Resolution

Standard

Things haven’t been easy for me over the years, and it feels strange to say that. In a lot of ways I have been very lucky, but in other ways not so much.

So as I step forward out of 2015 and into 2016 feeling like I have finally stepped up off the bottom rung of the great long ladder that is Getting My Shit Together, I am well aware that things are as good for me now as they have ever been. It has been a year of struggling to make sense of things, coming to terms with my past, and discovering myself. Of trying on ideas and questioning my beliefs. Of finding my niche and gathering the crumbs of my confidence.

I’m still a cynic deep down, and pessimism is the scar left by too many unpleasant surprises. I believe that if you don’t set your own challenges, life will come up with challenges for you and you might not like them. With that in mind, I decided not to choose between a self-improvement goal and a social awareness project in 2016, but to do both.

For various reasons, exercise is a trial for many of us. Some find it hard to make time. Some find it difficult or unpleasant on a physical level. But deep down I think we all wish we did a bit more of it. I know that exercise is a big part of the healthy mind, healthy body equation, but actually doing it has been a bit of a stumbling block.

The way I see it, I find time to do all sorts of things other people don’t do that I don’t consider to be ‘optional’. Getting up and milking every morning takes an hour and is not optional. Doing the bread at least every week and a half, even though I could just buy bread, is not optional – the sourdough starter dies if you leave it too long. Making cheese when the milk jar fills up is not optional, and that can take hours. Feeding the family is not optional and takes planning and time. So what I need to do is make exercise essential, rather than optional.

Just 15 minutes a day, even if it is a brisk walk to the end of the road and back. But it has to be every day, unless I am sick or injured. And it is no longer optional. If I can find time for everything else, I can find time to exercise.

I’ve set exercise goals before, many times. I hope that this time I have found a mind trick to head off the old ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ attitude that turns into not doing it for four months because it’s cold outside and I can’t be bothered. It will take some discipline, but hopefully it will also be good for me. I guess we will find out.

My other goal is to reduce the amount of rubbish our household produces, specifically food packaging. I cringe every time I put a meat tray or muesli packet in the bin. I see all the bits of plastic that come off an average dinner, and I know it needs to change. Recycling and composting can only go so far.

Members of the local permaculture group have put me onto some great resources for buying in bulk and making re-usable produce bags, but the main thing is going to be getting organised. Relying as much as possible on home-grown food with no packaging and no food miles will be part of the challenge, but a big factor will be not falling into the trap of one-stop shopping at the supermarket. It’s kind of a nuisance that my preferred butcher is closed for making smallgoods on my day off, but I can still drop in there any other afternoon on my way home from work. There are a few local food co-ops and outlets that sell in bulk, as well as farmers markets and food swaps.

Being organised, planning ahead and knowing that I can’t just duck out and pick up the thing I forgot for tonight’s quick dinner will be the key. Along with reducing waste, the whole project should lead to the family eating more locally produced and unprocessed foods. There will be some things we might need to give up, but these are things we don’t really need.

We don’t know what the future holds, and every year brings its own surprises and challenges. What we can do is set our intention and focus on something positive. This may end up being the thing that centres us through difficult times, or it may be what guides us to something amazing we hadn’t thought of.

Step boldly into 2016, my dear readers, and whatever you plan to do, believe in your goal, set yourself up to succeed and make it count.

Advertisements

Your Argument is Invalid Because… DUCKS!

Standard

I can hardly believe there was a time when I wasn’t allowed to have ducks.

I wrote a couple of years ago about going to buy my first Muscovy, Alice, and how great it felt to be able to make my own decision and act on it, even the simple act of buying a duck.

Well, now I have… *counts*… 39 ducks. Thanks to the efforts of my Muscovy girls Martha and Millie.

Last year Martha hatched a clutch of Pekin and Appleyard ducklings, right in the midst of us moving house. These ducklings were by my lovely rescue drake Derek from the RSPCA, and their mothers were my blue egg-laying Appleyard Ramona and two Pekin ducks I had been given by a friend who was battling cancer.

