Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Animals of Opportunity Farm - Sheep

The Sheep

The only animals that were on Opportunity Farm when we arrived were a flock of hand-reared Wiltshire Horn sheep. These sheep are hardy and will tolerate poor grazing, rarely need assistance with birthing and do not require any shearing or crutching.
As we increased the number of other animals on the farm, our flock of Wiltshire Horns has diminished to 12. We currently have one young ram, a wether that has somehow survived the freezer, eight ewes and two lambs.
We also have four other sheep:
Shaun, a Dorset wether who was a poddy whose owners couldn't eat him or look after him and begged us to give him a home. He is large and very friendly and will follow you anywhere if he thinks you have food.
Daisy, a merino coloured sheep who looks like a cow rather than a sheep. She was also a poddied pet and is very friendly. She seems to be barren as she has never had a lamb.
Gerald and Henry are a pair of Corriedale coloured wethers. They are both chocolate in colour and are designed for Michelle to spin their wool. They were brought to Opportunity Farm late in 2016 and the trauma of the journey has made Gerald's fleece snap at that point so currently he is moulting. Henry (named for Henry Lawson) is more confident and hangs out with Daisy and Shaun. Gerald (named for Gerald Durrell) tends to hang near the back with the more anxious sheep.
All the sheep come running when some sheep nuts are shaken and queue up each morning at this time of year for their lucerne biscuits and nuts.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

How Now Black Cow - Sparkle arrives

Having learnt a very hard lesson with the demise of Hailey, our poddy cow, we were determined that if we had another cow, that we wouldn't make the same mistakes. Cows in calf need lots of feed. Our cow did not find enough grass to eat in our drought-stricken paddocks and our supplementary feed was not enough to sustain a cow and growing calf.
So when a friend offered us their spare pregnant heifer we were cautious and sought lots of advice. We decided to exchange the meat from one of our pigs for a fresh start with their heifer. 
Rainbow Sparkle may be black but she has plenty of Jersey in her.  

She is about 18 months old and she is due to have her first calf in October. Our cow expert told us that she is a little undernourished (her head is big for her body) but that she is healthy and should be a fine cow if we feed her enough. So we are feeding her a large bucket of lucerne chaff, some grain, some beef nuts mixed with some molasses twice a day. During the rest of the time she has access to unlimited fresh grass hay. She has a goat companion, Flossie, to stave off any loneliness and plenty of water.

Although she had been near humans she had never been handled. It took two days to get her comfortable with me touching her head and a week to be able to touch her all over. Last night I approached her from behind and she responded by lashing out with her foot. Luckily it hit a post and not my leg, but it reminded me that she still has a 'flight' zone and that if she cannot see me approach she will be much more wary.
She now eats in the dairy and my plan for the next couple of weeks is to get her eating in the stall comfortably. Then I can try the head bail.
The kids decided that she didn't quite fit the name 'Rainbow Sparkle' so she has been shortened to Sparkle or even Sparky.
If all goes well we may have raw milk once again come October.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The End of the Year

Tomorrow is the shortest day and I have come to realise that in terms of growing your own food that it is the start of the year. The old pagan beliefs around Yule make a lot of sense once you start being outdoors and being dependent on the sun's light and warmth.
So with the New Year imminent it is a time for reflection and for resolutions for the coming year.

This year there will be succession planting and regular inputs to be more productive.
The animals (and plants) on Opportunity Farm will be well fed. This will mean they will fatten quicker, be healthier and more resilient.
A way to share this farm with others will be found and promoted.
Ripe crops will be used to avoid waste.
The potato and garlic harvests will be much bigger and last longer.
The fertility of the soil will be improved using chicken and pig tractors and more effective rotation.
The area under cultivation will be increased.
Incubated eggs will have a higher success rate and the chicks produced will be genetically more diverse and will in turn produce more eggs.
The Shearing shed project will be sufficiently finished to be used.

There are no doubt as many more ideals and hopes as there would be space to write them down but I will stop there. Perhaps even more important is to produce more with less effort and to slow down enough to enjoy the process and have time to think.

Happy New Year

P.s on the shortest day - after over two months abstinence - an egg was laid!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dealing with Chickens - Slaughter and Wing Clipping

Too many roosters. This tends to happen when breeding your own chooks but this time the excess was due to bringing in new blood - two young roosters acquired through the Snowy Mountains Poultry exchange. A third excess rooster was an old Barnevelder due to be replaced by his virile and beautiful son!
I am a beginner at chook butchery but I have found that using a killing cone make the dispatching easier - as long as the knife in use is sharp enough. The blood can drip out and the twitching stop without having to be near the carcass. 

