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Friday 10 January 2014

View down valley from wild area on our land

BD scootering over cut hay

If the first 4 days of the New Year are representative of the rest of the year, it is going to be a frantic 365 days!

Yesterday morning the hay man cometh to turn the thickest of the hay which was cut earlier in the week. We were told they would be back to finish the turning and do the baling within ‘2 or 3 hours’ – in fact they turned up close to 7pm, as clouds were beginning to gather above the mountains. Bronte was still out slashing and as the tractors rolled up the drive, our neighbours (who agist their cattle on a large part of our land) turned up to offer a hand to get in the hay. Thank goodness they did. Two utes (their’s was a single cab with a flat-tray) and 7 workers (including 3 WWOOFers) made for a high-intensity but amazingly quick job. We got the last of 369 bales under cover just as huge fat drops were beginning to fall at around 9pm. It was a blessing that one of the WWOOFers who’d just joined us could drive a manual car – so few can.

We gathered in the kitchen afterwards, dirty, coated with hay, croaking hay dust and rubbing our eyes – but victorious! We were just so grateful to the neighbours – couldn’t believe their generosity. We are used to people eyeing us incomers with suspicion or outright hostility! We sent them home with a big lump of frozen Brian. They read the weather better than us, because we were a little blasé given the forecast was for a light shower in the evening – in fact it rained all night and there was 17mm in the rain gauge this morning. It’s continued to rain off and on all day. There are no photos of the hay-carting because it all happened much too quickly.

Brian – that reminds me of the day before, Bronte’s birthday. That was a day of set-backs and disappointments. I’d arranged for us to have a Heritage Tour of the old Cascade Brewery in the afternoon and to go to mini-golf in the morning (‘putt-putt’ as it’s called here). It had been an awful night of terrific winds so we’d not slept well and I was a little concerned that we might have a power outage. I even considered putting the inverter and battery onto the incubator – but Bronte was a bit peeved already that I’d had to feed the babies & bunnies in the garage before we left. Putting was fun, despite the course being covered in bits of stick and debris from the wind. Bronte and Luke also went on a virtual golf course, on which you whack the ball as hard as you can at an image of the fairway.

However, it all went horribly wrong thereafter. We were due to have lunch at Cascade prior to our tour, but when we got there they had no power and had shut the restaurant (apparently they didn’t do salads or sandwiches). Furthermore, they couldn’t do the Heritage Tour because it was too windy to go through the gardens (in case a tree or branch fell on us). We ended up at the rather un-atmospheric Brunswick Hotel for lunch having been detoured through Hobart owing to work on the damaged power networks. The meal was OK if rather expensive! Then we picked up the WWOOFs (who’d taken the opportunity for a MONA visit) and then a third at the Grove Shop after a lengthy wait. Luke had to sit on my lap in the front passenger seat for the drive back home.

We got home about 5pm to find that the power was out and had been since 10.30am, according to the hot-water timer. All my 21 little guinea-fowl eggs in the incubator were stone cold. I had intended to candle them that evening. I cracked a couple to find partially-formed embryos. I was totally gutted. Two weeks’ earlier, I’d noted that we hadn’t seen the guinea-fowl and asked Luke and the girls to look for them. They found the female sitting on 21 eggs in a corner of the run! Tiny little brown eggs. We couldn’t be sure if they would be fertile, but a bit of searching on the internet suggested that the larger bird with a redder wattle was a male. I’d carefully turned them 3 times a day and couldn’t wait for tiny guinea-fowl to hatch. Bronte rang Aurora and I told him to tell them they’d murdered my babies. It means we shall have to wait a full year before we can try again.

Then we got concerned about the meat in the freezer. We tried the inverter but my little 300amp unit was insufficient to power-up the one in the house or garage. I then ran a neighbour to see if they had a larger inverter we could borrow only to find that their power had been restored. It was baffling – but did solve our immediate problem. We loaded all the frozen meat (which remarkably was still frozen) and ran it over to the neighbours’ and dumped it into their (virtually empty) chest freezer. Most of the meat was Brian. We went for a drive to find out why our power was still off & Bronte noticed that the spur coming off the main line to us had been mechanically disconnected. There are only 3 houses on this line. When we rang Aurora again it turned out that they’d ‘forgotten’ to reconnect us, but were too busy on other emergencies to get to us. When it was nearly dark & we were wandering around with torches and candles, I set the inverter up to run the heat lamp for the garage babies and we retired to bed.

