December 2013 Facebook Farm Statuses

  • Fun Farm Fact #41: If your cat catches and eats a mouse in the middle of the night, and then vomits said mouse up just a step outside your bedroom door, the chances of you stepping in it have been mathematically calculated at 100%. True story.

    That’s not me talking. That’s science.

  • Today we processed our own birds for the first time. We’ve had something like 60 poultry done, but all professionally. The advantage of doing it ourselves it that every single bit of the bird is used – blood, viscera, feathers on the compost, organs to the dogs, meat in our bellies, bones dried and ground for the garden. The disadvantage is that it’s gross and we’re not very good at it yet. Still, I reckon that with some planning and patience we can become pros.
    In related news, I’ve been banned from posting pics from today on FB. The blog is fair game though… 🙂
  • Picked up our latest goat, Howard, from “The Other Farm” yesterday, and one of the butchers carried out two boxes full of meat. The conversation was a little awkward:

    Guy: “This isn’t just one goat. It’s too big.”
    Me: “No, it’s just the one.”
    Guy: “He was a big goat then?”
    Me: “Ummmm, no. He was just… a little fat.”
    Guy: <raised one eyebrow at me judgementally>
    Fat goat conversations aside, this is, hands-down, the best goat/sheep meat we’ve ever raised. It’s perfect.

  • Not only have THEY made me come inside early, THEY made me shower the poop-water off (it’s fertilizer day in The Patch) AND put deodorant on. Next THEY will ask me to wear pants at our family lunch. NEVER! A man has to draw the line somewhere…
  • Linhda tonight at dinner: “I really like pork fat. Is that bad?”

    No baby, no it is not.

  • Just picked up our guns, after 6 months of paperwork, theory and practical tests, and paying fees to get our licenses, and then 6 weeks of more paperwork, fees, and waiting to get the guns. In hindsight, the 2,400 rounds of various ammunition may be a little overboard…
  • Two years ago we were buying stock feed by the bag and small bale. A year ago we started getting it a tonne-at-a-time. A few weeks ago we bought 14 half-tonne rolls of hay and yesterday we bought 8 tonnes of barley.
    That escalated quickly…
  • Tried to fix the bees for the 10th time and only got one sting! I call that an epic win.

    Of course, the hives are still messed up, and I’m beginning to suspect poor quality advice and equipment from the apiarist. It’s either that or I don’t understand what he was telling me, and that clearly can’t be the case…

  • First snake of the Summer. Even worse in this weather is that it’s too hot out so they want to come in.
  • Pickling a metric butt-load of onions and listening to Barry White. Smelling oniony, but feeling sexy!
  • The dogs caught and killed a mouse in the shed! That might now sound like news, but normally the 3 of them catching a mouse is like watching the English cricket team try and take a catch in the outfield – lots of running around, wanting it early on, and then leaving it for somebody else. It’s a proud day. For the dogs. Not the English cricket team.
  • Linhda: “You know how I’m a good girlfriend who is always thinking of your needs?”
    Me: <looks up expecting something bad> “Yup”
    Linhda: “Well, I was in the shed, and saw you had a 6-pack of Fat Yak on the bench…”
    Me: <starting to panic a little> “Okay..”
    Linhda: “I thought I’d put it in the fridge for you…”
    Me: “Why are your socks wet Linhda?!”
    Linhda: “Ummmmm”
    Me: “WHY ARE YOUR SOCKS WET?!?!?!?!?!?!”
    Turns out she dropped the 6-pack. Three bottles broke. I’m off to lick my shed floor. BRB.
  • Get a call from our old farmer neighbour to meet him by the back fence. Get there and he’s got a freshly (still warm) killed and cleaned rabbit for me! I LOVE living in the country.

    Now I need to work out how to cook rabbit.

  • Had a bit of a ‘sup? moment with a brown snake in The Patch this afternoon. I was harvesting, he was moving through, we shared a quick nod, and then went our separate ways.

