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Monday 5 November 2012

As usual there is so much to tell, but I must start with two items I forgot to put in the last post. A few weeks before we went to the UK, Bronte had a mad fit and bought a new car – a charcoal Suzuki SX4. The old Colt was getting a bit ropey and he needed something more reliable – and rather more robust – for commuting. It’s a little unexciting looking but comfortable and speedy, so what more can you ask? Also, the weekend before we left for the UK, Bronte went with his other siblings to visit his Dad in Victor Harbor for his 80th birthday! They all had a good time and took the old chap out for a meal. He’s doing remarkably well for his age but is having problems seeing well enough to drive and is somewhat lonesome. It will be difficult to winkle him out of his current situation into somewhere more suitable, however.

We’ve had a more recent health scare from the UK, as Don - my step-dad - suddenly collapsed in the kitchen one evening. Luckily Mum was there and had the presence of mind to call an ambulance immediately. He was rushed straight to hospital and operated on straightaway for a swollen aorta. They were warned beforehand that it was a dangerous operation, since if the aorta was to burst there would be nothing they could do. Apparently it was very close to bursting, so he was extremely fortunate. He’s finally back at home but still very weak. It’s at times like these that I wish I were closer so that I could do something practical to help.

Back to farm news, I have finally completed the livestock reduction plan! 8 poor piglets are now in the freezer – what a palaver that was. The main thing that sticks in my mind is hanging on to the slippery, back leg of one while lying flat on my side in smelly mud! It did get away temporarily as I just could not keep my grip in those conditions. Luckily, the exertion of catching all of them and stowing them in the trailer is fading in my memory. Even small piglets are strong, heavy, sturdy little beasts. I had planned to use a new mess-free extermination device that I’d made, but having shorted out the garage electrics, I went back to the usual, reliable method (Bronte’s .22). I have another picture in my mind of 5 forlorn headless carcasses hanging from the goat float as I hosed the mud from them. I got rather skilled at skinning and gutting them. I’ve given up on the scalding and scraping method as it is too much work and too difficult to get it exactly right.
I read in the paper how police were trying to discover how a farmer in Oregon came to be eaten by his pigs! It sounded as though he had a heart attack or similar and dropped dead in the pen. No doubt the poor old pigs got hungry and got stuck in. Apparently all that was left was his dentures! I had to laugh. Bronte was horrified.

Poor Connor had to go too, as I could not find a home for him at any price. I couldn’t keep him without also keeping a companion for him – and if he’d gone back in with Blaize, there would have been another load of piglets in 4 months’ time. Butchering him was a tremendous effort, but I finally managed to cook all of the meat for the dogs on the outside furnace, and bury all the other bits down near Roger – a previous boar from a few years’ ago. Bronte has to plant a tree on him now in memoriam. The other castrated boy went to the abattoir along with Jasper the goat wether and I had another tedious day and evening of de-boning, chopping and mincing. By 1am in the morning, I had around 22kg of pork sausage-meat and 8kg of goat mince stowed in freezers.
Since then, I’ve converted a good few kilos into sausages, firstly for Luke’s 8th birthday party – another story – and then for ourselves and our current WWOOFers. I overcooked the first lot in the oven but the second lot were extremely tasty. My sausages always come out just a little drier than shop-bought and I’ve not worked out why. I made sure to mince a great deal of fat with the meat as I’ve noticed sausage recipes often have the same amount of fat as meat. The next challenge is to make something resembling salami. Salami has to hang for some weeks in a cool airy environment – not feasible with summer pending. I thought about approaching the abattoir, since a few salami wouldn’t take up much room in their cool-room. The other option is to do some smoked sausages for slicing, sandwiches, pizzas etc. A challenge for another day I think.

Half of the goats have now gone. I sold 10 does and around 15 kids with ease. I asked $120 per doe and $45 for the babies. We ended up with 26 kids this year, which was quite a successful haul. It was rather a shame to see so many of them go as I’ve liked having the big herd of goats and was fond of many of them, but the greater numbers needed so much labour and food to keep them going. Currently the WWOOFers are looking after the goats, having fallen in love with them. So the herd is getting extra TLC and lots of browse by way of tagasaste, willow from the road reserve nearby and some strange dark green bushes which have sprung up wherever we’ve had excavation work done. The WWOOFer’s efforts and the reduction in goat numbers has greatly reduced the pressure on the paddocks and I don’t dread tackling their hooves as before!

