whole room

the painted sheep

with ram

meeting

newly born

bare door

bare branches

mama sheep

peach tree

wee dusky lamb

grassy

with base

whole door

 

looking towards fireplace

opening

whole room

mama and baby

 

Oh there has been so much excitement here at Wombat Hill over the last couple of weeks.  We have added 5 sheep to our little farmlet!  Two mamas – they are Suffolk crossed with Hampshire Downs – and their three babies.   There’s Caroline-Louisa and her twins Satske and Little Kikashi, and Anne-Shirley and her baby Mae.  We bought them from a lovely lovely farming family who live nearby on a beautiful farm that was once part of the historic Kameruka Estate.  Oh you should have seen their old outbuildings – they even had the Kameruka Butter Factory in their back garden.  Swoon!

We will raise these five as the basis of our flock – well, Little Kikashi won’t really be as he’s a boy and won’t be of much use, but Noah adores him and said from the get go that he would be his pet.  Okay then :-)  So next year when it’s time for Caroline-Louisa and Anne- Shirley to make more babies, we’ll have to find ourselves a ram.  I’d like to get a Suffolk as I adore their black faces and legs. Both breeds are historically considered dual purpose – i.e. fleece and meat – and this is what we will raise them for.

So excited was I that out came the paints and I decorated our tv room door with my dream sheep :-)  As you do.  And half way through the painting, Noah and I were invited out to the farm to meet our potential sheep.  It was the best fun morning.  We arrived just as one sheep mama birthed twins right there in the field.  It was breathtaking.  And we roamed around the upper fields with Sue and her funny dogs – a huge young Maremma, a crazy little Kelpie pup, and the most manic poodle I’ve ever met.  It was one of those moments in life when I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do.  Such a blessing.

We discussed our dreams with Sue and she promised to pick out just the right two mamas and their lambs – including twins – and then it was off to the ag store to buy all the sheep necessities.  Not much really – just another electric fence and a couple bales of lucerne.  We wanted to keep the mamas and their babies close in the early days because of the fox risk.  Yep.  Everything on our farm comes down to intestinal worms and foxes – I had no idea just how much these two topics would consume me.

Once home, I finished my painting – in a dancing state of delight, driving Noah crazy with constant chatter about how fabulous Sue was, and how beautiful the sheep are, and how living in the country is the bees’ knees, and how utterly utterly fantastic it all is!  He just smiled and nodded and agreed – he’s awfully good value like that.

Then, the next day, Noah and I did the big fence re-arrange.  We took the lovely sturdy mesh electric fence off the chickens – ’cause they do have a fox proof house and spend all their days free ranging – Julian calls them the Plucky Cluckies –  so don’t really need the full on fence – then retrieved the dreadful loosely woven goat fence from a lower field which required over an hour’s untangling.  What the goats hadn’t torn apart, the kangaroos crocheted up for us.  We popped that around the chicken house – don’t know why really – it is completely useless at keeping chickens in and foxes out – I think it just made me feel good.  Then we took the chicken’s old fence and the new fence – both very sturdy mesh electric fences – if you’re in the market for an electric fence, don’t even bother with the loose ones – spend the extra hundred and get the close mesh ones – works really well – the other just falls apart – and used them to completely enclose the field right in front of our cottage – including the big grevillea which we thought the sheep and lambs could shelter under if it rained.  Finally, we chucked in a wading pool for their water trough.  It was such good work ;-)

And only one more sleep until the real things arrived ….

at the chook house

as i wait

plain doily

sewing the basket

high tech sewing tool

starting the stitches

finished and filled

knotted and looped handles

D72_5598

wolfgangs feather

aamzing sky

moon

watching her reflection

still stitching

the wrap

constant companions

full length

walking with basket

with basket

at the chook house

1 egg

January tumbled about with chaos and excitement as we moved and set up our new home.  The days began early, ended late, and every night when we fell into bed, our little esky-cottage looked more and more like “our place”.

February sizzled with unrelenting heat, and new routines and responsibilities that were both fabulous and baffling – you will truly laugh at this, but I honestly thought “drenching” must have involved showering goats from head to hoof :-0 Frankly, that would be easier than trying to squirt worming medication down their frantically jerking throats!

