Visit my Etsy Shop!

Monday 10 March 2014

I haven’t been as active as usual since my last post owing to a chest and sinus bug that’s even now hanging around after six weeks. Nonetheless there has still been action on the farm front. We’ve lost Stan, the geese and five turkeys and gained nine guinea-fowl chicks, Henry the sheep and two ducks. We’ve also picked over 20kg of blackberries, chain-sawed a heap of firewood and begun clearing a paddock for horse agistment.

We were short on pig food since it was too early for the new crop of potatoes and we were close to the end of cold-stored piggy apples before the new picking season, so I decided that now Stan the boar had (apparently) done his duty, it was time for him to go. Being so huge, he ate an awful lot. For the first week he ate nothing but apples, but soon discovered the delights of cooked scraps and mushy pellets. He’d clearly benefited from improved food and a permanent mud-wallow with us as the dry skin, scabs and mites behind his ears, had disappeared completely. I put him on Gumtree for the paltry sum of $50 thinking he would be difficult to sell. However, there were two calls immediately and one of the guys turned up the following day with a trailer.

I didn’t feed the pigs in the morning and hoped Stan’s greed would help lure him into the trailer. We had a certain amount of shenanigans with the sows getting in the way and Stan deciding to step over the electric fence (something he could have presumably done anytime), but eventually the temptation of pig pellets soaked in cooking juices was sufficient for him to overcome his caution and get his front half into the trailer. It was a couple of feet off the ground, so I doubted he’d get in, but with a nudge from behind he very obligingly clambered up and carried on eating. He was still eating as his new owners drove away and I wished I’d asked $150. I was rather sad to see him go – it’s unusual to find such a cooperative, affable and awesome creature. However, at least I know where he’s gone and I may be able to borrow him again if we need him. They have several sows where he’s going so I do hope he’ll be happy.

The poor geese took a one-way flight to the pig brew. Bronte had determined they had to go because they’d made such a dirty mess of the dams. Vikki and Andre, our WWOOFs, made a goose trap to my instructions but there was no way I could get the blighters to go in there. I put their food in the back of the trap then drove a distance away and lay down behind the Suzuki, one end of the cord leading to the stick that held the entrance door up, clutched in my sweaty paw. For half an hour I watched the geese mooch around nonchalantly - near the trap but never showing any interest in the food. Eventually I got fed up and tried to herd them into the trap. Instead they slid into the dam and stayed there, despite all my antics.

Goose trap

Finally, I got cross enough to fetch the rifle and shoot them all! In the end it was probably the most humane way, given that if they had gone in the trap they would probably have been awfully traumatised. Whereas the gun was quick and the others didn’t seem to catch on to what was happening. I was a bit worried about the placement of a single bullet and if that would be enough to kill a big bird, but it worked fine. I had planned for all the young ones to go in the freezer but couldn’t face the work involved, particularly since I had to fish some out of the dam. Instead I’m afraid we just cooked them all up for the pigs.

We had yet another power cut recently. We’d decided to spend a quick hour down at the big hay shed on our new land clearing up some of the rubbish. It had been an awfully hot day and the wind was starting to pick up. As we reached the gate, the wind turned briefly violent, swirling leaves and sticks into the air. We continued down the road and into the shed as the air became wilder. While we worked, the wind raged above the roof and pine cones and sticks rained down on the corrugated iron. It still didn’t really dawn on us however, how strong the gusts had become. We emptied an apple crate filled with sacks and sheets of old board. At one stage I saw something large and hairy on my arm and realised it was a huge huntsman spider. I lost my cool instantly and leapt about flapping at my arm and squealing. The huntsman flew through the air onto the dirt, but I was still convinced there was something stuck to me.

