The Townies Come to Visit

Posted by Nick  | 09 Apr 2016  | 2 comments

Last weekend we had a bunch of pals down from the Big Smoke. It was organised both as a belated Easter shindig (read: excuse for chocolate scoffing) and a last chance before everything turns wet and cold for a few months.

With seven of us in total, it’s the most we’ve had for a couple of nights in our tiny wee cottage. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel all that cramped. I suppose that’s to be expected from a group that prefers to sit calmly and enjoy a good board game over being rowdy hooligans. Though at one point there was some spontaneous raving…

Being Easter and all, I organised another treasure hunt around the farm, with the treasure being a basket of fatness. The weather wasn’t so great, so we donned our raincoats. Ah, Dingus, your florescent rain-wear from Japan always brightens up my photos and my day.

As you can see, Mica is pretty much our resident farm dog now. Follows us everywhere, especially if there’s an interesting group of people. Can’t be left out!

I won’t go into detail about the treasure hunt this time, but it was at least as big as the one I did for Dingus’ birthday and maybe even a little more difficult. As Lauren has said before, it’s a great way to show newcomers around the farm.

Here’s one of the clues hanging precariously over the river:

And at our little waterfall:

There were about twenty clues all up, increasing in difficulty as the group progressed. This one, for instance, was written in Spanish, German, and French. “Dans l’ouest, une souche morte.”

To the west, a dead stump.

I grew to feel a bit sorry for them. They were a couple of hours in and only about half way done. The images of Easter eggs and chicken buns for lunch were mere mirages at this point. The gang was doing well though; the puzzles were becoming pretty hard, such as: “B.adrenr- bnoiu nd.” Can you figure it out? (And yes, it’s in English.)

One of the last puzzles presented them with equations they had to solve and convert into letters, except instead of numbers the equations read something like: “Minus a Peasgood Nonsuch from a Monty’s Surprise.” These, of course, are fruit trees, which were numbered in the orchard.

There are some serious brains in this group, so it was no trouble.

The final challenge to end the hunt included an authentic farm experience: Shooting pears with a .22 rifle! I sprayed the pears with some orange sheep marker so they’d stand out.

I’d put out standards at fifty and seventy-five metres on the range. Seventy-five was a bit of a challenge. But with a camera tripod and a few rounds, we got ’em pears. It was satisfying watching them explode.

Upon completion of the rifle challenge, I presented the group with a key to the workshop which they previously couldn’t open. Inside awaited their reward – a basket of diabetes!

The next day we all enjoyed hand-feeding our growing barnyard family. It’s a great pleasure for us to give these experiences to our guests.

Pacman and Alpacino are becoming friendlier by the day, especially now that they’re addicted to sheep nuts. Char has begun clicker training with them as well.

Why you comin’ at me, Pacman? This is a camera, not food. The bucket’s behind you.

The friendly sheep demanded their fair share, of course.

Everyone loves those nuts. They go a bit crazy…

Whilst Pacman is still a little shy, handsome Alpacino is fine eating from your hand:

Groups of humans aren’t so spooky when they offer delicious treats.

I had a bit of a moment here as I was taking photos. A bit of perspective. I remembered times in my past, caged in suburbia, feeling down about the manufactured reality around me and unsure of where I wanted to be in life. I wanted nothing more than to be “free”, whatever that meant. Standing there, watching the love of my life laughing and cooing with our close friends amidst a huddle of fleece, I realised not only how fortunate I was to be a part of this moment, but that I was beginning to taste that “freedom” for which I had longed.

The sun had come out, there were smiles and giggles abound, and our surrounds were nothing short of picturesque. To live vicariously through the experience of others is one of the most valuable experiences of life itself.

Our First Time Baling Hay

Posted by Nick  | 15 Mar 2016  | 8 comments

Haymaking, we knew, would be a big learning curve. We’d watched the pros do it on our farm the season before, but this year it was our turn. At the guidance of the resourceful farmer who has been leasing part of our land, we learnt enough to cut, ted, windrow, and bale a paddock of hay all by ourselves. It was a daunting task on our to-do list, but now that we’ve learnt how all the machinery works and we’ve done it alone without a hitch (well, almost), we’re instilled with confidence for next year.

The first part of the week-long task was to cut the grass. This involved attaching a large mower to the PTO (Power Take-Off) mechanism at the back of the tractor. This is the tractor’s drive shaft that turns the implement. Most powered farm implements are universally attached in this way, kind of like a USB to our techie kin. Learning how to attach a three-point linkage was a big step in itself. For some reason, you start to feel like a real bad-ass when it becomes second nature.

