Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Glare reduction

Kalara took advantage of two things last night, the downpour after the thunderstorm and the fact that it was too warm to rug the pony trio. Using her decisive horse sense (horses are only sensible when they decide to be) she knew today would be clear and sunny so she attempted a glare-reducing mudpack just like Bear Grylls'.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Turning up the heat...

...and then turning it up again. Yesterday was fairly oven-like but today when the outside thermometers (we have 3) competed for the highest score and the one on the mini weather station won at 52C things have really got out of hand.

It is very possible "real" farmers would laugh at us, but when all the troughs are within walking distance - or, in this heat, staggering distance - why not do what you can to make life more bearable for the critters? We emptied all the ice in the freezer into the troughs to make them drinkable. The ice was gone in less time than it takes to say "My eyes are melting", but it did lower the water temperature by several degrees.

It was enough to keep the fish alive, certainly. There are several goldfish and some brownfish (goldfish that haven't... well.. turned gold) in the troughs eating all the mosquito larvae and trying not to be kookaburra food. That is what they are there for. Eating the mozzies that is, not being bird dinners. We never feed the fish. They thrive quite happily on all the innocent young of various bugs and flying creatures that lay their eggs in the troughs and would otherwise spread disease, bite everything that values it's skin and be a general nuisance.

More of the same is forecast for tomorrow, Total Fire Bans, heat, mozzies and sun. The freezer has been stocked with heavy-duty ice cubes freezing in an assortment of plastic cups, lunchboxes and bowls. They should last a little longer in the troughs. Elrond the blind sheep has learnt to lick the ice like a popsicle so he can play with these floating mini-icebergs and hopefully feel a little less stressed.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The animals were there

A little child might be born of lines of kings, have rich and famous people visit with expensive gifts and have generations celebrate it's birth, but the humble people (such as the shepherds in fact) being included in this celebration is what makes it so special. Not only the humble people, but the cows, and the sheep out on the hills, the donkey and the camels. The animals.

There are no better witnesses for love. We can learn so much from them about how to look after our young, how to stick together in a flock and how to be loyal and brave. No-one needs a McMansion, all we need is a warm bed of straw and to be surrounded by our animals.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Class distinction

We got all the free-range sheep into the yards ready for shearing tomorrow, and it will be just in the nick of time. The late spring has saved them from getting too hot in their woolly jumpers this year, but every day the sun shines brighter. So do the lambs. They are really curious now and investigate everything including the garden-under-the-fence, all the plum tree leaves they can reach and the fish in the bottom of the troughs. They were confined to quarters in the sheep shed overnight to keep them and their mothers separate from the general mob but this snobbery on our part didn't worry them. They'll meet and greet any new animal, sometimes several times.

The sheep for their part were delighted to meet their new neices and nephews despite their inability to mix. We had kept the two crowds separate to make putting them all back neatly in the right places simple the day after shearing. All the sheep took turns introducing themselves to the new little ones and catching up with their ewe cousins through the fox-proof prison mesh. Old friends reunited Several exchanges were had through the wire, escape plans were hatched and offers of smuggling files in hay were made. The lambs however were only annoyed at the restriction in play area until they all fell asleep, expecting to be let out for breakfast tomorrow just like any other morning...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A hive of activity

We briefly checked on the progress or otherwise of the new bee hives in the hay loft today. It was a flying visit... heh... to make sure they had taken to their new boxes. We found one pile of them mourning for their old box and still lumped where it used to be. Or bee.

What this really meant was that the queen was probably somewhere in that lump. Her pheromones were anyway. Two of the three boxes seemed to contain working swarms, although one was slighly less abuzz than the other. The lump of bees were gently scooped into that one. Instantly they stampeded to get in where SO had flipped them over the edge. Eventually they might stop trying to take the lid off and find the actual door.

Clearly they liked the box now anyway. Not so the small nucleus box. Their interest in that went as far as robbing the last of the honey and possibly some wax out of it and then taking it back to one of the other two larger boxes. It was duly emptied of straggler bees and taken away, along with the original hive in the form of the whelping box (now completely cleared out of anything useful by the workers) and the car floor mat used as a temporary lid on one of the hives. This was replaced by an actual lid with ventilators which the bees will appreciate now that the weather is really warming up. Bees having no trade union and no industrial employment laws we do need to look after them a little bit, even if it's just assisting with the airconditioning. Although they even do that themselves. They are pretty self-sufficient really and with their brilliant teamwork they've achieved a lot in a very short time. In places this also includes sticking frames together, building comb up to the roof and very successfully hiding their queen completely so that we're not even really sure that they have one, but those problems will have to wait until after shearing, fire danger clearing and other pressing engagements.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The longest wait

There is a certain time of evening when the humans disappear into the Dog Free Zone in the kitchen and certain sounds are heard. The chink of china bowls. The fridge door opening. Sometimes the slice of knife on chopping board, sometimes the sound of tins being cut open. Always a delicious aroma. Hard to wait patiently for any of it to come out and make it to floor level. Still, wait the dogs must. Snowy thinks staring very hard at the miniscule gap under the door might make it widen, but Georgie knows that the door handle turns and that's the trick.

