Farm Update

Standard

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.

IMG_20160807_113428

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.

IMG_20160807_113140

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.

IMG_20160808_123346

Yay! Sourdough. My lunch for the next fortnight.

20160514_131034

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

20160807_135412

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…

20160807_170657

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.

20160807_165903

The main dam

20160807_170247

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.

Advertisements

Easter 2016… and an Update on my Resolutions.

Standard

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.

20160325_201329

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.

20160324_074949

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.

20160326_164637

Ducks hung on the washing line for plucking.

20160326_164632

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.

20160326_184412

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.

20160326_184422

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.

20160327_092618

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.

 

Your Argument is Invalid Because… DUCKS!

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ducklings 3

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

leela

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

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

And finally this year we have Muscovy ducklings.

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

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

duckling minions

Millie addressing her duckling minions.

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

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

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

The Long Cold

Standard

Winter at the new house has been interesting. While it feels like it has been cold for ever, the house is certainly warmer and the grounds certainly drier than winters at the old house.

We’ve had some long runs of soggy days and a couple of very dramatic frosts. But the goat pens are dry and if the farmyard is a little muddy, there are no huge puddles to dodge.

We are kidding a few weeks later this year, which was fortunate because those very cold nights fell on dates that have been prime kidding dates in previous years.

We have four does due to kid over three days starting on August 9th, with another three weeks later and couple more later in the season.

We are down to fifteen goats heading into kidding season. I sold Ambika’s twin wethers from last year, conceding that they were too small to bother butchering and I am not set up with a suitable place to fatten them.

We lost two boys to urinary calculi in the space of two weeks. First was young buck Zeus, who has left one doe in kid. Then, to everyone’s dismay, we lost our beloved pet wether Thumper. Thumper was a happy-go-lucky three year old wether with not a single mean bone in his body. The tallest goat in the herd, his favourite trick was to rear up and put his front hooves on people’s shoulders, asking for a cuddle. This got him in trouble sometimes, like the time he left muddy hoofprints on the classifier’s shirt.

Then one evening I looked out across the paddock to see a huge eagle standing in front of a patch of trees. I went out to chase it off, but it was too late. The eagle was in the process of devouring my brash and over-confident Rhode Island Red rooster, Russell Crow. I have been told that they usually go for smaller birds rather than big mature roosters, and the theory is that Russell was defending his girls when the eagle decided to take him instead.

This came on the back of losing all four of my breeding Pekin ducks in the previous months to the eagles, including Derek the rescue drake. We are now looking at adding a Maremma sheepdog to the family as a livestock guardian, as they are the only method of protection against death from above.

We’ve added a few new chums to the poultry pen lately, including Muscles the Muscovy drake, a trio of Hyline laying hens and most recently a new RIR rooster by the name of Chuck Norris. Chuck is a vocal and hard-working rooster who has come from a flock of bachelor cockerals and seems to be greatly enjoying some female company.

It will be a little while yet before my vegie garden starts to come to life, but some of the cold weather crops are ticking along quietly. I’ve ordered several fruit trees which should arrive soon, and pruned the neglected specimens in the original orchard. There are a few blossoms appearing and plenty of bulbs springing up and flowering, including lots of daffodils and a few bearded irises.

There will be a lot to do when the weather improves, but for the meantime we are concentrating on staying warm and preparing for kidding time.

The Man-Birds of Elcarim Farm

Standard

Watching my poor gander moping around the yard, waiting for his partner Pie to hatch their babies gave me the idea for this post. Xander and Pie are first-time parents, but this being my fifth year hatching geese, I have seen how ganders get through the incubation period.

First, you need to latch onto the closest large, white bird in the farmyard. My original gander, Clyde, would spend the incubation period following a couple of large white hens around, pretending he was one of them. He would graze in the paddock with them and rest in the driveway with them. They, in turn, would look at him funny sometimes, but mostly ignore him. Xander has taken up swimming with Derek the Pekin drake and his two lady friends.

But a lot of the time, the lonely gander will park himself near the nest and watch. At dinner time, Xander calls out to Pie to let her know that it is time to come out and eat. Pie will cover up her eggs and venture out into the pen. Sometimes they go for a quick swim together or graze for a little while.

Xander the gander

Xander the gander

When the goslings hatch, Xander will become their fierce defender. He will hiss and chase a lot. At people. At the goats. At the car. At anything that comes too close to his little family. And he will keep this up until yellow fluff and stubby wings give way to the great long flight feathers that geese are known for.

Russell Crow

Russell Crow

This rather stern looking fellow is Russell Crow, the Rhode Island Red rooster. And he is a lot more laid-back than his appearance suggests. He is actually a complete gentleman, except for when he jumps up to try to take the feed scoop from my hand while I’m shutting the gate. He is a leader, but a fair one, keeping his family together as they wander around the farm.

For a big rooster he is not especially noisy or argumentative. He crows about an hour before sunrise, but he is not one of those insecure sorts who will crow all day and night.

Malcolm, with his girls

Malcolm, with his girls

Malcolm came with the name ‘Dennis’ which I wasn’t inclined to keep. I don’t remember what the meaningful name I first chose for him was, the first name that always came out of my mouth was Malcolm, so it stuck. It kind of suits him.

He is another fairly chilled-out rooster. He was hand raised by his previous owner, so will run up to you in case you have food. He doesn’t argue with Russell, the two of them really keep to their own kind and leave each other alone. He is a fairly worthy replacement for my old black Silkie boy Brewster. I hope that once my Silkie girls lay, young Malcolm can pass on his easy going nature to some cute, fluffy babies.

Drakes

Drakes

Second from the left in this photo is Derek. Derek is a Pekin drake, and got his name because he is a bit McDreamy. He came from the RSPCA at Burwood, where my friend Kerrie volunteers once a fortnight. My two ducks took to him straight away, and escorted him to the dam the day after he arrived. Watching this lovely bird, who had spent many weeks in a concrete pen, take to the water for the first time was absolutely heart-warming. Derek is a real sweetheart who has fitted neatly into the mixed flock.

The green-headed, claret-breasted fellow on the right in this photo is Ringo. Named for his ‘Beatle-green’ head and the ring of white around his neck. Ringo is a Silver Appleyard who fancies himself as a bit of a ladies’ man. His wife Mildred is never far away from him, and their daughters tag along. He also has eyes for Derek’s girls, especially Roberta.

I am hoping for a few hatches of ducklings this year, which will be a team effort. Obviously the ducks have to lay the eggs, and the drakes have to put the ducklings in them (to put it delicately). But Pekins and Appleyards are known for being poor sitters, so the plan is for the Silkies or the red hens to hatch and raise the ducklings. If that eventuates I am sure that will be a post in itself.