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).

I thought Brits were obsessed with the weather-Then there's Queensland

When I learned French at school (as with probably any other language) we are taught how to discuss the weather… yet this conversation never really tranlated to everday use. This I have always accepted as a truely “British” conversation.  
Rain gauge
Now, not often you will hear me refer to us as British, however this is a subject and culture that is common throughout the UK. I mean in pretty much the whole of the UK you could experience all four seasons in one day. Or you  would be able to strike up a conversation with almost any stranger with the following sentence, “What about this weather?” Something that many other nationalities fail to understand... And then we moved to Queensland.
I mean Australia as a continent experiences 4 different climates. Tropical (such as in Nth Qld- where we are), Sub-tropical, Moderate and Cool. This continent has arid desserts, flooded communities and even snow- not just snow, ski resorts. Snow would not being likely here in the Tropics (but we can wish).   

2 of our 3 tanks

The first year at my job, I felt quite left out of the daily morning conversation; as we did not have a rain gauge.  Not only do they discuss the weather, they measure it and compare notes! And it was not just my colleagues, the weather reports repeatedly reiterated how many days it had been since certain places had seen rainfall and they report on dam levels. Now this was something of a foreign concept. But having spent 6 years living in this climate and experiencing weather that I find difficult to explain, I understand and even participate in the daily data collection. And intend to document it though this blog, as it does affect our daily lives. Since we are now solely reliant upon sourcing our own water; as we do not have a mains supply. So our water either comes from  rainfall or bore water .
Bore water is water pumped from the ground through a drilled source- much like a well. Many locals have a preference to either rain water or bore water, some refusing to use either/ or, for their own various reasons. Bore water can be ‘hard’ or have other traits dependent upon the ground from which it’s sourced. Here we are fortunate that our ground has high clay content, therefore the water in soft and well filtered. But as rainfall is a naturally available source, you can understand why we aim to collect it when its available.
Rainfall in the tropics is minimal during the “dry season” maybe 10-20mm each month. Which would equate to 400-800 litres in our tanks. And then there is the “wet season”.  In the UK we experience 4 seasons; Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, in the tropics these are merely a formality, as they have a  have a wet season potentially runs from November til May. Involving high average day (and night time) temperatures, high humidity (sometimes even 100%) and RAIN. The dry season falls over winter, with cooler day (and night) temperatures (that we in the UK would think were summer) and dry, sunny days… and a lot of brown vegetation.

In need to rain- dry season

I do find it strange that most Australians think of the UK as wet, dark and grey. Not understanding that we do (occasionally) have a summer, with nice weather. And that they have more annual rain than we could even comprehend.
Christmas/New Year 2011
Growing up in Wales (one of the wettest parts of the UK) I thought I understood rainfall. However I tried to prepare my family for the rains, prior to their first visit. They came over Christmas (as they are again this year), which is typically the beginning of the wet season. Although it officially begins in November, since  we have been here the rain has begun around Christmas to New year.
These early rainfalls can appear as quickly as they go. One minute there will be clear blue skies, the next can only be compared to having a bucket thrown over your head.  Now many would consider this idea pleasant (ourselves included), at least it was still sunny… how naive.  The rain merely increases the humidity levels, offering no relief from the heat- Ask my mother! And they left before the real wet hit.
February, we have seen constant monsoon rains that last a few weeks straight. Regularly resulting in roads and communities being cut off for days or even weeks. Luckily being on the coast, we generally only see certain routes cut off for short periods (hours rather than days). But the results can still be devastating. 2008 we witnessed an historic flood, that saw many lower lying areas flood (many that had been there for decades and have never been wet). Locals reported rainfall of up to 850mm (that’s almost 3 feet) in 6 hours- from their rain gauges (mine only goes up to 150mm).
More concerning is that this warm, wet weather also bring with it cyclones. So far we have seen 5, of varying strengths. Well there has been far more than that each year, most do not see land fall, or many have crossed along various other parts of the coast. But we have been on alert and seen 5 come and go. Last year being the worst with Ului crossing us directly and Yasi (the biggest storm ever seen- a category 5!) crossing North of us.
These cyclones are systems that build in the warmer waters (feeding off its energy) and a few each year (Australia wide), cross land. Bringing with it high winds, rain and a lot of damage. I believe they are similar to that of the hurricanes experienced in the Northern hemisphere- as with those that cross USA, but cyclones rotate the opposite direction… much like that water going down the drain ;)
So I guess when I say we had rain last night and the gauge read 1mm, this appears insignificant. But I already mentioned that I intend to blog the weather patterns, as this now forms part of our lives and affect how we operate. I’ll try to report on any weekly rainfall or significant events, as I’ll try not to bore you with this information. Such as this week it is predicted that we will have rain until Wednesday. I highly doubt that this will be significant enough to prevent us having to top up the tanks with the bore. So I wouldn’t warrant a daily update, but at this time of year ever little counts and hopefully the garden will look greener for it.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Make it possible... a world without factory farming
Anyone who knows us, would be aware that animal welfare and an understanding of where your food comes from and how it is produced is something we strongly believe in. And have openly supported such campaigns in the past (see Food for thought page) and we try to practice what we preach in terms of animal welfare. And what we do usually brings up the conversations of what I call 'meateaters responsiblity'. 
Now, I have never believed in ramming our belief down others throats, but I would as you to consider where the produce you buy has come from? And how did it get there?