These first ducklings now make up my entire population of white ducks, since Derek and his lady friends have been devoured by eagles over the past 12 months. So we now have DJ the drake, Poppy, Polly and Skinny Duck, as well as my original Appleyard sisters Roberta and Ramona. Ramona is currently limping around with a broken foot, which she obtained by getting in under goats to steal their food. She is a lot better now than she was, but doesn’t seem to have learned anything from her misadventure. Every morning she gets in the goat pens excitedly waiting to take her life into her hands (wings? flippers?) by stealing breakfast from my big, bossy milkers. You can’t give them ten points for brains no matter how enthusiastic they are…

Roberta had it in her head to sit on some eggs this year, for the first time in four years, but Martha wanted to take over. With the right pedigree for the job, plus proven skills, giving the gig to Martha was kind of a no-brainer. Meanwhile Millie had got cozy in a corner on 13 eggs. Between them they hatched 13 Muscovies and seven Pekin/Appleyard crosses.

So now I have 20 rapidly-growing ducklings running around. Interestingly, the Pekin/Appleyard ducklings, including the one-eyed token brown duckling, have started hanging out with the adult Pekins and Appleyards.

ducklings 3

The white ducklings seem to be drawn to their own kind.

leela

Leela the one-eyed Appleyard duckling, who I think may need to have his name changed to Lee Lemon…

I was never going to get Muscovies, for years I was put off by their appearance, their red caruncled faces, and I had heard that the drakes were aggressive. But since I wanted to hatch and raise some ducklings, I bought Alice who was fresh from hatching and raising a clutch of 21. I was soon converted by the funny blue duck with her hissy little voice an waggy tail. She was sadly taken by a fox one night, but a little while later I bought Millie and Martha. I had a bad run for a while after that, losing my sweet pet duck Monica and bronze drake Maverick. After moving I decided to have another go at breeding Muscovies, adding the big blue drake Muscles to the flock. We had some problems at first, but Muscles is now a big, strong, good-natured bird, secure in his place in the pecking order.

And finally this year we have Muscovy ducklings.

They are hilarious, from their morning feeding frenzy to their evening waddle back up the paddock to the night pen. All stampy feet, hissy-squeaky voices and waggy tails. They flap their stubby little featherless wings and bob their heads, looking at you intently. I think I’ve got six females and seven males, so there will be some boys for the freezer, but there are a couple of really nice girls who will get to stay on. They are starting to feather up and go exploring. They are a range of colours, black, blue, self and pied, with what looks like a barred female. It will be interesting to see how they mature in their colours and patterns.

I could watch them all day, and their little faces make me smile. Millie loves to fly, and I really should clip her wing to keep her out of trouble, but I can’t bear to leave her grounded.

duckling minions

Millie addressing her duckling minions.

Ducks can be messy, but they are so much fun, such characters, with such complex social lives and happy in any weather. They lay like crazy from July to December and then shut up shop for six months, with the occasional bout of eggs from one of the Muscovies. They can be savage with each other in the breeding season, but in the off season they are as casual as anything.

If you have ever considered ducks, as pets or as production birds, I can absolutely recommend them as long as you have a bit of space for them to forage and somewhere for them to splash about. Their eggs are the ‘whiter whites and brighter colours’ version of a chook egg, with yolks tending to almost red-orange on plenty of green feed. They are huge, up to 100g for a Pekin or Muscovy egg, and are better than chook eggs, in my opinion, for pretty much anything. Their shells are tough, and the eggs themselves will stay fresh for at least a month on the bench, as they are designed to spend a month under a duck at 37 degrees.

I love my fluffy, comical Silkies and my docile and reliable red hens, but since I don’t have to choose any more I am happy to have a yard full of ducks as well.

Summer Garden Tour – Many Photos Within!

Standard

With summer in full swing, and time to kill while I wait for my cheese curds to set up, I thought I would give my readers a virtual tour of my garden.

We’ve only been here a year, and as it turns out I’ve set up the vegie garden right on top of the old driveway. It’s going to take a few years of adding manure to get the garden into full swing, but if there’s one thing we have plenty of around here, it’s manure.

In the dry weather I get an accumulation of dessicated goat and poultry manure where the animals camp in front of the pens in the barn. As it turns out, this dried manure, which has been thoroughly scratched through by the poultry and contains much-trampled straw and lucerne leftovers, can hold a lot of moisture and readily re-hydrates. I shoveled up a trailer load the other day and used the duck muck (or goose juice) from the duck pond to rehydrate it. It held seven buckets of duck muck without much effort. I unloaded it on the next garden bed to be planted out, and put a couple of shovels full around the roots of the fruit trees.

duck muck

Duck muck (or is that goose juice?).

mulch

Duck muck plus dessicated manure.

garden1

Makes an excellent growing medium.

