Thursday, February 24, 2011

As Happy As A Pig In Mud

A good spot to lie down.

Mud is good.
Prada looking a bit dirty.

As the saying goes “Happy as a pig in mud”.  The pigs love to cool off in the hot weather too and their favourite way is to wallow in a mud puddle. The definition in the dictionary of wallow is, to roll about with enjoyment; yep that’s what they do all right. I usually turn a hose on in the paddock to make their wallow area. As soon as they see me doing this they run up the paddock to investigate and then they are into it.  Sometimes Prada our Miniture Poodle decides to join in with the fun and of course she throws her ball into the middle of mud and pigs and water. She never goes anywhere without this ball. The pigs are on familiar terms with our dogs and don’t mind them at all. The more the pigs get excited in the mud the more Prada throws her ball in and the more she gets wet from the hose and muddy from the puddle.

Watching the pigs in the mud you can see how much they really enjoy it. Sometimes they put their head in and then just slide the rest of their body along until they are lying down.  Pigs don't really like the weather very hot, because they have very few sweat glands, actually they can hardly sweat at all. They are also not very good at getting rid of heat from their wet mucus membranes in the mouth by panting, as dogs do. When it comes down to it pigs are not very good at handling heat stress at all. The temperature where they are comfortable runs from 16 to 22°C. In commercial piggeries, when the temperature goes above this, water is dripped, sprayed or misted onto them, and fans are turned on to cool them down. Poor little darlings have no mud to wallow in. Our pigs are so lucky to be free range and have a whole paddock to run around in and a big mud puddle to wallow in. They are also lucky to have a warm and snug stable to go in and out of as they please with a big comfy bed of thick straw to lie down on.

Feeding time in the late afternoon is a sight to behold and the sounds that echo out are deafening. I always say it sounds like feeding time at the Zoo. The routine is to feed the pigs first because that gets them out of our way otherwise they get under foot. As soon as we arrive at the door of the stables they are there waiting and it’s a case of battling your way in past the pigs to get to the pig pellets to feed them. Once they are done (very quickly so they don’t knock you down trying to get to the scrap bucket and pellets) it’s on to the poultry. The chooks are first; they are no bother unless they get a bit too excited and go into the geese pen by mistake although that doesn’t happen much anymore.  Then we feed the geese, they are the noisiest by far the sound is very loud. I always think to myself I must record this so our friends can hear sounds of the afternoon animal symphony of pigs, chooks and geese with the occasional dog bark. They all sound like they are as happy as a pig in mud.


Monday, February 21, 2011

The Rhythm of Leven River Farm.

Platypus heaven

Life on Leven River Farm has settled into a comfortable rhythm, a rhythm set by the sun and the wind and the rain, a rhythm as old as time itself.
The corn is setting cobs, the pumpkins and the tomatoes are in flower, the autumn vegetables are bursting forth and the native animals come and go as they please.

The Leven River rises and falls with rainfall and along with supplying us with water provides a safe home to a family of platypus that can be spotted in the clear water some evenings.  They are smaller than I had imagined and not as timid as I had expected. They never seem to be in a hurry and just slowly swim away when disturbed.
In the late evening an Eastern Barred Bandicoot scurries busily around the garden digging for grubs and insects. It never ventures far from the hedge and beats a hurried retreat if disturbed. We can watch it come and go from the dining room window but it quickly disappears if the door opens.  

A solitary Devil sometimes visits late in the night, a well-mannered, occasionally noisy animal who ambles up the driveway and departs back down in his own good time. The sound of a devil in the night is unmistakable. We regularly see devils dead on the road on the way into town so I hope this chap can avoid becoming just another bit of road kill.

We saw a spotted-tailed quoll on the road coming back home late at night. This was a timely reminder on the need to lock up the chooks and geese at night. The spotted-tailed quoll is a capable hunter that, like the eastern quoll, kills its prey by biting on or behind the head. They love chooks and will reportedly keep returning night after night until they have wiped them out.  Adult geese are usually safe from quolls but any goslings can be quickly wiped out.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

More of the past. Jojo comes to stay.

Michelle feeding Jojo

About 18 months old. I'm a big girl now.

