Tuesday 17 January 2017

End of year wrap, an apology, and where to from here.

So here we are, the start of 2017.  It seems like just the other day that we were contemplating the potential that 2016 would bring, and suddenly, here we are, all done, another year past and another season already well underway.

Firstly, an apology for not posting on this blog for a long while.  There have been two reasons for this.  The first is that we are contemplating splitting our posts into two: family posts by Coreen here at intothegoodlife.blogspot.com and farm related posts by me over at ourmatesfarm.com.  We have been trying to get ourmatesfarm.com up and running for six months and haven’t quite managed it yet.  There is a bit there but we haven’t been happy enough with it to officially launch.  We will keep you posted when we do!

The other reason is that we have both been pretty active on social media.  Like a friend said, once you start into Facebook and Instagram (don’t even mention Twitter to me), the blog that started your interaction with people online in the first place gets neglected.  She has left Facebook now to focus more on her blog, and while I don’t intend to follow her in this, I will aim to engage more meaningfully through our blogs.

The boys unveil the farmgate stall

Julian keeping the shed stocked
I could give you all a detailed accounting of the last 8 months, like one of those “Christmas letters” that people somehow find time to send out every year (yes, we used to do those too, about a lifetime ago).  However I find social media has shortened my attention span a great deal, so for those similarly afflicted, I will sum it up and try to keep it brief.  You will get plenty of practice reading long opinion pieces from me when ourmatesfarm.com is fully operational.  Eventually.

·      Great holiday to see great mates and have some NQ beach time with the kids in June
·      Most pruning done
·      Created more quality pasture
·      Received good prices for our apples, our first profitable year
·     We spotted Tassie devils on our farm
·  Signed agreement to put more land over to cider apples with Willie Smiths, then making this happen
·      Got our cattle covered (a euphemism for sweet bovine love-making)
·      Built cattle yards with Uncle Tony
·      Grafted a stack of trees to heritage varieties plus put in a little cider block for ourselves
·      Got three new sows and a boar from Queensland, pure heritage Large Blacks
·      Expanded our vegetable growing, proved very successful, timer-set irrigation in place!
·      I started taking Julian for his weekly swimming lessons for some important father-son time
·      Rachel has grown really well, and has changed how I view the world for the better
·      We all escaped without a scratch in a head-on car crash with a sleeping driver

Misses (sort of):

·     Screwed up our timing on getting our pigs covered, missed two of the three sows, so are short two litters (or about 16 pigs) this season
·   Experimented with some new methods of black spot control in an effort to preserve tree health, and ended up with a lot more spot instead, so likely to receive a lot less for apples this season
·      Cut an irrigation line with the excavator
·   Over-estimated what we could accomplish over the winter, especially in light of this winter’s exceptionally wet weather
·      Extensive repairs on our old tractor hit our profits
·    Seen some pretty poor pasture and pig management practices on other farms, including some by people who should know better
·      Poor Chuck the Truck has been written off after that car crash, and we had to go buy another one

Hmmm, set out like that I think we have a lot more on the “win” side of the ledger, but then the way this family approaches life I think we always do.  Even the misses gave us chances for learning and being thankful.

In 2017 we hope to get our website up and running, and start the expansion of our pig and sheep businesses.  We plan some experiments with grain growing, as well as further improvements in our grazing rotation and orchard management.  We have bought another ute, and we will take another family holiday.  Most importantly, we will continue to live our lives as strenuously as we are able.  After all, steel is tempered by fire, muscle is built by resistance, and so often the obstacle IS the way.

I will end with a message of thanks to all of our friends and family who have supported us and continue to do so.  We can only do what we do because of you.  Even if you don’t think you have a meaningful impact on us, a simple kind word, or message, helps a great deal.  We thank you all.  Until next time, bye for now.

Julian's been busy.  He helps feed the lambs....

....and service the excavator...

and drive the tractor....
...and prune the trees....
.... and move the sheep!

Julian loves making new friends on holiday

We got some North Queensland fishing time
Family beach shot
While in North Queensland Matt's Gran meets her great-grandaughter Rachel for the first time

Back to work, and Julian making sure Tess enjoys her breakfast
Our scary big winter bonfire!
Julian learns about this "snow" stuff up at Hartz mountain
What winter is for

Julian's sushi habit gets more serious

Fresh ingredients, straight from the garden

Fresh Tassie purple garlic

Dressing up for Neil and Rachel's wedding

Justin and Mark helping with grafting

Matt with Clem and Boxer talking grafting

Going flat out to graft 4 hectares of cider apples
Amazing year for grass

Lunch at Fat Pig Kitchen

The grandparents and great aunty with the kids!
Julian showing Rachel that a chocolate goatee is funny

Our new Large Black pigs
The new cattle yards
Rachel's first Christmas!

Why we do what we do

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Autumn’s bounty

When last I had a moment to write an entry for this blog, we were starting two straight months of hectic activity, both on the farm front and the personal front.  Well we have now welcomed Rachel Li Qi into our little family, and the apples have been harvested.  While we have both been reasonably active on social media, like Instagram and Facebook, I thought it was time for a quick recap for our blog readers.