 After this the bird is hung up in the shed before being dunked in very hot water. I have an old copper that does a great job at heating up water quickly and so a few seconds dip and the feathers are ready to come out quicker and easier. The feathers smell wet and can tend to stick to your hand or glove but it is an efficient way to pluck.

After plucking I cut off the wings at the elbow, the tail, the head and the lower legs before gutting. Again I need a sharper knife but the process is gradually getting easier.

Once the three roosters were processed I placed them in ice cold water for a couple of hours before putting them in the bottom of the fridge for at least 48 hours. This is supposed to remove at least 80% of the rigour and help make the bird more tender. The first chooks I butchered were placed straight in the freezer and proved almost inedibly tough. This time I hope it works better.

The replacement roosters needed to be introduced to their pens of hens. First however I needed to clip one wing to keep them grounded. The only feathers that need to be cut are the eight primary ones - at the point where the secondary feathers start. I use a stout pair of scissors that I keep in the shed. I think they were once dressmakers scissors.

The primary feather removed.

The primary feathers on the other side.

Rescuing a cow that is 'down' and won't get up

Hailey the Jersey house cow is a bit on the small side. Apparently we weaned her too soon after we picked her up from a dairy farm at one and a half days old. Now she is four years old and heavily pregnant with her second calf. After her last calf we milked her for fourteen months before drying her off. She hadn't become pregnant so it was back to the start. Eight and a half months later she is heavy and weak from the weight of her Hereford calf and from living in poor paddocks. Our very dry summer and autumn have taken their toll and her daily feed of grain, chaff and beef nuts have not been enough for her. 
So last night she had a big feed of lucerne hay and sat down to rest. Then, for the first time in ages, it poured. Hailey became cold, wet and tired. By the morning she couldn't rise and the weight of her calf on her back legs sent them to sleep. She had a few attempts to rise but with no success.

When I found her this morning she couldn't stand. I consulted my brains trust of local cattle producers and they all told me that she must get up today or her legs would never recover.
The pressure was on, literally. First we tried some molasses to get her sugar level up and give her some energy. Then we applied a 'flopack' - an intravenous injection of calcium, glucose, magnesium and phosphorous. These are available from the local feedstore and should be stored in the fridge. The one we used was eight years out of date but it was all we had. The bag has to brought up to body temperature by immersing in a bucket of hot water. Once warm enough it is injected into the subcutaneous fat in several places, but mainly in the neck or ribs area.

She still didn't rise, but we were advised to allow two hours for the pack to work its magic. We also needed to administer a second one in about three to four hours. Being a Saturday afternoon our local supplier was closed but by a miracle the manager called into the office just as I rang on spec. He would leave a fresh Flopack at the cafe over the road and charge it to me on Monday. Luck and local knowledge was on my side. A quick dash into town and I was ready for the next attempt.

First we took the crate off the stock crate and carried it over to where she lay. Then we passed straps under her body behind her forelegs and in front of her back legs. These were tied to the crate on one side and to a ratchet tie-down strap or winch on the other. We slowly raised her to her feet but she was not helping and remained weak-legged. A third strap behind her hips helped get her up onto her back legs and a fresh strap on the front finally got her high enough. 

By this time it was dark and under headlights we encouraged her to put her weight on her feet which finally she did. We then put the door back on the crate and administered the fresh flopack into both side of her neck. For about twenty minutes she stood still on her legs and we gradually eased off the pressure on the straps. After completely loosening them we gave her ten minutes more before we opened the gate and led her out. 
An hour earlier we had nearly given up but she was up on her feet and walking about. I led her into her paddock and under the trees where some lucerne hay and a water trough awaited her. Half an hour later she was still on her feet. Hopefully she will be walking in the morning and the crisis will be over. Lessons learnt in keeping up the nutrients and the molasses while in late pregnancy. Many thanks to our wonderful neighbours who helped with advice, straps and winches.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A useful Wwoofer - the sealed in shearing shed!

Our shearing shed has been a fair while in the construction. First we advertised for an old shed to pull down. We found an almost collapsed shed on a friend's farm and several weeks of dismantling scored us the materials. Then stumps were put in, floor joists and a frame of old round timber was built. These were notched together to make them strong and clad in old tin. Last January we put the roof on and now the shed is ready to be sealed in.

The final wall had to be clad with tin. The only tricky part was that it was about four metres off the ground. While building there had been a temporary platform across the open part of the shed. I could use this to make the frame for the top of the wall and then I had to dismantle it so that the tin could be fixed from the outside. The topmost screws were a challenge but a long ladder with a wwoofer on the bottom made it safe.