Another large huntsman spider. We've found a few orange spiders
recently that look like huntsmen. When we did some research it turns
out they are a sub-species called 'shield' huntsmen, owing to a
shield design on their underside

We filled the ute with rubbish and scrap and set off down the road to go to the tip. The wind had settled by this time although the clouds were streaming across the sky. At the bottom of Crabtree we were stopped by a queue of cars. A tall, narrow tree had fallen across the road, brought down the power lines and started a small fire. We heard that the other way out of Crabtree via Lucaston was blocked by a similar incident. Realising that our power was probably out, we hurried home. The WWOOFs told us that the electric had gone off only about 5 minutes after we left. Feeling that my guinea-fowl eggs were doomed, I brought one of my hugely heavy deep-cycle batteries over from the garage and hooked up the inverter to the incubator. Luckily, because it was such a warm day, the temperature in the incubator still read 30degC, which probably meant the egg core temperature was several degrees higher.

A large wattle that fell on Crabtree Road during the short storm

The electric remained out for the rest of the evening and we set up candle stations around the living areas. When I rung Aurora it turned out that most of the Huon Valley and surrounding area had lost power. It seemed extraordinary that so much damage had been caused by a freak storm that lasted barely an hour. To add insult to injury we received a card from Aurora saying we were to have a planned outage for a full day so that they could clear vegetation near the power lines above us. So we prepared by setting up the battery and inverter and bringing in water for drinking and loo-flushing. On the day, the electric remained on, so I rang Aurora to ask for timings, only to be told that the planned outage was cancelled. I expect we shall have to go through the same rigmarole when they set a new date.

We had been motivated to clear out the big hay shed by a neighbour asking if they might agist up to three horses on a small portion of our new land, bounded by road and creek. The shed stands in one corner and we’ve suggested she also annex part of this with her electric fence such that the horses have shelter during the day and she has the opportunity to convert it for hay and tack storage. We’ve had to negotiate with the other neighbours who run their cattle on our land since this will reduce their acreage by around 5%. We’ve slightly reduced their monthly agistment fee and they seem to be fairly relaxed – although it’s hard to tell! The horse agistment deal is far more lucrative for us than the cattle, so we have to go for it.

I’d calculated that the guinea-fowls were due to hatch around a week after the storm. I stopped turning them, turned up the humidity and watched them for pipping. Nothing happened and I began to feel that they were no good. I’d candled them earlier in the week and whilst three were obviously infertile, the image of the embryos in the others was inconclusive. I did open one, lifting a small portion of eggshell from the bigger end. As far as I could tell it seemed to be alive. I never dreamt that one would survive even though I carefully sealed it up with some thin plastic and masking tape. About four days after I expected it, the eggs suddenly took me by surprise by starting to peep and crack.

The following day we had nine of the prettiest chicks you can imagine – including one from the egg I’d opened earlier in the week. They were tiger-striped in amber and brown, across their heads and down their backs. Two were a different coloration – Vikki said they looked as though they were “inside out”. They were almost lilac in colour. I did some research with the idea that perhaps this was a gender bias, but apparently that only works with brown parents (I didn’t even know guinea-fowls came in brown). Anyhow, two weeks later, they are still just as pretty, and have suddenly started to grow with a vengeance. It’s a pity they will end up with bald, crested dinosaur heads.

First two guinea-fowl chicks

The entire clutch - looking a trifle greenish!

A fortnight ago on a Thursday I had a text from a neighbour saying the Ranelagh show was on that day. This little livestock auction is generally on a Wednesday and I’d given up trying to go as I was always at work. I’d been trying to find a little sheep or goat wether to keep Rocky the buck company so this seemed an ideal opportunity. I ran inside and called Roberts the sales agents. It turned out the sale had already started and was to coincide with a clearing sale. So we stopped what we were doing, quickly hitched up the trailer and roared off to Ranelagh. It turned out that there were a heap of sheep for sale (no goats) but they had already gone.

I found our neighbour and asked her who the sheep had gone to – I mentioned a local butcher who often buys up meat animals and it turned out he was standing talking to her. He was a jolly old soul and between exchanging jokes with all-comers he agreed to sell me a 12 month old sheared wether for $55. It seemed like a bargain to me. Having paid up I backed up the trailer and we manhandled ‘Henry’ – now christened – into it. I asked the butcher if he’d still be OK to eat and he said “yes, he’d be OK as summer lamb – some are lamb and some are not!” and roared with laughter. So the plan is to eat poor Henry in May when Rocky gets to run with the girls. Rocky can stay with them until close to kidding time, when we’ll have to find him another companion.

