Thursday, March 29, 2012

Old media, new media that is rehashed old media and new media.

I consume a fair chunk of media. Not as much as I used too, as the red veil of cynicism tends to cover my eyes and ears these days as another lazy journo trots out a piece of link bait or a politician does his best parrot impression during an interview. But two little things helped crystallise my thoughts this week on the restrictions of old media and why it's not dying as quickly as I'd hoped.

The first was a little blog post by Mr John Birmingham, who writes everything from blogs to features to books non fiction and explody. He has sniffed the wind and seen the decline of traditional short form media and is pouring more of his resources into books. I can't blame him. As much as the SMH app has got me reading the paper every day again through its fantastic design, if it went behind a pay wall I'd stop reading, simply because there is so much absolute fucking dross in it.

I had hoped that the ABC might be the one to bust the mould, but their 'new media' effort, The Drum, is just a bunch of opinions thrown against a wall. The 'new media' wave, like Crikey, is like the old newspapers but without the paper. You still have to pay for the whole bunch and opinion rules over reporting. Crikey and the online edition of The Oz are two sides of the same worn coin.

What I'd love to see is a web page or service, that had a whole bunch of reporting, and opinion too, from a whole bunch of sources and writers. The first two paragraphs or a précis is up there for free, then I pay for every article I click on the full article for. No gimmicky crap like top ten lists that give a online paper ten page views. No articles split into 6 pages. No edetorial direction. If its good and I like it, then I pay. It would have to be cheap per article, but enough that a reasonable viewing of your stuff earns you a living. The longer and more thinky or researched the article the more you pay. Like iTunes you could view the 'paper' with the most popular by hits, time or dollars earned. That way, more expensive long form articles with lower page views wouldn't get buried by articles on cats on the Internet.

The same restrictions apply for radio. I love podcasts and one of my favourites is Richard Fidler's Conversation Hour. The biggest flaw it has is it is on the radio. Richard is a great interviewer, but that 50 minute slot means pieces of media that could be truly great are cut off just as they are cranking up. Even the fantastic two part interview with George Megalogenis was about three hours too short. In contrast, many of the tech and geeky podcasts that I listen to are run by networks that have no broadcast ties, no time slot to bow down too. If a topic is interesting and the conversation keeps running, that's fine, it's a little longer. Likewise if it is 40 minutes, no need for padding or nineteen station promos.

I'd love to see the ABC grab this and try some off air only stuff, in particular with their sporting commentators. I think a format that wasn't live or determined by a broadcast schedule might prove to be more popular than the traditional programs.

I have no doubt that old media is dying. The reason it isn't dead yet is that new media is still being born and old media is really only fighting against a repackaged version of itself. I look forward to a day ahead, where people pay per the persons output and quality wins out more than dross. I can hope anyway.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Think About Infrastructure (and cows) More Than Can Do Campell

In an ideal world, Lantanaland would have been an old dairy farm, complete with iron hard wooden bales and yards, several citrus trees and a chookhouse. In fact one of the places we were really interested in when we looking for a place ticked most of the boxes. Small orchard, chookhouse, yards and sheds and a dam. The problem was it was a 100 grand more than Lantanaland and had a liveable shed instead of a house. The shed was in fact better than the house here, completely converted into a house with 3 bedrooms but there was a risk that council could rock up the day after purchase and insist we build a house. Too risky.

I mention all this because of my adventures this morning. My bales are strung together from some fencing panels from my stepbrothers old fence, old stumps from a veranda my neighbour knocked down and various scraps of second hand timber. The idea for a smallholder milking is to separate the calf off at night so the milk builds up and milk in the morning

Last night I coaxed the calf into the yards and locked her up. Candy was in the next paddock about three meters away so she could see her calf. Cows get sooky when separated and more and more vocal as their udders fill up. It's good if they can see the calf but not get too close as a calf will stick its head through the smallest hole to get a feed. All good so far. In the morning Candy should run down to the bales to see the calf, I let her have a quick suck to let the milk down and then get my morning milk.

When I woke at 4am Candy was bellowing. Loudly. That was good as it meant her and the calf were still separated. Success! I got dressed and got Candy's morning bucket and went down. The calf wasn't in the bales. Dammit. She was up on the hill, out of Candy's sight. No wonder she was bellowing. No worries though, I'll just open the bales and lead Candy in with some food and the calf will come to her.

