"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

Monday, 7 March 2016

I am a wealthy Man

An interesting conversation the other day.
I was talking with an acquaintance from Africa*. He is a tall strong man with a mouth full of good teeth and a wide smile. He laughs readily and fills the room with joy when he does. I am also informed by the girls that he is very good looking!
Anyway, we were talking about our relative histories. He came from what we would call a background of poverty and war although he recalled fond memories and claimed he had a good childhood of love and family. His people never went too hungry and he considered his family to be reasonably well off. They had a small amount of land and a house. Some livestock and the children were able to obtain a basic education.
Obviously I was compelled to ask him his view of Australia in comparison. He thought Australia was like heaven. He had a positively palatial house in comparison to his home in Africa. No one had ever pointed a gun at him here and he could get a job easily. Best of all he could drink water from a tap in his house. This last comment I found unusual. He explained that to have a tap *in his own house* that gives water that is fresh and good all day long is absolutely unheard of in his country. Of all the things in his day to day life it is access to fresh water he likes the most. The government here even considers it his *right* to have this water! Amazing.

Makes you think doesn't it?

I was more than a little humbled to say the least. My childhood was that of a spoiled prince in comparison despite being firmly middle class Australian. He asked me about my upbringing and I felt more than a little ashamed at my own casual attitude to what I had, until now, taken for granted. However what amazed me the most was his response when I described my farm and lifestyle. His eyes lit up when I said I possessed ten acres of good land, a house (large by his standards) and various livestock but most of all seven cattle! "Oh in my country you would be a very important man!" To say I was amazed by this response would be an understatement. This man is not far from gaining his PHD! He is educated far beyond anything I will ever achieve yet he placed me in a high status because of my farm and cattle. I am truly honoured.
He also asked if I wanted another wife as his eldest daughter would soon need a husband? I gracefully declined. (I almost sure he was joking....)

The most mundane of conversations can change our lives. I will forever be grateful to my friend, he has opened a new window in my life.

* Name and precise location withheld at his request

Friday, 4 March 2016

The parable of the wild pigs.

The following parable has been shared many times by email and on sites on the Internet, and for good reason.  It tells of the relation between freedom and independence.  The details of its origin are not clear, but it was told by George Gordon, and this transcript is credited to Steve Washam. 


The Wild and Free Pigs of the Okefenokee Swamp

Some years ago, about 1900, an old trapper from North Dakota hitched up some horses to his Studebaker wagon, packed a few possessions--especially his traps--and drove south. Several weeks later he stopped in a small town just north of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. It was a Saturday morning--a lazy day--when he walked into the general store. Sitting around the pot-bellied stove were seven or eight of the town's local citizens. The traveler spoke, "Gentlemen, could you direct me to the Okefenokee Swamp?" Some of the oldtimers looked at him like he was crazy.

"You must be a stranger in these parts," they said.

"I am. I'm from North Dakota," said the stranger.

"In the Okefenokee Swamp are thousands of wild hogs," one old man explained, "A man who goes into the swamp by himself asks to die!"

He lifted up his leg. "I lost half my leg here, to the pigs of the swamp."

Another old fellow said, "Look at the cuts on me; look at my arm bit off!" "Those pigs have been free since the Revolution, eating snakes and rooting out roots and fending for themselves for over a hundred years. They're wild and they're dangerous. You can't trap them. No man dare go into the swamp by himself."

Every man nodded his head in agreement.

The old trapper said, "Thank you so much for the warning. Now could you direct me to the swamp?"

They said, "Well, yeah, it's due south--straight down the road." But they begged the stranger not to go, because they knew he'd meet a terrible fate.

He said, "Sell me ten sacks of corn, and help me load them into the wagon."

And they did.

Then the old trapper bid them farewell and drove on down the road. The townsfolk thought they'd never see him again.

Two weeks later the man came back. He pulled up to the general store, got down off the wagon, walked in and bought ten more sacks of corn. After loading it up he went back down the road toward the swamp.

Two weeks later he returned and, again, bought ten sacks of corn.

This went on for a month; Then two months, and then three. Every week or two the old trapper would come into town on a Saturday morning, load up ten sacks of corn and drive off south into the swamp. The stranger soon became a legend in the little village and the subject of much speculation. People wondered what kind of devil had possessed this man, that he could go into the Okefenokee by himself and not be consumed by the wild and free hogs.

One morning the man came into town as usual. Everyone thought he wanted more corn.