Having a wwoofer who was a furniture maker who came with lots of tools meant that hanging the final few doors and windows was a breeze. The job was probably far more professional than I would have done. With a new back door and four windows in, finally the birds and most of the draughts are excluded. Now we can plan the final touches before we use it.

Oh for a Wwoofer - fencing projects

After 15 months without a Wwoofer, Andre from France comes for a week. Not only is he keen and hardworking but he comes with a car full of tools and a keenness to use them. So it was time for those projects that required two people and some skills in using hammers and screws etc. My new orchard for dwarf apples, pears and cherries has been planted with the trees, had posts and rails fitted for the cage and tin dug in and screwed on. 

The tricky part is to put up the wire on the walls by myself. So with Andre in residence in our retro caravan it was time to tackle this job. First we rolled out the wire on one side and then hung it up on partially screwed in roofing screws. Then we rolled out the next side until we had it loosely placed on three sides. We stretched it tighter and overlapped the corners. Due to the fact that the orchard is sloping downhill and the posts are upright there was a flap in each bottom corner that had to be cut and secured to the post with staples. 
It came up well and looks smooth and secure. 

Next we concreted the door sill. The plan is to keep some guinea pigs in the orchard once it is caged. It is important that no animal can dig its way in or out. The door is recycled from an old shearing shed so it has a solid metal sheet on one side. This will help keep the dogs from looking in and salivating over the guinea pigs. Only the roof to go before it is a protected space for the trees to grow away from the parrots and the cockatoos.

The final job for Andre and I was to build  a fence across one of the chook pens - effectively halving the space but making a new pen. By using extra long star pickets and an old stay to support the door jamb it only meant one major hole to dig - for the post in the middle. Now I just have to build a new chookhouse and a separate flock can be established. 

Oh for a WWoofer  when there are projects to be done. A big thank you to Andre who was a very helpful and competent assistant as well as a pleasure to spend time with.

Harvesting and Processing - the autumn rush is nearly over

Autumn is really here when it is time to press the apples. This year most of our own apples were spoilt by fruit fly. This has never been a problem in the past but the fly population has grown with some local orchards being left to rot. If there are some heavy frosts then the flies will die off and the problem may be less next year.
So the solution is to collect roadside apples. There are always a lot to choose from and this year I collected thirteen boxes. This meant that we could fill our 30 litre barrel for cider and have plenty of spare juice to give to some friends who came to help and some for the kids to drink straight u

This is the press that we borrow each year. It is an old Swiss model which does the whole process in two stages. First the apples are chopped up with blades that are turned using the wheel on the front of the press. Then the chopper is removed and the actual press swung over the barrel of apple pieces. This is turned with the handle at the top until the juice drips out through the base. 
This year we put the pulp through a second time which increased the volume of juice by about half again.

This summer we have had plenty of tomatoes. These have been combined with our zucchini, garlic and basil to make a sauce. The bottles of sauce were then sterilised in the Vacola and stored in the pantry. Seventy two bottles at last count. There are also jars of peaches, plums and stewed apples.

One of the final big harvest is the Jerusalem artichokes. We have one bed - about 3m by 1m. Each year we try to completely clear it. The next year there is a bumper crop to harvest. This year was by far the biggest with two full feed sacks and a large bucket - about 50kg. 
We don't eat them but after a day ignoring them the pigs start to enjoy the nutty earthy flavour. This supplements their feed for a couple of weeks at a time when they are putting on a lot of weight.

Autumn is certainly a time to celebrate the fecundity of nature and put aside some of the food that will make winter taste better!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Sign of Autumn

A Sign of Autumn

One of the first signs that the weather is turning is when you can begin to see the pumpkins when they are in a large patch. The leaves just start to droop and those lovely great pumpkins start to shine through. The first frost won't be long but the vines have done their job and harvesting the fruit is not far off.

Making Tomato Sauce

Making Tomato Sauce

Each year our main summer crop is tomatoes. As well as many months of fresh tomatoes we make lots of tomato sauce which is used throughout the year in lots of dishes. On pizza, pasta or rice, cooked with meatballs or added to many dishes to give some vegetable goodness.

This year we had even more tomato plants than before and now a polytunnel to grow some in so we have had a bumper crop. Last year we made over a hundred jars worth and still ran out. One of the reasons for this was that some of the jars failed. So this year I resolved to Vacola the sauce. The jars are therefore much bigger.

