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7 February 2015

Looking back up towards the house from our rough area at the bottom
of our plot

Looking back towards our house (a pinprick almost in the centre of the
picture) from the top of our new land from which hay has recently
been taken.

Luke and I scaled a neighbour's hill. Our land borders his (beyond the line of
gums to the right). With his permission we chopped all the thistles and fireweed
within about 20m of our boundary. We did the same at the top of our plot on another
neighbour's land. We are beset on all sides by encroaching weeds.

Neighbour's cattle on our new land. They were immensely curious when I went over
with the ute to spray Californian thistles. The WWOOFs came with me and mended
a collapsing section of fence. These cows are all steers and appear to be a dairy breed. They have
such long legs I reckon they could just step over our fences if they were so inclined

Misty morning from our front deck.

This photo inadequately captures the moment one evening when Luke and I were
returning from cricket, when the evening sun caught the tops of the mountains and tinted
them with gold. I love the colours and shadows when the sun drops down to the west.

As part of Bronte's birthday present, I bought us a family pass to a Big Bash League cricket match between Hobart Hurricanes and Brisbane Heat at Blundstone Arena in Bellerive. This is far cry from the long lazy days of village cricket I remember from when I was young. Then everyone was in whites, people drew up their deckchairs alongside their cars, gossiped and passed around tea and cakes. The Big Bash is a means to increase the appeal of cricket and jazz it up. Each team has only 20 overs to bat, rock music blasts around the stands, flame throwers celebrate each six or a wicket scored by the home team and there is a participatory party atmosphere. Kids are given inflatable 'thunder' sticks to bang together (or more usually to bash each other with), spectators are interviewed and an embarassingly awful mascot tours the grounds before the match. The Hurricane's colour is purple and the mascot is dressed in robin hood tights with an enormous head and a hunchback .. This last might conceivably be a thunderbolt but honestly it's difficult to tell.

We were fortunate to have gone to the one home match that the Hurricanes won in the BBL this season! It was a remarkable match. Brisbane Heat scored over 200 runs and we felt the Hurricanes would never achieve this score. Amazingly they overtook it in the last few balls! That's a run rate of over 10 per over. The short number of overs encourages risk taking and lots of sixes were hit into the crowd. I had taken my crocheting being sure I would be terribly bored. But actually I got quite into the spirit of the event. Plus I was obliged to keep Luke entertained to some degree as 3 hours is a long time for an energetic 10-year old to sit still.

Over the Christmas holiday Bronte and Luke set up the tent again at their favourite spot not far from the house. Bronte and I spent a night each in there with the little mite. I read Luke a chapter of James Herriott and actually slept pretty well. Bronte always gets up groaning and sore after camping! In the morning Bronte brought us tea and Rosie tried her hardest to be a camping dog. 

Amazing cruise ship that Luke and I walked to see after enjoying a lovely
lunch with ex-colleagues. Which reminds me to say that I finally gave up the
struggle and resigned from Council just before Christmas. With health and anxiety
problems I was just unable to cope with work, the farm, house etc. I had
found the work rewarding but exhausting when combined with everything else.
It was lovely to catch up with 3 of the women I had worked with closest. It was
leaving them that was my biggest regret when I submittted my resignation.

With some WWOOFs, we went along to a CSIRO open day in Hobart. The photos below show the amazing new ship built to undertake marine science for Australia. CSIRO is the national research body for Australia and is able to undertake leading edge science (despite cuts from the Abbot government). I'm not certain of the overlap between this ship and the great battered orange Aurora Australis which battles through the ice and heavy seas down to Antarctica regularly with its cargo of scientists and experiments. We didn't get to tour the ship but there were many stalls and exhibits on the waterfront and within the CSIRO building. We got to touch rays and starfish and eat expensive cardboard cups of skinny chips.

After losing all but one of the last batch of ducklings born on the farm, to various predators (goshawks, quolls, cold weather), we transferred all hatchlings and Mum into the garage as soon as the babies emerged. I actually got 2 out of their shells and put them under the heat lamp without too much hope, but both rallied. It was quite remarkable but Mum-duck had managed to sort out the eggs prior to hatching. Infertile eggs or ones with a dead embryo inside had been pushed to the lip of the 44-gallon drum which served as a nest box (on its side). As the chicks hatched, all the pieces of egg were similarly discarded. She was immensely protective, hissing and pecking anyone who got to close. She raised her wings wide to shelter her brood.

