"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Cloud Farm Christmas

Well Merry Christmas from everyone on the Cloud Farm! We had a good Australian Christmas. We ate too much, drank too much, showered the young feller with presents and generally had a good time. One thing we have not done is swelter in the heat, so far this has been the coldest December we have had here. By this I mean that there are blankets still on the bed and the days are nicely balmy. Beautiful!
This year we have gone through the cycle of the seasons that we have come to know and love. In this part of the world we experience a particular microclimate different from other parts of Australia. So although we experience the typical Australian summer and winter cycle (we don't really get a dedicated spring or autumn) we also get the summer mist months, the wet season, the windy month, the blue sky end of winter and so on. We are learning to expect each in its annual turn and enjoy the cycle.
All the fattener pigs have now been slaughtered and are in the freezer or pickling tub. I took the last carcasse out of the cold room and cut it up into pickling joints today. Two hams, two boned rumps, two bacon sides and two pork bellies. The shoulders were boned out and will be used to make sausages.
It sure is quieter out in the pig yard. Only old Sausage our sow remains. She is heavily pregnant at the time of writing and should drop her litter early in January.
Anna, the first lady of the dairy shed, chose to come into heat on Boxing day so we took her next door to see Francis the bull. After last years shenanigans we were ready with a plan. This time we put a halter and lead on her calf Isobel and Anna followed quite willingly. This would have been ideal except that Isobel the wonder heifer decided she was not going to have a bar of it and instead chose to fight like hell... Oh well, now I have a year to plan for next time.
 This morning I took the camera with me when I did the milking. I find when I sit quietly milking all the animals will ignore me and go about their morning business. The guineafowl will bring in their new keets for a feed and drink. The King parrots will come down and steal the chickens feed and the red cap finches will flit about almost close enough to touch as they wait for a turn at the feed trough. 
Lately I have also noticed that my somewhat eccentric dog Rufus has begun running a bovine grooming station each morning. When Bonnie has finished her bucket she will come over to the gate of the milking shed and let Rufus give her a good clean all over the face. They both appear to quite enjoy their morning session.
Keets and their mum in the morning sun. They have just had a feed and begin yawning before settling down for a sleep in the sun. Cute.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A month of works

 Alessa our Maremma (flock dog) is beginning her morning rounds. She likes to keep tabs on both the neighbours properties as well as her own. The neighbours are ok with this as they get protection for their livestock from wild dogs too.
 Meet Gobbles the second. Yes, I know he is a grey and not a bronze but he came at the right price- free. Sometime last month Gobbles came off second best with a large predator. I am quite disappointed with Alessa for not stopping this but it is the one and only attack we have had here since she joined us so I should not be too harsh. Before we had her we were losing stock monthly to the wild dogs.
 Installing new gates so the power company trucks have access to the pole out in the bottom paddock. If I don't have these gates here they will just cut the fences and drive on in. If they touch a single strand of our fences now there will be hell to pay!
In the background you will see the electric fence set up on the "long paddock" (roadside) as they say. It is a good way of mowing the verges as well as feeding hungry cows before the grass starts growing again. We have had good rain now so I will take it down today.
There is something very appealing about a pile of ripe pumpkins waiting outside the kitchen door. I love it. I also love roasted pumpkin and pumpkin soup- my speciality.

Ulf's prime pumpkin soup
1 good pumpkin. Queensland blue is best but any rich pumpkin will do.
2-3 tablespoons of good honey
2 lemons or limes
Cream, 1 cup or more
Cayenne pepper or hot Paprika to taste
Boil the cleaned pumpkin flesh until it is just soft then drain. Mash or blend until smooth and add cream to form a thick soup. Add honey until reasonably sweet then sharpen with lemon/lime juice to taste. Stir in Cayenne pepper a little at a time (be careful here as honey can amplify the effect of hot spices!) until the soup has a nice bite. Blend till smooth.
Serve hot with a small dollop of cream on top and toasted crusty bread to the side.

