Visit my Etsy Shop!

2 August 2014

It’s been yet another eventful few weeks, in which we’ve learnt how to determine the gender of bunnies, acquired a giant pig and a young goat buck, had a sick dog, lost several hens to a mystery predator and found a further clutch of guinea fowl eggs.

I’d placed an ad on Gumtree seeking a boar and had a call from a lady whose father wanted to sell all his pigs over near New Norfolk. We’d made an appointment for last Friday morning, but on Thursday evening Rosie-dog started coughing up blood and became terribly lethargic. Having spoken to the out of hours vet it was decided she wasn’t an emergency. So we set off early on Friday with our lovely new WWOOFs, Andre & Vikki (from the UK) and Luke and Rosie and called first at the Kingston vets. The first challenge was parking the ute with goat float attached in the vet car-park. Remarkably I managed to back it into a space first time and push the trailer back into a hedge. Luckily the vet was able to see Rosie quite quickly and we ended up leaving her there looking pathetic and abandoned. I was convinced she had something caught in her throat.

Bruce licking Rosie's eyes

We then set off for the pig-man. This turned out to a considerably longer drive than anticipated as the location turned out to be beyond New Norfolk and 10km up a lonely twisty dirt lane, to the very last house in the valley. We looked up a hill through a sea of weeds to see an enormous grey head with elephant-sized ears eyeing us suspiciously. This was our first glimpse of Stan. Usually I would haggle and suggest $80 instead of the $100 being asked, but I was far too awestruck. Stan was persuaded out of his pen and within 5 minutes was in the trailer having followed a trail of apples we’d fortuitously brought along with us. As far as we can tell, he’s eaten nothing but apples ever since! When asked, the chap said the boar was called ‘Fathead’! How awful. We quickly changed it to Stan.

Stan pretty well filled up the goat float. He’s a large white but is long, hairy and grey. Not at all pink and round as I imagined him. We rang Bronte at work and he saw us going past down Davy Street! Stan was quite a talking point all the way home, both at the petrol station we stopped at in Hobart and again at the Grove Shop.

When we finally got home, I was quite tired from the drive and worrying about Rosie and rounding up Stan. So we parked the trailer on the drive, chucked a tarp over it for shade and retreated inside for lunch. I’d noted that Stan had very dry skin, with scabs and lice behind his ears. My plan was to feed him and get some cream onto these areas while he ate – before we released him from the trailer. However, once I opened the personal door, Stan ignored the food (it wasn’t apples unfortunately) and pushed past me – there was no way I could think of stopping him. He was off and we set off, panic-struck, in hot pursuit. We managed to surround him – and thank goodness Andre could run because I’ve been struck down with a bug that’s brought my ashthma on. Within a couple of hundred yards I was close to collapse! Eventually by surrounding him and throwing a trail of apples we managed to get him into the old pig pen, recently vacated by the pigs and now home to Rocky, the new buck.

I quickly chained Rocky & opened the rough electric ‘gate’ between the old and new pig pens where the sows were. Of course, rather than going in with the sows, Stan lay in their old wallow and refused to move. It was an awfully hot day and he’d had quite enough excitement. Peppa and Blaize were unable to contain their curiosity and were soon in the pen with Stan and Rocky. It didn’t take Stan long to sniff out Peppa and she seemed only too willing. Blaize was awfully miffed and and took her temper out on poor Rocky, putting her snout under him and throwing him in the air. Rocky began baa-ing madly and I had to rush in and rescue him, run out and temporarily fasten him to the pear tree! It was then a matter of waiting. Blaize sulked off to lie in the furthest hut from the new lovers and eventually Stan and Peppa ran out of wind. We chained Rocky up behind the pig pens amidst a huge grove of blackberries. He was not to be consoled however, and baa-ed miserably when we left him.

A surfeit of pig pics .. sows in new pen

Luke and his school mate Jacob examining ants' nests and being
kept company by the sows

New water bowl in pigs' pen. Everything in a pig pen has to solid -
water particularly, otherwise they get their snouts under the bowl &
tip it over. This design works a treat.


