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Thursday 9 May 2013

We’ve got 2 new WWOOFs now – Matt & Coreen. They are Aussie and Malaysian respectively, high-fliers, who’ve recently spent 11 years in London and now want to get back to nature and settle in Tassie. Their last WWOOF job was with the Gourmet Farmer so I am sure it is somewhat of a come-down to be staying with us unsophisticated lot! My respect for Matthew Evans (aforesaid GF) has gone up, since it is apparent that he and his partner Sadie work extremely hard to keep farm, land, books, TV show etc on the go. We were however, chatting about people like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (one of my heroes), and wishing that people like the Gourmet Farmer would start to use their influence to improve welfare conditions for animals in Australia. It needs respected people to speak out against the live export trade and poor conditions for farmed hens and pigs.

Talking of welfare for animals, I’m shocked at the recent series of photos in our Tassie rag The Mercury, of people who’ve hooked 80-100kg Southern Bluefin Tuna. They stand grinning at the camera and talk about “being stoked” at having killed an animal so perilously on the verge of extinction. I was so riled last Friday that before I could eat breakfast I sat and typed a letter to the editor, questioning why there should be outrage if a white rhino or Siberian tiger were lying dead under a hunter’s foot, whereas people who hook a similarly ‘critically endangered’ creature are glorified. It’s quite sickening. Not once have I seen an article in The Mercury, nor on local TV or radio, about the conservation status of Bluefin Tuna. Nor have there been any letters of protest in the paper. The faint-hearts who write regularly to decry the shooting of pademelons on farmland and the level of wallaby roadkill, should examine their priorities.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Animal-wise, it’s been a slightly quieter time on the farm. We’re down to low winter-stocking levels and I’m not breeding the goats this year so there has been less to do. There have been a couple of turkeys in the garage to look after - one lonely (and aggressive) remaining young turkey and a sick older female from the batch that hatched earlier in the year. I noticed the latter looking mopey in the pen, a little hunched, her eyes half-closed. Also the others were pecking at her face and beak. I took her back to the garage without much hope but decided to try a new approach. Because sick birds just refuse to eat and because trying to get food down them always results in them sucking it into their lungs (thus they die of pneumonia), I instead used the stomach tube that I use for the baby goats. I mixed up a ghastly (but healthy) liquid food comprising puréed apple and banana, cod liver oil, egg, milk, worm medicine, molasses and oatmeal. It took a few goes to get the consistency right – too thick and it wouldn’t travel down the tube.

I poked the tube into what I hoped was her stomach and gave her a good dose of this 3 times per day to begin with, then just twice and finally I stopped. During this period she went from not eating, to eating grass and dandelions and then finally to eating her mixed mush and grain. The colour of her head and feathers also improved. So much so that we released both her and the young one into the old goose pen this morning. I was unwilling to put them straight back in with the other turkeys since they would be sure to start fighting.

 The goose pen has been vacated as I gave up the battle of keeping the remaining two geese at the dam and decided to just move the whole lot over there. The pen was really too small for 6 geese and I was fed up with having to keep refreshing their water – particularly with winter coming up. I gave the WWOOFers the fun job of catching them all! One of the dam females had got into the pen, so she proved relatively straightforward to catch. The other was still on the water. When the WWOOFs tried to catch her she flew off onto a neighbour’s land. That evening I used goat ear-tags to ‘label’ the wings of Arthur the gander (he’s got purple) and the 3 younger females (they’ve got green). I didn’t know if it was possible to tag birds but thought it worth a try. The tags were inserted into the flap of skin at the leading edge of their wings, after the first joint. It doesn’t seem to have bothered or impeded them & they’ve settled down on the dam (the 6th one has returned also). They are even eating the soaked wheat & mush we take down there twice a week.

I’m thrilled that this morning I finally finished walking and repairing the goat fences. It seems no time at all since I last did it – just after I finished linking the fences to a mains energiser that could run off the external powerpoints on the house. However, I found one place where a large branch had fell off a big gum and completely squashed the fence, another where the bottom live wire appeared to have been chewed off and was laying on the ground and yet another where an animal had been through and stretched the wire such that an earth and live wire were wrapped around one another. No wonder the fence didn’t appear to be working. I also did minor repairs wherever the braid was fraying or where I’d seen sparking at nights and wherever previous joins were rusted. It ought to be working at super dooper speeds now. I should connect up my solar panel, battery and solar charge controller and see whether it’s better than the mains one. Bronte suspects the 2nd hand mains one doesn’t have sufficient oomph (or Joules).  