More porcine adventures

The three little pigs have become the three big porkers! Still cute in a big muddy piggy way. We will have a slaughter day with a few friends in a couple of weeks. In the traditional way I will help a neighbour slaughter his pigs and then he will help us with ours. These will be mostly for fresh pork and sausages. If I can cadge the secret recipe from a friend I am also going to do a few pickled pork joints. I tried one of his pork joints earlier in the year and it was unlike anything I have ever tasted! He pickles the pork in a brine made with pineapple juice (amongst other things) and generally keeps the recipe a close secret, so wish me luck. I really want a slow roasted pickled pork with crackling on Christmas day.
 Sausage, our sow, is heavily pregnant. She has become a real pet and has a sweet nature. She talks to us each morning with her honks and grunts as we prepare her breakfast and loves a nice scratch on the rump. It is a good thing she is so sweet natured as a 200kg sow could otherwise be quite dangerous . Apart from just enjoying the contact, this is one reason I take pains to tame all of our livestock.
Unfortunately we will probably be moving sausage on to a good home after her next litter. Our setup for pigs relies on having a fallow period after each batch and having a breeding sow in residence does not allow us to do this. This means the pig yards remain bare all year round and this is not good for the land or the pigs. We will be very sorry to see the old girl go. We will also make sure she goes to a good home.
So after her next litter we will be going back to the original plan and buying a batch of weaners once per year. Not as nice as having a tame sow but better for the land.

The summer flush

A little rain and everything will change overnight. We finally received about 20mm a few weeks ago and then another 25mm or so over the last few days. Suddenly everything begins growing at a furious rate. The dusty paddocks are quickly turning a lush green and the weeds in the veggie garden are fighting back with spirit.
The mint has come back from its winter raggedness beautifully. It loves hot damp weather and just looks so photogenic. We use it in yoghourt dipping sauces and raitas. We also make Senkenjabin from it. Senkenjabin is an ancient Persian cordial. It is superb to cool down with on a hot day after hard work. It is also excellent with Vodka, sort of like a Singapore sling, I call it a Topaz sling.
4 cups sugar
2.5 cups water
1 cup wine vinegar (good quality please)
1 large handful of fresh mint
Boil water and dissolve the sugar, add the vinegar and simmer for twenty minutes. Then remove from the heat and add the mint. Allow it to steep as it cools then strain and bottle. This is the cordial concentrate, to use dilute with cold water to taste and serve with ice. Also good with a large shot of vodka.  

 The bananas are loving the weather. Over winter the grey water pipe from the grease trap clogged solidly. Attempts to free it proved fruitless as it would promptly clog up again. On inspection I found the pipe had not been laid with enough fall and this was allowing sediment to settle in the pipe. So I was forced to dig a new trench with a greater fall. I laid it in a different direction that had more of a slope and delivered the water to the banana stand. Sort of like a reed bed system and the Bananas love it- lots of nutrient and wet feet. Banana heaven.
Consequently the bananas have responded by throwing bunches in all directions. I counted about eighteen bunches this morning. This variety is a type of "Lady finger" sugar banana. Intensely sweet and delicious, they are a fine eating fruit but will turn chalky if used for cooking. Down in the lower orchard area I have a small stand of Cavendish coming on to use in cooking. I like banana cake!
 This is a Banana flower. The centre is often used in Asian cooking and is very good. The little florets are the actual flowers and each will become one banana fruit when pollinated. The bees love banana flower.
 This alien looking fruit is a Buddha's Hand. It is a citrus closely related to lemons. It is almost completely rind with almost no actual flesh at all. It makes up for this by having the most intensely lemony scent of any citrus and is excellent as a citrus potpourri or else as a clove studded pomander.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Rolling into summer

