Monday, 30 December 2013

What sort of underwear does a farmer wear?

This post is a bit of homage to Tim Budd’s blog at where he reviews gear that he uses fell running and hiking about in the Peak District of England.

I thought it would be interesting to review the gear I use every day.  Interesting for me, I can’t say what other people will think, but then a bit of holiday fun never hurt, so here goes…

Arc’teryx Theta AR Jacket ($630)
OK, now I know I have lost you.  What orchardist seriously wears a $600 jacket?  This one, for starters.  Hang in there, let me explain.  I was a climber, skier and hiker long before I was a farmer and having this jacket since becoming one has been brilliant.  Paired with an Icebreaker shirt and a holey Icebreaker 260 pullover (if anyone knows why merino shirts develop random holes send me an email, I really want to know) I have been toasty warm in all but the coldest work conditions.  When it gets really cool I add a Polartec vest to the mix.  The underarm zips allow me to release a bit of heat if I have to chase the sheep in the rain, and the pockets are big enough for a couple pairs of work gloves (I will get to those), while the inner pocket is great for keeping my phone dry.  I haven’t found a use for the sleeve ski pass pocket yet, but I’m sure I will.  Most importantly, despite copping a beating from blackberries, barbed wire fences, branches and lots of sharp edges, it looks as good as new.  I know I could buy 3 jackets for the money that will last just as long, but would they be as good and as versatile?  I doubt it.  All I know is I am glad I had this before we got the farm, and I am stoked to have it now.

Sealskinz Sporting Gloves (£50)
Most of the time I like to use the rubber-gripped work gloves that you can buy for $5 a pair in the hardware shop, mainly because I know they won’t last, and I am not wearing them for warmth.  The Sealskinz come out when it is cold and wet.  With an index finger and thumb that fold back for finding your keys, or picking up screws, or any finicky jobs, these save you pulling them off and putting them back on.  The leather palm is good and hard wearing, and only a little bit of water occasionally gets through where the index finger folds back.  The nose-friendly fabric on the thumb proved great when the wind comes up and your nose is running (not the nicest but there you have it, reality, not some ideal).  I simply can’t recommend them highly enough.

I am trying to destroy them, but no luck yet
Mountain Equipment Stretchlite Guide Pants (£70)
Another hangover from my climbing days, these are the only item of Mountain Equipment gear I have.  They were recommended by Tim and have proved great on the farm.  Not waterproof, but warm and pretty water resistant, plus when they get wet they also dry quickly.  The stretchiness that is aimed at climbers has made scrambling under and over fences, onto tractors, and through bush easy as pie.  They have a leg zip pocket and zip expandable calves which help when putting them into wellies/gumboots.  The only real downside is they don’t have belt loops, so I have to carry my Leatherman in my pocket instead of on my belt.  They are a bit warm when it gets over 20 degrees but then I go to cotton drill trousers anyway.

They also aren’t chainsaw-proof, but they slowed it down enough to save my leg!

Under Armour Boxerjock briefs ($35)
What?  Underwear?  Well you wouldn’t know it from his blog, but besides buying and destroying outdoor gear and fell running, Tim (together with Rob) also has ongoing obsession with finding the best pair of space-fabric travel underwear money can buy.  Well I think I have found them.  And yes, it is relevant on the farm, because you never know when a bull might be coming at you flat out.  When that happens, you need to know you have some nice underwear on in case the ambulance officer is good looking.

In all (sort of) seriousness, I travelled for 18 months with just 4 pairs of these (washing them of course!!), doing everything from climbing to diving to hiking and farmwork, in both hot and cold conditions.  They have been great for everything, and dry overnight when washed, keeping them on a quick rotation.  Unlike cotton boxers or briefs, or even previously owned Nike Combat compression shorts, they haven’t shown a single sign of wear.  No loose threads, no pilling, no wear patches.  Brilliant!  Since arriving back in Australia I have bought another pair.  My other Under Armour stuff has done pretty well, including my cap (which I can always seem to wash grease out of somehow), but the boxers have been standout performers.

Yes, this is me modelling my Under Armour (no not really but did you really expect a photo of that??)
Mongrel SP Zipsiders Boots ($140)
As roundly castigated as I have been for not supporting Tasmanian boot-maker Blundstone, I have to say that I support whoever makes the best gear, not just where they are based, and for me the new Australian company Mongrel are making the best boots around right now.