Now I know its not always possible, and budgets have alot to do with purchase choices. I mean I'm guilty of it myself on occasion; something I am not proud of.  But in not buying factory farmed meat some/ most of the time, reduces demand and increases demand for better conditions. Then I don't see that as a bad thing. 

Now I know there are those who view meat consumption as the problem, full stop. And many beieve free range to be too expensive. But what I am asking is that you (please) take the time to watch the video and consider the changes and difference you CAN amke.   
Then if your interested in making a pledge, and making a difference visit

Monday, 22 October 2012

Egg bound chook

This was a first for us... When I first saw this old girls back end I was most alarmed, but funnily enough I knew exactly what it was.
Matt thought it was something else, as it did seem quite servere. Although I did consider, maybe she had a prolapse- possibly due to age. As we have only had a few eggs from our 3 Indian Game hens for a few weeks. But google confirmed, she was most likely egg bound.

Egg bound birds, tend to be a result or worm infestation- which was unlikely as they were recently wormed (but they will be again shortly-just in case), genetics or age. The latter 2 being more likely for this hen. But it is when the bird can no pass an egg. This can result in death within 48 hours.
Now this was the second morningy, it looks extreme. But I video'd her to confirm. The bit poking out, is from her pushing so hard. The white/creamy liquid is her urine trying the pass the egg.

Now there were a few conflicting reports as to what you shoudl or shouldn't do. Some advising the only real option was to remove the egg manually. Other saying this was an absolute NO, NO.
As she is a flightly bird (to be honest, they are a flightly breed). So I figured handling could only make it worse and she would have been a high risk for egg breakage. And therefore possible infections.
So we resorted to making her as warm and comfortable as possible. I also read that warm water could also assist in relaxing the area. So I was prepared to catch her and place her in a warm bath, as time was now ticking on. Matt had approached the subject of whether it would be better for her or, as an older bird it would be more stress orpain. Which our interference could cause her death anyway. So maybe she would have been better, being put out of her misery. Having already lost a bird that day I was over awred by the suggestion, but had to admit it was a reallistic option. 
However an hour after this video, she passed the egg and was happily sctraching around the run again.

This little pig... and a deer?

Well as our ‘freezer pig’ (bought in February to fill our freezer whilst we awaited piglets from our breeding stock) or ‘Christmas ham’, as she is known, is looking more and more likely to be carrying a litter.  Matt and a friend bought a pig each from a local piggery.

