The hint of rain

The past few weeks have been a little hectic on the Rock Farm.  Calving and lambing has continued.  Life has also continued, with some big weeks at work and school keeping us all away from the farm for longer than we would like.

First an update on Daisy.  Daisy and Mum have rejoined the herd and have settled in well.  Daisy has put on weight and enjoys her fellow bovine’s company more than humans now.  This is not a bad thing – although I miss our cuddles.  She might never do particularly well, but we are really happy that both Daisy and mum are now in good health.

With the long-term forecast for spring rainfall looking grim, we elected to sell off our older ewes and ram.  With such a small herd of 13 to take to the sale-yards, it was hardly worth organising a truck.  With a bit of time, I soon had the sheep loaded in the horse-float and passed the lambs out the tailgate back into the yards.  The irony was on the day I took the sheep to the sale yards, we received our first decent rainfall in months, a delightful 22mm.  It was a rare and unusual problem to be loading the sheep in the rain!

Selling the ewes solved a couple of problems.  It reduced the immediate pressure on the feed, and also stopped me having to retrieve them from the neighbour’s on a regular frequency.  I must admit I felt a little dwarfed by all the trucks and semi-trailers unloading stock at the yards, but the stock agent showed good humour and helped me pen the sheep.

The lambs are now enjoying some time near the house, where we are supplementing their feed.  They are becoming much quieter, hopefully making them easy to handle as they grow.

The little bit of rain was welcome.  It settled the dust, but more importantly it turned the grass green.  We are still feeding, whilst we wait for the grass to grow.

If you do want to find water though – I would highly recommend hiring a Kanga.  Jimmy and his marvellous machine have an amazing ability to find water pipes.  After successfully digging holes for our carport foundation, we decided to make the most of his visit with a couple of extra post holes for gate posts….  it was the last hole (it always is) when the auger came up with water pouring out of the hole…

Needless to say I am becoming pretty handy at repairing poly pipe.  Thankfully we were able to quickly isolate the water, which was non-potable water from dam.  Around the house it is used for flushing the loo and around the garden.  This water also supplies all the stock troughs – so I needed to get it repaired relatively quickly.  It has highlighted the need to install a valve so I can isolate the garden water quickly in case of future mishaps!

After repairing the pipe, it was time to head back with the girls.

I have moved them onto the flat country.  Whilst there isn’t much feed here yet, I am just rotating them through the smaller paddocks.  I hope they will keep on-top of the Barley grass, but it all seems to be going to seed early as it struggles with the dry season.

Time will tell what the season holds.  In the meantime, we have developed a plan for the cattle which we will start to implement in a few weeks.  For now though,  it is lovely to see a little water flowing in the creek again.

Advertisements

The battle for Daisy – rescuing a calf on the Rock Farm

The last 72 hours have been a race against time on the Rock Farm.  Our maiden heifers have been calving and whilst the first seven calves arrived without any trouble at all, calf number eight changed everything.

We found a very exhausted calf and Mum on Sunday morning, both in a very poor way. The calf was unable to get up, and it was clear hadn’t been able to suckle from Mum.  Mum was lying several metres away, also unable to get up, with a very sore hind leg.  It was pretty grim however we decided to not interfere initially and give them a couple of hours to see if the warmth of the sun would give the calf enough energy to get up and have a drink.

These things always happen when I am at work, and the burden of managing the evolving situation fell on Jo, the kids and our wonderful neighbours.  After a few hours of waiting, it became clear we needed to intervene.  Mum had managed to get up, however had left the calf.  She was clearly very lame and was unable to assist in any way.  I feared she was so badly injured we would have to put her down.  We brought the calf into our sheltered yard beside the shed and attempted to give her a drink.

Poor Daisy as she was now known took a few attempts to get the hang of suckling our modified colostrum mix.  The first feed is so important, however we had to make do with our mix of milk, warm water, raw egg and hemp oil.

When I got home from work that evening, we found Mum was much more mobile.  Whilst she was obviously very sore, she was able to hobble, and we moved her into the yard with Daisy.  This process in the dark wasn’t exactly easy, as we ended up with half a dozen of her friends in the paddock as well – however in the end it was relatively straightforward to cut her out of the herd.  Our efforts in making the cattle quiet paid dividends that night.

