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Wednesday 1 October 2014

It’s been a time of opposites on the farm: of snow to summer heat and of births and deaths. The births of goat kids and bunnies and the deaths of two sows and Rocky the goat buck. The former are a great source of joy, whereas the latter were traumatic. So far we have seven sets of goat kid twins, with two more does to kid. One first-time-Mum had tiny triplets to our amazement. The smallest didn’t make it, which was sad but also something of a relief. I know the Mums are capable of bringing up strong, fast-growing twins, but I’m less sure about their results with three bubs. Even more amazing, our super-goat ‘Granny’ gave birth to quadruplets! She brought up triplets two years’ ago, but two never reached a good size. The quads comprised three girls and one boy. The boy was the largest and looked set to hog all the milk. My first thought was to find someone to adopt the boy and one girl, but although I had enquiries, no-one would commit.

In the end I made the harsh decision to put the boy down so Mum could concentrate on the girls. However, the littlest girl seemed to have no instinct to suckle or nurse from a bottle. I brought her inside and fed her via a tube, but I had no optimism about her chances. I fed her home-made artificial colostrum (full-fat cow’s milk, egg, peanut oil, sugar and dose of vitamins) and she seemed to thrive for the first 12 hours. Then she went downhill fairly rapidly and died overnight. If she’d lived and learned to feed from a bottle, I’d planned to return to her to Mum and supplement her milk intake.

We’ve got the goat herd close to the house so we can keep a close eye on Mums, babies and Mums-to-be. The babies are great fun to watch. Within a day or two of birth, they are kicking up their heels, butting one another and climbing on their long-suffering Mum’s back. We visit them once or twice a day to check on everyone and give the kids a cuddle (whether they want one or not). One of the two does yet to kid is enormous and wallows slowly from food to resting place. I suspect the last – 'Tree' - is not actually pregnant, she’s just a big fat eating machine.

The weather has been kind to the young goats – pleasantly mild and sunny. The nights are cool and occasionally frosty, but it’s unbelievable weather for early spring. I read in the paper today that last month was the warmest August on record globally, taking into account increases in temperature in both air and oceans. It does not bode well for mid-summer, which will likely be hot, dry and bushfire-ridden. I recently listened to an audio book ‘Storms of my Grandchildren’, by an eminent NASA climate scientist. He wrote the book very much as a warning of the climate changes to come and an exposé of the cover-ups by the USA government and fossil fuel lobbyists. It was really quite scary. Far from extreme Muslims being the greatest threat facing the western world, my concern is that we have embarked on an irreversible slide to global climate disaster.

It is a far cry from earlier in winter when we had some reasonable snowfalls. We drove up Jeffery's Track to see the fresh snow and Luke and I walked back down in ever-increasing blizzard conditions. It was quite magical!

Snow on Vince's Saddle

I mentioned before that I had determined to down-size the livestock. It was necessary to preserve my sanity. I was trying to do as much (if not more) than I’d done prior to starting working again. It was not sustainable and my health was suffering. I decided that the pigs would need to go since cooking their food and feeding them was by far the most time-consuming animal activity. It was a crisis largely brought on by the feeding needs of the piglets. I was doing three massive cook-ups a week and that was barely enough. I managed to sell three of the piglets to a local man. However, one had to be castrated first. By then, these were big piglets, I could barely lift them. Castrating one was not a pretty, pleasant or easy task. However, it is quite remarkable how quickly they appear to recover afterwards.

The other six piglets went into the freezer, itself a huge task. I first had to make a small holding pen in which to feed and catch them. I tried my best to reduce stress on them by taking only one at a time, but it was a grim and strenuous task given their weight and the extent of mud which had developed around the entrance to the pen. All six then had to be skinned, gutted and cut in half for the freezer. I retained as many offal bits as possible and cooked these for the dogs – who thought all their Christmases had come at once. We’ve since cooked up one of the roasts and it was quite delicious. I’ve also sold one to a lady at work.

I had then to deal with the two sows - that was really quite upsetting. I’d tried to sell them for some weeks and advertised widely in print and online, but only had two enquiries. It was the same story for poor Rocky the buck. I had to get him out of the does’ area and really couldn’t face having to find him a companion and ensure that both were appropriately fed and watered – not when it was essential that I cut down my workload. 

'Waterproof' trousers for butchery

In the end I managed to extract around 50kg of meat from the sows and spent several hours chopping and mincing it as I wasn’t sure it would be good enough for roasts. Likewise I took all the meat I could off Rocky and cooked it for the dogs. I thought it would be too strong for us to eat, but when I tried some it was remarkably nice, much like lamb. The daft dogs have been a bit peculiar about it though – perhaps they thought it was a comedown after pig offal!

