Around the Farm: Part IV

Posted by Nick  | 15 Apr 2017  | 1 comment

What! The previous part in this “Around the Farm” series was posted a year-and-a-half ago, when we were going into winter in 2015! Goes to show how slack we’ve (I’ve) been with keeping on top of posts. So much has happened that we haven’t journalled about over the past year-and-a-half. So here’s yet another part in this series where I dump a whole bunch of photos (in no particular order) in an attempt to redeem our (my) procrastination. This one’ll be a whopper…

Let’s start with the pile of wood we had split from the trees we had felled in order to gain internet access. This was the beginning of 2016 in summer. We finally finished splitting all those rounds and used the tractor to transport the wood into the woodsheds.

A few friends helped us out. Here’s Dingus learning how to use the tractor’s hydraulics, which he took to like a pro.

This city boy knows how to tractor, and looks stylish doing it.

There was a lot to move, and in the heat of summer to boot.

Two ample woodsheds were filled, which should last us a few years worth of heat. And there’s plenty more where that came from.

We also split and collected some rounds that had been piled up against the trunks of old trees from the previous owner.

And moved a bunch of messy wood to the burn pile.

Also prior to the summer of 2016 our Wiltshire ewes were looking a little tatty, having shed for the first time that spring. A few hadn’t shed fully and we were bothered by the tufts of wool still stubbornly adhering to their chops, so Char took some hand shears to them. Their coats looked stifling, so we were doing them a favour, right? We penned up the barn and goaded them all in.

Oh, that’s my make-shift shepherd’s crook Char’s holding, which worked about as well as trying to catch fish with a spoon. Nevertheless, after much chasing and tackling, falling and sprawling, these newbie shepherds caught (most of) their flock and gave them a good trimming.

Woolly Wiltshires tend to shed better after their first year. We didn’t pay the high price for superior genes for our first flock.

A couple of the ewes had an absurd amount of wool still on them. Char took to it like a natural. I tried it, but nicked a sheep, and then almost cried because I felt so bad.

Here’s what we were left with after the woolly half of the flock had been shorn:

We’re very glad in retrospect that we don’t have to do this every year, and our ladies now shed almost fully (save one or two).

Speaking of shearing, our alpacas, Alpacino and Pacman, had their first haircuts here at the beginning of the summer just past. It’s a ridiculous ordeal for the poor things, but it keeps them cool in the hot months. As you can see, they were heavily cloaked, their fringes obscuring their views.

We constructed a make-shift pen from old gates in our carport and ushered the nervous camelids inside, ready for the shearers.

The shearers were a couple of American/Canadian guys who come over to NZ in the springtime for all the shearing work. Poor Pacman was up first. The shearers were seasoned pros, grappling and flooring the flighty animals with prowess.

It looks brutal, but they aren’t in pain, just restrained. Nooses are looped around each ankle and the alpacas are stretched out via pulleys.

This allows the shearers to access all parts of the alpacas. They also trimmed their toenails while they were at it.

There’s so much luxurious fibre by the end of it. We’ve bagged it all up for now, not quite sure what to do with it, but reluctant to throw it away. If we don’t end up using it ourselves, we may just give it away to some felting hobbyists in town.

As you can see, once the haircut drama is over, we are equal parts fabulous and ridiculous.

In no time the boys were back to their usual antics… which sometimes includes some eyebrow-raising “brotherly love”…

Alpachino’s gagging for it.

Ah, they’re such good lawn ornaments, alpacas.

So many laughs, and they’re a hit with visitors.

You’re doing well to get through this lengthy post. Here’s an intermission with bacon, pancakes, and ice-cream for your efforts. (I think I made this for Char’s birthday breakfast, because there’s a balloon on the floor in the background.)

A couple of summers ago we finally got on top of our little veggie patch.

Future plans are to construct a larger garden and greenhouse elsewhere as we attempt to grow all our own food, but this little patch keeps our thumbs green in the meantime.

Our compost is great – all food scraps go there and it seems to decompose before ever overflowing, always remaining at the same height.

