Begin Again

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It has been over six months since my last post.

In that time, I have quit my job, gone back to school, started a new business, endured an agonizing back injury, and attended my Nana’s funeral.

I’ve also raised seven healthy goat kids, a bumper crop of ducks and chickens, and bought a pony.

I’ve never been one to sit back and observe.

Adjusting to life on one income has been a lot less terrifying than I was expecting, even with unplanned expenses like a new goat shed, significant vet bills, and months of treatment on my back.

I injured my back in a yoga class, of all things, and the surge of fury I felt when it happened was fascinating to observe through the lens of my fourth yoga class that week. I stayed to the end, and I wonder if it would have been quite so crippling an injury if I had not followed it up by straining my abdominal muscles the next morning, trying to keep my eyes open while sneezing as I turned right at a roundabout.

Either way, with the existing weakness from the disc injury that ended my retail ‘career’, a series of physio visits left me no better off, and I limped into the new year wondering if this was my life now. A strange limbo of being able to stand or lie down, but not sit, limited to car trips of less than 20 minutes, lifting nothing heavier than a cat, and loosening up during the course of the day, only to be woken by pain in the midsummer pre-dawn. I spent the summer in slip-on shoes, watching my toenails grow from a distance, unable to reach down far enough to trim them.

The miracle of Bowen Therapy turned it all around, and we located a muscle deep between my ribcage and pelvis that my body had sidelined. Waking it again meant going through a whole lot more pain, but one morning I woke up and it had all changed. I can reach my feet again, sit in a classroom for a couple of hours, and comfortably travel far enough to visit friends in other parts of the state.

I’ve made hundreds of bars of soap and invented the perfect moisturiser. Family and friends are enjoying my new hair washing soap. My home made herbal balms have healed burns, bruises, muscle soreness and tendon strains, and apparently also the mystery pain in my left ankle. I’ve started attending markets, I can casually process an EFTPOS sale, and I’ve almost got the hang of presenting my products on my table. The wooden chicken that my Nana gave me for Christmas sits on my table at every market. Lately it displays a necklace of home-grown loofahs. At the rate I am going I may break even by the end of the year.

The next phase of the business is to start selling herb plants and develop some more herbal remedies. I’ve got a decent collection of seedlings of plants like mugwort, clary sage, nigella and white sage. I’m working on developing infusions that combine tasty herbs with remedies for anxiety, PMS and respiratory illness. It’s a delicate balance of not claiming that my herbs are capable of curing ailments, while informing consumers of the actions of different plants.

But enough about soap and herbs and sore backs, you’re all here for the goats, aren’t you.

I began with nine newborn kids, snatched at birth, and nine and a half months on I have seven healthy young goats. One little wether went to live with a friend and her menagerie, and I lost my big buck kid, Titan, to a badly broken hind leg. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, with a nasty stomach bug going through them before they were weaned and Peanut costing us a small fortune at the vets with her broken leg, but we’ve got most of them this far in one piece.

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Doe kids: Georgia, Portia (aka Peanut) and Merida.

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Antonio (aka Fat Tony) on the left, Angus the buck in the back, and Duncan in the front.

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Banquo, the runt of the litter, not moving too far from the feeder, just in case I put something in it.

The two goatlings in quarantine, Trinity and Odessa, are both daughters of my foundation buck, Capricorn Cottage Tazzy. These two young does have been bred to Goodness Dutch and should kid around the middle of September. The plan at this stage is to test their colostrum for mycoplasma once they have kidded, as well as attempting to make cheese from their milk. One of the symptoms of the as-yet unconfirmed pathogen was that soft cheese made from milk from infected goats would not achieve the proper texture and would go off very quickly. So testing the ability of their milk to form a proper curd is another way to find out if these girls are clear of disease.

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Goatlings Trinity and Odessa.

The third test will be leaving them with kids to raise. My intention is to snatch raise any doe kids, and hopefully a buck kid from Odessa, and leave them with at least one wether kid each to raise. If these kids do not get sick at 10-14 weeks of age, there is a good chance that the does are not infected. Passing all three tests would satisfy me that they are uninfected and safe to join the others. But even then, I may not get all the results until next Summer. So for now, we wait.

What else? Oh yeah, I bought a pony. It was one of those decisions that had been a long time coming but also happened suddenly. Once my back made it possible to go on long car trips, I was able to once again visit my dear friend and her mother three hours away in the north of the state. And with some help from my friend, I was finally able to process the loss of my two special ponies and face the prospect of moving on from this loss. Next thing I knew, I was signing the transfer papers for a young black New Forest Pony mare, handing over a deposit, and researching possible suitable stallions for her. Meet Bankswood Countess, aka Sticky.

