobs – without getting a single interview. Bronte says my views on forestry are too well-known for me to get a local job, plus he reckons my degree puts people off, invoking reverse-snobbery. I’ll just have to make money myself somehow. I’m going all out at present trying to market my neighbour’s IT business – I’m sure it has huge potential, it’s just an uphill struggle breaking into big corporate markets without a known name and lots of capital behind one.

The weather has turned bitterly cold. We’ve had a number of days when the temperature has not risen above 5degC. At the same time, we’ve had snow on the hills, sleet and horizontal rain at ground level and strong winds. So it’s not been fun working outside. On other occasions, we’ve had bright and crisp days following frosty mornings – but my fingers & toes have still turned blue! I’ve even got chilblains on my toes. Thank goodness for my Ninja gloves and thermal top! Luke’s been most impressed with the frost – we had to stop on the way to the bus one really bracing morning & lob rocks onto the dam. They cracked the ice but didn’t sink – skittering instead across the surface. Luke said it was ‘cool’. I’m sure the trout must be starving but I keep forgetting to try to catch them with my new pulley-line, plus time’s not been on my side.

Frosty morning

The cold weather means we’ve been hoeing into our store of firewood, such that I’ve been chopping wood most days. We are using big lumps of blackwood from the large tree that fell down at our gate and it is almost impossible to split! I ought to have muscles like Arnie. Actually there’s nothing that tires me out quicker than wood-splitting. I have collected some wood from easy to reach places, but it’s awfully wet. I do use it on the piggy brews. I stand the wet lumps on top of the brew so they get all the heat that comes up between the brew and the shroud. Last time, when Luke & I came home after soccer training, the fire at the bottom had gone out, but all the logs on top were on fire.

Bringing all this old wood indoors has led to a plague of ladybirds - not the red and black ones, but a sort of yellow kind with loads of small black spots. They are now hibernating in various nooks & crannies around the house & get crunched underfoot on the wooden floors. We’ve also had a lot of slippery, fidgety skinks, which wake up & shoot around when they come into the warmth of the house.

The diet is still going OK, although I have reached a stage where I am quite fed up with being hungry and have suffered the trembles on several occasions. I’ve had to introduce a bit of carbo into the lunchtime meal – eg avocado or sardines on toast – which has helped hugely. I’ve now lost 8kgs and I’m beginning to think that might be my limit. There’s still another 1 or 2 kgs clinging around the usual areas that I’d like to shift, but not sure I’ve got the willpower to go that extra mile.

Dogs and cat are not happy in this cold, wet weather. Murphy-Cat barely ventures out of the house. He was sniffing at his litter tray recently, so I shoved him outside. He shot off down the deck stairs so I assumed he’d done something when he came back & let him in. He promptly went & peed and pooed in his tray!! I think Rosie traumatises him when he goes outside – she follows him around with her nose up his bum, which must put him off the matter at hand somewhat. Rosie comes in much more than usual and even shaggy-haired Bruce can’t wait to get into the (relative) warmth of the laundry. I reward them with treats when they come in and that has kept them hanging around local to the house. They have a small Aussie rules ball that they each get a hold of and shake and growl at one another. It’s a scream to watch. I keep wishing I could get a video of them doing something silly so we can win $500 from that daft ‘Funny Home Videos’ show.

Luke self-portrait with Rosie (wearing his tie-dyed T-shirt of
which he's very proud - made during vacation care)

Murphy after a typical tough day

We’ve finished’ Breaking Bad’ on DVD and have still to find something that we enjoy half as much. We’ve seen the first episode of ‘West Wing’ and – being the philistines we are – it took several episodes to get into it. There was just too much walking and talking and too little story and action! However, it did grow on us & we looked forward to it at the end. We tried ‘Spooks’ but that was a bit unsatisfactory with its single-episode stories and rather too realistic violence. We are now onto ‘Fringe’, which we are quite enjoying despite the preposterous story, ludicrous science, complete lack of protocol or supervision of the main characters, and horrifically gory things that keep happening to people.

Luke and Bronte have purchased ‘Nerf’ guns. These are large plastic guns that shoot little rubber-sided pellets which nonetheless hurt when they hit. They started by buying one for Luke and then Bronte had to get his own plus heaps of extra ammunition. They now have running fights around the house, generally with me in the middle trying to cook dinner, or Murphy in the crossfire when minding his own business in the lounge. Luke’s been scoring goals at soccer and now considers himself ‘one of the best players on the team’. How nice to have such confidence!

Jet fighter made by Bronte & Luke (well, mostly Bronte actually) from
kit sent by Mum (Nanny Shirley)