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Saturday 22 September 2012

I’ve actually got some weekend time to myself – animals fed, leftovers in the fridge for Bronte & Luke to help themselves to and no other immediate pressing jobs. Bronte & Luke have gone up the hill to hit golf balls while I’ve squirrelled up in front of the fire with a cup of tea and the laptop. Talking of pressing jobs, I badly need to vacuum and dust the whole house but it hasn’t quite got to the state where I can stand it no more. This probably makes me sound like a lousy housekeeper & I guess I am according to some peoples’ standards, but I keep things tidy and clean the muckiest areas such as the laundry floor, kitchen benchtops, loos etc.

This is possibly going to be an even longer post than my usual sagas, but then there is an awful lot of catching up to do. We were away in the UK for pretty much the whole of August – we had 4 fabulous weeks of sunshine, family and visiting the sights. Before leaving, it was non-stop preparation on the farm so as to leave it in a state suitable for a neighbour to mind. Since returning, the goats have been kidding and there has been much catching up on maintenance jobs. Also, Luke has been at home for 2 weeks on school holidays.

July 2012

I finished farm preparations almost to my satisfaction before we left. Pig self-feeders were constructed, poultry self-feeders, perches and new bedding installed in all bird and bunny huts, feed bins were distributed next to pens and filled, goat food was bagged and labelled in the garage and lastly, 50+ bales of hay were moved out of the shipping container into the tractor shed, where they are more readily accessible. This last was finished in the dark the night before we left for the UK. I can’t recall having worked so hard before!

I was fairly chuffed with my feeders. The one for George and Connor was built above an immensely heavy and sturdy concrete trough. It took days and entailed stringing several long extension leads together to operate angle-grinder and drill. Everything built for pigs has to hugely strong so I went to town with the fasteners, using bolts and coach screws where possible. There are two lids on the pig side which they can lift with their snouts and one big lid on the other side so the trough can be filled without entering the pen. I have to say that it wasn’t a resounding success at first as neither pig seemed to be able to figure it out (even when I propped lids open for several days) and instead used it as a scratching and biting opportunity.

It became apparent that the disparity in height between Connor and George (George being about half Connor’s height) was going to be a problem. Connor couldn’t get under the lids without either crouching (can pigs crouch) or breaking the lid off! George was OK but a bit lacking in strength, courage and brains. In the end I locked them both in the neighbouring pen and dug up the cladded pallet which served as their standing area and lowered it by several inches. I decided George would just have to cope and it was more important that Connor didn’t wreck the feeder. The pallet was horrendously wet and heavy and was being sucked down by the mud. In the end I managed to lever it up with spade and large crowbar. Getting it back into position was even more trying. Needless to say I was covered in smelly mud when finished.

I did manage to put the koppers log idea into practice, loading several of the unwieldy things into the Suzuki, cutting them into lengths with the circular saw and managing to split these lengths with the log-splitter. Hammering them into place around the edge of the hard-standing was another issue altogether and resulted in a shoulder which is still painful two months’ later.

Blaize – showing that female pigs are clearly more intelligent than their male counterparts – very quickly got the hang of hers which was made in one day the week before we left. I had previously moved her into the small bucks’ paddock which was dry and clean and would make an ideal environment for her to have her piglets. I spent a day renovating and strengthening a hut I’d been given and installed it facing away from the weather and filled it with hay.

Getting back to the self-feeder, I’d had the idea of using a 44 gallon drum on its side into which I cut 2 rectangular holes – one for the pigs to use and one to fill the drum from. The cut-out pieces were hinged onto the drum which I reinforced with a length of wood along the top. I put sanded lengths of wood along the leading edge of each lid such that neither pig nor feeder would get scratched by sharp metal edges, trimmed off all pointy ends of zip fasteners etc and waterproofed it around the lid edges with strips of pond liner left over from making the goat foot bath. It was simple to install as I just fastened it to a star picket either end. I propped it open for a few days after which Blaize had little difficulty. During this time, she also popped out 10 healthy, squealy little pigglies - two stripies, eight black.