The fact is that Blundstone’s elastic-sided boots don’t provide any ankle support.  After a friend was laid up for months with a broken ankle after walking across a cow paddock, and having weak ankles myself from old basketball and football injuries, I decided to go with the Mongrel’s steel cap zip-sided boots.  The zips allow you to get them on and off quickly but the laces allow you to get it tight around the ankle.

They are simply one of the most comfortable work boots I have ever worn.  They don’t leak water until completely soaked and have good grip in the mud.  They also aren’t too heavy.  When it is too wet for these I go to the Blundstone wellies/gumboots which have also been great.

The steel caps get cold in winter when left outside, making for cold toes when starting out in the morning, but this can be combated effectively with a pair of steel cap socks with the extra insulation in the toes.  I have dropped an apple bin on my foot and thanked my stars for steel caps!

They don’t have such a pronounced heel like Blundstones, which makes tractor work a little harder (pushing the clutch on the tractor with the heel is easier), but modern tractors don’t have a clutch like Dad’s old John Deere 2010 so that doesn’t worry me much.

The light colour fabric has kept its colour, while the leather has darkened, leading to the boots taking on an odd two-tone colour, but I don’t mind paying that price for the best boots I have ever worn.

Yes, I was standing in my socks getting wet feet to take this picture

Special Gear Mentions:

Stihl MS170 Mini-Boss chainsaw ($399)
Well apart from the damage I nearly did to my leg with it, this chainsaw has been brilliant.  It punches well above its weight and can drop big trees, but is light enough to handle pruning with one hand.  It isn't the biggest, manliest chainsaw going, but it is truly outstandingly versatile value that is a steal for four hundred bucks.

 It absolutely demolished this rogue silver wattle
Leatherman Wingman ($50)
Always in the pocket, able to open the razor-sharp blade with one hand, with handy pliers, screwdrivers and the rest of the usual gadgets.  No tweezers though which is what always put me off getting one, but when my pocket knife was taken off me by airport security in Brisbane, I took the plunge.  All I can say is the one handed opening is bloody good, and it is cheaper than most other multi-tools.  It even fits in my old pocket knife belt case.


So there you have it, the gear I use.  Not “true” Tassie farmer style (where is the flannel, the Akubra hat?), but then we all take our baggage with us into whatever new life we choose, and I am no exception.  Hope to see you down on Our Mates’ Farm, whatever sort of underwear you choose to wear!

Wearing all the gear with a young Bob vying for attention

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Old MacDonald's Farm.... in progress.

So as usual when we update our blog, lots has been happening.  However, to avoid boring you, there are two ways to read today’s blog.  Actually, there are always two ways to read it.  You can skim the pictures and get a general picture of what we have been up to and a recent day in our lives, or you can read the boring prose.  I know which one I would do if I were you…. but then maybe you haven’t had your monthly dose of “farming life” and need to top up!

So we have been busy fitting into Geeveston life.  We have had sushi at the famous Masaaki’s (who it turns out used to live in the house we are renting), we have made friends with our neighbours and the people behind the wonderful Geeveston Roadhouse, James and Samara, we went to a charity bingo night at the local services club (which I have joined) for young Will, watched a woodchopping championship, and went to the Cygnet release of Matthew Evan’s latest book.

Sadie and I submitted the egg petition to Parliament.  The response from the politicians was all very placatory, however the draft legislation that has since been released is nothing short of nonsense.  I guess it will take a pelting of rotten eggs to wake these pencil pushers up, so stay tuned for my next blog post from prison.

On the farm front when last we spoke we had 14 Wiltshire horn sheep.  Well Matthew put us in touch with a lady who was giving away 8 Wiltshires, including a ram.  Comedy ensued getting them in the trailer, however lucky for us there was no camera crew around.  They settled in quickly and we thought we were all done on the sheep front.  Until we spoke to our neighbour.  He has been grazing his 55 sheep in our orchard for the past few years and we thought that after we took it over he would simply send them to the saleyard and keep a few as “lawnmowers”.  Instead his response was to offer them all to us!  The price?  All he wants is for us to give him a couple lambs every Christmas.  Not a bad deal, but now we have 22 Wilties, 55 mixed breed sheep, and Bob, who probably can’t believe the amount of company he has now.  Do you like how I said that?  Almost as if we didn’t spend the morning with 5 people running about the orchard like idiots trying the herd the 55 into the same paddock as the Wilties, and failing.  The job is done now (with lots of pratfalls and swearing), we will have a few of them butchered this week so we will have a fully stocked freezer come Christmas.

