We’ve Expanded!

We’ve been looking for a second place for a long, long time. We had huge expansion plans, none of which would work on our modest block at Templers. We spent, quite literally, years trying to find the perfect place.  A few things were defeating us.

Firstly, we live in the middle of South Australia’s bread basket. While that makes our surrounds quite pleasant, it also makes them quite expensive.  All of the places close to home were out of our price range.  At first I didn’t think they would be, but that leads me to my next point…

Secondly, the current lending rules are prohibitive to most people who want to buy rural property.  This is a big one, and I’m going to devote a whole other blog post to how shit this is, and how I believe it risks the longevity of our farming community.  We had a nice deposit, we had some equity in our other places, and we had income to service a loan. However, even a relatively modest $300k property meant we would require a $110k deposit.  How does that even make sense?!  I won’t bang on about it here, because I’ll never shut up.  However, think about any farmers you might know. How many of them are first generation?  I suspect the answer will be none of them, and the current lending rules are a big part of that.

Thirdly, there’s a dearth of nice-sized farmlets, which are smallish holdings – bigger than a hobby farm, but not broad-acre farm big.  Those around us tend to get snapped up by the big guys, and were probably beyond what the bank would lend us anyway.

We started looking further and further afield to find a place, and one that we could afford.  We could get land close to home without a house, as we’d be able to go back-and-forth to feed. However, finding a block of land that had water was hard enough, and finding one with water and power turned out to be impossible.  Finding smallish (sub 100 acre) blocks without a house was difficult, and it meant that the only lending option was pure rural.  They sometimes popped up with houses, which solved the water/power problem and made the lending easier, but it often more than doubled the price.

If we went further out we could find affordable blocks, though we faced the same power/water issues.  However, we’d need a house so we could spend the night, and that of course forced the price up.  We ended up looking at dozens and dozens and dozens of places over the course of a couple of years.

We ended up finding a place at Lochiel, which is slightly less than an hour north of us.  It was perfect – over 70 acres, lots of infrastructure, and a nice house.  Even then, it took us finding an amazing bank business loan/mortgage guy to help us get it over the line. Seriously, the hoops we had to jump through to make this happen were incredibly frustrating. I got my stubborn on though, and we ended up settling on a place on Christmas Eve.

And yes, the house still uses those kinds of keys. We also found out just how expensive it is to get them cut!

And yes, the house still uses those kinds of keys. We also found out just how expensive it is to get them cut!

 

This is the only real picture I have of the house. While the house wasn't really a consideration for me, it is genuinely very nice - 9 foot ceilings, timber floors, 4 bedrooms + study, new kitchen etc. To be honest, I like it more than the place at Templers.

This is the only real picture I have of the house. While the house wasn’t really a consideration for me, it is genuinely very nice – 9 foot ceilings, timber floors, 4 bedrooms + study, new kitchen etc. To be honest, I like it more than the place at Templers.

I wasn’t sure how to approach this blog.  Should I pontificate about the block, the infrastructure, and the house? Should I bang on about the work we had to do?  Should I describe all of the things we want to do there?  That all sounded like way more work than I wanted to do on a Monday night, so I figured I’d make this mostly a blog in pictures.  We’ve taken enough of the bloody things since we found out we could have the place, so I might as well make good use of them. 🙂

I’ll start small and work my way up…

This is a stumpy lizard, or shingle-back skink. Linhda calls him Lionel. They're everywhere, and she calls every one of them Lionel.

This is a stumpy lizard, or shingle-back skink. Linhda calls him Lionel. They’re everywhere, and she calls every one of them Lionel.

Lionel pops up everywhere.

Lionel pops up everywhere.

On the back porch.

On the back porch.

In Bruce's bowl.

In Bruce’s bowl.

Eating our grapes off the vine.

Eating our grapes off the vine.

And he even pops up from around things, just to look snake like and give you a little fright.

And he even pops up from around things, just to look snake like and give you a little fright.

This old plough is lovely, but huge and in exactly the wrong spot. We wanted to move it, and had to do it before we could build any fences.

This old plough is lovely, but huge and in exactly the wrong spot. We wanted to move it, and had to do it before we could build any fences.

I wasn't sure the Ranger would be able to move it.  The plough must weigh a tonne or two, and it's not exactly in good repair.

I wasn’t sure the Ranger would be able to move it. The plough must weigh a tonne or two, and it’s not exactly in good repair.

We ended up ploughing the ground between its old spot and its new spot just a little. :) You can see how we've cleaned up under the trees here.  Those trees are probably 50 or 60 years old, and I doubt they'd ever been trimmed back. We had to make it pig friendly and make it so we could walk under them.

We ended up ploughing the ground between its old spot and its new spot just a little. 🙂
You can see how we’ve cleaned up under the trees here. Those trees are probably 50 or 60 years old, and I doubt they’d ever been trimmed back. We had to make it pig friendly and make it so we could walk under them.

And this is the final resting place - behind the workshop.

And this is the final resting place – behind the workshop.

The place has never had front gates.  That may be because digging holes next to the driveway was so hard that I considered giving up partway through. :)

The place has never had front gates. That may be because digging holes next to the driveway was so hard that I considered giving up partway through. 🙂

 

The infrastructure on the place was what first attracted me to it.  The sheds are old, and a couple need some work, but every single one of them will be useful to us.  The implement shed alone is over 300 square metres! There are housing blocks in the suburb we used to live in that are smaller than that!

And don’t get me started on the loading yards. I would’ve bought the place for those alone.  They’re older than the house, which makes them over 60 years old, and they’re 100% hand-made.  They need a small amount of work, and we need to put in a lower ramp.  They’re freaking gorgeous though.

The implement shed. Seriously well built and HUGE!

The implement shed. Seriously well built and HUGE!

This isn't a great shot, but it has the Ranger for scale.

This isn’t a great shot, but it has the Ranger for scale.

The workshop. You can't see, but it has a pit on the other end and lots of benches.

The workshop. You can’t see, but it has a pit on the other end and lots of benches.

The last owners used this as a chook shed. I'm not sure what it was originally, but there are other foundations around. It might've been part of an original house.

The last owners used this as a chook shed. I’m not sure what it was originally, but there are other foundations around. It might’ve been part of an original house.

Inside the old chook shed, which is now one of my farrowing sheds.

Inside the old chook shed, which is now one of my farrowing sheds.

Longer view of the workshop. Those trees to the left are all cleaned up now and it's fenced off for the breeders.

Longer view of the workshop. Those trees to the left are all cleaned up now and it’s fenced off for the breeders.

This looks dodgy, but is awesome. It's an old fuel shed/depot.  It's perfect for storing grain - just back the Ranger up and cart the bags on/off.

This looks dodgy, but is awesome. It’s an old fuel shed/depot. It’s perfect for storing grain – just back the Ranger up and cart the bags on/off.

This is an old motor shed - around 3 x 7 or 8. We've also converted this into a farrowing shed, but will need to put up lean boards before putting a mum in there.

This is an old motor shed – around 3 x 7 or 8. We’ve also converted this into a farrowing shed, but will need to put up lean boards before putting a mum in there.

This is where it's at! These are my loading yards. So beautiful, and so freaking useful!

This is where it’s at! These are my loading yards. So beautiful, and so freaking useful!

We have a huge amount of work to do.  That started with clearing undergrowth out from the shade trees, and putting in a heap of yards/fences.  That was all over summer and the ground is more than a little unforgiving at times.  We were determined to not make the same mistakes we made at Templers, where we moved in over summer and almost killed ourselves by working in the heat.  That determination mostly paid off, though a few times I had to force myself to stop before the sun did some damage. Still, no risks, no rewards, right? 🙂

This is most of the rocks that came out of the hole I dug for the post in the background. That's from one hole, and I had to dig them out with a crowbar.

This is most of the rocks that came out of the hole I dug for the post in the background. That’s from one hole, and I had to dig them out with a crowbar.

The first yard we built was for the Saddlebacks. It was actually one of two huge yards, attached to a larger free-ranged paddock.

The first yard we built was for the Saddlebacks. It was actually one of two huge yards, attached to a larger free-ranged paddock.

Farmgenuity is using a triple truckies' hitch to pull the panel up tight. Impatience is putting the F100 into reverse to get it that bit tighter.

Farmgenuity is using a triple truckies’ hitch to pull the panel up tight.
Impatience is putting the F100 into reverse to get it that bit tighter.

Fencing is a family affair.

Fencing is a family affair.

Our first race.

Our first race.

We learned from our other race, and made this one a bit narrower. You don't want them turning around.

We learned from our other race, and made this one a bit narrower. You don’t want them turning around.

We've not used this as a race yet, and need to extend it down towards the grower paddocks so we can run it into the loading yards.  That'll happen in slow time.

We’ve not used this as a race yet, and need to extend it down towards the grower paddocks so we can run it into the loading yards. That’ll happen in slow time.

We've seen a lot of pig paddocks/yards/enclosures, and most of them are super dodgy. There's something about housing pigs that makes people think they should throw material together rather than build something permanent.  Not these paddocks though - they're pro!

We’ve seen a lot of pig paddocks/yards/enclosures, and most of them are super dodgy. There’s something about housing pigs that makes people think they should throw material together rather than build something permanent. Not these paddocks though – they’re pro!

We made as much use as we could from the limited shade but building the breeder paddocks around the trees.

We made as much use as we could from the limited shade buy building the breeder paddocks around the trees.

We've had to run a heap of water too, and will have to run a heap more.

We’ve had to run a heap of water too, and will have to run a heap more.

