Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Things have been happening

Things were grand. The three dairy cows I'd bought were in the back of my neighbours horse truck. He'd kindly loaned himself and his truck for me to go and pick up what would be the centerpiece and the pride and joy of Lantanaland. Two dairy cows and a young bull for beef would be living here because of the kindness of friends and the marvel of herdshare. It was the fruition of a seed planted ten or so years ago by a raw celebrity chef from Essex, a English smallholder and an author and his wife living in the NSW countryside. The harsh doses of reality that had formed in the last few weeks and would come thick and fast every minute after I opened the trailer door were unimaginable to that kid all those years ago.....

The realisation of the rule of my mums house that the cook didn't wash up was probably what got me cooking. When I came to university I was at least able to not solely rely on takeaway or stirfry. I can vaguely remember trying things like packet beef stroganoff and being pleased with my daring. I did a lot of cooking for the boys in that house, mainly potato based. Despite eating mounds and mounds of the humble spud I never got sick of them or the butter and cream that went into them either......

As soon as we bought Lantanaland I wanted a cow. Look at all that grass! (in between the lantana). Free milk and meat, endless cream and butter. The cow will amble over and stand patiently while she's milked. Alas there was bugger all fences and no cash so the cows would have to wait. I'd have to make do with getting a rooster to keep my girls company...

I figured that cooking was a good way to get or at least keep a girlfriend. So once The Once and Future Wife introduced me to the fact that yes, she did like me, I was keen as Keens mustard to show her that I could cook. Buggered if I know what I cooked in the early days. Something with potatoes no doubt. Then came along the likely lad from Essex. Jamie Oliver's simple recipes and the way he stripped food back to its basics gave me the confidence that I could cook from first principles....

I had confidence now from the fencing the free goats from across the road that I would be able to keep cows in fairly easily. Still had the cow energiser that I'd been given for Xmas by The Wife. I could hem in paddocks of land with an electric fence and the barbed wire fence could be checked and mended. My derelict paddocks would become rolling green hills.....

"The drawbacks of living this kind of life elicit little sympathy from those who've not experienced them personally, so I'll simply add that derelict houses in derelict villages are derelict for a reason" I read eagerly from 'A Year of Slow Food' I'd bought on a whim from the Malaney bookstore during a romantic getaway in the hinterland. In a tiny toaster oven roasted two baby chickens stuffed with new potatoes. I was adapting my cooking style, based on French and Italian, but always that simple fresh ingredients came first. And now here was this amazing book about living off the land, with bees and cows and fruit trees and hard bloody work. But I glossed over those parts when I read it the second time the next day.....

I'd been watching the cattle classifieds for a bit. I'd put up a post about herdshare on the blog and had enough interest to seriously check every day. Wanted Dexters or Jersey cows and needed a calf on the mum, so we could go away for a weekend and the house sitters wouldn't have to milk. There was a lot of hard work to be done though. I needed to slash a path for the electric fence through six foot high grass and lantana. Needed to make or buy a gate and get that in. Patch the barbed wire along the driveway. Get firmer interest from people about chipping in, starting a little community based around a cow seemed pretty cool....

Living in the inner city with The Wife I was reasonably content with my chickens and my vegetable garden and my aquaponics. Then came River Cottage. The way Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall bounced around the community started something else in me. Maybe I could make a small living off having a bit of land, I had a few ideas and he really made it all look like he was having a ball. He just exuded this carefree attitude of "who cares if something goes wrong, I'm a smallholder I'll adapt and roll with the punches".......

The worst possible thing had gone wrong. I needed to slash another 20m of grass and scrub and hammer in ten or so star pickets to run up this fence and I could barely walk. I'd partially slipped a disc playing touch footy the night before and was in severe, sharp pain. I couldn't walk without aid. A nice sixtyish women helped me into the physiotherapists. Will I be able to fence by Saturday, I asked? Not a chance. The next two days were spent ringing and texting and facebooking for help. One of the herdsharers, Mick, came through and I hobbled around in the afternoon, running the light nylon cord that would hopefully keep the cows in the small top paddock. Everything I'd read reckoned that it should be fine.....

I laughed at the book I'd just been given for my birthday. We were at Lantanaland for my birthday party, The Wife had organized some bee hives and two of my best mates had a little something extra. The Healthy House Cow......