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Sticky.

I’ll go up and work on her handling through the winter and spring, and she will join us here at Elcarim Farm in the summer.

So that’s the edited highlights of my last six months. A few obstacles, a few endings, but also a few new beginnings. Hopefully this is also the beginning of me writing again.

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Selling the Drama

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Congratulations to anyone who spotted the 90s alternative music reference in the title. If you did, you should go and listen the Throwing Copper, it is still a good album.

Anyway, lately my life has been full of drama. Depending upon your source, drama is either a situation representing some form of conflict or an overly emotional response to an event that should have an easy solution. I’ll let you make up your own mind.

A week ago I was feeling pretty low, so I decided to deactivate my Facebook page. I was sick of every status or comment I put up sounding like a complaint. I felt like I was fishing for sympathy, and nobody owes me sympathy. Everyone is dealing with their own crap. So I got out of there and took my complaining with me.

But let me tell you a little bit about the past couple of weeks. They have not been easy. Actually, the last month or so has been kind of a trial.

First there were the events surrounding the decision to sell the property and find somewhere else. In amongst all this was Matt’s surgery and subsequent long and painful recovery. At the same time I had three does kid, leading to many sleepless nights in the freezing barn and some rather tense moments pulling stuck kids. Then there was the huge task of getting the place cleaned up for sale, the hole in the roof fixed, the driveway made drivable and a whole lot of stuff going to the tip.

In the end, the driveway took 25 tonnes of gravel, which was dumped in 5 tonne lots and had to be moved by shovel and wheelbarrow. It was an enormous task, which mostly fell to Matt. His efforts were superhuman.

So finally the house was on the market. This led to the inevitable inspection appointments, the need to keep the place tidy and keep the dogs out of the way, the rounds of looking at properties for sale. Yes, selling up is stressful.

Then the house we really wanted sold, as did our second choice. If this place sells after today’s open house we will have nowhere to go. We are relying on the perfect property to pop up in the next month or so, with little more than the hope that the universe will provide it for us.

So that was all the house crap, that’s no big deal, people sell and buy every day. On top of that I have had a house full of sick people, starting with Rohan. He ended up having a week off school carrying a bucket around, although he didn’t actually vomit at any point. He has been dubbed ‘patient zero’, after managing to infect his brother, his auntie and his unofficial step-father. Callum was so sick that he didn’t feel like kicking the footy, but he managed to get to the Geelong-Hawthorn match as well as a birthday party last weekend with the help of dissolvable Children’s Panadol. Sarah and Matt have been sick for the best part of a week, and all I can do is hope that my ‘flu shot will keep me safe.

So things were already on the difficult side when, on Rohan’s birthday just before we were heading out for dinner, I found a gravely injured pony in my front paddock. This led to an emergency after-hours vet visit, two ponies being put down, and not surprisingly us being late to dinner.

The next morning I found my favourite Muscovy duck very badly injured but not having had the sense to die of her injuries. This was probably the most unsettling of a series of unpleasant events. Her injuries were horrific, beyond what I am willing to put into words, and on finding her still alive my only thought was to find a way to end her suffering. Matt to the rescue once again, dragged out of bed after a 12-hour night shift to dispatch my poor duck. The smell and sight stayed with for far too long.

My resilience ebbed badly after this, and I took myself off all social media. I was intensely disappointed at my inability to soldier on, and I had many cruel and unnecessary things to say to myself about the matter. Rock bottom hovered way too close for comfort, and things began to stack up. Two dead ponies, a dead billy goat and a dead duck made the planned butchering of our two sheep seem much more sinister. Sick goat kids and sick human kids felt like an epidemic. The stress of having the house for sale and looking for a new one kept me from sleeping.

Yet somehow this week things turned around. Nothing has really changed other than my way of looking at things and the understanding that I don’t have to let it all get to me. So on Friday when in the midst of trying to get the house and yard ready for Saturday’s open for inspection as well as getting one child off to the football and the other to his father’s house, I found myself dealing with a labouring goat and the realisation that my mobile phone had been cut off, somehow I coped. I called the phone provider and made a quick payment, after complaining that I got no warning of my service being blocked and explaining that I had in fact paid my partner’s bill instead of my own. I left Rohan watching the labouring goat, who kindly had healthy and very robust twins without any assistance. I got everyone to where they needed to go (once again with some help from Matt), and spent the evening making cheese and getting the house clean.