As you can imagine all this butchery has been extraordinarily time-consuming, stressful and tiring – both mentally and physically. However, despite the extra work owing to the goats’ kidding, I’ve really noticed how much quicker and easier it is to feed the animals now. 
The turkeys have also gone. I only had the gobbler and two hens left at this stage and advertised them all on Gumtree. A chap bought the gobbler and one hen and the other hen went into the freezer. Another hen, ‘Limpy’, had gone into the freezer about six weeks earlier. She was the last of the babies who had the bad batch of crumbles as a small chick. Her breastbone was badly deformed, poor thing. Needless to say both freezers are jam-packed! We should not have to buy any meat for about 18 months. I also took about 10kg of fat from the sows so that we shall have enough lard to make soap for years.

Rocky’s hide is also salting in the garage. It’s rather magnificent but looks so much smaller now it’s not stretched over Rocky’s muscled frame. It’s been salting for two weeks now because I haven’t plucked up the motivation for tackling it further. I need to get most of the subcutaneous meat and fat off before I start the pickle cure. Luckily there is a lot of the noxious mixture left from Henry’s fleece. I shall test it again with my great new pH strips first. Mum heard about someone in south-east Australia who makes purses from fish skin! I was somewhat astounded. Mum’s worried that I might get into that – no fear!

I also sold four of our least favourite goat does – in kid. Even that was not straightforward as I had to deliver four of them. At least I did get a bit of diesel money. When I vaccinated the remainder of our herd around 3 weeks before I expected the first births, I drove around and also vaccinated the ones I’d sold. When you buy vaccine, there is always much more than a hobby farmer like me needs and it doesn’t last once open. 

So we are much reduced on the farm in terms of livestock. Now there are nine lovely goat does, all friendly, healthy, a good size, good Mums and feet that do not get too bad in wet weather. They currently have 14 kids running with them. The reduced number of adults has made the job of clipping their hooves considerably easier. A couple have had abscesses on their necks. I have a pretty strong stomach but my legs went wibbly when I lanced one! Luke and I will tackle the other doe tomorrow. The kids have all had their little umbilical cords dosed with betadine and their ears’ tagged. We’re still naming them to rhyme with Mum’s name. Hence Shiny has Tiny and Heime, Milly has Tilly and Chilli – and so on. Shortly, I shall have to vaccinate all the little ones, ring the little boys and check all their tiny hooves.

We still have the peacocks and guinea-fowl because no-one in the family wants to get rid of them. The peacocks are beautiful, the hen quite friendly. The guinea-fowl are comical and we love the little chicks when they arrive later in the season. The peacock male is displaying much of the time and honking in an extraordinarily loud fashion. Luke and I were in there for an hour mending the net recently. The so-called bird netting is far too delicate. Currawongs land on the net with their wicked claws and as they flap free tear great holes in it.

We’ve got six chickens producing a vast number of eggs/ day (although there was a lull a couple of weeks ago when most decided to go broody at the same time). We’re selling a dozen eggs a week to a neighbour which helps with the egg mountain. The hens are benefiting from scraps given by a new tea shop in Huonville. There are so many scraps now I have to cook up two big pots a week. The food is given, ostensibly, for the pigs, but since there are now no pigs, the birds – and the goats - benefit. We still have the pair of friendly and funny Muscovy ducks, who are in with three of the hens and the big black rooster. A big fluffy grey rooster looks after the other three hens in a different pen.

We had rather a mystery on our hands for some time as eggs started appearing in mysterious places, for instance under my Suzuki in the tractor shed or in the pile of firewood in the tractor shed. We’d also collected these eggs from the hen run and had just assumed them to be particularly white, hard-shelled hens’ eggs. It turned out they were duck eggs! We’d eaten them – and sold them to the neighbour – and not noticed anything different. Mum duck is now sitting on 7 eggs in the 44 gallon drum laid on its side in the hen run as a makeshift nest box. She abandoned the nest she was creating in the firewood with 5 eggs. She and any offspring will be far safer in the run, although I dare say hawks and horrible cravens will soon get wind of any young. I don’t know how long ducks sit on eggs. Luke looked it up and said 35 days! That’s a ridiculously long time if true. Luke and I recently rigged up shade cloth for her so she won’t get too hot during the daytime.

Also in with the ducks and half the hens, we have an ever-expanding tribe of bunnies. The four that were in the garage have gone back outside. It was a pain looking after them in the garage and there is so much more room outside for them all. The downside is that we cannot control who breeds with who and have no idea if anyone is breeding at all until a plague of little babies appear. The five little white ones that all emerged on the same day recently look rather like especially cute and fluffy hamsters. We reckon there are three big white ones (our breeders – the ones that survived the horrible calici virus attack), three younger browns (a wild strain got in there somehow), two black and five tiny white ones. A total of 13. The black and browns will need to go fairly soon before they get into breeding mode. I have in mind cute crocheted gloves with rabbit-skin cuffs!