The recipe is fairly basic. Onions and garlic sauteed in oil, plenty of zucchini and lots of tomatoes. This year I have added lots of basil for flavour. Once it has come to the boil I leave it on the stove for a few hours simmering and reducing. Then it is poured into warm sterilised jars and then put into the Vacola.

So far we have 80 Vacola bottles made and seven bottle of ketchup sauce. We have given away two crates of tomatoes and there is still plenty left to ripen. Time to try some other sauce variety, I think, but we will never starve this winter. Yum.

How to Make Wine at Home

How to Make Wine at Home

First of all you need some grapes. About 15 years ago I planted four merlot vines given to me by a friend who worked erecting fences for vineyards. Three grew and now extend over about 25 metres on a wire trellis in a cage covered in chook wire to keep off the eager birds.
This year was the best crop ever - two trugs and three large boxes. After giving away a box this was my haul for wine making.

Then we loosely washed the grapes by filling the trugs with water. About a sixth of the washed grapes were lifted out and put into a trug cleaned with a small amount of bleach. Our feet were washed and then the fun part. Squishing the grapes beneath our feet until there was plenty of juice. The juice was poured through our yellow colander into the barrel. The residue was put into a spare trug and the process repeated.

Once the barrel was nearly full - 30 litres - we added some of the residue. This contains natural yeasts so that nothing else is needed. You can buy commercial yeasts to add at this point but it is not necessary.

While the pigs enjoyed the rest of the residue the barrel sat in the kitchen with an airlock in the top.Within hours it started to ferment. Three days later we removed the now alcoholic residue or musk (another post might tell the story of the musk, the drunk dog and the vet - but not now) and decanted the wine into two demijohns. We will leave the wine in these until the fermentation stops and the we will bottle the wine with a cork and put it down in the pantry to await drinking.

As we haven't made much headway into previous vintages this bumper crop might last us a while! Still - it is very easy and fun to make it.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

More water needed in the garden


Today was billed as the hottest ever February day in New South Wales. I am not sure what it topped here but it would have been close to 40C which in the Snowy Mountains is plenty hot enough. It was a reasonable Spring for rain but we are reliant on roof collection and run off for meeting our water needs. About two weeks ago the rainwater tank that was being used for the garden was getting low and the reduced ration were not enough for growing plants.
Something had to be done. Four years ago we had a waterline dug from the nearest dam up to be able to fill a tank for the garden. No pump and a reluctance to put dam water in a freshwater tank meant it was of no use to us. So after some planning it was resolved to put in more taps and connect them up to this line from the dam and buy a pump.

Two new taps allow sprinklers to be attached to cover the maximum amount of garden.

The dam line intersecting with the water tank line. Lots of careful digging in hard soil on a hot day but it all came together well.

The new pump on the dam that has saved our scorching plants. Once or twice a day we give the pump a pull and squirt all the plants. 

The dam is low but hopefully will see us through this hot spell and that after that it rains.

The 200th Post

It seems a long time since I started this blog. Two years ago on January 1. It amazes and pleases me that without any advertising or much linking to sites etc that so many people around the world have had a glimpse of life here on Opportunity Farm.
The cycles of the year go around and the children get older and we get more established and hopefully more effective and efficient. My blogging has slowed right down - partly because life can get too busy but mainly through forgetting to take my camera with me when I'm off on the farm. I suppose the modern way is to have a mobile phone in your pocket that can be whipped out to collect that moment or memory but I don't have one and can't yet see why I need one.
So on reaching 100 posts there were about 2000 hits and I was keen to find out if there was anyone interested and reading, but now at 200 there has been nearly 9000 hits and I am happy to blog whenever I get the fancy and feel I have something to share.
So if you are reading this, thank you for taking the time.
Felicity, our Jack Russell puppy doing what she does best - sleeping and being fussed over

My Piglets are Fussy Eaters

This year's piglets are fussy. We give them a diet of food scraps from the local café or our kitchen, excess fruit and vegetables and pig pellets. They need a mix of vegetable and protein to grow muscle and fat.

When we picked up these piglets there were a couple of weeks younger than usual and had been subsisting on mum's milk and a cheese waste product from the Bega Cheese factory. Once installed in their pen they tucked happily into anything green but steadfastly ate around the pig pellets. I was getting pretty worried as the fallen fruit and zucchini gluts hadn't kicked in and the café scraps were not sufficient to keep them going.
This lasted for over a month but finally they grew to love pig pellets and started to bulk out a bit.
Arthur, Mabel and Christine can enjoy their life of leisure and lettuce while fattening up and helping to turn over the soil in the bottom paddock.