The most terrifying tool on any farm. That's why I let dad use it. :)

The most terrifying tool on any farm. That’s why I let dad use it. 🙂

This is my pig lock (patent pending). The theory is that we can get in there with a vehicle, and close the gate behind us before opening the gate in front. It works well, but we need to modify the design a bit on the next ones. I may actually end up tearing half of this one down and rebuilding it.

This is my pig lock (patent pending). The theory is that we can get in there with a vehicle, and close the gate behind us before opening the gate in front. It works well, but we need to modify the design a bit on the next ones. I may actually end up tearing half of this one down and rebuilding it.

Our first pig shelter on the place.

Our first pig shelter on the place.

The pigs approve.

The pigs approve.

As does Bruce.

As does Bruce.

Shelter up, complete with shade. We modified the design a bit to allow us to tension the shade cloth. It works well.

Shelter up, complete with shade. We modified the design a bit to allow us to tension the shade cloth. It works well.

We'll stack the big half-tonne rectangular bales of straw around the outside before the wet weather hits.  They'll be snug and dry.

We’ll stack the big half-tonne rectangular bales of straw around the outside before the wet weather hits. They’ll be snug and dry.

Sometimes even a farmer needs to take a breather. In my defence, it was 35 degrees and super high humidity that day, and I was the one digging the holes.

Sometimes even a farmer needs to take a breather. In my defence, it was 35 degrees and super high humidity that day, and I was the one digging the holes.

The infrastructure and the house are nice, but the thing I wanted most was the land.  That’s what it was all about for me.

A bit of a panoramic shot facing west from down near the loading yards.

A bit of a panoramic shot facing west from down near the loading yards.

Facing the wind turbines. They stretch for miles.

Facing the wind turbines. They stretch for miles.

There's a block of scrub behind us, complete with kangaroos.

There’s a block of scrub behind us, complete with kangaroos.

From near the northern boundary facing the house and sheds.

From near the northern boundary facing the house and sheds.

Facing south and west from the back of the block.

Facing south and west from the back of the block.

I think those hills are called The Bumbungas.  I have trouble saying that without sniggering though.

I think those hills are called The Bumbungas. I have trouble saying that without sniggering though.

This is standing to the west of the house, and facing west. Believe it or not, that's an intensive pig farm just over those trees.

This is standing to the west of the house, and facing west. Believe it or not, that’s an intensive pig farm just over those trees.

Panoramic shot facing north and west.

Panoramic shot facing north and west.

Facing east along an old fence line. Most of the work we face is removing 50+ year old fences and making pig-friendly yards.

Facing east along an old fence line. Most of the work we face is removing 50+ year old fences and making pig-friendly yards.

And of course, we only have the land so we can keep animals.  The first animals we moved there were sheep.

The first animals we took up. We spent a good few weeks getting fences in before getting the pigs up there.  The sheep were pretty easy though - fire and forget in the back paddock.

The first animals we took up. We spent a good few weeks getting fences in before getting the pigs up there. The sheep were pretty easy though – fire and forget in the back paddock.

We got the sheep up for their annual shots.  This was the first test run of the loading yards and they worked a treat.

We got the sheep up for their annual shots. This was the first test run of the loading yards and they worked a treat.

We had 2.5 inches of rain in one day, which was both amazing and scary. The result was greenery a week later though, which is nice.

We had 2.5 inches of rain in one day, which was both amazing and scary. The result was greenery a week later though, which is nice.

The downside of having tame animals...

The downside of having tame animals…

You can't tell, but these guys are facing off against Bruce.  The one on the left is Robert, one of our rams.

You can’t tell, but these guys are facing off against Bruce. The one on the left is Robert, one of our rams.

Most of why we have the land is for pigs.  I want lots and lots of pigs.  We started by buying in a breeding herd of Wessex Saddlebacks, and our first litters should be dropping in April/May, 2016.  We’ve since then moved almost all of the pigs from our Templers place, including the litter Honey had shortly after the fires, and we bought in a heap of Berkshire piglets.  They’ll fill the gap in production caused by the fires, and we’ll be able to choose breeders from the best of the gilts.

A big boost to our plans to phase to heritage breeds - a breeding herd of Wessex Saddlebacks. This is the boar, Reggie (pedigree name of "Dominator"), Mable, and Ginger.

A big boost to our plans to phase to heritage breeds – a breeding herd of Wessex Saddlebacks. This is the boar, Reggie (pedigree name of “Dominator”), Mable, and Ginger.

This is Molly, Melba, Betty, and Lucille.

This is Molly, Melba, Betty, and Lucille.

Reggie doing what he does best. Well, the thing he does second best.  There'll be another picture of what he actually does best in a little bit...

Reggie doing what he does best. Well, the thing he does second best. There’ll be another picture of what he actually does best in a little bit…

Molly.  I think she might be my favourite.

Molly. I think she might be my favourite.

Reggie courting one of his ladies.

Reggie courting one of his ladies.

This isn't a great picture, but this is what Reggie does best.  He just prefers a bit of privacy...

This isn’t a great picture, but this is what Reggie does best. He just prefers a bit of privacy…

A Berkshire grower in our first free-range grower paddock. That's a hectare of space behind it, but it's more interested in saying hey to me.

A Berkshire grower in our first free-range grower paddock. That’s a hectare of space behind it, but it’s more interested in saying hey to me.

I like to tour the fences on the motorbike. The Berkshires seem fascinated by the bike, and like to chase it up and down the fence line.

I like to tour the fences on the motorbike. The Berkshires seem fascinated by the bike, and like to chase it up and down the fence line.

Reggie close-up!

Reggie close-up!

This is Ginger. She's gorgeous.

This is Ginger. She’s gorgeous.

Reggie with part of his harem.

Reggie with part of his harem.

Baby Berkies!

Baby Berkies!

It looks like the bigger baconer there is cracking a joke. She's a sweety.

It looks like the bigger baconer there is cracking a joke. She’s a sweety.

Always curious.

Always curious.

This is Honey's litter, born not long after the fires.  We converted the old chook shed, which is a solid double-brick structure, into a farrowing shed with attached free-ranged paddock. For now, it'll do for these babies.

This is Honey’s litter, born not long after the fires. We converted the old chook shed, which is a solid double-brick structure, into a farrowing shed with attached free-ranged paddock. For now, it’ll do for these babies.

They're good looking piglets.

They’re good looking piglets.

Chowing down on brewer mash, soaked barley, and peas.

Chowing down on brewer mash, soaked barley, and peas.

We’ll keep a boar and two or three sows at home, and use them to breed our replacement gilts.  That means that once we have the genetics set up, we can have a closed herd and mitigate the risk of introduced disease.  That’ll leave maybe four pigs at home, which will be a doddle.  With growers, we should top out at over 200 pigs at the Lochiel property, all free ranged and all happy.

This isn’t the end of our expansion plans.  Ideally we’ll end up with a lot more land, enough to keep our own cattle on our own property.  For now though, we have enough to ramp up our pig production to where we want it and to start our own breeding flock of sheep.  That in turn has allowed us to branch out to more markets, and we’ve managed to score a spot at the best market in the state, if not the entire country.  That’s a topic for another blog though… 🙂

Babies!


I’ve not blogged in a while. One of the ironies of our farm life is that it keeps me too busy to talk about farm life on the internet. 🙂

One thing I noticed when looking back at the blog is that the past few posts have been seriously depressing! Fires  and lost lambs do not good internet reading make, as my old grand pappy used to often say. With that in mind, and in homage to my wise old grand pappy, I figured I’d post something a bit more upbeat.

As awful as November was with the Pinery fires, as horrible as it was having to start over with most of the infrastructure, and as soul-numbingly crushing as it was to have to shoot pigs I genuinely love and a lamb I helped hand rear, 2015 actually didn’t end badly at all.

That last paragraph started depressing, and at the end only picked up a little. I’m building suspense. It’s a writing technique.  Pretty pro, right?!

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: farm life has an enormous number of ups and downs. Thankfully, there really are a lot more of the ups than there are of the downs.  As shit as the fire was, and as much as still thinking about little Rosie makes me tear up, and it really does, the subsequent ups really do make it all worthwhile. The most immediate of those after the fire were the babies.

Now, we ended up with ducklings, lambs, AND piglets inside of a fortnight of the fire. I’m going to call it now though – there will be more pictures of, and words about, the piglets than the lambs or ducklings in this blog post. Don’t get me wrong, ducklings and lambs are awesome, but I think we can all agree, they’re no piglets.

We had a good six to eight clucky ducks, and they were spread quite literally across the entire property.  We’d have them nesting under farm equipment, behind water tanks, under bits of tin – pretty much everywhere except their purpose-built laying boxes.  We even had the scenario where we had about two dozen ducklings born when one of the mums came waddling in with another six following her. We didn’t even know she was missing, which is one of the downsides of having so much poultry – they can be tough to keep track of. Either way, this girl had been sneaking off to nest outside of our fence every night for a month and then brought her babies back.

Ducklings!!!!!!

Ducklings!!!!!!

We’ve raised ducklings using all of the permutations of incubator/natural and mum-raised/brooder.  Hands down the most effective method we’ve found is when we take them from mum and raise them in a brooder. Letting the mums hatch them is no problem, though we need to watch for mums that’ll have half the eggs hatch and then leave the rest to go cold. However, letting mum raise them is just too risky.  It sucks taking them from the mums, but the mortality is too high otherwise.

By way of example of that last point, we ended up with 31 ducklings when one of the mums hatched a clutch of five.  We’d had two lots already – one of 26 and then one of five.  We’d raised them in a big brooder, and then put them into what we call our “nursery”, which is a “fox-proof” (that’s in inverted commas because nothing is ever really fox-proof) free-ranged run where we grow the babies on in relative safety. They were all about ready to come out into general population when one of the mums hatched her five.  We knew she was sitting on eggs, but hadn’t held out a lot of hope. She proved us wrong though, and waddled out with her handful of babies.