With the last WWOOFs (a French couple called Jess and Tom) and Cynthy who stayed on with them, we cleared a large dead wattle that had fallen on the adjacent property that we now own. Bronte brought a brand new huge chainsaw in order to tackle it. He’s been lusting after big chainsaws for some time. A mate at work had told him he’d bought a cheap Chinese one with a 20” bar that worked fine. Bronte had to go one better and order a 24” one of course! Just worries me that he’s going to cut his leg off one of these days. I didn’t know until an e-mail came in saying that money had gone out of my Paypal account. I thought it was a scam thing, but when I asked Bronte he ‘fessed up. He now has 3 chainsaws. We finally threw out my little electric one that he and Glen had ruined a couple of years back cutting willow down. Bronte’s collecting chainsaws like I collect electric fence energisers.

Bronte cut all the branches from the tree but we were still left with a 3m high stump with the heavy main trunk suspended from it and no safe way of removing the branches that were holding it up. We tried for some time to rock it and pull it over but couldn’t move it. We couldn’t get a vehicle there because it was too boggy. I had a look and suggested pulling it from a different direction. Bronte sneeringly said I didn’t know what I was talking about and knew nothing about ‘moments’ and ‘vectors’. However, Luke and I had a try and when Bronte lent a hand (reluctantly) it fell down beautifully!

Once chainsawed up, all the lumps had to be carried by hand to the boundary fence (~30m away) and thrown over, to where we could actually get the ute. Then they all had to be loaded onto the ute or the trailer. It took many trips & the WWOOFs did an excellent job too, even collecting most of the small bits. Now there is a huge pile in the tractor shed. It’s most satisfying getting a good stock of wood in for the winter. In addition, the new WWOOFs have since collected all the old wooden posts that Bronte had replaced with star pickets from the topmost boundary fence of our big new paddock. Even if they are no good for firewood they’ll be great for doing piggy brews.

Of course, once we’d cleared all the firewood from the tree site, it was obligatory for the boys to have a bonfire. Their excuse was to ‘tidy up’ and ‘burn the stump’, but it was just a chance to light a fire. The funny thing was that on the second day, when they went down to poke about at the fire and get it re-started, a fire truck and ute went steaming past on Mitchells Road and stopped above us at our neighbour’s the Hodges. When Bronte and Luke came back there was a loud knocking on the door and the fire trucks were at our front deck! Apparently someone (presumably the Hodges) had notified the fire service about our little bonfire. It was a fairly mild windy day, but the paddock was green and damp and there was no chance of it spreading. The firemen were a trifle apologetic. Luke was torn between excitement and fear of being told off! I thought it was a scream but rather a shame that the fire service had been put to that trouble and expense.

Bronte, Luke and Matt (one of the new WWOOFs) have since been trying to burn out an old stump that Luke and I first had a go at in early summer before it got too dry and dangerous to light a fire outdoors. They haven’t missed an opportunity to go and poke about at it again. There’s a big pile of old sticks there from a wattle we chopped up last year.
Since they’ve been here, the WWOOFs have been busy taking down old fences (de-fencing I call it). There are several on the new land (which they’ve now finished) and a load on our old plot. It’s hard work as they’ve had to almost dig the wire out of the ground, so I’ll give them a choice of jobs next week. They are practical, hard-working types so we don’t want them to leave just yet! Mind you I think they are used to more civilised pursuits than us. They eschewed my carrot and lentil soup (Luke’s favourite) on the second night of eating it and are also shunning the bush dance we plan to go to in Mountain River tonight.

Before these guys arrived, we had fun and games trying to remove a calf from our land and get it onto the new land with the rest of the herd. While Luke, Jess, Tom and Cynthy were moving firewood, Bronte and I went to round up the calf that was lurking in our really rough area. After climbing over the old fence (now removed), clambering through wild rose bushes and over brambles, we finally got it out into the open and were gently moving it towards the gate. However, at that point it broke to the right and I just couldn’t catch up with it. It went to ground in tall bracken, but then burst out through our cordon. We had to employ all the WWOOFs and Luke to help us to find it again. Eventually we got it into the neighbouring field with its mum and finally got both of them across the creek, out onto the road and into the big paddock. By which time we were totally exhausted and scratched to pieces. Thank goodness for Tom who’d been quick enough to head the calf off when it tried to head into the rough ground again.