The goat foot bath was constructed at high speed and considerable expense. Basically it’s a 2 x 1m fenced entrance to their yard, so that they must come through it to eat. Digging it out initially was a major task as one end was much higher than the yard end. I then lined it with soft sand, installed a large section of pond liner and covered this with rubber matting to stop the goats’ sharp little hooves going through the liner. I then filled the whole thing with sand, 20kg of zinc sulphate and soaked it with water. It was immediately apparent that I hadn’t got my levels right and the yard end was too low. It was much too late to do anything about it however and I hoped it would nonetheless do its job.

During this period we managed to keep up the usual activities, such as soccer practice on Thursdays after school, soccer matches on Saturday mornings, swimming (although we failed to get to the last 2 lessons before we left) and other school activities. Chief amongst these was our parent:teacher interview and Luke’s presentation of his ‘3 generations in a box’. We actually did ‘5 generations in 2 bags’ but it seemed to go down OK. Not only did I need to accompany him for the actual presentation, but then go along to a parent-child sharing session and also attend assembly where Luke showed my Dad’s old ‘brace and bit’. I got to this last by the skin of my teeth, entering the assembly hall just as Luke began his piece. I would have been highly unpopular if I’d missed it all. The parent:teacher interview showed that Luke was doing fine and there no issues with his academic ability. The usual things about talking too much came up but there was nothing serious.

The remaining preparations included worming the dogs, getting both dogs and cat vaccinated, putting Alice and Bronwyn the bunnies out with the geese, taking one of the small pigs to the abattoir, getting Luke and my UK passports up to date, packing (of course!) and scouring the op shops for jeans for me and shorts for Luke. I got my legs waxed, hair cut and roots done (I wanted to look my best!) and a couple of days before we left I clipped the hooves of all 21 goats, vaccinated and drenched them. I had big blisters on 3 of my right-hand fingers which took the whole of the holiday to heal. At last we were ready!

Holiday – August 2012

The holiday started stressfully with us leaving late on the Saturday morning and barely getting to the off-airport carpark on time! It was only once at the airport having booked in our luggage that I started to relax and enjoy myself. As usual the flight was an endurance test, but seemed not as awful as I remembered. We managed a decent sleep each on the middle leg (we stopped 3 times: Melbourne, Brunei and Dubai) and arrived on the Sunday morning feeling reasonably OK. We were met by a taxi accompanied by my Mum which as a lovely surprise!

Our first impression once out on the road, was the incredible greenness of England, which we forget when away for so long (except when reminded by excerpts from Top Gear). Everything burgeons with growth. Even the motorways are lined with metre high wildflowers and grasses and banks are planted with bushes and trees. Hedgerows were thickly verdant and fields filled with crops. Not a scrap of bare earth to be seen! Whereas people may get the idea of England as an overpopulated concrete jungle, nothing could be further from the truth. The abundance of trees and plants masks the factories and suburbs – whilst villages nestled around village greens, seem themselves to have sprung from the earth, so well do they sit in their environment. Despite this explosion of growth, everywhere is just so neat in comparison with the bony farms and abandoned cars of Australia.

On the way to Cardington, we caught up with Don, my Mum’s husband and admired their new bungalow in a large village well catered-for with shops and services. In Cardington we were met by my sister and Keith (my brother-in-law) and showed around our ‘home from home’ for the next 4 weeks! Bid had been so thoughtful and it was lovely to see them both. Apparently there had been a panic that morning with their friend Paul (who was so kindly loaning us his house) not realising we were arriving so early! Keith joked that Paul would be sleeping in the car now as he’d split up with his girlfriend and had decided against a boys’ holiday owing to recent health problems! The house was an old compact mid-terrace with pretty garden, tucked away in a quiet cul-de-sac in Cardington. We were thrilled to bits and settled in straightaway.

That afternoon, still feeling OK, we collected the Shogun being so kindly loaned to us by Keith, and visited my Dad and Claudia (Dad’s long-time partner). It was so nice to see everyone on the one day and it was almost like coming home! Luke immediately got into a game of putting with Dad and it was one of the things he really enjoyed while we away. Our first day coincided with a rare open day at Willington Dovecot, built in the early 1500’s to house 3,000 pigeons! Alongside it are stables dating from the same time – fabulous old places built with oddly Dutch-looking stepped gables. Luke took in all that the guide told us and faithfully recorded it in his journal which he wrote each day and filled with pictures and mementos.

