I had some time off in August, “time off” being a subjective term. Seriously, we got SO much done!
Half the month was taken up by getting The Patch all squared away. This involved:
- Weeding. Lots, and lots of weeding.
- Setting up some more rigid frames for the peas. We used droppers and spare sheep panel, and they’ll work just as well for tomatoes or maybe even cucumbers or pumpkins.
- Used our fertilizer teas. You know? To fertilize veggies.
- Harvested and tried to keep up with the broccoli and cauliflower. That was a losing battle, right from the start.
- Sorted out the onions. They needed a heap of thinning, and we had a fallow/overflow bed. We ended up taking half of that up with just some of our thinned onions. I estimate that we have about 1500 onions planted out now. We fell short last year with maybe a quarter that number. If these all work, we should be good for onions for the next year.
- Rotary hoed in the green manure. That gutless, gravelly bed is now looking much better.
- Planted some spuds.
I also set up a new worm farm. My old, relatively small one, didn’t make it through the hottest January in recorded history. This time I wanted to go bigger, both because that means more wormy goodness, but it also makes it more resistant to adverse weather.
I bought a bath tub from a salvage yard, bought some fittings to allow me to tap out the worm juice, and made a frame out of some of our recycled timber. I then found an awesome worm guy (yes, that’s a thing) who lives close-by and bought 2,000 worms. I still don’t think I have it right, mostly because I’m lacking the time to give them a lot of attention. However, I’m confident we’ll be worm-filled in no time.
We got a milking cow! She’s a jersey and is potentially 2 months pregnant via artificial insemination. The new plan is:
- Set up a milking shed just inside the back yard against the western fence.
- Get a milking machine. They’re expensive, but totally worth it.
- Get her pregnant yearly – the AI is $50.
- Sell girl babies and eat boy babies.
- Dedicate the back paddock entirely to the milking cow – plant things specific to her. She’ll have to share with the pigs, but so far our pigs and cows get on famously.
- Buy in the odd goat or sheep to keep Linhda happy.
Oh, and her name is Clarisse. Her breeders named her Bianca, which is clearly not her name. What were they thinking?!
August was a good and bad month for poultry. First of all, we now have the makings of our breeding flock. In the past we bought and raised Cobbs. They are amazing and when raised with the right food, exercise, and enough time we ended up with birds dressing out to well over 4kg. However, they’re also a little sad, with messed up legs and a propensity to just sit there and get fat. We wanted to change how we raise the chooks for a few reasons:
- Breeding them ourselves is much more self-sufficient, and gives us more control.
- We want to use a heritage breed.
- We want to use a dual-purpose breed, so we can have the one flock for eggs and meat.
- We want smaller birds, though the ones we chose can still dress out to around 3kg.
- We want to process them ourselves. Again, this is more self-sufficient. It also means we get to keep every single by-product (e.g. blood and feathers for the compost etc.).
The breed we chose is the Australorp, which has the added benefit of having an Aussie origin. American Cobbs vs. Aussie Australorps. No context really…
We found a breeder who lives close-ish and went to speak to him and his wife. As always, poultry breeders are pleasantly unusual, and they were super welcoming and informative. The dad of our birds was second-in-show in last year’s Royal Adelaide Show, and is freaking gorgeous. We ended up getting two batches, which are 3 or 4 weeks apart. Most are pure-bred Australorp, but there are a few half-breed ring-ins in there. We’ll choose the best girls, maybe 10 or so, as our breeders and buy in a rooster in 4 or 5 months time. Any boys will be eaten, and any excess girls kept as egg birds. Eventually, after all of the egg ladies have passed, we’ll just keep the one flock of Australorps for both meat and eggs.
We also made some changes to “The Ladies” (our egg birds). We’d moved them into our citrus area so they could free-range and have full access to green feed. However, the chook house in there was a crappy octagonal aviary that had been left behind on the property. I bought a purpose-built, pre-fabricated poultry house, and dad made them a laying box. I’d tried various laying box options before but they always shunned them. Dad made them the Rolls Royce of laying boxes though, and they love it!
Our 4 egg ladies used to give us a couple of eggs a day, and in good times sometimes we’d get 3. For a while we half-suspected our big girl was a boy, as we’d never had all of them lay. However, we got 4 eggs the first day the new laying box was installed, and we’ve been getting 4 eggs every day since.
