"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, 28 December 2015

On new calves. part 2

So a couple of weeks in to the whole forced milking and things have settled down a bit. Bonnies teats are now of a (barely) milk-able size by hand and we have taken over the milking duties twice a day. This milk is then fed to the two new calves- the Brown Swiss "Jessie the second" and the Fresian "Lilly". For this we use a calf feeder which is essentially a pair of joined buckets with rubber teats. It has been christened the "Robo-Cow" by the youngest cloud farmer. We are doing this as it is important we continue training Bonnie to be milked. The calves love it and engage in considerable pushing and shoving as they drink. To prevent one calf pushing the other off the teat we have someone position themselves between the two. We call this doing "bum duty". This job usually falls to the youngest cloud farmer as the adults have their hands full.

It is quite a wrestling match most days.
Now things take a turn for the weird. Anna, who had forcibly adopted Bonnies calf Arthur, handed him back to his mother who has accepted him and is allowing him to drink without too many kicks to the head. He also goes back to Anna for a drink as well.
So we lost a calf and have gained three. Arthur is a Brown Swiss-Dexter and will be a superb meat steer in a few years time. The two heifers will be sold as weaners and should fetch a good price. I am spraying each calf with pyrethrum daily to prevent a repeat of the original tragedy and it appears we are having a bad year for ticks- there are an awful lot about this year.
So that was our Christmas this year. Pretty standard on the Cloud farm. Cheers.

On new calves. Part 1

As you will see from the last post, it is not always sunshine and roses on any farm. Anna was considerably upset at the loss. For several days she wandered the fields calling and looking for her calf. I have been told by a fool in the past that animals do not experience emotions as humans do. I just wish that idiot was here to see this mother in her grief!
In any case nearly two weeks later, and ten days overdue, Bonnie gave birth to a fine strapping bobby calf. He was for reasons best known only to the youngest cloud farmer promptly name "Arthur".
Here is where the trouble started for I had unwittingly left the cows together to provide some small comfort to Anna. Unfortunately Bonnie was a new mother and was reluctant to begin immediately feeding as often happens. The usual remedy for this is time, just leave mother and calf alone and they will get on with it. However having a bereaved mother present and a calf calling for a feed is a bad mix and Anna promptly claimed Arthur as her own! To make matters worse Bonnie appeared reasonably unworried by this. This left us with several problems for Bonnie has a very big udder and as is usual with new cows, small teats. So small in fact that we physically could not milk them with more than a single finger and thumb and this quickly becomes an impossible task, especially when you have a new cow who has no desire to be involved in the whole process. This is usually solved naturally by having an enthusiastic calf suckling and the teats will quickly lengthen. Only then would you attempt to begin hand milking.
Now I will freely admit this mess is entirely of my own making. I should have well and truly known to separate Anna and Bonnie before the birth but failed to do so. Lesson learned. The obvious solution was to obtain another calf, or two, from one of the local dairies and get Bonnie to take them on.
It is unfortunate in this day and age that the milk from the cow is much more valuable than the calf it feeds and so most excess calves are usually shot and dumped the day they are born. Heifers are kept if the herd needs new cows but bobby calves are considered worthless. We were fortunate to quickly find a local dairy who promised us a pair of calves the next morning for $30 each (odd how a calf that was going to be shot and dumped suddenly is worth money isn't it?) but as we were in need I readily accepted.
The next morning my son and I loaded a crate on the back of my ute and we drove over to the dairy as they were finishing the milking. To my delight the owner supplied me with a beautiful pair of heifers, one pure Fresian and one pure Brown Swiss. Apparently they were excess to needs and shooting heifers went against the grain.
So we carried our new calves home and introduced them to the cows. Bonnie had no interest in them at all of course and this is only to be expected. Here is where the arsenal of tricks comes into play to get a cow to accept a strange calf. Rubbing them down with the mothers dung, or better still the afterbirth so they smell like her, locking them up overnight in the dark, fettling the mother with beer and so on.
With an older cow these methods work well but with a new cow the odds are much smaller and when this fails (as it did with Bonnie) you have to go to forced feeding and tie the mother up so the calves can suckle. This involves driving the cow into the stall and roping a leg back so she cannot kick. The calves are then put on the teat. Care must be taken to make sure the calves are not too rough with the teats and that they swap to new teats as each quarter is emptied. The whole process is quite traumatic for all involved until the cow learns to accept it and I received several kicks and a mashed hand in the process. Cows can indeed kick to the side.