Now, I should’ve grabbed those babies and put them in the brooder. However, I really do hate taking the babies from the mums as it seems quite cruel. At the same time, we had a metric butt-load of ducklings (that’s the official unit for lots of ducks), and I figured we could afford the risk to see how that mum went.  She lost three of the five on the first night, and the other two didn’t make it through the second day.

In addition to losing all of the live ones, she left a nest with one mostly hatched baby and a few eggs that were viable but died.  One of those eggs was pipping when I found them, so I put the whole lot in the incubator.  Had I caught them maybe 12 hours earlier I probably could’ve saved them all, but none of them made it.  Effectively, we had maybe 10 babies that were lost, both in-ova (I made that word up just now) and post-hatching, where our active intervention earlier would probably have saved them all.

There’s a philosophical debate there around natural hatchings and raisings versus human intervention. I’m onto my second pint of beer though, so that debate is currently beyond me and getting further and further out of reach with every mouthful.

Basically, this year had we actively searched out the duck eggs, incubated them, and then raised them in the brooder, we probably could’ve cracked 50 ducklings.  As it was, I think we found a nice middle-ground between nature and our involvement, the result being more than 30 ducklings. And seriously, who the hell needs more than 30 extra ducks?!

Our next baby win was lambs!  And they were twins!!!!!

I have a few pictures of flames tearing through our place with some sheep in the foreground blissfully ignorant as they eat hay.  I actually hate looking at those pictures, and suspect I always will, but they illustrate something interesting here. Here’s one of them:

Mary is the sheep oblivious to the apocalypse happening behind her.  She gave birth a week later.

Mary is the sheep oblivious to the apocalypse happening behind her. She gave birth a week later.

That sheep there eating as 25 metre long flames stream behind her dropped twins about a week later.  Sheep are either incredibly resilient or a little stupid. I like to think it’s a bit of both.

It was impossible to get these little buggers to both look forward at the same time, so this is Fawkes saying hey....

It was impossible to get these little buggers to both look forward at the same time, so this is Fawkes saying hey….

...and this is Toast.

…and this is Toast.

The little brown one is a ewe and the black and white one is a ram.  We had a competition on our FB page to name them, the kind that has no prizes, which means it’s either not a competition or is at best a really crappy competition.  They are now Toast (ram) and Fawkes (ewe).  The first name is self-explanatory when you consider the fire.  The second name makes sense if you’re a Harry Potter fan.

The little ewe we’ll keep as a breeder.  Her mum, Mary, was pregnant when we bought her, so Fawkes isn’t related to our rams.  The little ram, Toast, has been promised to friends of ours who want to start their own little breeding flock.  While I was more than ready to whether the little man and fatten him for market, I’ll gladly admit that I’m happy he’ll be living his life out as a breeder. 🙂

These lambs are in direct contradiction to little Rosie.  Their mum knew exactly what she was doing, and they ate well right from the start.  They overtook Rosie in size quite quickly, and really are what lambs should be.

The final baby addition to our farm family was Honey’s fourth litter of piglets. Before I start to gush about them, and I fully plan on gushing to the point of annoyance, I’d like to spend a paragraph or three paying tribute to Honey, possibly also to the point of annoyance.

My Honey Pig being a great mum.

My Honey Pig being a great mum.

Honey was one of the first pigs we ever bought.  She’s currently closing on 4 years old, and this was her fourth litter.  In that time, she’s given us 44 babies with 39 being weaned.  She’s lost three that were stillborn and two that were squashed.  The two squashings were from her second litter, and the stillbirths were across her first and third litters. She didn’t lose a single one of the ten born to her fourth litter, and she’s never given us less than double digits (10, 11, 13, and 10).

Now, that seems like a lot of numbers for no reason, but the result is that she has a piglet mortality rate of 11%, which is around the industry aim for intensively farmed pigs.  She gives birth in a purpose-built farrowing shed where she has full access to the outside.  We have a creep (a barrier to let the babies get away from her) with supplementary heat, but the rest is completely natural.  She’s given us nearly 40 weaned piglets without the use of farrowing crates and with a piglet mortality rate that is around the industry average. It’s hard to overstate just how valuable that is to small holders like us.

The other point to make about Honey is that she was sick or recovering for a good six to eight months. I’ve been to an intensive piggery where out of several hundred sows they had only a few who had given birth to three litters.  They start breeding at under a year, and by not much more than two years old are done. They either don’t get pregnant, come up lame, or get sick. There aren’t second chances in that environment, and so they are “chopped” (sold as salami or maybe pet food).  On average, there’s a 40% turnover of sows in intensive piggeries, so you can imagine just how many are chopped each year.

Honey came down with pneumonia when she was near 2.5 years old.  She’d given us three litters with no problems, but came down sick not long after weaning the last litter.  Now, in an intensive farming situation she’d have been chopped. You don’t nurse that kind of sow back to health. That’s not because those farmers don’t care either – I don’t want to give that impression.  Rather, that industry works on such a low margin that it’s all about volume, and you simply can’t carry non-performing stock.  That’s a direct result of the public’s current expectations of cheap and abundant pork, which is entirely due to the marketing of our ridiculous supermarket duopoly.  I’d bang on about that for a while, but my third pint of beer precludes it. Suffice it to say, had Honey been on an intensive farm, the first sign of green snot, and there was lots of that, would’ve seen her either shot and buried out the back, or sold as salami.

I’d like to make it clear just how much I love Honey. That’s not a feeling shared by everybody in the family, as Honey can be a straight-up bitch. When in season, Honey has been known to bite Peyton… okay… every time Honey is in season she ends up biting Peyton. She’s also stubborn (Honey, not Peyton), will tear her water container off of wherever it’s connected to if you don’t give her a wallow in time, and will let you know in no uncertain terms if you’re not feeding her fast enough.  She’s also broken her fair share of fences and gates.  However, she’s an amazing mum, will let any of us hover over her as she gives birth with complete trust, and will follow me anywhere if I just give her a pat and a scratch. The day she came down ill she was down in the back corner of our back paddock.  I went up to her, gave her a big love, called her to me, and walked all the way across the property and into one of the yards with her following me. She’s like a dog, if that dog were a quarter tonne, stubborn, and would eat you if lay down long enough.

I put Honey on her own the day she got sick, and I called the vet out. I’ve had farmers tell me that getting the vet out for stock is a waste of money, and that the best course of action is to let them either get better on their own or to euthanize them. Now that seems heartless, but there is some wisdom in it. There are economic considerations here, and vets aren’t cheap. However, I would respond to this point-of-view in two ways. Firstly, a healthy sow has the potential to give you dozens and dozens of piglets. Looking after a proven breeder can make very good economic sense.  Secondly, after a sow has given me 30 weaned piglets, then I think she’s earned a vet visit.  She’s future proofed her entire life with those 30 piglets, and I’m going to drop the few hundred dollars to make sure she’s okay.

As it turned out, Honey had pneumonia.  The vet gave her some antibiotics, and it took us at least half a year to nurse her back to health. It took a while for the infection to pass, and in that time she lost a heap of condition.  The rest of the time was us feeding her up to get her back into shape.

The culmination of all of that effort was Honey being hugely pregnant when the Pinery fires went through. We weren’t exactly sure how pregnant she was, as the dates in my spread sheet and the dates that the rest of the family recalled were conflicting.  As it turns out, the spread sheet was right and I should’ve trusted it over my family’s faulty memories. Don’t tell them I said that.

It was around two weeks after the fires that Honey dropped.  She had 10 babies, five of each gender, with no stillborns or squashings – she weaned all 10. I remember Peyton messaging me when I was at work, telling me that Honey was a few piglets into her delivery, and then updating me during the morning. I didn’t realise until that day just how much tension I was still carrying from the fires. Honey having those babies was this amazing catharsis – it was like somebody released the valve on a pressure cooker.  In that analogy, the pressure cooker is my repressed emotions, and the valve is the relief of having stock, especially pigs, and especially pigs after I had to shoot pregnant sows, give birth.  It was almost symbolic of the rebirth of our entire venture.  That’s super cheesy, but I stand by the analogy, even if it is a bit beer sodden right now.

I got home that night and didn’t even change clothes – I went straight from the car to Honey’s farrowing shed.  I have never been more glad to see piglets on the property.  I’ve never appreciated Honey and her amazing capacity to be a mum more.  I’ve never loved what we do more.  That day, that litter, was the antitheses of what we’d gone through with those god awful fires. I love Honey for that healing more than anything else.

Piglets at around 12 hours old. All pooped out from pigletting.

Piglets at around 12 hours old. All pooped out from pigletting.

Piglet pile up!

Piglet pile up!

The supplementary heat means they can slip away from mum to get warm and reduce the risk of squashings.

The supplementary heat means they can slip away from mum to get warm and reduce the risk of squashings.

A long suffering mum making sure that she's laying on her teats - no litter of piglets bugging her now.

A long suffering mum making sure that she’s laying on her teats – no litter of piglets bugging her now.

Piglet close up.

Piglet close up.

There's always one piglet that looks like Babe.

There’s always one piglet that looks like Babe.

Don't let the cute fool you - that little bugger is biting me!

Don’t let the cute fool you – that little bugger is biting me!

Apparently this piglet likes the smell of my shin.

Apparently this piglet likes the smell of my shin.

Piglets feeding after a couple of weeks. It's amazing how quickly they put on condition.

Piglets feeding after a couple of weeks. It’s amazing how quickly they put on condition.