Under the fresh top layer, a delicious dark humus develops beneath, alive with tiger worms, which must have migrated from our leftover worm farm compost we brought with us when we moved.

We’ve been seed saving our peas every year since we moved here, and it’s surprising how just a couple of generations of selecting from the healthiest plants results in a stronger crop each subsequent season. One day we may be doing that with most of our produce. You can see the peas on the left, which are from a new packet, are considerably smaller than those on the right, which we selected from the previous season’s strongest crop. Both planted at the same time.

We usually have lettuce coming out of our ears. We need to eat more of it.

This batch of home-grown strawbs was super flavourful due in part to a regular feeding with a good fertiliser. Makes all the difference.

We went blueberry picking on a plantation about forty-five minutes from where we live.

Picked about four kilos. I’m not too much of a fan of the sandy textured bland berry, but they are an excellent ingredient in baking.

We froze a whole bunch to bake into multiple batches of blueberry muffins, to sustain our fat deposits over the long winter… They turned out pretty delicious, especially with their cream cheese filling…

Sometimes in the country after a storm, when trees come down over rarely-accessed roads, it’s up to you to deal with the mess. In this case, especially, where one of the trees at the edge of our property bordering a gravel road came down.

For this reason, among a hundred others, a chainsaw is a necessity in the country.

Our crappy old letterbox looked pretty sad when we moved here. One weekend Char decided she’d fix ‘er up.

First she ground the rust down with a brass brush drill attachment.

Then she sprayed it with a primer.

She trimmed the flag.

Then painted it red.

She ground the rust from the old Y post out front.

Primed that, too.

Then spray-painted it black.

And viola! (Pic is actually from more than a year later, hence the slight rust.)

Much less of an eyesore in the meantime until we build a new fence and letterbox to match!

Another minor project we tackled was replacing our crappy hot and cold kitchen faucets with a proper mixer tap. We’d put up with the inconvenience for so long because we expected we’d be renovating in stages, but have since decided to put renovations on hold and do it all at once. So, we resolved that in the mean time we might as well install a proper mixer tap to save ourselves the daily frustration of washing hands and dishes with two taps, one blisteringly hot and the other icy cold.

Naturally, due to the “she’ll be right” attitude of the previous owners (and most lackadaisical kiwis), the fittings inside the wall were mismatched, hodgepodge, make-do, and… well… perfectly suited to the motif of the rest of the cottage and farm at large. This, unsurprisingly, resulted in multiple trips to hardware and plumbing stores after discovering odd-sized couplings, flanges, and piping were necessary for the job.

It took various attempts at fitting, unfitting, and refitting.

Until finally we had a non-leaking, working mixer tap to see us through until proper renovations begin.

To close, what follows is an assortment of around-the-farm pics that can speak for themselves, taken over the past couple of years.

You made it! I’d better get on top of all the other posts on my list, or else the next in the series of “Around the Farm” will be just as big!

Wiltshire Ram Lambs

Posted by Nick  | 28 Mar 2017  | 0 comments

We’re selling our first lot of Wiltshire ram lambs. At the moment they’re being kept with their stocky dad, Gordon Ramsay, away from their sisters, whom are being ogled with incestuous eyes from across the paddock. Gordon also seems unable to differentiate his nubile daughters from his harem of last season’s mothers. Sicko.

Father and son, a handsome pair:

Half of our lambs this year were seven boys. And about half of them seem a decent size and have fully shed, like their pop.

A couple of the others haven’t shed nearly so well and are the runts of the group. Not surprising, since their mother had mastitis (udder infection), so we had to bottle feed them. It’s possible that the powdered colostrum milk we fed them didn’t have the same level of goodness as mumma’s tit.

Since then, those two woolly brothers have been a nuisance. Never-mind having to bottle-feed them three times a day, one of them could barely figure out how to latch onto the teat. He would bite it and deep-throat it like a real weirdo. We reckon that might have been what caused their mumma to get mastitis – they nibbled too hard. (I’ll do a post on this specifically another time.)

Yes, yes, I know he’s cute. You stop seeing them as adorable when you have to chase them through multiple gates over hundreds of metres when they insist on pushing their way their way through fences to what they think is greener grass on the other side. (Hint: It’s not, you’re just an asshole.)

