Thursday, 31 May 2012

Had a bit of a shock today... We are not so much getting restructured as completely rogered. About 80% of the staff of my office (including me) have "no position on the new structure". Which is double speak for being made redundant. They have replaced our jobs with lower graded jobs and we have a choice of taking a pay cut for the same work or a redundancy.

So I have a decision to make. Do I take a redundancy, do I take a lower paid job, or do I apply for a job somewhere in the structure where someone higher graded was kicked out of their job ? Worse still, the decisions have to be made by the end of June. And as well as getting financial advice in that time, we have to wait til people further up the "food chain" make their decisions about staying or going before we know if there will be any pay-equivalent jobs to apply for. All in four weeks.

Do I want to leave a highly paid job ? Can I grow us the equivalent in food ? Would I ever be able to match the salary in the private sector ? Is it time to put my money where my mouth is when I say I'd like to be farming full time ? Could we ever make a living off this 28 acres of sand ? It would help if DH wasn't looking at finishing his current contract at the end of June...

As you can tell my head is spinning. And it's my sister's birthday and I haven't been able to contact her to wish her happy birthday, I missed meeting my neice this afternoon to show her the ropes of farm-sitting while we are away this weekend because of the "don't come Monday" meeting at work, we had a blackout at dinner time and the cow won't let down and the calf seems to have decided to wean himself. At one month old. Tonight I could have really used a smooth milking... I'm just waiting for the meteor to smash through the roof. No eggs today either. Bah humbug.

Monday, 28 May 2012

A beautiful day today, perfect temperature, perfect breeze :-)

Big Moo gave 2 3/4 litres today courtesy of an extra milking at midday. She proposed a treat and I proposed a small donation and we both got what we wanted. Evening milking went smoothly too, almost afraid to be pleased in case I jinx it !

More seeds in the seed house, onions, capsicum and peas. I have a suspicion I'll need to set up another bed...



Emmy and Cleo are awassi x white dorpers purchased from out west at about five months old. Awassis are a dairy breed with a long fleece and white dorpers are a meat breed that sheds. The breeder's aim is a dairy sheep that sheds.

As you can see Emmy and Cleo have different fleeces and faces having different fathers as well as mothers. This is one of the interesting things about cross-breeding. Both girls were shorn at the same time and Emmy has a fleece 8cm long already while Cleo is about 4cm.

I'm going to keep Emmy's fleece in spring when we shear her and see if someone would like to clean it up and spin it. It would be very cool to have a pair of socks or beanie made from our own wool :-)

Emmy and Cleo are an experiment to see how they go as milkers. They have turned out to be curious, steady and engaging characters. Dorpers are quite outgoing sheep, and awassi have been bred for steadiness, so they are potentially an ideal combination.

Their only fault is that they sneak off at feeding time to mug the geese for their mere handful of grain before gleefully galloping back up the hill to pretend they've been right there all along.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Today was a bit of a red-letter day. Six eggs instead of one or none. This includes two laid in the holes Big Moo has eaten in the round bale. And Big Moo let down for me without needing Ziggy. I waited til she was full, and I milked my 1 1/2 litres while she ate in peace and then gave her extra for a treat. I can only hope she gets the difference between last night's fuss and tonight's simplicity and chooses the easy way. One can always be an optimist I guess.

We also did the final dig over of the central bed in the vege garden and planted all sorts of leafy greens for winter eating. DH set up the two portable greenhouses and tied them down and they are now ready for tomatoes and capsicum. This will be our experiment to see if we can get enough heat into them to get fruit. Even if all it does is get them ready to fire as soon at it warms up I guess it's a start.


This is an air photo of our farm (red edge) with the internal fencing marked (yellow lines). Not for any real purpose, just to show you the layout. Since this was taken we've added a shipping container, cowshed, chicken run and lambing pen. It will be interesting to see how well they show up next time the area is done.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

We finally had some rain ! A good steady 60mm (about 2 1/4 inches) over the course of a day. That took the house tank from three rungs from the bottom to two rungs from the top. Have to be happy with that :-) Also saved me carrying water to the saltbush plantation and will give the olive trees a push towards a good crop.