After 2 weeks in the garage, at which point all babies were strong and feeding well, I decided to relocate them outside. As they were with Mum she would be sure to keep them secure and warm at nights. This time, they went out to a netted pen. The old peacock run was badly in need of renovation, with saggy net and collapsing stakes. Our French WWOOFs Thibaut (pronounced Tibbo) and Joanna, did an excellent job of restoring it. As I had done in the new peacock run, they erected polypipe arches to lift the net. It seems twice as large as before and it's great to not catch one's hat or hair in the net and not have water running down your neck on damp mornings.

The ducks love their new pen and have two shallow troughs with dripping water, in which to dabble to their hearts' content. Can hardly credit how fast they have grown. They and Mum-duck are now much more relaxed in our presence and climb over our feet to get to food. I'll have to decide what to do with them at some point, as we can't sustain an ever-increasing flock of ducks, beautiful though they are.

Adult ducks and variously aged bunnies all feeding together. The ducks
seem to prefer the bunny pellets to their own food and the bunnies regularly
eat the duck food - perhaps that's why the bunnies have such a high
mortality .. Actually I think the horrid calici virus may have struck again as it

seems to be half-grown ones that are dying. Ones younger than 3 months can
sometimes survive the virus. Our 3 breeders are immune having survived the
previous bout of virus when very young.

Echidna who often trundles across our drive on the hunt
 for ant nests.
We had remarkable summer weather during January. One night we had 69mm of rain, followed by 16mm on each of two successive days. The temperature dropped to 4degC one night and failed to get above 12degC the next day. We even lit the fire for several days on the trot. Consequently we are beautifully green hereabouts, particularly in those fields mowed for hay. As you can see, our little creek rose to a roaring rush and we could get no closer to the waterfall than shown below owing to the water rising up over the path. 

Just before Christmas, it seemed as though the does were struggling to keep up with their hungry kids. Despite large ute-loads of browse, extra supplementary feed and drenching, they were getting thinner and had bouts of the runs. I decided therefore, to take the kids away from the does at an earlier point. Usually I leave kids with their Mums for 4-5 months, but this time I weaned them at 2 and a half months. These pictures show the kids in their spacious weaning pen, in which they became accustomed to not breaching electric fences and had great fun jumping on the various rocks. They seemed to suffer no ill effects from the early weaning and I quickly sold all but 3 via Gumtree and the Mercury. I do wonder if they will ever grow quite as big as their Mums, but that remains to be seen. Goats often do not reach their full size until two years' old.

I moved the weaned kids into a larger pen, which used to accommodate our bucks. The naughty sheep were already installed. This pen has electric fence only and no wire. After the sheep wrecked my electric fences in the weaning pen (prior to the goats moving in) I had to be sure they wouldn't do the same with this fence. I checked the fence all round and the voltmeter showed 9,000 volts. When I put the sheep in there I quickly dabbed their noses on the fence so that they got a shock. To their credit they learnt very quickly and have not tried to get through an electric fence since then.

The pictures below show the kids and sheep getting in the way while I'm trying to renovate the 3 huts in the pen, which were wrecked by the pigs. The pigs had snouted the centre pen up in the air so it laid on its back. They'd also pulled the flooring out of two. Rather than replace the flooring, I just pulled out any remaining wood, staked the huts firmly to the ground and put in plenty of just-cut hay for bedding. They all seemed very happy with the new arrangement. On one occasion I found 6 kids all slumped upon one another snoozing in warmth, in one hut.

Once the does got used to being without their babies and their poor udders stopped hurting, they recovered condition quickly and their digestions improved.

One of Bronte's greenhouse/ car-port wall panels under construction. Having not progressed terribly well over the Christmas holidays, Bronte's suddenly spending every spare minute on his new construction. It's possibly the most complex structure of its type you can imagine. Every bit of wood has odd angles at each end. He's got all wall panels in place and most of the roof. Each element has required much agonising to confirm the details. From above it looks like a trendy visitors' centre for a national park. I'm looking forward to it being finished. 

I recently chopped off most of my hair. I got fed up with always
having to tie it back and pin up all the wispy bits. By the end of a day
on the farm, I looked like I'd been pulled through a hedge backwards.
This way I just run my fingers through it in the morning. It's great! The
surprising thing is how few people actually noticed. Bronte noticed and
said I looked like the wild woman from Borneo.