In fact the power came on sometime before midnight, but we were all fast asleep. In the morning, the battery running the heat lamp had run out and one of the turkeys was comatose. I did my best to feed it and warm it with a hot water bottle, but later in the day, it succumbed. In a fit of frustration I spend a couple of hours on the net looking up ‘gavage’ feeding of small birds. ‘Gavage’ being to insert a tube or ‘crop needle’ right down their throats in order to insert a measured amount of liquid food without danger of aspiration (breathing it into their lungs) or drowning. I do this successfully with big turkeys that are sick or with weak goat kid newborns. I’ve got syringes and I’ve ordered a length of small diameter latex tubing, some avian minerals and feeding formula off the net. Apparently they can also be fed baby food, such as apple-sauce or chicken soup. So hopefully I’ll be all kitted out to restore any further sickly youngsters to health!

We are two weeks into our Christmas break – although ‘break’ is perhaps not the correct word. Prior to finishing work I actually went out one evening with the other Executive Officers from other Divisions. Bronte would have been appalled at the cost of the Chinese meal (which was extremely tasty). It was fun to get to know a little about the EO’s lives, since we spend so many meetings together. One of my final jobs was to issue the Christmas edition of the e-mailed Finance newsletter. I put together a focus word, Christmas word-search and quick crossword at home and included them to try & create a bit more interest. Much to my chagrin one of my colleagues immediately came back with more words than I had found from the Focus Word (including another 9-letter word)!

The Christmas holiday has been quite eventful. We had a big bird-moving day, shuttling the old turkeys into one run, the teenage turkeys into another open run and 6-week old babies out of the garage into the covered run to make room for more hatchlings. Of course it promptly turned cold overnight and one of the turkeys died. We grabbed the remaining 4 and brought them back into the garage for a couple more weeks. We’ve since had an odd young chicken death: it was found with its neck thrust through the chicken wire and no head – gruesome. I also put down a young turkey whose top and lower beak parts began to grow in opposite directions - most bizarre. It had seemed OK for a time, but then started to struggle to eat and seemed miserable.

New roost for teenage turkeys

Just before Christmas I caught two of the older turkeys and prepared them for Christmas dinner. Sold one to a lady in Cygnet and kept one for ourselves. So we are down to two girls and vicious Clive – plus all the youngsters. The girls and Luke had been hunting unsuccessfully for eggs for several days after we moved the birds and then found a small clutch & stuck them in the fridge. The following day I cracked one unsuspectingly to go into the sponge-cake I was making for the trifle base and found a half-developed dead baby bird in it! Urgh!

The weather has been mercifully mild here, although the forecast is for 30 degrees C tomorrow and 32 deg C on Tuesday. At least we are not subject to the 47+ being experienced in places on the mainland. We had one very hot day when it reached 34 deg C here. I bought some extra hoses and set up a sprinkler for the pigs. It was a pleasure to see them rolling in the mud and so obviously enjoying themselves. Being pigs, they had to mouth the hose and the sprinkler to check they weren’t food. Luckily they haven’t yet bitten through either. Also on the pig front we cooked up a piece of Brian and were greatly pleased to find it was most tasty – no hint of boar taint.

Mostly over the holidays we’ve been mowing and weeding. Owing to continued rain, the grass just keeps growing. It feels like painting the Forth Bridge. Both me and Bronte have managed to break the mower. Bronte had to take it apart to re-set the heat sensor and throttle linkages. Then the handle bust (for a second time). Mowers just aren’t made for our conditions. I also brush-cut all the banks which are impossible to mow and tend to look shaggily untidy.

Bronte’s still keeping the putting course mowed, but reckons it is the last year he’ll manage it. He mowed it last weekend in advance of a visit by Luke’s chums and their parents, only the weather conspired against us and poured all afternoon. Determined to use the course we went out in wellies & raincoats. Although I confess that the girls (including me and the WWOOFers) slunk away inside after 6 holes. The boys persevered and then went tearing across to a ‘slack line’ that Bronte has slung between two large trees down by the creek. He’s rigged another rope above to hang onto. Luke enjoys using the new watch we gave him for Christmas, to time how quickly he can cross the rope.

