Raising Ripley

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As our disastrous kidding season came to an abrupt and premature end, another battle was just beginning.

I arrived home from Melbourne five hours after Maude’s horrendous kidding. I found Matt asleep in front of the gas heater with a skinny brown doe kid beside him on a towel. She was wearing an ICU rug with a heat pad inside it. Her eyes were half closed and she was flat on her side. I thought she was dead.

She was floppy when I picked her up, but moving. I took her temperature and she was so cold that the electric thermometer couldn’t get a reading – less than 34*.

Since losing Meredith’s premature buck kid, I had learned that it can be fatal to feed a kid whose body temperature is below 37*. This bit of information, from an experienced breeder on a Facebook page, is probably the main reason why Maude’s doe kid survived her first day.

My human children rallied around to help get the kid warm. They warmed her with the hairdryer while I went outside to get the infra-red lamp and set it up over a plastic tub full of straw. Between the heat lamp and the heat pad in the rug she was warmed from all sides.

It took a few hours, but eventually she was warm enough to feed. Her mother hadn’t come into milk properly, but fortunately I had some frozen colostrum that I had put away for soapmaking. I partially defrosted this in the sink and put the rest in the fridge to melt slowly.

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Being alive is hard work

 

The kid had no suck reflex. In another stroke of fortune, the vet had sold me a stomach tube for lambs that he had bought and never taken out of the packet. He thought I might need it more than he would, since he carries a length of tube and a supply of appropriate syringes that do the job. Over 24 hours we got 450ml of colostrum into the kid via stomach tube. The next day we switched to milk.

She took her first feed from a bottle on the Sunday night, towards the end of her second day. She was still only taking a little over 100ml at a feed, but it was progress. That weekend I spent both nights in the TV room, feeding her through the night. It was not unlike having a newborn baby, albeit with significantly less crying.

She spent her third day at work with me, under the desk in her heated coat, next to a heater, where I was able to monitor her temperature and give her frequent feeds. She was still unable to stand at this stage, so in no danger of running off. Luckily I have a pretty casual workplace! She had her photo taken dozens of times and spent most of the day snoozing. Matt had the next couple of days off so he was able to look after her. We would split the night feeds so we could at least both get half a night of uninterrupted sleep.

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‘Bring Your Kid To Work Day’

After a couple of days she was able to stand. We got some non-slip bathroom mat to make it easier for her, as her feet would slide away on the carpet. As she got stronger she started to take a few steps. Her tendons were very lax to begin with, but strengthened over time.

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Standing up by herself

Until this point I hadn’t really expected her to live. But when she was getting up on her own and downing a cup of milk at a time I decided it was time for her to have a name. She was named Ripley after the tenacious heroine from the Alien movies. Also known as Pickle or Miss Kiddy.

She progressed from a plastic tub to a large cage, and developed a liking for sleeping on Matt’s feet while he was at his computer. She liked to sit on the sofa bed with whoever was watching the big TV.

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Crashed out in my lap in front of Prime Suspect.

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Bottle and nap time…

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Watching the Brownlow Medal count with Callum.

Once she looked like she had decided to stay, I kept in mind that she would eventually have to go outside and live with the other goats. I started to take her out with me whenever I went to the shed, but the other kids were so much bigger and stronger that she wasn’t able to interact with them much and she spent most of her time sleeping in a corner of the feed area.

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Visiting the relatives is hard work.

Into her second week I started putting her out in a pen under the heat lamp during the day. I had not long put elastrator bands on a couple of the buck kids, and this had taken the wind out of Charlie’s sails enough that I was happy to put him in with Ripley for a couple of days. Soon they were standing side-by-side to have their bottles and the other goats started to look at Ripley like she might actually be a goat.

With the start of Daylight Saving Time I decided it was a good opportunity for Ripley to start spending nights outside. She learned how to locate her warm corner and and how to navigate her way between sleeping adult goats to get there. She had also learned that other kids were a good source of warmth.

Over the next few days Ripley had some supervised walks down the paddock with the rest of the herd. The kids started to include her in their games and she became less intimidated by them. The older goats began to tolerate her as they would any kid who wasn’t theirs.

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Ripley with Cookie, who is 10 days older and the next youngest kid.

She is still on four feeds most days, but at three and a half weeks she is living outside with the mob full-time and starting to catch up to the others in size. She was finally disbudded at 24 days, the latest I have ever disbudded a kid, but her horn buds were too small before then. This is a sign that although not premature on dates, she was definitely a dysmature kid.

