Thursday, November 29, 2012

2012 is coming to a close.

Ahhh life on the farm.

We've been so busy on and off the farm since the last entry on our blog. Can't believe it's been two months since we last wrote anything, apologies  for our slackness on the writing front. We've had a break from calving for a while with the last one having been born on the 8th of October. Our eight calves are doing very well and are growing in leaps and bounds. We only lost two out of a total of ten, they were very big calves and both had to be pulled. We don't like seeing any of our animals die and this was not a nice experience. There are five more cows left to calve, these are the younger ones out of the herd so we left them awhile before they romanced with our bull Monty. Our poddy calf Belle, the breech baby, is still getting fed twice a day. She is doing marvellously well and when she sees me coming down the paddock with the bottle she bellows and races up to get her milk. She's been running with the herd for awhile now and enjoys being a cow which is good because sometimes poddy calves don't realise they are from the cow family. Our milking cow Genevieve looks like she might be in calf also. Can't wait for that birth, she should have a very pretty calf with her colour and markings and Monty's in there as well. Genevieve's original calf Angus has been weaned a fair few months ago now and about time too as he was quite big. He's been keeping Monty company over in the other paddock. 

Our calving is over for the moment.

So on to our pigs. Well we've been busy ripping out the old sleeping accommodation pens which are made of wood and replacing them with steel. The pigs have been wrecking it wall by wall by rubbing and scratching themselves on the walls. Pigs are so strong and heavy they just trash things that aren't solid. As soon as we finish getting that done it will make life a bit easier by making it much more pleasant to feed them. At the moment it's bedlam in there at feeding time. We had some surprise farrowings  recently from our ten month old red and white and dark red sows. We came in one morning to feed the masses and there was Cherie, one of the red and white sows with nine piglets. We were not expecting that as we were used to the Saddlebacks and Tamworths not being in pig until they were around eighteen months old. They sort of caught us on the hop. So we immediately took a closer look at the other three sows of the same age and yep they were also in pig and they gave birth within days of each other. The maternity ward was full to the brim with new little piglets. They are coming up a month old now and there's a heinz variety of colours in this lot, they are oh so pretty. I counted up the number of pigs running around the paddocks here the other day and it totalled at eighty three. No wonder it takes me a while to feed them in the mornings and afternoons.  

Our latest bundles of joy.

All of the geese have finished hatching their goslings now. Last year we fussed around with them by giving them nesting boxes etc but this year we just let them do what comes naturally in the nesting situation and they found perfect spots in the paddock to build nests. They have all successfully hatched their eggs and now we have lots and lots of geese in the paddock. I was a bit worried at first with the little ones being that far away from the house area but the whole gaggle protects everyone's goslings so there's no problem. November has been a dry month here on the farm with only 56 mm in total. We are hoping for a good lot of rain before Christmas just to freshen everything up and wet down the paddocks again. At least it's still green here in the valley but if we don't get good rain soon it will start to brown and dry off a bit. I've just started to water the garden again so that just shows you how dry it is. I haven't watered the garden since last summer. That's the beauty of Tassie you usually get enough rain through the year so you don't have to drag that hose around. It's fruit season coming up too and I can't wait. Our trees have their fruit on and all the berries have their little plump fruits happening. One of my favourite times of the year is when I'm walking through the garden grabbing handfuls of fruit as I go. Christmas is nearly upon us also. We have our girls Fiona and Jess flying down in two and a half weeks for their Christmas break at home. They are lucky enough to get a couple of weeks off work each. We are really looking forward to that and hopefully the weather will be nice for their visit. We want to do a bit of exploring around the place while they are down. If we don't get to write any more bits and pieces before Christmas we'd both like to wish one and all a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2013.


Some of our 2012 goslings.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Calves are go.

Our first calving has started with six lively robust Hereford calves gambolling around the paddock and another eight cows still to calve. 
 So far calving has been a high stress affair with around half the heifers requiring assistance. The first calf arrived unassisted a week early, a cute little heifer born on a bright clear Sunday.
Sunday Rose, the first calf born on Leven River Farm

The second cow presented the very next day with a breech calf and at least I knew what to do – ring someone who can help. We are luckily blessed with very good neighbours who were immediately on hand with years of good experience and calving equipment. I learnt the two most important requirements to save the cow and calf are a long right arm and a quiet and willing cow. Our yards are very basic, we have no crush or head bail, so it is imperative the cow stands quietly.  With a breach presentation the hind legs are facing forward and they must be manipulated to come out first. Sounds simple but requires you to push the calf forward against the cow’s contractions so that you have enough room to get the hind legs around. 
Mother resting following a breech presentation. 