One of our biggest tasks of the summer has been to get in the hay 'harvest'. Despite the awful predations of the 1,000s of hopping rats (pademelons), our hay yield has been very good. Steady rain at the right times gave the grass the opportunity to take off and outrun the paddies. Once it has reached a certain height the paddies don't eat it, preferring shorter shoots. Bronte and I got in 500 bales pretty much on our own. It was just our luck that we didn't have any WWOOFs at the time. We did have an 18-yr old local lad driving the ute on the first day, but as he was only used to automatic gearboxes, it was a little slow. I've since sold 430 bales and just have my 'rejects' left for the goats. I don't really know how many to keep for the goats - I used around 300 last year but have fewer goats and hope to have a greater area available to them by the time winter sets in. Owing to the late growth flush, we've just had another four areas cut. We have a week's weather window so there should be no urgency to get the bales in. Looks like it will just be me and our Taiwanese WWOOFs.

I made a bad misjudgement and agreed to deliver 50+ bales to a farm quite some distance on the other side of Hobart. What an awful day. Me and a French WWOOF couple loaded 68 bales onto the ute and goat float, tying them on with an assortment of fraying ropes. I should have known from the start it wasn't a great idea. On the other side of Hobart I took a wrong turning and when I stopped alongside the Derwent to consult the map noticed that the load was slipping. As I tried to fix the problem, most of the bales collapsed off the back of the ute onto the road. There followed a most trying few hours when some Council workers half-loaded it then left us in the lurch such that I had to unload the lot again and we were moved along by the police having received complaints! The policeman had the cheek to say we 'looked like something out of Thailand'. Excuse me for making the road look untidy! When it was all unloaded and the ordeal was finally over, the customer asked if she could have the same again! No way am I going through that again.

Rosie, hay-dog. As soon as she hears the ute keys Rosie comes running.
She takes any opportunity to laze on the back seat of the ute or
the passenger seat of the Suzuki. 

Cleared fields after all the hay was 'safely gathered in'

Luke was given a world map jigsaw for Christmas. He, I and the WWOOFs (Yuki and Phoebe) finished it in an evening. I liked the little Tassie Devil picture below.

Luke's been learning to drive the ride-on. Bronte's fashioned a trailer for it using the
chassis of Luke's old go-kart. Here they are moving a lump of petrified tree they dug
from a new patch of mowed sedge.

My mowing nemesis. How I hate mowing this horridly steep
and uneven hill. Unfortunately the mower didn't like it either. The
grass was so tough I could only managed half a cut width and
the steepness of the slope meant that the poor 4-stroke engine
didn't get any oil. In the end it conked and has become yet another
lump of junk in the garage.

Bronte's bought us a clapped out old 2-stroke from some chap who
apparently does them up. Neither Luke or I could start
the blinking thing and when it was started it was noisy and smokey.
Bronte discovered that the spark plug was useless. Once he'd replaced it,
the mower behaved beautifully. The old guy couldn't have been much
of a repairer.

Murphy cat has become a celebrity having been featured in That's Life! magazine:

Despite the old male guinea fowl dying, the next batch of eggs laid by the female were fertile. Below are the first hatchlings.

This sickly little guy didn't make it

This little guy was the only hatchling from the second batch of eggs
which were largely infertile. Unfortunately he didn't make it either. Perhaps
he died of loneliness. He was the only silver one of all the babies.
Last year Luke and I went on a wild goose chase trying to catch peacocks at a friend's place with whom I used to work.This time she asked us to try and catch three babies that had just been born. Luckily Mum was most protective and we were able to catch Mum and bubs. I had to separate them in order to keep the babies warm and safe. The peacocks in the picture below look enormous compared to the tiny guineas, but within a couple of weeks, the guineas were outgrowing the peacocks and bossing them around. Once the ducks went outside, I moved the three peacocks into the vacated brooder cage. They've been much happier on their own. One was a little mopey today, which is always a bad sign. I brought it inside and tubed a mix of pureed crumbles, apple, treacle, olive oil, rolled oats, egg and milk down its throat. I've popped it back under the heat lamp and am hoping for the best.

Carnivorous little monsters

Mrs P sitting on eggs with Luke looking on. We transferred these eggs
to the incubator. However, I must have got the timing wrong and perhaps
didn't raise the humidity sufficiently early. Whatever, they didn't hatch and when'
I opened the eggs the few that were viable had already died.

New peacock with neck fluffed up, trying to find a way out of its new pen.

Below is the latest shawl/ scarf that I've finished crocheting. This is the blocking process where the item is pinned out damp and pressed. This helps keep the item in the correct shape and shows the lace off to best advantage. This is now on Etsy. If you haven't already checked it out my shop is called Sedgefield Design.