I didn't milk that night as I didn't fancy sitting out there in the cold under a wet cow. That's the upside of sharing with the calf. The downside is that it upset the routine we finally had going and we've been battling again. Ziggy seems to have no interest in drinking, Big Moo has no interest in letting down without him, and I have no interest in sitting out there all night waiting. Time to move to Plan F. When I figure out what it is...


We've been watching the Eurovision telecast. Some of the acts have been great, others... I'm still getting over the Russian Grandmothers and Jedward. And Englebert Humperdink ? The Goodies would be rolling in their graves. If they were dead. It's certainly an interesting excercise in ... well, maybe just an experiment in how much aural pain can be endured in one sitting.


Little Moo is a dexter steer. His proper name is Sandycreek Spock. He's two years and three months old, so is fully grown now. He's small for a "long leg" dexter, but had a hard start. His mother died when he was two days old and he was partly bottle fed and partly "self serve" with the other cows in the herd. Big Moo was one of them, and he came to us as a companion for her on the condition that he not be eaten. Little Moo therefore has a life tenure and a cushy one it is.

He's not particularly smart or brave, he's more like a permanent toddler. Everything goes in his mouth. He's a big softy and a sook, and loves a good scratch from me or a lick from Big Moo. He tries to bluff Jack, but even the lambs can hold it over him in the feeding scrum. He outweighs Boof but gives way to him completely. Mind you, even Big Moo gives way to Boof. Handicap or no, there must be something about Boof that commands respect.

Little Moo doesn't do treats, except the odd mandarin. He also doesn't do new things. He is therefore a little hard to train. He'd have been cute pulling a little cart and would have come in very handy bringing back wood for the fire. As it is, he gives Big Moo someone to boss around and makes fertiliser for the veges. And he's very huggable :-)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Oaklands is 28 acres of ironbark - cypress ridge. The original homestead of a much larger farm that has been subdivided. The front part of the homestead is over 100 years old and is built from the strangest combination of some kind of chicken wire and cement render. You can tell when a tradie has caught a glimpse of the construction because there is always a moment of silence followed by "What the f*** is that ???!!!".

Along with good thermal mass and sound proofing, it also acts as an electromagnetic barrier so there is very little wireless reception in the house. This means you have to stand by a window to get mobile phone reception and you won't get an electronic device to send from another room. This was probably not a consideration when they built it. There are, of course, not enough lights or power points, and as I am married to an electrician this will probably never be remedied.

There are approximately 18 acres of pasture and 10 acres of bush. Deep in the bush are the remains of a cement render and chicken wire pig sty, two cement render and chicken wire water tanks and the kind of rubbish dump that accompanies farms that existed before there was a local tip. This includes some kind of ute body from the days when utes were made of driftwood, reindeer bone and stone nails.

The vege garden is about a metre higher than the surrounding land. It includes a small wall of cement render and chicken wire construction (see a pattern here ?). I suspect it is the location of yet another garbage mound. The strangest things poke their way out of the side of the mound. I live in hope that one day there will be something strange and valuable, but so far it's been broken glass and busted plough parts. In some countries they find roman gold in the fields, I find rusty springs.


The weather is alleged to be changing, with "a 90% chance of between 20 - 40 mm of rain" tomorrow. I put the lid on the salt block just in case, but I confess scepticism....

Monday, 21 May 2012

We're now nearly at three months with no rain. That's nearly one quarter of the year with none. A season. It's a wonder anything is alive. Weather forecast is for good rains later this week, I hope they're right !!