A breech presentation.

An hour after we started I had the hind legs out and we attached a calf puller to complete the delivery. Amazingly the heifer calf was still alive. We left the cow and calf in the yards together for a day but after the hard delivery the mother showed no interest in her new calf so we bought her home and put her on a bottle.  Almost two weeks later that little heifer calf, Belle, is fit and healthy.
The next cow, Blondie, to calve had a prolapse, which resulted in the Ulverstone vet coming out at ten o’clock at night to put her back together.  A beautifully quiet cow, she waited motionless until the vet had finished, then immediately got to her feet to feed her calf. In another week I have to bring her back in to remove her stiches.
Blondie recovered from her prolapse with her calf.

Another two calved without assistance but the luck couldn’t last as another cow failed to deliver her calf. This one was just two big and with the assistance of the vet we pulled a huge dead calf.
Only eight more cows to go.
We are not the only ones in the valley to experience a high proportion of calving difficulties. The good summer has resulted in large calves and this combined with maiden heifers has resulted in widespread calving problems.
Next year will be better

Killing them with kindness

All three of our Wessex saddleback sows produced their second litters with very poor outcomes, a total of ten robust healthy piglets out of thirty-three born. Very different from their first litters when we had thirty-three happy healthy piglets.
So what went wrong this time?
It turns out I killed them with kindness.
The sows were just too fat and the piglets just too big. It’s very disappointing to sit with the sow giving birth and stillbirth follows stillbirth. It’s probably no coincident that those that did survive the birth were all the smallest piglets.

 After talking to pig farmers with thirty odd years experience breeding pigs, I now have a better understanding of what is required. I learnt that new born piglets around two kg or more birth weight are way too big, turns out we should be aiming for around 900 – 1000 grams for these old breeds.
The extra size is obvious, at four or five days old these piglets are large enough to feed while mum is standing.

 While suckling large litters the first time round, the sows lost a lot of condition very quickly even though we were feeding them ten kg a day of a high protein lactating sow pig feed. By the time the piglets were weaned at around ten weeks, the sows were looking a little tired and a little bony - in pig terms around a fat score 2.5   This time I was going to be better prepared and doubled their daily feed ration during their pregnancy. I thought I was doing the right thing, the sows all looked fat, contented and happy but they were hiding a steadily developing catastrophe. A lot of that that extra feed went to create ever-larger piglets.
Ten fat happy little pigs

At least we were able to prevent such problems with our Tamworths. I immediately reduced their feed   and while they are still overweight two of our Tamworths have produced sixteen healthy little Tamworth piglets and the  third sow due in a couple of days. 

Meave, registered name Glen Eyrie Elaine X273, with her eight piglets.

Only hours old, they enjoy the heat lamp.

I must be a little soft for I hate seeing old pigs in the sale yards, they always seem to get so distressed, a lifetime of service to be reduced to low value pork. The young animals are different – insular and confident in their surroundings. For our breeding sows Leven River Farm is their home for the rest of their natural life and as a pig can live ten to fourteen years this takes a serious commitment. I find I am not alone in this attitude, I know of at least one farm that ceased to operate a commercial piggery many years ago and the breeding herd has slowly shrunk to a single elderly sow contentedly wandering the paddocks around the piggery where she grew up.

It has become fashionable to label pork bred free range where the piglets are born outdoors and move into an intensive growing shed as soon as they can be weaned at around three weeks of age, but we have chosen the opposite direction, our piglets are born indoors and grow up free range. The sows come into the heated farrowing pens just before farrowing and return to the paddock three or four days later with their piglets in tow. I think this is best for their welfare as we can minimise the risk of the sow lying on her new born piglets and also keep them warm while young and vulnerable.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Still Life

Today was one of those days that are best in the past for today we buried twelve newborn piglets.  The day started well, a bright sunny winters day with the tantalising promise of new life. Petunia came out for her morning feed and it was obvious her time was close, her pendulous udder was swollen and tight with milk steadily dripping from her teats, tiny white splashes sprinkling on the ground. 

This was her second litter; she had raised twelve piglets last time so I was hopeful of fourteen or more this time around.  Somewhere in the birthing process something went wrong, the first four piglets were stillborn, perfectly formed, an ideal size, just no sign of life. The fifth offered hope, a little red saddleback boar only just alive, but hope was cut short as another six stillbirths quickly followed by another briefly clinging to life.  Then for reasons unknown, the final piglet, ironically the runt of the litter, was born in noisy robust health. 
Tonight Petunia has settled down with just one piglet out of thirteen, not a good start but better than nothing.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rayburn Royal and Supreme.