In a vain effort to get our grass growth under control, we also got 5 cows.  Despite our hankering for hairy Highland cows, Matthew and Sadie had 5 pregnant “lowline” Angus cows that they wanted to move on as part of their ambition to move towards a more dairy-focused herd, and that made the decision-making process easy for us.  As an added bonus they are trained to electric wire for strip grazing and they now have settled into a routine of daily morning moves to a fresh salad bar.
One of the cows flew over the fence the first night, we still don't know how...
But the new animals don’t stop there!!  We have also agreed to be the retirement site of choice for a couple of Matthew and Sadie’s old Wessex Saddleback pigs, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell.  We hope to get a litter or two from them while they spend their later years exploring and rooting up part of the old orchard.  They have already caught the imagination of both the neighbours and the local kids, as pigs are wont to do.

We also bought 5 Muscovy ducks from a friend up the highway, 4 girls and a drake.  They have settled on our dam and are coming up every morning for their grain breakfast.  To add to our little chick flock we also bought half a dozen Plymouth Rock chicks from Ross on Bruny Island, taking us up to 11 little cheepers who now running about a little fenced area at the farm.

And finally, we are now open for WWoOFers of our own!  We have joined WWoOF and are hoping to have an extra couple pairs of hands helping us out and sharing our great food as soon as we can.  Want to volunteer?  Your room is ready, step this way…
Luxury indeed!

OK, now that that is all over, here is a recent day in our life on Our Mates’ Farm.

Open up the chicken house

Walk the dog
Feed the pigs
Feed the ducks

Check on the vegetable garden
Top up the water for the cows
Hook up new electric fence
Move the ladies onto the new salad bar

Brushcut a line for sheep electric mesh

Move them in
Phew, time for a cuppa and morning tea

Some of Cor's home-baked treats
Back to work: fixing irrigation, cleaning off water shoots and thinning some apples

But we do get some time to go fishing occasionally!

Until you arrive to take possession of our guest room, stay tuned for more of the Good Life!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Our Mates' Environmental Challenges

When you buy a farm, you aren't just buying the land.  You are also buying into the environmental stewardship (or otherwise) of all the previous owners.  We kind of knew this, but it wasn't until we did some digging about in those cluttered sheds, and had a really good poke around the corners of the property, that the scale of the challenges we now face became apparent.  It is certainly a good reminder that our own stewardship will be judged by the standards of our children, not our own.

5 apple bins of rubbish and counting.... someone obviously lost the directions to the dump.

Lots of stuff that we won't be needing.  Ever.  One of them even reads: Contains boron, kills bees.  I mean seriously, how messed up is that?

Got some metal to get rid of?  Just chuck it in the fire and it.... oh wait, no, it's still there.  Shit.  Should we try and burn it again?

The foundations of an old building, ripped up and piled up together where it can disappear into the grass.  Why?  Who the hell knows?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Hail to the peeps!

Hi all, Coreen here.  We’ve been a bit remiss at keeping you all up-to-date.  Sorry about that.  It really has been getting exponentially busier in our lives as we came closer to completion and then finally completed the purchase of Our Mates’ Farm.  Not just with the (extra)ordinary business of buying a farm, but we’ve been through a learning curve with our increasing livestock, our social media identity is spreading, and Matt has officially come out as a “Geeveston orchardist”.

We experienced a circle of life loop at the farm.  From having to fish out a poor drowned wallaby from the lake and burying it, to releasing a possum formerly resident in the house roofspace, to little chicks hatching out in the incubator to some pretty excited clucking by us (yes, we were clucking), to the trauma of finding one of them dead in the brooder box later that night.

 Education never ends, there’s always something new to learn, whether it’s great advice from a neighbour and mentor, or a more formal course we’ve signed up for.  I went to a three workshop series run by Sprout Tasmania on marketing & social media which was great, lots to think about for our own business and having met some really passionate, savvy people.  Matt had a hot time at his Intro to Welding course run by LINC Tasmania, which covered both theory and some practical welding experience.  He was disappointed that the all-day practical course was cancelled the following weekend, but will try and follow it up at a later date.

So that was Cor’s contribution to our blog – she is now off to make cheese!

