Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A chicken retrospective

  We get 37 day-old chicks in four different pure breeds next week. And it got us to thinking, how many chickens have we had over the years? I worked out it’s about 76-here they are!


   First up, four White Leghorns. Rather flighty (I had to tackle them out of their perches in trees quite a few evenings) but good birds.


   Next, four New Hampshire hens with their rooster. The rooster was a big wimp, and ran away one day when a dog visited. The next one we got was just as wimpy! Maybe it’s a breed trait? There’s also a frizzled Australorp that was thrown in with them.


   A few weeks after that, six Australorp pullets arrived. Very few photos of them, oddly. We also found a rooster for them, the wonderful Spartacus. He’s the rooster that has reached mythical status in our family-fantastic with the hens, he never hurt the children (and Frosty would chase him, grabbing his tail). And he even fathered the chicks-of course in the literal sense, but when they were out with him he would teach them to scratch, find them tidbits and attack any hen that bothered them.


The clucky New Hampshires made excellent sitters and mother-can’t remember how many the two of them hatched though. Nine maybe?

DSCF0791 Look! He’s parenting!




   Next, we wanted some broody hens, to hatch us lots of chicks. So we got two Silkies. I hated them, they were silly birds, not an ounce of sense in their heads.


  Then we had to sell most of them off, but kept the three remaining New Hampshire hens, when we moved back to town. We bought this mixed lot, but suspected after a few weeks they were mostly roosters, and gave them away before they started crowing, and our neighbours started throwing rocks at us in protest.


Three hens past their prime was not enough for eggs for seven.The friend who bought our Australorp flock had an incubator-so we had an adventurous drive thought Bundaberg during the 2010 floods to pick up 15 chicks for ourselves. We raised them, then gave them to a friend to look after while we went south for a month or so……then we travelled, then moved 2500km from her, and as far as I know she still has them. They started laying a week after we dropped them there, literally. I wasn’t happy!


Then came the packing up, and travelling, and the general horror. Ugh.


   In Mount Gambier, we had a horrid time finding hens. We were desperate for eggs after nearly a year, so bought four commercial hybrids (two ISA browns, and two Australorp/ISA). I hated these ones too. Yes they laid well, but only if they got a specially formulated high-protein feed. And seeing as our vegetarian-based ethics means we don’t buy feed with animal products in it, and our anti-GM ethics mean we don’t buy anything non-organic with soybean in it, and there was no organic feed available………….their egg production was woeful. Our conclusion: don’t bother with hybrids if you’re planning to feed scraps and free range, with available grain. They’re a high-performance animal, so they need high-performance feed. Purebreds lay much better on forage and grain.


   And in Tassie, we bought twelve Rhode Island Reds hens and their rooster. Eggs galore! I like the RIRs, they’re a bit lazy and dopey but because of that a perfect backyard hen.


And they go clucky! Even though the books say they don’t. But the books also say the roosters are vicious, and ours wasn’t a bit. Mrs Broody, as our mother of the year was christened, did a wonderful job with her six babies. And we ate the three roosters, so I can vouch for the fact that they taste good too.


  I’ll leave you with this photo of our RIR rooster-he came into the house, the kids tried to catch him, he freaked out and ran under the fire and got completely stuck. Luckily (especially for Tasmania) it wasn’t lit, or he’d have been roast chook. I had to drag him out by his tail.


Next week (or whenever I get around to it), more chicken blogging! Bet you can’t wait, right? RIGHT?!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Unschooling horseriding

  Pony Club would freak if they saw our method of learning to ride. It goes like this.

  -Acquire pony and gear. Ignore saddles, but wear helmet.

  -Catch pony (can be tricky), bridle up, have sibling hoist you up with assistance from milk crate.

P7064865If you try to catch me, I will run.

-Hold on while wily pony goes straight into a canter. Extra points if you don’t fall off when she deliberately goes under a low tree branch.    

-After a week or so, and a few bruises, you will be able to stay on without holding the mane for dear life. Congratulations! Now you can learn how to steer. And maybe even stop!