And of course we still have our two dogs: the gruff little Bruce (who was recently sheared without too much tooth damage to my hands) and the sweet Rosie (sweet to all except little furry animals). Rosie is much taken with the rabbits as you can imagine, but extremely wary of the ducks. The ducks get in and out of the pen at a whim and are quite capable fliers when they finally decide to take off. They visit us regularly in the garage, quite often coming in and causing trouble. I found my cable ties had been thrown around one morning and they’d extracted bits of cardboard from the recycling box. They also leave rather large pungent offerings on the concrete. We took to closing the garage door whenever we left it for a while. The ducks sound like wheezy old men, hissing and grumbling under their breath. If the dogs get too close to the male (sometimes Rosie tries to get him to play with her), he hisses alarmingly and a white crest comes up on his head, somewhat like a cockatoo. 

Murphy-Cat is still the favourite though – certainly mine and Luke’s. Bronte grumbles about him but often sops up to him. It’s difficult to dislike Murphy because he is so companionable and eccentric, despite his habit of hanging his bum out of his litter tray and pooping on the newspaper. He has actually started to venture outside a little as the days have warmed up. Not that he goes far, usually just under the house to do his business. Occasionally, he stalks to the drive for a dust roll. None of the local wildlife need be concerned however. Murphy regally moves from lap to hearth to hot water bottle on the sofa, to being wrapped around Luke’s head in bed or under the covers with me in the early mornings. Rosie is still fascinated with him but Murphy is less keen on her, especially when she sticks her nose under him as he’s trying to have some private time under the house.

It hasn’t all been about animals on the farm. Spring has sprung here, and with the warmer weather the grass and weeds are growing fast. We’ve already begun mowing regularly, particularly around the house and garage. Bronte does what he can on the ride-on, but much remains to be hand-mown, particularly on the steep banks. We’ve already begun tackling the thistles, foxgloves and fireweed. Neighbours upwind of us, do nothing to control their massive foxglove population and many of the seeds end up on our land. Thank goodness foxglove seeds aren’t airborne like thistles else we would be in real trouble. Foxgloves are a declared weed in most of Australia, given the fact that every bit of the plant is poisonous (digitalis) and it is an aggressive coloniser of the bush. However, Tasmania has not named it as a weed and hence the Council will not compel landowners to control its spread.

For some reason the thistles have taken over a couple of our paddocks, some already 60-70cm in diameter. I wonder if the seed has come in with hay fed to cattle agisted on the land. However, given that we’ve started so early, we should get on top of them fairly quickly. Chopping them is quite satisfying, despite it being hard work. The fireweed is another matter. Like its name, it spreads like wildfire and often shoots from the previous year’s rootstock. There is too much of this to chop so I plan to go out with the sprayer when the wind drops and there is no danger of rain. The wind has been terrific of late – so much so that we actually had a total fire ban declared last Sunday. The earliest fire ban ever declared. Luckily the vegetation is still very green but I noted that the creek is not nearly as high as one would normally expect for the end of winter.

It’s as well that the weather has turned mild since we are rapidly running out of firewood. I spent a couple of hours in the tractor shed with the middle chainsaw (my favourite) and converted all the big lumps into choppable sizes. It was a big task but necessary. That pile has since reduced considerably, but with luck will see us through the next couple of months. A big wattle on our new land snapped in two in the high winds, so we could always collect some of that if necessary. It’s fairly accessible and quite dry.

Luke and I are currently at home. He’s got two weeks’ off for school hols (we have four terms here now), whereas I also took two weeks’ off – the first supposedly for painting the outside of the house and the second to look after Luke. Bronte’s taking over next week. Luke and I have had our hands full with the goats and have also walked most of the electric fences, clearing sticks, bark and bracken and checking for any wind damage. The fences have lasted remarkably well. We’ve fed animals, chopped thistles and started painting the piñata for Luke’s birthday party. 

We’ve also collected two large ute-loads of weeping willow from a large tree that crashed down in the high winds, directly outside the police station. Luke liked being notorious, but he wouldn’t go into the station to ask permission with me. He held back after I said I’d need to keep hold of his hand to stop him being arrested and put in jail.