This dessicated manure plus duck muck concoction is loaded with nutrients, and holds water like a sponge. On a hot day the top layer will dry out, but it remains damp underneath, keeping the roots of the plants cool. I’ll be collecting up a bit more of this over the summer months.

The new greenhouse is going really well, with tomatoes, capsicum, corn and chickpeas growing. I’ve also got some watermelons in there, and I am very excited to have my first melon growing! I’ve got some varieties of capsicum and tomato that I haven’t tried before, so it will be interesting to see how these go. Hopefully I’ll get a good yield of both and be able to put away lots of jars of salsa for the winter.

greenhouse 1

At the end of Greenhouse Lane…

melon

An actual watermelon! So far it’s the size of a duck egg…

I’ve had a lot of trouble with birds getting into the fruit and pulling up seedlings, so I’ve had to resort to netting a few parts of the garden. The climbing frame sat waiting for a job to do for ages, before I added netting to it and made a magpie-proof seedling frame. I’ve added a couple of slug traps to my bag of tricks, and finally I’ve got lettuce surviving long enough to be edible. I’ve got celery and some tomatoes that I don’t remember planting under the dome as well.

garden 2

Upcycled vegie dome.

Elsewhere I have outdoor corn and chickpeas, five zucchini plants (will I ever learn, two would have been plenty), QLD Blue and butternut pumpkins and snow peas. I’ve just planted some lettuce from a variety I really like that I saved seeds from, a few miscellaneous free herb seeds from Diggers and some climbing peas that I saved from a previous crop.

The strawberries in the centre are growing like mad, and trying to put out runners all over the place. I’ve had to net these to stop the blackbirds from taking all the fruit, but I still find plenty of half-mauled ones which the residents of the SilkieDome are happy to finish off.

garden 3

Strawberries, lavender and a lemon tree.

My blueberries are still alive (touch wood!) and have a few fruit. They have also been netted. I know you aren’t meant to let them fruit for the first couple of seasons, but my blueberry bushes don’t tend to live long enough to get to a second season, so I figured a few berries wouldn’t be a matter of life and death.

blueberry

Blueberries – not dead yet.

I’m very reluctant to leave citrus trees to the elements, after losing all my half-grown lemons to a -5.7* frost last winter. I have espaliered my new orange and lime trees, which gives them support and allows me to keep them on the north wall of the porch. The orange blossom smelled just divine in the spring, and now I have tiny oranges growing. I’m hoping the lime tree will happily yield too.

espalier

Espaliered trees on the north verandah.

tiny oranges

Tiny oranges!

And finally, my fig tree is having a great time and looks like it is actually starting to fruit. I love figs, and you can’t get them at the shops, so I am really looking forward to eating these.

fig tree

Happy fig tree, now with leaves.

So that’s the garden update for Summer. The forecast is for warm and wet over the next few months, so hopefully that bodes well for big yields.

Anyway, back to my cheese…

A Barefoot Cookin’ Christmas

Standard

Over the past few years, Christmas has become a sort of annual festival of cooking and family.

We’ve been doing ‘Christmas Baking’ for as long as I can remember, originally watching my Mum bake, later joining in and in more recent years it has become the realm of my sister and I. We have a cider, crank some tunes and churn out baked goodies as fast as my new 90cm oven can cook them.

This year we toned it down a bit, producing 24 fruit mince pies and 83 choc-dipped shortbread biscuits. We’ve been using the same recipes and the same SAWA 2000 biscuit press the whole time. Sarah and I have acquired our own SAWA 2000s over recent years, courtesy of op-shops and ‘trash and treasure’ markets.

83 shortbreads

83 Shortbreads

With Christmas Day forecast to be over 30 degrees, the sheer firepower of my oven and the prospect of about 15 people in the living area of my house, I decided that I would do all the oven cooking before the day. December 23 saw me roasting a turkey for the first time. My old oven would never have accommodated a whole turkey, so I had never cooked one before. It was basically a matter of taking the (free range, of course) turkey out of the packet, putting it on the rack of the baking dish, covering its wing and leg tips with foil, roasting for the prescribed time and dismembering it once it was cool.

turkey

Turkey was the easy part

As someone who doesn’t eat sugar, I usually accept the fact that there just won’t be pudding for me, but Sarah had the bright idea of finding a pumpkin pie recipe that would suit both my sugar-free self and our gluten-free mother. Since I had the week off, sourcing ingredients and baking the pie on Christmas Eve became my task. I started with a whole pumpkin, which I cut, cored, peeled, boiled and pureed, and ended up with what I assume is a fairly decent impersonation of a pumpkin pie. It was enjoyed by those with and without restricted diets.

pumpkin pie

Sugar-free, gluten-free pumpkin pie

In the lead-up to Christmas I also made a sugar-free cheesecake slice with home-made goat milk ricotta, and some excellent alternatively-sweetened dark chocolate with locally grown hazelnuts. Plenty of sweets for me this year.