Becoming friends

Finally, we left the pigs and I ran inside to ring the vets. It appeared that poor Rosie had tonsillitis – something that had never occurred to me. Bronte and I were both suffering from a rotten cold with sore throats and we wondered if Rosie had come out in sympathy. I was about to set out again to pick her up when Bronte rang and suggested picking her up on his return from work. She was still coughing but seemed a bit brighter. She’d been provided with a course of antibiotics and steroids, all of which cost us close to $500!

Later that evening, Andre was looking out of the kitchen window and noted that all pigs were in the new pen. I ran out and shut the electric fence ‘gate’ behind them and we were able to release Rocky back into his pen the following day. He’d made a sizeable chunk in the blackberries during his confinement. I spent several hours over the next two days making a proper set of gates between the two pens with a walkway between. At least now we can move animals between the pens with ease should the need arise. Normally, the pigs are in the lower pens during summer, but move into the drier, higher pen for the winter.

New gates and walkway between pig and pig/ bucks' pen

We’d acquired Rocky the previous week from closer to home – Glen Huon. I’d spotted an ad for an 18 month old Toggenburg cross for just $100, which seemed a bargain. Luke and I went off to acquire him, trailer in tow. At first we wondered if we’d missed the owners because there was no-one at home but a crazy dog which barked madly at us and leapt all over the ute trying to get at our two bristling mutts on the back seat. The owner eventually turned up and we were introduced to Rocker (named after a Lego hero apparently). He seemed a nice-enough and placid boy, if rather smaller than anticipated. I offered her $80 and she accepted. It was afternoon and Rocky (following a quick name modification) seemed happy parked in the trailer with hay, chaff and water, so we left him there while we returned to Huonville for shopping and a twilight Little Athletics meet.

The following morning me and Luke climbed into the trailer to check out Rocky at which point he decided to pee all over his front legs and all over Luke. Luke was appalled and I fell about laughing. I keep joking that Rocky fancies Luke. We trimmed his hooves, which were awful, poor old boy. The outside had grown such that it had folded back right under the hoof. We also fitted a new stronger collar, an ear-tag (about which he was greatly unimpressed) and drenched him for worms. We then tethered him in the pig pen, from which we’d moved the pigs the previous day (no simple feat in itself).

We kept him tethered for a week because I wasn’t sure how he would respond to electric fences. When we released him he was as good as gold and never tried to test the fence. He was especially good as I hadn’t immediately realised that there were only 2 strands between him and pig-walkway which he could have stepped over at any time. Perhaps he had no wish to encounter the pigs again! He’s shown no desire to chase after the females up the hill and I don’t think they have yet got wind of him. 

State of poor Rocky's hooves

It looked much worse a
few days later when the
bruising came out

I’ve been in the wars a bit the last few days. Apart from this horrid bug which has kept me awake at night coughing, the last goat whose hooves I had to clip, managed somehow to pull me over in the goat yard. I went flat onto my right side and cut my arm and leg up on a jagged part of a metal food trough. There was a particularly nasty gouge in my right arm and I was decidedly shaken up. I gritted my teeth and caught the goat again, giving her a bit of a kick for good measure and did her hooves as quick as possible despite the pain in my right forearm. Then I staggered back to the garage and told the WWOOFs I had to go and apply some first aid! The arm has been quite a talking point in the couple of days’ since and my hip and thighs are both bruised and stiff.

I’ve still been spending much of my time weeding in the rough area of our original land. I use the term ‘weeding’ loosely, because it is only remotely akin to the type of weeding you might do in your veggie patch. Most of the time I’m scrambling under or over brambles, through fallen trees, rolling down slippery slopes or wading in bogs, just to reach the elusive fireweed before it seeds. The fireweed and scotch thistles are regularly taller than me. I’ve been too late in a couple of places, some seeds already starting to escape. This has not been helped by the unremitting heat and sun, with total lack of rain. I can’t recall a 3 or 4 week period where it has stayed so hot for day after day. I know it’s not at all hot compared to the mainland, but I’m already suffering rain withdrawal symptoms. I think of Rafael Nadal in the Aussie Open when I’m crawling through our jungle with the sweat literally pouring off my face.