'Christmas Ham'/ 'Freezer Pig'- Berkshirex Saddleback
As a weaner- Feb '12

Now his friend is not a fan of our ‘slow growing,’ free ranging pigs (or of the quality of Berkshire meat) and swears by these commercially reared, fast growing varieties. And is a big fan of the stock raised by this local piggery. Therefore as we will not be in a position to consume our own, we joined him in purchasing (and supporting) as local businesses.
Christmas Ham, Smokey (our Berkshire bore) & Streaky (gilt)
They are duroc and landrace producers. And the animals are mainly raised indoors, something I do wouldn’t want for my pigs. But my Berkshires do not burn in the sun either, and at least these pigs have room and company, unlike many that reach our plates. Guess these are the compromises of commercial production.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not criticizing his methods. As he is a very experienced and his pigs are all healthy and appear content- though far less active or inquisitive than ours. And at the end of the day, we are still relatively new to this.  I have to admit I did warm to him more when he was discussing our pigs with Matt. He said he loved Berkshires and that there was no comparison in the quality of meat. And that he wanted to raise Berkshires when he first started out- only there was no market for them and ended up raising ‘pink pigs’ as that was, what was wanted.
I have to admit, he has been running this place for a number of years. So his story of raising ‘pink pigs’- fast growing, high production meat is common throughout the 1980’s and 90’s. As a result a lot of ‘heritage breeds’ such as the Berkshire, that do not do well in these more intensive conditions became less common, to the point where they have been listed as 'rare' on the Rare Breeds registers  
Now don’t get me wrong, this guy is commercial, but by no means cruel- there are pigs reared in far worse conditions out there.  His are clean, healthy and have space and company... more than many, but I’m not here to lecture on that- least not today, just can’t help but get distracted on the subject.
So Friday evening the boys returned with a pig each and (unexpectedly) a deer each. The deer belong to the owner of the piggery. I wouldn’t say they are reared, or farmed, but they are there. They have had a deer from him in the past, but these were ‘freebies’ as they were providing a service. They had escaped and were causing damage (and hostility) for the neighbour. So these exceptionally well fed deer (courtesy of the neighbour paddock and house yard) made an much appreciated addition.
Now Matt’s friend is not a believer in eating offal. In his opinion (which he has voiced to me numerous times) why eat it when there are perfectly good meat on a beast. I on the other hand believe if you are to take a life, then you do the animal justice and use as much as possible. Unfortunately for me, I don’t actually like all offal, liver in particular. Now it has nothing to do with what it is, as it was always a favourite of my grandparents. And I love the smell; it smells delicious! I don’t know if it brings back fond memories, but I salivate whenever I cook it for Matt… I just wish I liked the taste!
But his loss Is our gain! So Matt spent yesterday making batches of pate (something I will eat). So he used both the pigs livers and the venison livers- this will be a first for either of us. So am looking forward to reporting on the tasting.
And then last night, after leaving them hang, they processed the cuts. It took about 4 hours for all 4 beasts.  So tonight I go back with him to bag and tag… Then stock up the freezer.

Rooster didn't make it

The rooster who was attacked by one (or more?) or the other young roosters on Friday made it through Saturday, but died yesterday morning. He just didn’t survive those brutal injuries.
As there was no other factors, whilst we didn't eat him. We didn't want his death to go to waste. So on the upside the dogs were well fed yesterday.
For an animal that can be so friendly and in the case of the ducklings, so nurturing, they are brutal. To be honest I still don’t fully understand it.  I know roosters will challenge and may fight, but I haven’t really experienced it, particularly at such a young age.
I our aim to replenish our laying stock, we subsequently hatched and raised a few roosters. These have either found a new home, or destined for the pot. None have had contact with our older resident roosters (to avoid any challenge of this kind). But til now, we had found with sufficient room and food the roosters could be raised til big enough without any trouble.
This rooster was probably one of the more dominant and cheeky. He was first in the food and would even come out to greet and peck me, as I brought in their feed and water. My guess is he was challenged and just did not submit; I found him curled up behind the feeder.
So yesterday, after letting the roosters range, I set them up in the temporary duck run. Which should give them more than enough room for another few weeks, since its only currently inhabited by two ducks. This did involve setting up a few garden nets over the top- to prevent them roosting in my neighbours trees (as they are a little close- and Old English Games a renowned for it). They appear to have settled in quite well. Fingers crossed that we don’t have another incident like that.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Poultry highs and lows

Be aware these pictures are both cute and the other is quite graphic....