The following morning revealed a very protective Mum, and a lethargic Daisy.  In order to safely feed Daisy, I had to push Mum out into the next paddock.  I always move the cattle with a long stick in my hand.  Usually it acts as an extension of my arm, enhancing my body language to the cattle – however Mum sized me up and I gave her a rap over the nose.  I was pleased Mum was very obviously guarding her precious calf as I feared she would have rejected Daisy, but I was also thankful for the stick in my hand.

Over the course of the day I fed Daisy regularly, however she still didn’t seem to want to stand up.  When the kids got home from school, I got them to keep an eye on Mum as we attempted to teach Daisy to stand with the aim of her being able to feed unaided.

At the end of day two, I sat down with Jo and looked at our options. Ultimately we were faced with a decision.  If Daisy hadn’t got enough strength or ability to feed from Mum, then we would put her down at the end of day three.   I feared she had possible brain damage from a long and arduous birth.  It was an awful decision to make, but we knew we had to involve the kids with our thought process before putting her down.

Day three dawned and we wanted to see if Daisy would get hungry enough to attempt to feed from Mum.  Whilst we never actually saw her move, it became apparent she was able to move from the sun to the shade.  Our neighbour gave us regular updates on her movements as our family was all in town during the day.  It was an extremely positive step, and it looked Daisy was through the greatest hurdle.

Day four and we opened up the yard into the small paddock.  Daisy was spotted at different places during the day, and I even caught her on her feet.  I was overjoyed, and whilst Daisy didn’t mind a celebratory selfie, Mum was still very protective despite my attempts to distract her with some fresh hay.

And then I saw it.  Just before heading into work at the end of day four, success.  Daisy was on her feet feeding from Mum.  It was a great sight.  Whilst we are by no means out of the woods yet, and I suspect we may have ongoing issues with Daisy and Mum into the future, it was an extremely positive sign.  Hopefully we will be able to return Daisy and Mum to the herd in the next few days – although I have one young man who hopes Daisy remembers him.  That, I am sure, will be a whole other chapter in the history of life on The Rock Farm!

Calving Commences and Odd Jobs

Historically the 10th of August is the coldest time of winter in our area.  From here on, the weather rapidly warms into spring.  On the ground our grass has turned green, but it is waiting for rain before it will jump out of the ground… I hope.  I have been busier than I’d like with work, and the kids have been busy with sport and music activities before and after school that reduces the time we have available to enjoy The Rock Farm.  Thankfully it hasn’t been all work and no play.

Our maiden heifers have started calving, and as I write we have two gorgeous calves on the ground.  These gorgeous calves gambol around and make us laugh.  Our sheep with their lambs are also growing strongly, however have been a little more timid.  I will try to get some better photos of them soon too.

Winter also brings with it strong winds – and we have had a few days that have tested the structural integrity of our shed.  Unfortunately some of our Peppermint Gums (Eucalyptus Nicholii) didn’t cope so well.  These trees are probably about 40 years old, and are prone to drop branches in strong winds, especially when stressed for water.

It took me a little while to cut the bulk of the branch up.  Over the weekend I will enlist the help of the family to remove the green branches and pull the balanced log safely down for next year’s firewood supply.  The rest of the tree looked in good health, with a wonderful large nest safely remaining untouched.  As to who is living in the nest, I wasn’t sure, as they didn’t like the noise of the chainsaw.

With the landscape so dry and September normally one of the windiest months, I brought forward my annual service on our water cart.  I treated to the pump to fresh oil, cleaned the spark plug and air filter and filled it with fresh petrol.  We had been using the trailer for other jobs over winter, but it was a quick job to re-install the tank and pump.  I hope its main purpose over summer is watering trees, but it is good to know we have 1000 litres of water ready to use in an emergency should we need it, until the big red trucks arrive.

Whilst the cattle were curious with my efforts on the water tank – you may see them in the background of the photo above.  I think they were also more than happy to take a few moments to enjoy the sunshine as we clawed our way from a minimum overnight of minus 5 degrees.  