It has grown hot already and the summer is expected to be hotter still. This in turn means we will probably have a high chance of a few cyclones this year. The rain they bring is welcome but we are all still a bit gun shy after the last two direct hits (Cyclone Larry followed by cyclone Yasi) which did enormous damage.
Speaking of rain, we have had none for a long time now. Almost emptied the tanks so I spent three days taking turns with our neighbours pumping water from the creek down in the rainforest. We use an old water line that runs through their property to our tanks. It is a leftover of the days when both properties were the original dairy farm. We use their pump but provide the fuel and share service costs. It is a good arrangement and we are good neighbours in turn.
Years ago we used a Glockemann ram pump to deliver water to the house tank. It was powered by the force of the water alone and delivered about nine hundred litres of water per day with no electricity or fuel required. Unfortunately it was not very flood proof and each time we had a fresh come down (a sudden rush of water due to rain upriver) we would lose all of the drive pipes and the pump would almost be torn free of its anchoring chain.
Someone in Innisfail at the bottom of the mountain sure received a lot of very expensive drive pipe. So after losing it all for the last time I packed the lot up and sold the pump on e-bay. It ended up going to rural England of all places....I miss that ram pump.
A few days ago one morning I noticed Anna had hidden herself off under a tree in the top paddock. Sure enough she was in labour. I checked her to make sure all was fine and left her to get on with it while I fed the other livestock and watered the veggie garden. About twenty minutes later I went to see if she had made any progress yet to find it had not only been born but was already up and walking. Anna is getting very good at dropping nice healthy calves!
The young un turned out to be a strong and healthy heifer. Jersey cross Dexter. She should make someone a fine house cow someday. We have christened her Isobel. Looking forward to beginning milking Anna again soon.
The veggie garden is going at a great pace and we are eating well! The winter veg are still going although I expect the heat will finish them off over the next month and I have begun planting summer veggies.
 We are enjoying eating with the seasons. It gives you a real appreciation for the flavours of the season and the diet feels much more varied. Does that sound strange? You see, we found that when we bought food from the shop we became stuck in a rut of the same type of food each week. When everything is always available to you, you are not forced to try new things. As we are forced to eat what we can grow here we are likewise forced to learn how to cook foods that we would not have usually chosen to buy at the shop. Far from being a disadvantage we have found ourselves enjoying all sorts of new dishes. As our garden and our gardening skill grows so our diet becomes more varied. Life is good!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

and now for a nice chicken dinner

The meat chooks graduated from the pen to the freezer yesterday and today. I was quite pleased with the size and quality of the carcasses. Very large and plump. Of course the little feller had to help as you can see below. 
 It was a team effort. I caught, killed, scalded and operated the plucking machine before delivering the clean carcasses to the Child bride who dressed them out (which is a polite way of saying she cut of their heads and feet off before pulling the guts out) and bagged them for the freezer.
We ended up with thirty-nine good large carcasses, a bowl of hearts and a large bowl of livers. I have a recipe from a Danish friend for the hearts. She crumbs and fries them. Apparently they are a real hit with her otherwise finicky-eater children.
The livers I will use to make a very special pate recipe given to me by my sister in law, Robyn. It is simply the best pate I have ever eaten anywhere! I will publish the recipe (provided it is with her permission) in the future.
Last night we had a large roast chook for dinner. It was rich and tender and had a much stronger, but not at all unpleasant, flavour. It is simply the flavour we have come to associate with pure organic produce. The bird was large enough to supply three meals for a small family of big eaters.

On feral pests

As if cane toads, rabbits, wild dogs, feral cats and mynah birds weren't enough we now have a new feral pest to deal with around here.
Yes that is right, we now have feral peacocks or more correctly; peafowl. A week ago six peafowl wandered down the road and thought this looked like a good place to stay. They don't belong to any one we can locate and pretty much go where they please.
I know many people wonder why this is a problem. While I will concede they are pretty enough, peafowl bring a host of problems. For starters they are both loud and bloody noisy! In addition they will fight with our existing poultry for the food and ransack the chook shed. But mostly it is a problem because peafowl fly well and like to land on the roof - the same roof that catches all of our household water and I prefer my drinking water without a large dollop of peacock poo! 
So the peafowl must go. As efforts to drive them off have failed so far we intend to instead tame them with regular feed in one of the spare chook pens where they will eventually be trapped before being sold to some peacock fancier who lives a long, long way from here. Unlike most other livestock on the place they will not be fattened and eaten. This is because I am informed that peacock tasted marginally worse than barbequed sneakers...
Anyone want to buy a peacock, going cheap?*

*well actually going "macawww, macawww" all bloody day long as they roam about like they own the place.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Pics from around the farm

After the late season rain finally let up I managed to get a veggie garden in for the winter. The corro sides are to keep bandicoots out. I am pleased to say they work really well!
I have decided that planting on raised mounds is not a good idea- too hard to weed. This year I have gone for ground level rows and they are a breeze to keep clean by comparison. Of course, they will suffer much worse in the wet season if I don't have the hothouse up by then.
 Below are our implements for keeping the garden weed free. A his and hers matching hoe set (well *I* think it is romantic) and a wheel hoe of my own design.