Well came home to the most welcome site of 6 fluffy ducklings following mum and auntie chook.
This was especially joyous as this is this mumma ducks second attempt.

Unfortunately this joy was short lived. As we are now monitoring a young rooster who had been attacked by another young rooster. This is evidence of how brutal chickens can be.
Will keep you updated on his condition.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What's in a name?

I was complemented yesterday on the Name of our house, by the workfriend who's son fed our animals over the weekend. But he wanted to know how to say it and what it meant.

Well, we bought 'Maes-y-Delyn' last year, moving in on 30th June. But we put in our offer a few months earlier, with an long settlement term as we were heading home for a holiday.
I say a long settlement term, for those not in Queensland, you may find is strange but most house sales have a 30 day settlement. Meaning from offer to exchange of keys can be as little as a month. Now to us this was an eye opener- as those I know who have bought back in the UK, it takes at least 3 months. So a 'long settlement' in Queensland terms, was average to us...anyway back on topic.

Having fallen in love with this beautiful place and having our offer accepted, we excitedly headed over seas for a month. Usually I find returning from a visit quite hard, but on this occasion we had much to return to. But we still wanted to make it or own. To put our stamp on it.

So we began discussing farms, and places at home that had inspired us and our choice of lifestyle and the answer seemed simple... we needed a name.

We begun with names of places we liked or had some personal meaning or story. But none of them seemed appropriate. So in true Welsh tradition we begun listing discriptions and features of the block and house. We had considered and English laguage name, given many of our visitors would be and most of our neighbours are, Australian. But it just didn't seem right... it just didn't have the same feel and we felt it woul be something unique to us; there are not that many Welsh people in this town (although there are a few).

Eventually we agreed on Maes-y-Delyn. And for the none welsh speakers, literal translates as is harp-shaped field/meadow.  It seemed appropriate given the unusual almost triangluar shape the overall land forms. And the boundary nearest the road does bow in a harp-like shape.

All Welsh place names have a literal translation. I am sure once upon a time they were drections ;)

So before we had set off on our holidays I had contacted a few plaque makers/ engravers. Enquiring as to costs of an authentic Welsh slate name plaque. Many were expensive, only used 'Celtic slate'; so no guarentee it was Welsh. Or could not guarentee production within the month we were home- I didn't think it was alot to ask, they had a whole month! And delivery to Australia for something of this size, weight and fragile was expensive. 

And then I found that turned out to be in Pencoed, not that far from my home town.
Jonathan comes from a long line of Masons in the Brecon area and his hand crafted work is gorgeous! And he couldn't be more helpful.

And his craftmanship is still creating a talking point and is mounted with pride. Representing our touch of Wales in Oz.

And the name I use for this blog too. I think it will stick, am thinking of labelling some of my home made goods with it. Not in a commercial sense, but as a mark of what we have achieved. 

I hope there are other readers, bloggers out there with unusual or interesting names; either they have given thier patch or maybe inherted with a place. Or maybe how you named your blog? And what this name means to you. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Lovely weekend away, but first from puppies

This weekend we took a trip to Long Island with some friends. We spent the weekend relaxing, swimming (even if I did find the water cold), playing mini golf, walking, animal feeding of different species, feeding ourselves...far too much and enjoying a few drinks in the gorgeous Whitsundays.
The Whitsunday Islands are less than an hour away for us and we've tripped to a few since moving here, but you do becme complacent as to what is on your door step.

Long Island is a resort island. It could possibly benefit from a lick of paint here and there. And some new boardwalk planks on the way in. Though I can't say we noticed as we disembarked the ferry, as we were too busy admiring the crystal clear waters and sea life below us. Along with the picturesque beach scapes and national park (that make up the majority of the island)

The ferry crossing is just 15 minutes from Shute harbour- so alot closer than some of the other islands. So close in fact that some sea kayakers stopped off briefly and then set off again.

The main thing (for me at least) this weekend, in terms of Maes-y-Delyn; was it was our first trip away leaving the puppies at home. 
We have had the odd late night out and we have each been away separately, since moving here. And whilst we have been on holidays since having Ffion, that was at our old house. When we had her brother Griff and friends took care of them. But it was a first for here and for Madog. 
It may seem as if I was over reacting, as it was only for 2 nights, but I guess this weekend woudl set a president for any future trips. 

