Saturday, 27 April 2013

Shooting for Redemption

While sitting around on a wet and windy Saturday afternoon, looking forward to some time in front of the fire at Matthew and Sadie’s house, we got an email from Mandy telling us that Didier and the boys were going rabbit and wallaby shooting and to be there in half an hour if I wanted to go.  So in a flurry of activity I drove over and joined Didier, Blake and Will walking up the hills in the back of the property, braving the rain to look for rabbits and wallabies.

Now normally I wouldn’t be that fussed about shooting wallabies.  Certainly not fussed enough to go out in the rain after them.  That was the reason I was taught to shoot at a young age in the first place, and I had quite a few nights out as a teenager shooting by spotlight to stop the wallabies destroying the watermelon and pumpkin shoots on our farm.

But because of the regulations at the time, after shooting them we had to leave all the wallaby corpses to rot in the field, and this always bothered me a bit.  Not all that much at the time, but as I have grown older it has annoyed me more, as it seems like such a waste.

It was this that I was going set to rights by going shooting with Didier and Blake, because afterwards we were going to butcher the wallabies and keep the tasty cuts for us, and the not-so-tasty cuts for the dogs.  This felt like a much better approach than just shooting them down.  We respect the animal by using the meat as best we can.
No, we didn't shoot this guy.  You didn't seriously think I would show photos of it did you?
We shot 6 good-sized wallabies, and after the guys showed how to butcher them I received a leg in exchange for my help.  Cor marinated it for a week and after slow cooking it was tasty but still dry.  I think next time we will marinate it in red wine vinegar and with more salt, and cook it up with some fatty pancetta to try and put some moisture in this gamey meat.

In any case, it was a first step on the road to a type of personal redemption.  And there is plenty more “redemption” up in those hills eating grass.

Until next time, live your own "Good Life"!

Monday, 22 April 2013

"The Gourmet Farmer" meets "The Apprentice"

We have been working with Matthew (the Gourmet Farmer) and Sadie at both their home farm and their new farm for two weeks.  As with all our volunteer work we have learned a lot.  There have been challenges, like helping host 16 corporate people from SBS for a 4-course lunch at the farm, splitting a few tonnes of firewood (if you saw the episode where they built the smoker, we split the parts of that tree they didn’t turn into planks), and holding an ewe that was trying to escape the yard while we were trying to get her onto a trailer.
Our accommodations in the "pickers hut"
And despite my belief to the contrary, getting up on those cold mornings have been challenging.  We are staying in an uninsulated, unpowered, unplumbed and unheated pickers hut, and it has made for interesting night time discussions along the lines of:
“Is it too cold to get up and go pee?”
“I don’t know, how much do you need to go?”
“Quite a bit, I shouldn’t have had that cup of tea after 9pm.”
“You know that always makes you need to pee in the middle of the night.”
“Yes but it isn’t always this cold!”

And this goes on until the person caves and goes outside to pee.  OK, who am I kidding?  Until I go outside and pee.

But it has been great as well.  We have learned a lot about rare breed pigs, about milking cows, and about rotational grazing (management intensive grazing using electric fences that are moved regularly).
Oh yes, and we have been taking these cute little guys off to the abattoir too
And Chuck the Truck is being used for what he was meant for.  Towing trailers, lugging timber, four-wheel driving across paddocks, carrying fertiliser and straw.  And in one case towing a porta-loo! Which I certainly never anticipated using him for, but he is like Chuck Norris in Walker Texas Ranger, whenever people need him he is there to help.

Meeting some of the people who Matthew works with has been one of the best things that we have experienced.  He has a great network of people and they all have a unique energy and approach to life.  We are very lucky to get to meet some of them, and even more lucky to work with them.
With a work environment like this, it's no wonder we want to be farmers!
Now, onto the property situation.  We started looking in earnest this week.  We have revised our previous plans somewhat.  First, the size.  You see, quite a few people we have met have started with 10 to 20 acres and then had to buy additional land to accommodate new plans when livestock come onto the scene.  The fact is that 10 acres, after putting a house, a garden, some fruit trees, a dam or two and a shed doesn’t leave much space for grazing animals.  Trying to put half a dozen cows or pigs onto the remaining space creates an overgrazing situation and a horrible mess in winter.  So we have upped our planned area to 50 acres, and are struggling slightly with the consequences of this on our initial property budget.  We will keep you posted on how this works out.