Our last poultry story is the ducks, which was a success at first, but then kind of went awry. We’re still learning the best way to breed the ducks. Muscovies are amazing, and will do all of the work themselves, however, we’ve found that we need to be careful with their housing. We had them all in together, and the super-clucky mum (Marge) started to sit on eggs. Eventually, all 3 Muscovy mums were clucky, but they were getting in each other’s way and fighting a little. Add in the giant drake and the Indian Runners tramping over everything, and we ended up with some cracked eggs.
Eventually, we split Marge out on her own, and put the rest of the ducks in with the new chooks. Marge ended up hatching out a few ducklings.
The problem was that we ended up losing them over a few days. One morning, I found out why…
We had an owl hanging around, which is awesome. Owls are gorgeous, and having birds of prey illustrates the changes in the property over the past 18 months. However, it’s not so good for the ducklings. With that in mind, and because I refuse to do anything to hurt/discourage the owl, I got some fertile eggs to put under Marge. We also got an incubator, so we can hatch them in a controlled environment from now on.
We had some bee progress too. Kind of. January was hard on the hive, and all of the frames kind of slumped. We weren’t sure how to fix it, and it was a little further down our list of priorities. However, something happened to make it more urgent. I was working in the pig runs, and Linhda was chatting to me, when we heard a giant buzzing. We looked over the orchard area, right near the hive, and saw a giant swarm making its way across our property. There’s a chance it came from our hive, but I can’t be sure.
We followed the swarm over to Farmer John’s front yard, and watch it settle into a bush only 20 or 30 feet from our fence. I spoke to John and he was cool with me grabbing the hive, so I rang an apiarist for advice, both on the old hive and the new swarm. For the old hive, the advice was to:
- Get a new super (the box thing with frames in it).
- Clean out the old super, including scrapping all of the excess comb from the lid.
- Put the new super on top.
- Wait 2 or 3 weeks for the queen to migrate to the top.
- Swap the two supers and put a queen excluder in between.
- Wait another 2 or 3 weeks and take off the top super, with all of the slumped frames, and harvest a metric shit-load of honey.
The new swarm was a little easier. They suggested that I use a bag to catch them. I went over, sussed it out, and had a firm plan-of-attack in place. It was a big swarm on a thick-ish branch, but I was confident I could take them. I took some pictures one morning, after the swarm had been there for a couple of days, and then Linhda and I went to get the new supers. A couple of hours later I was set up to get the new swarm, but it had left. I suspect they were laughing at me the entire time.
I followed the apiarist’s advice with the old hive, and it worked relatively well. During my conversations with the apiarist I mentioned that I hadn’t been stung yet, which surprised him. Of course, I got a little cocky about it, to the point where I only wore shorts while handling the bees. Dad suggested jeans, but I obviously didn’t need them… until I brushed the bee-laden lid across my leg and dumped dozens of them on me. I got about 20 stings, all in the same smallish area. That was when I put jeans on.
It took a bit of work, but I got it all cleaned up, and we ended up with 3 or 4 kilos of honey just from the excess comb in the lid. And it is out-freaking-standing!
The biggest bonus here was that I finally worked out how to get the smoker working. This would have sucked otherwise.
Finally, of course there was pig stuff happening. There’s always pig stuff happening…
We finished setting up the farrowing shed. Dad ran a cable from the big shed to the farrowing shed, ran an extension cord along it, and set up a wall plug. I bought a guccie heat lamp, designed for reptiles, and set it up in the baby area (this is apparently called the “creep area”). It works really well, and the babies will be toasty!
Prosciutto, our baconer, got a little sick. She was listless and off her food, both being things that are unusual in our pigs. I got a vet out for her, and he diagnosed her with a common cold. Being a production vet, I thought he might know a thing or two about raising pigs. As it turns out, back in his native Macedonia, he used to work on a pig farm that collectively has more pigs than all of Australia. That’s 70,000 pigs!!!!! He was a wealth of information, and had worked a lot in the piglet area. He went over the farrowing shed, the yards, and things like the food. He was complimentary about almost everything, and only had us tweak a couple of small things (e.g. more the heat lamp a little lower). Having somebody like him give us that kind of advice was absolutely invaluable.
We weren’t sure when the babies were due. Smoked Pig was plainly larger than Honey, and we thought she was a full month ahead. Our math said that Smoked would be due in the first week of September at the earliest, and the vet confirmed that by saying her teats had dropped and were filling with milk. When we looked at Honey, her teats didn’t look too different, but she was way smaller. I began to suspect that they were both due at the same time, and are just simply different sizes.
After having some “time off”, I really had to go back to work for a rest…
Spoiler Alert – we end up with two litters of piglets in September!!!! Both on the same night!!!!!