Monday, June 21, 2010

So, what now?

Big events like Feastin and Fencin can have a real snowball effect if you follow them through. The most immediate thing that came out of last weekend was the combination of the bales being finished and as much grass as the cows can eat. Milk. My first decent amount, which was only a litre but so satisfying.

Last night I locked up the bull calf with Dolores for company. Laf doesn't need company as all that runs through her head is "food food food food food food water food food". When we came down this morning her udder was the fullest I'd seen it since she came to Lantanaland. The calf was also very thirsty and as I led her down to the pen I had to shoo him off her udder.

I got her into the bales and got to work. Of course the first thing she did was step in my nice clean bucket. Oh well. Then it was a combination of squeezes, pulls and squirts to get the milk out. I did ok for a bit with the traditional method but my hands soon got sore, especially the two fingers that I'm fairly sure I've fractured playing footy. I persisted and The Wife had a go as well and we have one tasty litre in the fridge. Butter and cottage cheese will be the go this week.

So the cows are producing. Next week I'll book the AI man to get them both pregnant. On July 1 the vet comes to make my bull a little less bullish. Meanwhile they continue to open up Lantanaland for me, exposing the lie of the land that we have never seen in our three years here.

So to give you a rough idea where lantanaland is at here is a arial view. The red section is the top paddock. This is where the bales are and where I'll keep the cows when they are close to calving. The green is the new paddock that we cut, maybe about 2 acres. The yellow would be a really easy paddock to do next as two sides are already cleared. The pink is probably the next big push as it would take in the dam. This would allow me to have a paddock that has it's own water supply when my tanks run low. The white and orange areas might get done when I have the money to hire an excavator to cut me some paths, swales and terraces.

The top paddock will also become the house block for the new house sometime in the future. There is half a house block already cut. Along the top fence I am planting out fruit trees. I have learnt the hard way that if you are random and unorganized like myself don't plant fruit trees where you only see them every six months. Plant them where you can get to them and walk past them regularly. I have a grape in on the gate posts, a grapefruit and an apple. Now that the top paddock is nicely cleared I'll be putting in more, starting with some mulberry cuttings. Cows love mulberries.

I have sown a little clover, both for the cows and for the bees and will be doing some research on a nice mix of fodder species for a dairy cow. The next project will be planting out some garden beds. This time I am trying rotted cow manure between sugar cane bales. Then another revamp of the chickens and maybe even another pen up near the bees for the second group of guinea fowl. With the amount of ticks the cows are picking up from the long grass I think it will be a few batches of eggs before I'll be selling keets.

Still life is never boring or still at Lantanaland. Soon I'll be experimenting with cheese making and I have to master the art of hand milking and rig up a solar panel for the electric fence and untangle the goats and and and and.....

Lantanaland from the iPhone

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I have the best mates in the world (lantanaland will never be the same again)

I have had mates of mine insisting that they'd come and give me a hand on the farm if I did a big working day. I sort of never thought that people would actually turn up, let alone do the unbelievable amount of work that was achieved over the long weekend.

Before now it would have been useless doing any major work anyway. Clear away a big section of lantana and it just grows back or is replaced with eight foot high grass that needs slashing and mowing which is what I call repetitive useless work.

But the cows, the cows have changed everything. Apart from being beautiful creatures, they are grass eating, lantana bashing, path creating machines. I got them probably a month too early, bashing up a quick paddock held together with old bits of timber with electric fencing draped everywhere. I paid for it too, with the cows showing me all my weak points. I got a bit of knowledge back as well, learning that unless you have good well maintained barbed wire fences the cows will go through it without a single thought. Well maybe one thought, "that grass over there looks quite tasty". Electric fencing though, they show more respect to than a teenage boy dating a shotgun collectors daughter.

So I put the word out that I was going to have a working bee to cut a new paddock and fence it off properly with electric fencing. All I promised was free beer and good food, but I do have a small reputation for decent food so I thought I'd get one or two hungry boys and girls along.