March dipped up and down with moments of such pleasure and more of overwhelming angst. Ah March you seemed such hard work at the time.  And yet, just last night, I watched the film “Defiance” and thought about the atrociously awful things people not only endure but survive then go on to create new lives of meaning and love (this is not to diminish the terrible long term effects such trauma can imprint on people).  It was a very humbling reminder of the privilege we live with in this time and place.  And how perhaps, when life is physically so very easy, I spend far too much time wandering about in my mind.  I don’t have any answers or conclusions.  I’m just very thankful to be here right now and the recipient of much love and good care.

April brought  much needed calm.  Our home was comfortable.  Our animals were settled.  Our routines were both simple and delightful.

Throughout all of this, the mere thought of working outside of our home as a nurse was way too much!  At first, I scanned the job advertisements every week, hopeful I would find the perfect fit.  By March I no longer looked because I didn’t want to find a job I’d feel obliged to apply for.

When I was finally ready to call the person responsible for bank nursing – a casual position where I can pick up the shifts which suit me seems like the ideal compromise at the moment – in April, it just so happened they were interviewing that week!  Noah and I headed straight for town.  Noah printed out my resume and application at the local copy store whilst I tried on interview outfits, with Noah arriving just in time to give the final thumbs up.  The interview went well.

One question asked how I would care for an elderly patient with end stage lung cancer, who had been transferred from a nursing home to hospital with a chest infection and decreasing mobility.  It was incredibly satisfying to think about how best to meet this character’s needs.  I thought of all the very similar patients I met and assessed in the cubicles of the Emergency Department, and the big and little questions I had to find answers too, all the while making the patients feel as safe and comfortable as possible.  Then of all the patients I nursed upstairs in the wards, their failing bodies, their spirits almost always endearing (sometimes bitter), and their hourly needs.  If the interview panel had demanded, I would have cheerfully written them a paper on the topic.  It felt so good thinking like a nurse again.

Since then, there has been an enormous amount of slow moving paperwork to complete and submit.  Along with blood tests for immunisation levels, immunisations themselves (I think my immune system is incapable of generating antibodies to HepB), police checks, working with children checks … Hopefully it is all done now and I’ll hear next week what the next step is.

And now it is May.  Almost half way through the year.  In just over a month, we will be celebrating the Winter Solstice and feeling all excited as the days begin once more to lengthen.  Oh my.

While the time speeds by and the job application plods along, I’m finding plenty of opportunity for all sorts of little crafty projects.  I’m painting, and knitting, and crocheting, and embroidering, and sewing .. frankly it’s beginning to feel a bit frivolous at times! But I’m making the most of the opportunity to trawl through all the fabric boxes that are sitting in the shed, finding just started projects along with those that only need an hours or so work before they are done and ready!

This week, I pulled out a lovely linen/cotton blend wrap around skirt I started almost 2 years back.  I remember really loving working on it – especially the pockets – they were so satisfying.  But then, just before adding the waistband, I tried it on and it was too big.  Sigh.  So it was shoved to the back of the pile.  Now – being a bit larger then I was then – it only needed the seams widened before it fitted just fine ;-) Then – on with the waistband – which was a bit tricky because I couldn’t find the directions – only the pieces – so had to bumble along best as I could.  After a couple of false starts it worked.

Then – well you know me – more is always more.  So I whacked on a lovely big hand crocheted doily that I recently bought from the oppie for just $1 and sat down for a day’s embroidery.  It was one of those projects that was a delight to start and then hours and hours of increasingly tedious repetition.  However, I was determined this skirt was NOT going back into the never never pile, so on I plodded.  Oh I’m so glad I did!  It’s exactly me :-)

And I whipped up another basket – one for egg collecting.  Tried the coloured stitching again – I definitely like it with just one colour but this one has a few too many stops and starts for my finicky eyes.  I added some rickrack – which I will never do again – it is soooooooo difficult – a looped handle which I adore – and a little appliqued and cross stitched egg.  Because why not?!  I have plenty of time at the moment!