First, the apples, and we had a better harvest this year.  We picked fewer bins of apples overall, however the bins we did pick were of a higher quality.  We had a great group of pickers, and they responded to our requirements for clean fruit marvellously.  Particular thanks is owed to Kerrin, Sommer and Gemma.  The best fruit we picked has yet to be packed, and is currently in controlled atmosphere cool storage.  We have high hopes that when it is packed it will yield us a good return for our year’s efforts, however we won’t really know until it happens.

Picking underway!
Some beautiful Galas this year
And therein lies the rub for most apple growers.  You pick your fruit, put it in storage, but you don’t know how much money you will make until it is sold, which could be 8 to 10 months from picking.  Which means you could be just about to pick your next crop before you get paid for your last one.  It certainly makes cash flow management a challenge.  Of course the situation is worse for dairy farmers, who may be asked to pay back part of what they have already been paid if the processor doesn’t realise the profit that they hope to, but it is a challenging prospect nonetheless.  I wonder at what point the risk in the whole food chain got pushed back down to farmers?  Was it sudden or was it a gradual process?  Surely if the big supermarkets want apples they should buy them and then pay to store them until they can sell them right?  At what point did farmers say, “yes, we will store them for you and bear the risks in case you change your mind or reduce your price down the line”?  We are lucky that Willie Smiths recognises this and helps us manage these cashflow challenges, and we do grow some apples for juice and cider which provides a short term cash return.  However perhaps it will give you something to think about when you are next buying fruit or milk!

Picking during some of the nicest days of the year
Some of our cider apples destined for Willie Smiths
The last load of the apple season leaves the farm
In other farm news, we have finished 12 pigs and taken them to the abattoir, with another 7 to go.  The first group were disappointing in average weight, however the second group a fortnight later were significantly better.  Perhaps it was the additional apples we fed them in the interim, or it could be that some of the first group were from the youngest litter?

They love apples!
We were also very grateful to receive a loan of Neil’s awesome apple mill and juice press, which enabled us to press almost 240 litres of our own apple juice, for making into cider.  We used a few cider apples as well and it will be interesting to see how our cider experiments come out.  It gives me even more motivation to grow great cider apples when I imagine how good the cider they make could eventually be.  Now just to wait 6 months for the fermentation to finish…

Pressing juice for home cider experimentation!
More capital was invested into the business this autumn, in the form of a second hand forklift (which we really needed after last year’s hiring debacle) and a coolroom to allow us to store some of our own apples here on the farm for farmgate and market sales.  The farmgate stall did quite well before the recent bout of cooler rainy weather arrived, and tourist traffic up Arve Road slowed somewhat.  I only regret that I didn’t build it and get it out there sooner!  As is so often the case, I had a perfect ideal of what I wanted the stall to look like and where I wanted it to be in my mind, and this got in the way of actually getting started.  The signs that Suzy sent us look great and I am happy we have taken the first step.

The new forklift
Bringing in the cool room
Grading apples by hand for the stall
The farmgate stall
We have also been upskilling a little, with this coming Saturday being the final day in the NRMSouth small farm planning workshop series.  It has been a great course, given us lots of food for thought, and I would highly recommend it to anyone with a bit of land trying to maximise their results from it.
Gerard at one of the NRM South small farm planning workshops
The presence of our parents as baby sitters has also allowed us to attend a few social gatherings as well as host a few of our own.  We have been luck enough to go to the launch of Willie Smiths’ new still, Matthew Evans’ 50th birthday, and Ruth and Darren’s end of season party.  Hopefully there will be many more of these to get us through those long winter nights.

Pig on a spit for Chinese New Year
Matthew's awesome birthday cake by Michelle, delicious!
The beginning of "bottling season" back in February, it has only just finished!
And finally, of course the most important news, Rachel’s arrival.  I have been running around telling everyone who will listen the story, so I may as well share it here.  I was at the NRM South workshop for the day, and when I came home afterwards Coreen casually mentioned that we should perhaps head to the hospital soon.  I asked if I had time for a shower, and I was told that was fine, and then Cor had a shower too.  However when she asked her Dad if we had time to stay for dinner (her mum was cooking Hainanese chicken rice, a favourite), he lost patience with our cavalier attitudes and told us to hurry up and get to the hospital!  Lucky he did too, because when we got there I found out that Coreen had been having contractions since the morning (!), when she was moving the cows (!!), and that she wanted to get the jobs done first (she is a farm girl this one!).  And of course, within a couple of hours of us arriving at the hospital little Rachel joined us.  She had a full head of hair (as usual) and was a couple ounces heavier than Julian was, at 8lbs 6oz.  She has settled into life well, and Julian is being a great big brother.  Having Cor’s parents here to help at first and then my Mum after that was fantastic, and gave us time to adapt to the new routine with our little one.

Rachel Li Qi Tack

So that is it from us for now.  I hope to have more time to blog as autumn’s rains set in, but until then stay tuned to Our Mates’ Farm on Facebook and Instagram.  Check out the pics below for more family photos.  WARNING: photos of kids and family, look away now if this sort of thing offends you!

Julian comes face to face with another Tasmanian devil
He is a tough apple critic

Showing Aunty Bee and her friends around the farm

Lovely family photo
The little fella supervising

Our little terrors