As a small sideline I have approached a number of suppliers in the UK to provide a number of reconditioned Rayburn Royals and a Rayburn Supreme. A reconditioned Rayburn is a very different proposition from a second-hand item. The old stove is completely dismantled and all damaged parts are discarded. The cast iron parts are sand blasted and re-enamelled in a Vitreous Enamel, new steel panels are fitted and the internal structures such as the ovens are sand blasted or replaced. New parts such as boilers, handles, hobs and temperature gauges are then assembled to create a stove of the highest quality. It is difficult to appreciate the standard of finish achieved without seeing the finished item.

All new chrome, new hotplate.
Stainless steel ash box, new ovens and trays and fire bricks.

All finished in vitreous enamel

 As I get older I find I am a little more risk adverse but I have had sufficient feedback to convince me that it is viable to import a bulk order of reconditioned Rayburn stoves for resale. Many people are attracted to the standard of finish and price but find the prospect of arranging their own importation and waiting four or five months a little daunting. A single bulk order will also significantly reduce the shipping and handling costs.

I have a vague plan, set up a small business from the farm, add a website, see how it goes. I don’t expect to ever sell enough to have a anything other than a part time business but it all helps to contribute to the farm.
Watch this space for developments.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Winter once again on Leven River Farm

Early morning fog.
The valley completely fogged in. Foggy days are common in Winter.

Well we are in the middle of winter again here on the farm it’s our second Tasmanian winter. It’s the time of short daylight hours as it doesn’t get light until after seven in the morning and it’s getting dark by around four in the afternoon. Once again the paddocks stay wet for most of the winter and not much dries out during the day. The pig areas are very boggy with mud and they are mostly up to their knees in it especially around the more heavy traffic areas like the feed troughs and the entry to their sleeping quarters. This is the time of the year when the pigs are head down bum up as they go into a digging frenzy and plough the paddocks. Don’t know exactly why they pick this time of the year to do it, maybe it’s because the ground is softer now. We have sold most of the piglets with six reds and six black and white ones left plus little Horatio our stud Saddleback Boar. He’s got to be one of my favourites as he is such a cutie and a sook. He always comes running to me with the cutest high pitched squeaking sound if something is not quite right. We sent our first pig off to get the chop the other day; it was one of the red piglet Boars. They are twenty-three weeks old now and are very solid and long. We took him to a small meat works where we knew there would be less stress for him, as our animals’ welfare is always uppermost in our minds.  I picked the meat up last Friday and we’ve sampled some chops and a rolled roast and I must say both were very tasty. Nothing like your own meat, which has had a good and happy free-range life.

In harmony, the Tammies and Saddlebacks in the paddock.

We have had a few hard frosts so far this winter and at last we have had a wood heater put in the lounge room. No more cold nights huddling under blankets while watching TV. It’s been well used so far and now we just have to start adding to the wood pile so we have enough on hand to see us through winter and beyond. The geese are very noisy at this time of the year I think they must be sorting out who to pair off with. They are also on the water a lot of the time too and haven’t been close to the house much either preferring to stay down in the paddock. The chooks are still off the lay as with everyone else’s too by the sound of it. They’ve finished their feather moulting etc a good while ago and I’d just wish they would hurry up and start laying again. I don’t like buying eggs from the supermarket when I have perfectly good well-fed chooks at home.  Oh well I guess they’ll start when they are good and ready.

You know it's cold outside when everything looks this white.

Even the cob webs freeze here in winter.

The cows are heavy in calf at the moment and are looking very nice. They have their nice red winter coats on again. We are hoping for no calving troubles, which can sometimes be a problem down here in Tassie because of the high nutrition in the grass. So we are watching their diet very closely. Genevieve our Guernsey cow and her calf Angus are doing very well also. We had to dehorn Genevieve not long after we got her as one of her horns was growing down the side of her face and obstructing her eyesight and it must’ve been very annoying for her. So while we were taking off that horn we took the other one off too. Now this, along with her only just arriving and not really knowing us made her go off and sulk and not be very sociable for a while. But I’m happy to say that she now knows and likes us so much that she comes up to the gate to get a hand out of heifer pellets in the afternoons. 

I'm very lucky I get to travel around and take lots of photos of our beautiful State.