Julian had asked for the egg basket – and he requested some kind of lining that the eggs would nestle into and reduce the chance of breaking.  I thought about it for a while before realising that STRAW was the perfect solution.  That’s what the chickens and ducks use – and when it gets a bit manky, I can tip it into the compost and add a fresh layer.

I have to confess, when I looked at these photos, it did remind me somewhat of Marie Antoinette dressing up to play shepherdess in the beautiful little “farm” her servants built for her to play in.  Hmmmm …. then I remembered all the time I have up my sleeve and reasoned why shouldn’t the egg basket be lovely!  As long as it is functional, it can be as sweet as I like – and Julian thinks it’s highly useful so there!

Now – well the day is cool and grey, the chores are done, the last of the paperwork has been emailed … there’s plenty of knitting to finish and what’s that? I think I hear some patchwork calling!

 

under the white cedar

knitting and coffee

cedar

dump chairs

wool

galloping chickens

unknitting

fluffy butts

goaty antics

floss and pincushion

noahs doll

pattern and scissors

embroidery

book

chickens

inspiration

Most mornings round here start with a bang – the ducks burst out of their house with indignant quacks and flap, waddle and dart off across the garden.  The geese lurk about the apple trees, honking impatiently, waiting for me to fill the feeder, then set to sweeping it all up into their greedy beaks before the ducks even get a look in (Note to self:  buy another feeder for the geese!).  I fill their water trough, then tip out the muddy sludge left in the bottom of their wading pool and refill it with fresh sparkling rainwater whilst they gather about, waiting for that glorious moment when they leap in and make it all muddy again in seconds.

Then it’s over to the chickens who are standing patiently against the door of their house, bumping into each other with little mutters and clucks.  They flutter much more gracefully down their stairs and head straight for the hedge of grevilleas and bottle brush where they have scratched out individually shaped scoops for dust bathing and snoozing.  I top up their seed, give them a good dose of apple cider vinegar and garlic in their water, then vainly check the nest for eggs.  Not yet.

The goats – they just yell.  “Come and get us! Come and get us! Come and get us!  Where’s the goat nuts! We said GOAT NUTS! And WHEN ARE WE going over to the weedy kingdom? ”  There’s little point making them wait, so I fill the bucket with nuts, open the gate, and we bump and bustle over to the weedy field – them stopping along the way for some lillypilly, then some box hedge, then a few gum leaves, check out the woodpile, stand up on the trailer’s edge and peer in, check that yes, the grass is indeed greener on the other side, then finally into their electric fence which they are completely compliant with these days, thank you very much.

Then it’s back in to the guinea fowl who bustle about their A-frame waiting for their seed and water and wondering whether today will be the day they get to roam like those lucky ducks. (No, sorry dear guineas.  Not today, I need to finish the new duck – goose pavillion first, then you can have the ducks’ old house and their electric fence – we call this “Ernie and Bert Farming”)  I make sure the crazy Hamburgs are around – yep! – open the gate and let them back into their yard, and check for eggs – nope.

Finally I check in with the guinea pigs – move them onto fresh grass and roll some treats down their ramp – they’re currently loving raw pumpkin halves, sweet corn husks and small slices of watermelon from the local farm gate stalls.

As I fill their water I hear Julian making coffee.  Mmmmm … And then it’s time to sit down together on the porch.  Me with my museli and knitting.  Him with his morning news and ponderings on what we should plant next, would pigs stay in the electric fence, how much he really wants cows, and where do I want the next hole dug for yet another tree I’ve bought home from the lovely nursery in Cobargo.

We have grown and shaped this lovely routine over the last few months and it never fails to fill me with gratitude and delight that we are here.

But now, we have another spot to sit and soak up the magic – under the white cedar.  We have the old cast iron table I bought from the Sacred Heart Op Shop last year in Melbourne – unfortunately one leg had snapped off halfway down – so Julian trimmed off the other 3 and now it’s the perfect garden height.  And last week I found two chairs at the Merimbula dump – a fabulous source of thrifty treasures – they are in perfect nick – I’ve not seen anything like them before – kind of like a canvas deck chair, kind of like a simple squatter’s chair, kind of like a rocking chair.  And wonderfully comfortable.  I’ve bought some garden furniture oil and will give them a sand and polish to help keep them lovely for longer.

