Friday, 19 December 2014

Normal service is resumed, Merry Christmas!

Well after my last post, as you can imagine we have just been happy to get into the farm work.  I look around the farm and see so many things to do that sometimes I wonder what we have been doing the last couple of months.  Then I put together a blog post and it all comes flooding back.  It really is a full life.  Here are some photos so you can share in that “holy dooley!!” moment.  Sorry about the lack of Coreen photos, she takes all the good ones!

A walk up to Hartz with Mike and Tig...
...produces staggering views

Mike and Tig coming down from Hartz Mountain.
The lad styling it up on the farm (note the eczema on his cheeks).

The Kingston Black grafts get jumping...
and the Frequin Rouge are also looking good!

Our new litter of piglets grow so fast.

A couple of pigs from our last litter of piglets end up in a charcuterie course run by our old WWOOFer host Mandy.

Making sausage at Mandy's.
Our salamis hanging to dry, they taste great!

All our bacon and pancetta from the course, so much fun to make.

A fine day at the Apple Shed, but Julian is unimpressed by his lack of cider.

I tell him he will get cider later, see the difference?

We put our new found skills into practice on a couple of our pigs...

...and produce a staggering array of pork!

Julian is growing almost as fast as our piglets.

Taking Mary up the paddock to join the flock.
Our shed conversion gets going in earnest...
...the slab goes down...
...the framing is up...

...and the weatherboards start to go on.

You take a change table where you find it!

We have a lot of apples, Matt showing our wonderful Japanese backpackers how to thin them out.
Look, bacon seeds!

We start bottling our own home brew...

...but probably not enough for Christmas!

Poor Julian ends up in hospital for a couple of days this week when his eczema turns nasty.

Dave and Toddy getting our Christmas lambs "undressed".

Now that's a lot of Christmas lamb!

Such a great pic.

Lots of Braeburns...

and plenty of others!  It will be a busy harvest come May.

So that is it, have a Merry Christmas!!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Letter to my infant son: Don’t become a farmer

Dear son,

This is a hard letter to write.  You see, this is the letter where I admit that I was wrong.   I am going to spend the next 18 years telling you that I know what I am doing.  I am going to say that you should listen to my advice.  Yet here you are, barely 4 months old, and I am telling you that I was wrong.

I was wrong to become a farmer.

Lots of wise friends told me not to do it, I even went against what my father believed I should do.  Your granddad is a former farmer you see, but I thought I knew better.  I thought they were telling me not to do it because of the work involved, the hours.  I thought they were advising me against the cycle of taking all of your time and money each year and putting it on the roulette wheel of price and weather, and praying that both come up together.   Not me!  I thought I could handle the work, the hours I could deal with, and maybe a new business model would take me out of the pure commodity game that is just a race to the bottom.  I figured that it would be satisfying to raise animals and grow things in a way that I could be proud to show the world, that at the end of the day I would feel tired but rewarded.

But none of my sage advisers told me the fundamental truth: as a farmer, you are a government worker, and an unpaid one at that.  If they had, perhaps I would have avoided this mistake.

It starts out easily enough, a registration form here, another one there.  After all, to get your business up and running you must make sure you have all your paperwork ducks in a row.  But it soon spirals out of control, and in no time at all you are spending hours over a form trying to understand what this new government department wants from you, while your farm chores sit undone outside the window.  I have seen them all, son, from the reasonable forms relating to firearms to the ones asking me to show evidence of our working dog’s training program.  I had no idea the Australia Taxation Office employed dog training experts, but you learn something new every day when you work for the government.

In the last year alone I have dealt with bureaucrats from no less than 8 government departments at local, State and Federal level.  I have spent countless hours filling out forms, trying to do things online to make them easier (it doesn’t), and responding to the inane requests.

“Show that you have a reasonable expectation of profit.”
“Please provide your business plan, last 3 years’ tax returns and financial statements.”
“How is your livestock business different from a hobby farm?”

Lucky your dear Dad is a former accountant and he can field this sort of thing, but I feel sorry for all of the kids the politicians try to encourage into agriculture, walking them right into the clammy claws of the bureaucracy.  The poor kids haven’t got a hope in hell, but I guess it makes for a good soundbite on the TV.