With the heavy mower elevated by the hydraulics, a pin is removed and the blades are swung out to the side, and the pin is replaced.

I won’t go into detail (that can be another post), but after a bit of fluffing around making sure angles are correct and what-not, the mowing begins!

The grass was a lot shorter than last season, because it had recently been cut for silage. But that’s all right – it meant less bales for us to pick up!

Char and I took turns going around and around the paddock.

This was a fairly flat paddock, so it was kind of enjoyable. Being newbies, what I can imagine becoming a mundane chore was not yet so. It was all going well…

…until I drove the mower into a power pole…

…and totally bent one of the feet.

Yup, that’s meant to be facing forward, not to the side. Cringe. With the full force of a tractor twisting solid iron, it was impossible for us to bend it back without something like a blow-torch to soften it.

We considered ramming it with the tractor, but the placement of the bolt meant that it would just shear off if the foot was pushed in the other direction. We messed around with it for a bit, but decided (at the suggestion of our neighbour), that we’d take it in to get repaired properly at some point before next year’s haymaking.

I blame this hiccup on a variety of factors. Firstly, I was not familiar with the physics of a turning tractor with a large mower sticking out the side like the wing of an aeroplane; when you turn, it swings in a wide and deceptive arc. Secondly, the tractor’s brakes are shot (yes, we’re getting them fixed, but you can’t just drive your tractor into the local garage when you live fifty kilometres from town), which meant my gut reaction to stomp on the brakes did nothing. Lastly, I made the mistake of not depressing the clutch because I was on a hill and didn’t know what the mower would do if the tractor rolled backwards, which meant the PTO continued to drive me forwards. Combine all these with not giving the power pole a wide enough berth, and you get some very nearly soiled underpants.

Nevertheless, the mower still worked, so continue to mow we did.

Still worked great, in fact.

The next day came the tedding with a tedder. What’s a tedder, I hear you ask? It’s an implement used to aerate or “wuffle” the hay. (So many terms.) This is our tedder:

She’s an old boy (that pronoun blunder was unintentional, but I’m keeping it to challenge gender norms). Been passed between the locals since “Jesus was a cowboy”, as I heard one of them say. It’s a PZ Haybob, top of the line back in its heyday (ha!). We bought it off the previous owner of our farm for a clean hundy (as did we the mower and baler for a decent price, too).

It’s falling to pieces, really. We were told by our farmer-guide that we’d need to replace most of those bent and broken tines before it could be used. But it was too late, we had already mown, and hay needs to be turned daily. So we implored a neighbour. They had borrowed our baler the year before, and they needed to borrow it again, so asking to borrow their tedder seemed like a good trade. He even came around and tedded the paddock himself for the first run. Country-folk are so lovely.

After he was done, he had a look at our tedder, and said that if we swapped some of the broken tines around, we may be able to get it working. So that afternoon we spent a lot of elbow grease pulling apart seized-up nuts and bolts and rotating tedder tines.

The next day we gave tedding a go ourselves with our rusty dinosaur. And it worked! Not the best… but it did the trick.

After mowing and tedding the second paddock (which was the one we did without help), I needed to go around and spread the clumps of hay that had accumulated because of the mower’s bent foot. It had dragged hay along the ground into bunches, you see, and the tedder couldn’t chew them out properly. More work for me; suitable punishment for my lapse in judgement.

A pitchfork would be really handy, I thought, but I didn’t have one. Then I remembered the collection of old rusty iron things we had salvaged from around the farm. The head of a pitchfork was among them. I cleaned it up and fashioned it to a spare rake handle (not ideal, but it’d do).

A couple hours later and I’d scattered the large mounds which the tedder couldn’t stomach.

After you ted for a few days, you’re ready to windrow and bale. Windrowing is basically tedding again, but with “gates” attached, which are designed to comb the hay into rows which make it easier for the baler to gather.

Like our tedder, its gates are pretty shitty too, so our rows weren’t tidy, but we’ll see to fixing that by next year.

Then came the time to confront the real workhorse of the operation, the baler. Both the mower and the tedder are relatively tame and comparatively simple implements compared to the baler. The baler is a complex and temperamental beast. It’s basically a large greasy sewing machine. A sewing machine that can eat you…

The intricate stringing and cutting gears were intimidating to inspect. But really, if you follow instructions (and let Char nut out the complexities), it’s not so scary.