Henry - tethered for first couple of days until he knew it was home

We parked Henry in the shade and had a quick peek into the poultry sales shed. There were the usual roosters going for $2 or $5, and various types of hens, bantams and pigeons. There were also a few ducks, two of which were very young and cute. I resolved to get them for Luke if we could, given he’s got a penchant for ducks. We bought them for $10, paid up there and then and were able to take them straightaway. We hadn’t thought to bring a crate so the WWOOFs had to cradle a wriggling duck each on their laps until we got home. The ducks are now settled happily in the bunny and hen pen near the garage. The hens eat most of their food, but they seem to be doing well enough on what they can forage.

They are Muscovy ducks, which are not my favourite sort of duck owing to the lumpy appendage around their beaks. However, I’ve since done some research and they seem to be a most useful type of creature. Apparently they eat loads of flies, mozzies, slugs and all sorts of other pasture pests. They are good to eat, swim less than other ducks (which means they don’t make such a mess of dams and ponds) and can become very friendly. I’ve built them a small pond with a concreted-in plastic tub and arranged rocks around it. I’ve also started to convert an old bath I bought years ago for the geese. It’s a spa bath which is not helpful. By the time I’d cut all the pipes and nozzles off I had 8 big holes in the bath! I’ve patched them now with a combination of corrugated plastic, silicon and bitumen tape. I’ve also bought a fitting for the plughole, with the intention of adding a pipe so we can empty it when the water gets too muddy. I’ll need to get the WWOOFs to dig a hole for it (and the outflow pipe) down in the big peacock pen.

Our turkey numbers have been a little depleted of late. The birds are eating a huge amount of food because we are at peak numbers. Also we are terribly low on meat, with just a couple of Brian roasts left. So I decided the three biggest (all white ones) had to go to the freezer. They were still a little immature but amounted to over 3kg each, which was a decent weight. They took a lot of plucking owing to all the rubbery, immature feathers.

This morning, the girls found one of the youngest turkeys unable to walk. I’d noticed one sitting on the ground yesterday, but since several were having a dust bath hadn’t thought anything of it. When I went to find the disabled turkey, I found another just the same and I’ve had to both of them down. I felt dreadful doing it. I’d already had to put one down from that pen and earlier when they were chicks in the brooder cage, I’d had to put one down with a deformed beak. Obviously they are lacking something or have been affected by something to which the other broods haven’t been exposed. Clearly it’s also something to which hens are not sensitive since there are several perfectly healthy hens in the same run. I’ll need to do a load of research.

We’ve been regularly setting the possum trap behind the turkeys since losing so many hens over a period of weeks. Then one morning Bronte and Luke called me and the WWOOFs in some excitement. We’d caught a grizzled old quoll – large for the breed (it was an Eastern quoll not the large tiger quoll) and jet black, crouched in the corner hissing at us warily. He was a quite beautiful creature. If it was him that had been catching the hens, he belied the normal quoll nature of killing everything in sight in a blood-lust. As an old-timer, perhaps he’d learnt to just take what he needed. Luke opened the door of the trap and after a few seconds of indecision he was off like a black and white streak.

Another morning, when I was laid up ill, the dogs were driving me bonkers yelping outside. When I investigated, they appeared to have something holed up in a drainage pipe under the entrance to the veggie patch. I gathered the WWOOFs and a long ‘stick’ of pipes joined together, armed one WWOOFer with a net and asked the other to keep the dogs under control. I pushed the stick through the pipe while Andre held the net over the other end. Suddenly there was bedlam at the other end, with Andre trying to seize a belligerent, growling quoll and Bruce trying to bite its head off and Rosie yelping maniacally. I ran up there and booted Bruce off. The quoll stood its ground for a few moments longer then shot down another, larger culvert pipe. Bruce followed all a-bustle but returned empty-handed. I just hope the quoll got away unharmed. I returned to the sofa exhausted!