Normal gestation for a dairy goat is 145 – 155 days, but mine have nearly always kidded between 148 and 151 days. Ripley was born at 158 days, possibly due to some level of dysfunction in the placenta caused by whatever infective agent caused the first triplet to die and be so swollen. Ripley had almost no fur on her ears, was unable to maintain her body temperature, could not stand or suck and took an extra 1o days for her horn buds to start to grow. Classic signs of prematurity. We treated her like a premature kid recovering from a difficult birth and she responded. I have lost kids born much more ready for the outside world than she was, but this time we got lucky. I had the right combination of experience, knowledge and motivation and a kid who who was determined to soldier on and never take a backwards step.

 

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Off down the paddock like a real goat.

Nothing Like Christmas

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After the last post we had two does with live, healthy kids on the ground and one who had lost her twins. Gaia was being treated for an infection in her joint, and the next doe due to kid was Meredith.

Gaia hung on bravely, hopping about on three legs, feeding and growing, but the antibiotics didn’t work. She was put down at 23 days and buried behind the barn.

Meredith kidded unexpectedly a week early. Her big buck kid was a beautiful mottle, but despite two days of nursing he didn’t make it. He was buried next to Gaia.

At this stage I had four does kidded and only three kids running around. The next three due were maiden does and I wasn’t completely sure when Juliet’s due date was.

Lizzie kidded on a Saturday afternoon at 150 days on the dot. We were out shopping when I checked the barncam and saw that she was getting very close. We rushed home and I watched for a while. After about half an hour, with only the kid’s nose visible and not a lot of progress being made, I decided it was time to investigate. I found that only one front leg had come forward. I dragged Lizzie up onto the head bail, thinking ‘I just need to push the kid back, find the other leg, and it will slip out no worries – I’ll look like a hero’.

Nope.

Being such a small doe, Lizzie, as it turns out, has a fairly small pelvis. I was able to push the kid back a bit and feel about for the other front leg but what I found was more like three or four legs and I had no way of knowing which one belonged to the halfway-born kid.

I called the vet and got Anna, his wife, who I had not met before but who is also a vet. She was in town but came straight out to my place. She had a poke around and discovered what I had – a stuck kid with a leg back and whole lot of legs to choose from. After much pushing and manoeuvring the second leg of the first kid appeared, and with considerable traction she was removed.

The second kid followed hot on the heels of the first. A doe and a buck, both big-boned and rowdy. They were on their feet within an hour and after a little bit of encouragement Lizzie was happily feeding them. I paid the Saturday call-out fee with a smile on my face, relieved to have healthy kids on the ground and a healthy doe to feed them.

Juliet started to make her udder and I was apprehensive, with no way of knowing what stage her kids were at or what to expect when they were born. She laboured all day Wednesday with no visible goo, which also had me spooked. Just after dark I checked the barncam to see that she had produced a very interesting little kid. I put on my outside gear and rushed out to the shed.

The first kid was a boldly marked dark brown and black with loads of white, black ears with a white border, a big white top-knot and a white dot on her otherwise black face. Very cute. I left Juliet with this kid for a while, as they were both lying down peacefully after the effort of birth But after a while I moved it to where Juliet could more easily clean it without getting up and took a look under the tail – a little doe. Juliet cleaned her up very well and after about 45 minutes lay down again and produced two more kids, both bucks. The kids were small, but clearly fully-cooked, they were up and feeding before I got around to weighing them.

My kid population had grown to eight from six does and things were starting to look up. Maude was due a few days after Juliet kidded, but the date came and went. At 154 days she started to make an udder. At 157 days I was due to make a trip to Melbourne for a two-day Radical Feminist conference.

When I bought the ticket for this conference my calendar showed that the dates were in the middle of a 23-day window between Maude’s due date and Hera’s. I should have been fine to leave the farm. Matt assured me everything would be fine, so I left everyone in his capable hands and headed off to Melbourne.

It turned into the sort of scenario that even Murphy could not have anticipated. At 11pm on Friday night, with me ensconced in a hotel room and the next train home not leaving for 8 hours, Maude went into full labour. She was working very hard, pushing and getting up and down. I messaged Matt to keep an eye on her. I used up my hotel free wifi allowance and had to use my mobile data to keep watching. At about 1am Maude lay down, exhausted. I must have nodded off after that, but when I woke at 4am Maude was still lying in the same place. I rang Matt again and told him something was wrong. ‘Those kids have to come out now’ I told him. He sighed, put on his waterproof gear and headed out.

With Maude up on the bail, Matt quickly identified a hind leg presenting first. I instructed him to find the other one, which he did. ‘Now what?’ he asked. ‘Now you pull’, I said.

The kid was stuck. Really stuck. I suspected that it was probably already dead, but didn’t say so. It still had to come out. I could hear the anguish and rising panic in Matt’s voice as he worked to get the kid out. The geese were squawking in the background. Another doe somewhere was calling out. Poor Maude was silent, she had basically dissociated and gone to her happy place.