As I look out of the window while writing this and see yet another shower of rain going across the valley I’m already thinking of spring, which is only another seven weeks away. At least then the paddocks will start to dry out a bit and there will be more day light hours to do jobs around the place and the grass will grow a bit more quicker and lusher. Not really looking forward to the lawn growth though as it is a round of continuous mowing in the warmer months. There will also be new life born on the farm once again. The bare trees will have their cover of nice green leaves and the garden will once again be in full bloom. I enjoy all seasons down here in Tassie as they are very distinct changes so much better than the same thing day after day you get in north Queensland. I love autumn for the glorious colour of the deciduous trees. I love winter for the snow on the peaks, which is still a novelty for me. I love spring for the lush new green growth, flowering bulbs and a hint of warmth on the way. I love summer for the warmer days (though not extremely hot, it’s just right) longer daylight hours and daylight saving. Yes I’m a Queensland convert to daylight saving I can see it’s advantages down here where we have long hours of daylight during summer. 

I took this recently while visiting one of our famous Tassie Icons Cradle Mountain.

Life is never dull here as I’m kept very busy on and off the farm as I’m also a Feature Writer (North West) for Think Tasmania so I’m very lucky to be able to travel around our beautiful State and visit areas, businesses and tourist attractions etc and write about them. If you want to know about everything Tasmanian check out the web page and Face Book page. You’ll find all my articles on this very informative web page.
And so the ebb and flow and the rhythm of life moves pleasantly along at its own pace here on Leven River Farm even in winter.  

An icy puddle behind our chook pen.

Below are a couple of links to some of my articles, too many to list them all. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Welcome to Genevieve and Horatio

We seem to have fallen into the trap of even more animals, a Guernsey house cow, Genevieve, with her calf Angie and another pig, a registered Wessex Saddleback boar called Horatio. Horatio is a shy little fellow just under ten weeks old, fresh from his journey across Bass Straight today but given time he will grow into a large robust boar ready to take his place among the sows.  We picked him up at Burnie and as he is only little and the weather is cold, decided to transport him in the back of an old Toyota wagon we use as a farm vehicle. The plan was good but the pig had different ideas. First he clambered over the rear seats and then pushed his way into the front where he found an obliging lap to snuggle down on and go to sleep.
Where are we off to?

It's lonley back here.

I really like this spot.

We started with three Wessex Saddleback sows, added three Tamworth sows and a boar, and now have Horatio and four deep red gilts to keep him company as he grows up.  When they all grow up we will produce around two hundred pigs a year.
 With the icy blasts of winter threatening to unleash their fury and more pigs due to farrow I upgraded the heat lamps we have in the stables for the piglets.  As the cold fingers of winter creep through the pens the sows push up a bed of hay directly under the heat lamps for her piglets. Given a little freedom they make incredibly intelligent mothers. 

Genevieve the Guernsey cow had a slight problem, one horn growing straight out and another growing hard against her head, only just missing her eye. We got her home and I immediately took both horns off. With her vision restored she went out into the paddock with her calf following close behind. Looking at her now you would never know she once had a problem horn.
The Guernsey cow originated on the Isle of Guernsey around 960 AD. They were developed from the best bloodlines of French cattle, Norman Brindles from the province of Isigny and the Froment du Leon breed from Brittany. They are known for producing high-butterfat, high-protein A2 milk.
Genevieve with her calf Angie

We are a little premature getting a house cow as Leven River Farm lacks anything we can use as a dairy; all available stable space is taken up with pigs or chooks. Before spring comes I will have to build some sort of shelter so Michelle can milk her in the dry and a pen to shut the calf up at night. She is not a big milker; she has been giving around ten litres of milk a day but that is much more than we will ever need. Next step is learning to make cheese.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Autumn has returned to the valley and for Leven River Farm autumn is a time of plenty. The warm wet summer season has left us in a good position with large quantities of green grass standing in the paddocks for winter. We have picked and stored the pumpkins, dug the potatoes and shucked the corn.  Our raspberries are almost finished, the apples at their peak, and the veggie garden supplies a seemingly endless supply of tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions and other goodies. The first frost hit last week revealing the last of the fresh tomatoes for this year.
At long last the zucchinis are finished and only the pigs didn’t get sick of them. The pigs are partial to mature zucchinis, relish pumpkin and sweet corn but their real favourite is an apple or two. If they spot you walking their way with a bucket of apples, they drool and foam at the mouth in anticipation of the ripe juicy apples.

Frost has knocked the vine but the tomatoes just keep coming.

