Weathering the Dry

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After the flush and abundance of spring, summer rolls in. It has been very dry here for the past month or so, and the green grass has been stripped of its moisture to become a sparse gold carpet over dry grey dirt. The creek has dried up, and the front dam is no longer potable, meaning that seven ponies and a Thoroughbred are now reliant on troughs being filled daily by a hose. Absence of water means absence of growth; the lawn will not need to be mowed for a while.

But these warm, dry days have plenty of positives about them. The does are at their best, in super condition without the effort of keeping warm. They come in each night with full stomachs and they are still milking quite well. The ponies’ coats are sleek and fine, and they also keep well on the barest of grazing. The horse paddocks look bloody awful, to be honest, with manure on bare, dry ground. But the amazing thriftiness of the New Forest Pony in a warm, dry Victorian summer means that grazing must be restricted. The danger from excess sugars in the grass is gone now, but it is still wise to keep the ponies from getting too fat.

The summer vegies – tomatoes, pumpkins, corn and capsicum – need the long days and mild nights to grow their fruit. This year’s pumpkin vines look like yielding seven pumpkins, and as long as they get plenty of water they love the heat. The tomatoes are more sensitive to the sun, but as long as they are kept watered they continue to grow. Their first fruit are starting to ripen, I have several varieties by the look of things and some I had not expected are doing very well. The capsicum and chilli plants are green and lush, with a couple of thumb-sized capsicums a sign of things to come. The main vegetable garden, pumpkin patch and back porch potted plants are green oases in the dry, yellow yard.

These warm nights are perfect for making cheese and yogurt. The yogurt in particular does well when it incubates somewhere warm, setting thickly in the tub overnight. Great stuff, made with goat milk, some extra milk powder, a little sugar and some good vanilla extract. Perfect with summer fruit.

They say rain is good weather for ducks, but watching my geese and ducks splashing and diving in the lake on a hot day makes me think that summer is good weather for ducks too. No need for sunblock when you are covered in feathers, so they spend hours in the cool water. The chooks are not so impressed, spending the heat of the day in the shade of the barn or bathing in the cool dust under the big gum tree. Yet Buffy the Rhode Island Red hen has managed to hatch six healthy chicks, thanks in part to the fully-insulated dog kennel she has as a broody house. This very sturdy little building came from the Ballarat Transfer Station for a mere $20, and fit neatly into the horse float we had brought our garbage in. Even on the real scorchers it was beautifully cool inside and so far the crows have no idea how to get in the tiny door.

I’ve been spending time in the evenings working with my clever young pony Zev. The warm, still twilight after the kids have gone to bed is ideal, with only the setting sun to limit our training sessions. Once Rusty recovers from his bruised foot I might even do a little bit of riding of a night. These evenings are my favourite part of summer.

So my latest batch of yogurt has just gone into the incubator, to hopefully be ready for tomorrow’s breakfast. We’ve got a bit of summer still to come, although some welcome rain and cooler weather have been forecast in the next few weeks. Anzac Day, the traditional end of the warm growing season, is still a couple of months away. Hopefully soon we will be flush with summer produce.

 

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The End of an Era.

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My plan with this blog is to keep a bit of a record of the seasons on the farm and the ups and downs, busy and slow times we go through. I will bit by bit go into more detail with each aspect; the garden, the poultry, the goats, the dairy, the kitchen. But first I want to talk about one of the main reasons why the property was purchased to begin with: the ponies.

I was a relative latecomer to all things horsy. I was a horse-mad kid who dreamed of a pony of my own. I got my first pony, a little brown horror called Jock, when I was 11 years old. He was given away a few years later after he began to have issues with laminitis due to a lack of work and his lack of cooperation when it came to staying in his yard and off the green grass of our Modewarre paddock. As a nervous 14yo I was purchased a newly-broken Thoroughbred cross pony. It took many, many years, but eventually that pony, Pat, became a fabulous and reliable saddle pony. He is now 25yo and living with a family on the eastern side of Melbourne.