Goodbye little Jessie

I am very sad to report that a week after she was born, little Jessie has died. A few days after her birth I noticed she was walking a little stiffly. I checked her over to find three large paralysis ticks in her fur. They could not have been on her for long as I had checked her and given her a spray down with pyrethrum just a day before. Unfortunately the ticks must still have had enough time to inject sufficient venom to kill a small calf. After trying everything I could I was forced to put her down three days later.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

New butterflies

Another thing I love at this time of the year.
I found a few of these butterflies new hatched from the chrysalis this morning. They have been beautiful big caterpillars on the kumquat for a few weeks prior. I reckon a few leaves are a small price to pay for this.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

In other news..

I am pleased to announce that Anna, the matron of the Cloud farm, has delivered a fine healthy heifer calf. We are very happy because although bobby calves become good to eat, heifer calves become good to sell. Jersey cross Dexters appear to be quite popular too. The last heifer we could have sold a dozen times over judging by the amount of calls we received.
 We all love having a new calf on the place, they warm your heart and make you remember the joys in life. The youngest Cloud farmer has named her "Jessie".

Bring on the chillies

The warmer weather is setting in and so the chillies have become heavy with fruit. As I have plenty of my usual chilli sauce in stock I instead took the opportunity to try making a Tabasco style sauce. This is something I have been wanting to do for a long time now. I actually did try last year too but did not secure the lid properly and the fruit flies got in to lay maggots. Yuck. Who would have thought they could live in near pure chilli puree?

Anyway, I had previously done a bit of research and found that Tabasco sauce is apparently quite a well known recipe. Essentially you take Tabasco chillis of the correct ripeness, mash or puree, add 2% good salt and age in an oak barrel for three to five years. Then strain and add wine vinegar.

Now I have no Tabasco chillis sure but I have plenty of my own Fiesta chillis and I reckon they will do just fine. So I picked the bushes clean (good for them anyway as too much fruit robs the plants vitality) of all the lovely vibrant red fruit. I then topped them and minced them fine in a blender, adding approximately the required 2% salt. As a side note, do all this outside the house. If you cannot work out why then you should probably not be handling chillis anyway.
 The mixture was then carefully spooned into a large jar where it will be allowed to ferment. I also added a small handful of french oak chips from the lid of an old wine barrel I keep for this sort of thing. This will allow the oak-barrel effect without having to use the whole barrel. At least that is the idea.
I find the colour to be the most glorious shade of red. It is currently residing on my desk where I can keep an eye on it for the initial fermentation- the cap is slightly loose to allow the escaping gas. When it settles it will go to the back of the cool pantry cupboard where I shall forget about it for a year or so.
The chilli bushes will soon put out another heavy crop of fruit. They always do when I clean pick them. So I am intending to make another few batches this summer. This is so I can produce one early batch of sauce each year without having to wait a full three years first. I hope to then continue making a batch each year thereafter.
Obviously I am not using Tabasco chillis so I cannot in all honesty call this a Tabasco sauce. The most obvious alternate name is Fiesta sauce, after the Fiesta chillis. I think it is much better.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

The monthly update

I just realised the last two posts have no pictures from the cloud farm. So here is a monthly update in pictures. Photography by the littlest cloud farmer.
 We slaughtered the meat chooks. Here are two on their way to the plucker, (don't worry they are already dead).
 A photo of Dads bum, I have no idea why...
 Working the plucker. Made a few minor modifications and it now operates flawlessly. Most pleased.
Is this thing working?
 Morning feed for the layers. I think Rhode Island Reds are the most beautiful of any chook.
 Rufus' Dog house. Unfortunately he prefers to sleep under the house.
Shadows need to be photographed too.
Communing with the pigeons at the morning feed. They are becoming very tame.
 Waiting for the morning feed.