Any meal at my place is not complete without an extensive board of home-made and hand-picked cheeses. This year we had my goat milk gouda, a dish of chevre, Mersey Valley aged cheddar, Unicorn double brie and a traditional English blue Stilton. The troops gave it a fair work-over, but there was still a good bit left for a Boxing Day serving to try out my new cheese serving set from Mum.

cheeseboard

Nom nom nom…

I pre-made a coleslaw to dress on the day, and did a stocktake of my salad ingredients. Christmas morning I made a green salad.

We had a quiet Christmas morning, just the four of us who live here. I received a really lovely tea set, which was made around 80 years ago. We had our traditional Christmas breakfast of croissants, eggs and bacon.

 

Lunchtime preparation began in earnest when the last to arrive sent a message from town asking for my address. I made a warm potato salad with homegrown spuds, garlic, butter and grated gouda. Mum brought out the container of pork that she had pre-roasted, and Sarah presented a leg of excellent locally-grown free-range ham. Brother Matthew arrived with his containers of prawns. We set it all out on the table, with a jar of beetroot relish replacing cranberry sauce, and everyone tucked in.

lunch

EAT ALL THE FOOD!!!

After mains was pretty much finished with, we cleared up and set out the desserts, including the aforementioned baked goods and featuring Nana’s famous trifle.

What seemed like a fairly disjointed lead-up culminated in a perfectly-executed buffet-style Christmas lunch for 12, with something for everyone and no oven required on the day. Great work team!

 

December Farm Update

Standard

I haven’t been very active in here lately, with my activism stuff taking on a life of its own and my other blog getting 600 hits in two days. I actually had to shut The Barefoot Cook down for a little while to make sure none of the ‘wrong’ people found their way here and started causing trouble.

Now that is out of the way, and I have a bit of time up my sleeve over the next few weeks, I’ve got a few ideas for Barefoot Cook posts that should appeal to those who come here for the cooking, farming and cute baby animals.

My first round of kids from the Epic Kidding Weekend are now 18 weeks old. First born (of triplets) Jimmy has recently gone to South Australia where he is to be a stud buck. Bottle baby Katie has won her first show championship. Sienna’s daughters have grown into big fat sassy monsters, with excellent dairy quality and their mother’s awesome rump and hind legs. Victoria’s boy Greg (aka Buckethead) is now a wether and is taller than all the others, with a temperament reminiscent of our beloved Thumper, who we had to have put down earlier in the year.

katie show

Rohan with Katie (Elcarim Gloria) at Ballarat Show.

fitz kids

Sienna’s triplets, Ruby, Jimmy and Rosanna. with Cecilia second from right.

Hera’s only surviving triplet, a tiny and exquisite doe named Cecilia, has had a bit of a tough time. She gained the nickname ‘Sausage’ at about a fortnight old, as despite being tiny she put on a lot of weight in a short time and her skin got so tight that she felt like an overstuffed sausage when you picked her up. She somehow hurt her back when she was about a month old, and hobbled around determinedly for a few weeks until with some days in the pen to rest and twice-daily massage from me she came good again. Then her mother suffered a laceration on her teat that took ages to to heal, during which time she would not let the kid feed. Sausage learned to take a bottle, and continued to do so until Hera’s udder finally healed.

sausage

Cecilia (aka Sausage) chilling at the Geelong Milk Test in October.

Then a couple of weeks ago Sausage developed a cough. She was seen panting, with a rattly chest and off her feed. The vet diagnosed pneumonia, prescribed antibiotics and said poor Sausage was probably down to about 25% lung function. She is on the mend now, although a long way from fully recovered, but at least she is taking milk again, which is a huge relief.