We will keep a close eye on our expectant mother’s over the next month or so, and keep our fingers crossed it all goes well for them.  Our biggest challenge will be keeping them in good condition as we head into Summer.  In the meantime, it is lovely to take a moment and enjoy the sunshine and the coming of the warmer weather!

Cutting Edge Tech on the Rock Farm

These school holidays are fast upon us – and the weather this weekend is bitterly cold and windy.  Perfect weather to be inside and making the most of the new heating system on the Rock Farm (see – keeping-warm-part-1).

We have enjoyed a nice break from the endless running around chasing kid’s school, sport and music commitments.  Instead we have caught up with family and friends and tried hard to do nothing…  It has been a pleasant change to actually read a novel.

But not all has been quiet.  An almost constant whirring and beeping has been coming from the the study nook.  It has been emanating from the latest tool on the Rock Farm.  Unlike the majority of tools here that are old style and barely changed over the past 50 years or so, this one comes from the other end of the spectrum.  It is our very own 3D printer.

img_4897

The (not so) Little Fisherman received a box of parts a while ago, and eagerly started putting them together.  They were remarkably complex, and I started to feel a little bewildered as he tackled his task with enthusiasm.  Disaster struck though, when he lost the instructions when he didn’t shut down his computer properly.  A few months of emails back and forth requesting another copy of the assembly instructions with Chinese manufacturer who mis-understood our requests entirely.  Eventually we gave up and took a punt plugging in the last couple of wires.  Thankfully Murphy was on our side that day, and the printer came alive and successfully printed its calibration cube.

Since then, I have been amazed at the progress.  Within a week, the (not so) Little Fisherman had stopped downloading designs from the internet and had started making his own creations.  Initially plenty of catapults, trebuchets and other mini-weapons of mass destruction were crafted by the printer as we learnt it’s capabilities.

And then I thought it was about time to start harnessing this unbridled enthusiasm for good… and asked the (not so) Little Fisherman to design and make for me a  new gear knob for the tractor.  A simple round knob was required, with a central hole to fit over the metal linkage.  It had been long missing from the tractor, but proved to be a good exercise, particularly in the precision required for measurement.  We used a vernier caliper to measure the precise diameter for the central hole, and it fit perfectly.  I was very impressed.

And I quickly put the tractor to work tidying up the garden.

But the next challenge is proving to be a bit more difficult.  Somehow I had also managed to break the centrifugal dust bowl filter…  The (not so) Little Fisherman initially baulked at the size and shape of the problem – but has managed to come up with a design.

He has spent a fair bit of time measuring and even trialled the construction of a torus of revolution for the base to ensure he had it exactly right.   Don’t worry – I had to google the name of it when he told me he had made a torus!

The only problem is that this is a particularly large and complex build.  The print time will be around 55 hours – if only I can hold my breath that long, I can’t wait to see what the little machine will produce!

The best part is that I am in good hands.  I now have a talented young man who is learning skills to repair old and worn out items with good-as-new parts.  I feel excited to be part of this new technology that will allow us to repair many more items previously considered beyond saving.  This cannot help but contribute to reducing our footprint on this precious planet.

A large part of our choice in living on the Rock Farm was to give our children a well rounded education, with academic opportunity tempered with responsibility to care for the land and livestock.  It is a constant juggling act, balancing the competing interests of their schooling, our work and their real education of life and how they can make a difference in this world.  Giving a child opportunities to pursue their interests is the wish of most parents and I am immensely proud of this fellow and his first steps into the future.

 

Keeping Warm – Part 2

After enduring one winter at The Rock Farm, we quickly realised that the house was like living in a tent.  It was hot in summer and unbearably cold in winter.  We installed a new fireplace as the first stage in warming the house (Keeping Warm – Part 1).

The second stage was a lot more drastic  it involved replacing the roof.

The house was built sometime in the mid seventies.  It would have been quite chic in the day, but the builders failed to install any insulation in their stylish flat roof.  40 years had also caused a few leaks and the old galvanised sheets were rusty in places where water naturally pools.