For the record, Honey has earned her place on our farm for life. One of the harsh realities that we’ve had to face is that breeding stock sometimes has to be moved one. While we certainly have more leeway than an intensive farm that can’t afford to carry any non-performing animal, there are still economic realities.  We may be able to take the time and expense to nurse a sick sow back to health, but there is a line that has to be drawn sometimes.  We’ve only ever once had to draw that line, and that was coincidentally with Honey’s sister, but I have no doubt it’ll be another awful choice we’ll have to face many times over the upcoming years. However, not with Honey. Honey will live her life out in peace on our farm.  I have no doubt that she’ll happily give us more litters, but as soon as it becomes hard for her, then she’ll be retired to a life of leisure in one of our back paddocks, where she’ll be free to root in the earth and bite Peyton whenever she feels like it. Peyton will just have to live with that.

SPECIAL ROSIE

Back in September we were happy with a number of new babies on the property – ducks, piglets, and our very first lamb.  Having babies, any babies, is always a cause for celebration.  I’m not sure what it is, but there’s a visceral reaction to having little ones here, and the place never feels quite right when it’s totally baby free.  That reaction is always stronger when the babies are born here, rather than brought in, and especially strong if it’s a first-timer.  We experienced that with our beautiful Rosie, the first lamb ever born on our property .

Rosie’s mum was a first timer and quite small, and had about as little idea as we did when it came to raising lambs.  Rosie was a good 12 to 18 hours without a feed before we started to bottle-raise her, and she spent much of her first week of life in with us.  The result is that she’s not really bonded to her mum, or even the flock.  We’ve since had twins born (spoiler alert!), and they’re the complete opposite.  Their mum fed them and nurtured them right from the start, and they’re a firm part of the flock.  Not our Rosie though. She’s always out on her own, and will come to us over her mum’s bleats every time.

What makes Rosie even more special though is that I’m fairly sure she has slight brain damage.  She had a seizure when she was little, which I think is due to overeating disorder .  That’s quite common in lambs, especially bottle fed lambs, and is when certain kinds of gut fauna bloom and create toxins.  That fauna is always there, but doesn’t normally cause a problem.  It’s when lambs overeat, or are bottle fed with formula that has the sugars and starches that this fauna likes, that it becomes a problem.  The result can be death, and often without any signs of symptoms.  In our Rosie’s case, we’ve seen her have maybe a dozen seizures, and one day where she had a few in quite a short space of time.

Rosie changed after that first seizure.  She seemed to not take as much notice of the world around her, and she certainly almost always ignores the other sheep, including her mum.  There are times where you have to be almost on top of her before she realises you’re there, so her hearing and/or eye sight may be impaired.  The biggest change though is in her behaviour.  She circles our back paddock for much of the day, just walking the boundary on her own.  When she’s not doing that, she sucks on the fencing wire, and can stand there for hours just nomming away.  We don’t see her eat much, and on warm days we kind of have to remind her to drink.  Seriously, she’s more work than most of our other animals combined. 🙂

The result is that we have one very special lamb. 🙂  I doubt she’ll ever be part of our breeding program, mainly because I doubt she’d know what to do with a ram or any resultant lamb.  I could be wrong, and instinct might take over, but I don’t think I want to risk her.  She’s still as sweet as ever, and comes up for loves whenever she notices us.  We recently started to introduce her to the dogs, as I’m keen to keep her in the back garden a bit.  I suspect she’ll end up being a woolly dog pet for the rest of her life. 🙂

Our special Rosie Lamb.

Our special Rosie Lamb.

We lost Rosie on January 2nd.  😦

As clueless as we were about lambs, we did everything we could.  Her mum was hopeless, so we bottle fed Rosie from the start.  The problem was that bottle feeding ended up with her having fits, but her mum barely let her feed.  Rosie wasn’t eating enough solids, and so if we didn’t feed her she’d lose condition and would eventually have starved. It was a god awful catch 22.

I thought we’d found a happy middle-ground where we fed her enough to keep condition on her, but not so much that she was having lots of fits.  She was eating some solids and was definitely drinking lots of water.  She wasn’t as big as she should’ve been, but she seemed to be perking up.  I just wanted to get her through to a weaning age where she could eat the same as the other sheep.  After that she would’ve been okay.

Rosie was really good on New Year’s Day.  She was bright and active.  She was drinking out of a container rather than a bottle, which is logistically much easier to manage.  She had a great day, and we got a huge amount of loves from her.  However, the morning of January 2nd wasn’t so good.  She had clearly had a seizure and was barely aware of us.  She hardly ate, though she did drink water.  We left to spend the day working on our other place, and when we got home Rosie was pretty much gone.  She couldn’t get up at all – couldn’t even hold her head up.  Her breathing was shallow, though she’d seize every now and then.  She was clearly very close to the end.

I’m not sure if Rosie knew we were there, but Peyton and I both spent time giving her loves.  I was hoping that she’d just pass peacefully as we hugged her, but as we’ve found lately, all of our animals are too tough for their own good.  She may not have been feeling anything, but there was a chance that those seizures were causing her discomfit or pain.  I dug her a grave next to Peyton’s cat, I carried her and gave her some final loves, gently laid her in the grave, and I shot her.

I love our lifestyle, but there are times where it really, really sucks.

RIP Rosie.  We loved you.

The day Rosie was born.

The day Rosie was born.

FIRE!

Farm life and battling adversity are almost synonymous, and a strong part of our nation’s history and psyche.  We’ve had our fair share of setbacks and a steep learning curve at our beloved Atherton Farm, but I’d never class us with the likes of the broad acre farmers who are at the mercy of the weather.  We’ve had the odd tragedy or three, but nothing that could break us.  However, at the end of November we faced true adversity and we almost lost everything for which we’ve worked so hard.   

The last couple of weeks of November had some hot and windy days.  There was one day in mid-November where local schools closed pre-emptively.  I didn’t understand it at the time, as it wasn’t a particularly hot day, though it was very windy.  I figured it’d have to be a hot day to be a real risk.  We learned just how wrong that is. 

Just as an aside, our bushfire preparedness plan was almost non-existent.  It’s not because we hadn’t thought about it, but rather because we were advised by locals that we just didn’t need one.  The land around us is flat and used exclusively for broad-acre farming.  In the event of a fire, and we have had them close by before, every cocky around us rocks up with their own fire-fighting units to battle the blaze.  The CFS is also very responsive, and between them they control most fires in fairly short order.  We did get our own little fire-fighting unit, and the advice we received was to use that on our place to fight any spot fires should anything get close. 

I was at work on Wednesday, November 25th.  I was coming back from lunch with some workmates when we saw a huge amount of smoke to the north.  We’d heard that there was a fire locally to work, and assumed that was the source of the smoke.  As it turns out, that smoke was from a fire that started at Pinery.  Pinery is just to the south and west of Owen, and about a half-hour drive from where we live, and a full hour from work.  It’s somewhere between 30 and 40 kilometres from home in a straight line, which is really a long way when you’re considering a bushfire.  Especially a bushfire that is burning mostly in open paddocks without a lot of actual bush. 

Linhda called me at work an hour or so after lunch, and said that the fire was closing on Templers where we live, and that the authorities had started to close roads.  She advised that I come home to avoid the road closures.  At the time there was no real sense that I’d have to go home to fight a fire, but more to avoid the inconvenience of closed roads. 

That fire that was local to work, the one we’d mistakenly though had produced that massive pall of smoke, ended up burning all of 5 acres, but was enough to close the freeway I take to get home.  It took some innovative navigation to make it the 10km from work required to get past the blockades, and as a result I ended up taking maybe an hour to get home rather than the normal 30 minutes.  I was about halfway through that when Peyton called to say that she and Linhda had evacuated with the cats and dogs.  I honestly thought they were over-reacting.  There was nothing around us to burn – all of the crops had been harvested, and the paddock next to us had grown lupins which meant that it looked like almost bare earth after the harvest.  However, I figured it made sense for them to evacuate if it made them feel better, and the cats and dogs wouldn’t be so stressed due to smoke or sirens. 

I remember two things just after Peyton called me.  Firstly, the wind was incredible.  I’ve never seen or felt anything like it.  Secondly, I watched the water bombers taking off from the glider club at Gawler, which is right next to the freeway.  They were taking off into the wind, and it looked like they were barely crawling.  That, against the backdrop of giant clouds of smoke, was surreally terrifying. 

I realised how serious it all was as I was getting close to Roseworthy, which is about 5 minutes to the South of home.  The smoke was incredible and Roseworthy was completely engulfed in it.  The wind was out of the North West and the fire was past Wasleys, which is about 5 minutes to the West of home.  It was dark as midnight in Roseworthy, and it was like a scene from hell.  I was lucky to get through there just before they closed the highway. 

Just north of Roseworthy I actually spotted flames for the first time.  To the West, which was to my left, I could see across paddocks for a kilometre or two, and it was a wall of flames.  There was nobody in front of it.  There was nobody fighting it.  It was in front of every effort to contain it. 

Dad took a heap of pictures just before that time from home that give some indication of what was happening.  At that time, you couldn’t see flames from our house. 

Dad was driving back from the abattoir to home - this is him heading West out of Freeling towards our place.

Dad was driving back from the abattoir to home – this is him heading West out of Freeling towards our place.

This is the pall of smoke from Wasleys. They lost buildings in the main street.

This is the pall of smoke from Wasleys. They lost buildings in the main street.

This is apparently as Linhda and Peyton were packing to leave. I was leaving work right about now.

This is apparently as Linhda and Peyton were packing to leave. I was leaving work right about now.

Looking South and West across our back paddock.

Looking South and West across our back paddock.