  This is basically where they’re up to now. The girls can steer, and sometimes they can stop. Mareea has a hard mouth, so they have to haul pretty hard. Sometimes they’re still holding on for dear life, but they’re improving at an exponential rate. I learnt to ride ‘properly’ when I was a child, learning proper posture, rising to the trot, and all of the excruciating details. I don’t remember ever just going out and riding independently, for fun. Not surprisingly, that love was killed fairly comprehensively, and i’m still not a very confident rider. My kids may never win any awards at the show, but they’ll be able to ride well, and ride hard. And they will continue to love it-which is the most important thing in any endeavour.

  I don’t imagine we’ll stay at one horse for long either. We regretfully had to turn down a gorgeous buckskin brumby colt foal last week, as we didn’t have a yard to keep him in to tame him. But we were all keen to have a shot at taming and training him-when we want to learn anything we’ve found it’s best to throw ourselves into the deep end. We haven’t drowned yet.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hello Mareea

  It’s funny what happens when you meet a few people and let it be known you’re looking for animals. They just appear. And on hearing our girls really, really wanted a pony, our landlords mentioned they had an old one up the back paddock we could borrow. We didn’t hear any more for a few months, then one morning they rang and said their son had caught her, and would we like to come and get her? Only……..someone had to ride her home. Guess who was nominated?


  Lucky me. As the husband can’t ride, and I had a somewhat horsey childhood, I got to ride the cunning old Mareea home about 4kms. After not riding for thirteen years. I went across country, through creeks and gates, and had her show me some of her tricks-like turning circles while mounting, and her astonishing inability to walk. Even at walking speed she can canter. I had bruises the size of my palm on my thighs from stiff stirrup leathers and my core muscles were agonising for days. Who needs the gym?

However, she is a lovely horse. She’s not nasty at all, just clever. And knowing the three boys (now men) who rode her I can see why-they would have been encouraging her all the way! The kids love her, and ride her daily. And i’m breathing a sigh of relief that we get to try out this horsey business without any outlay of money.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Feelin’ goaty

  Well, when I said in the last post i’d been doing nothing, it wasn’t entirely accurate. We figure setting up farm means settling in, and we’ve never done dairy before………done!

  The husband has been dreaming of a long-lashed Jersey for years, but I dragged him along to a local woman’s house to look at her goats. Really, she was the perfect choice-she dragged us into the shed, sat us in front of a goat and ordered us to milk-even the kids! But I think she won our hearts when she yelled ‘Stop yanking on her tits!’ to the husband, who was stripping a little too enthusiastically. A few visits and a few weeks later we took our girls home. They came with names, but we decided we needed a theme for goat names, and weeds won-so here are Nettle and Guava.




  They’re Anglo-Nubians, hence the distinctive Roman nose and comical floppy ears. I adore them, and even the husband likes them. What really won him over though, was seeing a calf feed straight from a goat. I never knew they were known as the universal foster mother, and he’s now sourcing Jersey heifers for when they kid.

P7064870 Goats without coats

  Guava (right) is one month into her second pregnancy and is in milk, giving us around 1.2L a day. She’s a dream, placid and easy-going, happy to let the kids and strangers milk her. Nettle is on her first pregnancy, so we’re training her to milk now, hauling her onto the milking stand and getting her used to touch. She’s very leery of touch anywhere except her head and neck, she is beginning to tolerate her back and sides being touched, but go for her teats and she freaks out! Fair enough really.


  And milking twice a day? I love it. In this pic, it’s in the first few days (at 6.30am), when we weren’t expecting to bring a milker home. Now we’ve built milking stands and set the shed up quite cosily, which is much easier than squatting on the grass with a child as feed holder. Getting up early doesn’t bother me as it really doesn’t get cold here, and there’s always a payoff-such as sunrises like this. Or a child asking for milk to be squirted straight into his mouth-they’ll regret those pictures as adults.


  Milk-wise, it took a little getting used to. It’s not a bad flavour, it’s just different. And so rich! Today I made the first carob i’ve had in about two weeks from boughten milk and it tasted terrible. Oversweet, with a background of cardboard-and it was organic, unhomogenised milk, not homebrand! We’ve made yoghurt, which is beautifully tangy and sharp, and labne which is the same but more so. No proper cheese yet as we don’t have a freezer to store the starter in, but i’m working on that.

