Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bye Bye to Summer 2012/13

We have just completed a long, glorious, typical Wairarapa summer - day after day of cloudless skies, hot sunshine, and grass rapidly changing from lush green to crackly brown.  Lovely stuff if you're not a farmer.  Lawn mowing just didn't happen and pasture disappeared.  Passing landscapes on the highway became dusty fields of brown earth and yellow stalks, bereft of grazing animals.  At Fossils Retreat, we suffered, having to resort, yet again, to grazing the long acre on our dead-end road when we were able.  No hay was able to be made, and we had to buy in hay and baleage.   We had hoped to sell our lovely 1 year old bull calf, Paddy, and our heifer calf Dawn, as well as Clarissa, who we are pretty sure is in calf, but there wasn't much point as nobody had any grazing and everybody was offloading stock left, right and centre.  The Wairarapa region was officially classified as a drought region.  Towards the beginning of April, we got hooked up with a flutter spinner and a long alkathene hose, which enabled us to water two of our paddocks and keep up the grass growth.  As the long, hot days continued, but the nights became cooler and we started to get a dew, we started to get field mushrooms, and boy oh boy, did they come up over the next few weeks.  Then some rain, with more fine days.  We had mushrooms coming out of our ears, basket upon basket of them every day.  We made soups, sauces, ate them cooked in butter every second night, and traded them for fresh figs, lemons, other produce and pig food.  We have just had our second frost, so that's just the end of them now.

Yummy field mushrooms and a bountiful supply of our free range eggs

The Patricias and the rest of the hens were finally established in their new house, complete with run, which has been located in the paddock where our barn is (a long way from the vege garden!).   They get let out after they have laid their daily eggs to have a forage round and literally 'free range'.

Finally - the new chook house.  A long time in the making.  I doubt this one will blow over in a gale.  Still to be painted

Our vegetable harvest was not nearly as prolific as the previous year.  This year, no doubt due to the drought, our potato yield was perhaps one third of the year before.  The Patricias did not help though, as they still managed to find their way over and scratch and take dust baths in the beds.  We got a tremendous flavoursome yield of onions and garlic and lots and lots of basil, which we used to make copious quantities of pesto.  We have found that it freezes successfully, so we are hoping to have enough to last us well into the year.

We lost a few shelter belt trees due to the drought.  Funny, several in a row and then a dead one.  Our feijoa hedge is coming along, although a bit higgeldy-piggeldy as we have had to replace the odd one or two.  We had an inspection the other day, and it looks like we can look forward to a few dozen feijoas this season.  Friends have already started donating some to us.

Denise pulling down willow branches for Paddy and Walter to munch on during the drought.  Note the scarcity of green grass

Our three pigs - Milly, Molly and Mandy - are thriving.  These are really nice little pigs.  They will be with us for another 5-6 weeks.  They get let out of their yard to free range, dig up the paddocks and investigate along the river bank, and come running home back to their pen each night to be fed as soon as they catch sight of you with the feed bucket.  We have been very lucky with friends contributing towards their welfare in great style - surplus apples, squash, pumpkins, figs and a huge drop-off of acorns, all of which have been gratefully received.  We are at the stage now of finishing them off and packing them full of good food, so it will be interesting to see whether the acorns have any effect on the taste of the pork.  It has just got cold enough to start lighting a fire each night (we've had two frosts to date) so their tucker in the morning consists of warm peas and crushed grains which have been cooked in the stock pot and left all night on the wood burner.

Mandy, Milly and Molly rooting around in the mud on the bank of the water race a few weeks ago

So, it has been a busy year - it's always a busy time.  We are upgrading our driveway, putting down permanent paths and edging around the vegetable gardens, thinking of new ways of Patricia-proofing our summer beds, attending to ongoing maintenance, setting up and taking down electric fences, pruning back willow tree branches, splitting and chopping firewood, keeping the woodshed stocked, lawns, line trimming, ongoing sheep maintenance, feeding out hay and baleage to two lots of cattle twice a day - we don't need to join a gym!  And there is exterior house painting to be done as well;  garden beds to plan and prepare.  When winter really sets in and the nights draw in (it's pretty much dark now by 5.45pm) we have lots and lots of scraping and painting to do indoors!  Will we ever be able to get our deck done?  Will we ever have time to sit on a deck with nothing better to do than enjoy a gin and tonic in the evening?  But we love our lifestyle - wouldn't swap it for worlds.  There is something immensely satisfying in coming inside each night (to a fire already lit!) to a warm house, with all animals fed with full stomachs, taken care of and settled for the night.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Meet The Patricias