The goats play and munch and ruminate behind us.  The chickens cavort and scamper after bugs in front of us.  And after Julian heads back inside to work, Noah comes out, and we get to move on to the second round of coffee and breakfast and more crafting.

Ah yes, the morning might start early and busy … but then it slows down in the nicest way, easing us all into whatever it is the day holds next for us.

the feathered garden

runner girls

on the gate

wolfgang

elfrieda

hungry

emerging

laurence and his adoring girls

cynthia

dust bathing

pam

william

crazy keets

sleeping and busy

madonna

under the maple

guiseppe

francesca

banned from the garden

reuben and flora

After three busy months our garden is now full of feathered friends!

The Orpingtons we brought with us from Melbourne continue to grow – but have still yet to lay a single egg.  It took a while to be able to tell them apart – that sounds crazy now – but they finally all have names.  There’s Cynthia – she used to be top chook but she’s recently been overthrown by Nutmeg and Marcie who are currently sharing the honour.  Then there’s quiet little Walnut who’s ever so relieved that her nemesis (Cynthia!) is now at the bottom of the pecking order.  Blackcurrant and Eggplant keep to themselves but are friendly and busy.  And Pam – she’s the mostly white one – well she’s just Pam.

Two of our roosters sadly died – Rex, who was definitely a very fine leader and as such a real loss, and Rumbatum, who despite having gorgeous feathers was quite a bully.  Rex’s death was a complete surprise and mystery – one morning he was just laying dead under the peach tree.  No wounds.  No earlier noticed symptoms.  Rumbatum died a couple of days later – again no idea why.  Naturally any animal loss is not only sad, but such a worry and quite a dent to our confidence as amateur farmers.  I thoroughly read all the sections on bird disease, weaknesses and prevention in our poultry books and spent hours poring over alarming stories on the internet.  More importantly, I chatted with our local vet – who suggested simple worming.  Yep there I was contemplating the horrors of avian cholera only to find out that worms are the most likely to do our birds in.

Worms!  They’re everywhere.  The goats get them. The birds get them.  Our future sheep and pigs will get them.  Only 3 months in and I have to confess I’m rather obsessed with worms!  They’ve become my farming nemesis.  We drenched the goats, wormed the chickens and now everyone is on a diet of water spiked with garlic and apple cider, and diacetamous earth in their food a couple of times a week.

It’s a strong learning curve, this business.  And as is always the way with me, I become quickly overwhelmed and convinced I won’t be able to do it, and then as it settles down, I continue to learn, experience builds, I gather some confidence, and then …. I realise I AM doing it and it’s all okay.  Phew!  Until the next unexpected turn :-)

Our other Orpington rooster – Gormless – is staggering on but he’s a bit hopeless and the girls are kind to him but clearly don’t look up to him.  So we brought in a new rooster – Laurence the French Wheaten Maran – from a lovely family nearby who wound up with 8 roosters out of 16 chicks!  And then at the Young Poultry Auction last weekend, Julian accidentally bought another rooster – William the Gold Laced Wyandotte.  Now Laurence has the love of the girls but William is the master of crowing and strutting.  Laurence seems content with this state of being and there’s been no fighting or stress.  Goodness knows how it will play out.

Then we have two more chickens – the crazy Hamburgs, also from the Young Poultry Auction – Wolfgang and Elfrieda.  That’s them up there on the gate.  Yep.  No one else bid on them at the auction so we snagged them for just $20 because let’s face it – they are really cute!  But it was obvious within the first 5 minutes of putting them in the chicken field that THAT wasn’t going to work.  Despite trimming one wing each, they were able to not only clear the fences, but the chicken house too and fly a good 5 metres up into a gum tree – which is where they spent their first night.  And much to William’s annoyance, Wolfgang – half his size – seemed to think he was top rooster.  And the Orpie girls were none too keen on little Elfrieda.