We've had two lambs for a while now to keep down the grass in some of the bird and pig pens. Their woolly coats had got awfully long and with the hot weather coming, I decided they needed to be sheared. I rang a mobile shearer but he was going to charge $70 - not unreasonable but more than I wanted to spend. So I decided to have a go myself. The sheep were easy to catch because they are so greedy. As soon as I set their food down I was able to grab each by a front leg. While Luke and the WWOOFs held onto one sheep I tied the front and back legs together of the other. Then I did the same to the one held by the WWOOFs. So as not to cause them discomfort I padded the cable ties with old clothes. Thus immobilised it was easy to transfer them to the goat float and then to the garage. 

I first tried the electric pet shears but they were hopeless. They don't work on Bruce either. So I was forced to resort to the same scissors with which I cut Luke's and Bruce's hair. It took about 45 minutes per sheep and they seemed fairly relaxed during the process. We then released the shorn sheep to a new pen (shown above with the little goats). I've kept the wool which was absolutely filthy. I put it in a washing bag and washed it several times in hot water and detergent. It took ages. I've made made 'combs' - shown below - of nails hammered into plywood. One day I'll get around to trying to card the wool. The plan is to fluff it up as much as possible and use it to stuff the rabbit skin cushion I plan to make (one day).

Sheared sheep

Hey - I made my first sale on Etsy!! How exciting and also rather scary. A lady in Vermont ordered my sheepskin! I went into something of a panic and hoiked out said sheepskin which was still rather stiff and a bit greasy from the lanolin. Luckily I'd recently borrowed a load of tanning books from the library which I'd read diligently from cover to cover. I was still confused but had some idea of what to do. All the books said that the whole skin needed soaking in order to re-start the softening process. I really didn't want to do that as I only had the weekend and the fleece takes ages to dry. I had a brainwave and made a shallow bath into which I added a couple of cms of water, some of our home-made lye soap (to open up the fibres in the leather) and a small amount of sodium bicarbonate.

Then I was able to clean the fleece itself without getting it wet (except at the edges). First I sprayed it with a mix of meths and turps and left it for 20 mins to dissolve the lanolin. I wiped off as much as I could and then mixed bicarb and cornflour together and liberally sprinkled it over the fleece and then rubbed it in. When the leather was nice and supple I hung it over the clothes horse and hosed it down. Using a straight edge I then scraped off all excess water. I tried working the leather over my new breaking stake but the sheepskin was just too heavy. Instead I laid it down and worked the leather continually with the corner of a piece of wood, replacing it with another whenever the edge was too dulled. Amazingly the leather gradually softened and whitened. When fully dried I sanded down the leather to improve the appearance and suppleness.

Finished product - I was pretty pleased with it in the end

Unfortunately when it came to postage, the cheapest air-mail option was $30 dearer than I'd estimated. So in the end I only made $70 on it. If you take into account the labour, I probably made a dollar an hour! Oh well it was a great learning experience and I was proud of the final result.

We'd almost run out of soap, so I knocked up 2 batches using lard rendered down from the last two sows. The picture below shows it just made. The first batch, slightly experimental using pureed mint and rosemary essence, took an age to saponify, whereas the second batch (turmeric - for colour - and lemongrass essence) turned almost instantly, such that I could barely pour into the moulds.

We've since started using it and it's a lovely, perfumed, well-lathering soap. I made really big chunky bars this time. I've put it on Etsy as Happy Pig soap and someone has 'favourited' it which is a start. Owing to its weight it's not feasible to ship it overseas - postage would be double the price of the soap itself.

As usual I managed to add the colour and perfume too early, such that the colour almost disappeared while the soap cured.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time in the past several weeks, spraying fireweed and thistles. I was unable to do much prior to Christmas owing to their being rain most days. In previous years I've done all the weeding by hand, but with 130 acres and less input from Bronte and Luke, I resorted to spraying using a mix of selective herbicides - ie ones that don't kill grass. I've done huge patches of Californian Thistles, scotchies like trees and fireweed much taller than me. What a nightmare. It also seems like a losing battle owing to the massive brigades of thistles and other weeds massing at our borders. I've written to the Council about one particular batch, because we have been unable to contact the property owners. I think they only use it as an occasional holiday home.

Spraying car

Spraying woman

Spraying dog

Above and below shows the sort of territory in which I've been spraying. I've forced my way through enormous thickets of blackberries, climbed cliffs, slid down steep slopes, and limboed under low bushes. All whilst carrying a 15Kg+ backpack. The fireweed seems worse than previous years, despite the enormous effort I've put in over the past 2 years. The thistles are maybe 10 times as bad owing to our neighbour's thistle encroachment.

Looking back from bottom of our plot whilst spraying

Thistle infestation on our border

Wedge-tailed eagle spotted whilst spraying

Wombat poo found near the bottom of our plot

More spraying territory

Rough area

There is an area on our new land which must have been a quarry once upon
a time. Now it is a precipitous blackberry pit which Luke and I somehow negotiated
in order to attack the huge scotchies and fireweed.