So we get to the rest of the kidding season. Maia had a big doe kid by Tazzy at the end of August, who we called Maria. She is a complete spoiled brat who gives any smaller kids hell just for sport, and doesn’t like people. She is only now starting to come up and sniff humans of her own accord. Maia has done quite well at shows this season, winning a first lactation Best Udder class (my first doe to win a Best Udder class against other does) and two Best Anglo Nubian sashes. She has chilled out a lot and become quite good to handle and take out, so hopefully her brat child will become a model citizen with maturity as well.

maia maria

Maia and Maria.

maia show

Maia at Geelong Show.

Goatling Elaine had a big buck kid, the biggest we’ve had so far at 4.2kg. He is the last kid by my buck Zeus (also lost to urinary calculi earlier in the year), and while a doe kid would have been nice, a big flash buck is a pretty good outcome too. Elaine has a fabulous udder, with seamless fore attachment. Her kid has been named Ebeneezer Goode, and I’ve nicknamed him Yeezy because he has an ego like Kanye. He is a grandson of foundation animals Rianna, Meredith, Jupiter and Tazzy, with a double cross to Tazzy, and should cross well with my daughters of FitzWilliam to double up on some of my successful female lines.

ebeneezer

Elaine with Ebeneezer.

Last of all was Ambika, who kidded for the third time on December 13th. She kept me up until 3am, when I helped her birth impossibly leggy twins. The first was a buck who looked more like a long-eared giraffe than a goat, and the second, much to my delight, was a black and tan doe with dark ears and hardly any white. The doe has been named Delilah, and the buck has gone as a pet to a local family to be hand-raised.

ambi kids

Ambika’s kids.

Ambika didn’t start cycling as early as the others, and once she did get into the swing of it she took four cycles to get in kid. Old Tazzy was just about sick of the sight of her, and the only reason she was bred on her fourth cycle was because Matt was standing right there and offered to go and get the buck. I’m glad he did, because I am very relieved to finally have a daughter from her, and it should give Ambi a bit of status in the herd to have a girl child who is half-sister to some of the higher-ranked does. Ambi is milking really well, giving well over 4 litres a day, which, along with bottle baby Jimmy leaving us, has drastically increased the amount of milk I bring in each day.

20151127_073723

Kiddie pile-up.

Now I get a bit of a break from dealing with the sex lives of goats until autumn when I will have to decide which eight does get a chance to kid next year, which bucks they will go to and when I will schedule kidding.

Every year around September, when the poultry start showing signs of breeding behaviour, I think about getting an egg incubator. And every year, a few weeks later when half my birds are broody, I realise that would be a bad idea. I had broody geese, hens and ducks, four ducks wanted to sit at the same time. I am still not really properly set up for birds sitting on nests, and although my Rhode Island Red sat very determinedly, she wasn’t able to hatch any chicks. The geese sat on a few Muscovy eggs and managed not to hatch any.

But my Muscovy girls did a great job, with first-timer Millie hatching all 13 of her eggs in one day like an absolute pro. Martha had a few Pekin/Appleyard eggs, and we had to deal with an exploded rotten egg in the nest around day 25, but she hatched seven ducklings.

millie ducklings

Millie with her brand-new ducklings.

All 20 ducklings are growing at a rate that hardly seems possible. They smash down about a kilogram of starter crumble for breakfast, and spend the day chasing flies and swimming in the clamshell pond. Martha took hers down the paddock yesterday, which is a bit of a worry, but she did this last year so hopefully she knows how to keep them safe.

Old Thoroughbreds Red and Stella have their shiny summer coats on and while Stella, at 20yo, is showing signs of her age with her grey patches and swaying back, Red still looks incredible for her 18 years.

farmyard

Morning milking in Summer, with horses.

I finally got sick of the terribly useless rat traps and finding nests of rat and mouse babies in the drawers in the dairy, so I got a barn cat. Rufus had his first trip to the vet yesterday, where his maleness was confirmed and he got his microchip and first vaccinations. He seems completely happy living outside, and is currently spending his nights in a big cage on his big plush cat cave. Once he is a bit bigger he will be allowed to stay out at night to stalk rats.

rufus

Rufus.

That’s probably about enough for one post, except to add that my dear old Rosie dog is still with us, although rather wobbly on her back legs these days. She is 15yo now, and Leo Skinnydog, who was acquired to ‘replace’ Rosie so that Lister (who is still spry, if a little ‘forgetful’ at 14yo) wouldn’t get depressed when she died, is now four years old.

I’ve got plans for a post on the summer garden, how much cheese I can make with over 5lt of milk a day coming into the house, and a Barefoot Cookin’ Chrismas over the next little while, so stay tuned.