Matt got the kid out, but the reason for the obstruction was obvious – it was grossly swollen, big but underdeveloped, mostly hairless and incredibly grotesque. With this kid out, a big gush of fluid followed then another kid, front feet first. Then came the words I was not expecting to hear.

‘This one is alive.’

The third kid was also dead, and mostly normal. But we had one live kid, which meant there was still plenty of work to do.

Maude was not at all interested in her kid, so I instructed Matt to bring the kid inside. I told him to take her temp and not give her any milk unless she was over 37 degrees. I left the hotel at 5.45am and caught the early train home. When I got in just after 9am I found Matt asleep in front of the heater with the kid wearing a heated ICU rug on a towel next to him. I thought she had died, but when I picked her up she opened her eyes. I took her temperature and she was so cold that the electronic thermometer couldn’t get a reading.

I sent Matt to bed and the boys and myself set about warming the kid up. I got the heat lamp from the barn and set it up in the TV room, while Rohan warmed the kid with my hairdryer. I put her in a tub with some straw and towels, the heated rug warming her from one side and the heat lamp warming her from the other. Then I headed out to milk and feed all the healthy crew and clean up the mess from the hours before.

Hera had a bit of goo under her tail and was clearly uncomfortable. ‘Here we go again’ I thought. With two weeks still to go until her due date I knew her kids had probably died. I put her in a pen and got on with my tasks.

I watched Hera through the day and into the night. She did not look distressed, so I left her to it. In the morning I found her lying flat on her side, legs and neck stretched out, with a recently-expelled dead kid behind her. For a moment I thought Hera herself was dead.

I called out to her and she opened her eyes and sat up. A second kid, tiny, was still hanging from her in its sac. It was malformed, as was the bigger one, and neither would have been viable. She seemed much relieved to have that all over with, and after the second kid came out she was up and about, and I let her out to be with the others. She went looking for food and water, and was back to her normal self by the evening.

In total, four does had either dead kids or, in Meredith’s case, a live kid that died soon after birth. From those four does we lost two doe kids; four bucks, one too small to tell and at this stage one doe kid is still alive. Meanwhile four other does had healthy kids. The only link seems to be that all the aborted or unviable kids were by one buck, the healthy kids by my two proven bucks. Whether that is just a coincidence I have no idea. We have run a few tests which have turned up nothing. The only option is to roll the dice again next season, and do a full investigation if we encounter any similar problems.

I used to say that kidding time is like Christmas – you never know what you are going to get. After a couple of bad years I now approach kidding season with trepidation rather than excitement, and when things go well I can hardly believe it. Just when I think I have seen all the problems goats can throw at me, and learned how to deal with them, something comes up that scares me. I am incredibly grateful for my vets who are not far away when I get to a point where the situation has gone beyond what my skill and knowledge level can deal with.

Every now and then you catch a break. A particularly nice kid turns out to be a doe or a first year milker comes in with an especially good udder. The wet weather is making things even more challenging, but with kidding season over and half a dozen does to milk there is plenty of cheese to be made. Show season is around the corner, and that can always go one way or the other.

But when all those Nubian does come screaming into season in Autumn there will be little hesitation in breeding them again. And once the kids are in there, they have to come out eventually. And so it goes again.

 

A Tale of Two Kiddings

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Every year kidding brings something new. You think you have seen everything, you think you have a contingency for all possibilities, but every year a new challenge presents itself.

This year our first challenge was hoping that Maia would hold off kidding until we got back from our trip to North Queensland. Our animal carer Mel was glad to be relieved of her duties without having to deal with a birthing goat. As it turned out, Maia waited until we had been back for three days, which was nice of her, but kidded at around midday on Monday while I was at work.

With my mobile data running out fast due to a high volume of Instagram posts during our holiday, my workmate Morgs got me onto the work wifi so I could monitor my labouring goat without leaving my desk via our excellent internet barncam.

Maia’s first kid was a bit stuck, so I had to instruct a somewhat reluctant Matt to don some rubber gloves and apply a bit of traction to help pass the shoulders.

It was a miracle of modern technology… I had Matt on speakerphone, watching events via the barncam, and he assisted Maia with the delivery of a very nice big doe kid. I was then able to send him back to bed to prepare for his upcoming 12-hour night shift while I kept an eye on the new family.

Of course, a few minutes later Maia delivered a second kid. By the time I got home she had cleaned both kids and they were up looking for the udder. The second kid was a buck, and both are absolute rippers.

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Maia with her twins

Maia is one of those goats I have had a complicated relationship with. An only kid, she was big and flash and went to a few shows. She was champion kid at Geelong Royal, and from five shows as a kid she won three championships, one reserve and was only unplaced once. As a goatling she decided she wasn’t going to walk in the showring. She would lie down, walk sideways, crouch, and generally sulked her way to the bottom end of a lot of line-ups.