The cattle have lost their sleek summer gloss, now dressed in their rough winter coat. They are down on the river cleaning up the overgrown grass and young willows that have threatened to overtake the riparian zone. We have just added a Guernsey house cow and calf to the herd. A little premature, we still lack a bail and protected milking area but that will come in time.  Monty, our Hereford bull, has returned to Leven River Farm for the winter, he has been away visiting with a couple of local Angus cows. He has taken up residence in the top paddock, every morning his mournfull bellow echoes over valley, a protest against his solitary existance. 
Cleaning up along the Leven River.
Taking Monty along to meet some new cows.

Most of our first two litters of piglets have left the farm for a new free-range home in Bruny Island. I weighed some piglets at weaning at ten weeks – average weight 30kg. No more weighing, they are getting too heavy and hard to hold, just a ball of wriggling muscle with a high-pitched ear-piercing squeal. As far as I can determine thirty kilograms at ten weeks is about as good as modern breeds in a commercial piggery can achieve. I suspect hybrid vigour from the Tamworth - Wessex Saddleback cross has boosted growth rates. Maybe there is a real future for these old breeds after all.
We didn’t wean the piglets until they were ten weeks old, I kept waiting for the sow to wean them but when she seemed content to let them suckle I forced the issue. The first night five piglets braved the electric fence to return to mum, on the second night only one went through, after that they settled contentedly into their new home.
Perky is almost hidden by her twelve piglets. They are only five weeks old.

Before we sell any more I will have to build a suitable loading ramp. Loading thirty kilo pigs  into a crate by hand is no fun. We have kept seven; three or more kept as breeding stock with an unrelated boar and the rest for our own use. I have kept all the ginger ones, four with a white saddle and three without. They are distinctive animals with a black skin under a glossy ginger coat. They all have the long lean body shape inherited from the Tamworth and don’t appear to be getting over fat. It will be interesting to see how they dress out in about ten or twelve weeks.

Prosciutto. She is stretching out in the hope of getting a belly rub.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Tale of Twenty-One Little Piglets

Just too cute.
Yes I know another story about our new piglets but how can I not write about them when they are so cute. It’s more of an excuse to put their photos on here than anything else. This weekend they will be a month old, my goodness how time flies. They are all doing very well and growing fatter every day. Petunia and Pinky are still feeding them and the information about how Wessex Saddlebacks are happy to feed their own and others is very true. The piglets usually go to the right sow to feed but sometimes they will head for the nearest milk bar open for business. You can really see just how much they have grown because now the sows can stand up and feed and the piglets can easily reach the teats. 

Look I can feed while Mum is standing up now.
At around two weeks old we started them on the dry feed the sows eat. This is a lovely mix of grains and Cadburys Chocolate. Yummy!  It didn’t take the piglets long to know that when they see me coming with the blue bucket it means tucker time. Sometimes it’s hard to walk as they crowd around my feet. There are some who love jumping into Mum’s trough to get a good mouthful of food. Mum doesn’t take too kindly to this and sometimes will shove them out of the way with a bunt of her head, which makes the piglet scurry up and over the side of the trough in a great hurry and with lots of squealing. They are also cunning little buggers because when they have finished their food they race on over through the fence to see what’s left at the Tamworths feeding area. 

Out and about with Mum.
They love investigating outside the fenced off pig boundary area, always in a group and at the first sign of something strange they race back with ears flopping and all of them grunting. It’s a very comical sight to watch. Pigs are nature’s bulldozers turning the earth up without effort and these little fellas are no exception. When the creator of all life was handing out noses they sure did a good job with this one. It’s a perfectly positioned and designed piece of equipment and I was amazed at how quickly the piglets put it to good use not many days after they were born. Mud is a great place for bulldozing with the nose. Another funny sight was to see these tiny little ones just a couple of days old having a scratch against a door or wall, a miniature version of the adults. 

Me in the pen with Mum and Babies when only days old.
The Sows have been very good mothers and very careful with the piglets. Before the Sow lies down to sleep or feed them she carefully checks with her snout every area of the bed of hay just to make sure the piglets are not underneath a pile of hay, as they like to burrow under it. Then she carefully bit by bit lays down her body, it’s a great thing to watch. This sort of experience is just one of the many which makes me more enchanted by these wonderful intelligent animals.  When John was talking about having pigs a long time ago I said no way they are smelly dirty animals. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I didn’t know much about pigs then only that they looked kind of cute. As soon as we got our Saddlebacks they wormed their way into my heart with their cuteness and funny little ways.  Can’t wait for the Tamworths to have piglets too. Now the Tammies are a little bit different to the Saddlebacks personality wise. They are a very vocal pig and are always ‘talking’ to you and very loud. Sometimes I call them whingers because it sounds like they are complaining about something. They are a lovely pig and love their share of attention too. It will be interesting to see if the Tammies will let us in the pen while they are having their piglets like the Saddlebacks did, they didn’t mind at all. Time will tell.  Next story I promise no piglets.