Weeding territory:-

Crabtree Rivulet


We’ve been moving the birds around over the last weeks. The last of the chicks have gone outside and we’ve now got all the first batches of turkeys together with the run of two pens, under the watchful eye of Clive the Attacker. His last two hens have gone into the freezer – and in fact we ate one tonight. I stepped out into the dusk just now and watched the turkeys fighting over which was going to get which bit of wattle branch to roost in. All but the smallest chickens are in the big covered run with the peacocks and guinea-fowl. The latter have done us proud by laying another clutch of eggs – 14 in total – which are now in the incubator. I’m looking forward to some tiny dinosaurs hatching out.

Chicken feeding frenzy. The guinea-fowl and peacocks each
monopolise a bowl and the chickens all try to eat out of the
remaining one!

We lost several hens over a fortnight, to a mystery predator which ate every part of a bird excepting the wings and a band of skin across the back. So whatever it is, it is relatively sizeable, because these are almost fully grown birds. Also, it is agile and persistent, but presumably not a quoll because it’s not going mad and killing everything. We’re pretty sure it’s a cat but we’ve been unable to trap it to prove our theory. I found a small hole it was squeezing through – but only because all the chicks swarmed out through same hole and tried to eat the pigs’ food. Then another time I found a part of the fence overhang squished back where it had presumably managed to climb over before squeezing through the gate into the covered area. We seem at last to have deterred it over the past few nights. The poor hens are easy pickings and it would be awful to lose them all.

Luke and the WWOOFs are very fond of the hens and go in their pen for cuddles. They are rather handsome hens – some jet black, others grey and chestnut. I expect they’ll all turn out to be roosters.

Owing to the awful heat and dryness I’ve been trying to set up upturned water bottles in the clay bank in front of the house to enable efficient watering of my poor plants which are clinging on there. This has turned out to be more of a hassle than anticipated. The bank is so hard I’ve had to use a bolster chisel (the sort for breaking rocks and concrete) and a club hammer to dig the holes in which to place the bottles. So what I thought would be a quick job is still not complete. I’ve got 3 more of the 21 to do. The ones already in do seem to be working – when I remember to put water in them.

Smoke haze over the mountains

Bugs brought out by the warm weather:-

I sent the last pair of WWOOFs (an Austrian and a French girl) around the goat fences to look for any damage following high winds of a few weeks’ back and also to clear back any vegetation either side, particularly bracken. The girls were very sweet but also rather vague and scatty. As far as I could see they removed absolutely no vegetation. They found 2 branches on the fence and reckoned we’d need the chainsaw to remove them. Firstly Luke and I spent an age trying to find the branches owing to the random instructions and when we did, were able to move them with relative ease by hand. Bronte and I both tried to impress on them the importance of putting back the hose from the house tap after use and turning off the tap. I think they just thought we were anal. They just couldn’t comprehend the notion of the tanks emptying owing to a leaking hose and then the possibility of a bushfire coming through and us with no water to fight it. They thought we were paranoid and we thought them irresponsible! Despite this they were nice company.

They couldn't make bread though:-

A third failure was averted by me turning a random mix of bread and non-bread flours into a 'pig cake':-

These two are considerably more thorough. I’ve got them feeding the pigs and birds daily at present, owing to the heat spoiling the food so quickly. They quickly got into the swing of mixing the food and the portions needed. Also, they remember to turn on the tap for the pigs’ wallow and to clean out the birds’ waterers. Yesterday and this morning, we loaded up the ute and goat float with all the rubbish, recycling and scrap from around the house and sheds. The ute was overflowing. Most of the scrap was horrible rusty barbed wire. I had to jump up and down on it to flatten it sufficiently. Then we picked up a squashed heavy water tank from the big hay shed on our new land and a large lump of rusty panelling before battening it all down. We pitched up at Little Athletics looking like the out-of-town hobos. It was great to get it all dropped off at the tip. 
While I sit here writing, it has suddenly started to rain. I can’t tell you how sweet the sound of it is on our corrugated iron roof. It’s still 23degC outside and I can smell the warm wetness coming in through the open sliding doors from the darkness outside. It’s meant to be 32degC and windy tomorrow, but perhaps this is a hint of a cooler front coming through.

