Monday, 31 December 2012

This little piggy was castrated?

Well its been a busy few week and I know I have been AWOL. Mostly due to entertaining our visitors, but we have had a few things that should be discussed.

As I have managed to post our piglets are doing really well, and growing fast! The little girl and (possibly) the ginger one have homes. And as we’re planning on keeping “Berky” the white faced male, we just have the 2 black males still for sale. This in itself did provide a problem… castration. As I mentioned we are keeping “Berky”, and even though I have named him, he is intended for pork. However we didn’t “nut” him, as he was ours and personally I don’t believe “bore taint” affects the meat, most are killed for meat before they are mature anyway. So I see it as an unnecessary process. But for our bores to be “saleable” the others needed “nutting“.

Initially we caught the piglets using a landing net. This allowed us to remove them from the pen; and Mum, with little distress. She was not so stress free when I returned her piglets to her, minus a few bits!

We did use this opportunity to let our visitors hold the piglets.

After this we called in assistance. I am afraid I could not hold the piglets steady enough for Matt to perform the “surgery”; some thing he was not too confident in either. So our friend came to help. He said he had performed this, but on older animals. However our research indicated the younger the better. The main thing I want to stress is that all the boys are well and recovered exceptionally quickly! Some Matt said would have taken him far longer to get over.

Part of the reason for “nutting” the piglets younger was so their recovery could be assisted by them suckling. As the saying goes “breast is best” this accounts for animals too. Although as I mentioned I don't really understand the "reason" for doing it at all.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Well its been a busy 2 weeks! My family have now been here 10 days, and yes we’re even still talking ;)

But in the time they have been here we have seen 7 new arrivals.  Which I was so excited to share with them, especially my six year old nephew. His favourites so far are the  2 chicks; Wellsumer-Sussex crosses, so gorgous fluffy yellow balls. From our stint of changing over of our roosters, for our not so successful meat bird program. Ronnie just is not quick enough, or have the dominance over the laying flock. He impatiently watched the eggs all week and was in ore as they hatched, desperate for them to dry enough to hold. He then helped build their nest in the brooder box and set up the lamp. He now checks on them daily.

The incubator is still full and we are counting down to our next hatchlings, due this weekend.

More exciting (for me at least), was the arrival of our 5 piglets on Thursday (four boys and one girl). All are fit and healthy and feeding well. Our sow delivered all naturally, on her own. As they were not there when I fed them in the morning, but were happily snuggled up in the shed in the evening. And in fairness she has been a very attentive Mum, but not too aggressive.

Even my sister who is (a self confessed) “not an animal person” was excited by their arrival. I think the novelty has warn off slightly with my nephew, as he has not yet been able to get close enough to hold one. Something that we will hopefully get to do this weekend, before we have to castrate the males that are for sale (we are not “nutting” our own bore). I say I hope he can hold them then, as I have a feeling Mum will not be so relaxed about letting me in the pen afterwards.

I will try and post about our success with this process soon. Especially as it is a first for us too. Though a friend (who has some experience) has agreed to lend a hand.

 Also this weekend is D-day for the turkeys ready for Christmas dinner. Which in itself had raised a few interesting conversations with my nephew. As whilst my sister or parents have not hidden the facts of where meat comes from, I guess he has never really been confronted with the direct association. But he appears to be taking it all in his stride. Even asking me to put the rooster in the pot, as he had kicked and scratched his arm.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Pig update

Still no piglets so far. She's now looking as if she's ready to feed. So hopefully we'll have piglets soon

Thursday, 6 December 2012

3 weeks til Christmas, 3 days til family arrives

OK so it has been pretty hectic here, though we haven’t got around to half of the things I had hoped to blog about! We have had a ‘heat wave’ it officially reached 34 degrees (here on the coast, it was higher inland). Which doesn’t sound that hot, but when you consider the humidity is about 90%... it hot! So many of the jobs I had intended to get done are less than appealing during the day. And morning and evenings are very short. And as for rain, we had a thunder storm Tuesday, that was more of a light show than anything- 1mm of rain!
I have begun weeding, I at least have the path done and looking neat, just the herb garden, landscape gardens and veggie patch to do (probably early tomorrow). I did however start some seedlings, and they are doing quite well in the shed. I just hope I have more success when transferring them, than I have in the past.
Today is actually my last day at work for 2012, though Matt doesn’t break up for a few weeks. I must admit it feels weird, but as my family arrive in 3 days, I will be grateful for the extra time to get all the things done that I had hoped to in the past few weeks- nothing like organisation! I haven’t even posted my cards and gifts for those who are not coming... just hope the make it in time!
My family actually leave their homes tomorrow, even though they arrive here Sunday. I admit it’s a long trip- not something I look forward to. But I am looking forward to seeing them!
For those who have been following, we have been counting down to another arrival, due shortly. So penning off the pregnant sow, was not a job we could put off any further. So last night we built  a pen around their main shed.  I am just wondering how much trouble she will be, as she has never been an easy animal. And pigs are social, we wouldn’t have done it unless we felt it was necessary- we penned her off for her own health and that of her impending litter. We had hoped she would have started farrowing and we would have just built the pen around her chosen nest. But as with everything else since we have had this one, nothing come naturally. So we have used the main shed, and she has her own water tank... but she was not happy. See whether it is all still standing by the time I get home from work! 
Another issue we had prior to my family’s arrival, was our ever increasing flock. We did process our roosters and a few ducks last weekend, so our freezer is looking rather full now; in preparation for the extra mouths. Although we also acquired 2 more Rhode Island crosses from a friend of a friend. They were from the batch we hatched for the initial friend.
Unfortunately we have also ‘lost’ a few others. I found one duckling tangled in some of the fencing- as they wander where veer they feel. It couldn’t have been there long, but apparently it was long enough for it to die- think it broke its neck. Another just vanished last week, so we are now down to 8.  I know we had intension of reducing our numbers, but this was not what we had in mind.
On the opposite vein, we had limited success with crossing our Indian Game rooster without laying stock. After a week we candled the eggs in the incubator all of the other rooster over the few hens appear fertile; whereas Ronnie only appears to have had success with one. I just don’t think he has the dominance or the speed and agility. So we have put in another batch from Rocky (our Sussex rooster), now he is back with his girls. Mainly as I wanted chicks whilst my nephew was here, we also had a few duck eggs, so they went in too... so we will check them this weekend. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Christmas is coming