As a first lactation doe she was still incredibly stroppy. She took her trick of lying down whenever things got difficult and applied it to milking time. That was once she finally developed an udder – she kidded with almost no udder development and it took a week for her udder to turn into something useful. She would lie down on the milking bail. I was advised to put a bucket under her belly to stop her from lying down, and this often led to me milking with my arm jammed between a tall, crabby red goat and a bucket.

Eventually she became more agreeable, and after a few shows she settled down and was happy to walk. She was also fairly okay with being milked at shows, and as long as I milked from her right side everything was okay. She still will only agree to being milked from the right side. She won a couple of Best of Breed awards as a first-year milker, ending up with 17 points towards an Australian Champion award. She also became my second ever doe to win a Best Udder class.

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Maia at Geelong Show

In order to gain an Australian Champion award a doe needs a milk award. And on the two litres a day she gave in her first lactation, that was never going to happen. I decided that no matter how nice her udder was, unless she could do four litres in her second lactation she would not be shown or bred again. We are here to make milk, after all.

Imagine my delight when Maia came in with the same neat, symmetrical and well-attached udder, but this time with much more volume. She is feeding her two big kids and has a little bit left for the house each morning. I’m not sure exactly how much milk she is making, but four litres is a reasonable estimation and enough to attain a production award with a bit of luck. Whether or not she ever makes it to 100 show points, at least we have a chance.

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Maia’s udder this year

A couple of days after Maia kidded, my little spotty doe Juno, known as Pud, started to show signs that her unborn kids had died. She was three weeks from her due date, in kid to my new buck Anara Eclipse, known as Buddy. She birthed one dead kid on her own and I had the sad and unpleasant task of going in and removing the second one. Two big spotty buck kids. Nothing evidently wrong with them. I put it down to ‘one of those things’, dosed poor Pud up with antibiotics and buried the unfortunate kids.

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Sad Juno after losing her kids

A couple of days after that Matt noted that Maia’s doe kid, Gaia, was unable to walk properly and was drooling. I did a quick Google of what could make a kid drool, and found all sorts of unpleasant possibilities, some of which also mentioned stillborn or aborted kids as their other effects. I called the vet, left work early and arrived home fearing for the health of my entire herd.

Gaia was diagnosed with sepsis, and not expected to live. She was put on twice daily antibiotic injections. My old doe, Rianna, due to kid the next day, was put on a precautionary course of antibiotics and I was left with some extra medication and instructions that if any other pregnant does gave the slightest inclination of being off-colour I should start them on antibiotics too.

Gaia seemed to make a miraculous recovery, and I was relieved to be able to watch her make her first journey out into the farmyard with her mother and brother.

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Maia and her kids, Gaia and Reuben, enjoying the outdoors

Rianna kidded that Sunday evening, two days after the vet had been. She asked to be put in the kidding pen when I came out to do the evening feeds and jobs, so I did as she requested and headed off down the paddock to put the horse’s rug back on. When I got back Rianna was in the process of birthing her first kid, so I got a couple more tasks out of the way and then came back to watch.

Rianna was my first registered Anglo Nubian, who I purchased at six months of age. Prior to this season she had given birth to 13 kids and raised nine of them. Every year she has given me one doe kid and one or two bucks. Her udder still looks like it did on her first lactation. She has a lot of what is referred to as ‘dairy quality’ and part of this is that she never carries much condition. Even after a year off, and with an appetite that seems to know no limits, she still looks like a hat rack with a blanket over it. I used to worry, but now I know she is healthy and that is just how she runs.

This year Rianna has produced her 14th and 15th kids, a buck and a doe, and only once needed any intervention, when a kid was partway out with a front leg pointing backwards. As I watched her 15th kid enter the world I had a moment of confusion when it appeared to have two front legs on one side of its body. I thought for a moment that there might be two kids trying to come out at once, but at that stage there could only be room for one in the birth canal.

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Rianna with her newborn kids, including a rather floppy Titania

It turned out that the kid had been delivered with its head under one front leg. That was the doe kid who I named Titania. She was quite weak, although very determined, and got around for her first four days as though the ground was a magnet and her nose was made of metal. She did not raise her head like a normal goat until she was nearly a week old. I began to wonder if she ever would. Slowly but surely, with some help to feed, she got stronger and now she looks just like a normal kid.

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Titania stared at the floor for a few days, while her brother Oberon bounced around oblivious

Some years you have those kids who worm their way into your heart, and Titania is one of those. She will be Rianna’s last kid, and she has decided that I am her best friend. I can’t photograph her without her trying to climb up my leg. She is just delightful, and I admire her strength, determination and humour.