Bronte’s been able to catch up with the tractor slashing through the good weather, despite a set-back when the water pump broke. He managed to get a new one sent to the Grove Shop in a couple of days and fitted it himself having made new gaskets for all the connections. The place looks very tidy now, except for a few patches of straggly Californian thistles, which we must really get on top of next year. We’ve even had to mow around the house this weekend, despite the hot weather. He’s also had to fix up the little chainsaw – turned out the spark-plug was filthy and that was why it kept cutting out on me. That never crossed my mind. Although it is still so hot, it will be easy to slip into winter without having collected sufficient firewood for the season. So that’s one of the next projects, as well as painting the house, finishing the goat fence, completing the veggie patch ..

I just went downstairs because we heard the most mournful sound from the laundry. It must have been from poor Bruce. He hates this hot weather and he’s been looking awfully old and stiff. He’s 11 now and I hoped he might go on for many more years. I can only assume he was dreaming. I try to bring him upstairs when we have the air-conditioning on but he doesn’t seem to settle. I got him a new bed for two bucks from one of the op shops the other day and frankly he prefers to stay there all day.

Two weeks ago I had 6 tonnes of gravel delivered without telling Bronte! I thought he might throw a fit or try to dissuade me if I told him beforehand. There is still a bit of goat track that I can’t drive on despite the prolonged dry spell – water sits in the ruts. We got stuck there a few weeks’ back when one of Bronte’s friends and family came to visit and all wanted a ride in the back of the little Suzuki. Trouble is I’ve done nothing with it & really the aggregate size is too small to do the job. I need great big rocks to build a base and sink into the mud – like I did for the pig hard-standing, which has remarkably made it through 2 winters now. For the latter however, I probably moved about 15 tonnes of rock and gravel. I had 8 tonnes delivered which I shovelled into the ute and moved down there bit by bit, and I must have collected the same amount of rocks and other aggregate for the foundation and top-dressing. I’m not sure I can manage that amount of effort again! My right shoulder has never been the same since. I noticed at the tip that there was a huge mound of dumped concrete that was being broken into small boulder-sizes. That would be ideal.

Once it seemed clear that the 3 fluffy white bunnies in the garage were going to survive the virus that wiped out the rest, we determined to work out their gender. This turned out to be not nearly as straightforward as anticipated and almost as awkward as the geese. Luke and I studied some rather revolting pictures off the internet and decided that 2 were females and one a male – a good result. We’ve since returned the 2 girls outside (where there is one lonesome grey bunny that also survived the holocaust) and kept the boy inside. We thought it would be worthwhile for them to be full-grown before letting them breed again. However, we can’t be sure whether the grey one outside is male or not because it’s eluded capture. I’ve written in the white ones’ ears with permanent marker – ‘girl’ in pink for the girls and ‘boy’ in blue for the buck!

Luke with obliging bunny

I had the carpet man in recently to sort out our lounge and clean the sofa base and dining chairs. He had all these pipes winding in from outside the house, up the stairs and through the dining room and the carpet took days to dry. Once it dried there were horrible snakey tide-marks on the carpet. I had to get him back to get them out – it appears his hoses lay there while he did the sofa. It is all much better now however, so well worth the money (and Bronte’s poo-pooing beforehand).

Through all this, Bronte and I have returned to work after our 3 week ‘break’, and at long last, Luke has gone back to school. In our second week, Bronte and I had to take 3 days off between us to look after Luke with his bug and then both of us have had a bit of time off with our own sicknesses. Other than animal collections and tip-visiting we’ve not gone anywhere – apart from Little Athletics. Luke’s no longer winning everything, although he has broken the turbo-jav record for the centre. We thought he might do the same with the high jump but he’s run out of time now. He’s jumped 1.12m which is pretty amazing. The record for his age-group is 1.16m. It’s been awfully hot at the meets which has not been conducive to good performances.

We spent an hour at the Wrest Point Targa on an early morning Lucaston stage:-

This lamborghini was a molten wreck by the following morning

I attended an anti-pulp mill rally last month. The government and

opposition have resurrected the nightmare of this wood-gobbling
monster, which was plagued by corruption and conflict when it was
first proposed by the now-defunct Gunns. People are living in cloud-
cuckoo-land if they think it will only use plantation timber. Plus the original
plan was for it to be powered by a dreaded biomass plant. A letter to the paper
described those who attended the rally as lazy no-goods who ought
to go out and find a job! Good old Peter Cundall (an Aussie gardening icon) gave
a rousing speech against it.