Well the festive season is in full swing (already). This weekend was relatively quiet farm wise, as we joined in the merriment of the festive season. I can not believe next week we will be into December, and that there are less than 4 weeks til Christmas and only 5 weeks left of this year!
So with our both of our work Christmas functions being on Friday, we are pretty much celebrated out now, so can focus on our pending deadlines.
My family arrive in under two weeks; meaning we still have tidying to do- few things around the garden. And most definitely shed. Along with sorting a few last minutes (or should I say, shouldn't have been lat minute) things. Such as a booster seat! Since my nephew will be 6 years and 9 months when he comes, and you have to have one for children under 7. Only a booster seat appears really hard to find.
Other than that I have a bit of spring cleaning; wash and freshen the bedding in the spare rooms and put the Christmas decorations up!
In farming deadlines, we are on count down to P-day... PIGLETS! So this coming weekend we shall separate her; since she still hasn't begun to nest in either shed.

Also we set a batch of eggs in the incubator. So by the weekend we should know whether any are fertile. These are for our 'meat brid' experiment. Though we only had one egg from our Indian Game hen, so comparisons maybe hard. We had also set them as we want chicks whilst my nephew is here. So if they are not showing signs this weekend, we have time to collect another batch; now we have returned our roosters to thier original stalking grounds.
Rocky instantly stamped his authority on the laying hens, "doing his rounds". Whilst Ron appears much more comfortable in the smaller pen, not having to move too far, or contest for food. 

And my garden in looking a little more green thanks to the 16mm of rain we had Satiruday night... unfortunately so are the weeds. So full steam ahead this coming weekend.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Poultry progress... let the egg tally begin

The geese have settled in well. And the ducklings are growing in both size and bravado! They still manage to squeeze through the fencing, so they wander freely around the front garden and hel themselves to the Indian game’s food supply.

As for the chickens we will be collecting eggs this week for our ‘meat bird’ program; as we swapped our roosters around a few weeks back now. And they should have settled into their new homes and be ‘working’ sufficiently.

As I have explained in the past, most commercial ‘meat birds’ are bred from, or variations of the Ross cob. This cross was bred for its mass, weight gain and appetite.  However I struggle to rear these birds due to their rapid growth and appetite, limits their natural behaviours and their quality of life is affected.  Struggling to stand or walk, sitting in their own mess, eating! We even had to remove their food at night to stop them eating constantly... and ended up rehousing them in a shelter with bedding on the floor, as they could not manage ramps or steps; but then this increased their risk to predators.
Young Indian Game's
So we made the decision to breed and rear our own table birds, that will hopefully be capable of laying eggs. Similar to that of . In the hope that they would be able to free range better and have a longer, better quality of life. The idea being we cross a good dual purpose/ or larger breed layer, such as the Sussex or Australorp x’s we already had with a game bird. We have had an Old English Game rooster cross with our layers, and the roosters from that combination carried a fair amount of quality meat for their size. However they also carried the athletic and aggressive traits of the rooster; the same reason we no longer have him. However these are also supposed to be a good free ranging layer. So I still have hopes for the few pullets we have raised. 
But in our quest for a table bird we decided to try them with our resident Indian Games, or Dark Cornish. This breed is heavier, carrying a lot of breast meat and although still flighty, they are far less aggressive... though the females can be pretty feisty when protecting their nests. Matt says they look like a roast chook with their feathers on. And I must admit they do have that neat shape, so hopefully a cross between these birds and the layer may work.
We are unsure which will work better; the Sussex rooster over the game or the Indian game over the layers? I have read a few things that suggest Sussex over Indian game produces a better table bird, though the productivity is likely to be less as Indian game hens produce fewer eggs per annum. Though the layers produce more regularly, there may be issues in regard to whether the Indian Game rooster is capable of servicing the females sufficiently for a good fertility rate due to his stature.
We know both roosters ‘work’ as we have had a few batches of layers from Rocky and we currently have 9 young Indian Game pullets and roosters from Ronnie. These birds have gorgeous patterns and colours through thier feathers- something I hope will pass to thier young, even when crossed.  
We are hoping that these birds will still produce relatively productive layers. As when it comes to maintaining our laying flock, we obviously generate a supply of roosters. Therefore the most efficient format would be to have a single strain of birds that we could raise the females as layers and the males for meat.
So this week will begin collecting for incubation. I will be marking the eggs as to their source (which rooster over which females). So we can assess the virility of the roosters and the success of the resulting offspring as either layers of table birds. So expect a regular egg collection report, this probably wouldn’t hurt so we know when the Old English Game cross pullets and Sussex and Sussex-Australorp cross pullets begin to lay.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Veggie delights (or lack of)