The day before the calf antics we had been to the Anzac Day sports day in Huonville so we were already pretty tired. Before the races, we went to the Cenotaph (which is alongside the athletics track) and listened to the service. Lara Giddings, our state premier was there, and I managed to walk up to her and have a few words. Can't imagine being able to do that to a prime minister in the UK. I came 5th in the ‘masters’ (over 35) 100m, 3rd in long jump and 4th in discus. Not too bad a performance for an oldie. Luke got beaten into second place in the turbo-jav (like a nerf ball) by a few metres and also in the long jump where he struggles to get his run-up right. The lad who won is in the next class up in Little Athletics and was clearly a fit little guy. Luke just pipped him in the 100m. Bronte came 7th in his events and was not too chuffed – but we thought he did great.



 Tom performed the best of us. He came third in the Anzac mile (4 times around the 400m track) and did pretty well in the other events. However, he did nearly take someone’s head off with the discus! He turned out in his most eccentric French style for the event, with peculiarly saggy short cut-off trousers and bowler-type hat.

We also took these WWOOFs to the Birch’s Bay sculpture trail. It started badly for me as I waited for Bronte (who actually took a different route) and then managed to lose everyone. Got somewhat distraught and took a while to recover. The sculptures as usual were a mixed bag, but some were terrific. The setting is lovely and it makes a pleasant afternoon out. Unfortunately the café was shut – just as it had been the previous year. Clearly the owners don’t like working on Sunday afternoons.








The WWOOFs made a load of carrot juice one morning and in the afternoon I did my best to make soap using the juice as the colourant. Not a great success. Part of it ‘turned’, but the remainder stayed liquid. I’d got rather complacent about our soap and hadn’t considered the pH of carrot. It turned out to be around 5 or 6 so would have somewhat neutralised the lye (sodium hydroxide – NaOH). I made a rough estimate of how much had not set, then added what I hoped was the appropriate amount of extra lye to the still liquid mixture. It instantly thickened – to the point where I could barely pour it into the moulds. It looked rather unpleasant – somewhat like my carrot and lentil soup. However, we’ve just started using it after 3 weeks and - despite being a little soft – it’s perfectly good and lathers well.


Sunday 12 May 2013

Today is Mothers’ Day – yeehar! Well, it wasn’t all that exciting actually. I spent most of the day mowing. I did get some little pressies, including nice bath smellies from Luke and various leaf teas from Bronte. Mowing was hard work but a rather swifter job than before because we’ve made an investment in a ride-on mower – at last. It’s a red 17.5Hp Rover, almost brand new, with a 42” cut. Bronte has great fun whizzing around on it, although he’s already complaining about its ability on slopes and how difficult it is to stay on the seat. No doubt he’ll be making adaptations soon. Of course, he can’t do the steep slopes and those are the bits I’ve been toiling around today with the hand-mower. It does look beautifully tidy outside now. Bronte had spent every spare moment on the computer looking up ride-ons prior to the purchase (most of the time swearing about our terrible internet service).

Bronte stuck on the ride-on mower - ha-ha!
Not content to stop there however, he’s also since ordered a grader blade and single-tine ripper off the internet. He claims he’s saving us money because he’ll be able to do the drive leveling when we get top-dressing gravel delivered. We originally planned to get the drive all done by an outside contractor, but the quote was just too horrendous. When we chatted to the guy about it (he did the drive originally and we trust him to a good job and not rip us off) he suggested we got a grader blade and he cut down the amount of gravel he’d allowed for. That way, we can cut the quote by half. Quite why we need the ripper as well …? Bronte’s excuse was that he could get it sent with no extra postage and he’d already got the grader blade cheap. Just as well he ended up not going to see his poor old Dad last month. It turned out that the flights were so inconvenient (we have to go via Melbourne because there are no direct flights) that he’d spend most of the time waiting around in airports. Plus there were no cheap flights available.