Tagasaste appears to be a wonder tree. I grew a load from seed a few years back and now many of those are 4-5 metres high. At the time I read they were good for goat fodder and having researched further, I find they are remarkably tolerant to repeated coppicing. Also limbs which bore flowers become unpalatable in the following growing season – which practically forces coppicing. Any tree which grows quickly, can be coppiced regularly, can tolerate all sorts of weather and soil conditions, and feeds the goats, is great in my book. Bronte’s been studying Luke’s Guinness Book of Records and discovered the fastest growing tree in the world is called the Empress or Foxglove Tree. It looks rather wonderful and has flowers rather like a foxglove and in fact looks somewhat similar to a jacaranda from the pics we found on the internet. I suggested buying saplings off the internet, but Bronte has a bit of an internet phobia (not quite as bad as his Dad who stopped using his computer for fear of viruses and now unplugs his phone as he thinks people can steal his bank details through the wires).

On the bird front, we’ve had great success with the turkeys this year. I collected 27 eggs from the first laying batch of the two hens, put them all in the incubator and 25 hatched out! Not one was infertile. One died getting out of the shell and another didn’t finish developing, but the rest were healthy vigorous chicks who all hatched themselves without help. There are quite a variety of different colours so it will be interesting to see how they turn out. I filled the remaining space in the incubator with hens’ eggs and we have 10 of those in the brooder cage outside along with the 21 surviving turkey chicks. One turkey managed to drown itself in the incubator in a tiny bit of water (to increase the humidity for hatching), two got pushed to the outside of the circle of heat under the lamp on an unusually cold night and I found one more dead yesterday. Not sure what happened to that, but think it may have overheated since it was an unusually warm day. I’ve got a 100w bulb and a heat lamp going but I’ve now put the bulb onto a timer so there is no danger of them getting too hot during the day. It’s delightful to see them all snuggled and asleep after a good feed in the morning. They love cut green stuff: grass, clover, dandelions etc.


We’ve also got quite a few more goslings now. The four largest are nearly fully grown in size already. The WWOOFers caught them recently and moved them to a recently vacated pen which is becoming overgrown with grass. We were getting 9-10 eggs each day, so we had culled the older hens and the two roosters that were in that pen. I kept the breast meat and plucked and gutted the younger rooster – the remaining bits were cooked up for the pigs. (Donald the white rooster in the turkey run also had to go because I got fed up with him always attacking me). The four teenage geese are now spending all their time marching up and down the fence looking longingly back at their old home and Mum and Dad. Hopefully, they’ll settle soon. There are three more middle-sized goslings and two tiny ones born just a couple of days ago – on horrible cold wet days. They couldn’t have chosen a worse time to hatch. Luke and I gathered them a feed bag full of dandelions to give them a fighting chance.

We were amazed the last two goslings hatched at all as the mum was not exactly diligent at sitting on them. I had spent a couple of days in what I call the mulch beds but are now goose and hen pens, hauling fallen trees upright and generally tidying up. The neurotic geese honked and hissed the whole time I was in there and eggs were generally abandoned. Perhaps their enormous size makes goose eggs less vulnerable to cooling.
We had a spate of quite terrific winds. Many of the trees in the mulch beds were lying flat when we returned from the UK (it seems an age ago now) and in the weeks following, some of the gusts were quite frightening. There were days when working outside was a real struggle. Several trees and bushes were lost but I managed to salvage many and secured them this time with star pickets, rather than just wooden stakes. I’ll repopulate the empty spaces sometime over the coming months.