Like many in the tropics my veggie patch is looking quite sorrowful at the moment. It is coming toward the end of the dry season and the hot, humid climate is intolerable to many plants. To be honest the garden, lawn and paddock are looking brown and is desperate for actual rainfall. A storm had been prodicted over the weekend but until last night we were still waiting. We did have a light show and a shower last night, but this morning the rain guage read 1.5mm. Barely enough to dampen the paddock. Which suprisingly is looking greener than anything- though this may not last now our cows are restricted to just our plot (the neighbour has separated his to worm and feed up).
But the veg patch beside being brown, is looking tired and bare. The last batch of lettuces bolted, and has taken weeks to seed. The basil has finally seeded, so these will all be pulled and dried this weekend, leaving a few ‘pre-eaten’ cabbages along with a waning brussel sprout plant in the basilica garden. I have a few bean seedlings sprouting and the odd ripening strawberry, along with the last of the beetroot and fennel bulbs  in between the bamboo supports of the bean garden. Whilst the third raised patch is bare. The pallet gardens have barely been started- since none od the seeds sown came to anything. The most vibirant area is the the ‘vine garden’, which is largely self propagated plants such as pumpkins, tomatoes and eggplants (aubergines).
Seems strange to see the garden looking lack luster through the summer, as I always remember my grandparents gardens (Bamp on my Mam’s side and Nan on my Dad’s) gardens flourishing through this time of year...And we reaped the rewards come autumn. But then we don’t really have 4 seasons here either. So I just have to learn to adapt and grow what will sustain the heat and in a few weeks the wet too.
So, having had little success from planting seeds direct last month. I returned to planting seeds in trays last night; in the hope that these maybe transplanted in a few weeks. Though I think I may need to sow the next months before transplanting these out. So will need to source some more seedling trays and bases to stand them in (for water). I had read something recently about using toilet roll tubes as starter trays. I think I will look into this, as with a full house over Christmas (us and 7 guests) we may go through a few. Am guessing that either the roll would decompose, or could be cut off, so the transplanting process would be less stressful to the seedling- Something that I haven’t had the greatest success with to date. So can only be worth a try.
Well, as I explained the warm and humid, wet conditions of the Queensland summer does limit what plants will survive. But it doesn’t mean my garden has to look as for lone as it does. Pretty much, as my ‘vine garden’ is testament to; anything vine based will thrive. So pumpkins, zucchinis/courgettes, tomatoes, eggplant/aubergines, chillies, capsicums/peppers. I also planted a few summer lettuces (not all varieties will thrive at this time of year but a few can), a few containers of Asian vegetables, as these should with stand the conditions. A few heirloom carrots and radishes, so hopefully they will produce. But also a couple of unknown, they will apparently grow through these summer months, but as I haven’t eaten either Ceylon spinach (a vine variety) or okra, let alone grown them. It maybe interesting to see the results.

Christmas countdown... piglet count down

Where did the weekend go? Where did the week go?... to be honest, where has this year gone? We now have less than 7 weeks left of 2012, and only 6 weeks til Christmas! And I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping- least dinner should be cover ;)
But before Christmas gets here, we have a few exciting deadlines! My family arrives in less than 3 weeks! And with all the Christmas merriment between now and then, we still have so much to do and I’m not sure we have anywhere near enough time to get it done!
The other, following our visitors landing on the Sunday, should be piglets arriving on the Wednesday, if my dates are correct (so just over 3 weeks!) I am hoping this will be as exciting for my nephew (and my parents and sisters) as it is for us.
Pigs carry their young for “3 months, 3 weeks & 3 days”- well actually 114 days (as the 3 months is based on an average 30 days... though there are not actually many months that have 30days, especially not consecutively?) So ‘Christmas ham’ has earned herself a temporary reprieve, as her piglets should be suckling and scampering about, if all goes to plan.  
So from now on I shall be regularly updating her progress... a piggy countdown, until she drops. 
As you can see from these pictures she is carrying a little extra weight! But generally she has been getting along quite well. I have been handling and patting her daily since I witnessed the conception. As I figured we may need to examine or assist at some stage. And she wasn’t the most comfortable with us to begin with. And although she had made great progress, I had been attempting to limit my interaction with her, as I know where she is destined. This relationship has, had to change, but so far no intervention has been necessary. She has remained just as curious and daring as ever. Flaunting our recent electric fencing shortages to mow through our recovering part of their pen (we rotate, allowing for grass recovery) and munching along the fences edge to the grassy edge of the road/ drain.  
But the past few days I have noticed her nipples appear lower and slightly larger than the others. I am assuming they will continue to drop and fill over the next few weeks. I have also left stocks of hay in and around their shed. Though I am aware a pig will farrow (nest) where she feels comfortable. We have a second shelter, which she may choose to use. But either way, we are waiting for her to begin to nest. Then we can set up the pen around her. We have some temporary fences panels, to keep her and her piglets safe (keeping the other pigs out and to keep the piglets in- as they will probably fit under the barb and electric fencing) and we need to set up a waterer and trough.
In saying that, I am hoping her natural instincts kick in. Though we are hoping to be prepared if they don’t.
We bought ‘Christmas Ham’ back in February, as a weaner. She was supposedly 12 weeks old, though we think 6-8 was more likely. The place we picked her up from was a local family. But it was coming to the end of wet season and their block was low lying... much of it was under water. So the sows and their piglets (about 3 litters) were all penned a concrete slab under shelter, to keep them high and dry. However this meant a lot of pigs natural behaviours, especially their cleanliness was none existent with her. It took a few months before she learned the habits of our other pigs; separating her living areas. So I do have concerns that we may have to separate her ourselves. We are also considering back up plans should she have complications with birth or lactating and/ or feeding. But I guess only time will tell... after all this is her first litter and ours!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Chicken Keivs