A few months ago, we increased our small flock of chooks, purchasing six Hyline point-of-lay pullets. The Hyline breed has been developed solely as egg layers - the majority of eggs bought in supermarkets etc. are from Hylines. They have proven to be lovely layers, consistently giving us very large (some double yolkers) brown eggs. It didn't take us very long to discover that our newcomers are very social, as well as inquisitive, birds. When you approach them, they squat down, spread and flatten their wings, and beat a steady rat-a-tat tattoo with their little feet. They also like a pet and a cuddle.

Here's the story on how they became known as 'The Patricias'. We were watching a program on TV about a woman and her pets, and she had a hen called Patricia. We thought that was a pretty nice name for a hen. Whilst Jennifer was out and about in the garden a few days later, she happened to remark that one of the new hens was very friendly; always hanging around, always squatting and tattooing and enjoyed being picked up. Almost continually in fact, to the point of being a little annoying. She became known as Patricia. Then it was discovered that it wasn't just Patricia who was always being inquisitive and looking for a cuddle - it was all six of them coming up one by one. As we can't tell the difference between them, they are now,collectively, The Patricias.


The Patricias, helping to dig a hole for a new tree, heading for a speedy decapitation from the spade

The Patricias have, however, become somewhat of a nuisance as far as the vegetable gardens are concerned. They have been cramped in their living quarters, and as we market our eggs as being free range, they are let out to roam early to mid morning. It didn't take them long to roam over to investigate the vege gardens. And cause destruction and mayhem.

The Patricias getting their daily greens. Note the stalks at the back of the bed. There was a really nice crop of silver beet in this bed. Seems that they're not too fond of lettuce. A couple of rows of carrots just germinated at this end of the bed are no longer.

Another reason why the vege beds are so attractive. Dust baths! If there are any plants in the way that they find unpalatable, they just get scratched out. Out with the baby carrots, parsnips, peas and beans!

                                                Resultant vege beds 'Patricia proofed'

We did have some success with some vegetable crops this past summer - obviously, with those plants the Patricias do not care to eat. A bumper crop of both Kakanui and Elephant garlic, and prolific crops of both Pukekohe and Red onions. We have managed to grow good crops of basil this past summer as well (in Patricia proofed beds) and as our summer has been long and hot, we are still producing copious jars of yummy pesto.

                                       Drying out some of the harvested onion crop ...

                                                ... helped of course, by the Patricias

So, what to do about the Patricia invasion of the vegetable beds? We have never envisaged high fences all around the beds (the expense would be horrific, for one thing), and after last winter's early storm bomb which nearly demolished our purchased chook house, we have decided to build a strong, solid structure and put it out in the barn paddock, with a large run

      A more permanent structure for the hens under construction, supervised by Madge

Our total number of hens is actually ten - six Patricias, one Favorelle (Hannah) and the three Plymouth Barred hens she hatched (unnamed). The latter four are not nearly as friendly and sociable as the Patricias. Nor are they such a nuisance.  And what of little Lucky who survived the Great Storm Bomb of the winter of 2012?  She was not herself for a couple of days a few weeks ago, so we isolated her but she lost all interest in food and passed away in her sleep.

Nothing is sacred to the Patricias. They will come inside if the outside doors are not closed, clean up any cat food left in the cat dishes, cruise the bench and counter tops to see what there is to snack on, and have been responsible for ruining a plate of chocolate eclairs. No, we do not encourage them to come inside, but over our very hot recent summer, it has been difficult to remember to keep closing the doors when coming in from outside

Thursday, September 27, 2012

More Arrivals and Departures

Our population has gone up and down.  Beatrice, our last ewe to lamb, produced a lovely little girl last Friday.  Beatrice, along with Barbara and Bianca, are our first three ewe lambs born at Fossils Retreat.
Proud Mum, Beatrice, with baby Diana - 1 day old.  Another hit by the mystery paintballer

Lambing is now complete - we had five ewes lamb, with a lambing percentage of 140%.  In contrast to last year where we appeared to produce nothing but rams;   of our seven lambs this year, four are ewes which we will keep for future breeding.  All the ewe lambs are black with white 'paintball' hits, and the breed is known as 'Wiltidorp' - a Wiltshire ram over a Dorper ewe.  All are doing exceptionally well and putting on weight magnificently.