Over the next 4 weeks we juggled visiting family with going out and when possible took family with us on outings. I’m referring to Luke’s journal to remind us of our activities and reading his accounts makes me smile – often we’ll visit a fantastic old place and Luke’s abiding memory will be eating chips, playing golf or doing a puzzle book in the car. Cardington is in Bedfordshire, a very flat, arable county dominated by two enormous hangars. These were very much the background to my childhood as I was born in a house a couple of fields from them and next-door-but-one to where my sister and Keith now live. When built the hangars were the largest single-spanned structures in Europe and still seem absolutely huge. They housed the airships including the ill-fated R101 which filled one entire hangar and completely dwarfed a modern-day jumbo jet. One hangar has been completely refurbished but the other was in a sorry state. While we were there, large cranes moved in and began removing sections of roof, presumably for renovation. The developers given planning permission to develop the area around the hangars, had pledged to devote 5 million pounds to its renovation. They are listed buildings and we hold them in great affection.

It was fabulous that our visit coincided with the Olympics. It seemed as if England was full of good news with so many inspirational performances and uplifting stories. We watched a lot of TV coverage and got fully into the spirit of the games. We tried to get tickets and also to visit the Olympic Park, but tickets for events were scarce and hugely expensive and when we tried to get into the Park we found we were required to get tickets for that too. Nonetheless we soaked up the atmosphere around it and viewed the Park from a huge ferris wheel at an Olympic-themed event nearby. Here I braved a very long and tall zip-line and loved it! The girl alongside me took an age to step off the tower – she was shaking with terror!

We went to various stately homes and gardens including Castle Ashby, Wrest Park and Cottesbrooke Hall. We were spoilt for choice because the UK is uniquely dotted with these lovely old houses surrounded by parkland and fabulous gardens. Luke enjoyed these visits as much as we did since there were always hidden pathways and structures to scramble through, and very often planned kids’ activities. We hired bikes some days and cycled to Sandy and Bedford alongside the river Ouse – on one occasion coming across a grass snake asleep on the track, a very rare occurence! We visited the Shuttleworth Collection once again and met my Auntie Sue and Uncle David there for afternoon tea. Shuttleworth houses a great collection of vintage aircraft and is also home to the Swiss Gardens and one of the best bird of prey collections in the country. We went along to a bird display without high expectations, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the holiday. We saw a bewildering variety of birds including a Condor (wow, that was one amazing bird), eagles, pelicans and owls. They flew inbetween the crowd and close above our heads and wandered amongst us.

We went to London on two occasions, seeing Tower Bridge, the Shard (tallest building in London now and resembling an elongated pyramid), Tate Modern and the Science Museum. We also went on an open-topped bus ride (which was just about the only time on the holiday that it rained!) and a Thames cruise. The Science Museum was fascinating. I’d been there before a couple of times, but there is just so much more to see and do now, especially for children. Luke was transfixed by an area where kids could get hands-on with all manner of exciting phenomena and challenges. We were there for 3 hours but you could spend all day there. In the end we were just museumed-out!

Other highlights were Legoland, Windsor Castle, a boating trip down the Ouse (with Dad, Claudia and an eagle owl!) and an exciting day at Willen Park near Milton Keynes where we braved a terrifying aerial ropes course and Luke was sick after3 scary rides at the fair! We also went to Stotfold Mill (a rebuilt working mill where I saw a mink), a large fete, Cambridge (including punting and the Fitzwilliam Museum) and Whipsnade Zoo. Legoland was definitely Luke’s favourite trip and it was fairly amazing. There were entire towns and villages, fields of animals and dinosaurs etc, all built out of little lego and incredibly realistic. There were also many rides including the flume (we got soaked) and a rollercoaster (on which I lost my hat). Whipsnade was one of my favourites – I should have liked to take home a European Lynx and a little otter. Bronte was captivated by the size and power of the rhinos.