In strong winds a large weeping willow fell onto the Huonville police station compound. Luke and I collected three big loads for the goats

Soccer season has just finished. Luke did well although his team rarely won. He hugely enjoyed playing and we’ve got the team photos stuck up on his wardrobe door. He's got a huge kick on him but lacks finesse. However, he did score 5 goals in one game! This year he’s not so keen on Little Athletics so we’re going to try and arrange for him to play local cricket. We’ve been collecting David Attenborough DVDs (Luke is greatly into wildlife) courtesy of the local rag. Luke cut out the covers of each DVD (somewhat haphazardly) and we’ve stuck them onto card and mounted them. These are also blu-tacked up in his bedroom.

Luke’s doing very well with his guitar lessons. Luckily he seems to have taken to them enthusiastically. His prodigious memory and ability to learn quickly, means he’s already playing quite recognisable tunes. The tutor has suggested they do a show to his class. Luke’s school was also involved in a big Tasmanian dance-in at the Kingborough sports centre. He made us laugh with renditions of the songs which seemed to be about zombies (packing them in boxes) and cats. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall.

I mentioned in the last post that Bronte and I were in different teams at work involved in a walking challenge. I’m pleased to say that us oldies in Finance gave Bronte’s team a good thrashing and came third overall. A pretty good result for a team with an average age of 50 and no particular sporting ability between us. To build up my steps I used to walk Luke to and from the bus on Thursdays and Fridays although the walk back up our steep hill was a definite challenge. On one such walk we picked up all the litter on both sides of the road and scored a 20l plastic water container.

I’ve done a couple of raids on op shops (second hand shops) recently and can’t believe the results. I’ve got three great new pairs of trousers (good enough for going out), several T-shirts, school shoes for Luke, a cosy zip-up fleece for Bronte and a work skirt still with the price tag of $75 which fits perfectly. Yesterday I noticed that one shop was doing clothes for $3/bag (one day only). I managed to fit several work blouses and Luke T-shirts into my bag! 

I tend to be coy about where I source my work clothes from but was greatly pleased to find out that another woman in Finance, senior to me, also buys all her clothes from op shops. Now I can share my great finds with someone! This morning Luke and I went to the Tip Shop with a huge load of scrap steel and came home with a back seat full of goodies: heaps of hose and a hose dispenser, a new school bag for Luke, a couple of kid’s books, a mozzie net for Bronte to put over his willow which keeps getting eaten and four dinner plates (all for $10). Can’t go wrong I reckon.

Apart from farm stuff and painting the house, I’ve also been trying to fix the desktop PC. What a nightmare. It had become almost impossible to access the internet and send e-mails on it. In the end after I’d updated every bit of the software on the computer (BIOS, wireless adapter drive, Windows, Telstra Broadband Manager) and downloaded and run a PC registry repair and hard-disk defragmenter, the fix turned out to be embarrassingly simple. We just moved the wireless modem a bit closer to the computer! Ha, ha, what a twit I’d been. However, the fix wasn’t that obvious as the computer showed a good signal and could apparently see the modem perfectly well. It’s even possible that we might be able to sign up to the new National Broadband Network.

We’ve been out and about from time to time. Bronte treated us unexpectedly to a Peppermint Bay cruise. A comfortable boat took us from Hobart and cruised down the coast to the Peppermint Bay restaurant at Woodbridge for a three-course meal. As part of Science Week (fortnight) we went to a completely bizarre science fair in Franklin. It was total madness, the noise tremendous. Kids tore around bursting balloons and shrieking at the top of their voices. I also booked us into a workshop at the Raptor Refuge in Kettering – rarely open to the public. It was fun but a little disappointing as we didn’t get very close to the birds. Bronte left me and Luke home-alone for a long weekend while he went to a family funeral on the mainland. Luke and I went to the camellia and daffodil flower show at the City Hall which was very colourful and walked along the waterfront afterwards to see the super new CSIRO ship.

We also had the annual agony of determining what book character Luke would be at the school’s book parade. As usual, Luke came up with no ideas. In the end I said he could go in ordinary clothes and be a Hardy Boy! I managed to time my arrival well so that I didn’t have to sit through the whole thing. Luke’s gone lego-mad at present. He’s dug out all his old instructions and made a huge new collection of constructions, currently arrayed on the dividing wall between the lounge and dining room. This was helped by us sorting all the lego into colours – quite a task in itself.

Luke’s had some weird ear disease. Itchy white lumps and bumps came up on the edges of them. The doctor was quite intrigued and said he’d seen nothing like it. A course of cortisone cream seems to have cleared it up but he’s still somewhat blotchy. Goodness knows what else he’ll come home with.

Bush by creek at top of plot

Our plot from Stony Point Trail

Swallow eggs in nest outside kitchen door - Bronte's been
doing his best to stop the poor swallows from nesting around the
house but Luke and I got him to agree to this one.