BD's new bridge on the putting course

The weeding is an even bigger, more intensive job. As per last year the hybrid fireweed is rife throughout the wild, overgrown bottom portion of our plot. Enormous scotch and milk thistles dot the large paddocks of the adjoining land we bought a year ago. I’ve spent hours crawling through the undergrowth in all weathers and faced rather more hazards than I expected. Over two days I managed to pick up 12 jack-jumper bites. Jack jumpers are vicious ants about 1cm long with orange mandibles. They are aptly named – as you look at them they are suddenly a hand’s span away without appearing to move. Anyhow I managed to disturb two nests and before I even saw an ant was stung under my right arm, thigh, hand and wrist. The bite itself is very painful, but worse still was the horrendous itching for days afterwards – so bad as to wake me at night. Bronte cheerfully told me that the more you get bitten the more sensitised you become.

Everything here except the sedge and bushes in the
background are weeds

Weeding terrain

Weed destruction

Echidna hiding amidst the weeds

A little friend that I accidentally brought back
with me from weeding

I’ve also seen a big snake crawling away in an area I had to then gingerly climb around in, in order to tackle the weeds. Rosie watched the snake with interest, but luckily didn’t try to bite it. Rosie’s my loyal companion down in the jack-jumper and snake-pit. I don’t see her for minutes on end, then catch sight of a sinuous shape through the bushes. She always knows where I am. Sometimes I crawl under a bush to be met by a wet nose and tongue. When we walk back she leaps around in the small dam, then when we walk onto a mowed paddock she has a mad fit, tearing around in circles, dragging her belly on the ground and wriggling on her back. It always makes me laugh. Rosie is such a pleasure to have around.

Bronte, Luke and the WWOOfers have been doing a sterling job chopping the weeds in the big pastures on our new land. Luke’s a demon chopper and seems to take pleasure in it – often asking his Dad if they can go chopping! He does earn Wii points and we’ve let him have more Wii time whilst he’s on holiday, so that works as quite a good incentive.

Walking regularly backwards and forwards past the dam is reaping a further benefit. The snakeheads (geese) seem gradually to be getting used to people again after the trauma of being chased all over the block some weeks back in an abortive attempt to catch the youngsters. I call them the ‘snakeheads’ because normally all you see of them is their curved necks gliding along above the sedge as they slink away from human contact. Now they are letting me get much closer before slipping into the big dam or the sedge. Bronte wants to get rid of the geese because they have made both the dams very muddy. It doesn’t matter to me aesthetically, but it does concern me a little that it might put off the platypus. Although they use the sensors on their noses, they do seem to be most prevalent in clean, running water. Trying to dream up an efficient non-traumatic way to catch the geese is causing some headaches. Feeding them in some sort of covered cage is probably the best idea, but how to shut the door on them is problematic.

We’d been delighting in a new litter of white bunny babies which had just emerged, when one of the big white ones was found dead. The following day the other white one was dead, then a grey one and so on. All died – without any apparent sign of illness – expect for 3 of the young white ones. I did a lot of research and reckon the most likely culprit is something called Calici-virus. This is a virus that is released regularly by the government to control rabbit numbers. Seems somewhat harsh given that many pet owners won’t know about it and the cost of vaccination is extortionate. It’s only saving grace is that the rabbits, once infected, die very quickly, within 48 hours and exhibit no signs of illness, malnutrition etc. The disease is also very persistent remaining viable in runs and pens for over two weeks. It seems to fit all our rabbits’ symptoms including the fact that those under 12 weeks of age are less susceptible. Ones that survive grow into immune adults. We’ve got the last 3 in the garage in one of the bird brooder cages. It is over a week now since the last one died so we have our fingers crossed. Luke would be gutted if they all died, he loves the bunnies.

Just as this was happening we had some unwelcome visitors in the bunny pen – a large swarm of bees. They hung in a great ball in the branches of one of our flowering shrubs and eventually pulled the whole bush over. The WWOOFs were most alarmed and seemed a bit taken aback when I said I wasn’t going to do anything about them and that most likely they would move off of their own volition. This they finally did, although we didn’t see them go.

Christmas was good, we had two WWOOFers with us for our over-large lunch. We had the traditional turkey with all the trimmings including home-made stuffing and garlicky cheese sauce with our veggies. For pud we had home-made mince pies with some rather delicious fruit mince given to us by a friend, to which I’d added grated butter and chopped nuts. I made the mince pies for me and a huge strawberry trifle for the rest of them. The latter went down very well, with Bronte and Luke having several portions each. Luke got plenty of presents, although I think was a tiny bit disappointed that he didn’t get something exciting like a remote controlled car or nerf gun. However, all the second-hand books that I bought him off the net, have already been read, with only ‘Wildwood’ left now. He’s just pronounced that as ‘awesome’.