I have the winter bed in the vege garden chock full of scavenged cow manure ready to be dug in as soon as it rains. And tomato, lettuce, mizune and silverbeet seedlings to go in. I also bought asparagus seedling, but I need to figure out a permanent bed for those. Cabbage and sweet potato seedlings are already in, the sweet potatoes aren't a winter crop but I'm trying to get them well under way before the summer heat. Next things to sprout for seedlings will be onions, capsicum, pak choy and peas.

The mandarin tree has turned up it's toes. I don't think it's water stress as the orange tree is bigger and getting the same amount of water. I'm going to seed the mandarin's area with lucerne and then plant a pumpkin among it come spring.




Max is one of the original three ewes that came with Boof. She's an F4 dorper, looks like she had something large and strong-wooled in her background. She's only ever had ram lambs, so I'm not sure if her daughters would have her big frame.

She's 7 yrs old as best we can figure. The hardest to keep condition on and the slowest to turn around lambs, but at her age she can be forgiven lower productivity. She also has funny elbows and knees so I'm watching her for arthritis.

Max is the least tame of the ewes and her lambs are always stand-offish. She has her moments though, and is a bit of a character in her own grouchy way. She's never been up for a scratch, but does enjoy being sneaked a little extra feed on the quiet for her old bones.

Angus is Max's current lamb. He's 9 months old and has occasional delusions of granduer, challenging Boof to a fight. Boof may be a bit handicapped, but he can still send young Angus cartwheeling.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Went to the show today. Didn't see much of it as we were there on behalf of our RFS brigade helping out with the show-jumping. Putting up and moving jumps, putting poles back up after the horses knocked them off etc.

At one point I had a few moments to kill and stood in the middle of the showground. Off to my right there were the rides, lots of loud music and motors and screaming as they tipped people up in all directions and spun them. Over to the left was a chainsaw demonstration. A bit further round there was a fracas in the cattle grand parade as someone's champion charolais bull tried to mount someone else's grand champion angus cow. To the front the trotters were getting sorted ready to race. Over my shoulder the Carlton Clydesdale team were leading off a parade of emergency services vehicles. Beyond that was the noise of sideshow alley. There was a helicopter giving joy rides over the showground.

And in the centre of the ring the horses were jumping over things I'd be hard put to reach... talk about focus ! I don't know how they didn't just toss their riders and head for the nearest exit. I guess it was a great demonstration of the concept of "bomb-proof".

Vicki Roycroft had four horses in the showjumping. Apparantly she comes to our show every year. Was nice to get to watch a five times olympian in action.

And the highlight for me was Katrina Hodgkinson. I'm not normally a fan of politicians, and since she has been the Minister for my dept, it's almost automatic that I have no time for her. But she was here to open the show, being the Minister for Agriculture. And then the music for the national anthem wouldn't work, and with no notice and no accompaniment, she stood up and sang the national anthem solo. That takes guts.


Thought I might start introducing you to the characters in this play.


This is Boof, our flock ram. He's about 5 1/2 years old, purebred dorper from Kaya stud in Western Australia. He came to us because he broke his neck fighting and could no longer serve a commercial flock. Since we only had three ewes we thought we'd give him a chance. His other option was the butcher.

He can't lift his head above his shoulders and his front legs are partially paralysed, but he's fathered all the lambs on the place and now manages a flock of 12, which has at times included long-legged damaras with fat tails. When he stops running for snacks or chasing the ladies, or arthritis starts to get him down, we'll make sure the old guy doesn't suffer.

In the meantime, the girls love him. The lambs adore him and he's often found babysitting with lambs of all ages playing king of the castle on his back. He's a gentleman, who enjoys a slice of bread and a good scratch and doesn't hold a grudge.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Today I am superwoman.

I folded and enveloped 250 letters without a papercut. Started the first woodfire of the season after gathering sticks and random blocks of wood in the dark (ran out of gas for the heater). Gave scritches to seven sheep all at once. Picked the world's biggest punkini. Milked at 8pm with no fuss by headband torch.