Tools maketh the man

A subject came up this week that is close to my heart, tools! Like any red blooded Aussie male I get all in a lather when the subject of tools comes up. Tool, by the way is simply an adult spelling of the word Toy. Well I think so anyway...
The question raised was what are the absolute essential tools for life on a farm? Obviously this is impossible to really answer properly as there will always be too many variables. But if I had to look at the question as "What are the ten most absolutely essential tools to run a small subsistence farm of mostly cropping and a small amount of livestock?" My answer would be something like:
  1. A good knife
  2. A good sharpening stone
  3. An axe
  4. A shovel
  5. A hoe
  6. A bucket
  7. Rope
  8. A large hammer
  9. A Steel and flint 
  10. A scythe
This would allow a sufficiently fit and knowledgeable individual to feed himself in a primitive fashion. Note that these are all, with the possible exception of the scythe, simple tools. No complex parts, very few moving parts, all man (or woman) powered and will all have a long lifespan with care. I have drawn on my experience both as a historian and a farmer to compile this list as it is simply an iron age farmers kit of tools and was proven to work for hundreds of years.

But the thing about tools is that in themselves they are utterly useless until coupled with a skilled user. Too often in this day and age I find people confusing power for skill. To explain- I have taught many people to work wood over the years* and before I will let an apprentice near the powered tools they must first gain competency with hand tools. Why? Because in skilled hands a hand operated tool will always be more versatile and accurate than a power tool**. Power tools tend to be fast and rough and not much else (and therefore the modern love of power tools speaks volumes...) but when true delicacy or accuracy is required a hand tool is the only solution.
Unfortunately most modern folks are under the impression that because a power tool is easier to use (or so the advertisements tell you) that they are therefore better. Consequently they will never learn the skills to use a hand tool and when they reach the limits of the power tools capacity they will stop, not knowing how to finish the job. This has suddenly created a dependency on electricity or oil as well as all the spare parts and sticky fluids required to make these things go. Very convenient for big business I am sure.
Anyway to get to the point, one day I was watching a new apprentice trying to figure out how to achieve a certain joint in a piece of timber. He fiddled about with the table saw trying to get the measurements set to the fine degree for the required cut. Eventually He retired to his workbench without turning the saw on and proceeded to make the cut with a hand saw and then clean it up with first chisels before a card scraper. When I asked him why he did this he said that he just could not be sure the table saw would be accurate enough and if it made a mess of the cut he would have to start this joint all over again. So even though it took him much longer, he opted to use a method he knew was going to work first time. In other words he would rather rely on his own skills when it really mattered. To say I was elated with his answer would be an understatement!

 *  I am a qualified cabinetmaker. I work in solid timber to make fine furniture (and one day I hope to do it as my sole income again).
** By hand tool I mean any tool powered through the user, a power tool refers to a tool large or small using an electric or internal combustion motor. In particular I am talking about woodworking tools as this is my area of expertise.

New age culture and irritating people

This may come as a surprise to some of you out there but I am sometimes known for my lack of tolerance for fools. Those who know me will not be surprised by this.
This weeks annoyance on my part comes from having to suffer folks who always need to reinvent the wheel. Case in point, I was breathlessly told about this "brand new and really efficient technology" called a Rocket stove. Apparently it will boil water from just a handful of wood chips and twigs and so forth. It was immediately obvious to me that the speaker, a young and fluffy new-age type, was actually referring to a chip heater. Once the speaker had paused for breath I asked if they were referring to a chip heater but was told that this was most definitely a new invention and had never been seen before! When I directed them to pictures of chip heaters and similar stoves from early last century it did not go down well.
Now I have absolutely no objection to people wanting to use this technology! In fact quite the opposite. However I DO object to this casual renaming of old technology so it can be touted as some new invention. I feel we need to show a little more respect to history and understand that most if not all of the technical answers to our problems lie in the past. Rather that sitting down to reinvent, usually badly, a solution to an old problem I prefer to start by doing a little research first. Almost always I find there is already a tried and true solution to the problem.
Ok, that is my grump for today.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015


 This is a weed locally called Blue top. It is also known as Billy goat weed due to the smell when crushed. When we moved in here the fields were very horse sick and rank with blue top.
At first it really bugged me for some reason. I spent hours with the scythe cutting it down in great swathes. Over time it has slowly disappeared from the fields as the soil condition improved. Blue top and bracken are both good indicators of problem soil. The main solution was to ensure the soils were grazed properly, meaning get rid of the bloody horses. I now take care to spell the fields between grazing every few months and to allow time for the pasture to go to seed at least once every two years. 
The blue top does not worry me any more as I have come to realize it has its place even though it is a feral weed. It even has its uses, the cattle appear to use it as an occasional medicinal herb and the early settlers to this area also apparently used it as a poultice on wounds for its mild antiseptic qualities.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Feeding, fattening and economics