Christmas with Celia & Julis

Luke and I went on a creek adventure on
Christmas Day - after we'd slept off our lunch

Not sure whether Luke still believes in Father Christmas, but clearly wants to hedge his bets. He puts his stocking and little red sack on the end of his bed and then just to confound us, also put a plastic bag out for Murphy, with a note asking Santa to leave some cat treats. We then had to make some little food balls and a pom-pom on a rope. So we always put a few pressies in the sack and stocking from Santa, with the marked ones under the tree. One again, the tree was so covered in tinsel and lights that it was actually unrecognisable as a tree. Bridget had sent some ‘black’ soap for Luke, which is meant to turn you dirty when you use it! I gave it to him in the shower and hung around curiously, but it was dead loss unfortunately! Much better, is the last lot of soap I made which is possibly the best I’ve ever made. I sent a bar to each of the family in the UK, but the cost of postage is so extortionate.

I bought Bront a load of audio books to listen to in the car when driving to and from work, plus some rather exotic seeds and several DVD box-sets. We’ve since watched the first series of Homeland which we greatly enjoyed. For Bronte’s birthday I bought him an adaptor that should enable him to play his ipod (which he’s never used since I bought it for him around two years ago) through the car radio, plus another couple of audio books. The great-looking Tree Encyclopaedia I also bought off the net, still hasn’t arrived. I just need to load some good shows onto the ipod and set the adaptor up for him, before we have to return to work on Monday.

The Saturday before Christmas, we went to a normal Little Athletics meeting, followed by the Christmas party. It seemed interminable but Luke had a whale of a time.

On Christmas Eve, one of Luke’s chums from school came to visit, pretty much out of the blue. I’d rung his grandad some days before and was unable to get hold of the mum or dad. Then the grandad turned up with the lad on Christmas Eve morning and left him there for the day. It was great for Luke and they were able to entertain themselves quite well. A few days after Christmas, Bronte took them both to the Aquatic Centre in Hobart. That was great for him as they splashed happily together and plunged down the water slides and needed very little supervision.

On Boxing Day we went into Hobart mainly to get a new dishwasher, ours having given up the ghost a fortnight before. We took the WWOOFs, one of whom needed to get a tent for camping on the mainland. We got a rather smart dishwasher that sings to us when you turn it on and when it’s finished its cycle. The girls got a tent and I also bought some new red lights for our dining room. We’ve put up with useless lights in there for years – narrow ones with red shades that shine hardly any light onto the table. The new ones have much wider shades, are a deeper red and give us a great light on the table for reading and eating. I was very pleased with myself for having fitted the new lights myself. The first item on the instructions was ‘these lights must be fitted by a qualified electrician’.

We went on a couple of outings to view the best decorated houses in the vicinity. Here in Australia at Christmas-time, it doesn’t get dark until after 9pm so we had to keep Luke up and drove first around Kingston and then around Huonville. Some people make an extraordinary effort, with lights spread across their roofs and all around their gardens. They were quite magical outings.

On New Year’s Eve we met up with some of Luke’s mates, one of whose birthday is on New Year’s Eve, at Long Beach in Sandy Bay. We scoffed burgers and played rounders which was terrific fun. When the party broke up we drove to Hobart and were lucky enough to find a parking spot in Battery Point. We walked out to the end of the wharf and sat with drinks and tea to watch the fireworks – which were really superb this year. We managed an episode of Homeland when we got back and even saw the Sydney fireworks at 12pm. These were so hugely over the top, they verged on vulgarity. Couldn’t help but keep thinking of the cost – although I think Dubai surpassed even Sydney on that score.

I had my final Christmas present this week. The present I opened from Bronte and Luke on Christmas Day was a block and tackle (1000kg!). I did ask for it, so can’t complain. It’s for lifting up heavy animals for skinning and gutting, although it’s currently rigged in the garage for lifting up the back of the ride-on mower so Bronte can sharpen the blades. Luke also likes to swing on the chains. Anyhow, the rather more luxurious present was a full-body massage of which I felt much in need. Lovely!

Skink on Luke's back

Yet another jigsaw ..