And I untarped, de-tentpegged and rolled a round bale ALL BY MYSELF. Got it out of the saltbush pen, through the gate, across the paddock and onto a pallet, cut off the net and put a bale ring around it by myself in the dark. Beat that Lara Croft !

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A frustrating day. A series of clients with entitlement delusions, a boss who cannot let a letter pass his desk unchanged. He's got literary constipation. Unable to knock off in time to get stock feed or anything for dinner. When I got home the chickens had gotten into the house yard and torn up my herb garden.

Then the kicker. A calf that wants to do everything possible but drink.He ran around the house paddock, cantered up the driveway, sampled his mother's hay, played in the woodpile and hung out on the fenceline with the steers. Udder ? What udder ?

It got darker and darker, so I went to turn on the cowshed lights. DH had left them on the night before and they were flat as tacks. Words were muttered. Went to grab the little headband-mounted work light. DH had taken it up to the house. A few more words. Sat back down on my stool in the pitch dark and wondered about milking by braille.... Big Moo abruptly turned and peed on my feet !

I'm not dense, I can take a hint... Ziggy went back into the stable yard and Big Moo was turned loose in the house paddock while I went to clean up and have a quiet cup of tea. And to stomp in private.

A hour later I lined up the headlights of the farm ute and clicked my headband light on. Tied Big Moo to a post near the steers and rounded Ziggy up from his latest game. This time he found himself peckish and latched on and the milk started flowing ! Slammed supper into Big Moo's tub and milked like a demon while Ziggy played punching bags on the other side of the udder. She'd better not ever complain about my technique !

I got 11/3 litres, Ziggy got his dinner and Big Moo got her supper. Could have happened an hour earlier... but it's clear the whole thing depends on a ditzy bull calf being hungry so he's going to be parking his little bull butt for a couple of hours every evening.


This May is the driest in 130 years. We've had no rain for two and a half months. There is a week of water left in the stock tank and now the first frosts have arrived. This means that even if it rains now there will be little pasture growth. I love this farm, but I wish I could pick it up and move it to where it rains...

Monday, 14 May 2012

Major works on the cowshed today. For some reason DH, who is generally hard to start, is just as hard to stop when he gets into a project. It's pitch black and he's out there putting a four foot gate between the cowshed and the stable yard so I can use the various pens more flexibly.

I also finished the first coat of sealer on the plywood that he lined the shed with. This is to absorb both noise and kicks. The colourbond walls of the shed won't withstand a good cow kick. The shed is a 6m x 3m garage on a concrete slab with the concrete brushed rough for hoof-grip. It's got double doors at one end and a person sized door in one side. A skylight came with it, and I hope to add a window and a whirlybird one day.

Furnishings are two steel shelves and an old wooden chest that will stand on the end wall. A sink with double drainer that will go under the skylight, and the usual feed tubs and milking stools. I bought a 2,500 litre tank which will be connected to the same kind of pump-tap that they use in caravans and there are four solar shed lights for illuminating the scene in winter.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

A battle of wills today. Let's call it a draw...

Big Moo stopped letting down for me suddenly, probably figured out what I took the calf couldn't have and he thumps her udder harder than I do ... so squeaky wheel and all that.

I decided I would seperate them and she could have dinner and go back to him when she let down. After about 8 starts and dinner snatch-backs later I was wondering just how close to midnight it would be and which day before she got the message that a quick letdown would get dinner in her belly and her back in the paddock.

It was getting colder and darker and windier so I offered an olive branch. I set everything up and let Ziggy in and he raced over to the milkbar and started sucking like crazy. I raced over to the other side of the milkbar and started milking like crazy.

Milk came beautifully and Big Moo just kept munching contentedly. Once I got used to the earthquake and froth tsunami happening on the other side it was pretty smooth. Since I am using a jug to milk into I didn't have to worry about calf slobber in a bucket. At one point he stopped nursing and came round to get my side, stopping short when he realised someone was stealing HIS milk !!! He didn't know what to do... settled for stealing some of mum's dinner.

