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.