Looking South and West across our back paddock - there's another picture later that shows a similar vantage but you can see the flames.

Looking South and West across our back paddock – there’s another picture later that shows a similar vantage but you can see the flames.

Pigs happily ignorant of what was coming.

Pigs happily ignorant of what was coming.

 I got home around 2:30 I think, though it may have been closer to 3.  Dad had organised the tractor and our little firefighting unit, and positioned them down the back of our place – in the South-Western corner.  We have a line of tall pine trees and that was where any fire would hit us first.  We figured that would be the best place to stop anything coming our way.  As it turns out, that logic was spot-on, but the thought of us stopping that fire were completely naïve. 

Getting the tractor and firefighting unit situated. Ironically, we used the firefighting unit to put out the tractor, and then the firehose burned so I had to use a wet towel.

Getting the tractor and firefighting unit situated. Ironically, we used the firefighting unit to put out the tractor, and then the firehose burned so I had to use a wet towel.

 Even at that time, even with the smoke and the very clear dangers, we were fairly confident that we were fine.  The wind was strong but was blowing to the South and East.  We started to see flames on a ridge that is somewhere around one or two kilometres from us to the West, but they were pushing past us.  We could see giant gum trees silhouetted along that ridge line, and there were fire tornadoes that were at least twice the height of those trees.  That was all terrifying and mesmerising, and the result is that we took very few pictures.  We did get a couple of the fire as we first spotted it though.

There's a group of pictures earlier from nearly the same vantage that show the smoke. This one is shortly after I got home, and is when the flames first showed.

There’s a group of pictures earlier from nearly the same vantage that show the smoke. This one is shortly after I got home, and is when the flames first showed.

 

Dad and I stood there and watched them for maybe 10 or 15 minutes when we felt the wind change direction.  It started to blow directly into our faces out of the West.  The result is the fire we had been watching stream past us became the front and it changed direction to come directly towards us.  It took somewhere between one and two minutes to get to us. 

This is just before the wind changed direction....

This is just before the wind changed direction….

... at this point the wind was mostly out of the North West, and so blowing South and East. It was pushing the fire past us.

… at this point the wind was mostly out of the North West, and so blowing South and East. It was pushing the fire past us.

At this point the wind changed direction, and the Eastern edge became the front.

At this point the wind changed direction, and the Eastern edge became the front.

The smoke and dust quickly built up and was on us in a minute or two.

The smoke and dust quickly built up and was on us in a minute or two.

This is after the initial firestorm had been through, just before the bulk of the flames hit us. I just had time to get from the tree I'd hidden behind to dad who was in our cow shed.

This is after the initial firestorm had been through, just before the bulk of the flames hit us. I just had time to get from the tree I’d hidden behind to dad who was in our cow shed.

One thing we’d not noticed until afterwards is that the fire went around us.  I have a picture facing East that clearly shows fire burning towards Freeling before the fire actually hit us – we are between Wasleys, where the fire came from, and Freeling.  It was just before, a matter of a few minutes, but it was definitely over the highway East of us before it started to burn our place.

This is pointing East, just before the firestorm hit us from the West. The fire was around us at this point, and was already burning towards Freeling.

This is pointing East, just before the firestorm hit us from the West. The fire was around us at this point, and was already burning towards Freeling.

 

I’ve never been in a bushfire before, though I’ve been close to them.  I’ve never been on the ground experiencing them though, and you can’t understand what it’s like until you’ve felt it.  The wind was strong to start with, almost strong enough to make you stagger.  Ahead of the fire though, right before the firestorm hit us, the wind would’ve taken you off your feet.  Dad was in the cow shed, and I hid behind a big pine tree maybe 10 seconds before it got to me.  It blew around me like nothing I’ve ever felt – rushing wind and smoke and dust, all of it red and black and burning. 

A CFS firefighter explained to me what that firestorm was, either that night or the following day.  I’d said to him that it made no sense that a paddock with next-to-no stubble on it could sustain a fire that furious.  He said that the firestorm rolls across the country side, pushed by that giant wind, and it picks up every combustible thing in front it.  It basically brings its own fuel with it, until it hits a fuel load, which it then ignites.  That’s exactly what we saw as it hit our place.

These flames extend from the fence line out maybe 20 to 25 metres.

These flames extend from the fence line out maybe 20 to 25 metres.

This picture was taken a fraction of a second later, and you see how far the flame has already started to burn into our paddock.

This picture was taken a fraction of a second later, and you see how far the flame has already started to burn into our paddock.

The back paddock burning.

The back paddock burning, along with Sheldon.

This is after the pigs had been let out, and Ziggy and Stumpy were gone. I tried to put out those sheds for hours, but they ended up burning down to almost nothing.

This is after the pigs had been let out, and Ziggy and Stumpy were gone. I tried to put out those sheds for hours, but they ended up burning down to almost nothing.

I took this picture just as I heard little Rosie crying. The rest of the sheep were safely ensconced down the side away from the fire, but she'd wandered out. I ended up leaping over a couple of fences to rescue her and drag her back to the flock. That lamb will be the death of me...

I took this picture just as I heard little Rosie crying. The rest of the sheep were safely ensconced down the side away from the fire, but she’d wandered out. I ended up leaping over a couple of fences to rescue her and drag her back to the flock. That lamb will be the death of me…

 I never thought our place would burn.  Maybe the stubble in our paddock, but nothing else.  The fence posts would need a load of fuel near them to get started.  The pig sheds would need even more than that, as they were made out of large, smooth, planed sleepers.  Hell, I could’ve held a blow-torch against them and they’d not have started to burn.  As the actual flames hit us, I thought it would blow through, burn up the stubble, and continue on its way.  I was so very, very wrong.

Dad and I started to run around and do what we could.  We quickly found that smoke and blown dust made most things impossible.  I ended up putting on safety goggles and wrapped a wet rag around my face, which let me get around pretty well.  We then spent an hour or two running back and forth reacting to whatever problem we could see.

We moved our sheep into a side yard that was protected from the fire.  When our neighbour’s house started to burn, we were able to move the sheep back on to the burned ground.  I saw Farmer John’s house start to burn.  In fact, I heard it as the fire started in his pergola.  There was a CFS unit at the place behind us, and I got to them across our burned paddock in only a minute or two.  They maybe took that long to get to the house, but by then they assessed it as too far gone.  It took most of the night to burn down to almost nothing.  I remember sitting on my roof with a hose, trying to keep embers from John’s house from burning my house, and trying not to cry.

I was sure the pigs would be okay, as their shelters seemed relatively fire proof.  Yes, much of their structure was wood, but I couldn’t see embers, or even their bedding, setting that alight.  Again, I was wrong.  We’d just had an MFS unit leave our place when the pig runs started to burn in earnest.  I opened the gates and got most of them into the front paddock near the house.  We had two girls in with Boris though – Ziggy and Stumpy.  Ziggy was hands-down my favourite, as she had the best nature and was so much fun.  Stumpy had been positively pregnancy tested the day before.  It would have been her third litter, and she was a great mum.  I couldn’t let them out the front with the rest because of Boris.  He’s a good boy, but with the smoke, fire, and noise, I couldn’t let him out where all of the firefighters were.  He may be good, but in a panic he could do some real damage to somebody.  I was sure they’d be okay in their run though.

I had just gotten the rest of the pigs sorted out when I heard Ziggy and Stumpy screaming.  Their shed was fully ablaze.  I raced down there as fast as I could, but I couldn’t even get close to the gate because of the heat.  I saw one of them, Ziggy I think, rearing up in front of the shed, burning and screaming.  There was absolutely nothing I could do.

I remember the very short conversation I had with dad a minute later when I went back to the shed:

Me: “Ziggy, Stumpy, and Boris are gone.”

Dad: “Gone?  Where did they go?” 

Me: “They’re fucking burning.  They’re fucking dead.”

We’ve actually tried to joke about that confusion since, but it never really seems funny, even weeks later.

That was the shittiest day of my farming life, and would rank up there with probably the shittiest day of my entire life.  You want to know what makes the entire thing even shittier though?  The toughness of pigs.  I saw Ziggy and Stumpy burning.  I heard them screaming.  I was sure they were dead.  They survived the fire though, despite horrific burns.  They survived and I had to shoot them.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it took a good couple of weeks for the nightmares involving blood and burned flesh to go away.  Thinking about it now still makes me tear up. 

Ziggy and Stumpy weren’t our only pig losses.  I had one little grower girl who I’d seen taking shelter in a bath tub earlier in the afternoon.  There was stubble burning a few metres from her, but she was safe in the tub without a heap of radiant heat.  I’d lost track of her and one of her sisters, but remember seeing her in that tub and cheering.  I called her a good girl and told her to stay put and that she’d be okay.  Pigs being pigs, meaning they don’t understand me when I speak to them, and even if they could they’d probably choose to do exactly the opposite, that little pig decided to get out of the bath and walk through three burning runs to get back to her original water drum.  I found her in there after the fire had gone through, and she was burned all over.  She was so badly hurt that she couldn’t move.  I had to drag her out, screaming the entire time, and shoot her.

That little grower’s slightly bigger sister, the other pig I’d lost track of, ran through the fire to the back of the property.  That meant she basically ran the entire breadth of the fire on our property.  She wasn’t as badly burned as her sister, but the back half of her body was still horribly burned and she was unable to walk.  I had to shot her too.