Do I create this drama? I don’t really see how I can. It certainly makes me appreciate the quiet times when I can sit down with nachos and a cider and watch old episodes of Greys Anatomy, or just hang out in the farmyard with my goats for half an hour. And I need to remember to set aside this time for myself, to recharge and relax, so that when it feels like one blow after another I can stand up and absorb it, knowing that eventually, based on sheer weight of numbers, something will go my way.

Farewell to a Friend

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A couple of weeks ago I said goodbye to the second-best pony I have ever owned.

Out of probably 30-odd ponies over 25 years, there was only one who I would rank higher than Rusty, and that was Pat.

Pat is now 25yo and living out his days with a family on the other side of Melbourne.

Rusty was put to sleep here at Elcarim Farm on a Wednesday. He was still a few months from his 12th birthday.

Rusty was born on a warm, blustery afternoon, much like the one he died on, around 4pm. He was tiny, a surprise foal, the result of my young New Forest Pony colt finding his way to my little buckskin Welsh mare, Bessie. Colt number three (she would have five colts and only one filly altogether), he was light bay with a big wonky blaze and three short ‘tennis socks’. He was down on his bumpers. Did I mention he was tiny?

When he was four weeks old we moved to the property at Ross Creek which would come to be known as Elcarim Farm. Here, Rusty grew up to be weaned and attend his first show as a yearling.

Rusty was an 11-hand yearling. He didn’t look like he was going to get much bigger than his 12.1hh mother. Too small for me, so I sold him. He went to a relative of a friend, to be a future children’s mount. A couple of years later I heard that he was for sale again, having grown much bigger than his owner required. At this stage I was pregnant with Callum. Armed with horse float and cheque book, and accompanied by toddler Rohan, I went to see the tiny pony I had sold as a yearling, with the idea that I could break him in post-baby and sell him on.

One of our first rides.

One of our first rides.

Except I never sold him. After the birth of Callum, followed closely by my second open heart surgery, I started working with the nuggety young pony that Rusty had turned into. He matured just over 13hh, but he was incredibly solid. He took up all my leg, and felt like a much bigger horse. He wore the rugs left behind by my 15.1hh Thoroughbred. His bridle was made up of a Cob size headpiece, pony size cheekpieces and a Warmblood size browband. Saddles didn’t fit his broad, flat wither. I tried so many saddles on him. From small stock saddles, to Wintecs with the widest gullets, even an Icelandic Horse saddle. Nothing fit, he could not move his shoulders in any of them. So I sold all the saddles I had and bought a treeless. This was not the most ideal thing to ride a green pony in, but he was comfortable in it, so we made do, and I learned to love the uninterrupted feel of the soft saddle.

There is meant to be a wither there, not a valley...

There is meant to be a wither there, not a valley…

Despite being quiet, Rusty was always sensitive. He had a low palate, so single-joint bits didn’t suit him. I eventually settled him in a Myler bit, with double joint, loose rings and copper inlays. I rode a lot with my seat, thanks to the feel afforded by the treeless saddle. He never liked a strong contact on the bit.

We struggled a bit with canter transitions and consistency of contact, but one year we did manage to place 5th in the Ballarat Adult Riding Club dressage mini-comp. It took me nine years to place in the mini-comp, and I was so thrilled to finally get a rosette.

Our first open competition was the Open Pony Dressage day at Werribee. I can’t tell you what year it was. Rusty was so relaxed, despite all the goings-on at Werribee, and he looked after me all day. I think we came equal second-last or something, but we were awarded the encouragement prize and brought home a white saddle blanket thanks to Deb Wilson.

Rusty at the APOB dressage day

Rusty at the APOB dressage day

He would have been five or six years old when I came home from a trip to Ikea one Easter Saturday to find him trailing his hindleg. He had got caught in a fence, and in his struggle to get out he had cut right through the extensor tendon and damaged the cannon bone. Off to the horse clinic on a public holiday, wondering how on earth I was going to pay for his treatment. He came home on the Tuesday and spent the next eight weeks in my stable, with frequent rations of grass hay and a mineral block for entertainment.