We have been busily preparing our apples for our first crop.  We purchased a second hand sprayer and have been spraying approximately 3 hectares (out of our 18) with organic chemicals to reduce the incidence of powdery mildew and apple scab or black spot.  It is important to us to use organic materials, even if we aren’t necessarily certified as such.  We want every visitor to our farm to be able to walk into every corner and see nothing that would make them unhappy to buy our produce.  Using organic chemicals still requires safety gear, but they don’t make me worry about going sterile from their use!
The sprayer at work.  Check out that grass eh?
Now you all know we have Bob the lamb, and Princess the dog, but we have been making plans for more animals.  We have bought 14 purebred Wiltshire Horn sheep.  The grass is growing so fast now that on a quiet sunny day you can almost hear it, and in some places there is a danger of losing the dog, even though she is growing like a weed herself.  So we need something to get it down, and the first solution out of the gate are some sheep that we hope to strip graze with mobile electric fences.  Next step: cows!

Some of the Wiltshire horn sheep we bought.  They are lost in the grass!
The eggs also hatched in the incubator.  We started with two dozen eggs, and only had nine hatch.  Unfortunately we lost a couple in the first couple of days, and two seem to have leg issues from the incubation.  The room the incubator was in really fluctuated in temperature a lot and this seems to have affected both our success rate and the chicks themselves.  That said, we now appear to have five healthy little chicks, and two in need of physio.  Construction on their home begins soon….
The survivors!
When a physio and an OT came to visit, we put them work correcting chick gait with rubber bands....
We have had our first house guests!  Cor’s brother flew in for a night’s stay during a conference in Hobart, and I took my Belgian cousins for a four day whirlwind tour of the East coast of Tassie before coming back here for a night.  Kudos to Cor for walking to the farm in this time (35 minutes) and doing so much while I was away.  We also had Rod and Karen pop in for a day of recuperation post the Cradle Mountain track.  Lucky for them it was raining so we didn’t put them to (real) work.  Instead as a physio and OT they were perfect candidates to implement our corrective procedure for our splay-legged chicks!
Casey and I at 6 in the morning before I drove him back to Hobart for his breakfast meeting!
Mia and Luc at Port Arthur

Mia and Luc at Wineglass Bay (such a goofy shot - I had to share it!)

Us and Rod (see chick physio photo for Karen!)
In addition to working our own farm, I have been carefully crafting more “work” for myself.  You see, in a moment of frustration I started a petition regarding the new egg-stamping rules that are coming for Tasmania.  We want to sell eggs at the farmgate of our new farm and these proposed rules were going to make it uneconomic to do so.  There have been newspaper articles (in which they call me a “Geeveston Orchardist”!!), radio interviews, and 7,000 signatures so far.  I have to say that I am a bit uncomfortable as an “activist”.  They were always the most boring people at a party, just a little too earnest for my liking, and normally given a wide berth.  It would seem that I have now joined their ranks but I will at least try to talk about something else!  We are due to present the petition this week so if you want to sign up or share it (and haven’t already), it is here:

So that is my long-winded explanation as to why we haven’t been posting much.  Hope it wasn’t too boring, there has been lots to catch up on!  Until we next time, if we haven't seen you we miss you all, and hope to see you down on Our Mates’ Farm.
I know, exhausting right?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Big step, our first animals!

Since the last post we have been very busy, doing all the things that you do when are buying a farm at the end of the month.  Like pruning on these beautiful, changeable Spring days.

But we have also been doing some other things, like working for Matthew and Sadie at Fat Pig Farm, and attending Matthew's excellent book launch, complete with scrumptious food put on by Michelle and a great BBQ at Nick's place afterwards.  As you would expect, these guys know how to eat (and drink) well.  Such a great event, and a privilege to share in it.

But it has now been dwarfed by an even bigger event in the life of Our Mates' Farm.  Our first animals.

We have 2 dozen chicken eggs in an incubator, and some duck eggs about to go into an incubator of their own, but they won't hatch until the end of the month so it isn't them....

Regular followers of this blog will know about Bob, the bottle lamb we looked after while farmsitting for friends in Cygnet, and Duane and Joan brought him over today, to be our second animal.

But the first?  This beautiful girl:

We have named her Princess.  We had a whole bunch of names from myth and fable ready for her.  Names like Freya, and Sif, hell, even Xena (Warrior Princess).  But instead we end up just naming her Princess, because that what she is, a gorgeous, affectionate, calm little princess.  She is a Maremma sheepdog, and anyone who knows this breed knows that we have let ourselves in for quite a lot, but that if we look after her right, in a little while she will be looking after our farm, and all the animals that are to come.