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Four kids from the first round of kidding hanging out with the family. Titania is now as strong and bouncy as the others.

Little Gaia, Maia’s sick kid, has had a setback with an infection setting into one of her joints. She is otherwise healthy, feeding, growing and getting around, but there is a chance that the antibiotics she is now on won’t cure her. So for now we wait.

Meredith and Lizzie are due to kid next, followed shortly after by Maude. Meredith gave me a big fright, doing the sort of uncomfortable shuffle that Pud was doing before she lost her kids, so as the vet suggested Meredith got a course of antibiotics and so far she seems fine. Her belly is enormous, and she is due in another nine days. Hopefully these will be Buddy’s first live kids. Lizzie is Rianna’s great granddaughter, so her kid/s will be Rianna’s great great grandchildren and fourth generation Elcarim goats.

Farm Update

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I’ve been finding it hard to find time to write over the past few months, and the simple explanation for that is that I have been working more hours. My job had got to the point where I just couldn’t keep up with everything I had to do in the time I had available, and since so much of what I do is time-critical I spent most of my time feeling like I was chasing my tail. So I put my hand up to do more hours.

This has meant that while work is less stressful because I actually have time to get everything done on time, I have less time at home and I have to go to bed earlier so that I can get up earlier. The rest of the family have had to learn to do more around the house and since I no longer have time to do everything I am also no longer the default person to look after everyone else. We look after each other, we all pitch in, and we all benefit from mum bringing home a bit more money each month.

I took a break from soapmaking and writing just to let everything settle down. Like anything else, it comes down to priorities. You make time for the things that make the most noise. But you also need to make time for the things that you get the most value from, and value can definitely include enjoyment.

When I found myself home alone on Sunday with the sun shining and the birds singing I was almost overwhelmed with excitement and an urge to get as much done as possible while I could. I popped out at 9am to do the milking and ended up having ‘breakfast’ at about 2pm.

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Hanging out with my farmyard friends

I sent Maia and her kids out into the world for the first time. Those babies got to feel the sun on their backs and the dirt under their feet, as well as meeting the rest of their family. This was especially sweet since little Gaia had been treated for sepsis two days earlier, and the vet had warned me that he did not expect her to live.

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Maia and her kids, Gaia and Reuben

Moving in and out of the house and between the shed and the garden, I got the milking done, cleaned the goat pens and delivered some straw to the garden beds. I did some weeding, thinned the silverbeet, cleared the dead tomato plants from the small greenhouse, baked the sourdough, did four loads of washing, replanted some strawberries, pruned the apple trees and cleaned out the cat litter. It was glorious.

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Yay! Sourdough. My lunch for the next fortnight.

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The food garden, with the berry nets up to allow for weeding, pruning and planting the strawberries.

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None of my winter vegetables sprouted last year, so I cheated this year and used the greenhouse. So far so good, cauliflower, beetroot, cabbage, broccoli and lettuce.

I sat down for a bit around 3pm and ventured out again an hour later when Leo the Italian Greyhound started complaining that it was getting cold and he wanted his coat back on. This seemed like a good time to go around closing up the windows and the big greenhouse door, and put the blanket back on Stella the old Thoroughbred who also got to get her kit off for the day. I was wondering what feat of culinary genius to make for dinner when I found that old Rianna, my boss doe, was about to have her kids.

I popped her in the kidding pen I had prepared earlier and set off to get the furthest away tasks done, which meant wandering down the paddock carrying a Weatherbeeta horse rug trying to find two full-size Thoroughbreds who seemed to have disappeared into the 10 acre paddock. I found them in the back corner behind the dam wall, re-clothed old Stella, took some pictures of the impressively full dams, and headed casually back up to the shed.

Where I found this…

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First kid out, nothing to do but keep on with my to-do list and check on Rianna occasionally. I got the goatlings and bucks in the small paddocks fed, put the poultry away, fed the cat and put out the call to Matt to pick up some dinner on his way home from work.

We ended up with a small but nice set of twins from Rianna. They were a little slow to get going, the buck was frustratingly resistant to feeding from his mother, but they are doing well now and feeding themselves.

After such a long dry Autumn, the recent rain has been very welcome, but it is much wetter here than we have seen it previously. The main dam is at its highest level since we moved in after almost drying up completely a few months ago. The interesting bit of earthworks described by the real estate agent as a second dam actually looks like how I imagine the previous owner had intended the water trap on his golf course to look.

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The main dam

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The back dam, aka hole 3

Days like this give me the enthusiasm to press on through the cold and wet, to make plans for the spring and start thinking about what to plant where. I’m hoping to do a lot more seed propagation this year, rather than buying seedlings, so I’ve got some equipment to use the small greenhouse to start seeds. I’ve started mulching and weeding the vegetable garden and ordered some seeds for the spring and summer crops. I hope to get some peas and beans planted next weekend, and I’m thinking about where I might be able to plant some hazelnut trees.