There were a lot of nipples that needed greasing. We greased those nipples good. Greasy nipples. Nipple. Okay, immature moment over. In case you don’t know what grease nipples are, let me explain. They’re little points, usually near moving parts, which you squeeze grease into with a grease gun to lubricate the machinery’s joints.

The baling twine was stocked and tied and ready to roll!

And there I am, baling hay, like… like a grown-up farmer man person. Except I wear a tea-towel under my hat to keep it real.

The baler is clunky, noisy, and hungry. Here’s a couple of quick videos of it in operation:

Surprisingly, everything went swimmingly. Not a single mishap with the baler. No sheared bolt (which can happen if it eats an obstruction), no split twine, not loose bales, and most importantly, no devoured farmers. All good!

It probably helped that the hay was sparse. The more hay, the higher the chance of clogging the mechanism and shearing a bolt.

It’s very satisfying watching a baler poo. It excretes tidy little packages out its rear end.

After we’d finished baling, we attached the trailer to pick up the bales. We recently bought this handy towing apparatus for the tractor’s three-point-linkage. Invaluable when you don’t have a four-wheel-drive truck.

With only two of us, we were lucky there was only fifty six bales to collect from the paddock we did alone (last year was three hundred with half a dozen helping hands).

A couple of trailer loads stacked in the barn, and our big day was complete. We kept enough for our animals over winter (hopefully), and sold the rest to a couple of neighbours.

We’re feeling very accomplished after learning all we did, solving problems, and dealing with the stress of timing baling with the unpredictable seasonal weather changes. Haymaking is probably the most intensive and stressful part of farming, but we’re glad it’s only for one or two weeks out of the year. Despite that, though, the sense of pride in a job well done and the relief of having winter feed stocked and sorted is well worth the effort.

Mission complete!

New Ladies on the Scene

Posted by Nick  | 09 Mar 2016  | 4 comments

About a month ago we doubled our flock of chooks. Four new ladies are on the scene, and we kept with the tradition of different breeds. We now have eight unique flavours of chicken. (They’re ornamental, all right?) Here they are on arrival, chilling out in a cat crate and a trap, acclimatising to their new home and their future bullies.

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In addition to Ladies Edith (Blue Orpington), Rose (Buff-Laced Wyandotte), Sybil (Plymouth Rock), and Mary (Silver-Laced Wyandotte), named after Downton Abbey characters, we now have Daenerys (Araucana), Cersei (Barnevelder), Sansa (Gold-Pencilled Hamburg), and Arya (Silver-Spangled Hamburg), named after Game of Thrones characters. Yes, there will probably come a point where we stop naming our chickens…

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The older ladies were mildly interested in the new arrivals. It was nice for them to meet without squabbling (which they did later that night in the coop).

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They’re loving it here, grubbing, scratching, squawking about.

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That’s Daenerys, the Araucana, above. Ain’t she a beaut? She’ll have green eggs. Looks kind of like a pigeon. In fact, we joke that our new breeds are really pigeon, pukeko, pheasant, and road-runner.

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That’s Arya, the Silver-Spangled Hamburg. See, road-runner, right?

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And Sansa, the Gold-Pencilled Hamburg. Hamburgs are known for being a bit more flighty and agile.

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Gorgeous markings. Very pheasant-y.

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Behind Sansa, above, is Cersei, the beaten-up Barnevelder. You may notice she has no tail feathers (making her look like a pukeko). That’s because the other chickens at the breeder’s were mean to her. Since coming to live with us and having her own space, her feathers are growing back quickly.

The newbies get along fairly well with the Downton girls (no pecking, at least), but each clique still keeps to itself. Hopefully they’ll mingle when the newbies are fully grown. There might even be a challenge to Lady Rose’s throne, wouldn’t that be exciting? It’d be a Game of Thrones, you could say… Furthermore, because I can’t let a bad pun go to waste, I’ll say that we chose to get more chickens because egg production slows down in the cold months, and winter is coming

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The coveted pink bucket, known to all the animals as FOOD!

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They learnt fast that bravery would be rewarded.

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They’ve made home in the coop after being locked in for the first couple of nights, thankfully.

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And they’re already opening the scary feeder all by themselves. We think it may have helped for them to learn from the older ladies.

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Sansa is already laying!

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And her little eggs are adorable. There’s one compared to one of big-bummed Sybil’s.

Welcome, Daenerys, Cersei, Sansa, and Arya!