Now we could have placed the dogs in kennels, but A, I would still have had to find someone to feed the chooks (chickens, ducks & turkeys) and pigs, as there are not so many keenels for livestock. And B, Madog's a whinger and I was unsure how he would react to a strange environment. So the solution seemed to be someone feeding them too. So I arranged for a friend (from work, who lives close by) and his son to feed eveything for us. Now I wasn't 100% sure how the dogs would react to our feeding visitors. But all went pretty well.
We made she all the animals had a good feed before we left early on Friday and labelled all the feed bins with relevant instructions for them on the Saturday.

When we arrived home Sunday afternoon, all animals were delighted to see us (or more interested in being fed)... dogs included.
Once they had made their inital fuss and then been walked and fed both cwtched up in their beds. Only moving when absolutely necessary! Am guessing they missed thier 'creature comforts' :)

The biggest issue from our few days of rest is the work we'll have to do to get the herb patch back under control!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A not so happy feathery start to the day

Went to feed the animals this morning (as per normal, before I head off to work). Only to find a trail of black feathers from one of the shed dorrs to the water tank. Follwed by the appearance of two very pleased looking dogs!

We have recently introduced 4 of our 5 Old English Game cross pullets to the 'normal' chicken run, along with 3 (slightly younger, but now larger) Rhode Island Red crosses. We hatched these ladies (along with 4 males- still separated) from the Old English Game rooster I accidently bought at auction back in May.
Having happily incubated the eggs and raised the chicks. I had completely forgotten how athletic and agile (and completely frustrating) thier father had been. We had hoped that they would have inherited some of the size from thier various mothers (Australorp, Sussex, though I think some maybe Wellsumer- not a big bird)... but no such luck.
As a breed Old English Games are fantastic free range birds, if you want them to scratch for food, roost in trees and generally fend for themselves.
Personally I have 2 "poultry loving" dogs (as dinner, that is). Therefore whilst my birds, happily have free run of the rear garden when we are home (as the dogs a out the front, or inside) and have a large run during the day. Unfortunately these young pullets feel the area for the general population is not good enough for them, and continuously seek the free run of the front yard.
To date the dogs have been relatively good with them. The birds have been calm and have even followed them around. Ffion (our staffy) generally only get excited when they flap or run.
But this morning appeared to have been the massacre we had thoght inevitable. Matt had threatened to eat them himself, rather than them see the fate of becoming the dogs dinner- though neither would be pleasant, I know which would be worse.

Anyway our 'pup' seemed very interested in the far corner. So I investigated further, to find one of the colourful EOG birds trapped between the 2 layers of fencing. Clearly distressed and a few ruffled feathers, but seemingly OK. Now I would have thought the dogs could have gotten her from there, instead he proudly showed me wht they had done?
I freed the bird and returned her to the rest of the flock; checking her over (just in case). She immediately spreang to her feet and followed to the enclosure for thier normal feed.

I ten counted 2 or the 4 birds, both black ones were missing... I now feared the trail may have been 2 different crime sites.

Returning to my duties, with a heavy heart. I secured the dogs out, without thier usual treat. And set about feeding my remaining flock and pigs. As I left the shed to tend to the younger chicks (in the totally inclosed run) there was a ruffled looking black OEG pullet, happily helping herself through the fence.... So they only had one!

To my surprise, as I set off, reversing my car out to head off to work, there was the last bird; wandering around the yard, looking to return to the main (feeding) flock. Not a feather out of place!

So I assisted her over the high fence and happily left for the office. Feeling slightly guilty for thinking so badly of my gorgeous puppies. Who had obviously had some fun with then birds, but not actually committed the crimes I instantly assumed they were guilty of.