Secondly, the house.  We were talking about getting a place with an existing house on it, but this feature appears to add at least $200K to the price of any property.  The problem is that no house we have seen is actually up to scratch in terms of design or insulation.  Most are weatherboard places built in the wrong part of the block with no scope for grey water reclamation or solar energy utilisation.  To retrofit one of these houses even slightly would add significant additional cost and negate the usefulness of paying that $200K premium in the first place.  It would therefore be much better to build a new passive solar, straw bale, double glazed house, despite the significant grief that this would cause us.  And by grief I mean having nowhere to live in addition to the much trickier matter of dealing with Tassie tradies.  Cue a number of late-night conversations regarding whether Cor would be prepared to live in a caravan on a building site or, as Matthew is pushing, a converted shipping container.  This chat is normally over before the peeing conversation starts.
Our source of warmth..... when we can wait for it to get going!
And finally, we have had the surreal experience of watching an episode of the Gourmet Farmer sitting on the couch with the Gourmet Farmer.  Very odd indeed, kind of like turning on the director’s commentary feature while watching a DVD, except this one is brilliantly interactive.

So that is where we are.  We will be back in Queensland in June for my sinus surgery and a biopsy of my cheekbone, but in the meantime we have another couple of weeks of work here, then onto another farm for more learning for May.

Until next time, dream of the Good Life!
The mornings that make it all worthwhile

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Holy Hammy Houdinis!

Welcome to another instalment of “Into the Good Life”!  Since we last updated we have been WWoOFing with a fantastic couple, Didier and Mandy, who breed pigs and cows for sale.  In addition to this they grow stacks of their own food, brew their own beer, make salamis and sausages, keep bees, raise chickens and ducks, and are incredibly “plugged in” to the property goings on in and around Huon Valley.  These guys are the sorts of people that everyone should know.

Chuck at work with pigs following along.

So we have been spending a bit of time fencing.  Ah, fencing.  Those little hammy Houdinis will take any opportunity to push their way under a fence and then the next thing you are chasing a bunch of piglets across a neighbour’s paddock looking like a right idiot.  This means that they need Fort Knox standard fencing, and Cor and I have been spending a bit of time so far getting to grips with this and earning blisters swinging a hammer.
Fencing time!

But we have also been pruning the orchard, helping get honey from the bees, spinning it, setting traps for possums, draining a siphon with an air-block, clipping chicken wings, cleaning chickens, feeding pigs, helping make beer and salamis, plus baking bread and gathering stuff from the garden for dinner.  All that and world-beating sunrises from our caravan (the WWoOF accommodation here) and brilliant meals to boot.

Our reading has moved on also.  I am still making my way through Peter Bane’s “The Permaculture Handbook” but Cor has read “Farm Animals” by Jeanie Peck Whiting and “Storey’s Guide to Keeping Pigs”.  Courtesy of Mandy and Didier’s library I am also reading Joel Salatin’s “Salad Bar Beef” and “A Practical Manual of Beekeeping” by David Cramp.  I will add all these to our ongoing reading list for reference in future.

It's a pig's life.

We also have some rather exciting news.  As previously posted, on my Dad’s suggestion we contacted Matthew Evans via his website.  Dad was reading that he had taken on new ground and thought he might be looking for help.  Matthew will probably be familiar to most Australians for “The Gourmet Farmer” TV series on SBS.  For those in the UK, think of him as Australia’s answer to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  It transpires that he is based here in Tasmania (right up the road in fact), and he and his lovely partner have agreed to have us volunteer with them for the month of April.  They have some fascinating things going on with management-intensive rotational grazing (of the sort used by Joel Salatin) and a bunch of other interesting things and it will be brilliant to help them in whatever way we can.  It is just a wonderful opportunity and we are very lucky to have it.  I have to thank my Dad for the great idea.  The downside is that we have to leave Mandy and Didier much earlier than we would have liked, but I have the feeling we will be staying in close touch with these guys and continuing to work with them whenever we can.  WWoOFer hosts, not just for Christmas.
Not the Hammy Houdinis, but their irresponsible parents!

We have another idea that we are exploring (thanks to Mandy!), namely the possibility of farm-sitting for people who would like a holiday.  We will be examining this as a way to continue our farming education while we are looking for a property when we return from Queensland in July.

Following up on the end of the previous post, we did go see that property that was privately advertised - owned by a lovely Dutch emigre couple with their two young kids.  It was a great plot of about 17 acres but a bit too small and far away from town for what we (potentially) have in mind.

So during the first draft of this blog I heard a squeal go past the caravan, and what do you know, those Houdini pigs were out again.  There is more work to be done for sure!

Stay tuned! Palya!