    In related news, gumboots are compulsory footwear in The Patch now, even in Summer.

  • Pigs are smarter than dogs, argument in the negative #1:

    Boris, our boar, was just stuck with insulated electric wire (for the zappy fence) stuck behind his giant tusks. He was pulling back, stuck hard, bloody spit everywhere, when a quarter step forward would have freed him. My plan was to push him forward that quarter step when I realised that a quarter tonne of super-pissed-off-and-in-pain boar may not like that, so I cut him free.

    The moral: bolt cutters may, literally, save your fingers.

  • About to get my first confirmed starling kill when Clarisse comes up behind me and nudges me in the back with her quite sharp horns. I’m calling interference! Even a navy seal would miss a shot in those conditions!
    Also, the starlings are pretty safe. The best I can manage is to scare them off with the noise of the air rifle, which in reality achieves the goal we’re after.
  • Linhda had a nightmare (her word) where she was surrounded with ripe tomatoes but didn’t have time to preserve them all.
    Yes, her “nightmare” is having too much food. FWFP (First World Farm Problems).
  • My new weather station says it’s 40.8 degrees and 20% humidity outside, but 26 degrees and 53% humidity in the house. I love both my new weather station and my evaporative cooler.

 

Miss December

Miss December

Big self-sufficiency steps were made!

We had a huge allium year, as evidenced by our garlic harvest last month, which taught us a valuable lesson about harvesting garlic in dry conditions.  We continued this with our onion harvest in December.

Our vegetable growing ethos is a combination of eating seasonally and also growing staples that we can either store or preserve.  Alliums are a big part of that.  For one, they’re used in most things we cook.  For another, if stored correctly, they can last nearly a full year.

Last year we did well with our onions and garlic, but underestimated just how much we’d need. This year we went a little nuts, the theory being that we’d try and grow too much, which will give us a good idea in future exactly how much we’ll need.

You know you might have a lot of onions when you need a wheelbarrow to harvest them...

You know you might have a lot of onions when you need a wheelbarrow to harvest them…

These are mostly shallots.

These are mostly shallots.

Stacking them up for Linhda to plait.

Stacking them up for Linhda to plait.

Our onion harvesting and processing took a full week.  We spent a weekend harvesting and plaiting it, and then the evenings of the following week pickling it.  We don’t grow onions specifically for pickling, but rather just choose the smaller ones.

These plaits are the best way to keep them.

These plaits are the best way to keep them.

This is about half our garlic and less than half the onions hanging in our preserve area in the big shed.

This is about half our garlic and less than half the onions hanging in our preserve area in the big shed.

This is the rest of the garlic and most of the rest of the onions hanging in the main part of the big shed. We were running low on hanging room.

This is the rest of the garlic and most of the rest of the onions hanging in the main part of the big shed. We were running low on hanging room.

As a family, we love pickled onions.  In the past we’ve been able to put down a handful of jars, but this year I’m confident that we have a full year’s worth.  We also tried a slightly different method where we salted the onions over night at first, the aim being crunchier pickled onions.

This is about a third of the pickling onions, salted and ready for pickling tomorrow.

This is about a third of the pickling onions, salted and ready for pickling tomorrow.

I processed 2 or 3 batches of pickled onions, and like to experiment with flavours, especially chillies.  The rest of the family is less enthusiastic about this…

One of our pickled onion runs.

One of our pickled onion runs.

I love me some chilli pickled onions.

I love me some chilli pickled onions.

The purple shallots make them even prettier.

The purple shallots make them even prettier.

We also are experimenting with some other onion-type products.  About 50 or so onions had gone to seed, which leaves a bit of a woody stem part in the middle.  We saved a stack of those and hung them in hessian to use as stock onions.  The rest we cut in half and have put in our dehydrator.  The idea is to see if we can make our own onion powder, or maybe onion flakes.  From there we might be able to make our own BBQ seasoning. Yum!