My first mare was Bessie, a smoky black mare of mainly Welsh breeding. She was loads of fun, a super little jumper with attitude. She became the dam of my first foal, a partbred Arabian named Pablo. Unfortunately, Pablo broke his leg while still a foal at foot. Bessie went back to the Arabian stallion Kardom and produced a bay colt who was named Stardom. Star became the first pony that I bred, raised, broke-in, trained and showed.

While Star was still a foal I bought a hairy little colt known as Lachie. Registered as Lachearnleigh Talisman, Lachie was a New Forest Pony. He was bred with Bessie and the resulting foal was the first to be registered with the Elcarim prefix. His name was Elcarim Enigma, known by most as Rusty.

Lachearnleigh Talisman

Lachearnleigh Talisman

Two years later my first purebred New Forest foals were born. That was 2003. Elcarim Stardust from my new mare River Valley Starbelle, Elcarim Hendrix out of a mare leased from Arnwood Pony stud, and Elcarim Merrie Maya, out of a mare leased from Lachearnleigh Stud. Elcarim Farm New Forest Ponies had it’s first registered purebred ponies. That year Lachie won the APSB Sires Rating competition for most successful New Forest stallion based on wins by his progeny.

Maya, Henry and Ziggy, the Elcarim team at the APSB Foal Show in 2004

Maya, Henry and Ziggy, the Elcarim team at the APSB Foal Show in 2004

My goal at that stage was to breed, raise, train and sell ponies, and hopefully pick up one along the way who would be my performance pony. I bred several foals and sold most of them. At one stage I had four mares. After Lachie was gelded I purchased another colt, Bankswood San Diego, who was bred to Lachie’s daughters and has produced some lovely offspring.

Diego with his mares Elcarim Florentine and Elcarim Starlight (aka Zena)

Diego with his mares Elcarim Florentine and Elcarim Starlight (aka Zena)

After my second open heart surgery I began to wonder about my future with the ponies. Being on anticoagulants and having a pacemaker made me more cautious around them. Doctors would pull interesting faces when I told them that I had horses and wanted to continue to ride and train them. I pulled old Pat out of the paddock and had a fun season competing on him before deciding to move onto something younger and at least part New Forest. I worked hard with Rusty to get him to a stage where he could do an okay dressage test, but jumping was never his thing. I still harboured enough ambition to want to ride something bigger and flashier and more talented, but each time I tried my fear got the better of me.

As the cost of breeding and showing ponies grew, the bottom fell out of the market. Selling youngsters became very difficult. When I became a single parent I pretty much gave up showing due to the cost. I also found showing to be stressful and very draining, both physically and mentally. Gradually I stopped competing altogether and started to think about reducing the scale of my stud.

Zena with probably the best foal I bred, Elcarim Mr Brightside.

Zena with probably the best foal I bred, Elcarim Mr Brightside.

Riding was the thing that made me like all the ‘healthy’ people. Being on a horse leveled the playing field. In the saddle I could pretend to be a healthy person with all my original body parts in working order. It was what kept me connected with my former ‘whole’ self.

But with riding came fear. I was always afraid. What if I fell off? It wasn’t fun any more. I couldn’t ride a big, flash horse without being terrified and I couldn’t afford a ready-made safe mount. I stopped forcing myself, stopped feeling guilty about not riding. And over time, I pretty much stopped riding. Then I felt bad about all the potential talent of the ponies sitting in my paddocks. I knew I couldn’t keep breeding them if they were going to cost a lot to keep and be difficult to sell. So I made the decision to close the stud.

Yesterday my beautiful roan mare Arnwood Temperance went back to her birthplace to rejoin the Arnwood broodmare herd. A few months ago I sold my young stallion Diego to a local lady who plans to geld him and train him for pony dressage. Zena and her daughter Polly have gone to separate farms to be riding school mounts. Tempe, Diego and Zena were the cornerstones of my stud. With them gone the reality of the situation has sunk in. There will be no more Elcarim foals.