The concrete pig feeder that Brian the boar wrecked by somehow walking right through it, has finally been fixed. The concrete was always difficult to clean out, so I got the WWOOFs to concret- in large plastic tubs that would be easy to clean. They did a really good job. Then I fixed the missing lid back on. It’s no longer hinged but at least it’s waterproof and sturdy. The pigs’ hinged sides still work fine – they put their snouts under the lids and nose them up before poking their heads in to eat. It means we can put their food out without danger of other animals eating it or it drying out or becoming full of water. However, the weather is so hot and dry again that I’ve asked the WWOOFs to feed the pigs and birds daily so their food doesn’t spoil.

We took Vikki and Andre to the Tahune Airwalk before they left since they’d been such good companions and willing workers. It was an awfully expensive, but fun day. I was still under the weather so sat outside in the sun while they all roared round the long walk that takes hikers over two large, swaying swing bridges. I enjoyed the walk around the airwalk itself, which comprises a metal walkway up in the crowns of the trees themselves: gums, myrtles, sassafras and celery-top pine.

Vikki, Luke and Andre

On the day the WWOOFs were due to leave, Luke woke up sobbing at 5am. The first I knew was him snuggling up alongside me and Bronte – apparently Bronte had heard him and went to comfort him.

Luke was terribly upset that the WWOOFs were leaving because they’d really played with him, on the Wii, at cricket and soccer and helping at Little Athletics. Once they were gone, however, he settled down again. The next couple – who’ve already been and gone – were also very young and friendly. They were a German couple called Marius and Tabea. I felt a little guilty when they went as they wrote that they found the work ‘hard’, although they seemed to have enjoyed themselves. Wow, that boy could eat!

We now have two German girls, Michelle and Luisa, who are both very pleasant. Luisa overlapped with the German couple so she already knows the ropes. Michelle arrived yesterday so she’s getting into the swing of things today. She’s a scientist who wants to study bio-medicine and neurology, so quite an egghead.

Luisa, Tabea and Marius

Over the last few weeks, with the various WWOOFers, we’ve picked maybe 20kg of blackberries and begun to turn them into cordial, jelly and liqueur. The liqueur is made with a vodka base in much the same way as sloe gin, just by soaking blackberries and sugar with the liquor for a couple of months, with regular stirring or shaking. I’ve had a little taste and it’s yummy. I made 10 litres of concentrated cordial on Saturday. Despite the recipe being so simple, it still took all day. First the blackberries had to be simmered in water, then sieved through an old sheet, then the juice measured and the requisite amount of sugar and lemon juice added.

Finally, the bottles all had to be sterilised and filled and labelled. I used a load of lidded jars I’d got from a second hand shop as well as vodka bottles we’d emptied for the liqueur and some plastic bottles Bronte had bought for his beer brewing. I managed to shrink these latter bottles! When I added boiling water to sterilise them they shrunk in and down, it was amazing to watch! Bronte was somewhat appalled. The cordial is nice but lacking a certain something – perhaps it needs more lemon and less water and sugar. We reckon we get through nearly 50 litres of concentrate a year, so I need to make another 40 litres!

Yesterday, I made a similar amount of jelly (jam without seeds). However, much to my chagrin, so far it’s not jellified. I’m trying not to be downhearted. I’ve stowed all 31 jars away in the pantry and thought I’ll check it again in a week’s time. If it’s still liquid, I’ll get the WWOOFs to re-boil it with some pectin or jam-setter.

Boys pear-picking on a beautiful day. The WWOOFs have since
picked four feed-bags of little sour pears. No use for us, but great
for birds, pigs and goats.