Sorry this is not a recipe for Chicken Kievs, though that may come in time. What I wanted to discuss was last nights Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket. I know I have mentioned this series before, as it aired in Australia that week. And begun with rose veal. I must admit I read the best tweet the other day, where a lady asked if anyone had tried rose veal and to put in perspective (in terms of misconceptions), she added "its just like eating lamb". But back to the keivs'. 
The series ended last night with the ‘reinvention’ of the cheap chicken Kiev. I have to admit I was quite impressed with Jimmy's passion. Even if I wasn't too impressed with Tescos buyers. But in fairness they kept to thier word and bothe the kiev and a re-worked version of the sausage made it to stores. (Let's just hope the rose veal makes it too). So Woolworths, Coles this can be done- take notes!
The keiv was probably his most successful product- both in terms of early sales and in meeting the Tesco expectations, as he found a meat source that was cheaper than their commercially bred broilers.
Majority of commercial producers use purpose bred ‘broilers’; a selectively bred Ross cob chicken. I myself have purchased these birds from a hatchery (via a middle man) in the past. I posted at the time of my concerns regarding their development and quality of life... I would not have them again.
Broiler vs layers (same age)
As these birds, even when free ranged put on weight at such a rate that their bodies struggle to support. They are lethargic and do not scratch, or do anything normal chicken do; guess this is what makes them ideal for mass production. They will feed day and night, if they are allowed. We took the food away from ours at night, probably why ours grew to about 8-12 weeks, where commercial birds take half that. By this time we had to kill them, as their quality of life was suffering... we even had to provide them with a new shelter, as they could not climb even the smallest ramp.
 Jimmy’s cheap chicken was actually chickens! “Spent hens”, now I am not a fan of this term, but it is a reality that hens raised in the most ethical environments have an expiry date. This is true of battery farmed hens too, but these would not be in any condition to be sold as meat and are often sold for other purposes. The lucky are sold as ‘recue hens’, something I am in two minds about. As whilst the animal deserves a chance of a good life, by purchasing their ‘waste product’ you would be financially enabling them to continue... but this is off topic.
It is true, and I have heard others who breed chickens discuss it in the past that a hen’s prime for laying is its first year. As they do not lay until they are 5 months old. Most commercial and many domestic birds will become surplus to requirements at 18months of age. This may seem a little harsh, but by this time they have served their purpose and are no longer financially viable to support and will be dispatched, one way or another.  So I guess a cheap alternative free range meat is a good outcome. I guess there is a stigma about older chickens being considered ‘tough’. Though in the instance of the Kiev the firmer meat was an advantage and the age increased its flavour. I guess it is just a case of using them for the right purpose. They may not be as desirable for a Sunday Roast, but are ideal for mincing or slow cooking. So why do we breed young birds for these purposes?  
This got me thinking about our own birds. We have a few older birds, we still have 4 of our ‘originals’ (we had 3 Rhode Island Red crosses, followed by an Australorp, Light Susse and a Welsummer- we no longer have the Australorp or whitest of our 3 RIR x’s) and we have agreed that these ladies have earned their keep and will live out their days here; guess we think of them more as pets than livestock. 


They still produce eggs; they are just more temperamental when it comes to cooler weather, or the wet. We currently have our Welsummer in the front yard; keeping Rocky and our Indian Game hen company whilst Ronnie enjoys some time with the rest of the flock. And I have collected 3 eggs from her in the past week. So whilst her laying has slowed and is more than sufficient for the home kitchen, it would not be viable for commercial hatcheries. But I have to be realistic, we cannot keep raising new birds to maintain our egg supply and feed the older birds too.
We have four ‘commercial layers’ (Australorp crosses) bred for their egg producing qualities and a Rhode Island Red bought as day old chicks last July/August. And I have been told the commercial birds will slow up more dramatically than our other breeds/ crosses too. So I guess I have to be realistic that the pullets we have to replace them, will replace them.
They are lovely birds, but I am not emotionally attached to them in the same way we are with the ‘originals’. And with a current poultry count of 61 birds (between geese, turkeys. ducks, ducklings, chickens, pullets and roosters) we have to be realistic, this not a number we will be able to maintain. So whilst some were bred ‘for the pot’ and I have reconciled myself with the fact they have had a far better and longer life than they would have elsewhere. I guess my next emotional challenge is to accept that some of our hens will eventually (and probably in the not too distant future) reach the end of their prime and may themselves be destined for the Kiev.   

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Unexpected visitor

The past week has been quite an interesting, and unexpectedly busy one. So not a lot of time for 'farming' as such. I always put inverted commas around the term, as I do not really consider what we do as farming. I always think of farming as being commercial- I suppose farming to me means production (free range or otherwise) on a large scale and as a means of an income. Yet I suppose on many other levels what we do is pretty much the same, just smaller scale and probably a little more diverse. As we do not 'farm' one thing.  I always think the term small holder is more appropriate, but then 'smallholding' doesn't quite have the same ring...

Anyway, I had a surprise call in the middle of the week. My uni house mate has been travelling around Oz for over a year. And was in the area, and wanted to catch up. Fortunately I could move my day off around and then next day he arrived. So between this and our plans for night fishing over the weekend, much of my gardening plans were put on hold for another week.
Well he arrived the next day, funnily he commented that he had wondered if I had changed, or whether we would still get on, or still have anything in common (after about 8 years since we shared a flat- with 5 others). Strangely enough, the
thought hadn't even crossed my mind, apparently I haven't changed at all... maybe a little more relaxed.
I was just excited to see how he was, and hear about his adventures.