We had a go at fixing our beehive up too.  The advice we’ve received from the local-ish apiarist may be leading us astray though.  We’ve set things up exactly how he suggested, and this month the theory was that we swap the two supers around with a queen excluder between them – the bulk of the bees, with the queen, should be in the lower one at that stage.  They seem to be everywhere though, and I’m not at all sure it’s worked.

Getting started. And I know how paradoxical the super long gloves are with shorts...

Getting started. And I know how paradoxical the super long gloves are with shorts…

This is me at my most careful.

This is me at my most careful.

Even with the new super you can see the problem where they start to explode out of the frames.

Even with the new super you can see the problem where they start to explode out of the frames.

More smoke! WE NEED MORE SMOKE!

More smoke! WE NEED MORE SMOKE!

Swapping the supers. Very. Very. Carefully.

Swapping the supers. Very. Very. Carefully.

The finished product, looking decidedly wobbly.

The finished product, looking decidedly wobbly.

We may be at the stage where I try and get a professional out, as much as that pains me.  Once we get this right, I might also look at getting more hives, and placing them around the property.  My main interest is the bees and the massive amount of good they do.  We know enough people who like honey that we should be able to offload it. Hopefully.

Dad got himself a F100, which is just beautiful. She’s not easy to drive, but she sure is fun to drive.  We’ve named her “Mellow Yellow”, which of course Linhda has shortened to “Melly”.

Mellow Yellow!

Mellow Yellow!

Our neighbour also shot us a rabbit.  I’d mentioned to him that I was keen to try rabbit, and part of the reason I got my guns was to control that kind of pest.  I don’t want to waste them though, and so would try and eat them.  I got a call one afternoon to meet him by the back fence, and he had a fully dressed rabbit for me. It was so fresh that it was still warm, much to Linhda’s disgust.  🙂

I made up a stuffing using our sausage meat and roasted the rabbit. It turned out surprisingly well.  To me it tasted like strong turkey.

This is the before shot of my rabbit experiment.

This is the before shot of my rabbit experiment.

The end result was actually pretty good.

The end result was actually pretty good.

Of course, the piglets were growing, both in size and cuteness.

This is Brutus. He's a beast!

This is Brutus. He’s a beast!

Fat piglets are getting fat.

Fat piglets are getting fat.

I was in Canberra for 2 or 3 weeks of December.  In the middle somewhere Linhda sent me a message that Matthew Evans, of Gourmet Farmer fame was in Canberra promoting sustainable fishing. He was set up outside Parliament House, so I headed down to see him.  I really wanted to just meet him, say hey, and maybe chat about our common interest in growing our own food. I did meet him and chatted, but it was mostly about his fishing message.  That was cool though, and the fish was delicious!

Matthew Evans speaking to the media in Canberra.

Matthew Evans speaking to the media in Canberra.

Right at the end of the month I got a weather station from dad as an early birthday present. It’s awesome! One of the things that has struck me since moving here is how tied to the weather and seasons we are.  We’re always looking at forecasts, and plan much of our venture around the weather.  This station is just the next step in that obsession.

The first reading from my new weather station, before the outside sensors were installed.

The first reading from my new weather station, before the outside sensors were installed.

The outside sensors, collecting data on barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, temperature, and humidity.

The outside sensors, collecting data on barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, temperature, and humidity.

Our first reading!

Our first reading!

We also did a heap of maintenance to the veggie patches.  In fact, we’re still planting out, which is quite late in the year for us.  Normally I’d have all of my tomatoes in by now, and would be busy harvesting.  However, due to work commitments, and maybe poor planning, our tomato bed is only two-thirds planted out, and we only started harvesting right at the end of the month.  In fact, we still have seedlings in the hot house, ready to plant out in January.  Hopefully this just extends our harvest, rather than cuts it short.  Fingers crossed…

One other thing we noticed was the presence of snakes again.  Our first summer saw a few snakes around the place, but we saw none last summer.  I think that’s because last summer was record breakingly hot, and our slithery brethren had gone to ground. This year is much milder, and they’re out-and-about.