Being nearly blind, however, means Georgie sometimes gets disoriented and stares hopefully at the wall instead.
And if there's movement! Dogs must get to it, scrabble hard and try to help it happen faster.

But movement doesn't always mean food being served. Sometimes it's a very long wait.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quietly gleaming

The horses love to go halfway up the valley to a flat spot among our current crop of thistles and just mooch about. The weather gods have been playing with their yo-yos this spring but today was one of the sunny, warm days. Gem and Princess got in a spot of show practice, standing perfectly square and side by side for well over half an hour. It's highly unlikely these two retirees will ever be shown again, but they like us to know that they've still got it. Kalara, the oldest and most show-experienced was playing judge and scrutinising them from all angles.

Princess demonstrated how to be pretty and golden, but Gem showed everyone how to just ooze gloss. Kalara was clearly impressed when it came time to call the numbers.

There were no rosettes as this was only practice. Although they could have used the purple thistle heads.

Monday, November 1, 2010


The lambs are slowly growing into their ears. They run in groups at dawn and in the twilight, some in pogo-lamb bounces and some just leaping wildly, but so far none have actually managed to take off.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spring burning... er, cleaning

We now have just one month to clean up before Fire Danger Season. You wouldn't know it because with all the late rain this year the whole greater valley is still green as a baby's bottom. But everything flowering is also going to seed and just a few days of hot sunshine will see it cure into very effective kindling. The fallen timber from the seven trees removed recently and other garden rubbish would make great fuel but we'd rather burn it in our combustion heater come next winter, not have it all lost and burning the house down uninvited on a 40 degree day. Everything from the gutters down needs to be tidied up and the fuel load reduced. Also the acute embarrassment of having a fire out of control on our place would be a bit much considering our trade and training. We'd never live it down. The balance between having enough grazing to last at least until January and having too much standing fuel too close to houses, sheds and other valuable things is a delicate one. The animals are doing their best but they can't keep up with the feed just now - which is saying something for this lot. In the meantime we can do some work ourselves around the house acres to be safer come the dry weather. Much of the rubbish we collected was of organic origin and therefore could be burnt. In our Fire Ban District we could still burn after the official start of December 1st but this would require a permit with a few conditions attached and it's just easier to do it now. The guard alpacas took their role seriously when they spotted the impromptu bonfire and herded their charges to the far side of their paddock and into a tight group as in the picture above. It's heartening to see them keeping the sheep safe even if it's unnecessary and, in a real fire, may be somewhat futile. After a while when they relaxed when they noted that in fact SO seemed to be feeding the orange threat and I was standing by with the hose to put out his occasional over-enthusiasm and the nearby pile of waste bedding that caught the odd spark and all was well. The sheep even started to take an interest in the show. All we were really missing were the marshmallows.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pet status application pending

This friendly chap is a Standardbred called Sontiago. He is known to his friends, for some inexplicable reason, as "Mods". He is a retired racing trotter and is therefore broken to harness, but is also an "Open" riding horse having that rare attribute in harness racers - the ability to canter. He's only 10 years old. A whippersnapper by Celestequest standards, and mostly ridden now in the combined disciplines of hacking, dressage and a little light showjumping.

He was a topic of conversation with the lady who owns the barn where the bees currently live. She also owns him. The bees are on their way to our place when they settle down and pad out their frames more. Sontiago does not need to pad out his. It's padded to the point where he almost has no withers. The abundant winter and lush spring have been kind to him. Nearly killing him with kindness really. If Sontiago is allowed to continue gaining weight he will have health issues not unlike obese humans but with the added complication of possible founder, a disease of the feet in hoofed animals. Horses with uncontrolled founder - technically called laminitis - may get so bad that the pedal bone rotates inside the hoof and may even reach the sole. Not only is this very, very bad but it's very, very painful. It's also irreversible so horses at risk of founder need to keep to their slimming diets with mild exercise and no extra binging or they may end up with a one-way trip to the great pasture in the sky earlier than nature intended.