So we built the Hamburgs their only little run in the corner of the house garden – where they are surrounded by trees – and accepted that we were never really going to be able to contain them.  We just have to make it appealing and hopefully they’ll hang around.  The alternative is housing them in an aviary style set up – they’d hate that and I’d feel mean.  They cheerfully hang out in their run during the day, Elfrieda lays us a dear little bantam egg most days, and come 5pm, Wolfgang announces to the valley (man, can he crow!) that they have retired to the gumtree for the night.  There they stay until the sun has well and truly come up, when they flutter down to the gate and wait for our morning visit.

Of course their lifestyle increases their fox risk enormously but … we are picking out our Maremma puppy in a week or so, and fingers crossed Wolfgang and Elfrieda will keep safe until the Maremma is mature enough to keep those foxes at bay.

We’re also counting on the Maremma to keep our Guinea Fowl safe.  They’re now quite big – they’ve shed their keet feathers and are now beautifully clothed in spotty ones.  Their funny blue helmets are becoming more apparent everyday.  And they just keep on growing – quickly coming to the end of their time in the A-frame tractor.  Julian’s designing them little “tree houses” – they’ll be built on posts several feet off the ground, and like the Hamburgs, the best approach is to start by fencing their houses and keeping their food here so the guinea fowl learn that they live here.  Then you can let them free range and encourage them to come back to the houses each night.  But like the Hamburgs, they are very good flyers so it can be tricky.  We’ll see.

And we’ve branched out into water fowl –  6 Indian Runner Ducks that joined us from Mallacoota (Leopold, Alice, Harriet, Hyacinth, Poppy and Chrysanthemum) that were quickly joined by Reuben and Flora – a breeding pair of Appleyards that were almost given to us by the lovely family that sold us our Guinea Fowl keets – and last weekend, another pair of chocolate Runners – Alfred and Gretel.

As Noah says “Those ducks sure love being ducks!”  Oh they do!  They are so funny and busy – adventuring all over the house garden, splashing in their pond, head ducking in their water trough, hunting for bugs, chatting with the Hamburgs, snoozing under the trees during the heat of the day, and literally dancing and singing with delight when it rains.  And they are the best buddies.

When we brought Alfred and Gretel home, we let them out of their box just inside the house garden gate – there they stood unsure and still until they heard Alice (she’s the leader of the ducks) call – they cocked their heads to the side and with great delight and relief set off around the house to find their kinfolk.  Alice had brought the others out to meet them – in a neat line of course – and the chocolate Runners just slipped into line as if they’d always been there.  We get at least 2 eggs each day – sometimes 3.  Flora’s the main layer and her eggs are huge and rich.  The Runners also lay but we have no idea which ones – their eggs are a little bit smaller but equally lovely.

Ducks are so easy to look after.  I think they’re my favourite.  But they get worms too.  Ugh!

Our last purchase at the auction was a trio of geese.  I know almost nothing about them – except that they are less than a year old, there’s two girls and one boy, and they appear to be a mix of Australian Settlers + Chinese geese.  The auction had all but wound up and everybody was leaving with their newly acquired birds when the Auctioneer remembered the geese that were outside.  I was mad keen on them – had been looking on Gumtree for months – so quickly put up my hand – and I got all three for just $60.  What a bargain!

They are real sweethearts.  Guiseppe is the white boy, Francesca is the grey-brown girl, and Madonna is the spotty girl.  When I call out “Goosey-goosey-goosey!” Guiseppe answers me with a funny little miaow!  They mostly hang out with the ducks but can get a little bossy about the pond and the food.  When Francesca decides it’s time for her bath, she just nips anyone else who may be in the pond on their tail feathers and out they scamper so that she can preen and stretch like a ballerina, splashing all that precious water everywhere.

And our garden?  We had to fence off the vegetable beds – whilst the ducks and geese are supposedly good at eating the bugs, they also love soft green leaves – they demolished our strawberry plants and ate all the tarragon.  And their big flat feet destroy seedlings so they’re currently banned from the beds.  But they’re doing a marvellous job keeping the grass cut and fertilised and if I was so inclined, I could gather up all the downy feathers they preen each day and I swear by the end of the year I could fill several pillows.  They do love to preen.

Instead, we are content to just sit back on the porch and watch with delight as they burst out of their houses each morning and get busy loving being ducks and chickens and geese.  It looks like a good life.