He got off the wagon and went into the store where the usual group of men were gathered around the stove. He took off his gloves. "Gentlemen," he said, "I need to hire about ten or fifteen wagons. I need twenty or thirty men. I have six thousand hogs out in the swamp, penned up, and they're all hungry. I've got to get them to market right away." "You've WHAT in the swamp?" asked the storekeeper, incredulously. "I have six thousand hogs penned up. They haven't eaten for two or three days, and they'll starve if I don't get back there to feed and take care of them."

One of the old timers said, "You mean you've captured the wild hogs of the Okefenokee?"

"That's right."

"How did you do that? What did you do?" the men urged, breathlessly. One of them exclaimed, "But I lost my arm!"

"I lost my brother!" cried another.

"I lost my leg to those wild boars!" chimed a third. The trapper said, "Well, the first week I went in there they were wild all right. They hid in the undergrowth and wouldn't come out. I dared not get off the wagon. So I spread corn along behind the wagon. Every day I'd spread a sack of corn.

"The old pigs would have nothing to do with it. But the younger pigs decided that it was easier to eat free corn than it was to root out roots and catch snakes. So the very young began to eat the corn first. "I did this every day. Pretty soon, even the old pigs decided that it was easier to eat free corn, after all, they were all free; they were not penned up. They could run off in any direction they wanted at any time. "The next thing was to get them used to eating in the same place all the time. So, I selected a clearing, and I started putting the corn in the clearing.

"At first they wouldn't come to the clearing. It was too far. It was too open. It was a nuisance to them.

"But the very young decided that it was easier to take the corn in the clearing than it was to root out roots and catch their own snakes. And not long thereafter, the older pigs also decided that it was easier to come to the clearing every day.

"And so the pigs learned to come to the clearing every day to get their free corn. They could still subsidize their diet with roots and snakes and whatever else they wanted. After all, they were all free. They could run in any direction at any time. There were no bounds upon them. "The next step was to get them used to fence posts. So I put fence posts all the way around the clearing. I put them in the underbrush so that they wouldn't get suspicious or upset, after all, they were just sticks sticking up out of the ground, like the trees and the brush. The corn was there every day. It was easy to walk in between the posts, get the corn, and walk back out.

"This went on for a week or two. Shortly they became very used to walking into the clearing, getting the free corn, and walking back out through the fence posts.

"The next step was to put one rail down at the bottom. I also left a few openings, so that the older, fatter pigs could walk through the openings and the younger pigs could easily jump over just one rail, after all, it was no real threat to their freedom or independence--they could always jump over the rail and flee in any direction at any time.

"Now I decided that I wouldn't feed them every day. I began to feed them every other day. On the days I didn't feed them, the pigs still gathered in the clearing. They squealed, and they grunted, and they begged and pleaded with me to feed them-- but I only fed them every other day. Then I put a second rail around the posts.

"Now the pigs became more and more desperate for food. Because now they were no longer used to going out and digging their own roots and finding their own food, they now needed me. They needed my corn every other day." "So I trained them that I would feed them every day if they came in through a gate and I put up a third rail around the fence.

"But it was still no great threat to their freedom, because there were several gates and they could run in and out at will. "Finally I put up the fourth rail. Then I closed all the gates but one, and I fed them very, very well."

"Yesterday I closed the last gate and today I need you to help me take these pigs to market."


     The lesson in this parable is that the "free" tax money is a bait that leads to a trap with an intention to enslave those that were independent.  Men that were independent become used to having "benefits" that come from subsidies like vouchers for private schools, welfare, farm programs, Medicaid and Medicare. In the recording, (see below) Gordon says that Social Security is part of this trap. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Today on the Cloud Farm soap opera.