We all  had dinner that evening, one of our chickens (obviously) which I was hesitant to tell him- initially, as I remembered him being quite finicky with his food (though that was some time ago). Though he was fine, actually asked- many are afraid of the answer, so would rather not know. But to be honest I was surprised by his interest in our 'lifestyle' and my passion for ethically sourced foods and knowing where or how you food is produced.
I did give him a whirl wind tour of Mackay. Mackay is a beautiful spot and there is plenty to do, but not necessarily in one day. And I suppose much of Queensland offers beaches, islands rainforests and lagoons. And given he has been on Oz for so long and had spent time in Cairns and sailing the Whitsundays I guess he had seen  much of it before. But he was asked, as was another friend of ours who came to visit-why are you getting off there? I guess despite its potential Mackay is not known as a tourist hub.
This was not an issue as he seemed far more interested in reminiscing over a few beers; find out who we were still in touch with and who was where and doing what.  But more
 so in our place, the animals and our lifestyle and lives now. Asking many questions about our stock, even how much of it we had set up since moving in? Or what was there before? Particularly the pigs housing and watering systems, which I proudly admitted we put in. And our ever expanding flock.
He was very kind in saying he thought we had a pretty professional set up. A complement I am happy to accept. As since being in Oz he had undertaken a few farm based jobs- one of the ways you can extend a holiday working visa from 12 months to 2 years. So has probably had an insight into more practicing farms than we have. From which he now has an aversion to capsicums and zucchinis (peppers and courgettes)... so I didn't pick any whilst he was there!
I must admit it was also good preactice for the dogs to have someone else in the house. As we have a houseful coming at Christmas, thankfully our guest was alright with dogs!
The evening he left we had a venison korma with dhal and rice. Being an Englishman overseas I thought he would appreciate this, even if I waited until after he had eaten it to let him in on what the meat content actually was.
The dhal recipe was from the river cottage veg book- and was surprisingly simple. Simply bring redlentils to the boil and add tumeric, then simmer, until it reaches a soupy consistancy.Heat some ground cumin seeds in tsp of oil and them add sliced onion, til soft and then stir through the lentil mush and serve.

And off he went back on the bus and on with his trip... So nice to see you and have a safe trip.

Successful nights redclawing (new word)

This weekend we went night fishing, well red-clawing for the first time. Red claw are a fresh water crayfish and are often referred to as a pest. But they are surprisingly good eating, for something that lives in fresh water.
We have eaten them at a friends, and Matt had been introduced to the method of catching them on his recent camping, boys week away in the Cape of Carpentaria. And having bought the gear has been keen to try it for ourselves since. You may have read in Madog’s first boat trip, that we unsuccessfully dropped a few pots. This may have been due to the lake not being renowned for them, or due to the time of day we pulled them in. Or maybe it was because they were all new, and the red claw coul dsmell them... or maybe these are all fishermans tails.
However this time we drove a couple of hours to a fair sized lake, that is supposed to be "ok" for redclaw. Not the 'best  stop', but then no fisherman gives away thier best stop.
So we prepped and dropped the pots before dark. Bait being a combination of dog biscuits, cat food and melon... strange creatures!
The theory was we would pull them in about 8-9pm; if we had, had any interest then we would drop them again and stay, if not we could be home, in our own bed by mid-night.
Our pots are not flash- in accorandance with Queensland freshwater laws we each had 4 pots (so 8 in total) as we both have a fresh water fishing permit- necessary for all freshwater fishing in Queensland: These are pretty easy to collect, we applied and paid for ours at our local Tackle world store, think it was about $60 for a family permit, this lasts a year.

Our pots were the small collapsible kind and tied to our floats by a few meters of rope. Our floats were made from a woggle (or swimming noodle- whatever you call them), wrapped in hi-vis reflective tape and with our name and address written in permenant marker (again as per Qld rules- each state, country would be different).

But we got one! (well a few) I must admit, night fishing is not that easy. Head lamps are a great help, if you have them. We have one, which Matt used as he needed his hands free to drive the boat. I on the other hand was juggling a dolphin torch- bright, but not the most helpful in this situation... May need to invest in another headlamp, especially if this is to become a regular trip.
Also finding the pots in the dark is a challenge in itself- we had wrapped reflective strips around our floats and this was still difficult. So note to anyone attempting this, this is a necessity to finding your pots in the dark. And so is placing them in a line- makes them easier to pick/drop without having to loop around or find that you have re-checked the same pot by mistake and that you are missing 1 or 2.

After finding our missing pots, following quite some time driving around in the darkness, and having had some success, with a few red claw and a few prawns landed. We realigned our pots, bought in the boat and set up the swag, time to get some sleep before an early start.
Note to self, when packing the swag in future- make sure we pack pillows and blankets! It was a beautiful clear night and to be honest I had never realsied that the moon rises twice? But some sleep would have been nice... I am honest in the fact that I do not operate very well without sufficient sleep.
I also wish I had taken the camera. But then I didn't take my phone out either, as I was affraid of dropping it or losing it in the darkness. Especially as I was juggling enough already. So if I had I probably wouldn't have used it.
With our minimal sleep, on our clothes and under towels (these we remembered), we were up and launched the boat just before day break .
Finding the pots at dawn was far easier. When we pulled in all our pots we hadn't a haul, but more than enough for a feed and to make our first attempt a success. We even managed to pull the boat in before the rush for the early morning boaties, making it home in time for breakfast. Even if I did sleep almost the whole journey home- sorry Matt.
Red claw are cooked similar to prawns. A few minutes in boiling water til pick, then dipped in ice cold water. Preparation involves removing the head and the centre flipper on the tail, to devein much like a prawn . Shell once cooked (can be served in their shell). Press along the length of the tail, you will hear a crack, and then peel back. The meat in the claws is also good, if you catch them large enough, again crack and peel back, much like a crab or lobster claw.
So not exactly a "free meal" but definietely well worth the trip. Hopefully we will get better at it and net a few more before our visitors come.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Puppy girl is 5 today, as would have her brother

I hadn't planned on blogging about our puppies birthday today. But it's been on my mind all day. So I'm sorry for being all sentimental, but as such a big part of our lives and our family I left they deserved my time.
Besides I was driving to a meeting (for work) earlier today and Delta Goodrams new song came on the radio. Now I have never been a fan, as you can probably tell- since I'm not even sure if that's how you spell her name. But given she made me cry- probably never will be.

 As her new song is very haunting, and seemed to be speaking for me, literally. For those who have never heard the song, or listened to the lyrics- "today would have bee
n your birthday" seemed especially accurate today.  

As today our gorgeous smiling girl Ffion, is 5 today. And so we will be celebrating and I have bought her extra special treats. (Do you spoil your pets for birthdays and Christmas? )
Unfortunately her 'twin' brother (as we used to call them- as they were from the same litter) Griff passed away in July last year.Shortly after we moved to Maes-y-Delyn. So whilst its her day, it obviously would have been his birthday too. I guess its one of those days you reflect on the fact that he's not here...or you allow yourself to , more than other days anyway. It's the least he deserved.