We had one super-hot day, and had a snake in our big shed.  That happens on those days, as they need to get out of the heat.  However, I also had one in The Patch.  That’s never happened before.  I’ve only seen snakes in the sheds, or chook runs, or under the carports before, basically taking shelter.  This month I was in The Patch on a high 20’s day, which is the perfect snake temperature, and had a big brown snake motor on past me.  I heard him first – there’s really nothing quite as distinctive as the sound of snake moving through dry vegetation.  I was taking a step when I heard it, but immediately stood still.  He saw me.  I saw him.  He kept moving, on through my tomato bed, and I let him go.  I’ve not see him since, and so am hoping he’s moved on.

We also had our latest goat processed in the middle of the month. This Howard was about 14 months old, and quite plump.  We’ve found the trick with the goats and sheep is to let them go on a bit, and to keep the feed up to them.  You can take that too far of course, but I think this time we got it exactly right.  The butcher commented on how plump he was (I’m not using the “f” word out of respect for Howard), and the meat is absolutely amazing.  We’ve had loin chops and ribs, and they are hands-down the best goat/sheep we’ve raised.

This shot shows Howard's... plumpness.

This shot shows Howard’s… plumpness.

I’ve saved our biggest news until last: We processed our own chooks!  That probably doesn’t sound as impressive as it is, but this is a huge step for us.  I was going to go into gory detail about the process here, but think I’ll save that for the stock -> chook area.  Future me will come back later and leave a link to that post.  I’ll still describe some of it here though.

I’ve wanted to breed and process our own meat birds for a while.  Buying the day-olds that we’ve used in the past works well, as does taking them to the local poultry processing place.  However, that’s not ideal to me for a few reasons.  For one, it’s not entirely self-sufficient, which bothers me.  For another, it involves a few trips in the car, which adds to the carbon footprint.  I think the most important thing to me, however, is the fact that we don’t get to use all of the bird.  I’m determined to make the absolute most out of every animal we raise, and processing our own birds means we use 100% of the body – the blood, feathers, and viscera go on the compost, the organs go to the dogs, we eat the meat, we make stock out of the bones, and we even dry the bones to make meal for the garden.  Literally, every atom of those birds stays on the property, and not a single part is thrown away. That is pretty much a metaphor for our entire meat raising philosophy.

The dressed result. A little leaner than we're used to.

The dressed result. A little leaner than we’re used to.

We did learn some awesome lessons both on how to process them and how to raise them.  I’ve mentioned before that chooks need 3 things in order to develop the nutritional value for us – time, exercise, forage. These chooks had all of that, but as we’ve found in the past with the Cobbs, too much exercise can be a bad thing.  The Australorps are a leaner breed to start with, and letting them range over 3 acres made them even leaner.  These weren’t small birds, each dressing out to something over 1.5kg, but they tended towards toughness.

We roasted one right away.

The roasted product. Delicious!

The roasted product. Delicious!

It was delicious, but a little tough.  Linhda boned out most of the others, and we’ve had them both in a chicken-and-leek pie and in a curry. The toughness wasn’t noticeable in those culinary contexts, and they were super tasty.

The lesson here is to contain the meat birds a bit, and probably to avoid growing them on at this time of year.  We are planning on expanding our orchard significantly come winter, and will put in a couple of large runs.  They’ll let the meat birds range and get the exercise and forage they need, while containing them and letting us keep the food up to them.  The result should be plumper birds without compromising on the nutrition or their well-being.

Much of this flock wasn’t pure Australorp, despite the breeder’s assurances of “show quality birds”.  One of the 4 boys we processed looked pure, but the others were crosses.  We also had 4 cross-breed pullets.  I want to avoid eating the girls where possible, as their real potential is in their egg-laying. With that in mind, we gave those 4 girls to a couple of people from the produce share we attend.  They’re now happily giving eggs to those families. 🙂