Whenever possible we like to do the morning chores together. It not only makes it easier to get things done quickly but it is also a nice time to observe everything around us. We keep tabs on the latest developments in the chicken hierarchy as the roosters and hens constantly strive to adjust their position on the social ladder. The pigeons meanwhile will call and tap-dance on the cow shed roof until they are fed. This brings the guineafowl running to steal as much of the pigeons food as possible. This year we have a lot of keets so far. Three mothers decided to combine their flocks to form one super flock of keets allowing them a lot more push when it comes time to muscle in on the feed.
The cows will come in to be fed and milked. Bonnie is currently bucking for position as top cow but I think it will be a while until Annabelle decides to move down the ladder. Bonnie has also been pushing the limits of behaviour with the humans to see how much she can get away with. For the most part she is obedient to my wishes. However I notice she will push as far as she can with my wife. I will often be feeding the chooks when I hear a shrill squawk of outrage from the wife followed by Bonnie receiving a heated telling off. Bonnie knows if she pushes it too far I will make an appearance. Rufus will wait for the commotion to settle before going back to his face-washing service he runs for the cows. They seem to like it.
Another source of frustration for the wife has been Ivan the rooster. For a while he had developed the habit of entering the milking shed and letting go with a full throated bellow from not two feet away. I can tell you a big Rhode Island Red crowing in a small shed is truly deafening. This morning I was about to check the rain gauge when I heard "COCK-A-DOODLE-Glubbbble". Not quite the ending one generally hears from a rooster. I entered the milking shed as I was passed at high speed by a sodden rooster to find my wife quietly milking the cow with a smug expression. Apparently she had managed to hit Ivan squarely in the face with the washing water bucket, mid crow.
Currently Ivan is *not* speaking to any of us. A roosters dignity is easily offended. The hens have lately taken to laying in secret nests, usually in the vacant pig pen. I find if I watch carefully I will see a hen quietly sidle off into the bushes when she thinks no one is watching. A careful search later reveals a clutch of eggs usually hidden under a bush.

Having been fed the pigeons will return to their full time hobby- SEX. The cock birds will coo and wobble about as they dance to impress the ladies. The ladies do their best to look unimpressed. Judging by the amount of squabs they are hatching I guess the are not all that unimpressed!
The King parrots will usually make an appearance. If the chooks have not left any feed for them they will make their displeasure known by raiding the bananas.The King parrots have the most unusual call of any parrot. It is a series of descending notes slow and spaced, becoming softer with each note. It sounds like the caller really cant be bothered and runs out of energy at the end. I am sure I sometimes hear a muttered "stuff it, I just cant be bothered..." and the finish of the call.
Jasmine, our world class ratter, remains firmly aloof from the soap opera about her. She will calmly ignore the berating guineafowl as she walks through the middle of their flock, she does not hear the raucous crowing of the roosters and the pigeons are plainly beneath her dignity to notice. In fact the only livestock to cause her concern are the cows who long to give her a lick as she walks along the fence.I notice she times her fence-walking for when the cows are not present.
Rufus, on the other hand, makes it his business to be involved in absolutely everything that happens on the Cloud Farm. Here he is spying on the Lady Cloud farmer as she is putting on her gumboots. He absolutely adores her and will follow her everywhere. He considers me the Alpha dog but my wife, as far as he is concerned, is MUM!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Q&A #4 Buying the farm

Q: Ulf, I want to buy my own farm and live a green lifestyle, can you give me some advice?"

This subject could and should fill a book on its own. In fact I have several books on exactly this. So my answer here is going to be understandably shorter than it realistically ought to be. Instead I will point you to the information you will really need.

Starting point- Lose the illusions!
  • Most of farm life is not romantic and beautiful. It is a lot of hard work and often heartache. You will see projects fail, fruit stolen by the birds, veggies eaten by caterpillars, stock die and fences break. This is the flip side of the coin when everything works out.
  • You will have to deal with heat and cold, mud, rain and whatever the weather throws at you. Not optional, Stock will need to be fed or milked, plants watered or sheltered.
  • You will deal with life and death and often at the most grizzly extreme. Just accept this. If you cannot then please stay in the city.
  • You will be tied to your lifestyle as the running of the farm will depend on you. Holidays might be few and far between if you have to milk the cows everyday.
  • You will need to be fit enough to deal with the constant lifestyle. You will have to lift heavy things sometimes, work for extended periods. You will be injured sooner or later and there are certainly a lot more things that can hurt you on a farm.
  • You will need the support of your family, you cannot do this alone. Don't do this if your spouse has no interest in helping! Nothing will destroy this lifestyle and possibly your marriage faster than this.
  • You will need a lot of common sense and the ability to work with your hands. Do I need to explain this one?
  • Forget anything about farm life you have ever seen in the movies!
Next- Learn, learn, learn!
  • Read every book you can find on farming, animal husbandry, gardening, self sufficiency and anything even vaguely similar. If possible, buy and keep these books. If you read nothing else you should start with The new complete book of self sufficiency by John Seymour . Regardless of what part of the world you live in this book is probably the most useful of all.
  • Investigate the type of farm you want to have and try to get some experience helping out on farms in the area you want to live in.
  • Talk to people already living on their own farms in the area you want to live in. Find out what is possible there and what is not. 
  • Learn the practical skills you will need as soon as you can. How to fence, slaughter a beast, dig a garden, preserve fruit, light a fire, use a chainsaw, do basic carpentry, do plumbing, replace a roof sheet, sink a hole, shift large rocks, use a firearm, handle livestock and so on.Understand that these practical skills will make or break you when dealing with farm life. You have to be as capable as possible in almost every area.
Make a list.
This is possibly the most important list you will ever make when buying a property. It will have two parts.
The first section will be features that are absolutely essential for you to consider the property at all. If the property fails in any of these points, walk away!
The second part of this list are features you would like the property to have but are willing to do without.
You use this list as your checklist when viewing any place for sale and you do not deviate on the mandatory requirements!
As an example I will give the checklist my wife and I used when we were looking for our farm.