So Happy Birthday Ffion & we miss  you as ever Griff x x x

Monday, 5 November 2012

Weekly check in

Total rainfall for last week- 12.5mm, so ½ an inch.
Not a huge amount, especially in Queensland standards, but the garden is looking better for it. I did water the veggie garden and the trees last night, as it had been dry for a few days, and it started raining. Though it only registered ½ mm in the rain gauge, so still happy I did it- even if it looked silly watering the garden in the rain!

This weekend was once again dominated by other events. I was coordinating the marshals for the Tri Clubs corporate Triathlon- our first. It was bigger than we had hoped for and went well. But it took up about 6 hours of Sunday morning. But at least the rain held off.
Saturday we went into town (though we didn't ride) we met the social riders for coffee and a catch up, then had a list of errands to do. Followed by restocking of our freezer.
We had intended to add a few ducks as well, but we were tired and running out of daylight hours. But the Old English Game roosters had to go. They were a little younger than we had intended culling them, but I fear if we hadn’t, they would have. Well they already had, with the Rhode Island Red x EOG and had begun picking on another. But given the size on their nuts, no wonder they had begun fighting; the testosterone in that pen!
On the plus side we have 4 fairly meaty chickens stocked for our visitors. I must admit they were not the biggest or heaviest, but meat to size ratio was very good. 
But as a ‘meat bird’ we were quite impressed; the meat was very lean, slightly darker than other chicken breed we have raised, but not gamey. I am really hopeful that these characteristics will also pass on from the girls; as they are due to start laying in the next month or so.

I had intended to write an instruction blog on how to skin a chicken, but I found it quite hard to hold everything and take pictures. Plus it was becoming increasingly difficult to not get the camera messy. I think I will attempt this again, but by document someone else.

On the subject of ‘meat birds’, we finally swapped our roosters over; giving Ronnie a run with the general flock. And Rocky some time with our remaining Indian Game hen. We know Ronnies’ fertile as we have 9 Indian Game chicks running around out the front and have had quite a few batches of layers from Rocky. But it will be interesting to see if there is any difference in ‘productivity’ or meat quality of one over the other.
I suggested the Indian game over the layers should be more ‘productive’ as they lay more. However I have read that there may be difficulties in the males of this breed reaching the hens to breed successfully. On the other hand Indian Game hens are not as productive, but Matt read that this combination produced a better quality of meat… I guess only time will tell.
We hope to incubate some eggs in about a fortnight, so I’ll keep you up to date. But at the moment, Ronnie seems a little overwhelmed by the whole experience. And has already been challenged and chased by the Turkey.

As for our other little ones, the ducklings are becoming increasing confident and cheeky. Raiding the Indian Game chicks food daily; though they are having more difficulties escaping in a hurry, as they no longer fit through the mess that well.

The Indian Game chicks themselves, are looking good. We think we have finally sexed them; believing we have 4 boys and 5 girls. The defining factor being that some have begun to develop the blue, green and purple sheens and flecks in the feathers and others have not. As with most birds, the males are more flamboyant. It shouldn’t be too long til their crowing, so guess we’ll know for sure soon enough. Is strange though, as there has been little differences between the males and females, not even comb or tail feathers. The only other characteristic we have picked out so far has been possible leg thickness (boys being thicker) but really this would vary bird to bird anyway.  Hopefully he will provide a good cross over our utility layers and it will be very interesting to see the results of him over the Old English Game crosses.

 Our new residents appear to be settling in well. We herded them into the rear garden (with the general poultry population) and out of the run that they spent their first day in. But are yet to leave them loose around the house. Which is ultimately where we want them.
The  lady we adopted them off, reported that she had, had her first snake in 11 months (the time she had had them). So I am hoping to progress to having them roam around the whole house yard, as I want them to keep the snakes away.  But for now, they appear to be adjusting well and have made no attempts to fly away. 

Over the past few days, it has taken 2 of us to herd the geese into the run before we have been able to go anywhere. The majority of the flock (even the ducklings), know the drill and happily run ahead of me, when I am carrying a food bucket. Whilst the geese were interested, curiosity would only lead them so far. They fell short of walking willingly into he run.
As I was on my own this morning, I had expected this to be quite difficult and to be running around. But fortunately they just wandered in after the other birds; asserting their dominance over their share of the food. They eat together taking it in turns to watch and defend. Only the ducks (or more so the ducklings) are allowed anywhere near.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Goosey, goosey gander, where shall I wander?

Well hopefully not too far!

I am so excited about our new arrivals!

A gaggle of geese- 4! We think 2 boys (ganders) and 2 girls (geese) all about 12 months old. 

Now I know they can be boisterous, and make great guard dogs. But they are also supposed to be phenomenal snake catchers (and deterrents).
Should be interesting to see how the dogs react to them. They are not really ‘bird tolerant’, although they have been far better with our young English Game cross pullet, who insist on venturing into the outer garden (and visiting the dogs). For as long as they don’t run or flap… So I guess we will just have to wait and see. They are bigger than our Staffy, although the Mastiff is the sook…

I am not sure how our imminent guest will feel about them either. From memory I don’t believe my Mam is a fan, think it stems from a fear instilled by her mother, my Nan. But again time will tell. Suppose they have to get used to us first.