 Fattening stock for meat always requires special care to the feeding. You cannot simply throw a few handfuls of pellets to your piglets and expect to get good, or cheap, pork. Frankly the cost of shop bought fattening mixes would give you anything but cheap pork! We like our livestock to free range wherever possible but when fattening for meat we must also supply a lot of extra food.
In the case of our meat chickens we have been experimenting for several years with various mixes at various costs. For a while I was able to get some high-protein mix to mix in with millrun and cracked corn. It fattened the birds admirably when it was available, and there is the problem- because we could not always get it.
So this year we have been making this mix of:

2 parts millrun,
2 parts cracked corn,
1 part whole soy meal,
1 large handful of shell grit
1 big glug of vegetable oil.

Mix it all together and the chooks love it! Unfortunately it is still an added cost to the feed bill that we would rather do without. So I have determined that timing is the issue here.

For about one third of the year we have more milk than we can easily use. At the end of winter to mid summer the potato growers are processing their crop and I can get free discard potatoes by the tonne.
Milk and boiled potatoes is an old fattening recipe for both pigs and fowl! Boil a huge pot of potatoes overnight, enough for both feeding times the next day. In the morning add your leftover milk, buttermilk or whey to the cooled potatoes. Give it a bit of a stir-come-mush-up, dont be too fiddly about it and serve. Stand back as in my experience the livestock will take a flying tackle into the feed trough for this meal!
If I could I would also add boiled whole barley but alas this is not a barley growing district and it costs much more than I would care to pay. A little cracked corn serves well as a substitute. So with the next batch of pigs to fatten, we shall also fatten a batch of meat chooks at the same time and on the same diet. Make sure the pigs get to roam and dig in their paddocks and make sure the chooks get a great armload of greens each day also. The result is excellent meat at the cost of some labour and little else.

Seasons change- the spring update.

The weather is warming although we still have the doona on the bed. A bit early by my reckoning but the plants have all decided to get a go on so what would I know?
The peaches have all had a good winter and were thick with blossom for a week. Now they are covered with small green peaches. Each year we enter into a contest with the king parrots to see who gets the most fruit.  Last year we were soundly beaten. One day I will investigate netting tents for the trees.
 Bonnie, our soon to be cow, is heavily pregnant. She is in training getting ready for milking. I have always found that a first time milker is becomes easier to handle with good training *before* she calves. Bonnie has a very impatient nature. Here she is craning her neck over the fence and around the corner of the feed shed to see how her feed bucket is coming along.
 I fired up the incubator a while back in an effort to increase our flock of Rhode island reds. Normally I prefer to let a broody hen do the job but unfortunately none of the girls were in the mood. Egg fertility remains an issue with a very poor hatching rate of about one in ten. I may have to give the girls a cosmetic clipping in certain areas so the rooster has a better chance of hitting the target- if you get my drift. Makes for an undignified looking flock I must say.
 The next big project we are working on is the dreaded hothouse. A project that has been put aside for a year or so for various reasons, now back in the queue. I had the veggie garden shelved off a couple of years back. It has now been left fallow this season so I can begin getting the uprights in. Above you can see my survey pegs all measured out correctly, half a days work for two people. The end structure will consist of two fifteen meter tunnels side by side. Each tunnel is six meters wide and about four high or so. It will be quite a project.
 The pigeons are out and about. They are breeding well and appear to be quite confident fliers. So far no attacks by raptors or egg thieving by crows. The child bride has hung two CDs outside the entrance to the loft where they flicker and turn in the wind. It appears to be working, could it really be this simple?
My ever present doggie companion. Woof.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Winter chores

One of the winter chores I quite enjoy is cutting firewood. Once every couple of months we will go down to the dry lands and load the truck with fallen timber for the fire. I like to keep it in long lengths as it is a lot easier to tie down. It will also stay drier in the rain if it is left long. Blocked up (cut into short rounds) it will soak through quickly. Either way we prefer to store the cut timber undercover on the rack outside the kitchen door.
To save my back I like to use a saw horse when blocking the lengths. Made from timber it is kinder on the chainsaw blade if I slip. When it finally becomes a little too old for use it becomes firewood itself. The bolts are reused for the next 'horse. Most times I make one out of rough timber in the round, picked up when we get the firewood. This year I made one from sawn timber. It works just as well as the others but does not look as good in my opinion.
Once blocked and stacked, the timber is split with an axe or sometimes with a steel wedge and a sledge hammer. This is Australian hardwood we are using here! This can be a lot of work but on a cold winters day I find it quite enjoyable and a good workout for a somewhat tubby old guy.