It felt like a lifetime, but I doubt the entire episode took more than a couple of hours.  I was up to nearly 2 the following morning putting out spot fires, but the worst of it couldn’t have been more than two hours.  It didn’t end with the fire passing through though.  Farmer John’s house burned for a long time, and was a real threat to our place.  The last CFS crew at our place had to leave, and explained to us how embers could sneak in under the tiles on our roof.  They suggested that I get up into the roof cavity every 10 or 15 minutes and make sure nothing was burning.  They left me a fire extinguisher to put out anything I found in there.  I alternated between sitting on the roof, watching the house of Farmer John, who is the best of men, burn, with a hose in my hand to put out the embers that were raining down on my place, and running down a ladder to stick my head into our roof cavity looking and sniffing for fire.  I’ve never felt so powerless in my life.

I have pictures of Farmer John’s house burning, but I’d never post them.  His and Cynthia’s life was in that house, and they lost the lot.  It would be inappropriate for me to expose that to anybody else, despite the tourists that have been coming past since the fire.  I’ve developed a pretty good glare for those dicks.

Putting out the spot fires took a surprising amount of time.  The fence posts were especially hard to put out, as they burn from the ground up and it’s difficult to put that out with buckets of water, which is all I could really use (I did pee on a couple – desperate times call for desperate measures after all…).  The other threat was Farmer John’s front garden, where plants were burning and streaming embers into my place on the wind that still hadn’t let up.  I finally got that out near midnight, just as a final CFS crew called past and offered to help.  They ran their hoses up and down the fence line and made sure I’d not missed anything.

We spent a couple of days without power, but used our generator to run the big freezers to save the large amount of meat we have stored.  Insurance would have covered that, but letting that much meat go to waste would fly in the face of everything we’re trying to do here.

We had to rush around and look after the stock we’d saved too.  We put up temporary electric fencing for the pigs, who were quite happy to sleep against the big shed in the shade and ignore most of our efforts.

The day before was horror and disaster, but today is being pampered and taking naps.

The day before was horror and disaster, but today is being pampered and taking naps.

As it turns out, Boris was almost untouched by the flames that maimed his two girlfriends.  He had a bit of a limp, but wasn’t burned at all.  He was super wary of the burned ground though, and it took me until late the following day before I could get him out of his burned run.  He’d spent that night nestled against poor dead Ziggy, which was heartbreaking.  I ended up having to lure him over his run with a bucket of grain, picking a relatively clear patch through the burned ground.  He’d not step on the black ground at all.  It wasn’t hot from the fire, but was warmer because of the sun.  He’d not go near it either way, and it probably took me 15 minutes to get him out of there so I could drag Ziggy and Stumpy’s bodies out.

It took me maybe 15 minutes to walk Boris 20 metres. I had to pick out an unburnt path for the big sook.

It took me maybe 15 minutes to walk Boris 20 metres. I had to pick out an unburnt path for the big sook.

As horrible as that all was, one of the surviving sows, Socks, showed some real interest in Boris after I moved him.  I figured he could do with some company, and so let her in with him.  Inside of maybe 60 seconds they were… healing their emotional wounds together.  If you know what I mean.

Boris and Socks finding comfort in each other's arms (aka boning).

Boris and Socks finding comfort in each other’s arms (aka boning).  That blood on his shoulder isn’t his – it came from Ziggy.

The aftermath of the fire was devastating, with the loss of almost all of the infrastructure we’ve spent years building.

 

This is a panoramic shot facing West - the fire here would've been coming straight at the camera.

This is a panoramic shot facing West – the fire here would’ve been coming straight at the camera.

It could’ve been much worse though.  The big pine trees along the fence where the fire first hit ended up not burning.  They were burning fiercely after the firestorm went through.  Both dad and I saw them burning and were sure they were gone.  For some reason the fire went out though, which I’m thankful for as they would’ve burned for a long, long time, and would’ve showered the place with embers.  I think it was the wind that actually helped in that instance.  They didn’t burn at all on the side hit by fire.  Rather, it was the leeward side away from the wind that had caught and was burning merrily at the start, which was when dad and I had to start running around looking after stuff.  Sometime shortly after that the dust, smoke, and wind must have snuffed the fire out.  I can see charred wood a good 10 or 12 feet up those trees, right close to heaps of dry pine cones, but the trees are mostly undamaged.

This is the tree I hid behind when the firestorm first came through. It's scorched a good 10 to 12 feet up, but the fire was snuffed out by wind, smoke, and dust. Thankfully.

This is the tree I hid behind when the firestorm first came through. It’s scorched a good 10 to 12 feet up, but the fire was snuffed out by wind, smoke, and dust. Thankfully.

Only a week later we had some folks from our local Transition Movement come and help us rebuild runs and fences.  The handyman from the brewery where we get our spent grain had an idea on how to build some pig housing out of pallets, and he and a friend of his, who is now firmly a friend of ours too, got stuck in and built a couple of shelters that’ll do quite well.  The entire thing was humbling but saved us so much work.  I’d never have asked for that help, and would’ve taken a week to accomplish what the group did in a day.

We had between 12 and 15 people helping out a week after the fires. This is dad high-fiving our good mate Peter.

We had between 12 and 15 people helping out a week after the fires. This is dad high-fiving our good mate Peter.

This is dad high-fiving our good mate Mark, who built our pig shelters.

This is dad high-fiving our good mate Mark, who built our pig shelters.

This is me high-fiving Miranda, who helped Mark build the pig shelters, and dad taking the opportunity for a sneaky hug.

This is me high-fiving Miranda, who helped Mark build the pig shelters, and dad taking the opportunity for a sneaky hug.

This is one of the pig shelters that Mark designed and Mark and Miranda put up. It'll need some insulation come the cooler weather, but it works a treat now.

This is one of the pig shelters that Mark designed and Mark and Miranda put up. It’ll need some insulation come the cooler weather, but it works a treat now.

 It’s now a little over six weeks since the fires, and the property is fully recovered.  In fact, in some respects we’re better than we were before, as we’ve made some modifications as we rebuilt. 

This is one of the improvements we've added since the fires. We've done the same over one of Mark's pig shelters, and probably will over the other one too.

This is one of the improvements we’ve added since the fires. We’ve done the same over one of Mark’s pig shelters, and probably will over the other one too.

 

I’ve thought long and hard about our decision to stay and fight.  We never made a single bit of difference to that fire.  I can say definitively that we never, not once, slowed the fire, changed its direction, or altered what it wanted to burn.  It took what it wanted, and we were nothing to it.  However, we saved our house, we saved most of the animals, and I was here to make sure that the burned pigs didn’t suffer. 

The CFS unit came back the following day to get their fire extinguisher.  The lead of the crew told me that he hadn’t been at all confident that our house would still be standing when they came back, so dire was the danger we were in when they left.  I am fully confident that we would have lost the lot had we not stayed, but next time we’ll be much better prepared.  I have plans for petrol pumps, extra tanks, sprinklers on the roof, extra fire hoses etc.  The next time this happens, and I expect with our changing climate that it will happen again, we’ll be ready and we won’t be powerless.  That will result in a much happier blog post.  I’m going to call that one “The Day Neil Beat a Bushfire and Then Had a Beer”.

For some reason, I find this the saddest picture I took after the fire. :(

For some reason, I find this the saddest picture I took after the fire. 😦

A different kind of fire - a sunset a couple of days after the bushfire came through. It may have burned us, but it didn't burn away the pretty. :)

A different kind of fire – a sunset a couple of days after the bushfire came through. It may have burned us, but it didn’t burn away the pretty. 🙂

 

At no stage do I want to sound flippant about any of this, despite my tendency to use humour to deflect pain.  Templers is small – we have maybe 15 houses.  Three of those houses were lost, and dad and I helplessly watched two of them burn.  Between Templers and Roseworthy on the highway there are about eight houses, and four of them were lost.  I read stats a few days later that spoke of 16,000 sheep, over 50,000 chickens, and 500 pigs lost.  Two people died, and over 100 houses were lost in total.  None of that is funny, and none of it should ever be forgotten.  However, I’d like to firmly raise my middle finger to bushfires and make it clear that next time we’ll be fighting it far more effectively. 

 

 ADDENDUM:

It occurred to us in the aftermath of the fires that we may have a problem with dust over summer.  The fires hit right at the start of the hot weather, and summer here is merciless at the best of times.  We expected it to be dry, and combined with the hot northerlies we get, it stood to reason that the dust may be problematic. We were right.

The back paddock, facing east, during one of the many, many dust storms.

The back paddock, facing east, during one of the many, many dust storms.

The sheep don't seem to care so much. Then again, these same sheep were busy eating a bail of hay at the height of the fire.

The sheep don’t seem to care so much. Then again, these same sheep were busy eating a bail of hay at the height of the fire.

Back up towards the pig yards. We've rebuilt, so this must've been two or three weeks post-fire.

Back up towards the pig yards. We’ve rebuilt, so this must’ve been two or three weeks post-fire.

We had dust storms most days, though not always to the degree shown in those pictures.  It got to the stage where we just quit trying to clean up outside. Our entertaining area was covered in drifts of red/brown for a good 10 weeks.

The local farmers ploughed to combat the dust, which of course is a loss of their nutrient-rich topsoil.  That sounds a little counter-intuitive, as you’d think that not disturbing the dirt would be the way to go. However, their aim was to turn over big clods of soil, giving the wind less loose stuff to blow around.  It worked, though it took time.

Luckily we had some early rain in the form of a couple of huge showers over a couple of weeks.  At first that kind of makes it worse – the rain/wind stirs up the dust and you end up with both a dust and a rain storm at the same time, the result of which is mud.  That’s about as much fun as it sounds. However, the rain brought that welcome tinge of green, which is both pretty and keeps the soil where it should be.