We have temporarily penned them, near their new house. Only til the weekend, when we plan on letting them out during the day. (Plan is to coax them back at night with food)

We figure, give them a cosy house, food and water and then when we let them wander in the garden they will hopefully know that this is their new home. And eventually trust us.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Spoiler Alert! Jimmy and The Giant Supermarket

Tomorrow night is the Australian (free tv) screening of Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket on SBS. 8:35 Jimmy And The Giant Supermarket "Meatballs - Rare breed pig farmer Jimmy Doherty goes inside Britain's biggest supermarket, Tesco, to come up with innovative ideas to produce equally cheap but higher-welfare alternatives to their best-selling meat products. In the first episode, Jimmy tries to transform Tesco's own brand meatballs. In doing so, he spots an opportunity to tackle one of dairy farming's biggest secrets - the killing each year of tens of thousands of male dairy calves because there's no market for them. (From the UK) (Documentary Series) (Part 1 of 3) PG CC" This guy has had a number of shows back in the UK… and as he is a ‘celebrity’ rare breed pig farmer, I am keen to see how he is as a host. (
As for the subject, the idea that the supermarkets own brand products can be ethically produced for the same price is AWESOME! I’m not saying it wouldn’t be a challenge, but Tesco has agreed that it will adopt these if it can be done. Now Tesco have been involved with a few innovative products /TV series- good PR, yes. But why not? To be fair the UK market is far more competitive than here (well Nth QLD at least). So I guess the saying any publicity is good publicity works. As Tesco remain the UK’s largest market share. I have to admit, I have read what this ‘opportunity’ is that they have mentioned. And its not a new concept and he’s not the first celebrity foodie to promote it. Personally I use the same sort of principle at our place when it come to producing chickens for laying and then chickens for consumption… meat. There are many out there that fail to realise that to produce milk, a cow need to have a calf. Much like any other mammal.
Now female calves, being girls, will obviously be of use to a dairy farmer in their future years. Or be viable resource for sale, so are raised as such. Males on the other hand, are not useful to a dairy farmer; who in all honesty is paid to produce a product. A product that they are required to share with the caves. So to achieve the greatest output possible male calves are culled. They offer no value to the farmer, for sale or stock and deplete the milk stores. Similar process happens in many hatcheries (producing laying birds). Roosters (cockerels) are not of use and therefore would decrease profits to feed. So most are killed, once sorted from day old.
We made a decision when we begun breeding our flock that males would be grown for meat or sale, regardless of their breed. Obviously certain breeds make better table stock than others, but chicken is chicken. I have often wondered how much ‘potential meat’ is lost through modern practices. I mean raising produced based on type, species or breed of animal for its ideal purpose makes sense. But on the other hand, what about anything that is produced as a subsequence that doesn’t quite fit the brief. I mean the potentials such as ‘pink veal’ of dairy billy calves (told you this was a spoiler) and the roosters from hen hatcheries. But can we go further? What about the chickens produced for meat sales that do not make their weight targets? It is common practices for birds that are below weight, by a set time scale to be culled… I have often thought that whilst they will not make the desired weight for roast chickens or whole chickens on the supermarket self. Surely they could serve some viable purpose. I understand whilst the farmer may not wish to feed it further, as it would be literally eating into its profits. But that bird still carries a food source suitable for other chicken products or uses. Just discarding that life as it doesn’t meet a standard and timescale appears pointless! The issue with my theory that these deaths should be utilised is that the farmer may not have a contact for such produce. And as this source is based on stock not meeting a standard, you can not guarantee supply, how could they? They may not be able to provide to another buyer, contractually. Furthermore, they have to transport that animal to slaughter, separate it and transport it elsewhere. So I am far from blaming the farmer for making a living. I guess I am merely pointing out that there are flaws in many of today’s practices, other than the obvious animal welfare conditions that often get discussed. Many farmer would like to farm more ‘ethically’, but it is’t financially viable. And not many have an ‘innovative’ foodie, backed by a large supermarket chain offering cash for diversifying into their bi-products. But there are ‘opportunities’ out there. I guess much of the problem is our expectations and preconceptions as consumers. I often get frustrated with people who will only eat certain cuts of meat; the popular ones, such as chicken breasts or certain chops or ‘the best steaks’… Well guess what? An animal was killed for that particular part. So by all means appreciate the cut and enjoy it, but have the decency to appreciate an animal was responsible for producing that. So subsequently it also produced less popular cuts. How many people turn their noses up at offal? It was a standard meal to my grandparents. Don’t get me wrong there are bits I have tried, which I have little interest in eating again. Like chicken feet and pig’s ears. But they are viable protein sources and should not be knocked. I admit with our birds, chicken feet are either fed to the dogs (as a treats for days to come), or I was delighted when a work colleague asked Matt if we could save the feet for his father in future. I was happy to oblige and he apparently serves up an awesome Yum cha. And I am not necessarily just discussing meat. Does it not strike you as strange that an apple or a capsicum (pepper) in Woolworths or Coles (Asda or Tesco) look significantly more pristine than those at your local greengrocer, farmers market or local veg stall. I am not saying they are inferior, quite the reverse. I mean the stuff I grow in my garden has far more lumps and bumps than the supermarket produce does. And I know this is not that they are far more competent growers than I am (even if that is probably true). Also I have far more exciting varieties of fruit and veg, that you just don’t see on the supermarket shelves. It seems ridiculous that so many people are struggling to put food on the table and farmers are struggling to get a decent price for their stock, when perfectly good potential food is going to waste. Am still looking forward to watching the show. How about you?