The very lovely Arnwood Temperance

The very lovely Arnwood Temperance

I am left with my dear old River Valley Starbelle, who at 18 years old and with eight foals under her belt has earned her retirement. She shares a paddock with my beautiful Thoroughbred mare Bushfire Sunset (aka Red), the best horse I ever rode, now 15 years old. I also have Rusty, who is good for the occasional toddle up the road when the saddle calls me. I have three remaining youngsters, all out of Starbelle. Four-year-old gelding Zevy who is very special and may entice me back into riding one day, three-year-old Lola the midget hermaphrodite who is lovely to look at but pretty much useless, and yearling colt Zanzi who is the last one I need to sell.

Starbelle in her prime.

Starbelle in her prime.

But today the farm took on a new purpose. Two of Arnwood Pony Stud’s ‘special needs’ mares have come to spend some time here away from the rich feeds of their Tatura home in preparation for the next breeding season. They will be trimmed down, get plenty of exercise, go through a cold Ballarat winter and return to Arnwood to hopefully get in foal early in spring.

We have had our share of success. Starbelle defeated many breed champions in her short show career. Tempe was Reserve Supreme Junior Mountain and Moorland Pony at the Horse of the Year show as a two-year-old. My hallway is decorated with sashes and rosettes from our more notable results. With Pat I won many performance classes and my only ever championship sash for showjumping. We had our glory days.

Rusty at our last Riding Club rally.

Rusty at our last Riding Club rally.

I am sure I will always have a pony or two. The feeling of using a well-learned skill is somehow comforting and I enjoy working with youngsters. With young Zevy I hope to try some new methods and teach him by feel rather than by using my old and familiar methods. He has the brains and the motivation to learn, however I may choose to teach him. And I have a feeling that he might have a lot to teach me along the way.

My special Zevy (Elcarim Blues For Salvador).

My special Zevy (Elcarim Blues For Salvador).

 

When You’ve Got Livestock…

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You know the saying. When you have a few animals, you are inevitably going to lose some. So today’s post is going to be a bit of a tribute to those we have lost in the past 12 months and those who we have recently welcomed to Elcarim Farm.

Probably the biggest shock was the loss of my dear friend Kerrie’s retired horse Megs. Megs was 29.5 years old and had lived his last couple of years here. He went the best way an old horse can, he just lay down in the paddock one day, fell asleep and didn’t wake up. It took me weeks to get used to him not being here, as I was forever changing his rugs and listening to him complain about how long he had to wait for his food. But I was very glad that he went so peacefully.

Another loss that was hard to deal with was that of our beloved bottle-fed kid Venus. Rejected by her mother as the last born of triplets, Venus was a tiny but exquisite Nubian, with unusual colouring and an amazing zest for life. An ‘intestinal accident’ was the diagnosis, and she was euthanased by the vet on a Wednesday afternoon.

Venus and Thumper as tiny kids.

Venus and Thumper as tiny kids.

I had all of my ducks and chooks wiped out by foxes over two nights, leading to a complete overhaul of poultry pen security. The most notable loss was that of my seven-year-old Silkie rooster, Brewster. Brew was the oldest resident of the farmyard, progenitor of all of the Silkies I bred over seven years. After I gave up breeding Silkies I kept Brew, opening his eyes for him on cold mornings and feeding him treats from my hand in the evenings. He was a tough, proud bird, good to his ladies and numerous offspring.

The foxes were not done, though. More recently they dug into the barn and took all seven of my Khaki Campbell ducklings, who were very kindly hatched out by a complete stranger after the parent birds met an untimely end in the dog yard. This was a terrible blow, definitely not the fairy-tale end we had hoped these miracle babies would have.

Several other animals have gone on to brighter and better things. Trixie the Beagle, my New Forest Pony stallion Diego, and mare Zena have gone to wonderful new homes. Zena and Diego will get a chance at saddle careers and Trixie is with a household who are well-versed in the ways of scenthounds.

The past year has seen some new arrivals settle in. Most notable would have to be the Italian Greyhound Cedarlodge Merlin, aka Leo The Skinny Dog. Having a pup took a bit of getting used to, but now I could not imagine life without my crazy little dog. He is getting over his travel sickness and starting to come on car trips occasionally and go visiting with me. He might not get ten points for brains, but he is always so cheerful and loves everybody.

Off-road skinny dog, down the paddock.

Off-road skinny dog, down the paddock.

Leo's favourite place - my bed.

Leo’s favourite place – my bed.