We owe Julz and Shane from Backfatters a lot for bringing up such a wonderful puppy, plus my Mum and Dad for their help getting her to us.  We just love her to bits.
Introducing Princess and Bob to the farm, and doing some lead training.

She is a farm dog alright, sleeping under the tractor while it is being worked on!
On the home front we have been trying to become as self sufficient as we can, so have lots of cuttings of herbs from Mandy, bought our first citrus trees, Cor has successfully made yoghurt and cheese from Elsie's milk, as well as baked her first loaf of bread, and we are eating mushrooms growing on compost in the garage (and no, they aren't the "funny" kind).  It is brilliant and all happening very fast.

So for now we roll on, getting things ready to takeover the place for ourselves, enjoying great food, and trying our best to get it going.  All for Our Mates' Farm.

Taking the tractor for a drive - that brought some memories back!

Friday, 27 September 2013

First impressions

A nice day today so we spent the morning walking around the farm.  We have been to the farm a few times and are still discovering what is contained within its 79 acres!  Tomorrow we start pruning, now the real work begins....

The view over the dam to the property on our western side (that building you can see).

Looking up the orchard to the bush block.  Our property goes all the way back to the top of that ridge up in the bush.

We have leaf burst and flowering in some parts of the orchard.

Cor checking out the view from the top of the orchard.

Our bush block.  The trees are actually quite lovely...

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Our Mates' Farm

We have found our farm!  That’s right, after some ups and downs and back and forth we finally have had an offer accepted on a farm.  It has involved a lot of looking, and many nights lying awake wondering if we will ever find a place of our own.

The where: Geeveston, Tasmania.  Geeveston is located in the beautiful Huon Valley and is about 50 minutes to the south of Hobart, and just over an hour from Hobart airport.  It doesn’t have the cachet of Cygnet but the soil is good, and property prices a bit more attainable.  The property itself is a few minutes from the centre of Geeveston.

The what: 80 acres of north-facing apple orchard with 4 sheds, a massive dam, a tractor and gear, a stack of apple bins, 7-8 acres of native tall trees….. and no house.  However this is fine as we are now moved into a rental property in the centre of Geeveston, which will do until we build a house on the site.  Plus it gives us a spare bedroom to have people come stay with us straight away.

The why: or more accurately, why the hell have we bought an apple orchard?  There is no money in apples, nearly everyone around the Huon will tell you that, but then we aren’t orchardists and have no intention of producing apples for the supermarkets.  We plan on keeping 20-30 acres of apple trees, picking and selling juicing apples with the help of WWoOFers and the like, and over the course of a number of years turning the rest into pasture where we can run cattle.  Within the orchard itself we plan to run sheep, pigs and poultry.  At some point we will graft some of the varieties over to heritage varieties for ourselves, some cider varieties for juice and just maybe some dessert apples for farm sale.  We will also setup a vegetable garden for ourselves, plant other fruit and nut trees, and eventually setup a couple of cottages for farmstays.  But for now, we are flat out doing all the things we have to do before we settle and complete the purchase in October.

The name: we have decided to name our farm Our Mates’ Farm.  It was something that we have been giving a bit of thought to, and it is because we envisage a place all our friends feel like they can visit and feel a part of.  Also we want anyone who buys anything from us to feel the same.  And in a small way, it is our way of saying thank you to everyone we have met who have supported us in this crazy plan of ours.  We have so many friends who have inspired and encouraged us to follow our dream (and promised that they would visit) that we feel it belongs to them just a bit as well.  Hence: Our Mates’ Farm.

There will probably be some strange conversations because of the name (kind of like this one:, but hopefully most people get it.

So what’s next?  So much I don’t know where to begin.  We have to think about getting some sheep in there now to get the grass under control, we are getting a Maremma sheepdog from the Backfatters crew in Queensland, I have to do some spraying even before we complete to ensure we don’t get disease issues, and all this is without even touching on the business registration stuff we have to do to get setup.  But we have a house, an address, a room for visitors and very soon an internet connection so it is all manageable.  And when Tasmania turns on days like yesterday, all that work feels like a small price to pay for living in one of the most amazing parts of the world.

We will post more photos as soon as we can, but for now here is the link to the agent blurb (not sure how long it will stay up for – we bought both titles) and just a couple of snaps Cor took this afternoon.

The good life - here we come!

Can't wait to get some of these guys!