The bunnies aren’t exactly helping as they chew any exposed bits of trunk and have seriously depleted the dianella which was about the only thing the wind didn’t damage. I’ve managed to protect some of these clumps with plastic bags and chicken wire. The 3 baby bunnies in there seem to be able to go in and out through the chicken wire boundary fence with impunity. Poor Beryl (the wild mum) is now stuck outside having excavated an extraordinarily large escape tunnel which has now been filled in to prevent the others escaping. I’ve tried to catch her with the possum trap but she’s far too wily. Whereas Rosy caught a young rabbit in the sedge nearby, Beryl always manages to elude her. Strangely Beryl seems to spend much of her time these days in the turkey pen. Perhaps she knows Rosie can’t get in there!
Most of my time of late has been spent mowing (by hand) and spraying. The grass is growing so fast around the house (not, alas, on the goat paddocks where every blade is eaten by our plague of pademelons), that I can barely keep up with it. The lovely old green mower, seems finally to have given up the ghost. It was light and had big chunky ‘go anywhere’ wheels. The new red mower is more powerful, but heavy and has annoyingly small, smooth wheels. On our rough slopes hereabouts, it is a nightmare. I’d barely finished the rounds when it was time to do it again. So yesterday I had a major mowing day and got all the grass around the house, garage and tractor shed down to a good level. I can barely move today!

Almost as tiring was the spraying. I’ve been using the big backpack and Round-Up to clear all the gravel and drive of weeds and to spray along all my electric fences on either side, to prevent grass growing up through them and shorting them out. I hadn’t tackled the new fenceline before and scrambling up the incredibly steep slope on one side was exhausting. The cap on top of the backpack doesn’t seal so each time I leant over, spray poured down my back. Each time I crouched to get under a bush or to climb over a rock, I could barely stand owing to the weight of the backpack! Anyhow, it was done in the end – but my shoulders remain extremely sore. The next spraying challenge is to try to clear the rough bottom area of our land of ‘fireweed’. Not true fireweed, but what appears to be a noxious and persistent hybrid, that is poisonous to stock. The seeds carry for miles on the wind and despite being ostensibly an annual, plants will grow back from roots if chopped early in the season.
While I was doing this and the WWOOFs were walking the fences to clear them of bracken, bark, sticks etc, we discovered that a huge old wattle had fallen onto my new fence from our neighbour’s side. The WWOOFs have cut it back sufficiently to mend the fence and I or Bronte need to go up there with the chainsaw to cut it back further and retrieve some for firewood. We want to get properly stocked up this summer so we don’t get caught short over winter as we did this year. Already I and the WWOOFs have retrieved a few fallen trunks from around the place, but we still can’t get to the biggest trees until it dries out further. We are starting to have nice warm days, but the boggy areas are still inaccessible.

Our current WWOOFers are a friendly, larger than life, Californian couple. They are very likeable and competent, but strangely culturally different to us and the other many European WWOOFs we’ve had stay with us in the past. It’s taken quite a bit of getting used to! For the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t get them started before around 10.30 in the morning, which used to irritate me enormously! Then they would eat large meals at 4 o’clock in the afternoon – making me wonder if I was wasting my time concocting hearty cooked meals and desserts for dinner at 6pm. Things came to a bit of a head when they didn’t want dinner one night and they have since made more of an effort to fit into our schedule. Also, all our other WWOOFs have spent time with us outside of work and meals – coming to Luke’s Little Athletics, outings to Huonville, playing games or going for walks with us, watching DVDs in the evening etc. However, this pair has never voluntarily spent any time with us outside of work and meal-times. We have always to call them for dinner and they disappear to their room immediately afterwards, only to reappear briefly for more food or water later. It’s been rather disappointing for Luke and a strange experience for us – making us feel a bit more like a B&B than WWOOF hosts!

However, they are getting lots of jobs done for us so I shouldn’t complain. ‘Wolf’ can drive the tractor and we’ve spent a couple of fairly horrid days shifting muck from areas where goat poo and hay has built up, onto the hay paddock. Wolf would load up the ute with the front-end loader, whilst Ryn and I moved it around with shovels to make room for more. Then Ryn would drive slowly around the hay paddock while Wolf and I madly shovelled if off the back. It was somewhat exhausting! We couldn’t move all of it and were racing against time in order for the paddock to recover and grow before it is mown for hay in January. Afterwards, the WWOOFs strew a load of grass seed that Bronte had saved from lusher areas and are today finishing harrowing in a criss-cross pattern. I’m not sure if it will bear dividends this year, but will surely make a difference in the long run.