Proud Dad Fergal.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Piglets return to the paddock.

Observation and experience are great learning tools when raising pigs and I have learnt a lot over the past week. Luckily our inexperience  didn’t cause any problems and we now have twenty-one fat noisy piglets back out in the paddock with their mothers.

Fat and healthy.

We kept the sows and their litters in separate stables for the first three days and then let them return to their paddock to raise their young in peace. They’re all in robust health, having great fun exploring, tiny snouts rooting up the wet ground and meeting the other pigs. Fencing is meaningless, they are small enough to dart through at will but they always seem careful not to stray to far from mum. The other pigs in the adjacent paddock have shown no aggression at all towards the piglets, they all tend to freeze when the piglets get close and don’t move again until the piglets have cleared the area.

Getting into mischief is so tiring.

 I have learnt that either sow will feed any piglet. The first sow to lie down to feed will end up with twenty-one piglets squabbling noisily over the available teats. They are all fat and healthy so none are missing out.  The piglets all managed to double their birth weight in four days and the older litter have gained better than two kilograms in their first week. The two mothers are both eating their way through about nine kilograms of lactating sow feed a day and turning it into milk. Makes a change from two weeks ago when they were increased to one kilogram each a day. 

Too many piglets - not enough teats.

Before our next sows are due I will make some changes to our stables. The individual stables all need access to their own outdoor pen so that the sow and her piglets can roam and forage in a secure environment. At the moment the two maternity stables both open out onto a common area. This time it didn’t cause any problems as the piglets were only a day apart and formed a homogenous group with both sows sharing the feeding. I suspect that if the piglet litters were even two days apart the older piglets would quickly monopolise the available teats and the younger piglets would suffer.

We have one more Wessex Saddleback to farrow quickly followed by the three Tamworth sows. Won't be long and we will have lots more piglets on the ground.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Twelve more piglets.

Sunday morning the two saddleback sows still to farrow were not sleeping in their pen, as is their custom, so I went for a walk to find them. Pertunia was settled into a large grass nest, completely covered with grass with only her head visible. Perky was in attendance and must have been the one to totally cover her sister with a thick layer of grass. A quick trip to the maternity ward and four hours later the first piglet arrived. Petunia delivered twelve healthy piglets, a pretty good effort for a first litter. The boar is a registered Tamworth and his genetics are shining through, some of the piglets are black with a white saddle like their mother, others are ginger striped like a Tamworth piglet and four are ginger striped with a white saddle.  They are all lively healthy little animals and it is hard to keep track of them but I think there are two or three males and the rest females.

Safely in the nest with attendant at the ready.
A real mix of colours.

Today has bought cloudy wet weather so I have switched on the heat lamps for the piglets. It only took about thirty seconds for the first piglets to settle under the heat lamp, curl up and sleep. The heat lamp also provides a sheltered area where they are not at risk from their mother rolling on them.

The two sows feeding regime has now changed; they were on eight to nine hundred grams a day while pregnant increasing a little in the last week, now they have as much as they want, around six kilos a day. I am told they need the extra to provide lots of milk for the piglets and it makes sense, ten piglets will gain around twelve to fifteen kilograms a week in total and all that protein can only come from the mother’s milk.

On a sadder note the little runt from Pinky’s litter didn’t survive. At only 420 grams I think she was just too small. The other nine seem to be doing well and have gained around five hundred grams in three days, now weighing in at close to two kilograms. They are supposed to double their birth weight in the first week so these are on target. I don’t think I will try to weigh them again as they now wriggle and squeal way too much.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Piglets are go.

The first of our saddlebacks, Pinky, has ten piglets, cute little babies the spitting image of their mother. Not bad for a first litter. On Thursday I noticed that she was starting to make milk and on Friday afternoon when I could easily squirt milk from her teats we decided it was time to move her to the maternity ward, one of the stables already cleaned and prepared with fresh straw. We were just in time as the first piglet arrived at ten on Saturday morning and Pinky had delivered ten by midday.  Some black, others black with the white saddle, and of course the runt of the litter.  The runt is tiny sow, weighing in at 420 grams, dwarfed by the other piglets weighing between 1300 to 1500 grams. She is active, alert and feeding well so I am hopeful but I also know her chances of survival are three fifths of bugger all. Competition for the best teats is fierce and what she lacks in size she will have to make up for with determination and cunning. The piglets should double their birth weight in seven days after which we can let the sow back into the paddock.
Another Saddleback, Perky, looks like she will be due in a couple of days.