Hopefully now the young birds will have learned thier lesson, and stay with the main flock, and realise that the fences are their for thier own protection.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Weekend of bikes, chicken poop, bean poles, cider and roast duck

Saturday was our local charity bike ride. It's in its 3rd year now and was great to see 1100 riders dust of the bikes and tackle 4 different distances all for a good cause.
We also when about sourcing another bed. Not for ourselves, but in preparation of our visitors in December. So I am pleased to say, no one should be sleeping on the floor in our house this Christmas... except maybe the dogs.

Sunday was a little more farm orientated. I had a list of chores- cleaning out all the chickens was top of my list. So all old bedding and manure collected and placed in the composter. All fresh hay, shredded paper and saw dust laid for comfy roosts. Even if our young Old English Game cross hens (recently introduced to the chicken run) insist on trying to roost upon the fences or in the garden. To which I have persisted with taking them to the hen house, in the hope they will learn.
We had hoped that crossing the Old English Game with a heavy layer (like our Australorps or Light Sussex) would have made them a little heavier- less agile and possibly more docile… Definitely not the case. We have 5 beautifully marked, lean and athletic pullets, determined to do their own thing.
I regularly find 2 in the front garden, around the small enclosed run; that I usually house the young chicks (before they are big enough to join the rest of the flock). Where they were initially housed, and where their rooster siblings are still. I am hoping once we move them out, they will not want to return there. Luckily the dogs have not been particularly bothered by them (so far). Matt even called the dogs in yesterday, so that we could catch the bird; only for the birds to follow quite happily behind.

So whilst I up to my elbows in poultry poop, Matt strimmed the edges and fence lines and then begun turning my pallets into an extra garden bed-  Something I had intended to do whilst he was away. However (as difficult as it is for me to admit) I just couldn’t get the boards off the pallets. So was grateful he did, so we filled them and begun transferring some of my quicker growing/producing veg over. Allowing more space in the other beds.
I weeded (for hours), flowing the few days of showers and constructed a few bean/ bean supports from bamboo and twine- In what will now be the bean bed. They look the part, so hopefully they work. As I also transplanted out the last of my snow peas, bortotti and butter beans and interplaced some strawberries and spinach. It sounds like an odd combination, but apparently they make good companion plants and should grow quite nicely on the ground, whilst the beans and peas grow up. So saves on space and hopefully less ground coverage should equal fewer weeds (fingers crossed).
So this week I will progressively reorganise my garden beds (again). I pulled out the over bearing coriander and mint plants ( as they had gone into flower and we now have some in the herb patch) along with the rocket; as it had also gone to flower and both Matt and myself decided that neither of us are actually fans. If you pick the young leaves they’re great, but these were established, mature plants (and quite bitter), but the pigs were grateful.
Matt also began his first batch of cider (well a blend of cider and perry). Now we have made cider from one of those tins, but this time he had use apple and pear juice.  Now we haven’t gone as far as crushing and pressing the fruit ourselves… especially being in the tropics as soft fruits do not grow too well. But this is a step closer, so I’ll let you know how it goes.
And for dinner last night we roasted or first hatched and raised duck. I have to admit I was wary, as we had skinned them and duck is renowned for being greasy. So I admit I had concerns as to whether it would be dry (without the fat). But it was delicious… well worth last weekend’s efforts.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