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Food for fuel? Food for thought? Or a ‘fat tax’

A friend of mine posted a report on Facebook yesterday discussing how obesity is now Australia’s and the world biggest killer. Now affecting 2 out of 3 adults and 1 in five children 2 -4 years. . One of the suggestions put forward by this Facebook debate, was a Medicare levy dependent upon your weight or physical health. (Medicare is the Australia national health care service, similar to NHS in the UK only it only covers a percentage of treatments and doctors visits etc). Others are suggesting a tax on convenience food or treats… would this really drive people to be healthy. Well it sparked a debate, some for, many against. Others such as myself can appreciate the idea, but can see the many flaws this may create. I mean its been tried on cigarettes and alcohol in most countries. And the loop wholes of a physical could be exploited by many.
Now I know what you’re thinking, this is a strange subject for a smallholding, home farm lifestyle blog, not really on point. And in some respects your right. But that discussion got me thinking about the many reasons we have made the lifestyle choice we have. And has inspired me to revisit my first ever blog ‘Just for the taste… not the waist’  . But to not just revisit it and update it to reflect how far my journey has come. As this is a subject I (much like food sourcing and animal conditions) I can talk about forever! As for those who know me, would already know this is a very personal issue, as I myself, struggle with my weight. Though I am and continue to aim to control it through a combination of better food choices and exercise.
Exercise being a vital part of ‘good health’, and I do not believe that addressing either food or exercise will be truly successful for long term health- not just weight. It has to be both. And exercise is not something I really discuss on here. But I believe the trick is finding something you enjoy and that fits into your lifestyle. I could also go on to discuss how weight in can be as much a mental issue as a physical one. Or that our relationship with food as a society can be as much to blame. I guess what I am saying is this is a vast and varied subject and I do not believe that one solution suits all. Personal health and fitness and the means by which society measures and judges this issue is just as broad. There are many variations and definitions of being ‘fit’ or healthly’. I measure mine, not purely by a number on a scale (though this is something that I still aspire to… years of social brain washing), or by an ideal body shape. I measure mine by both personal ability and achievements and by the quality of my lifestyle.
So, back to food and our lifestyle…a little more on topic.
This lifestyle choice we have made is about growing and rearing what we can, but it’s also about improving the quality of what we eat, though the knowledge of how it is grown (and lived). Now this is not something everyone can do, I appreciate that. But somewhere along the way we have lost that connection of where our food comes from, how it is produced, what affect it has on the world around us and on our bodies and lifestyle. This is something everyone can do; with the right tools and guidance.  But that in many ways is the issue… at what point did we as a society (in general) lose these skills? And what is out there to help us learn, if we choose to.
But again I guess that is another issue. Everything is about choice.
But if we were so satisfied with our choices, why would both the weight loss and health (diet plans, books, home exercise equipment etc) be multi-billion dollar industries!  But what we need to accept is that the food we consume affects our moods and mental state as much as our bodies. And this in itself can be a vicious circle.  What we appear to have lost sight of is that food is a fuel. Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy food and share it, enjoy it with those we love, to celebrate. I strongly believe we should. But this is where the choice of food becomes the issue. And the use the skills we have acquired (or in many cases lost) regarding how to source it, prepare it and use it.
Now for many, this is the contentious issue. It is cheaper to buy high processed, packaged, convenience food than it is to purchase fresh, good quality produce and prepare a home cooked meal. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
My initial argument would be that those highly processed, convenience foods will also be just as convenient for your body to process. Therefore you will need to ‘refuel’ it sooner and therefore require more of it… so how is that cheaper?
Now understanding how and why is a matter of detailed biology and I am not a doctor, scientist or nutritionist, so am not about to lecture on the subject. But what I do know is a smaller amount of good quality food can be far more enjoyable, satisfying and in the long run more cost effective. As I am not just talking about your wallet, I am talking about your long term physical and mental health.
As I have said I am far from an expert. I have no accreditations or qualifications, but what I can offer is the benefit of my experience, in many cases I too am still learning and evolving. But hopefully some of my recipes, tips and techniques can help others. And I hope that I can mirror the success of this blog- which I have enjoyed for the past few months (and hope to continue to enjoy for a long time to come).  Others can share theirs. So please if this is something that affects you, has affected you or you’re just interested- Please join me.

Monday, 29 October 2012

It takes a flock to raise ducklings

Well I’ve heard of the tribal saying it takes a village to raise a child, I think this is concept embraced by birds. Well ducks at least, or at least our ducks (and hen).
We recently left 3 of our resident hens (of the duck variety) sit on their clutches. After 5 weeks the first successfully hatched hers. Which I reported my joy, at the time as she was the first to nest initially, but was unsuccessful last time round.  

Well since then we have an additional 4, from another Mum. The third discarded her nest to take on the mothering of the first brood. THis duck was the only one to sucessfully hatch her clutch last time, only for her to lose them a week later. Something that still concerns me. Their actual mother who sat on the hatching nest is a very relaxed Mum, allowing much of the mothering to be undertaken by the second duck or the hen. The hen is never far from the brood, no matter which Mum they are with and she is exceptionally protective. Something I hope will see these ones make it to adulthood. Although she is another species it is understandable that she watches these as if they were her own. Chickens are renowned for being broody, this is due to their maternal instincts. This particular chicken hen actually shared the nest with the duck, throughout their incubation. More often than not I would take food into the shed for the sitting Mums and it would be the chicken sat on this clutch, whilst the duck went to feed with the other bird, so she is partially responsible for their existence.

Duckling with Foster Mum

Well so far her 6 ducklings are doing well. They are adventurous little things, and not afraid to use their initiative. I have found 2 or 3 in the Indian game chick enclosure helping themselves to food on a number of occasions. This in itself involves leaving mum I the chicken/duck run, crossing a few meters of the front garden and invading another species food source. The problem with this is that we found one tangled in the wire- as they are growing rapidly and are now not fitting through the mesh. This little one Matt brought in, as it had lost use of its one foot. Though with a little time it regained some use, so he returned it to the flock. Only for (actual) Mum to pick it up by the neck and throw it, and then continue pecking it… it was clearly being told off. We were about to go and retrieve the little on, but she did not persist any more. On another occasion, I assisted 2 back through the fence, as the dogs were out. Only to be attacked by (foster) Mum and aunty hen.

Ducklings with Mum and Aunty chook

Now the second brood have remained under the protective guard of their actual hatching Mum. She is far more attentive (and aggressive) than the other Mums. Though she is more accepting of me being close than Matt. Her young do tend to follow the other brood and then panic when she is not close. And are more reluctant to take attention from either of the other mothers (or the hen).