  1. Within our price range and fairly priced.
  2. Must have reliable and good water source year round
  3. Must have a house in reasonable repair with at least three bedrooms
  4. Must have reliable grazing to support roughly five head of cattle
  5. Must have space for vegetable garden and orchard
  6. Must have reasonable growing soil
  7. Must have a good farm shed with power
  8. Must have good neighbours at a reasonable distance from the house
  9. Must be within 40 minute drive of the local town
  10. Must have reasonable fencing for livestock
Optional preferred features 
  1. 100+ acres good grazing
  2. extra farm sheds
  3. established orchard
  4. improved pastures
  5. established veggie garden
  6. on a dead end road to limit traffic
  7. abutting rainforest
  8. nice views, especially sunsets
  9. renewable energy potential
  10. potential for home based/ farm based business
  11. not near large industry
  12. no dirt bikes!
  13. minimal feral pest problems
  14. good stockyards with loading ramps
  15. coldroom
  16. ........and so on and so forth
 So you get the idea. I wont lie to you, we truly fell in love with a couple of properties that were missing one or two of the mandatory features! Fortunately we made ourselves stick to our list and in hindsight I am glad we did. Both properties would have been terrible mistakes!

Lastly, remember you are going to have to actually PAY for the place. You will need to ensure you either have a source of income local to your farm or else you can purchase it outright from your own funds. This can simply be the biggest hurdle you will face in this day and age and the banking vampires have no interest in helping you beyond their own profits. In fact you may find rural based loans can be a lot harder to obtain in many areas.

Now if you have read all of this and are still not put off, then I wish you the best of luck. Despite the enormous hardships my wife and I faced to get to where we are we still would not change a thing!

We love it here!

Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

I got to play that old joke recently!
I asked a lady who grew very good rhubarb what she preferred to put on them. She told me they were always best with aged cow manure and a little chook poo.
A few weeks later I saw her and she asked how I went with my rhubarb? I told her "I tried your suggestion, I really did, but I must say I still prefer them with cream..."
She laughed so hard she dropped her tea cup!
Old joke but a goodie!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

My new toy, the cheese vat

The most critical part of cheese making after hygiene is temperature. For a long time now I have been messing about with pots on the stove and thermometers, all the time dreaming of having my own cheese vat.
Finally I had a burst of inspiration and wondered if it might not be possible to convert an electric baine marie to hold the precise temperatures needed? Soon, after some hunting on the internet, I was the owner of a twenty litre water-jacketed baine marie which arrived having had every single wire inside shaken off its mounts. Not to worry, I was soon off to see my local electrician anyway for he was to fit a digital thermostat in place of the simple dial control that came with the tub.
He managed to source a heater unit that will control the temperatures from 0 to 90 degrees Celsius with a one degree variation.
So the very next day I loaded the unit with twenty fresh litres of milk- we are weaning the calves so we have a surplus of milk right now. I dialed the temperature for 32 degrees and set about making a Fetta. I chose fetta because it is a very simple cheese and does not need to be aged, well not for long anyway.
The temperature stayed exactly spot on throughout the entire process. Within an hour and a half I was cutting the curd.
Then I began stirring the curd in the whey to stop it setting into a mass. This gentle agitation also helps drive out the whey making the curd firmer.
This is now the meal Little Miss Muffet was settling down to enjoy when she had that unfortunate incident with the spider. I imagine it would be quite nice with a little honey.
Lastly the curds are removed from the whey and placed in a cheese basket overnight and turned every few hours or so. The basket has a pattern on it to make the cheese look all folksy. Personally I don't think it makes any difference to the cheese. The next morning I place the cheese in a 15% brine solution and store in the fridge. It can be eaten immediately though. Quite happy with this one. It has a very nice aroma and an excellent texture.
Now I will have to get my cheese fridge repaired. I had modified it to run at 12.5 degrees but after a year it ceased working. Probably my fault. I expect the local repair man will give me a dressing down when he looks at it. Oh well, just so long as I get my cheese-aging fridge back again.