Another lovely memory is of the party organised by my sister and brother-in-law in their garden in Cardington. All of the family were there including my Dad’s two sisters and various cousins whom I’d not seen for years, plus some of Bid’s close friends. It was a great occasion and Bid produced a cake saying ‘Welcome Back’ with a picture of the cartoon Tassie Devil! The weather favoured us and everyone chatted and mingled good-naturedly. Luke enjoyed himself rolling around with Georgie – Bid and Keith’s soppy dog – and playing soccer in the harvested field alongside.( One of Luke’s favourite parts of the holiday was playing soccer on Cardington Green – we had to bring 2 soccer balls home with us in our luggage! We tried to get him to part with them but it was too traumatic.) Given that Bid’s not too well at present, the party was a great effort on her part and we are so grateful for all the things her and Keith did to make us welcome. Poor Keith was called in for a heart operation for which he’d been waiting for some time while we were there. He was out before we left & seemed remarkably well for someone having undergone major surgery. Before that, we’d dragged him out of bed at the crack of dawn one Sunday and went with him & Georgie on a lovely long walk across the fields and around the big reservoir nearby.


When the time came to go it was as tear-jerking as usual, but perhaps not so bad as last time when we were only there for just under 3 weeks and everything had seemed such a terrible rush. This time, we’d concentrated on family, and while we felt bad about not catching up with friends (apart from one mate of Bronte’s from Stevenage), I had wanted to spend as much time as possible with my Mum, Dad and sister. It was important too, for Luke to spend time with his UK grandparents and get to know others in the family, as well as appreciating some of the things to see and do in England.

28 July – 23 September 2012: Post Holiday Blues!

On arrival home we all felt distinctly jaded. It was hard to settle back into the usual routine after such a relaxing and exciting time away. Bronte was not looking forward to returning to work and I was not thrilled about feeding animals in the rain and mud. Only Luke was his usual adaptable self – pleased to be back in his own home and looking forward to meeting his school buddies again. He slept for 12 hours the first two night’s home – whereas Bronte and I struggled to settle.

I’d had thrush of the throat whilst we were away (brought on by using my asthma preventer while on the flight out) and that flared up again. I felt really unwell. One of my eyes swelled up and the white was completely bloodshot – it was painful and weepy. In the end I went to the doctors and the optometrist and discovered I had something called scleritis. It is finally settling down now, but is still intermittently prickly and itchy.

Anyhow 3-4 weeks back and we are all pretty well back to normal. I was interested to see how my various constructions and preparations had fared while we were away. Needless to say Connor and George had wrecked their feeder – well, not completely, but sufficiently to make it no longer waterproof and pretty well unusable. Blaize, the darling, had not damaged her feeder and was using it properly and had brought up all her little pigglies. She’d lost a bit of weight in the process but looked rather better for it. The neighbour had found the poultry self-feeders awkward to top-up (apart from the geese) plus she was attacked by Clive the gobbler and Donald the white rooster! She’d taken instead to hand-feeding them over the fence daily.

She’d done a superb job including tending to a malnourished Molly (pregnant doe) who’d managed to get lost somewhere for 10 days. She’d bought in minerals and vitamins, rugged and separated her and made sure she had sufficient water and nutrition. Since then Molly has given birth to 2 very cute babies and proved herself to be a great mum. The only loss while we were away was the eldest male peacock, which she found dead in the hut one day. Oddly, the younger male peacock (in a separate pen) also died within a few days of us coming home. I just found him draped across his perch. Not sure if it was some combination of very cold nights during August, the effort of growing back their wonderful tail feathers and not getting their usual high protein mash.

Since we’ve been back I’ve reinstated the poultry self-feeders, but I also feed them my mash made from cooked leftovers and apples mixed with pellets and grain, every other day. It makes my life easier but also ensures they get a healthy, varied diet. The hens are rewarding me with heaps of eggs – around 7 or 8 a day. The turkeys have begun laying and I’ve hopefully put a dozen in the incubator. Perhaps we’ll have better luck than last year! The geese have all been sitting on eggs and 5 gorgeous little goslings are now stumbling around after mum. Arthur the gander has been a most protective Dad, not letting me anywhere near the sitting mums and the little babies. He attacked me when I put down some crumbles for them, grabbing my trousers with his beak! Donald the rooster has also attacked me and has been booted away on several occasions. Clive, sensibly, has never tried to attack me – but hates Luke and Bronte. He even attacks Luke through the fence!