It’s now the start of April, and I’m pretty sure the dust is behind us.  At least we’re confident enough that we’ve cleaned up the entertainment area. 🙂  It’s still weird driving through the fire grounds and seeing the difference between what was burned and what was spared.  Seeing the burned out houses, or the cleared spots where you knew there used to be houses.  Seeing the carbon deposits on the roads where you know there used to be a tree, but where there’s literally not even a stump left now, so ferocious was the fire.  It’s getting better though, and that’s something.

This is looking west, and is the direction from which the fire hit us. We were facing this way, watching it stream to the south and east when it changed directions can came straight at us. Note those two trees...

This is looking west, and is the direction from which the fire hit us. We were facing this way, watching it stream to the south and east when it changed directions and came straight at us. Note those two trees…

...this picture is looking the same way - you can tell from those two trees. It's a much prettier view without the dust though, yes? :)

…this picture is looking the same way – you can tell from those two trees. It’s a much prettier view without the dust though, yes? 🙂

To AI Or Not To AI, That Is The Question.

Artificial Insemination (AI) can be a touchy subject for ethical meat producers for some reason.  I’ve hunted around to find a free-range standard we could sign up to, and the best one I found categorically said that you can’t AI.  While I understand that natural matings are clearly a better way to go, as is any natural behaviours, I’m not exactly sure why AI is so taboo.  There are clear advantages to being able to control your genetics and to not having to mess with a boar (pigs are painful to keep, but boars are next level painful).

It may be because a lot of farms that AI also use hormone treatments to control their girl’s cycles.  That use of hormones is uncool, and also against that standard I found.  It’s not something we’d ever consider, but is really very common.  Our method involves a bit more intensive husbandry, observance, and record keeping, but it’s also less reliable and more prone to gaps in matings.  This is another reason why free-ranged produce is more expensive, and why it absolutely should be more expensive.  To do it properly increases the labour involved exponentially, while giving potentially patchier results.  Of course, the flipside of that is that it’s better for the animals and the end product is higher quality.  That’s why people should be prepared to pay that bit extra for ethically grown meat.  But I digress…

While we don’t plan to AI for our production, I have been considering it as a way to breed our replacement gilts.  My end-game is to have another property with the bulk of our breeders and growers, while keeping a couple of girls on our home property from which we can breed our replacement girls.  Most of the breeding would be done naturally, but I want to breed the replacements using AI.  The reasons for this are:

  • Keeping a boar just to service two girls once or twice a year is a waste.
  • Carting the girls back and forth between properties to get them pregnant is unnecessarily painful.
  • Keeping bloodlines separate is difficult. You never want a gilt/sow to be related to the boar servicing her.

Using AI removes all of those problems.  We can buy in semen from completely unrelated bloodlines, and can even experiment with the breeds a bit.  For example, I’d like to try both my white and my black girls with a Duroc.  Buying a Duroc boar in just for that experiment would be expensive and potentially wasteful should we choose to go a different way.  Buying in Duroc semen is inexpensive and risk-free.

Basically, I can have my second, larger property with a number of sows and a couple of boars.  They’ll do their thing naturally, and everybody will be happy.  At the same time, we can expect to have to replace at least a couple of girls a year.  I can have my two breeders at home with no boar and they can give me a lazy litter a year each via AI.  I can choose the best of the girls from those litters for my replacement breeders, injecting strong, uncrossed bloodlines into my herd, and the excess can be rolled in with the growers.  It’s a good, smart plan.

Anyway, all arguments about the ethicality of AI aside, right now we have a gap in our production.  This actually highlights one of the problems I alluded to about the potential patchiness of results when doing things naturally.  Our boar, Boris, has given us nearly 100 babies.  While he’s painful to manage, being a few hundred kilograms of rock-hard, tusked stubbornness, he’s done well as a sire.  The problem we face now isn’t his willingness to perform, nor is it our sow’s cycles or ability to take Boris.  The problem we have is purely mechanical – Boris is now about an inch too short to make the penis-to-vagina connection.  We watch him try like a champ, but he’s not quite getting there.  His success in the past was because the girls were a little shorter, or a couple of times we’ve seen them standing in a hole (e.g. their wallow) while he was on the higher ground (literally, definitely not morally).  Now I’m no vet, but I’m pretty sure a lack of penetration leads to a lack of pregnancy.

Ultimately we’ll need a new boar.  In fact, we’ll probably need a couple once we’re at our target production.  I don’t want to get them now though, not until we have the second property.

At the same time, we’re keen to experiment with different breeds to get an idea which will give us the best offspring.  To date, our best results were the Blue Merles – the half white, half heritage babies.  The offspring were strong, grew well, and the meat was hands-down the best we’ve produced.  At the same time, the full-blood Large Blacks we’ve grown on tend to run to fat.  I’m thinking that we might be better putting the muscular Durocs over those blacks to see if we can produce something special.  The best, and probably really only sensible, way to do that is via AI.  We can both experiment with the breeds we use and fill our gap in production at the same time.

Peyton and I went to a local pig farm a few weeks ago with one of the vets in charge of our Herd Health Management program, where the farm staff taught us how to AI.  They were amazingly helpful, and the process is surprisingly easy.  In addition to that, the guy who owns that pig farm has offered to sell us semen (from a boar, just to be clear) and the catheters necessary to get said semen into our girls.  That’s a huge help to us.  The genetics in that pig farm are controlled more tightly than you’d realise, and he has a number of his own pure-bred boys on a property in Clare whose only job is to produce the semen he uses on his farm.

We track our sow’s oestrus cycles.  We know when they’re in season due to their behaviour, which can vary slightly from girl to girl.  Knowing them as well as we do though, we can pick it fairly accurately.  To ensure they’re in season all you need to do is push down on their back and rub their flanks.  They’ll enjoy a back scratch if they’re not in season, but pushing down on their back will piss them off (it’s analogous to a boar trying to mount them).  However, push down on their back while they’re in season and they’ll actually arch into it.  It’s pretty obvious once you’ve seen it.

Having the boar there helps too.  He may not be getting the angle of the dangle right, but he’s stinky and that really brings out the girl’s oestrus behaviours.  It also keeps them calm and standing still during the AI process.  They’ll basically go nose-to-nose with the boar while you mess with their bits, and they’ll not fuss at all.  This is actually an argument to keep Boris here even if his stubby little legs aren’t up to getting the girls pregnant.  It’s not entirely economical or sensible to keep a boar who isn’t working, but we’ll not chop him unless we absolutely have to.

This is Boris' look of seduction. Works every time.

This is Boris’ look of seduction. Works every time.

Boris and Miss Swan whispering sweet nothings to each other.

Boris and Miss Swan whispering sweet nothings to each other.

The process is simple, mainly because of the sow’s physiology.  A sow’s cervix interlocks and kind of clamps together.  This is exactly why a boar’s penis is shaped and built like a screw – it literally has to drive in.  All other mammals deposit sperm in the vaginal cavity, but with pigs the boar’s penis is caught in the sow’s cervix and the sperm is deposited inside the uterus.  Pretty cool, right?!  Seriously, you should google the process.  It’s fascinating.  You’ll want to be specific with your search term though, otherwise you might get back some weird results…

There are catheters called “spirettes” which mimic the boar’s penis shape.  During the AI you apparently literally have to screw them into the cervix.  However, both the vet and the farm we went to prefer gel tipped catheters.  With these you just push into until you feel resistance at the cervix, and the gel tip slide between the muscles as they clamp down.

Taking a step back from the cervix, you need to get the catheter to that point first, and that point is a good 12 inches in.  The catheter is covered in plastic, which is good because a pig’s nether regions can be grotty and you don’t want to be pushing that grot 12 inches into your sow.  You position the tip of the covered catheter against the sow’s vagina, angling down a little.  As you push it in, you tear the plastic back so the catheter slips in uncovered.  You pull the vulva down so the penetration is clean.  Once the tip is in, you “shoot for the stars”, as our vet put it – you push the catheter up at a fairly steep angle.  The sow is fine with that as long as the boar is in front of her and you’re not too rough.  You feel resistance when the catheter is about 2/3 of the way in, which is the cervix.

Tip in and pushed through the plastic.

Tip in and pushed through the plastic.

Resistance = cervix.

Resistance = cervix.

Once the catheter is in position, you break the tip from the tube of semen and insert it into the little adapter at the end of the catheter.  You don’t squeeze the tube to deposit the semen.  All that will do is force the semen in and potentially have it run out.  You may have to squeeze a little to clear an airlock though.  Once that’s done, however, the cervix/uterus kind of sucks the semen in.  It’s weirdly fascinating.  You just hold it up and the sow’s reproductive bits do the work for you.

Time for the semen. The tricky part is not getting any on your fingers.  Seriously.

Time for the semen. The tricky part is not getting any on your fingers. Seriously.

Clear any airlocks and let gravity and the sow's bits do the rest.

Clear any airlocks and let gravity and the sow’s bits do the rest.

There’s every chance the sow will stand there, nose-to-nose with the boar.  If she gets a little antsy you just lean on her back.  A combination of the catheter in her, you leaning on her, and the boar’s presence makes her feel like she’s being mounted.  The piggery even had a contraption that you could put across their back like a clamp.  It mimicked being mounted, and even had a handy dandy arm to hold the semen/catheter.  In our case, Miss Swan was super ready and just stood communing with Boris.

The lovers communing while I mess with her bits.

The lovers communing while I mess with her bits.

Once it’s all done, and it really should only take a couple of minutes, you disconnect the empty tube.  The adaptor at the end of the catheter has a little inbuilt plug that you put in, for reasons that should be obvious.  You then just leave her for several minutes to make sure the semen is where it should be.

Almost done.  This took maybe two minutes.

Almost done. This took maybe two minutes.