So I'm going to skip the morning milking as he always eats at dawn and I just can't be bothered trying to beat him to it. I'll take her out when I come home and let him get hungry and then milk about dinner time. This should work nicely until he is big enough to push me off my stool :-)

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Mum and Dad visited today, had a lovely afternoon. They'd been up minding my sister's kids while she was in hospital. Dad and DH took DH's youngest son down to the dams and went netting for yabbies. Apparantly they caught a few but let all the females go and came home with one large male to cook. Everybody had a teaspoon sized sample :-) At least all the boys had fun.


Black Caviar

What can you say ? 21 straight wins, never lost a race.

We wish her the best of luck at Ascot in England in June !!


Ziggy is growing fast, on all the milk I'm not getting ! We went from 2 litres per day to suddenly just a few drops. At first I thought he had perfected his timing and was getting on just before I came out to milk and leaving me nothing. Then this afternoon I came around the corner after attempting to milk and found a full-looking udder and a calf with foam on his face...

I grabbed a container and milked a cup and a half while Big Moo was having a drink of water. Obviously she's gone from sharing with me to being the hold-up queen. Since I have a very slight advantage in brain department I'll have to out-think her. I could separate them for the night, but it's winter and I'd rather he was cuddled up to Mum.

Perhaps put her in the house paddock when I get home after work (say 4.30 pm) and then milk in my new cowshed with lights at maybe 10pm and let her back in with the boys. Or I could let Ziggy in at milking time and let him have one side while I get the other. While he's little that might work...

Here's the little guy guarding his milkbar. Growing fast when I look back at his birthday pic !

Friday, 11 May 2012

Read some research today that suggests Tablelands locations like Orange and Armidale are going to be least affected by climate change over the next 20 years. Orange is going to have less rain, but a longer growing season and will actually be more productive. Maybe I should be looking for my "farm where it rains" at Orange rather than the south coast ?

I can get a transfer there with little difficulty, it's close to Mum and Dad, and it's easier to drive 1/12 hours to go farm shopping than 8 hrs.


At the beginning of the year we purchased a lowline steer (who I named Jack for his ears) to help eat the grass.

This was Jack then :

And this is Jack now :

I'm pretty chuffed with the improvement in his condition and wellbeing :-)

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Good and bad news... My sister was flown to Nepean Hospital for an angiogram following what appeared to be a heart attack (the bad news) but the angiogram was completely clear (the good news). Despite her concerns about sedentary lifestyle and diet her heart is in great shape and she has no cholesterol build up at all.

Of course, this leaves the question of just what it was that she had... The docs says she could have a number of conditions : a virus that built up fluid around the heart, a "tic" in the heart muscle, something in the lungs affecting the oxygen to the heart, or some other thing that makes the heart just flutter at random. She did tell me, but I didn't take notes and nothing sticks in my head too long these days.

For all of these they treat the symptoms, as they don't actually lead to a heart attack. It would be nice to find out what it really was, but the local hospital lost the lab results and machine readouts that would have helped diagnosis. With friends like that who needs enemies.


My carport still smells like a shearing shed. I covered the floor with straw and rubber mats to make it more comfortable for Max and Angus, and to absorb the waste. But it seems the smell is going to linger for a while. You may not be able to see the white in this pic, but Max had both eyes completely filmed and couldn't see to walk. The purpose of the carport confinement was to keep the sun off their eyes, as being blind they don't notice the direct light and don't blink, and the sun can make the pinkeye worse.

 It was very scary being herded around and handled when you can't see, but she did pretty well. Especially considering she is the least tame of our ewes and generally doesn't like interacting at all. Her name is Max because the big yellow flock tag the breeder put in her ear is number 86.... that'll date you :-) Angus, her son and the only wether currently with the flock, had one eye affected and could lead her somewhat. He is just clearing up from a relapse which affected both his eyes and left him blind, and she returned the favour.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Didn't go to work today, didn't have the heart for interacting with people.