I took the Friday before off to do a bit of preparation. Key amongst the jobs was to kill and pluck one of my eating chickens. Only one of them was big enough but I did the deed with that same sense of pride and melancholy that I get from knowing that I've grown and killed my own food. I also near killed myself getting a trailerload of concrete blend. The trailer was a touch too full and as it hit a bump it locked the wheel against the mudguard and slewed all over the road, dragging the Xtrail with it. It was some extra stress I didn't need.

Still I got most of what I needed prepared, lots of beer wine and champagne, fridge groaning with food, all the fencing equipment. My first guest arrived Friday night and it looked like being a real chilly weekend, at least for QLD. We got up early for some boiled eggs on muffins, something I can never weary of since I got chickens. Nine coffees later (for me, Andy doesn't drink coffee) we got to work.

We started off digging nice deep holes for the big top gate, wide enough for a bobcat or excavator to get through in the future. As more and more people arrived I ran round trying to divide up the jobs. In the end I gave rough instructions and left them too it while I drove in to town and bought all the things I'd forgotten or underestimated the day before. Then I started the cooking. I occasionally wander down and check on the progress and every time I was amazed. They were hacking out an enormous section through lantana, grass, weeds and trees then bashing in star pickets and running good gauge electric fence cable.

Meanwhile I was preparing dinner. Organic dorper lamb from Silverwood went into the camp oven with a crusting of garlic, chilli and rosemary. The free range pork I'd bought was a little more tricky. I carved the ribs off and cut the extra belly off for bacon later. But what the hell was I going to use as a spit. My last spit roast was a disaster thanks to the crappy spit I bought from BBQ galore. In the end the fence was the inspiration. A star picket wrapped in foil gave me a three sided spit and the meat was tied on and skewered through the holes in the post. Once the fire died down a bit it all went on, the ribs went into the oven with a sticky honey, soy and garlic basting, the hearty soup was checked and I was ready to receive hungry, and very thirsty workers.

Most of the fun in doing something like this, for me anyway, is the eating and drinking, the telling of stories (KC scooped the pool with the baby being born in the elevator) and the laughter. There was so much laughing. We got stuck in to all the food and a fair bit of the beer but I crashed out, leaving it to the serious night owls. The food went down brilliantly, all the lamb gone most of the pork and a few requests for the recipe of the brown rice vego dish I did.

The next morning was pancakes, some new workers and a few sore heads. This pancake recipe is so popular I never seem to cook anything else for large groups and it is bloody good. Another three rounds of coffee later and it was off to finish it all up.

Once we got going you could start to see real visible progress. The fence was joined back up to the new gate. The electric fence was redone properly on the top paddock. The cow yard and bale was finished The new fence was tensioned and plastic posts were put in to make sure it was at the right height. Trees were trimmed and grass cleared. I was shocked at how much they'd got done and the sheer physical effort needed to do some of it. It would maybe take me 12 months to do that sort of work, by which time the bit I'd started on would be all grown back.

All in all it looked tip top about two in the afternoon and we opened the gate and shooed the cows in. They got to work straight away. I can't wait to see the results.

So to Dave and Marj my awesome mates who were visiting from Tassie and worked twice as long as they thought they'd be able to stay, Andy and Pia, comedians both, Cobbs, The Big German and Rozy, who didn't want to walk up the hill that last time, Delia and her family, Ed and KC, who had fun giving Ryan a hard time, Neil, such a fantastic father in law, my man Pol, who'd been helping me prepare weekends before, Darryl whose picture is next to 'worker' in the dictionary, Simon and Sarah who have impeccable timing and my darling beautiful wife, thank you a million times. Lantanaland thanks you as well because it is on the way to becoming a productive farm and maybe a cooking school and before now the vision was getting cloudy.

I can see pretty clearly now and it's looking good.

Lantanaland from the iPhone

Feastin on Film

I'm writing a longer post on the fencing weekend but here is a small tidbit on what happens when you work someone hard all day then give them free beer.