I’ve discovered that the ‘hen’ I put in with Henry and his hens, has actually turned out to be a rooster. No wonder he was ostracised when I put him in there! He must have been an awfully late developer, as I could have sworn it was a hen. Luke and I attended the Ranelagh Livestock Sale last week while he was on hols from school. It‘s always great fun, plenty of people, heaps of poultry and often a few lambs or pigs. This time, to our great surprise there was a young male peacock for sale, so we bought him for $30. I was the only one bidding so I could probably have got him for $10! He’s settled in with the girls and despite one escape, seems pretty content. He won’t be old enough for there to be fertile eggs this year, but if we can hatch out some turkeys I’ll be happy.

We now have 18 gorgeous, healthy little goat kids with 4 more does due to give birth. It’s been a terribly busy time since getting back and the weather has been miserably damp and overcast. The goats have needed extra attention whilst kidding and I’ve spent a couple of hours up there each day. I moved the herd down into the two small lower paddocks, so I could keep an eye on them more easily. That entailed moving hay dispensers, water trays and mineral shelters too. I’ve had to do my maternity bit with kids and mums, and a stomach tube given me by my sister (she helps on a sheep farm in the UK) has come in useful on more than one occasion. I moved first-time mums into the smaller of the 2 paddocks & tied them up to ensure their babies would get a chance to suckle despite any issues with sore udders or unwillingness on the part of the mums. All are doing very well and I’m pretty pleased with this year’s success rate.

I’ve made a decision to drastically reduce our stock levels in order to release my time and our expenditure on feed etc. I’ve only managed to sell one piglet this time, so the others are going into the freezer I’m afraid. I butchered 3 last week – but it’s hard work and not a nice thing to have to do. We’ve decided just to keep Blaize and one piglet for company for her. She can be moved around to places we want cleared such as sedge areas and the ‘veggie patch to be’. That means that 5 more piglets have to go. It also means that Connor and George also have to go. So far I’ve failed to sell Connor but George is due to go the abattoir this afternoon. I set up the trailer on Thursday expecting them to take days to pluck up courage to go in, but they both went in almost immediately.

I’m also going to reduce the goat herd because jobs like clipping hooves and providing food for them is just so time-consuming and awfully hard work. Two of the youngsters are going today – I put them on Gumtree and a chap turned up yesterday morning and agreed to take both of them. Jasper the wether, will be accompanying George to the abattoir this afternoon .I need to work out which of the other goats are to go and begin listing them online. Some will have to go with kids at foot. We’ll keep all our favourites of course. Bronte and Luke are not helping much. Despite bemoaning the time and cost of the animals, as soon as I want to sell one they both say ‘no you can’t sell her/ him …’. They would like to keep all the animals but without the time and expense they entail.
We picked up the dogs and Murphy cat on the way home from the airport and Murphy was in an ecstacy of purring for the first few days. Poor old thing had cat flu (despite his vaccination) and an ulcer while we were away. So he’d actually lived in the cattery owner’s house the whole time! Trust him to get separation anxiety and end up centre of attention again! Despite these troubles he looked fit and sleek and was darker chocolate than we remembered. When we first got Murphy home, I had nothing to put in his litter tray, having run out just before we left. In the end I filled it with pearl barley and dried split green peas! Murphy looked at it in great distaste not sure perhaps whether he was expected to pee in it or eat it!

Rosie probably couldn’t have cared less whether we picked her up or not, but I think old Bruce was thankful to be home. At the time, the piglets were still small enough to go straight under the electric fence. The first time Rosie encountered them en masse by the garage she went bananas, barking with her fur up on end. The piglets took fright and streamed back to mum in single file as fast as their little legs could go. It was a scream to watch. This happened a few times until Rosie discovered that piglets are quite fun and the piglets themselves grew bolder. More recently they actually began playing together and I wish I could have got a video. Now they are too big to get under the fence so they are stuck in the pen with Blaize.