Mind you Bronte’s not the only one spending money. I decided to get the little farm Suzuki fixed up and have had a new clutch and brakes fitted, plus tuning. It’s still not great, but at least it does idle (fast) without conking out now. Plus the handbrake works which is a real bonus. Previously, whenever I stopped to move a hose, open a gate or similar, I also had to turn off the engine and leave it in gear. It was a right pain. The clutch is now so fierce that we kangaroo forward when changing gear or moving off. It was slightly nerve-wracking getting the car to the mechanics. It’s not registered so I was anxious about being stopped by the police. The first time I went the back way with Cynthy in the passenger seat. We picked Luke up from school and - after soccer training - had to stow him in the back with a thick coat over him – most unsafe and illegal! Luke thought it was great. The second time Tom the French WWOOF followed me in the ute so it was somewhat safer. However when we picked it up on Anzac Day there were 6 of us in the ute, so Luke was strapped on my lap in the front seat – again not terribly legal!

Aspen our neighbor has since been trying to fix the radio. He’s opened it up & is convinced that bird poo has corroded one of the connections on an integrated circuit. Seems most unlikely to me but it’s clear that it’s irretrievably broken. Aspen reckons he can find an old one that would do for trundling around the fields.

Last Saturday we to Agfest (Tasmania’s big annual agricultural fair), catching a bus at the Grove Shop at 6.05am. Bronte was in his element looking at tractor implements, but Luke and I got a little bored. In the end I did find some rather nice earrings and pendant in the craft area, plus Bronte and I got some new warm ‘Ninja’ gloves for winter. No idea why they are called Ninja, but they are tough and cosy. Luke kept whingeing about lollies (sweets) and it was freezing cold! I think next year we should send Bronte on his own, or go together and split up for the day! I’d get to poke around in all the stalls that interested me then.

Luke managed to get knocked over in the playground early last week and his right knee swelled up to the size of an orange. However, he still insisted on taking part in the school 2km cross-country event on Thursday. Me and the WWOOFs went to see him running. I’d fixed him up with anti-inflammatory gel and a compression bandage (meant for an adult’s elbow) and had put ice on his knee each morning. He did extremely well, not stopping and finishing 4th, only a few metres behind the leaders. I did say ‘no’ to soccer training however and he discovered afterwards that he couldn’t kick a ball without it hurting his knee. Had a good poke around in the second hand (op) shops in Huonville afterwards and for $25 came home with a load of goodies for Luke and several work tops for me. I was greatly pleased with my haul.

Last night, we went to the local Bush Dance in Mountain River Hall. It was a bit startling to walk into a well-lit hall, but we soon got into the swing of things. I now know why Bush Dance aficionados are so thin, it’s quite exhausting – physically and mentally! Great fun however. Luke quickly got worn out and we had to leave early, but we met up with some friends and it was a pleasant and lively outing.

Having seen a BBC documentary recently on the health benefits of fasting, Bronte and I have embarked on a regime of fasting 3 days a week! On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we are meant to have a normal breakfast and then just a bit of fruit and a carrot during the rest of the day. We’ve been managing pretty well but have sometimes had to add a few nuts to the diet! No obvious sign of losing weight yet! The downside is that we tend to eat a bit too much on non-fasting days.

At Christmas I bought Bronte a load of science-based audio books and I’ve also now started to listen to them It’s great having something intelligent to concentrate on in the car to and from work. So far I’ve heard ‘Bad Medicine’ by Ben Goldacre, ‘Here on Earth’ by Tim Flannery and ‘A Universe from Nothing’ by Laurence Krausz. They have all been really interesting for different reasons, although the Laurence Krausz one tested my understanding well past its limits! I’ve still got ‘The Age of Reason’ to listen to which Bronte thinks is the best of the lot. When finished, I might start listening to the ipod in the car, since I don’t now have the time at home to hear all the programmes I’d like to. I’ve been entertained by Doctor Karl (another of my heroes) whilst mowing today.

Luke and Bronte took a day off over the school hols and went
bowling and golfing

Cricket at dusk

Luke stroking a baby shark at the Woodbridge
Marine Discovery Centre - Bronte accompanied Luke's
class on an excursion to this excellent facility