We investigated options to replace the roof with a lovely truss roof, but ultimately finances led us to decide to replace the old galvanised iron with a new zincalum product and install R4 batts in the cavity with an extra layer of anti-con under the sheets.

This is where we could get involved as a key part of our plan was to remove any redundant penetrations in the roof.  The largest and most obvious was the old brick chimney.

There didn’t look to be too many bricks on the roof, but it was a fair load in the back of the ute!  The old bricks were put to use stabilising a gully head.

Mark from 24SEVEN Plumbing got stuck right in removing the old sheets.  He worked in sections, taking off a few sheets and the filling the void with insulation, before installing new clips and the new sheets.  Whilst the sheets look similar, they are a completely different profile and size.

The install wasn’t without problems.  The old clips were nailed into the hardwood rafters, making removal an exercise in brute force.  Also the evidence of rats was apparent with one junction box showing exposed wires.  A panic phone call to a nearby sparky soon had it safe.

img_4732

The gutters and exterior flashing will also be replaced soon, and will not only increase the functionality but also the appearance of the house.

The old sheets have been stacked on the back of Myrtle, the old Mercedes.  We will use some of them around the place, and will try and sell the rest at some stage.  Have I said how handy this truck is for odd jobs!

img_4767

The difference is remarkable.  From a house that routinely dropped below 10 degrees overnight – even with a fire burning, we are now keeping the living space around 19 degrees.  It is a different house, and I have a very happy family.

img_4761

But don’t take my word for it! I think the dogs love it too. At least I’ll know where to find them until for the next few months!

 

Out and about

School holidays are one of my favourite times on the Rock Farm.  In between days at work, we get to spend time doing various things around the place. Some of the activities are related to the running of the farm, some have the boys learning valuable skills.  Others are just fun.

The young fellows have a couple of projects they want to complete.  Indeed they wrote a list of activities they wanted to tick off these holidays (they must take after their mother)!  They have a couple of woodwork projects to complete – a pair of picture frames.

For me, it is all about hanging with the animals.  The neighbour’s beautiful horses love any excess carrots, whilst the cattle are just curious (and hopeful I will move them to a different paddock).

Of course not all farm jobs can wait until the holidays are over.  Our header tank float valve was leaking, causing the pump to run continuously.  The resultant leaking water might have been a boon for the nearby grass, but it wasn’t good for our dam’s water levels.  Jo volunteered to enter the tank and remove the old valve.  Thankfully it just needed a good clean and fresh lubrication, and was as good as new.  I quite enjoyed offering advice from the sidelines…

We also had a few mechanical issues to deal with. The falcon ute needed a new idler pulley and the young fella broke something on his motorbike.

The falcon was an easy fix. The motorbike needed to go and visit an expert…

An old meat saw on Gumtree somehow ended up in the back of the car.  I re-purposed an old kitchen bench top and some leftover pine into a mount for the saw.  It should make processing our lamb a little easier.

Speaking of lamb – we enjoyed a couple of roast legs of lamb in the camp ovens.  The brick lined fire-pit hasn’t had much use over summer – but we hope to change that now the weather has cooled down a little.

We also made a warning sign to put on the gate 🙂 It is a simple form of security after a car we didn’t recognise drove up our drive and into our property, before leaving.

And on one glorious day we went for a hike.  With some hearty snacks, we put on our hiking boots and walked the boundary of our place and our neighbours.

We loved it, as it was a fantastic opportunity to check out the place and really take time to enjoy the Rock Farm.  All too often there are little jobs to do, but at the end of the day, spending time with this gorgeous family is what really matters.

It was good to recharge the soul. After all isn’t that what school holidays are for?

Keeping Warm – Part 1

When we moved into the not so rocky Rock Farm, we knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us.  From bringing fences and paddocks back into order, managing the weeds and maintaining the water supplies – there is no end of projects to keep me amused.

To keep from being overwhelmed, we developed a master plan.  On one branch of the master plan was two words….  Renovate House.

We gave ourselves twelve months to live in the new house before touching anything.  And a good thing too.  Updating the kitchen and bathrooms moved down the list as the cool weather came and we decided that making the house warmer was essential.