The daffodils and wattle trees are blooming, the geese are getting aggressive, the ducks are laying and the pregnant does are expanding alarmingly. Spring is on its slow march toward us and will be here before we know it.

Cats Are Awesome, Just Ask Them.

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I’ve been quiet on here for a while, but I’ve had it in my head to make a post about our shed cat, Rufus. Then Zoe cat joined us as well, so I figured I might as well produce an all-cat extravaganza post. So if you like cute cat photos, you’ve come to the right place.

Name: Louie G

Likes: Sleeping under the blankets, sticking her bum in your face, back rubs and the fireplace.

Dislikes: Strange dogs, being put outside, Zoe cat.

Also known as: Catbearpig, Kitty Lumpkin, Your Sister’s Mongrel Cat, Spewy Louie.

Louie (named after Luigi from Super Mario) was the littermate of Sunny, who died earlier this year. In a story something like a cross between City Mouse, Country Mouse and Sons And Daughters, Louie spent her formative year living with my sister in Melbourne, while Sunny was raised with us on the farm.

When you’re a cat in the suburbs you have to make your own fun, so Louie spent a lot of time tormenting my sister’s dog and bringing home gifts of mice, worms and goldfish.

Upon coming back to the farm, she quickly took her place as the wacky counterpart to the more serious Sunny, and dominated her larger, more athletic sister at Kitty Smackdown several mornings a week for many years.

These days Louie loves to watch TV in the evenings and you have to be quick to grab her before she realises that it is time to go outside. If you are too slow she will disappear under the bed or leave you chasing her Benny Hill style around tables and chairs. If you are quick enough to catch her before she knows what you’re up to she will growl at you as you approach the front door to put her out.

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Louie’s likes to lie in front of the fire and pretend to be a beanbag.

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Inconveniently located scratching post prevents her from tearing up the carpet in this spot.

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She doesn’t mind sitting through a few episodes of Orange is the New Black

 

Name: Zoe

Likes: Eating toes, fairy bread, watching footy with Callum

Dislikes: Louie, having a dirty litter tray.

Also Known As: Smoosh, Muppet Kitty

Zoe came from the RSPCA Pet’s Place. She had been picked up as a stray, and while her owners were located they did not want her back, so she was offered for adoption.

I have difficulty understanding why anyone wouldn’t want this little cutie back in their home. To begin with she was very docile, to the point where I was concerned that she might be unwell, as every time you picked her up she would go all floppy. But after a couple of days zooming around the house, getting up on the table and generally proving to be quite a livewire, I stopped worrying.

She still goes floppy and relaxes completely when you pick her up, but she’s just a super chilled-out little cat. She hangs out with Callum, sleeping in his bed, watching footy on TV, sorting out the footy cards, and even playing with her little squashy football. Even the hordes of children who descended on our house for Callum’s recent birthday party didn’t bother her – she was happily passed around for cuddles and didn’t do the normal disappearing act that cats tend to do at parties.

She struts around the house like she owns the place, but will retreat to one of her hiding places (under the buffet, in the back of the fridge, the suitcase in Callum’s room) when she hears the bell on Louie’s collar.

 

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All feet must die!

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Zoe off with the fairies after stealing some fairy bread…

 

Name: Rufus

Likes: Goats, goat milk, hunting.

Dislikes: Dogs

Also Known As: Wuffy, Ferocious Kitty, Savage Beast

I was desperate to find a solution for the rat and mouse problem in the goat and poultry shed, so I put out word that I was looking for a shed cat. A work colleague found me a seven week old ginger kitten on a local buy, swap and sell network, and Rufus came to live with us.

At that time he looked like this…

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I wasn’t completely sure about leaving such a tiny little furball to live in the shed, but he started out in a cage, being let out while supervised, then spending his days outside and soon graduating to the free-range life.

He killed his first mouse before he was even old enough to be desexed, and soon the only evidence of rodents that I found in the shed were the bits he didn’t eat, like rat tails and jaw bones. He eradicated all the rats and mice from the area and began to venture further afield. He regularly brings rabbits from the house yard back to the shed to eat. He did eat one young Silkie cockeral, but apart from occasionally smacking an upstart chicken he mostly leaves them alone.

He has adapted to outdoor life incredibly well. He will snuggle up with the goats on cold mornings and follow them down the paddock during the day. He has come to expect a dish of milk at milking time every morning. He waits on the gate post each morning and night when I come across at feed time, and climbs on my head and shoulder while I open the gate. He then rubs his head on mine, purring enthusiastically, as I transport him across the yard to the shed.