All in all? Fantastic purchase. The husband agrees, while working on making the vegie garden look like a maximum security prison. Well, everything has its downsides, right?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Settling in and settling down

  So. We are here. After many years we don’t have anything that needs doing somewhere else. No big move to plan, nothing elsewhere to worry about, no big plans for the future. We can be be here………….and live.

  It’s really weird.

  I’ve almost forgotten how to have a home, how to settle down into a place and belong there. I’m used to being the fly-by-nighter, with it always in my thoughts that in six months, I won’t be here. When that’s always in the back of your mind, it does affect the way you live. Lazy with friendships, no involvement in the community, always living in the future-that’s me for the last few years.

  I’m used to having a big something ahead of me. I can plan, I can pack, I can get everything in the house into a storage unit and be on the road with very little disruption to our life. The kids don’t even notice. I’m really good at being busy and efficient and getting an insane amount done easily. It’s pretty normal.

  Normal, however, is not normal. In the three months since we moved in here the husband and I have had many freak-outs. Maybe we should have moved somewhere else instead! Oh no, it’s cold-let’s go to the tropics! I find myself feeling antsy and irritable, and realise that it’s because i’m a bit lost. I’m not used to this normal stuff. The idea of finding social circles and groups and putting down roots is rather daunting, and I think it’s because this is it. There’s no more changing things by taking off somewhere else. We’re here, and there’s really no reason at all to go elsewhere. One thing I realised in our travels is that there is no utopia. We went to notorious alternative areas, intentional communities, and places people raved about. They were all pretty disappointing. The alternative places were full of drugs and not somewhere you’d want to bring up kids, ICs were not full of farmer-types like us, and most of the other raved about places were yuppie-hippy-wankery. So while here is completely unremarkable, it’s perfect precisely because of that. It has the climate, the beautiful land, the relatively safe town. It’s a good place to bring up children in a farm lifestyle.

  However, I have gained some wisdom-I am doing nothing. Which means i’m not trying to expand my business, throwing myself back into study, or coming up with any other hare-brained schemes. We’re not madly searching for a property to buy or doing anything else huge for a change. I’ve definitely gotten the urge to, but i’m not acting on it. Instead, we’re collecting animals, making a garden, and attempting to make a home (furniture would help). I’m knitting a lot while the husband plays the guitar………..and we’re slowly starting to feel a bit more human. The stress is draining away and i’m feeling less raw. Like always, I didn’t realise just how stressed I was until I had time to stop and pay attention. I still don’t feel like getting out much, even though i’ve met some lovely people-right now we have everything we want right here, and as right here is where we’re planning on staying, we’re enjoying it. There’ll be plenty of time for life here, and it’s a good feeling.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Winter Solstice

  The whole Christian series of holidays has really been starting to grate on my nerves over the past few years. I’ve become the Scrooge of Christmas and Easter, because let’s face it, if you’re not religious, what is there to celebrate? A great big consumerist excuse for buying a heap of crap and having stressed-out meltdowns in the lead up. Not really our thing (understatement of the century). And starting Santa? Big mistake. I hate having to come up with ever more intricate lies, so I just shrugged when they asked probing questions. The husband has been telling them he doesn’t exist, but they think he’s joking (I think the girls are cottoning on although they haven’t said anything, probably because of their brothers. They’re too smart and too removed from external reinforcing to be sucked in for much longer anyway).

  We solved the problem early this year-let’s become pagans! Not in any sort of belief sense, but in acknowledging the change of seasons. We live outside and seasonally in so many ways it made sense. So now each quarter (two solstices and two equinoxes) we have an excuse for an occasion. Summer Solstice will involve gift-giving, solving the thorny issue of relatives freaking out at us rejecting yet another basic tenet of society, and the rest are a chance to enjoy a good, seasonal, home-grown feast.

And this winter, a huge fire. Because everyone, deep down, is a pyromaniac.


When it was truly dark, it was an excellent excuse to break out the sparklers.




  Funnily enough, the kids haven’t complained about the loss of the jolly fat man in red AT ALL. And I feel as if I can throw myself back into it all again, with no reservations.