Not only are those two woolly shits runty escapees, they are also really into their bigger brothers…

Runty, woolly, duds. Lamb stew, we think.

Hopefully the other big boys sell. They’re super healthy, docile, clean, and one hundred percent shed already.

Wiltshires get to keep their tails because they are self-shedding, which means there’s a lower incidence of fly-strike (eggs laid in poo around their bums which then burrow into their flesh, potentially killing them). It’s odd for a lot of people to see sheep with their tails, but now that we’re used to it, sheep without their tails look really odd to us.

One day these boys will be mating a harem each their own, with bollocks as big as their stocky dad’s. Well, the ones that sell anyway.

Look at the size of those cojones. My god.

Yay, More Hay!

Posted by Nick  | 07 Mar 2017  | 1 comment

Haymaking this year was a resounding success. Celebration! Haymaking may sound like one of the most mundane chores to ever be celebrated, but for a week out of every year everything has to go perfectly to plan, otherwise we miss out on about five thousand big ones. So as newbie farmers, we’re pretty thrilled to have succeeded for our second year in a row! I’m sure the animals will be thanking us come winter, too…

Firstly there was a bit of the ol’ maintenance to be done on all of our implements.

The mower had been repaired after I drove it into a power pole last year. Yup, that totally happened. The black parts in this photo show the new iron welded on:

But the mower’s blades were still well overdue for replacing. Us modern farmers have it easy being able to find almost anything online.

The tedder (used for turning and windrowing hay) needed almost all of its tines replaced, which were bent, broken, and corroded. This machine is probably more than fifty years old, so it was a surprise to find replacement parts for it online, and in New Zealand to boot.

It was a bit of a mission removing the rusted and fused bolts, but a good ratchet set and a lot of elbow grease got us through.

It’s always super useful to have a farm cat around in these instances. Not because they help – they do jack shit. But because they give you those “aww” moments precisely when you’re feeling a little fed up with how stubborn inanimate machines can be. A brief interlude of feline petting is sometimes all you need to chill the fuck out.

All you have to do is make sure you have some sort of box on hand, and a farm cat will magically appear.

Then there was the baler, which we were told needed a new bearing for one of its main axles. It was only when we went to remove the old bearing did we discover that the entire carriage had been bent in some collision, popping the axle through. What do you think an old farmer’s solution to this might be? Yep, they just welded the bearing onto the carriage to hold up the axle… Great job Steve/Gary/John/Bruce/ (insert generic farmer’s name here).

It turned out, at closer inspection, that the weld had broke, which meant the axle was just turning in a hole, which can be pretty dangerous and start fires. You do NOT want fire around hay (unless your farm has murderous scarecrows, which ours thankfully does not).

Looks like crap, eh? Welcome to Second-hand Farm Implements for Beginners.

Not having time to get it professionally repaired, we didn’t have much choice but to ask a neighbour to weld it back in place for the time being. But then I had a brilliant idea (I’m a certified genius, by the way). I could brace the bearing and axle with a metal bracket, pushing it against the flange, allowing it to turn freely. I bolted the bracket onto the carriage with a bolt that was already holding the bung guiding wheel up. I forgot to take a closeup picture, but this is the best I have:

You can kind of see the axle and bearing being lifted by the bracket, which was super snug and held strong. It actually worked fine the entire time we used it… until the neighbour borrowed our baler a couple of days later and the thing flew off somewhere in his paddock… Oops. (Yeah, about that genius thing…)

We’ll get it seen to properly before next year. (Note to future self: It’s haymaking time again already, and you didn’t get the baler fixed, did you?)

So! Once everything had had a thorough greasing and we remembered all that we had forgotten about operating machinery over the past year, come the first sunny day it was time to mow. But oh, wait. There was a whole lot of ragwort (a notoriously persistent weed in these parts which is somewhat poisonous to stock) through the paddock. So I had to drive around on the quad hacking the stuff up before mowing the paddock. Luckily it is a distinct and easy to spot weed with its yellow flowers.