We started out with bandage changes every  36 hours, each change involving a refit of the PVC splint and several layers of padding. Rusty was very withdrawn during this time, never needy or begging for attention, even though I was out to the stables at least five times a day. The only time he demanded my attention was when he started to develop an infection in the wound. For half a day he was beside himself, clearly trying to tell me that something was wrong. Try getting a vet to come out on the basis that your pony is only eating most of his food and is telling you something is not right. The vet assured me that the wound looked fine, but left me with a course of antibiotics. This did the trick, Rusty went back to eating all of his hay and keeping to himself.

In the stables, with the bandage on

In the stables, with the bandage on

After another eight weeks in gradually expanding yards, Rusty was allowed back in the paddock, and five months after his injury we were back in the saddle. He always had a scar, but the injury never bothered him again.

Some people are said to be animal communicators, Rusty was a person communicator. He had very strong opinions and grew gradually more confident with letting me know them. Natural hoof trimmer Sylvie saw this first-hand while she was trimming Rusty’s feet. If she so much as thought about trimming his heels, he would start fidgeting and pull his feet away. Go in with no intention of messing with his heels and he would stand like an angel. One day we were standing over Rusty, talking horses, and Rusty started gesturing very obviously for Sylvie to look at his back. Sylvie is also an equine muscle therapist. She found a sore spot behind his shoulder, and after a short chat deduced that there was not enough padding in my treeless saddle and the pommel piece was too narrow. A couple of modifications to the saddle, and a couple of treatments from Sylvie, and Rusty was a happy pony again.

With these tendencies in mind, Rusty was an obvious choice to do a session with a self-professed ‘holistic vet’ at the Ballarat Equine Expo one year. When introduced to the crowd, Rusty walked up, stood between myself and the ‘vet’ and nodded to his audience. He then proceeded to completely ignore the man, apart from giving me the odd ‘this guy is an idiot’ look, while said ‘holistic vet’ made up a bunch of crap that Rusty was supposedly telling him and I smiled and nodded.

When it came to other ponies, he was independent, anti-social and sometimes actually aggressive. He had few friends, and was very content on his own. But being so steady, he was a great buddy for younger ponies. He travelled with me to pick up the newly-weaned colt Diego. About an hour into a three-hour trip, I shredded a tyre on the float. The three-hour trip took five hours, with two hours spent on the side of the Western Highway. Rusty was quiet and content until he ran out of hay, but we made it there and two days later home again safely with Diego.

Laminitis was a constant spectre, striking for the first time when Rusty was five years old and just fully grown. I became an expert on both laminitis and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. I tried several regimes for keeping the sugars in the grass at bay, but the only real winner was keeping him yarded from before the first warm day until the grass had dried off for the summer. This was no life for a pony, and we experimented with restricted grazing and supplements to allow him some freedom. Some years this worked, some years we were taken unawares by an early sunny period.

I knew the day would come when it would beat us. And I knew that when that day came, I would have to do right by him. I am glad that when he told me enough was enough, I didn’t hesitate. Once the decision was made, the deed was done inside an hour.

I miss him. I miss his broad flat back, his V8-powered trot, his big neck and long mane in front of me like a safety barrier. I miss his wisdom and his unashamed opinions of people. I miss his heavy muscles and fine skin. But mainly I just miss having him there, near my back door, content to while away his days in the paddock with the odd bareback stroll for old-times sake.

He was different. We were different. A treeless, shoeless, adult on a pony. Both of us with scars and heart troubles, I admired him for his uniqueness and he accepted me as I was. I didn’t want to ride something bigger and flasher, I just wanted us to be the best we could be and to feel safe while doing it. He made riding possible for me beyond when I probably should have given it up. He took the guilt out of my decision not to ride any more. And I looked after him as best I could for as long as I could.

My favourite photo of us. Note the loop in the reins.

My favourite photo of us.

An Unconventional Easter

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It would be fair to say that I didn’t have a typical Christian Easter weekend.

Now, my neo-pagan self and my proud atheist partner saw great value in four days off, whatever the reason, and we had a heap of stuff to get done. We started off with a Good Friday family barbecue, complete with plenty of meat. We spent Saturday moving furniture. Then came Sunday…

I don’t think it mentions slaughtering geese anywhere in the Bible. I don’t know for sure, because I’ve never read it. But that was what I did on Easter Sunday. No chocolate eggs, or buns. Just a feather-plucking extravaganza that involved my whole hand inside a goose.

Killing does not agree with me. I can’t really bring myself to eat on a day where I have butchered poultry. And the smell of bird gets in my nostrils and won’t leave. But after a couple of days when I was able to try it, the goose soup was really good. We’ve got a nice 1.8kg bird in the freezer to roast at some point too.

