Thursday, January 12, 2017

I have a problem with chicks

Last year I had great success with incubating chicks. I did three batches of nine and ended up with fifteen hens and three roosters. With luck like that I should have known this year would not be so easy. I gave away or sold most of the new chickens which meant other people approaching me for more Light Sussex hens. No worries I'll have some for you.

So the first batch of the year I incubated in September - a set of Isa Browns to assist with renewing the vigour of mu best layers. Five hatched - two hens. Not bad - could be worse.
A batch of Light Sussex - only two hatched and one survived but developed a very dodgy leg and will have to be eaten. Next batch - two hatched and one survived OK. Most of the eggs were infertile.

I did some research and worked out that my rooster was probably too close genetically to the hens. Despite his success last year the genetics could have been resulting in low fertility and dodgy spraddle legs. Time to get a new rooster. 

A friend had a spare which turned out to share a grandparent with my hens but was worth a try. Turned the incubator on and it had died. More research and an expensive new but larger incubator later I have 22 eggs set. 18 Light Sussex and 4 Isa Browns. This has to work.

However the humidity levels were harder to notice and quicker to dry up so I was a bit worried. Three weeks later four hatched successfully but just over half were still unfertilised. Back to the drawing board.

Learning to candle would tell me whether the eggs were worth persevering with but not increase the overall success. 

A new rooster perhaps? A better eye on the humidity levels? More research and time needed.

The first two hatchlings seeking to escape the hot temperatures in the potting shed.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Young Christmas Presents

Our coloured flock diminished from five to two in 2016. It was time to replenish. Michelle reckoned that wethers was the way to go so there were no issues with pregnancy. So for a suitable  Christmas present I searched for a breeder of coloured sheep.

My friend Google found a lady in Young with two of last year's wethers to offload. It was a four hundred kilometre trip there but the rich chocolate coloured coat on these Corriedale boys should be fine for spinning.
Once in the stock crate they travelled well and looked keenly about at all the amazing sights whenever we stopped. Having never left their smallholding before it would have been quite a shock. I was impressed when their previous owner gave them a supplement that would help them with the stress of the journey.
Thirteen hours after setting off from Opportunity Farm we returned with two new inmates who are now happily munching in the orchard.

The Current Abundance

Christmas is the time for the redcurrants to be ripe. Our three bushes give enough currants to keep us in redcurrant jelly for a long while. It goes well on sliced pork as well as on toast.

The currants are easy to pick and this is often a task that small children enjoy. Between myself and my youngest daughter we picked about 3kg from the three bushes.

These were boiled up, seived to remove the seeds and the resultant juice mixed with sugar to make a jelly. We bottled four jars from this - about 2kg of jelly.

We also picked a load of raspberries. The first batch made six jars of jam.

Faced with a glut of raspberries and enough jam made it was time to consult the google cookbook. The simplest solution was to make raspberry sorbet. A cup of water was added to five cups of berries and then cooked up. The mush was put through a seive to separate out the seeds from the juice and the juice put through some cheesecloth to be sure. Sugar and vanilla essence were added, heated to dissolve the sugar and then frozen. Delicious if a bit intense so either to be eaten in very small quantities or to flavour something blander. 

Definitely a way to use up berries. Simple, quick and very tasty. In winter it will be a burst of summer flavour to boost the spirits.

Butchering the Naughty Kid

It seems that in every batch of new kids there is a naughty one. The one that learns to go through fences and eat the greener grass on the other side. Primrose was this year's troublesome goat. It started out fine with short trips through a fence before a quick dash back to mummy. She gradually become more adventurous and on several occasions squirmed through the ringlock into 'The Grove' - a plantation of seedling trees including some prized truffle inoculated hazels. The biggest of the trees were a pair of oaks about two metres tall. The fence is electrified and each tree has a substantial guard around it. The oaks each have one about a metre high.
Somehow Primrose managed to get into these guards, eat the tree and then squeal for help to get out. It was mind-boggling how she managed to do this feat of agility but it didn't help her cause. She had to go and we had a candidate for a New Year feast.