The main heating for the house came from a slow combustion stove that had been installed into a brick wall.  The small fire struggled with the large space it was trying to heat, especially as there is no insulation in the house whatsoever.  Pulling the old fireplace out revealed a full brick hearth from an earlier open fireplace and chimney.  We couldn’t imagine how cold the house would have been with an open fireplace in the lounge room!

We recruited a couple of helpers to remove the old hearth – that had been extended when the slow combustion stove had been fitted.  Demolition was good fun – and created an abundance of mess.

Then came the tedious part of setting up for a new fireplace.  We elected to brick up the old fireplace entirely and render the wall.  A brick layer I am not, but I found it easier to do than rendering.  It took me three coats to get a finish we were happy with.

We tinted the render with a blue-stone oxide that matched some stone paving stones.  We carefully measured the size of the base to ensure it met the required clearances.  Jo found an old shearing shed frame that we used to make the timber surround.  We trialed the fit many times to try and get it right.

img_4486

At this point it was time to get the professionals in.  We were lucky to get Phil, the same installer who fitted a similar fireplace at the original Rock Farm.  Phil worked hard to ensure the fireplace sat perfectly in the hearth – and we were lucky that the flue missed all important structures in the ceiling cavity.

We had also fitted and oiled the timber – and were thrilled with the result.  The best part was it only took a day or two before we had a cold snap – just the excuse to light it up and set the paint.

There is still a long way to go to make the house warm and we have a few plans we will look at soon.  Meanwhile if the pooch is anything to go by, the fire is a roaring success. 🙂

Tractor Repairs on The Rock Farm

One of the things I love about living on the Rock Farm is the constant series of problems that require solving.  There is so much to learn over so many diverse subjects that I find myself constantly seeking new knowledge.  The best part of living at this time in history is the easy access to the collective wisdom of mankind.  It is all held in a small device that fits into my hand.

But there is also a lot of stuff I learn from giving things a go – and one of the recent jobs was to repair the front swivel on the tractor.  Years of hard work had stripped the threads out of the casing and the steering arm kept falling off the bottom of the axle.

The problem with having the collective wisdom of mankind in your hand is it sometimes takes a while to know what to ask it.  I eventually determined that the best repair would be a helicoil, or threaded insert, and promptly ordered the parts.

Unfortunately there are also some skills you can’t learn by reading a book or watching YouTube…  and in my haste to prepare the tractor, I drilled out the stripped bolt holes too far.  Thankfully a local engineering workshop was able to rebuild the casing and re-thread the holes back to original specification.

img_4352

Drilled out too far, the holes needed to be refilled and re-tapped. 

Once the repair was complete, I was able to re-assemble the front axle, and get straight into the test drive.

The test drive involved ripping lines in a couple of paddocks to capture any run-off and allow it to soak into the ground.  The old International 674 passed the test with flying colours.  Test completed, the tractor was put back into the shed for a well earned rest.

I (re-)learnt there is some wisdom you can’t find on the internet or in a book.  In the absence of having an expert on hand, some things you have to learn by giving a go.

It might go against one of my favourite quotes, but that is okay with me.  I think Douglas Adams got it mostly right 🙂

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
Douglas Adams

 

 

Around the farm

With the little helpers both now in High School, we are finding ourselves spending more time in town.  Between before school music practice and after school sports training, our days are very full and busy.  As they should be.  Whilst part of me hankers for the simpler times when the boys went to our local primary school just down the road, they are growing up and are relishing in the new experiences and opportunities that a large school provides.

As we have now lived at the new Rock Farm for over 12 months, we have also started (albeit slowly) renovating the house.  The first priority is the installation of a large efficient slow combustion fireplace.  There is nothing like a cool morning to focus the mind and allow you to recall how cold the house was last year.

This means the farm part of the Rock Farm is not getting as much time for my attention as I would like to give it.  There has still been plenty to keep us busy, checking the stock water daily and moving the cattle and sheep into other paddocks.  Of course there are some gorgeous horses nearby that also demand attention – and somehow I always find time for a pat.