Meet Mr Bastard. I may have mentioned him before. Mr Bastard is a boulder that gave me no end of trouble when building the new chook pens. I finally had a huge digger machine lift him up and carry him away. Somehow he has managed to slide down the back of the dirt pile where he was placed and has made his way into the orchard. When the man with the digger returns I will have Mr Bastard moved again. This time he will end up as a sitting rock at the end of the kitchen garden- where I can keep an eye on him!
Rufus has grown. He loves his Dad!
I caught a nice shot of Sausage having a good rub in the afternoon sun. Sausage has become a bit of a family pet and it looks like we will be keeping her as our breeding sow.

The kindness of strangers.

A few weeks ago I received a most wonderful gift from Jim who reads this blog and frequently comments with his very good advice. I had, a while back, mentioned that I was after some certain varieties of Fig trees and to my delight the package contained eight fine healthy Brown Turkey suckers.
Very gratefully received, thank you Jim.
I potted the suckers up expecting them to spend the winter dormant but they were having none of this and have immediately put out good healthy shoots. I guess they consider it a lot warmer here that where they come from. Better plant them out and soon!

Kindness to strangers goes around like good karma. You should take as you give. On Thursday I was digging a trench for the new grease trap when my wife came running in from her car.
"Quick, there has been an accident on the road to town and no one know what to do".
So we climbed into her car and sped to the scene. There we found two vehicles which had collided head on, one vehicle had rolled onto its side and the other had its front end completely staved in. Both drivers, elderly men, were trapped. The one on the side had his right foot crushed under the accelerator and the other gentleman had both legs up to the thighs securely pinned by the crumpled front end of his car. Three stunned onlookers stood by in silence.
Now my wife had raced home to get me because nobody there knew what to do. While I might be flattered by this I want to make it clear that I am no expert in these circumstances either. Nevertheless I do have a modicum of training and I am no stranger to blood or violence in my line of work -so I suppose I was the best there was going at the time.
I firstly made sure that the emergency services had already been alerted and told the full details of the situation. I then checked each victim for their response and immediate vitals and made sure any further risk was averted. I determined as best I could that the man in the vehicle on its side, while uncomfortable, was not in too bad shape. The man with both legs trapped looked in a much worse position. I set helpers to monitor and reassure the other fellow and stayed by the worse case to do what I could and possibly provide CPR should it become necessary.

I said to this gentleman "I am here for you and I will not leave. No matter what happens today I will be here until this is over and you are out of there".

Fortunately a paramedic arrived soon after and took over. He must have agreed with my own view as he was quite concerned with the same man and spent most of his time with him thereafter. Soon after another ambulance arrived, followed by fire-rescue, police and rescue helicopter with an emergency doctor on board.
I don't know about the two patients but I certainly couldn't be more relieved! It was wonderful to watch them all swing into operation and I was impressed beyond belief with the kindness and care shown.
I was also quite surprised when I was asked to stay and assist, I was expecting to hand over to the professionals and move to the sidelines. Instead I became the note taker for the first paramedic writing down all the vitals and patient details and then when the rain came down I held an umbrella to keep the patient dry and was perfectly happy to do so.
Releasing the men from their crushed vehicles took about an hour and a half. The man in the vehicle on its side appeared to not be too badly hurt (in my uneducated opinion) and possibly had a broken leg. However I was quite appalled at the extent of the other mans injuries. Both legs crushed and the bare bones of the knees exposed, both legs broken in multiple places.
Both men were taken to hospital, the worse of the two flown down to Cairns by helicopter rescue and from there I understand he was taken to Townsville intensive care.