Farming isn’t easy, and some days feel harder than others.  Burying an animal that died because of something you did (or didn’t do) feels like the worst feeling in the world, but there are days where you can feel genuine pride at what you have grown and achieved.  Acting as a steward of the land is one of life’s noblest callings.  Unfortunately those good days are fewer and fewer as your volunteer job looking after the bureaucrats takes over your working life.  And at the end of the year, if you were lucky enough to snatch enough time on the farm to make a profit, your taxes will pay their salaries.

Now don’t take this letter to mean that I regret my decision to become a farmer.  The only time you should regret a decision, even a wrong one, is if when you can’t learn anything from it.  And too often that just means you aren’t looking hard enough.  No, I don’t regret it, it is my choice and I’ll be damned if I will let the bureaucratic monolith make me abandon it.

But I will leave you with this bit of advice my son: when you grow up, don’t do what I did and ignore your dear old Dad.  Don’t become a farmer.  Go get a job with the Australian Taxation Office.  Yes you will lose your soul, spending your remaining days filling out endless reams of paperwork.  But at least you will be getting paid for it.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Mind the gap!

Well we certainly haven’t been sitting on our backsides the last couple of months, but I know that we have been slack in the blogging department.  I will do my best to cover the gap, so make your cup of tea/coffee/scotch/gin/cider now and get settled, this will be a wordy one.  But read through, I promise you may learn a thing or two!

As you could see from our last post we had been milling quite a bit of timber. We’ve finished that off and now have a great deal of working material stacked and racked.  Some of the stuff that came out of the mill was so impressive we earmarked it for future furniture.  I still have to cover all of it to keep it out of the elements, but once that is done we will have a resource that will last us years.  The only question we have to answer now is: what do we want to build first?
Father and son on the wood pile having some morning tea
The orchard really kicked up a gear in September and has continued to go beserk in October.  At the end of August we hired someone to come help us knock it into shape, and even though after four weeks they didn’t work out as an employee their efforts in preparing two of our blocks for grafting was great.  We estimate that approximately 2,500 trees were cut down and mulched up, with wound paint applied to every cut to stop the trees getting diseases through the cuts.  It really was a herculean effort, and set us up beautifully for grafting.

The "Hinchinbrook" block, freshly cut and grafted
Now, to the grafting…. it is a strange thing to cut one tree down, take a little stick of another tree, make a few cuts to it, wedge it into the bark of the first tree, and then have it grow.  But this is essentially what happens.  We had two legends of the game, Clem and Boxer, who are 74 and 71 years old respectively, come down and do our grafting.  Now this didn’t mean that Coreen and I could kick back with beer and skittles, it was our job to follow them along, taping the grafts so they wouldn’t blow over or come out, and putting wax around the joins so no air or moisture could get in and cause the graft not to take.  These guys are so fast, they put on about 1,300 grafts a day, that’s about 650 trees that we needed to tape and wax.  They would finish their day at 3pm, after just ambling along since 9am, and Cor and I would be there until 6:30pm trying to finish before dark.  It was a real lesson that first day, so for the next couple of days we roped in some help, but then by day four we ran out of friends (our “friends” learn quick!) and it was just back to us again.  When they are really moving these guys can have up to 6 people working to try to keep up with them.

Boxer and Clem, having a break and letting us catch up (just a bit)
We had a wonderful time working with Clem and Boxer, despite working hard the jokes flew thick and fast between us, and they took time out to show us how to graft.  They even gave us grafting homework over a weekend and came and inspected it on the Monday to make sure we had done it right.  Lucky we have plenty of trees to practice on!  It was absolutely brilliant, and I still have a bit of scion wood from four heritage varieties courtesy of the Steenholdts (who have been in apples for decades) that we hope to graft onto some hand-picked trees.  Boxer even brought five of his favourite varieties and grafted them for us.  We are certainly going to have quite a range of tasty apples for you to try when you visit!

All done, Matt with Clem and Boxer

Such a strange thing to turn this into new apple trees

In other apple matters, we have had a bit of an issue with our equipment, namely our orchard sprayer.  I bought it last year and it seemed to do the job OK, but when I pulled it out and gave it a test run a week before I was due to start spraying it failed dramatically.  After waiting a week I then spent a few days up to my elbows in grease at the mechanic’s trying to help them get it fixed as they were snowed under with work.  It took about 4 weeks (during which time we had to borrow a sprayer from a good, good friend) but finally it is now back and working.  The failure taught me that it probably wasn’t working properly even last year, but after much time, effort and sadly, money, it is now working great.  We spent more than the sprayer cost in the first place fixing it, and though the thought of buying a replacement did play on my mind, the total cost is still less than the price of a fancy new one that is likely too big for our orchard in any case.