As soon as I opened the gate to the paddock Candy charged off up towards the cries of the calf. Within seconds she was gobbling down my milk for the next few days. It really is a failure of poor infrastructure. If I had the disposable cash, I'd just go and buy 8 proper steel cattle panels and a head bale and build some proper yards. But I don't , so I'll be pulling out some spare fence panels I had on the old chook pen and raising the height of the yards, building a new gate and I'll lock Candy up at night. The calf can roam around and see mum and in the morning I'll milk Candy then let the calf back on.

That's the plan anyway. Lack of cash definitely breeds innovation and tickles my love of recycling and the second hand. I like the satisfaction of getting something done without just throwing cash at it, but to be honest, if I'd gone down at 4am and seen a calf locked up in proper yards, I probably would have coped.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Since I have been home and a touch football shaped amount of thinking has vacated my brain, I have thinking about grass. Not the sort of grass that would pay Lantanaland off in a few years, rather the pasture that my cows exist on.

The grass has grown ok this summer but I am highly suspicious that under the status quo I am over stocked. I still have one paddock unfenced, which is probably a third of Lantanaland so I'm not overly worried, even though fencing it will mean more money. But I need to find low or no cost ways to improve my pasture and feed situation.

Clover worked well last year and I am giving the small paddock in front of the house a rest and have seeded it with some grass and done a little spraying. I am also watering it with the house grey water to get some tree fodder started, pigeon pea and mulberry, as well as bananas, arrowroot and comfrey. If I add some clover and lucerne into that paddock it should be a good treat paddock to give them a boost.

Next season I will try a permaculture trick I learnt in my PDC. You get some clay, compost and pigeon pea seeds. Throw them all in a cement mixer with just enough water to loosen. Then you roll bits of the mix up into small balls and put them in the sun to dry. Once they are hard you throw them round the paddocks. The idea is that when it rains, it softens the clay, and the seed sprouts into a nice rich mix to get it started. The other one I'd like to try is getting a whole heap of passion fruit growing over the thicker lantana down the bottom of the hill. Clover seed is also a good one to mix in with the cow feed as it passes straight through them and starts life in a nice fertile growing medium.

I am really just fiddling on the margins I guess, but without large amounts of cash to do a good seeding program, or rip furrows and plant, or bulldoze large swathes of lantana, I shall just have to satisfied with small incremental improvements.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Great Expectations......of Milking Cows

NTL is over for another year. The annual touch footy carnival takes a fair chunk of time, time away from my beautiful wife and son and away from the farm. I love the boys and the process, but it does take a bit of effort. I think the boys appreciate it, except during ice baths and the 615 am wake up call for the bus trip home, when most of them have barely got home from the night out.

I had dried Laf off a week before NTL. I had always meant to do it at NTL, she has been milking for over two years. I had the new calf and had started training Candy up for the milking bales but still had to buy my first milk in 2 years and the shame nearly killed me. I was expecting very little from Candy. Attempts to get her to feed in the bales had been less than encouraging. At first she wouldn't follow the trail of food into the bales if I was anywhere near and would back out as soon as I came over. Over two weeks I got her to the point where she'd eat in the bales with me sitting on the milking bucket and react sharply if I touched her flank. The one time I put the bar in behind her she did her pole vault impression and went over the front. Did I mention cows love routine? All this work and then away for a week, I was expecting the shame of buying milk to last a while.

Part of my problem is the bales. Cobbled together out of bits of recycled timber before I'd ever milked a cow I then got the measurements wrong and had to put them in upside down. They are crooked, don't have the right head bale to keep her still and are out in the open but when you have little money on a farm like Lantanaland you have to improvise. I need to change the bales around again, because they were set up for Laf and her legs are as twice as long as Candy's.

When I came home it was with no small amount of trepidation that I contemplated the long training that was in front of me. I gloomily walked down the first morning back, contemplating Candy backing out and kicking me as I reached down for her udder. She has always been a wary cow and in contrast to Dolores, who is a puppy in a cows body, hates having her head touched.

I left a trail of hay leading to a bucket of grain. Candy walked in with not even a glance at me sitting at the bales. Head down, bum up. I gave her a few pats and she didn't move. I reached down to her udder and gently had a feel, no flinch, no kick. I squeezed some Lanolin out and tried stripping her teats out. No worries, not much milk but she was completely relaxed about it. I was stunned. Here was a cow that has never been overly friendly and had been very wary of the bales, sitting calmly while I milked her.

I have milked her three times now, not much each time, the calf is still on her and she doesn't want to let her milk down for me. But I'm about three weeks ahead of where I thought I'd be, so I'll take it, hopefully by the weekend I'll be walking straight past the milk fridge again!