The cattle have been eating the remaining grass, and giving some of the weeds a good nibble in their quest for food.  They remain in good condition, which they will need heading into winter.  The skies, whilst looking promising have only yielded 2.5mm in the past two weeks.  The unseasonably hot days have burnt away any remaining moisture.

The sunsets though have been spectacular – and make me pinch myself every time.

The dry weather has put a lot of the trees under stress.  The native gum trees have a very effective method to cope with droughts.  They shed branches.  Unfortunately most of our trees are along fence-lines, requiring a bit of work to clear the branches.

Thankfully most of the branches were relatively small – and I was able to make some handy little piles of firewood for collection in a year or two once they’re seasoned.

I even was lucky enough to have a helper for a couple of hours – but he got distracted talking to the girls!

And then the helper wandered over and poured a bucket of oats on the ground for the other girls (and nearly ready) boys.

The sheep are managing to find some good grass among the weeds, and are all in healthy condition.  We have a few of our neighbour’s dorpers running with our sheep which are wiltipolls.  Both types naturally shed their wool and are bred for their meat.  The dorper tends to be a stockier animal, and tend to look more shaggy.

We sold most of the female ewe lambs, but are growing out the boys.  I will fast have to make a decision as to whether we send the boys to the sale yards, our put them in our freezer.  With two teenage boys in the family – I think that keeping the food miles to an absolute minimum will be time well spent.

I just have to find that time….

Every woman needs a She-Shed

A couple of months ago we started a project on the Rock Farm to make a Potting Shed, to store Jo’s gardening bits and pieces.  In order to build Jo’s She-Shed, Jo had been collecting second hand iron, fence palings, doors and windows for a while.  With the other shed getting cluttered, the timely visit of Jo’s parents and my brother made the time was right to turn her plan into reality.

Whilst the shed was to be clad and finished with recycled (upcycled?) materials,  for ease of construction I requested new material be used to build the frame.  Jo was keen to get stuck in and do most of the construction herself, which was fantastic.  Although I must admit she did seem a little too comfortable with the nail gun!

The frames were fabricated in sections on the floor of the shed, and brought down on the back of Myrtle, the big red truck.  Jo’s dad, a retired engineer, ensured that everything was braced and square.  As more and more bracing was added, I felt confident that the whole structure was extremely solid.

We wrapped the frame in some excess sarking we found in the shed.  This should reduce the drafts.  We haven’t insulated the she-shed, but we did later line the shed with plywood sheeting.

We sourced the windows from the local recycling yard for $20 each.  Our original design was modified as the windows we initially chose didn’t fit in the horse float.  These old timber windows were extremely heavy, and I appreciated my brother’s help to lift them into position.

The cladding was a combination of old Lysaght Corrugated Iron, and old hardwood timber palings.  The timber was rather easy to split, but mostly held up to to being attached with galvanised nails.

We found a couple of old posts for the front lean to in a paddock.  Unfortunately they were too short to reach the ground, so we improvised with a couple of old 44 gallon drums filled with old broken bricks.  The end result is an extremely solid structure I am confident won’t go anywhere for a long time.

The doors were out of an old office block.  Again, they are extremely heavy solid timber doors that cost a pittance at auction.  We bought some new door furniture as none of the original mechanisms worked.

We have since put some flashing on the roof and installed a gutter.  The last job is to pave the front area and build a step into the shed.

The internal fit out was left to Jo.  We found an old table lying in the paddock under an Elm tree.  The timbers of this ancient table were protected somewhat by a galvanised sheet placed over the top.  After removing the resident Huntsman and Redback spiders, we brought the table into the shed.

I am glad we saved this table from the elements.  I often wonder with old pieces such as this what their history was.  It is a little wobbly, but we were able to prop it up and make it reasonably flat.

It didn’t take long though and the she-shed was rearranged.  Old bookshelves and dressers that had been cluttering up my shed were relocated and set up in the newly lined she-shed.  Jo has since slowly set it up with a place for everything, and I am happy that I have space back in my shed too.  It has been a great little project that we both have enjoyed working on.

Which means that now I’ll have to start work on the next project… the carport.