We have also procured another six hens - point-of-lay 'Hyline' pullets which are the breed most commonly used to lay commercial eggs.  Our three Plymouth Barred Rock hens are/should be laying now - one went broody and had to spend a few days in the sin-bin (converted cat carry-cage).  Right now, the Hylines look some weeks off egg producing.  Makes one truly realise what the term 'hen pecked' really means when you see the treatment metered out to the newcomers by our existing five girls.

Not a very clear picture, I am afraid, of our newcomers - they are the brown ones at the back of the pen

We also have some visitors at the moment - a mother duck who proudly does the rounds of the paddocks showing off her little brood.

If you look about half way up the photo, towards the right hand edge, you will see a little broken brown line that actually is a visiting Mother Duck with 9 little ones.  She wouldn't allow us any closer to get a good photo.  She started off with 12 babies, then we noted there were 9, and today I note there are only 6 left.  Maybe they will remain the sole survivors as they are now getting a little bit too big for hawks to swoop down on

More visitors - Pukekos on our lawn.  The dogs were tied up when this photo was taken - you don't see the pukeko when the dogs are loose!

Departures - Zita and Zelda are but fond memories for us now, having met Vic, our homekill agent.  Charley Farley (a.k.a. Stumpy), Bonnie's vertically challenged Dexter steer, is next to board the angel train - Vic is due down to meet him in 3 days' time.  Also departing us then will be Cedric, our last of last year's male lambs

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

All the New Lambs

All our lambs arrived within 10 days, and all six except one, are the unique black colouring with white splotches - looks like they have been the target of paintballers!  Of the six, three are ewes and three are rams

Dasha, with mother Annabel

Derek, Delia and Dasha - a.k.a. The Three Hoons.  Coming up for 3 weeks old in this photo

Grab them young for a cuddle, as they get pretty speedy at avoiding catching at a few days old

Bianca was a first-time lamber, and produced tiny but healthy babies - Duncan on the left who is the only one throwing back to his Dorper mother, and sister Dixie

Our lambing went well, with only one yet to lamb, who is Beatrice, who had an early lamb late last season, so may not have come in heat as quickly as the others.  We are still not sure whether she is in fact going to produce a lamb or not.  Barbara went in to labour but was having difficulty birthing, so we took action, delivered a big ram lamb then discovered the birthing problem was due to a very badly presenting second ram lamb which unfortunately was dead when we removed it.  Her surviving ram lamb is nice and big and healthy, called Dante

A shot of all the lambs frisking around and boing-boinging

With another very wet but very warm winter, we have had our fair share of the usual feet problems with the Dorper sheep.  Apparently, their hooves grow faster than most breeds and especially so in wet weather.  With all the surplus water in the paddocks and muddy, pugged yards, it has not been easy dealing with feet trimming and additional treatment for footrot for some and scald with a couple of the babies.  Roll on summer, daylight, and sunshine!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Black Sheep of the Family

Meet the Black Sheep of the Family ...

Abigail produced our first lambs of 2012 - twins on Saturday 4 August - a ewe (DELIA) and a ram (DEREK)

This is really interesting, as our new Wiltshire ram, WILLIAM (who has obviously performed) is white, and no, none of our neighbours had a black ram.  We will be looking forward to seeing what colours our remaining four Dorper ewes produce!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wet Wet Wet Winter

Here we are, on the brink of August and again, it's another wet winter.  Although temperatures have been much milder generally and it surprisingly appears we are getting a small grass growth, the constant sloshing and pushing wheelbarrow loads of hay through slush and hungry animals fetlock deep in mud along the fencelines constantly  bellowing for 'More Hay, More Hay' is getting a little depressing.

We had rain last week, a couple of days of beautifully fine but cold, crispy days with heavy frosts, and we are back to the rain again.  We have looked up the long range forecast for the next 8 days, and it is rain, rain, rain every day.  Our hay situation might be getting a little critical as most of the paddocks have more than their fair share of mud and any remaining grass trampled in.

We have five sheep in lamb this year - two of our original Dorpers (the only two remainders of our original four) and three of their offspring from the year before last.  Looking good as far as William's performance goes (William being the young Wiltshire ram we bought earlier in the New Year).  Mostly in the Wairarapa, the ram goes out with the ewes on 1 February, but we held William back until the first week in March.  With a gestation period of approximately five months, we can expect lambs from early next week on.