At first there were two.

And they kept coming.

The runt and one of her sisters snatch a quick feed

while the others wonder where mum has gone.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

More of the past. Golf Juliet Lima

The first aircraft I owned was a Piper PA22-150 Tripacer VH GJL.
The tripacer is an honest little airplane, a dream to fly, forgiving of all but the clumsiest pilot, but noisy enough to wake the dead. It has a few little quirks such as the glide characteristics of a broken brick, interconnected controls, master and start switches hidden under the pilots seat, brakes that are little more than wishful thinking, elevator trim that requires a third arm and a desire to roll inverted and die when stalled out of a full power steep climbing turn. Often referred to as the flying milk stool and treated with distain by those who will only ever manage to pedal her around the sky, she is treasured by those pilots who instinctively know that when mastered she is an aircraft without equal. 

GJL Archerfield  1991
 No one will ever describe a tripacer as beautiful; they already long obsolete by the time they were first built, a stubby, boxy little aeroplane thrust into a world of streamlined polished aluminium, the last of the tube and fabric era. Combining a genuine one hundred and ten knot cruise with superb slow flying ability and crisp control responses, nine hundred pounds of useful load with only a hundred and fifty horsepower up front, the tripacer remains one of the most underrated four seat aircraft around.

The log book entry for 26th of June 1993 reads  Milo to Gooyea. engine quit.  I was flying home after a week away working, tanks full, gauges in the green, completely relaxed, thinking of other things when I was jolted back to reality by sudden silence up front.  I can guarantee there are few things that can grab your attention quicker than engine failure in a single engine aeroplane. Training kicks in without conscious thought and the responses are automatic, try to restart the engine and look for somewhere to land. The tripacer is a lightweight, aerodynamically dirty aircraft with a poor glide angle and without power the pilot has only one chance to pick a spot and set up for landing.
I was always in the habit of flying at four or five thousand feet on short solo flights and height translates into valuable time and options. The realisation struck me that the difficulty with crashing aeroplanes is that you never do it often enough to get good at it. I picked up the VHF radio mike and put out a radio call. "Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is Golf Juliet Lima. Fifteen miles north of Milo station, one POB, total engine failure". No response, as I half expected, no one within range had a radio on. I knew an ultralight drifter was mustering locally so I called him on the UHF, quick explanation and asked him to stand by. I called home on the UHF to arrange someone to come and pick me up, it was way too far to walk home, and set the aircraft up on a long final for a forced landing on a claypan. I had been flying GJL for some years and I had total confidence in my own ability to safely land that airplane precisely where I chose. 

Flying Quilpie to Longreach. Sure beats driving.

As I was descending the lycoming engine would occasionally regain full power for a brief second and then die again.  I had no idea what was wrong and nothing I did made any difference. At around two thousand feet the engine started to run again, albeit very roughly at around twelve hundred RPM. As I leaned out the mixture it settled into a steady beat at about eighteen hundred RPM.  Not quite enough to maintain height but enough to give me a few options.
Eighteen hundred feet, losing height at around a hundred feet a minute, fifteen minutes to home. Good safe landing site below me, nothing but tiger country on the way home, what option did I have? Common sense would indicate I should cut the power and land immediately but instinct was to fly that little aeroplane home and instinct is more powerful so I headed north. I like to think that if I had a passenger, I would have landed rather than put them at risk but I honestly don’t know. Instinct is insidiously powerful and the overriding urge when flying a stricken aircraft is to keep it in the air. The air is its natural element and while in flight the pilot still has options.

I reached the strip at Gooyea with a hundred feet to spare, tied the aircraft down and dropped the cowl to find out what went wrong.
The O320 lycoming in a tripacer has an updraft carburettor with a carburettor heat butterfly directly below. The shaft for the carburettor heat butterfly had failed and allowed the butterfly to suck up against the carburettor effectively chocking the engine. When the engine stopped the butterfly would fall away unblocking the carburettor and allowing the engine to run again. As it reached full power the butterfly would suck up and again choke all life from the engine. The air box with the butterfly and broken shaft went to Norm Kelly, an aircraft welder in Archerfield for repairs and I was earthbound for a couple of weeks to reflect on the fine line between skill and luck.

Sometimes it all goes wrong. Queenair crash 1984.