1986, the drought continued, outside work was scarce, and the bank manager was getting edgy about the overdraft. So when the going gets tough - the tough go roo shooting.
Roo shooting is a hard, soul destroying way to make a few quid, out all night shooting roos, skin them, trim, salt and tag the skins in the morning and then out again another night.
On one of these nocturnal forays Michelle rescued a joey, small hairless scrap of an animal a few inches long. I have no idea what was special about this one; I routinely dispatched a few joeys every night that we went shooting, but I knew better than to interfere. Sometimes a woman just has to do what woman has to do! She christened the joey “Jojo” and shooting was finished for the night as we returned home to try to keep this animal alive.
Personally I thought it was a lost cause because joeys are notoriously difficult to raise, and Jojo was way to small to be a good candidate.

Michelle kept her in a box beside the stove and every two hours fed her through a tiny piece of electrical wire insulation, a mixture of sunshine milk, egg and powered charcoal. It may seem like a strange mixture but Jojo thrived. She grew fur, graduated to a hessian bag with a slit in the front hanging beside the wood stove and learned to drink from a poddy lambs bottle. The heat from the wood stove kept her warm through the icy frosts of winter. She became Michelle’s little shadow, always following close behind, however at any strange noise Jojo would race flat out through the house to the kitchen and dive head first into her substitute pouch.
Having just got rid of the bloody roos living in the house, we had another one inside.

Jojo grew up surrounded by dogs and had absolutely no fear of them. If they got a bit boisterous she would bite them around the head. Kangaroos have sharp teeth and a few strange dogs learned the hard way, this was not a kangaroo to be trifled with. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The taste of summer.

In December it’s “I wish these cherries would ripen up” and “I hope all these birds are going to leave us some cherries.”
In January its:  Pick cherries, eat cherries and make cherry jam.
In February its “Let the chooks into the garden to clean up the bloody cherries”
The chooks look like they have been in a massacre, their head and beaks are stained a deep purple from the cherry juice.  Not satisfied with cherries they started pinching strawberries so out they went again. They now hang around the gate in the morning, just waiting to be let in.
 The apple trees in the garden are loaded with ripening fruit, but there are also plenty of wild apple trees around. This morning we raided one of the wild trees and collected fifty or sixty apples for the pigs. The tree was so loaded with fruit you couldn’t see where we had been.
 The blackberries have just started to ripen. I have never tasted fresh blackberries before so I never knew what I was missing, they are delicious. 
 Wild plum trees abound beside the roads and down the river. They are just about finished for this year, just a few trees left to raid. The fruit is small, dripping with juice and flavour. We stopped at a tree beside the road and picked six or seven kilograms of brilliant red and orange plums. The best plums I have ever tasted. Some we ate, the bulk became plum jam.
The nectarine tree is loaded with fruit; some branches have been dragged down to the ground level with the weight. They are large and plump but not yet ripe however their smell is divine.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The perils of beekeeping.

Hive and smoker

Making honey

We are now self-sufficient in honey as our two bee hives have completed their brood chambers and are now filling the supers, about one kilo of honey a week. The only drawback with bees is their sting can be lethal. Reportedly 243,522 people died in 2009 from bee stings. (No idea if this number is accurate. Just googled it)

I was fortunate to get some good advice from a beekeeper on how to avoid stings and this has to be true because beekeepers are related to fisherman and neither would ever lie.
So how does one protect oneself from bee stings?
  • The smoker. The smoke calms the hive down, keeps the bees docile and is the first line of defense. The smoker is the most reliable, dependable tool a beekeeper can have. It can be relied upon to sit beside you while you rob the hive; a continuous little stream of smoke curling from the spout showing it is lit and ready for action. But should you need the smoker to calm a few frayed nerves in the beehive you can depend on it to have gone out. Little anemic puffs of smoke and then nothing.

  • The bee suit. This is a fully enclosed suit perfectly designed to keep the bees out. Unfortunately it seems to be more successful at keeping bees inside the suit. Just a slight drawback.

  • Smell. Bees are incredibly sensitive to smell. They hate perfumes, deodorants, aftershave and the like with a passion. So if you are a sensitive caring new-aged metrosexual, beware, the bees will sniff you out and remember their sting can be lethal. 

  • The decoy. This is my favorite. Always have a helper when robbing the hive, preferably one who moves around a lot, talks a lot and can be relied upon to draw the angry bees away from you. Wives may seem like the obvious decoy but apparently they can only be used once as they usually turn out to be considerably more lethal than the bees.

The two hives have different personalities. One hive is extremely docile and calm, hardly reacting at all to the hive being opened. The other is notably more active, more aggressive and produces more honey. I am lucky; bees seem to take little notice of me, don’t sting me and I can handle the hives without upsetting them.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What happens when the Man of the house is away.