D day for our 1st hatchlings

**Some of the images toward the end maybe disturbing to some, so use your discretion**
Sunday was D-day for the roosters and ducks (drakes). Having advertised them for sale and successfully selling one pure Sussex rooster and 1 drake and one hen from the ducks, it was time to deal with our excess birds. Now this is never a pleasant process, but I do stand by our decision to raise our own food. This, as meat-eaters includes our poultry. As a matter of hatching and raising chicks for layers, we accumulate roosters.  We also (as we keep and raise ducks) have an ongoing source of ducks. However this does mean we have to deal with the excess livestock to fulfil their purpose and fill our freezer.
These however were our first batch of poultry, hatched and raised here.  The 3 roosters were now 20 weeks old and the now 10 week old ducks (males at least) were growing rapidly, as was their appetite.  So whilst we have reared and culled our own chooks in the past, these were the first we had hatched and our first ducks full stop.
As with our previous birds, we set up our temporary station, cleaned and set up the table, knives, poultry scissors and bucket of water.
Our station consists of a stand and 2 cones. I have seen/read a number of ‘effective’ and ‘humane’ methods of killing poultry. But a number include the use of a ‘cone’ shaped item and either cutting the throat or in some cases the head off and bleeding the bird. The cone helps minimise the movement and (hopefully) stress.  We do try to keep the kill as clean as possible, as we do not want to put the birds through any more than we have too. And stress itself affects the meat, which in turn defies the point in doing this.
We had in the past, attempted a technique from a Butchery book that involved piercing the brain/nervous system through the beak, before bleeding. It is supposed to be instant, however we were unconvinced. As it was awkward and if you were to do it incorrectly, then surely you were putting the bird through more pain/stress. So we have since opted for the more direct approach.
I guess regardless of how it is done this is the part of the process I struggle with the most. Once they are dead I can process the bird; skin and gut, I guess as it becomes a matter of wanting to respect the life you’ve taken and not wanting  to waste it. I know many would view my stuggle to be over sensitiveity, and other would question why do it then? And more so why document it? But I guess I will always struggle with my meat eating philosophy and my animal loving instincts... I hope I never change. As I don't hink (or hope) I will never be complacement about taking a life. And will therefore want to respect and make the most of any meat, all meat, but especially those we rear.

Some may also question our method of feathering. As I have documented in the past that we choose to skin our birds, for time and health reasons. It's more time efficient and whilst many argue that the skin is the tasty part, I remove it whilst or after cooking anyway. So might as well save ourselves the extra work.
I will admit skinnin the ducks was far more work than the chickens. As without going into too much detail, the skin was alot tighter to the meat and I needed to gentally coax it way with the knive, also the layer of fat under the skin was initially baffling. But persistance was key.
Result a stocked freezer-3 chickens weighing 1.3kg, 1.6kg and 1.9kg and 6 ducks, the smallest being 1.1kg, all the others being 1.4-1.6kg, some duck livers for making pate. And some very well fed dogs for some day to come.

The smallest bird was the larger of the younger birds we were raising.  We still have another, which was much smaller, 2 that are still in that awkward yellow fuzzy stage- one I believe is a boy, the other could be a girl as ‘she’ is smaller. However this could purely be down to her lameness and ability to complete for food. We also kept the only other hen (other than the one we sold). Matt decided as they were our first ducklings he wanted to keep one and as she was the only girl it wouldn’t be as if we were increasing our resident numbers too much. His reasoning being the females are drastically small and he was worried she wouldn’t be carrying a lot of meat. To be honest I would have to agree, as she would have been smaller than the youngest male. So a reprieve for her at least.

Madogs first Boat trip

So this weekend we had a bonus long weekend- for the Queens jubilee we had a seconds Queens birthday holiday. Though next year the Queensland government are looking into exchanging this date for either the other Queens birthday (usually in June) or Labour Day, as this is held in May in Qld but on the first Monday of October in many other states. So to make the most of the weekend we hooked up the tinny, packed up the swag and camping gear and headed off to Kinchant dam with the dogs.

 Intention was to try and catch 'red claw' and work out the logistics of having the dog with us onboard. The red claw are a fresh water crayfish. Very tasty and something Matt had tried whilst on his bush trip. He had read of people catching them there, but mostly this dam is used by waterski and jetski enthusiasts. though you do get the odd angler who nabs a Barra. So we sorted ourselvs ot with a fresh water permit and some pots. To give it a try.

 It was Madogs first boat trip. Ffion has been out to sea a few times, both on a camping trip as a pup and on our ‘old’ boat (though it was quite a bit larger). So she is quite familiar with the water and is quite happy as a sea-dog. I think introducing Madog to this process on smoother waters was a good idea; as he’s a pretty big dog for a not so large vessel! Though he did like the wind in his face, and took quite a liking to the crab pot floats, though he resisted the temptation to jump overboard.
Hopefully on our next outing we will actually catch some dinner. But all in all a lovely day on the water, followed by a camp dinner, a sleepless night (due to others on the campsite)  and an early morning dog walk around the deserted dam a dawn. Least this way the dogs could have a run and a paddle.