Mad Matt, the Orchard Warrior
A quick word on spraying. “But aren’t you going organic, how can you use sprays?”  This is a common misperception about organic farming.  There are actually a number of chemicals approved for use in organic farming.  In the USA the list is actually so big it is a little scary, but the gist of the thing is that it must be a natural product.  So that means we use chemicals like lime, sulphur, copper, certain oils and products containing natural bacteria to help us manage our pest issues.  However even naturally-occurring products can have dire consequences for nature and the soil biology, for example pyrethrum and boron kills beneficial insects like bees, and copper or excess sulphur can destroy microorganisms living in healthy soil.  This means that even an organic farmer has to make choices about what substances they are comfortable using, and why.  We have less to choose from, but that doesn’t mean it is simple!

The apple flowers are out in force now, and so are the bees, and we are hoping for a much, much better harvest than last year.

So the weekdays have been getting our apples going, and our weekends have been dedicated to other “projects”, whether it is getting the sheep shorn or setting up new pig paddocks.

We had a very sad Saturday when Matthew, Sadie and Hedley came over to bid farewell to the old boar Peter Pan.  We only had one sow large enough to handle Peter Pan, the wonderful Tinkerbell.  As Tinks is on her last litter and we want to have more sows, keeping Pan for sentimentality’s sake just didn’t make sense.  We tried to find another home for him but to no avail.  We had a friend come over with his firearm and do the deed, and fortunately our excavator was on hand to bury the big lad.  It was a sad occasion.  Pan had sired many a litter and was a really great pig.  I will always laugh at the memory of him curiously following our friend Mark around his pen, with Mark running away crying “Razorback!”

In case you were wondering, we didn’t turn Pan into sausages because old boars can develop a musty smell in their meat, and with Pan you could smell him whenever Tinks was around, so we knew it wasn’t a starter.  Have you learned anything new today? ;)

Anyway, with the big fella away Sadie brought over one of his offspring, Tess, who was pregnant to their new boar (Barry).  Just a few days after Pan “went to Disneyland” Tinkerbell had her litter, followed in short order by Tess.  So we have 13 beautiful saddleback piglets running about currently.  The seven-month-old weaners are getting to a good size, we will have five of them for the chop and we are eagerly planning a salami and charcuterie day with our old WWOOFer host Mandy.  Between that and the fresh pork, we are going to eat well this summer!

Say hello to Tess!

...and her litter!

Tinks is on her last litter at the moment, but is loving her new paddocks
All the pig action was an impetus for us to set up new paddocks, and I am quite chuffed with the new setup.  My catch cry while we were doing it was “a wallow and scratching post in every paddock”, in a real effort to facilitate the “pigness of the pig”, and to let them do what comes naturally.  It warms the heart to see a happy pig, when you come visit I am sure you will see what I mean!

Love the happy pigs!
On the sheep front we have shorn, docked, tagged and clipped so many that my head still spins.  And of course the busy month was the perfect cue for one of the Wiltshire girls to reject her lamb, meaning that we have been bottle feeding one of those as well.  Normally I wouldn’t have been prepared to do it (having gone through it with shish kaBob last year!), but at the time Mary was one of only two female lambs, and we really want to grow our Wiltshire herd so needed to keep her around.  So bottle feeding every four hours it had to be!

Clipping hooves
That's a lot of wool, more than 3 bags full!
The other baby, little Julian, is also going well.  He is a happy little guy, pretty content to be at the farm, in his capsule or pram under a tree while we work.  He smiles a lot, is always looking around for me, and is fascinated by the brilliant quilt full of farm scenes that our friend Jane made.  I am not sure I am ready for him to be crawling, but hopefully by the time that happens we will have moved into our house on the farm, which Ernie started work on just this past Monday.  We live in exciting times.
Such a happy lad!

So there you have it, a month and a half in review, and I haven’t even told you what we have planned for this month!  I guess you will just have to wait and see.  Of course, you could come down to Our Mates’ Farm and find out firsthand!  Don’t worry, we won’t make you work…. much!

And now a few final pictures for you all...

One of Tinkerbell's piglets sneaks a drink while she has breakfast

The runner ducks have started laying... I see omelettes in my future, lots of omelettes!

This guy and a couple of others have been hanging around the pig paddocks

The working men of the family don't make it to bed