I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. The energiser was registering a fault. Oh well the cows would stay up the top while I ran and got the more powerful one I used for the goats. By the time I'd run shuffled to get rh gear and back they were on the other side of the fence. Arrrrgh! I shooed them back in and patched the fence and away they went, munching happily away at the green grass......

I fired up the mower for the fourth weekend in a row. Lots of summer rain meant the grass was growing faster than I could cut it. I didn't mind the mowing but there were so much better things I could be doing with my time......

I'm not going to have the time, I thought as I drive home in a panic. Lafayette, the big mum had gone straight through the barbed wire. It was Wednesday afternoon and we left Friday morning to drive to Gladstone for my grandmothers 90th birthday party on Friday morning. The Wife had done her best to get them all back in but had almost injured the young cow Dolores by tethering her while she herded the other two. When she came back she'd got herself tangled up. I borrowed some fencing gear and got my head torch and started work. My back ached but my mind ached worse, what if they went through the fence while the the house sitters were here?

I went to bed thinking that my dreamer tendency had finally got the better of me. I really needed at hot-wire all around the fence and the only time I had was the next morning. I usually leave for work just before six am. So when the alarm went off really, really early I got the head torch back on and traipsed up to the top paddock. The mist gave me about a meter of vision but blanketed everything with a wet peaceful silence. After joining up the fence I noticed that one of the tied off ends was arcing on a fence post. I was wearing heavy riggers gloves so figured I'd be fine to brush it away. BANG! Bloody hell, if they don't respect that then I've got no hope.

I don't think the level of anticipation driving home had been greater than the first day I drove home to Lantanaland. Cows in - good. Cows out - bad, very bad. I'd only have that afternoon to fix the problem and I'd have no idea if it would work as I drove away Friday morning, to a party 600km away. I came down the hill and there they were, all three, INSIDE the fence, waiting at the gate. A huge wave of relief washed over me. Things would be ok. I could make this work.

Of course it's not that easy. I have no idea to hand milk and no one to show me. My herdshare depends on me being able to get the milk the herdsharers own out of the cow and turned into butter, cheese and yoghurt. I have no bales or crush. When we came home yesterday Dolores was covered in fat paralysis ticks.

However I feel the enthusiasm that Hugh, Jamie and Gerda and David Foster had for living with food that is fresh, to make the land that we own into something productive. And I have friends to help. Two of the herdsharers run an organic lamb farm and are a repository of great farm advice. Mick who helped with the fence has worked on dairy farms and has mates in the business. My mum owned a dairy farm before I was born. The lovely neighbours who lent me the truck have lent me fencing tools as well. My natural (The Wife would say unfounded) optimism has returned. I'm pretty much as raw a rookie as a smallholder can get, but the only way is up!

Postscript. Ive been talking about a working bee day in June for a while. A few of the foodbloggers would like to see the farm. Mates want to help. Good food will be eaten. The eating chooks are growing daily. We have chosen the long weekend in June, 12-14. I will try and cut some new lines for fencing and maybe build a woodfired pizza oven. All I can promise is great food and drink and spectacular views. And potatoes.

Lantanaland from the iPhone


  1. You're getting there eh. Nice one.

  2. There is never a dull moment on the land; that's for sure. Your 'natural optimism' got you this far, so it can't be completely unfounded! Keep it up and I'll try to keep from killing your centrepiece!

  3. Congrats on your moo-cows!! Would love to come and pat them one day. :)

  4. Beeso,
    There is an organic back rub you can buy for the cattle called Cattle Coat & Cattle coat soluble from Organica Australia Pty Ltd. I think they are based in Qld.
    I would assume they have a website so you should be able to get some information from them.
    Had 3 small diced packs of lamb left from the markets so it was successful for us.

  5. Good post Beeso, it's all a learning curve. Been over twenty years since I hand milked a cow on the Uncle's dairy farm, there's got to be a something online though.
    PS I did warn about fencing ;)

  6. Bloody enjoyable read, Beeso. As a fellow dreamer, gotta admire your continuing balls in getting it all together.

  7. I read this as I start a day in the office in front of my computer. You write about the difficulties you are having but still make me want to tree change.

  8. Ah if you knew what it was really like before you started, you wouldn't have. Just as well eh?

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