We decided to mow a single paddock this year instead of the two we did last year, but the single paddock is our largest and about the same area as the combined area of the two we did last year. I had to do this while Char was away for work in Auckland. It’s always a little bit scary getting familiar with heavy machinery by yourself. I don’t quite have that farmer’s “knack” just yet to be able to fix things and deal with problems on the fly.

But, thankfully, there were no hiccups.

Then, over the next couple of days, I had to turn the hay to dry it out in the sun.

 

Char arrived home on Friday, along with her sister, Aria, who had come down to get away from her loud life in the city and to help us haul bales. While I tedded in the hot sun, they took a refreshing dip down at our little waterfall.

Our loyal friend Dingus, who is always keen to escape city life and bust his back in the country for a few days, drove down to help, with the promise of a full belly and tank of gas as thanks. On Saturday, he and I attacked the old broken barn door, which had been dangerously hanging on its last limbs for months. A recent storm had damaged it further. We’re going to have to build a new one before winter to protect our hay from the rain (as of this post, we’ve already started this project).

Wanting to reuse the wood, we spent a good while pulling out nails and dislodging old hinge straps and gudgeons. Man, was it a shittily-built door. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that in “those days” they just used whatever they had on hand and didn’t have the luxury of forking out for some proper hardware. (Still, a bit of conscientious design can go a long way…)

On the day of baling, first I had to windrow the hay into tidy lines so that the baler could more easily pick it up. Windrowing is done with the tedder with a couple of gated wings attached, which combs the hay into neat rows.

Kind of satisfying:

It took a little over an hour to windrow the entire paddock. Much faster than mowing, which took closer to three and a half hours.

While I was doing that, Char, Dingus, and Aria were busy shifting the old hay to the side of the barn and putting down some slats of wood to keep the new bales off the ground.

Unsurprisingly, a clutch of chicken eggs were discovered behind the old bales. Cozy.

Old hay:

We’ll probably give it to our neighbour at a low price or even for free (since she helps out). She likes to use them to build little forts for her mis-mothered lambs in spring.

Old slats of wood to protect the hay from the damp ground, recycled from the old barn door:

Probably quite ineffective, but better than nothing. We’d like to pick up a bunch of pallets and use them at some stage.

After windrowing and well-deserved bacon sandwiches (a staple when we have people down), it was the moment of truth: Starting up the baler and hoping for the best. We probably should have tested it before the day, but luckily, with a few minor adjustments, it gobbled up that grass like nothing else.

While I was driving around at five-kilometres-per-hour, craning my neck constantly to check on the baler and line up the windrows, the others were hard at work running around the paddock shifting the bales into piles, which would make it easier to pick them up.

They hooked up the trailer to the ute, which is only two-wheel drive, and hoped for the best. Luckily most of the paddock is fairly flat and the ground was bone dry from a week of sun.

A little trailer meant quite a few trips back to the barn, but they managed to pile them pretty high! Those things aren’t light, either.

We were very impressed with young Aria, who seemed to be enjoying herself. It’s quite a novel experience, haymaking.

Our neighbours buy about fifty bales from us, so they turned up and picked up their lot, which we gave them a really good discount on, because they then continued picking up bales.

Another three neighbours turned up with a MASSIVE trailer. Unfortunately we didn’t get any photos of this, but each of their loads must have been over a hundred bales, and they did a couple of them. It was late in the afternoon when they showed up. Had they not, we don’t think we would have been done before sundown. In fact, we probably wouldn’t have had the energy to pick up another two hundred. When they need to buy some hay from us in winter, we’re going to thank them by giving them a ridiculously low price, or some for free. Seriously huge help. Same neighbours who we let graze their horse on our land over winter and they thanked us by giving us half a beast, of which our freezer is still full! Ah, rural neighbourliness is something else.

It was just before dusk when we finished, after eight o’clock.

What a day. It called for a celebratory pose:

And an attempt at another:

“No, we’ve got to do it like this…”

The next day we let the cows in to clean up the edges of the paddock where we hadn’t mown.

Ahh, a job well done. Gratifying, but thank fuck it’s only once a year.