Some of our hens have started laying - in particular, Hannah (the hatcher) and Lucky (who defied the storm bomb).  This is a nice surprise with it still being officially winter - we're getting maybe three eggs every two days.

 The hens are reposing back in their flash condo that we showed you a few months ago that got a bit busted up in a bad storm.  A friend of ours has painstakingly fabricated new pieces and glued and fixed all the parts back together.  The house is now reposing on our garden lawn as the ground is much flatter, as against in the adjacent paddock where the barn is where it runs the risk of being pushed over by four exuberant calves.  The downside of this is that they are wandering nearer and nearer the house, which may seem 'cute' and 'farmhousie' to some folk, but it's not so great when chook poo is being tramped through the house.  Two of the Barred Rock 'chicks' in the foreground who will be laying very, very soon, with Hannah (who reared them) at the back

With all the miserable wet weather, we have managed to get on with a few more things inside the house, like finishing off painting woodwork, replacing hardware, etc.  The reason we have not shown you any photos of any of our house interior, is that we do not yet even have one room that is totally finished!

We got above-ceiling and under-floor insulation installed last week, which has made a huge difference.  It no longer feels like the South Pole when you open the door into the hall.

Well, lookie here - a fine day!  Yes, folks, we did have two fine days in between the rain last weekend, albeit with a very chilling northerly wind.  Here's the whole damn family grazing Bonnie and Bella on our long acre

                                         And here's Madge, the supervisor

Surprisingly, the days recently have not been too icy and our house lawns were mowed on Sunday (the above fine weather day), showing that there has been some limited grass growth.  We will be utilising our long acre over the next few days when one of us is home and can get two cattle out at a time as they require constant monitoring.  The tape across the road is not electrified.

Bonnie and Bella's calves, Dawn and Paddy, were weaned off them just over a week ago.  Such a terrible bellowing for 3-4 days;  not so much from the babies, but from the mums.  Paddy and Dawn are now with Walter and Wanda, our foster calves from the year before (10 months old) and are being cosseted with barn shelter, feed nuggets and ad lib hay.  They are about 4 1/2 months old now.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Day Off at the Seaside

We felt we needed a little cheering up one day last week and a break from 'getting on with things' on the property, so rewarded ourselves (and Tansy) with a picnic on the coast.  After several days of rain, we were lucky enough to be blessed with a perfect winter's day, and set off for Castlepoint, 69 kms north east of Masterton.  Castlepoint is famous for its lighthouse, annual horse races on the beach, and 160-metre-high Castle Point rock. It is popular for holidays and fishing, and has a safe swimming beach and tidal lagoon. 

Castlepoint takes its name from Castle Point, the impressive rock outcrop at the settlement's southern end. The rock was named by the British navigator James Cook in 1770, presumably because the landform resembled a fortress.   Castle Point is one of Wairarapa’s most spectacular landforms. It is made of successive layers of lime and sandstone, deposited over the last two million years. On the seaward side it sits on an older base of siltstone. As the land rose from the sea, the encircling softer mudstone was eroded, exposing harder limestone.

With its strong winds, shallows, reefs and currents, the eastern Wairarapa coast can be dangerous. Since 1849, 31 vessels have foundered there and 31 lives have been lost. In 1913, a 23 metre high lighthouse was built on Castlepoint reef. It is New Zealand's third highest lighthouse and sends three flashes every 45 seconds, visible for 30 kilometres. The last lighthouse keeper retired in 1958, due to automation.

After an invigorating walk up to the lighthouse and back, we headed north to the much less occupied Mataikona, about 20 minutes' further drive.

Looking north towards Mataikona - taken from the path leading up to the Castlepoint lighthouse

Mataikona could be best described as an 'olde worlde' lightly populated beach settlement.  No store, pub nor garage.  Very few permanent residents.  Lots of baches.  This place must really hum over Christmas/New Year

Amazing rock formations at Mataikona beach. This is close-up detail of one of the rocky 'channels' shown in the other photo

So, we had a lovely day off.  A super bonus was finding a nice big deposit of kale seaweed very near the spot we chose to have our picnic, so came home with a garbage bag full to make seawood fertilizer and foliar spray.