Another shot of the blackberry pit
Below are the construction pictures of my new 'breaking stake'. A breaking stake is what one 'breaks' leather over. It needs to have an edge almost as sharp as a knife, but just a smidge duller. Not sure where this lump of metal came from but I found it in the garage and cut it into shape with Bronte's scary angle grinder and then beveled it with the grinder and the baby angle-grinder. I finally finished it with the hand rasp and bolted it onto a beveled wooden plank. It took a long while cleaning up all the rust and stabilising it as far as possible. I then lightly oiled it. The first efforts at using it weren't entirely successful! I tried to hold it between my knees and failed. Then I clamped it to a base and that was much more practical. I also found I had to sharpen it much more - almost so you could cut your finger on it.

Fleshing rabbit skins. I've got 8 on the go at present: black, white
and grey. These remarkable skins are very delicate and tear easily, but
are so tough I've been so far unable to 'break' them. They crinkle like
paper or cellophane despite oiling several times.

Fleshing of Rocky the buck's skin, following pickling in my
horrible acid, egg and brain mixture

Stretching of the goatskin whilst drying following pH stabilisation
with bicarb

Above and below are horribly misplaced attempts to soften Rocky's hard and unyielding hide. This was before I read the tanning books from the library. I thought bashing it with the above basher would 'break' the leather without harming it. I also tried making a steak tenderiser (below) which didn't work at all. I didn't realise I was making holes in it until I soaked and washed it in an attempt to deodorise it (another unwise decision). The soaking stretched the skin and showed that the leather was full of holes. Around the holes the hair fell out. Also, I tried to manipulate the leather when it must still have been too wet on the hair side. This resulted in more hair falling out - particularly in the thicker sections such as around the neck. I don't have a picture of the result because when I switch the camera on I see what looks like a pixelated beluga whale. Only a tiny portion of the screen shows what I am trying to shoot.

Following soaking - I had a bit of a fit when it was brown

After working the skin for a long time it miraculously whitened

As you know the paddies are a constant nuisance. As well as consulting the local weed man I also had a visit from the pademelon man at DPIPWE. He gave us lots of useful information and lent us some wally traps (below). How useless have they been! Despite trying different baits including carrot, chopped apple and a mix of oats, vanilla, cinnamon and treacle (apparently all irresistible to paddies), all we've caught have been quolls. And not just one quoll but multiple quolls each night. To begin with whatever we were catching was digging its way out through the bigger holes at the bottom of the trap. Then Luke and I put boards under each thinking it was probably bandicoots. But no, the supposedly carnivorous quolls found our bait far too tempting. We've more recently tried broccoli, cabbage leaves, tomatoes - all the things that wallies would destroy were they to come across them in a garden, but we still catch quolls. They don't just eat the bait, they destroy the container, chew it into little bits. Of course we've let them all go and we can't ascertain whether we are catching the same ones, but there are at least 4 different ones.

This was a particularly large quoll - pretty cute eh? I thought it
might be a tiger quoll, a large, rare species, but think it is actually just
a bit eastern quoll. Even they are meant to be in danger - not in our locality!

Backyard cricket with WWOOFs Yuki (Japanese) and Phoebe (Hong Kong)

Really friendly German WWOOFs: Robbie and Clara

Thibaut and Jo (above and below) were really practical and helpful. They had
good skills and excellent English. He'd lived in Canada for a year and planned
to settle there at some point. We were sorry to see them go.

Luke (centre-back) at the school's endless Christmas Assembly. It was
actually quite good fun. Unfortunately no-one fell of the stage this time.

As well as entering competitions, selling hay and goat kids, I'm also managing to (just) keep my head above water financially by starting a little gardening job. I've only been 2 weeks so far, on Tuesday mornings. It's great because it's proper, fiddly, detailed gardening, rather than the sort of extreme gardening we get to do here on the farm. I pull twitch grass out from between stones, spade around the grass, mow a nice flat bit of lawn and generally keep things tidy. There is quite a bit of catching up to do, but I'm getting there. Luke came with me the first time because he was on holiday and did a huge amount of helping by pulling unwanted ivy out from under bushes and trees. I've also made a bit of cash by being a test family for one week's That's Life! recipes, getting a picture of Murphy published and sending in a puzzle that was accepted and printed by Take 5. I've also started getting Readers' Digest, wondering if that might be more fertile soil for my little tales to take root! I've entered a lot of online comps, but have so far only won a sample of anti-ageing cream! Ha, perhaps they are trying to tell me something.