The farmyard and shed are his domain, and he oversees them admirably. He is always there to help with chores, unless he is busy hunting. This will be the first kidding season with him in residence, so it will be interesting to see what he thinks of all that.

 

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Free range cat out for a morning stroll

 

Any Colour – As Long As It’s Orange

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I grew a wheelbarrow load of butternut pumpkins this year.

I was not expecting such a haul, after the rabbits ate most of my seedlings, but one intrepid plant put out many vines and blessed me with about half a dozen nice big fruit.

In another garden bed I actually managed to grow pumpkins from seed for the first time ever. These were also butternuts, and grew unmolested among the last of the lettuce and beetroot plants from last spring. These gave me dozens of smaller fruit.

Butternuts don’t keep as well as the thicker-skinned varieties, but they are a lot easier to cut and peel. I often serve up steamed or roasted butternut pumpkin with the skin left on because it is so thin and soft there is little need to remove it.

So we’ve been having steamed pumpkin with pretty much every meal, but the real beauty of home-grown pumpkin lies in the flavour it gives to soup. I have a fear that my soups will be too bland or too thin, so I like to really jazz my vegie soups up. And with weeks of pumpkin soup ahead of us, I knew that I would have to make a bit of an effort and think outside the box to keep us going back to the fridge and freezer for pumpkin soup lunch day after day.

When I make soup, the first thing I think about is the stock. I hate using bought stock, so I need an alternative base. Some people like their vegetable soups to be all-vegetable, but I think a meat stock base to a pumpkin soup can really give the end result a bit of substance.

I made the first soup not long after I roasted our first home-grown duck. I boiled the frame with some herbs, onion and garlic for a few hours. The next day I strained the stock, added a large cut pumpkin and a couple of big carrots. Soup number one was just a little bit different, thanks to the duck stock.

I had kept the frame from the Christmas turkey in the freezer, pretty much forgotten about, until I went to make the second pumpkin soup and had an ‘aha!’ moment. Second soup became turkey stock and pumpkin, with some fresh coriander and a couple of chili from my cousin Jess’s garden. It had a bit of bite to set it apart from the regular pumpkin soup.

For the next batch I found some lamb necks left over from the sheep we had butchered last year. They got the royal stock treatment as well, boiled for several hours with onion, garlic and herbs. I added a couple of sweet potato to the pumpkin and finished it off with a good bit of home-grown garlic.

Being soup season, there are plenty of ham hocks and bacon bones available at the moment. Most years I would do a pea and ham soup, but this year with our pumpkin haul the logical step seemed to be bacon flavoured pumpkin soup. I made what was effectively bacon stock with some smoked pork bones and used this to cook the pumpkin in. I added a couple of turnips to give a fluffy, silky texture, confident that the bacon stock would provide plenty of flavour, which it did. This was the one the kids liked best.

Last night we had a roast chicken, and since the oven was on I took the opportunity to roast up a whole lot of pumpkin, liberally sprinkled with slices of garlic. The chicken frame became the stock base, and now I have roasted pumpkin and garlic soup for this week.

So where to next..? Someone suggested curry, and I would love to do a fragrant, spicy all-vegetable soup and let the spices and the sweetness of the pumpkin do the talking.

Trying to keep pumpkin soup new and exciting has been a great challenge so far, and a great way to learn about combining flavours and creating themes. I think the lamb and sweet potato has been my favourite so far. I’m down to about 8 fairly small pumpkins so my run will end soon, but it has been fun and I’ve had the whole family taking soup to work and school for lunch in the past few weeks. Making the stock and then making the soup does take a couple of days, but it’s not terribly labour-intensive because most of the time it’s all just on the stove simmering away and smelling amazing.

So this soup season consider trying something a little different and showcase the humble pumpkin with a new theme to create a new taste.

 

Easter 2016… and an Update on my Resolutions.

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Easter is always a big weekend on the farm and in the kitchen, and this year was no exception.

It began on Thursday evening, when I retrieved the frame of the Christmas turkey from the freezer and set it to boil down into stock. I also got the first cheese of the weekend, an 8lt Gouda, made and in the press.

Friday was a whirlwind of pumpkin soup, halloumi, zucchini muffins, iced tea, chocolate ice cream and a chicken pie for dinner. The halloumi was kind of a flop, I’m pretty sure it didn’t turn out how it was supposed to,  but it tasted pretty good. The soup, made with a home-grown pumpkin that had split and needed to be used up and stock made from the frame from the Christmas turkey, was really tasty. The rest of the family kindly did the afternoon milking and feeding, allowing me to have the pie made by about 8.30pm. It was a long day.

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This was after three runs of the dishwasher…

Saturday had been earmarked as the day to butcher the excess ducklings. After two weeks in small pens for fattening, the eight birds were left for 12 hours with only fresh water. We went out to buy a machete with which to do the beheading, and after visiting about four different stores we finally got one from Ray’s Outdoors.