They’ve also moved all the goat huts into a more prominent place in the 2nd goat paddock. Originally we had been concerned re them being an eyesore, so I’d tucked them away in the bracken and bush – but the goats never liked going in them and the area around them lay wet and the openings got overgrown. Now we’ve got them on a flattish bit higher up and in the open and the goats are much happier. The WWOOFs have spread a couple of ute loads of gravel in the gate opening and where we removed muck so as to keep it relatively dry underfoot during the winter. It all looks pretty neat and tidy now.

We have been doing plenty of other activities unconnected with the farm. I bought us tickets to see Wind in the Willows at Huonville Town Hall. It was a play performed by high school kids and was pretty professional and enjoyable. I got a bit fed-up with all the songs, but that’s just my general anathema to musicals. My birthday on 9 October was a damp squib, completely overshadowed by preparations for Luke’s 8th on the 12th October. Bronte bought me a radio which I’d requested, but just like my old one, it would not work in our house. We can only think it is something to do with the foilboard insulation, builders’ paper and the corrugated iron. It was rather disappointing, however. The radio went back and I didn’t get an alternative present. Since no meal out was forthcoming, I made myself a treacle tart for a treat and chomped it all week with cream, cashews and ice cream! Yum.

Luke’s birthday was a quite different affair of course. His birthday fell on a Friday so I made him a load of little cakes to take in for his chums on the day, and also decorated him a little cream CWA cake for the evening with candles. He had a rake of presents, including a Wii game and big lego kit that I bought with money sent by Bid and Dad. Mum got him activity books and his Auntie Cheryl got him a marvellous remote control helicopter! It’s extraordinarily small and seemingly delicate, but amazingly it seems to keep surviving the various knocks it’s received (not just from Luke I should add). He was also lucky enough to get lots of nice gifts from his little buddies who came to his party on the Sunday afternoon, including a remote control hairy spider (my favourite), book and a little soldier which a mate had lovingly clothed and armed!

The party appeared to be a rip-roaring success and all the little winkles had a whale of a time. We started with a round of golf on Bronte’s new putting course. All the flags and tee-signs were in place, it was a fine day and everyone had a laugh. A few of the adults joined in too and luckily there were no accidents (golf–clubs wrapped around earholes for example). We then had a tug-of-war using our big old anchor rope. We tried different teams and honour was even at the end – only Luke was shirty because he hates to lose even once. This was followed by the big piƱata – it had been built strong but unfortunately the plasticine face I’d lovely crafted was soon crushed! The kids went nuts as soon as the sweets began to fall out, but we managed to get them shared out in the end into the various party bags. All the kids were meant to come upstairs then to throw water bombs off the deck at Luke and Bronte’s ‘Easter Island’ targets (grim faces drawn on polystyrene boxes). However, many stayed downstairs preferring to be targets! It was then food time and we all feasted on strawberries, watermelon, home-made biccies, home-made (dry) hot-dogs and birthday cake. I was pretty chuffed with the cake which had taken me around 2 hours the previous day to ice. Also, to my surprise, it tasted pretty good too – orange and poppy seed. It was light and tasty and my made-up icing was pleasantly orangey and not too sweet. However, I did accidentally put 9 candles on instead of 8!

Rosie helping with the putting

Rosie exhausted from helping with the putting


Last Thursday was a public holiday for the Hobart Show. The previous year we went on Wednesday to avoid the crowds and see more animals, but we wanted to see the cats, which were only on view on Thursday. The cats were great (though none were nearly as nice as Murphy). I particularly liked the Norwegian Forest Cats, but imagine their fur is a nightmare. We saw the goats, enormous milking cows, pigs and poultry. I was only obliged to go on one ride with Luke, which was not too scary, but we spent far too much on the rip-off sideshows. The excitement of the day for me however, was that several of my crochet entries were on display and I had won five 2nd places! When Bronte picked up my entries the following week, I found I’d made $40 in prize money.