The lovely lady who owns him currently also owns 16 other horses and agists several more for various people so Sontiago has been taken off pasture and put in a yard to save him. She is looking to find him a good home. She offered him to me for the price of a cup of tea after his free delivery. I have known this dear lady for many years but even so this is an incredibly generous offer. The jury is out on accepting it. There are only two of us to make decisions here and one of them doesn't think it's viable. Sontiago thinks it's a good idea, but he doesn't have a vote. Yet.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Balancing act

One week to go until shearing now. All our sheep are in full fleece and on the warm sunny days try to rub it off on the nearest solid object. We helped out in the beautiful old stone barn of a friend yesterday when she had the shearer in for a date with her coloured Corriedales. It was a warm sunny day and they were looking forward to casting aside their woolly winter gear. We had a half hour drive to get there and noted all through the hills sheep were yarded ready for shearing. Everyone was trying to get it done while the weather held.
Mid spring here can be warm and sunny bordering on hot but it occasionally has a tantrum and throws a thunderstorm. Rain was due today and down it came. It's beautiful and will fill the tanks again before the summer starts but a sudden cold change can be lethal for unprepared stock. This is what happened last year when a rainstorm came through the week after shearing:

We yarded the sheep out of the wind but they had a group shivering fit for a while anyway. Eventually the sun came out and warmed them up. Sheep have a reputation for being quite tough but the week after shearing is a critical time for them. Until they can grow a light covering of wool again they are actually as naked as we are. Just like we hunch up when cold, they stand like triangles and tuck up their tummies.

They also get very sunburnt without their wool, especially the white ones with pink skin. This is another reason we keep them sheltered for that first week post disrobing. Otherwise we'd use buckets of sunblock lotion.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The softest bed

When the nights are still cold the best place to be is on a woollen underlay. It's also fun to jump off it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Beehive yourself

The stock population of Celestequest has increased by an estimated 50,000 in one day today. It was an epic undertaking and is only half complete, but it seems successful so far. When we took on half a dozen old beehives and started to do them up recently the grapevine, or rather the beehive, got buzzing and it was only a short time until our farrier discovered an unloved wild beehive free to a good home quite near our place. At the home of a very old friend in fact, where it bothered him whilst he shod horses. Very convenient. Almost unnervingly convenient for smallholders, but anyway we packed up tools, pressed a beekeeping friend into helper service and set off one fine, sunny day to see what we could see.

What we could see was a beehive in an old upturned whelping box in the loft of a very old pioneer barn. The rotten floorboards, the wave-like floor surface and the instructions not to touch the walls should they fall down only added to the excitement. As did the actual holes in the floor. Carting all the boxes, smokers and miscellaneous stuff up the fruit picking ladder now used as access was also interesting.
More interesting still was what, exactly, the new beekeepers would find in the whelping box. It was possible that it would be too heavy with honeycomb. There was only one thing for it. With the application of a lot of smoke, the lads gingerly turned the whole thing over. Contrary to expectations the air did not erupt in a storm of angry bees. They were not chased by annoyed little workers, nor was their an exodus of insects away from the site of destruction. It seems this swarm is a naturally docile one, and the whelping box, whilst beautifully decorated with fragrant folds of honeycomb, was not completely full of it. A sack of chaff left inside it several years ago had limited their building space.

Beekeepers extraordinaires set to work to fill frames with honeycomb and encourage all the various types of bee (brood, workers, drones and hopefully the queen) to inhabit a standard domesticated beehive which, given that they'd nested in a white wooden box before, was not the huge leap that, say, tree-dwelling bees would have to make.

The careful transfer of comb, bees and honey took about an hour. Work has to be smooth and steady with bees - no sudden movements, rushing or too much sweating. On a sunny day up in the loft of an iron-clad barn clothed in nylon bee proof hoods this last part is not so easy. Plenty of looking and learning was also accomplished. My job was to fetch and carry, hand things over surgery-style when asked and provide helpful suggestions from a safe distance.
The rails in the whelping box, installed to keep the doggy mothers away from the walls and prevent puppy-smothering, were now a problem for honeycomb removal as the bees had found them a useful girder-like structure to build around. It was a healthy hive with a strong population a lot of whom were now returning laden with pollen and finding their commune torn apart by dome-headed white bears. As the afternoon wore on they added to the confused mass of bees on the wire, the floor, the tools, the whelping box and the new hives. For there ended up being three hives, to accommodate the sheer mass of honeycomb and bees. The designated beekeepers for the day put brood cells in each one and hopefully the workers will look after them all. The bees in the boxes who didn't score the queen should feed the brood royal jelly and make new queens. That is the plan. We're not sure if the bees are clear on the plan, but they got instructions.

Excess comb was hoarded in food-grade plastic buckets with sealable lids to keep out the bees cheekily trying to steal back their own honey. Even so, when we got the buckets home to extract the honey there were quite a few hitchhikers inside. We also ran short of box lids, not expecting to use so many base boxes, so one was improvised with a car mat from the floor of the trusty ute. We'll replace it with a proper one when next we check the bees. Given a few sunny days to assess the damage, organise work teams, remove the dead, start rebuilding and doing all the normal disaster-zone management things much better than humans could ever do, the bees should settle down. The next step will be to move the new hives around the tortuous hill routes to home, but we'll think about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Truck dogs

Georgie and Snowy fancy themselves real sheepdogs when they ride in the tray of the ute through the paddocks. From up here they can lord it over those woolly herbivore things that usually intimidate them terribly and make a laughing stock of their wolf heritage.