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Muscovy drakes in their fattening pen.

The longer blade made for a more accurate cut, and each bird was neatly dispatched with one hit. We did the first two, plucked them, then the second two, starting with the big Muscovy drakes. Then the Pekin drake. Then two excess Muscovy hens.

This left two Pekin hens. By this stage I had hit my limit, and I opted to let the last two Pekin hens run free. I’m sure I’ll be cursing that decision come July when I’m drowning in duck eggs, but six birds in one day was more than enough killing for me.

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Ducks hung on the washing line for plucking.

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I can only handle so much blood on my boots in one day.

Due to the age of the birds, most had lots of pin feathers, making it impossible for me to pluck them cleanly. We ended up with two nice clean roasting birds and I decided to skin and fillet the other four. I took as much skin as I could and rendered the fat from it.

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I wish that I had duck feet…

I had been told that Muscovy hens are not worth killing because they are too small. The birds I was able to keep whole for roasting were a Muscovy drake and a Muscovy hen. They dressed out at 1550g and 1300g, with the female being smaller but still a decent size. From the other four birds I got over 2kg total in breast and thigh fillets. It took ages, I was on my feet for hours, but now I have a freezer loaded with duck meat.

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All cleaned and ready for the freezer.

Sunday was another big day, with a trip to Tatura to visit family. I drove one half of the six-hour round trip while my sister drove the other. It was a very nice afternoon with good food and wine and lots of dog stories.

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Off the visit the cousins, equipped with the three most important food groups – cider, goat cheese and sweet chilli sauce.

Sunday night I made the sourdough, which meant no cheesemaking as the sourdough can contaminate the cheese and ruin it. The milk was piling up. I baked the sourdough on Monday morning then lounged around for a bit. I took a gamble and made chevre on Monday night, which worked out pretty well and used up four litres.

So that was Easter. A bit less dramatic than previous years, but it got the fridge and freezer filled with bread and meat and cheese.

As for my goals for the new year… it is now April and I have exercised about five times. I have managed to get back into yoga over the past couple of weeks after avoiding it for six months, so that is something. I know I need to exercise more, and I will. When I find something that is not uncomfortable and doesn’t injure me.

Reducing food packaging has been a challenge too, but somehow I have managed to stay fairly dedicated to it. I have had to give up some things, like corn chips, that are simply unavailable in recyclable or biodegradable packaging. I have discovered Mountain Bread, which I can cut and bake into crunchy thin crackers, perfect for serving with cheese. This comes in a recyclable packet. I have found a brand of oats that is not only Australian grown, but comes in cardboard with no plastic inner.

Recyclable plastic food containers have become one of my favourite things. They can be washed in the dishwasher, frozen, re-used and when they start to crack and break down they go in the recycling. I use them for everything. I’ve been taking my own bags to to supermarket and fruit shop. I buy meat wrapped in a thin bag and paper, rather than on a plastic tray. Everything we buy is compared and considered and where a recyclable or degradable packet is available we take that option. Otherwise we replace that product with something else that will do the job, or go without. We haven’t been able to eliminate packaging waste, but we have certainly reduced it.

What I found particularly interesting is that when I bought my new laptop it came in 100% recyclable packaging. I thought, if they can package a laptop in recyclable packaging, why can’t they package corn chips in something similar? Or frozen berries? It is as though food companies just don’t care.

One friend pointed out that it is hardly fair that consumers have to make sacrifices, buy more expensive options and put in a conscious effort to reduce packaging waste while big food companies and supermarkets go gaily about their production and sale of packets that can only end up in landfill. The amount of fresh food that now comes pre-packaged in plastic is criminal. Things like bananas – organic bananas no less – presented for sale wrapped and on a tray. Grapes pre-portioned into throwaway bags. All sorts of fruits and vegetables on trays and in packets.

Where previously I was determined to buy Australian made or grown products, I found myself having to weigh up between food miles and throwaway packaging. I found bulk rice in a cloth bag, but it had come all the way from Sri Lanka. I opted for Australian-grown rice in a large plastic bag instead, choosing one large packet over several smaller ones as the lesser of the evils. And considering the popularity of bacon, I discovered that there is no way of purchasing Australian grown free-range bacon from Woolworths that didn’t boil down to a big fat throwaway packet wrapped around a relatively small amount of meat.

Growing food at home, buying in bulk and getting as much else as you can from small local outlets seem to be the best ways to keep packaging waste down. We bake a lot, store food in re-usable containers at home and rely heavily on home-made food. It is healthier all-round. And I will continue to work to reduce our reliance on plastic and the amount of rubbish we produce.