I am very new to butchering and having been vegetarian for a long time have found it to be a challenge. With this goat I didn't do the killing but I found I could do the gutting and skinning and butchering quite easily. The skin was in good enough condition to be salted and preserved.

Our friend Jeff committed the deed and after gutting and skinning the carcass was hung in our cool room for three days. Being only small it only needed to be chopped into a few pieces. We also did two of last year's wethers which required a bit more. Using a cleaver I had to smash through the bone in one clean hit to make chops. Apart from my trusty piece of wood splitting this worked well. 

I am even looking forward to my next butchering session. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Time to let the Asparagus stop shooting

The first week in December means the end of the asparagus shoots. As the first spring plant to be harvested they are very welcome but when summer comes it is time to let do their thing and turn into ferns.
Once they are tall enough they may need supporting from strong winds. Otherwise some manure or compost and removal of weed competition is all that they require until they die off and need to be cut down. Early next Spring they will be back again.

When Summer Plants are Small and Growing

I like to train my tomato vines up a single piece of baling twine attached loosely to the plant and suspended from the chicken wire roof. I pinch off all the laterals to keep the plant heading straight up and this means I can plant them quite densely. This bed will have about twenty tomato plants in.

Zucchinis are easy to grow but for years there was always and overabundance. Since we started fattening piglets this problem was solved and they can't get enough.

The iceberg lettuces - Goldrush - have proved a success this year as the children will actually eat them!

Gardens ready for summer

This year we have a hot house. Even though all our tomato seedlings were zapped by frost in October it still packs a bit of heat and will make a difference to what and when we can grow here in the Snowy Mountains.
It is an experiment to see how much water is needed and to get plants established. 

The paths are still full of weeds but the central bed has iceberg lettuce, mizuna and mesclun. They will bolt early with the heat but will give us some greens for spring.

At our other property all the winter plants have been removed and the beds ready for the tomatoes and zucchinis and pumpkins that love the lower altitude and warmer temperatures.

Garlic Harvesting

This year we planted an early harvesting variety of garlic.This was handy for two reasons - we had a poor crop last year and almost ran out and because by harvesting in November space was cleared for some summer seedlings.

By Mid November there were a few heads that were just thinking about forming a flower so it was time to pull them up.

Each bulb planted had turned into a beautiful purple and white corm. Cleaned roughly of soil they were laid out on a table in the shed to dry.

These were from our other property where the lower altitude (300m instead of 900m) meant the garlic was harvested a couple of weeks earlier. These have dried and are ready to be trimmed and plaited and hung in the pantry.

We haven't bought garlic for a few years. Even though garlic is not supposed to store for 12 months it seems to last. So early harvesting and long lasting varieties of mild garlic are certainly our preference.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Planting out Seedlings

They seemed too small to be planted out but the lettuce, mizuna and mesclun seedlings were overcrowding their punnets. It was time to get some in the ground. So far there have been no signs of snails or slugs in the polytunnel but they will no doubt find a way in. This means that the seedlings will need protection. Some of them I have put a little cloche made from slicing up a 2 litre milk carton. Others have a trail of eggshell around. I will be able to test out the efficiency of these methods.
A friend gave us some excess basil seedlings so they get the eggshell treatment as well.

The self seeded silverbeet is loving the polytunnel. As long as it gets water it is growing quickly and tastes good as well. To the left is a self-sown lettuce that is nearly ready for the table.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


The apples are flowering. As long as there is no late frost or a major wind event there should be plenty of fruit to pick come February/March.

Finally there is plenty of blossom on the quince tree. For the past few years there has only been a couple of quinces but this looks more promising.

Even the cherry is covered in flowers.
The pears are not so fertile but until the pollinator (a Jonathan) grows a bit more then we may not get much of a crop. Each year the orchard evolves and changes.

Progress on the Shearing Shed

It has been months since there was time to work on the shearing shed but with most of the family away it was time to get back onto it. The front needed to be covered with tin and the porch built. A set of steps up to the front door were required and the shearing machinery hoisted into position.