It’s the time between catching the bird and it being definitely dead that I find the hardest. In those short minutes, restraining, positioning and dispatching the bird, it is an animal welfare issue. You must not hesitate, you must keep going until the bird is properly dead. Do it quickly and cleanly. This is most difficult when you haven’t done many, and you don’t know what it will feel like, or how badly your hands will shake. But once that bird is dead I can relax.

The geese ideally should have been done a couple of weeks earlier. One was full of pin feathers (beginnings of new feathers, still forming inside the skin) and impossible to pluck cleanly. So with some help from a YouTube video, I skinned him instead. Later I filleted him and made him into soup. The other goose was easier to pluck, with very few pin feathers, and looked very nice with his skin still on. A quick going-over with the chef’s blowtorch (usually used for the tops of creme brulee) got rid of the last of the down and the strange hairs that they also have.

So two excess ganders became a nice big roast and 1kg of lean meat. The frame of the filleted bird became stock. They turned out to be surprisingly lean. The meat is slightly gamey, somewhere between free-range chicken and beef. You can’t buy that stuff in the shops.

Geese 'before' - with feathers but without heads

Geese ‘before’ – with feathers but without heads

Geese 'after' - a neat roasting bird and bowl of meat.

Geese ‘after’ – a neat roasting bird and bowl of meat.

Onto Easter Monday, when I found my dear Lucy goat looking pretty sad. I had been nursing her for just over a week with what started off as scours and changed into something else. She was off her food, hardly pooping and generally not her boisterous self. When the others went off down the paddock she would park herself in the shed. I treated her with a course of antibiotics and some pain meds, but when she began to pass the lining of her digestive tract, I knew it was game over. Intestinal accident, impaction, one of those things.

I made the call to the vet clinic and arranged to meet the vets there later in the day. My big, stoic girl stood up all the way there in the float and didn’t flinch when the vet clipped her neck. I brought her home to bury her. A giant doe needs a very big hole, and we were digging until well after dark. But Monday finally ended with Lucy neatly buried and her purple collar passed onto her daughter Meredith. Oh, how the farmyard is empty without my great spotty girl. And how I miss her big head appearing under my arm, her neck stretching up and eyes half closed in anticipation of the scratches she so politely demanded from anybody who stood still long enough. Safe journey, Tarra Bulga Lucinda, and thank you for your milk, your lovely daughter and granddaughter, and your kind and gentle presence over the past four years.

Lucy in her trademark position, asking for scratches

Lucy in her trademark position, asking for scratches

On Tuesday, with all of these events still pretty raw, I walked into what would be another fairly crappy day at work. My New Forest Pony mare, Starbelle, was close to foaling and I was trying not to think about that too much. I sold my stallion last year and my two younger mares who I bred to him both lost their foals. Starbelle had run with him in the off-season, leading to what felt like the longest equine pregnancy ever, but which I couldn’t attach a due date to. I have never had a foal born this late in the season. Until now Rusty was the latest, born on January 11th.

I wasn’t worried about Starbelle foaling while I was at work. She has had eight foals before this one, all born in the dark except for Zanzibharr who was born at dusk in November, so about 8pm. I left work at 4pm, made a couple of stops on the way home, and pulled up to the house to find a mare whose water had just broken…

I had just enough time to change into farm clothes and grab my phone. When I got back to the foaling yard there were front feet and a head clearly visible. I gave a little bit of assistance with the shoulders, as these babies do tend to get their front ends jammed up on the way out. Out came a bay foal with not a white hair on it. The pretty face suggested filly, but I had to be sure. Once the mare had got up I checked and found… girl parts! A nuggety plain bay filly, the image of her sire, right down to the whorl of hair on her neck. Being Easter (or at least close enough) I chose Ostara for her registered name, to be known as Zara. She follows siblings Tess, Ziggy, Zena, Zebadee, Zev and Zanzibharr. And Lola the hermaphrodite. My five remaining pure Forest ponies are Starbelle and four of her offspring. I need to get them out there doing something.

Elcarim Ostara, with mum River Valley Starbelle

Elcarim Ostara, with mum River Valley Starbelle

After losing the other two foals, it was such a relief to see this little one come out as she should. She will most likely be the last foal I breed, and will hopefully find a home where she can contribute to the breed in the future. She is the filly foal I always wanted from my best mare, and has cemented within me the fact that I am no longer dedicated to ponies.

That was my Easter 2013.

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.

 

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.