Disconnect the now empty semen tube, again trying to keep it from your fingers.

Disconnect the now empty semen tube, again trying to keep it from your fingers.

Put the plug in the catheter and let it stay for several minutes.

Put the plug in the catheter and let it stay for several minutes.

Again, Miss Swan just stood there the entire time, soaking up some Boris company.  Our race wasn’t designed for this, but works very well.  At the piggery they used a large-ish pen with four boars along one edge in their own individual pens.  The girls came in, chose a boy, and went to chat to him while we AI’d them.  That worked well, but they had space to start moving around if they were restless.  We even had one girl that wouldn’t stop trying to mount the others.  Using our race worked out much better, though it means we’re only doing one at a time, not that we’ll ever really need to do more.  The race contained Miss Swan a bit, and kept her facing Boris.  That all meant she stood still the whole time, and the entire process was quick and painless.

While Miss Swan stood still for the entire process and communed with the big man, and while she may have gotten everything  out of the experience that she wanted, I suspect that Boris was less than satisfied...

While Miss Swan stood still for the entire process and communed with the big man, and while she may have gotten everything out of the experience that she wanted, I suspect that Boris was less than satisfied…

A tube of this semen apparently contains 3 billion sperm, where the boar normally deposits around 20 to 60 billion.  Clearly 3 billion, while large, is a much smaller number than 20 or 60 billion.  However, according to the vet, you can do the job with as few as 1.5 billion if the girl is at the right stage of her oestrus.  Miss Swan was obviously ready and I suspect her oestrus started the day prior based on her behaviour.  I’m confident that this AI did the job, but we repeat the process the following day, just to make sure.

Goodbye Clarisse :(

We said goodbye to our Jersey house cow, Clarisse, in October. 😦  We’d had her for more than two years, and struggled our way up the super steep learning curve that is keeping your own house cow.  It worked though!  We had to take her back to get her pregnant; we built her a milking shed; she lost her baby so we went and got her two to foster; her and I learned together how this whole milking things works; we made cheese from her milk and seriously the best coffee you’ve ever tasted! We even had a small mastitis scare, and I had to give her a course of antibiotics, involving a week of injections in the butt! (her butt, just to be clear)

The problem we faced was that we had no time.  I’m not exaggerating either – we have zero spare time nowadays.  We’re trying to stand a business up and get more land to expand, and we’re about as time-strapped as you can be.  I even gave up my veggie patch this year to free up some time.

We had been milking Clarisse weekly, both Saturday and Sunday, getting enough for the week.  We were at the stage where I’d not had time to milk her for five or six weeks though.  The calves were still taking milk, so she was full, but we weren’t using any of it.  Keeping that size animal with her food demands on a small property like ours for no return just isn’t viable. More than that though, she was made to give milk and her milk is amazing – it’s just wasteful to not milk her.

As much as we loved Clarisse (not dad, they hated each other), selling her was even harder than you’d think.  She wasn’t just a giant pet to us, even a pet with benefits, she represented a huge step in self-sufficiency.  With her we could provide pretty much any dairy need for the family.  It’s difficult to overstate just how important that was to us, and how hard it was giving it up.  However, you need to be practical about this stuff.  Not having her here means we can expand our pig paddocks a little and help bridge the gap until we get a bigger place.  It also means that somebody will be enjoying all of the benefits she can give.

Loaded and ready for the trip. :(

Loaded and ready for the trip. 😦

We sold her with Hannibal, the Jersey she was fostering.  He could’ve been weened, but I thought it’d help them both to stay together.  Lecter, the Friesian cross, moved up to our neighbour’s scrub lot to finish growing to a more edible size.  He’d never been fully accepted by Clarisse.  She fed him but never mothered him, so separating them wasn’t a huge deal.  He’s now up with a small herd of cows on a giant block and looks to be loving life.

The people who bought her have 365 acres up at Mount Crawford, right next to the reservoir.  The place has been in their family for almost a hundred years and it’s freaking gorgeous.  They’re cow people, and have had Jerseys before.  I couldn’t have dreamed up a better home for them to go to, and they seemed to settle in right away.

Hannibal wasted no time...

Hannibal wasted no time…

...and neither did Clarisse.

…and neither did Clarisse.

We’ll get another milking animal.  I’m not sure if it’ll be another cow or a couple of goats, but I’m leaning towards another cow.  That might not be for a few years, but it will definitely happen.  In the meantime, we’ve started to grow our breeding flock of sheep.  We picked up three gorgeous ewes and a sturdy ram lamb the day after dropping Clarisse and Hannibal to their new home.

Adding to our breeding flock. The black headed one is our new ram lamb.

Adding to our breeding flock. The black headed one is our new ram lamb.

Babies!

September is apparently a good time for babies, because we ended up with four lots across three species!

Now that we started at the market , we’re experiencing a bit of a pork shortage .  Having a demand that outstrips supply is a good problem to have for a new business, but it’s still definitely a problem.

At the same time we want to phase into an all heritage breed breeding program.  The white pigs have done well for us, and I really do love them.  I’ll not be getting rid of the white sows we have either, but will phase into black pigs.  The change is more because I think the meat is genuinely better, and the pigs suit our model well.  They’re slower-growing, and handle an outdoor life better.

To address both our shortage and our need for breeding stock, we decided to buy some piglets.  We want to get them young so they grow up with us and become as tame as our other pigs.  We also had to make sure we got them from free-ranged sources.  That’s not just because that’s how we believe they should be bred – we’ve bought pigs for breeding from non-free-ranged sources before.  It’s also because we wanted to get entire litters if we could, which would allow us to be selective about which we keep as breeders.  The rest would end up at the market, where I’m determined to sell only free-ranged, ethically-raised beasts.

We got some Large Blacks from a local broad-acre farmer.  He has a 100 sow intensive piggery only a few minutes from our place, and tried a registered large black herd as an experiment.  Unlike his piggery, these were all bred outdoors and I met them not long after he got them.  I think they’re too much work for him, especially when compared to the intensively farmed pigs, and he was getting rid of most of them.  We ended up getting three lots of them weirdly enough.  We grabbed a couple of gilts from him purely for breeding, and then went back a couple of weeks later to grab whatever else we could.  We ended up with a total of eight – three gilts and five barrows.  A couple of weeks after that we got a call from a guy who had bought two gilts from the same guy, but who now had to get rid of them.  We graciously took them off his hands. 🙂

The Large Blacks are beautiful and completely different to what we’re used to.  They’re a little lazy, which is good and bad.  It means they’re more docile and easier to handle, but also means they run to fat.  We’ll have to change our feed ration a little.

This is Kit, our new Large Black gilt.

This is Kit, our new Large Black gilt.

At around the same time, we saw a litter of Berkshires advertised.  I rang shortly after the advert was put up, and the conversation went like this:

Me: “You have a litter of Berkshires advertised.  How many do you have?”

Him: <laughs> “How many do you want?”

Me: “All of them.”

Him: <silence>

 

As it turns out, they had 13, of which they weaned 11.  He castrates his own, so we got only gilts and barrows.  We had to wait five weeks until they were weaned, but we got all of them and I made two-thirds of my giant veggie patch a weaner paddock.

This is the best picture I could get of the Berkshire litter.  They wouldn't stand still for me!

This is the best picture I could get of the Berkshire litter. They wouldn’t stand still for me!

Berkshire loves!

Berkshire loves!

Like the Large Blacks, the Berkshires are much more docile than we’re used to.  They’re also more active though, and don’t seem to have the fat problem.

We’ll pick at least three gilts from both the Berkshires and Large Blacks as breeders.  They’re probably 8 months from being breeding age, and will give us a nice little herd.  That’ll give us time to find a boar too, preferably a Berkshire I think.

We’re not only experiencing a pork shortage either.  We’re keen to sell lamb and beef at the market, though only have room to grow sheep on out of those two.  We’ve bought in lambs to feed up, and came across a small flock from a breeder who is downsizing.  We got a few weathers and two ewes, at least one of which was pregnant.  She was a new mum and quite small, so we weren’t sure how she’d go.  We also have little experience with breeding sheep.  Luckily, the mum managed on her own, and we got a gorgeous little black-and-white ewe lamb.

Rosie Lamb!

Rosie Lamb!

Peyton named her Rosalind and she’s full of character.  We found that she wasn’t feeding from her mum after about 12 hours, and was cold and weak.  Research said that about 20% of lambs are lost in the first 10 days, mostly to exposure and hunger.  We were keen to avoid that, and so brought her in for a couple of nights to bottle feed.  We still supplement her feed a little, but she gets most of her feeds from mum.  She’s super-tame now though, and I tend to get lamb loves both when I leave for work and when I come home.  It’s kind of cool. 🙂  Little Rosie also likes to sleep on our front door mat, which really pisses her mum off.  Mum is half-tame but not a big fan of being close to us.  While Rosie is asleep on the mat her mum will stand off the porch and yell at her.

Asleep on the mat and ignoring mum.

Asleep on the mat and ignoring mum.

Our last baby event for the month was ducklings.  One of the mums had started to nest under an old fixed scoop attachment we have for our tractor.  She’d stay under there when all of the other ducks were put away of a night time, and only come out when we were done.  She was sneaky about it, and we missed the fact that she was nesting there for a week or so.  We just let her go and she hatched 4 babies.  She lost one after a couple of days, which I think was the neighbour’s cat.  We now lock them away on their own of a night time, and the remaining three should all make it.  We’re quickly finding ourselves with too many poultry, and were purposely not incubating any eggs for a while.  Apparently this duck had other ideas though. 🙂

Mumma duck getting her brood away from the guy with the camera.

Mumma duck getting her brood away from the guy with the camera.