The Leven River.

Water may be the Giver of Life but at the moment it’s the Bane of mine. Every time John is away if there’s something that’s going to go wrong around the farm you can be sure it has something to do with water. The last couple of times it was the house water. We pump water from the river and a flood in the river moved and blocked up the foot valve on the pipe twice, leaving me with no water in the house (of course I didn’t know it was that at the time). Frantic phone call to Hubby “I don’t know what’s wrong there’s no water in the house”.  He calmly said “Well it’s probably Blah Blah Blah” and he was right. Thank goodness we had rainwater as well, so for the next couple of days I bathed in bucketed water from the rainwater tank and used lots of kettles of hot water. The next time he was away it happened again but this time before he went away he hooked up the rainwater to the house as well, just in case it happened again and all I had to do was turn a tap on and one off. Well that was easy.

Our beautiful Valley.
This time it’s water again. I went into the stables to do the nightly feed of the animals and what greeted me as I opened the door (apart from the pigs)? Yep you guessed it, water all over the floor and flooding the goose pen and the chook pen. Glad I wore my gumboots. Thankfully the pig pen was high and dry, one out of three aint bad.  We lock the poultry up at night just in case there’s a Quoll or Tassie Devil around. Right, where the heck is this water coming from? A check around and it’s the new waterer we put in for the chooks. It was spraying out everywhere. Here I am with an arm full of animal feed not knowing what to do first.  Let’s see, I’ll feed the pigs and get them out of the way first then race out and turn off the main tap on that line. That done I tackled the geese, putting grain in their feeders. Then on to the chooks, scattered their feed around and then realised whoops 2 chooks missing. Where are they? In with the geese of course so I had to try to get them out of there which was hard because they had discovered the geese grain. Got them out finally with a lot of coaxing and into their pen and locked the door.  Meanwhile, while I was doing that the pigs had discovered that I hadn’t shut the goose pen door properly and were happily in the pen eating the grain with the geese. Now this was fun trying to get 3 pigs out of a place where there was yummy food. As soon as I’d get one out the others wouldn’t move, then I got the other two out and the first one got back in again.  All the time trying not to open the door too far so the geese wouldn’t get out as well. I’d better run back up to the house for more pig food.  After a lot of swearing and coaxing with a new bucket of food I got the pigs out and locked the geese pen door. All safe and sound again, well apart from the flooded floor. Luckily the chooks had an island of dry straw to sleep on and as for the geese well I left the door to their pen open all night and crossed my fingers that they’d be safe the next morning.

Yep they were, when I woke up they were waddling their way down to the dam for a morning swim. They say never work with animals or children. Well I’ve worked with lots of children over the years and have never had this much of a problem. I must have looked hilarious racing around trying to put animals back into their right pens. A true comedy of errors, I’m sure water will be kind to me next time.   

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

More of the past, How to house train kangaroos and clumsy visitors.

The latest in kangaroo training equipment.

White ants and kangaroos had shared the Varna house for many years and neither were prepared to leave quietly. At night kangaroos would pop up into the house through white ant eaten holes in the floor. If they had kept quiet it would not have been so bad but they kept waking us up at night – They had to be house trained. The solution , like all good solutions was simple, effective and relied an the very latest in kangaroo training technology. I kept a pea rifle (a single shot .22 rifle for those that don't understand Australian english) and a handful of ratshot cartridges beside the bed. I could wake up, fire ratshot at the roos, drive them outside and go back to sleep without getting out of bed. Ratshot was ideal. It could do little more than sting the roos, there was no blood to clean up in the morning and the stray pellets would do no harm to the house. After three or four weeks the roos worked out that they were no longer welcome and departed to find a home of their own.

There is a common belief that white ants won’t eat cypress pine but someone forgot to tell that to the white ants at Varna. The termites found sections of the house that were to their liking and ate the lot leaving just the paint behind. The very fact the house was standing was testament to the strength and resilience of load bearing paint! We eventually packed large holes in the floor with layers of newspapers and covered the lot with a roll of dark green lino we found. Looked a lot better but still a no go zone for walking. It is amazing how quickly you learn to step over or around the holes, even half asleep in the dark. It just becomes an unconscious reflex. Visitors on the other hand proved to be a clumsy lot of bastards; seemingly hell bent on stepping into holes and tearing holes in the lino. Never did work out how to train them, obviously less intelligent than roos. 

To be continued ???????