Now understand that I know neither of the two victims at all. I will most likely never meet either of them ever again. That is fine by me, I do not expect thanks or praise, I did not do this to make the world a better place, I did not do it because one day it might be someone I care about.
I did this for no other reason than someone needed help.

Meat chooks almost there

From this
48 hours.
 to this
Six weeks.
to this
Eight weeks.
Not bad. Now I know I said I would raise them over twelve weeks or so but at this rate I don't think that will be necessary or feasible. So I reckon we will give them another week, perhaps two before putting them in the freezer. I would love to know precisely what cross these birds are but I doubt the breeder will ever give that away. Either way, they eat like kings and grow like nothing I have ever seen before. They are raised on a diet of natural high protein food with no additives as well as greens. If the cow were in milk then they would be getting some of that too.

So next week I will get the plucker out with its new and more powerful motor, boil up some water and have a family day putting the chooks in the freezer. That should be about a years supply of chicken.  

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Unkilled meat. Seriously, what the ????

I just had to reproduce this here...
This person could actually breed and that scares the living bejabbers out of me!
Now I have nothing against killing animals for meat, obviously, but to consume meat or wear wool or leather while remaining ignorant of its origin is a sin. Worse still are those people who deliberately avoid facing the reality of their food yet are still willing to eat it. I am not asking everyone to actually have to slaughter the animal they wish to eat but I do believe they should be cognisant of the process whereby their food was made.
Factory farming, chemical fertilizers, battery cages, farrowing crates. Would any of these things exist if the public as a whole were forced to confront them?

Meat chicks

We are working to have a varied diet at hand, within seasonal limits. I like to be able to go to the freezer and be able to choose from a range of meats just as I like to be able to go to the veggie garden to eat a different selection of veggies most nights. Granted there must be a seasonal variation with vegetables and this is a good thing too as it whets the appetite for variety from the garden and brightens the diet. But where meat is concerned it is a chore indeed to eat a whole beef before a change in diet. To avoid this we try to keep production going and slaughter regularly to keep the freezer stocked with a variety of meats. At any one time I should be able to choose from beef, pork, chicken, duck, turkey, chevon or mutton.
So I intend to raise a batch of fifty meat chooks each year. I was originally intending to breed my own but it is much easier, and cheaper, to just buy the chicks wholesale. They are a meat bird natural crossbreed (We do not permit GMO on the Cloud farm!) and are raised on pure organic food. So what if they take a little longer to mature than the chemically fattened victims from the factory? Our birds taste better and grow at least as large.
They arrive by air freight as day old chicks. Day olds, for those who don't know, can be mailed about the place with impunity as long as they remain warm enough -for when they hatch the chicks still have a yolk sack in their stomach. This supplies them with everything they need for about forty eight hours. To try this with week old birds would almost certainly kill the lot.
So I drove down the mountain to Cairns and picked up a chirping box of chicks.
There I was confronted by a young girl of ten or so and her mother. The young lady was enchanted by the cute little chick but horrified that I intended to eat them. I enquired if the young lady ate chicken and she assured me she did. I then reminded her that all chickens started out as cute little chicks just like these, likewise the wool she wore came from a sheep that was once a lamb and the leather of her shoes came from a cow that was once a calf.
I suppose I am a bit of a bastard really...
Anyway, the chicks are currently in the brooder under a light to keep warm until they are old enough to go out to the fatteners pen. They sure are eating, drinking and growing well.