The weekend after we returned, the Sunday was Fathers’ Day here in Australia. Not having much time to think about it, Luke and I bought him a bench-grinder from Mitre 10. Bronte hasn’t used it, but I’ve found it very useful for sharpening the log-splitter and a large bolster chisel (for splitting the pelvic and breast bones of the piglets I butchered - yuk). I was feeling pretty awful at the time, but nonetheless we went 10-pin bowling (Luke and I had never done it before) and then putting at the little course in Hobart. We had 2 games of bowling. In the first game, I was pretty awful and was not enjoying myself much (especially since I had one red slitty eye and looked like a cyborg), but I thrashed them both in the second game! Much to everyone’s disgust I also won at putting, but only buy one point.

Luke barely had time to return to school before he was on holiday again. He’s gone a few times to vacation care, including excursions to Zoo Doo, bowling (again) and the local Tip Shop! Inbetween times he’s helped me with the animals and lugging wood from distant parts of the plot. We are really scratching around for firewood at present, having pretty well run out of the few bits we had in the shed. I’ve had to start chopping wood again and some of it has been almost impossible to split. Luke had one last game of soccer on his return – the final game of the season. The following week was the presentation day and Luke was thrilled to get a medal for his part in the team. He’s now started Milo Cricket, we had a try-out evening at the PCYC (local large leisure centre) and were due to have the first proper session this morning. However, both that and yesterday’s first session of Little Athletics have been postponed owing to waterlogged pitches. We’ve had 2 inches of rain in the last couple of days – but there actually seems to be some sun this morning. I asked Bronte and Luke what that big yellow thing in the sky was.
Preparations for Luke’s birthday next month are already underway. We made various suggestions but he wanted a party here and for it to include putting! So Bronte has constructed a putting course with 12 holes including crossing the seasonal creek at one point. They’ve mowed the ‘greens’, made little numbered laminated flags and tee signs. We’ve got a proper golf card for the Royal Crabtree ‘Sedgefield’ course, with hole lengths and pars marked. The holes have names such as ‘Gobbler Gulch’, ‘Dangerous Ditch’, ‘Chicken Run’ etc. We’ve scoured the tip shops for putters without a great deal of success, so Bronte’s cut down some drivers and made grips for them. They’ve also made a couple of papier mache piñatas – one huge one and one small lumpy one in which the balloon kept popping. They’ve got a small cricket bat – the piñata pulveriser – to hit them with, but I can’t imagine the poor kids will ever be able to bust them! Luke & I have put plasticine ogre faces on them and they are now due for painting and other decorations. I must sit down and do some fancy invites for all the little horrors he wants to invite. I expect I shall be called upon to create a cake and various other party food for the day itself.

On the subject of food, I went to town yesterday and cooked an enormous 3-course Christmas-style roast yesterday for our neighbours who so kindly looked after our animals while we were away. They said they enjoyed feeding all the creatures but perhaps they were just being polite! For food last night we had a light starter of melon followed by roast pork and goose with all the trimmings: leeks cooked in butter, roast potatoes, potato bake, cheese sauce, broccoli & carrots, stuffing and blackcurrant jelly - all home-made. The stuffing was a made-up, last-minute recipe and turned out to be scrummy. It had breadcrumbs, basil and parsley, black pepper, lemon juice, egg, mushroom, walnut and cashews all chopped small plus onion and garlic and some stock I’d made from boiling up the previous roast remains with various herbs & vegetables. For pud we had trifle (Bronte & Luke’s favourite dessert) and brownies (one of my favourites). Bronte & Luke had trifle for breakfast the following morning and I had Brownie & ice cream for lunch and afternoon tea! As you might imagine the diet has taken a bit of a drubbing with the holiday and this enormous meal, but I’ve only put on 2kg. Once the brownies have gone I’ll be back to eating sensibly.

I’ve got to apply my energies to trying to earn a bit more money as we’re not managing to save anything at present and indeed are whittling away our savings a bit. I’ve applied for a job that I shall hear about later this month – fingers crossed! I’ve also booked a stall at a giant garage sale next week and shall start posting some of my crocheting etc on Etsy. I’ve not visited this site yet, but I’m assured it’s the site for good quality craft items. I’ve also entered some of my crochet items into the Hobart Show! Thought it might be a bit of fun (I think first prize is around $5 so it won’t make me rich). Still haven’t managed to find an entry form for the Huon Show – it’s clearly a closed shop like all things around here – despite e-mails and phone calls to organisers.

I must go and see to the animals – and guess what, it’s just started pouring with rain again!