I did manage to clean out the carport, which was full of straw and sheep poop from housing Max and Angus during their first bout of pinkeye (happily Angus is back to 1 1/2 eyes from none, and Min has both eyes clear as of today, Max's relapse cleared a week ago).

And put the bottom layer of plastic gutter mesh around the northern side of the houseyard fence to stop the chickens sneaking in through the hingejoint to dig up the herb garden and courtyard garden... they are ruthless. 28 acres and they have to pick on those few small square metres !

Cleaned out the laundry as well. Keeping your mind off loss makes for plenty of cleaning energy.

We took two of the gold laced wyandottes round to a friend's farm after dark when they were easy to catch last night. They have proved to be relentless broodies here but will fit in really well with her flock plans. And she loves the one we sent over a few months ago so they might as well go where they will make someone happy. Poor old Brewster is down to four adult hens, but has another four pullets coming up so he will cope.

Got nearly two litres from Big Moo yesterday and again today. It's nice while it lasts but I'm sure Ziggy will take up the slack as he gets bigger. Here's a photo of him the morning after he was born (which was Good Friday at 8pm).

Monday, 7 May 2012

It's a sad day today. Bear, one of my 15 year old cats, went on his final journey.

The vet that had looked after him all his life came out for a housecall, as he stresses very badly at the clinic.

Bear and I cuddled for an hour in the sunshine while we waited for the vet, and then he slipped quietly into sleep in my arms.

He had feline ideopathic ulcerative dermititis. Or vetspeak for non-healing skin ulcers of unknown cause.

There is a Bear shaped hole in the household tonight.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A perfect autumn day today. A good day for gardening... DH dug in the cow manure I've collected over the last two weeks. It's going to make the garden so rich. Planted tomatoes, capsicum, onions and lettuce in the seed tray ready for when the manure has had a chance to rot down. The sweet potatoes are happy under their frost blanket and we are waiting for the first frost to harvest the punkinis.

We found some spiny burr grass in Poppy's wool. My fingertips made the unpleasant discovery, but a tour of the bottom pasture and a search of the other sheep came up with nothing so we're hoping that Poppy found the only plant and managed to get all the burrs wrapped up. It's not a good plant to have around.

Good news is that Min's eye is clearing up from the nasty pinkeye infection. While Angus's eyes still look cloudy he was running today and reacting to movement so I have to assume he is seeing better. Hopefully this will be the last of the cases and Harley can go to her new home once the flock is clean.

I picked all the older comfrey leaves and split them between the cows and sheep. Most of the sheep had a good feed, but it was Jack and Little Moo that cleaned them up in the cow paddock. Given that they are lactation herbs I thought Big Moo would have been a little keener ? Perhaps the kelp in her feed is meeting her needs at the moment.

The chickens have mostly quit laying for the winter, or have found somewhere to hide their eggs. I have frozen about a dozen eggs, beaten and poured into icecube trays and another half dozen cracked straight into cupcake moulds as individual eggs. I will be experimenting a little to find the best way to freeze them as we get heaps of eggs all summer and none during winter.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

I am a baby farmer...         

I have worked for 25 years for the state government in land administration. A land tenure specialist, I am the only person in the world who does what I do, so by definition I am the best at it :-)

Not so with farming. We purchased Oaklands in 2009 and now farm dorper sheep, dexter and lowline cattle and chickens. All in a very small way. Four cattle, twelve sheep, twenty chickens, two geese and five cats.

28 acres of sandy ridge, ironbark country. About 10 acres is still bush, and the cypress pines are working hard at taking the rest back.

Studying pasture management, animal husbandry and self sufficiency has been a learning curve of epic proportions and every step has merely revealed how much I have yet to learn.

But I will learn and I will become a competent farmer. One of those laconic souls that know you need to drench when the moon is yellow on a Monday and the rain came from the north, but not if the swallows are carrying coconuts.