Monday, 27 July 2015

What are you?

"What are you?" I was recently asked. A very Zen sort of question I thought and proceeded to give one of my usual smart arse replies. However, the young man appeared unsatisfied with my answer and explained that he meant to ask what sort of farmer I was? Was I "into" permaculture, organics, green living or self sufficiency for example?

I replied that I was none of these things.

So let me make it clear. I consider myself a farmer. I grow food, real food, for my family. I do not use modern chemicals or fertilizers. Nor do I use modern high production methods for profit. I do use natural fertilizers and sprays I make myself. I make my own compost and keep nutrients on the farm. I know all of my animals and ensure their quality of life. I farm in a manner mankind has been using successfully for thousands of years!
I therefore call myself a farmer as opposed to the modern farming I refer to as "Chemical agriculture" which I believe is one of the greatest ills to beset the modern world.
I am not a Permaculturalist or Organic farmer. I do not follow the Green path or whatever name it has this week, I am not into Holistics and I am not self sufficient. We do not need any silly label for our lifestyle. I am a farmer, nothing more, and damned proud of it!

The milking stall explained

A little while ago a young lady asked me about keeping a house cow. The lady wants to "get into" permaculture (whatever that is) but was worried about the chore that is milking every day.

The milking stall is one of those oddly special places in my heart. It is center to our daily ritual of the morning and evening chores. Although it can be a burden at times I also find the milking to be a time of quiet meditation. I watch the birds and listen to the milk gently hissing into the bucket. In the background I can hear the pigeons cooing and thrumming as the boys dance for the girls. Rufus will lean through the rails to groom Bonnie, our other cow. In the far background I will hear the call of the crows in winter or possibly the long shrieking cry of a lone eagle high above on a still morning. In summer I will be entertained by the song of the red rump finches as they steal the chooks feed or else the lazy call in descending notes of the King parrots as they perch in the pines and wait for me to leave before raiding the chooks trough. In the wet season the rain will create that throbbing note on the tin roof that we know so well and Anna and I will be joined by numerous guinea fowl and chooks in the milking shed where it is dry. On these days it can be a real task to keep the chickens from fluffing up the straw and throwing bits in the milk for me to fish out. Sometimes it can be a task just to keep the chooks themselves out of the milk.

The milk itself has a most wonderful aroma of cream and the faint scent of the pasture. It is unlike anything you can experience anywhere but the milking shed. In winter a fragrant steam rises off the new milk for me to inhale. A foamy froth is created on the surface as the milk rises in the bucket. My mother loves to see this, it reminds her of her milking days and when she visits she always asks to look into the milking bucket.

I am usually visited by the cat, Jasmine. She likes to rub across my back and under my arms. She is drawn always to the scent of the fresh milk and loves a drink of the whole milk when new but will only drink the cream if it is older.

At the center of this world there is Anna, our house cow. She is a part of the family in every way. I know her better than I know some of my relatives. She is kind and quite affectionate yet can be quite stern if she does not like something. She does not like being patted but does like being milked. She enjoys close company without needing contact and quite likes to listen when I discuss the world. She likes to eat at her own pace and only eats her fill and no more. She is quite strong willed and does not give in easily if she does not want to do your bidding. She prefers a polite request and will sulk if her feelings are hurt. I like her a lot more than most humans I have met.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Through the eyes of my child

We did the beef cut up a few weeks ago. As I would not be able to handle the camera due to mucky hands I gave it to my son instead. After a quick tutorial we left him to it to see what he would do. So here is the view from my sons world.

This last photo is my absolute favourite.
I learned many things from these pictures when I discussed them with my son. Highlights include:
  1. Daddy is a huge giant with a booming voice. He is mostly composed of trousers and gumboots with a red bushy beard on top. Lets me do lots of stuff mum doesn't.
  2. What is in a bucket is really interesting and has to be photographed often.
  3. Patterns on the floor are interesting.
  4. Focus is optional.
  5. The dogs are easier to photograph if they are first sternly ordered to sit and stay.
  6. Peoples heads are optional when framing a picture.
  7. I can look into the camera to make sure it is working. This has nothing to do with there being seven hundred pictures of myself  up close...