Since I’ve been feeling a bit better, I’ve been doing a bit of chain-sawing. I do the bare minimum to make it possible for the WWOOFs to bring back the lumps of firewood to the tractor shed. We can always continue to chain-saw and chop them there in the dry. There’s also a load of old fence panels and pallets which the WWOOFs have pulled apart and put on the pile. Some of these I’ll saw into lengths for chopping into kindling. I spend most of my time swearing at the chainsaw and trying to start it. I only use the little one but it’s supremely temperamental. It takes a lot of strength to pull the pull-cord so it gets most frustrating and tiring.

Managed to get Bronte to do some chain-sawing. I said I couldn't
do that and paint the outside of the house. This is his 'before' picture.

After chain-sawing

I came back from the front gate a couple of days ago with the sweat pouring down my face, thoroughly exhausted. Two gums that we planted when we first moved in had fallen in among all the other gums and blackwoods. So I was fighting through the low branches as well as fighting with the chainsaw. The trees were quite big with trunks about 40cm diameter at the bottom – not bad for 10 years’ growth. I’ve put corrugated iron around the firewood in the tractor shed, secured with star pickets. This will help contain the wood and make it easier to gather a large pile.

Nice tidy tractor shed at last with all vehicles stowed, firewood pile
just starting. Hay safely stored one end.

 More recent pic with corrugated supports & heaps more wood

The swallows outside our office window have successfully fledged a second brood of four babies. I peeked out recently to see four fully grown youngsters clinging to the one tiny nest, still expecting Mum and Dad to feed them. I expect they’ll be off soon. At least in this warm weather, they will have plenty of time to feed-up before the long migration north to the mainland. I’d always wondered where they went. According to what I can find on the net, they end up in various parts of the mainland including South Australia, NSW and Queensland.

I’ve been working on a ‘business plan’ to try and make the farm pay so we need not work for Council any more. I’ve got to the point where we still have around a $20-£30K shortfall of income per year. Sigh. One option I suppose would be to pursue the enterprises and savings we’ve come up with and make up the shortfall with seasonal work. I’d far rather do that than sit in an office day after day, doing work which seems totally detached from real life. I wonder how people can get so driven by work which is really just a human construct – nothing whatsoever to do with real life: with growing food, keeping animals, being close to nature and being part of a family. I’ve become increasingly fed up with traditional office life, with the petty politics, the indecision, the smartphone lifestyle, the squabbles and bosses lacking the ability to lead and motivate.

I’m really happiest when I’m making something, like my cordial and jam, and the crocheting I’m working on. I’ve finally finished the scarf I started an age ago. I’m really quite pleased with it and have added it to the stash to go onto an online shop someday. I’m now working on a blanket whereby I’m trying to stitch together and infill squares of different designs and sizes. If I succeed I think it will be rather fun.

Luke’s back at school of course now. He’s got a different teacher who seems very nice if awfully chatty. He’s always bringing home stories of her life! At least it makes him listen. He’s recently completed a reading test which determined that his reading age is ‘12’. He’s only 9 now. I’m not at all surprised - in fact it is probably higher than twelve in terms of understanding and comprehension (if not emotional maturity).

He reads a great deal. I bought a big pile of books from a cafĂ© in Huonville which sells items to raise money for ‘SWAP’ – Students Working Against Poverty, an initiative of the High School which helps schools in Cambodia. I found a Rosemary Sutcliffe, a Ted Hughes, a Roald Dahl and various other treasures. He also gets a couple of books out from the school library each week. We’ll have to start going back to the state library shortly when he runs out of the second hand books.

Little froggie found by Bronte and Luke

Luke pulling face on 'slack line' put up by Bronte

Rosie-Dog gracing Bronte's new bridge

One of the Sea Shepherd boats docked in Hobart. The Council has
voted to become a 'friendship' city to Sea Shepherd.

Luke about to embark on complex new lego kit
Completed truck completed with various moving parts

Bronte and Luke with their carefully tended self-set tomato plants. Luke
has got very interested in growing all kinds of plants.

Latest jigsaw

Lovely blue-tongued lizard basking on our drive

Glider chasing. If it's very still Bronte can launch the glider from the deck
and it flies for long distances. Luke loves to chase it.