Working with old second hand timber provides its challenges. Pieces are not the same width at both ends. In the photo the beam at the end of the porch is definitely one of those pieces. After noticing the lean that beam had to be lowered on one end to make the rafters more level. Tin is a forgiving medium but it is a standard size with right angle corners so it can be used to cover over the variations of round and curved timber.

The window frames are in and the end triangle is ready to be filled in. Plenty to do but progress is being made.

More New Chicks

The second set of eggs is hatching. However this time there was a problem. The incubator was not level so the humidity was harder to measure and the humidity dropped. Only three of the chicks hatched and two of these died.

So for the next batch I moved the incubator to a level spot and marked the required water level on the outside so I could be sure that it remained consistent. Problems on the farm will always happen but as long as you learn from them then they can be positive.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Perhaps it is a Polytunnel after all

Finally the great day arrived. The long awaited cover for the garden was ready and there were three people at home to help roll it over. One person stood on the ute, one on a ladder and I stood in the middle on a table armed with a broom. It took a couple of minutes getting the hang of it but once the roll made it nearly to the top the rest was easy.
Once we had pulled it square and tight the ends were secured by screwing strapping into the end hoop. Lots of screws meant that the pressure of windy days is spread out as much as possible.

At the sides the plastic was rolled around a piece of wood which was pulled under an already fixed piece. This drew it tighter and gave a level surface to secure it to.

Now that it is covered it is possible to feel the increase in temperature, even on cool damp spring days. The air circulates well so it is definitely not a hot house. The construction does not lend itself to being a greenhouse so I am leaning towards calling it a polytunnel. Like a tunnel it is open both ends and it is certainly made out of 'poly'.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cover for the Polytunnel

The Polytunnel / Hothouse has been a long time in the making. At last the paths are laid, the beds raised, the polypipe hoops up and the doorway framed. It is time for a cover.  

It was one thing to find a website where I could order a piece of plastic seven and half metres wide and ten metres long but I wasn't sure how I would get it to our far-flung corner of the country. "No worries", the manager said, "We can send it by Australia Post." So a few days later a box arrived at the nearest Post Office with a pile of folded plastic in it. The only way to get it ready was to spread it all out. It needy a still day, a dry lawn and a few blocks of wood to get it laid out.

The next challenge was to get it rolled up so that it could be unrolled over the top of the hoops. After a few abortive attempts I remembered that I had some two metre lengths of conduit pipe that I could join together and wrap the plastic around. With four of these in place I could make a roll the full length of the frame.

Now for the tricky bit - attaching it to the frame. First I stapled it round some lengths of sheep shed grating - about 2.5 by 2 cms. Then I had to balance the roll on a table and a couple of chairs so that I could dangle the end alongside the bottom plate and screw the grating onto it.
Then I could gently lower the roll to the ground. All set and as far as I could go by myself. Time for some reinforcements to help unroll the plastic and secure it.

The First New Chicks

Last year I incubated three lots of eggs - 27 with 21 hatching. Amazingly only 5 roosters and 16 hens. I kept four hens and two roosters and the rest were sold or bartered. Word got around that we were breeding Light Sussex hens and now I have pre-orders.
This year I will probably end up with lots of roosters so the process may take a while. Especially with Light Sussex it takes a long time to be sure of their sex. 
Our best layers are the Isa Browns and they are getting a little on the old side so I started with a clutch of their eggs. Their rooster has a fair bit of Barnevelder in him but I think they will lay well.

So I cleaned out the incubator, added the eggs and 200ml of water and waited. On Day 18 when I turned off the turning device and went to increase the humidity I had a scare. There was almost no water. I thought that I had not checked it often enough and that none would hatch or if they did they would be deformed. So I was very pleased when on Day 20 the first chicks emerged looking happy and healthy. Over the next 24 hours another four followed. While the smallest succumbed to a leg injury, possibly sustained by being bullied by its bigger brood mates, the other five are growing fast. They will have to mature quick enough to move out of the brooder when the next batch - this time some Light Sussex - crack out in another week.