Georgie is just tall enough to look over the side. She doesn't like it when SO brakes suddenly and she hits her nose though. It's humiliating. It's also somewhat painful. Some of the larger potholes are a bit rough and hard to take when you're a toy poodle too.

The solution is to use your larger and much more padded companion as a cushion.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Anonymous lamb

This small chap doesn't have a name yet and possibly never will. He was left behind in a paddock by his flock. He was probably the weaker of twins, but couldn't keep up with his athletic comrades. Thankfully our kindly lamb-raising neighbour found him before he became supper for foxes. She and her husband had been raising him on a bottle for a few weeks and, due to the vagaries of shift roster timing, found themselves without someone there to feed him recently. This is the first year we have not had a bottle fed lamb, so we could easily take on lamb catering for a day.
He has astonishing fashion sense. We still have quite cold nights here so he wears a dog coat. Yes, that's a fur collar. He is shut away under cover overnight and when no-one can watch for dogs or foxes in a chicken house with a dozen rescued battery hens and some female ducks who were being persecuted. Hopefully he won't grow up thinking other sheep have a few straggly feathers and like to dip their heads under water. He's let out to run around as often as possible, but always seems to want to get back to his poultry friends. It's as if he feels he has to look after them.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wheeled transport

Jamie doesn't mind the motion of the wheelbarrow now, and the hay makes a nice warm surface to ride on. He can even chew it a bit, although he doesn't really know what the sheep see in it.

The only problem is being stranded when your driver wanders off to do another job. He can't work out himself how to make it go.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Class of 2010

Trying to get the lambs to all pose together for a group photograph is just slightly easier than herding cats, but only slightly. Initially they started to line up with little Paula still hurrying to her place and the friends in the back row chattering and giggling, but Bianca the black and white lamb of dubious origin was late.

I'm not sure what the lamb equivalent of making bunny ears behind others heads in photographs is, but not being able to with their hooves perhaps they just use their own ears. Pamela's lad was feeling shy and Bianca was still having breakfast.

Eventually their 15 second attention spans were all fixed on the same thing when they marveled at a magpie on the shed roof. Although Pamela's lad had lost interest and wandered off, Cherie's tiny twins were still too small to come out and Bianca had a more important thing to finish.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Spring days, spring nights

The days are getting warmer and are mostly sunny now, so we let the fire inside go out in the morning. The evening light lasts so long that it's quite late when we come in to light the fire again. By this time it's cold again however, which poses a dilemma for soft beagles used to the height of luxury. Snowy has learnt that if she turns over twice in the same direction she can wrap herself up in her quilt. This will keep her toasty until the room warms up again. She has such a tough life.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Turning point

The lady in red making friends with this lamb is SO's mother. She's a lovely lady, a Bach Flowers practitioner, mine of information about alternative health remedies and completely devoted to her family. We all benefit from her knowledge and gifts of healing. Luckily she's always lead an active and healthy life because it's kept her strong enough to battle breast cancer this year. She kept her chin up through the diagnosis and surgery, then stayed cheerful and resolute through secondary surgery and all the post-operative treatments. Today is the last of her chemotherapy sessions. It's also her birthday. Happy Birthday Mum/Lorraine/Nan. May it signal the end of your year and of your battle but the beginning of a new year full of life. May the only new burdens you have to bear be that of wriggling lambs or growing children.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dawn's fawn

This is Donna. The one on the lap, not the one sitting on the bale. With her long brown ears and the way she sleeps she looks like a little deer. She's one of the twins born to Border Leicester Dawn who had a difficult arrival. Since then they haven't looked back except for this week, when she was found limping about, wagging her front hoof for sympathy.

She has an abscess between her cloves. Which would certainly hurt in any type of foot, let alone one with hard little hooves that don't really want to be parted by such a swelling.

So it's first aid time. With a bit of reassurance from her mother Donna pretends to be brave whilst we give her an antibiotic shot and put a poultice on her foot. Every day for five days.

She managed to take off the first poultice bandage which was found nestling in the straw like a lost pixie boot, complete and intact except for the lamb foot that should have been inside it. We then learned to use self-adhesive horse exercise bandage to cover the bandage covering the poultice and all of it covering her foot. This stayed on. She wasn't sure if it was her colour...

but in a few days the abscess had burst and she putting full weight on her sore paw and running about with the best of them.