Looking back I am struck by the number of pilots who have died in aircraft crashes. Barry Hempel, the instructor who sent me solo in 1976 flying another tripacer, PJW, signed off my unrestricted licence in GJL and tail wheel endorsement in tiger moth UVB flew into the sea off South Stradbroke Island. Laurie Curley of Curley Air Maintenance, one of nature’s true gentleman and one of Queenslands great rogues, an engineer extraordinaire who maintained both my airplanes and stayed with us whenever he was in the Quilpie area, flew a Mooney into the ground at night near Roma.  I watched a Beechcraft Queenair crash killing the pilot at Trinidad, the property that I grew up on in Western Queensland, and two neighbours were killed in separate flying accidents. An oilrig I had been working with lost a crew in a Beechcraft Kingair crash near Adavale in Western Queensland. The instructor who taught me to fly a K7 glider at McCaffreys field lost his life in a crash on the same field. Other pilots, just casual acquittances, also lost their lives following their passion.

Memorial to lives lost in Kingair crash. Adavale.

For over a hundred years pilots have sometimes been called upon to pay the ultimate price for the privilege of soaring like an eagle and I expect most of them understood and willingly accepted the risks and ultimately been satisfied with the payments that can only be made in heartache and blood. Only those who fly can possibly understand the peace and contentment that comes when you are alone in the cockpit, the world has dropped away far below and you become one with the airplane and the sky.
That rare privilege will always be worth the asking price.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

On the learning curve.

They asked me bout me Gramma
I told em she was dead.
They didn’t mention Grampa
But I told em what he’d said.
(snippet from “On the education road” author unknown.)

The last eighteen months on Leven River Farm have been a continual learning curve - the education road for smallholders.  

Before we came to Tasmania I had never kept beehives, now I have three beehives in full production with a fourth on its way. It seems a little counterintuitive but the best time to rob the hive is when the hive is a hive of activity – bees buzzing around madly. When I first tried robbing a hive I waited for a cool cloudy day when the hive had little activity. Big mistake – when I took the top off, bees spilled out everywhere and I couldn’t get them clear of the supers. When the hive is humming with activity most of the bees are out collecting pollen and nectar and those that are left are too busy to take much notice.

Clover honey and beeswax from one hive.
I robbed two of the hives a couple weeks ago, second harvest for the summer, and was rewarded with 28kg of honey. When conditions are favourable and the hive strong, the bees can fill a super in two weeks.
One hive yielded a very light delicate clover honey. In November this same hive yielded a moderately dark robustly flavoured honey.  This time last year it yielded a very distinctive strong flavoured honey the colour and consistency of treacle.  I have no idea what is different this year. The hive still occupies the same position, conditions have been similar, meadow flowers like dandelion, buttercup and clover are plentiful but the bees have obviously favoured a change of diet.

Two honeys, harvested from the same hive a month apart.
The other hives are up on the top boundary making the most of the blackberry blossoms and producing a clear light fragrant blackberry honey. If the summer weather holds I should rob the hives at least twice more before winter. That will be around 55 - 60kg of honey per hive for the season. By commercial standards a fairly low yield but I am a very much a hobby apiarist.  I don’t move my hives off the farm and I don’t feed the bees over winter, rather I choose to leave the hives well stocked with honey in autumn.
The Saddlebacks are due sometime after the 20th of this month. They all display long swollen nipples hanging beneath huge bulging bellies, looking like they are ready to pop any time. We have prepared a couple of stables as farrowing pens where a sow and her piglets may spend the first week or so.  A protected corner in two the farrowing pens has been set up with a small heat lamp to provide heated sanctuary for the piglets so the sow can’t roll on them. The more I research and talk to people keeping free range pigs the more I am inclined to leave the sows farrow in the paddock during summer. It is vitally important that we get it right as we need to wean as many piglets as possible.  We hope to produce 70 – 90 slips this year, most will be sold and a few we will keep for our own consumption. We should have Tamworths available as registered breeding stock, I think the only producer of registered Tamworths in Tasmania.

Tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkins and sweet corn.
 We are starting to learn what grows well in the garden and still escape the attentions of marauding rabbits. We tried a few garlic cloves last year and they rewarded us with large plump purple garlic bulbs. Zucchini do exceptionally well in the short summer, as do strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes and sweet corn. I built a small portable greenhouse to provide for an earlier start for the frost tender plants. 
Pumpkins and sweet corn in the greenhouse.
I now have a much better idea what the geese require for a productive breeding season. Our results this year was a little patchy with the first three geese sitting on eggs failing to produce any goslings. When we provided them with protective nesting boxes the other four all hatched successfully with one sitting on fourteen eggs and successfully raised eleven goslings. In total we raised twenty-five goslings to maturity.  This year we will have eleven or twelve breeding pairs and with good nesting sites, a little planning and a little luck we should be much more successful.