All the activity after our return from the UK and possibly the flight itself, seemed to set off a series of odd reactions in me. I felt quite poorly for a time and my eyes took weeks to settle down after getting so inflamed and sore. Just as I was feeling better, Luke and Bronte tried to finish me off by buying me a large pot of moisturiser that actually turned out to be soap. I used it a couple of days and couldn’t understand why my skin felt so tight and uncomfortable! It took nearly 2 weeks to settle down after we’d discovered the mistake and the skin around my nose and on my eyelids peeled off! On the subject of soap, I’ve made a big new 3kg batch with Ryn. We used Blackberry Jelly to colour it this time. Rather than turning purple as we expected, it’s gone a glossy milk-chocolate. It looks good enough to eat, very smooth. As with the turmeric soap, however, there was no smell other than a general soapiness.

In an effort to make more income for the household, I took a stall at a big ‘garage sale’ in the neighbouring Mountain River Hall one Saturday in September. I managed to get rid of a load of stuff but only made around $110 – better than nothing though. I’m also applying for part-time jobs on a regular basis. The job I mentioned in the last post was Enterprise Facilitator for the Huon Valley, to assist people to start-up and expand small businesses, under the auspices of the Huon Sirolli Network (funded under the Intergovernmental Agreement – IGA – on forestry). Despite devoting many hours to putting together what I thought was a really good application, I wasn’t even granted an interview. I was pretty gutted actually, particularly when I asked for feedback and was told that ‘it was not their policy to provide feedback’. I’d even applied under the name of Jenny Smith, as a precaution against people knowing my views on clearfelling. I’ve recently put in an application for a job in the Hobart City Council – 3 days/ week – which seems written for me. I shan’t hold my breath however!
On the subject of the IGA, the entire agreement appears to have collapsed in the last week. FIAT (a large forestry association), has refused to accept anything lower than 155,000 cubic metres of high quality sawlogs per year, which would reduce the available forest for protection to 300,000Ha rather than the 572,000 requested. FIAT insists that any sawlog quotas voluntarily retired under the current scheme, should be made available to others to purchase. It is very difficult to predict the consequences of this collapse. Ta Ann (Malaysian owner of two large peeler or veneer mills, one in the Huon Valley) has threatened to pull out of Tasmania should the talks collapse. It is concerned re uncertainty of supply and direct action by conservationists. And so they should, as one thing’s for sure, activists are not going to take this lying down. I’d personally love to see Ta Ann withdraw from the state, but fear it is bluffing and also feel for all the people who would lose their jobs. If Ta Ann stays, West Wellington is going to be right in the firing line. Roading is completed in many places as are the necessary forest practices plans for many of the coupes. I might find myself lying under bulldozers yet.

Other local excitements include regular echidna and feral cat sightings. No doubt the echidnas are waking up after their long hibernation, drawn out by warmer weather. Echidnas apparently can hibernate for up to 8 months/ year! The number of feral cats has increased hugely of late, presumably owing to people coming up here and dumping them. Whereas we’ve often seem them on the roads (after roadkill), now we are regularly seeing them on our land. I’ve started setting the trap with dog-meat bait, but no luck as yet (Rosie’s probably nicking the bait). I’ve just heard the black cockatoos for the first time since we’ve been back from the UK. They landed in the big blackwood near the house and squawked for a time before disappearing over the hill. They usually signal a change in the weather.
More exciting was a big burn-off on neighbouring land last week. We were a bit concerned that it might burn through to our own bush, but while looking rather spectacular, there was no obvious sign of the fire the following morning. The bush was still very wet, so perhaps they had difficulties. Luckily, the peacocks and turkeys which were alongside the fire, were unfazed.

The only other excitement is that we have been given an opportunity to buy some more land. It’s sent us into rather a tizzy but we think we must take the chance, despite the financial obstacles. We’ve been watching the Derren Brown series of ‘experiments’. Last week’s showed how so-called ‘lucky’ people are those who take the opportunities presented to them!

A just-clipped Bruce, refusing to look at me