Gobbles the parrot has staked his claim in the prime position of the lounge room bay window. A Green Cheeked Conure who loves scratches, helping with the cooking and helping with eating. His attitude is bigger than he is, and for a little bird he makes a lot of noise.

Gobbles likes breakfast.

Gobbles likes breakfast.

In the goat paddocks we welcomed new buck Jazzy Jupiter at the start of 2012. Jupi in turn sired two sets of triplets, consisting of five buck kids and one doe. His only daughter was our little Venus, who we lost at 8 weeks, but two of his sons have become permanent fixtures. Thumper the Therapy Goat has been wethered and was bottle fed as well. He is a sweet little fellow, also unusually coloured, who thinks people are his family and doesn’t understand why the other goats have to be so rough. These days he hangs out with the newly-purchased doe kid Ambika.

Thumper’s brother, Apollo, known as ‘Big Red’, has been kept for breeding. Red hit the ground ready to run, and has grown into an impressive young fellow. Five shows this season netted him four wins in the buck kid classes and four Reserve Champion Buck sashes.

Buck Kid Apollo, aka Red.

Buck Kid Apollo, aka Red.

Victoria was our one surviving doe kid born this season, with both her parents carrying the Elcarim prefix. She is a lovely big girl who I am looking forward to growing out, showing some more, and milking in the future.

In the chook pen we have basically started from scratch after losing everything but the geese. Bonnie goose finally hatched me some grey goslings this year, after her previous two clutches were all white. A Rhode Island Red trio, led by big red rooster Russell, has made a home here, along with two lovely black Australorp bantam hens. And today I added a trio of Silver Appleyard ducks who will hopefully break the duck hoodoo and have long and fruitful lives.

New Silver Appleyard ducks

New Silver Appleyard ducks

Australorp hens Erica and Ebony

Australorp hens Erica and Ebony

The Rhode Island Reds

The Rhode Island Reds

I am rather anxiously waiting for my wonderful old New Forest mare Starbelle to have her foal. This will possibly be the last foal born here, now that Diego has gone. I’ve also got a hen sitting on eggs, and soon it will be mating time for the goats. It all begins again.

Some years are better than others. Some years you really feel like you are paying a blood price. But as long as the joys outweigh the sadness and we are for the most part having fun and running healthy animals it is worth it.

Endless Summer

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I am much more a summer person than a winter person. I love the long evenings, with plenty of time to spend in the garden. The way the summer crops do so well in the heat as long as they have plenty of water. Laying on the trampoline on a warm night and watching the stars. Taking dogs and ponies swimming in the dam. Not having to put on layers of clothing to go out milking in the morning. Being able to get a load of washing washed and dried inside a couple of hours.

I don’t like mosquitoes, but shit happens. And the flies are bad this year.

We have had a week of heat, and my pumpkins are loving it, as are the tomatoes and potted capsicums. The corn is growing nicely, and for the first time I actually have basil happily growing, albeit in the house.

Once-a-day milking of three does gives me about five litres. Rianna drops right off as soon as her kids are weaned, but first lac doe Sienna is producing well and behaving much better on the milk stand. The heat has taken a toll on the big doe Lucy, and Meredith is still feeding her 6mo doe kid.

We stumbled upon a fully insulated dog kennel at the transfer station and brought it home as a potential nesting shed for the chooks. Rhode Island Red hen Buffy is now parked on about a dozen eggs and keeping beautifully cool even on the really hot days. Fingers crossed for some fluffy yellow babies in a couple more weeks.

The goslings are about 10 weeks old, huge, healthy and magnificent. The two boys will go in the freezer at some point. I don’t know what I’ll do with the young grey girls, perhaps we can figure out a way for them to nest individually next season to avoid the disasters that come from geese sharing a nest.

I’ve got cider bubbling away. That is another thing that does well in the heat, as it needs to be kept between 23 and 28 degrees. Looking forward to tasting this less-improvised batch after the last attempt was tipped down the sink. It had 1% alcohol and tasted like burning.

For those who have suggested that they would buy goat milk soap if I made it, look out… I plan to do just that. I’ll let you know when products are ready for testing.