Mucky days

Well winter is here. We have actually been experiencing some absolutely beautiful blue-sky crisp weather. Cold nights and those clear cold days that are so good to work in. I turned over the veggie garden and dug in a couple of tonnes of compost. Then built a temporary iron fence to keep the bandicoots out- they are dreadful diggers in garden beds and will wreak havoc on seedlings. I managed to get in a couple of rows of winter peas and some carrots before the weather turned.
 Now it looks like the blue skies are gone for a while as the "winter muckies" close in. Good weather for germinating winter seedlings or toasting in front of the fire. I have been doing both.
Today the wind is blowing a gale and visibility ranges from fifty metres to one in a flash. The cold rain comes in horizontal gusts making a good Drizabone (oilskin coat for the non Aussie/Kiwi readers) essential.
Oh yes, the Cloud farm winter ensemble this year features a wide brim Akubra with a tasteful hint of chook feathers and poop on the crown where I hit my head under the roosting perch, A full length brown Drizabone riders coat with mud stained and tattered hem line and matching gumboots in red mud. Finish the whole outfit with a tatty grey jumper and old jeans with red mud on the knees. A perfect and stylish ensemble for those early morning milking's or when stumbling through a muddy chook pen. Not surprisingly it is much the same outfit as featured in last years catalogue.
Don't get me wrong, although it is cold and muddy, I actually love this weather and this time of year. I love the nights beside the fire and sleeping warm under blankets and doona. Drinking wine and eating cheese. Spending a day working outdoors without dripping sweat all over. It is a time of real productivity and fun.
As I mentioned a few post ago, we have slaughtered the beef steer. He turned out really well and I intend to follow this method of raising and slaughtering in future. The steer was raised to almost three years and slaughtered at "the end of the grass" which is a way of saying he was fat from the summer flush of good grazing and had not yet begun to lose condition as the cold weather came on. The beef was then hung to age for two weeks to fully mature it. This improves the texture and flavour no end. We then cut the beef into useable cuts over two days. Steak, roast, silverside, mincing, chops and cutlets, T bone and blade, rendering fat and finally dog bones.
I cut and the child bride packed. The meat is bagged in meal sized portions and then paper wrapped for the freezer. According to the lady wife, pumpkins make excellent paper weights.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The milk bar is open!

The milk bar is open. It all goes silent apart from some satisfied grunts and the occasional slurp.
 After a big feed they all enjoy a snooze in the sun to digest.
This is how I believe pigs should be kept. They can dig and eat what they find, sleep in the sun and have plenty of room to run about in. No stress or overcrowding and they are only fed on whole natural foods. So what if they grow a little slower than their factory raised counterparts? I know my pigs are happier, tastier and better for you!
All the livestock is raised in a free range environment. Here my free range child is about to get a big lick up the face from the free range cow.

Winter is here

We have just come out of four weeks of absolutely horrible weather, mud and cold constant drizzle. It was a very unseasonal rain. Probably making up for the almost non existent wet season this year. Finally it is dry and our beautiful blue sky weather has returned. Not as cold as most years. Certainly no danger at all of frost yet, we expect a dozen or so frosts most years.
We have been busy on the Cloud farm. We killed Boris the steer a fortnight ago. As I still don't have the frame up so I can hoist a carcasse, I had a mobile butcher come out to do the slaughter. When dealing with this much valuable meat it pays to do it properly.
Butchering in the mud. The hoist on his truck allows the carcasse to be lifted.
I aged the quarters in the cold room at four degrees for a fortnight. It is customary in this country to only age for a week but I prefer the European method of a longer hanging time for a much more tender meat. We began cutting the meat into the various cuts yesterday. The beef is rich and even grained with a small amount of marbling throughout. I cooked a small rump roast last night and I can safely say it was the most tender and flavourful roast I have ever eaten. Today I will cut up the front quarters and mince the scrap pieces. We will then have a freezer full of prime beef that should last us for the next year.
We have also emptied out the poultry from the fatteners pen. Five Pekin ducks, three roosters and one turkey. I finally got to try out the tub plucker I made and it performed very well indeed.

Having said that I will put a larger motor on it before future use. It is modelled on the Whizbang chicken plucker. The plucker takes the drudgery out of killing large numbers of birds in one go. To use it you simply dunk your killed bird into scalding water until the feathers are loosened and then drop it into the spinning plucker. The bottom plate spins and the feathers are essentially wiped off by the rubber fingers. In about fifteen seconds you will have a completely naked bird. What I really like is that it removed all of the downy under layer on ducks which previously I had to burn off. I think our Most-wonderful-and-long-suffering-neighbours were once again disturbed by my maniacal mad-scientist laughter and cries of "It works, It works, Hahahahaaaaaaa".
Ahem, anyway, Now to get in an order of fifty meat chicks and really put some poultry in the freezer.