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.

let’s be still

 

bench ends

close up

under the oak

snacks

julian

olives

dubious

crackers

alway so connected

hopeful

on her perch

every vantage point

hungry

funny little chooks with their feathers not yet in

so patient

After 3 lovely days of rest, today was back to work.  There are only 15 days until the removalists arrive and sooooooo much to be done.

Today, Mum and I headed off on quite the cross country trip collecting cast iron bench ends. Yup.  Cast iron bench ends.  Julian has a thing for antique cast iron and Mum and I have a thing for these bench ends – they remind us of the girls’ boarding school we both worked at – there were many scattered about the main old building for the students, both as benches and single seats.  So Julian’s collecting the ends to make Mum and I single seats which we will plonk at the loveliest spots around the farm.

After hours of driving and bench end collecting, we came home to car packing.  Another favourite occupation.  Each time it’s a cheerful challenge to see just how much we can squeeze into the back of our station wagon.

This time was pretty epic – after a few hours work, Mum and I (with a little help from Julian) managed to shove in an antique cedar meat safe, an Art Deco bookcase, a farmhouse style set of shelves for the wall, 3 sewing machines, umpteen quilts and cushions, a desk lamp, a vase, a huge glass bottle, all the glass bottled dry goods from the kitchen mantelpiece, the vintage electric jug collection, a suitcase of lace, a bosu balance ball, a vintage bird cage, a medicine ball, the canning pot, 2 deep fryers (one for candlemaking), a set of bamboo steamers, a wine rack, a huge kettle that used to belong to St. Mary’s that I have romantic dreams about boiling up on an open fire after our friends and family have gathered to make apple cider on a crisp autumn afternoon, a 4 kg medicine ball, 2 boxes of lego (that fitted into the birdcage), several paintings, 8 little Ikea boxes of patchwork projects, 4 little boxes of American girl clothes …

I’ve almost certainly missed things but it was an impressive effort.  And cross fingers it will all arrive safely.

So tomorrow morning, Mum and Julian head off – they are taking Julian’s motorbike up.  Well he is.  Mum’s following so that they can drive back to Melbourne together on Tuesday.  Isn’t she such an amazing Mum.

Meanwhile, I’ll be enduring another week of night duty with almost certainly packing and errands during those brief wakeful hours in the late afternoon.  And Noah will be packing and meeting up for fun times with friends just as all young people should when they’ve just finished school.

But right now,  I think we just need to gather under our beautiful oak, in summer’s setting sun, with good food before us, doggles waiting hopefully at our sides, dear little Orpingtons bustling about behind us, and plenty of giggles and silly conversation.

Yes, let’s be still.

 

the 1st XI on Boxing Day

Ha! Ha! Ha!  Without doubt, only the locals will have a chuckle over the title of this post :-)  But when we realised – well, it was just a sign that it was meant to be!  (The Boxing Day Cricket Test is played at the MCG each Boxing Day with each team fielding 11 players.)

geoffrey the proud father

Julian and I were lying in bed, Boxing Day morning, exhausted from the appalling heat of Christmas Day – the temperature did not drop below 30 until after 2am! – and I’d managed to pull a muscle in my neck/shoulder (I think it was from letting a very sweet patient with broken ribs repeatedly pull on my hand to help him up into sitting position on Christmas Eve) – looking on Gumtree at the livestock available.  It’s one of our favourite pasttimes :-)

And I said “Hey!  There’s 8 Orpington pullets for sale at Cockatoo – with $5 roosters! They sound good.  It’s so hard to buy good chooks – we really need to snap ’em up when we see them!”

Much to my amazement, Julian replied “Absolutely!  Let’s send them a text and see if they’re still available.”

Oh my goodness!  I was gleeful with excitement.  No Boxing Day let down here – if we could go pick up a lovely flock of pullets and a few cockerels it would be just as fun as Christmas morning!

Julian sent the text and I kept looking – goats in Orbost, peacock eggs in NSW, no sheep anywhere, but gorgeous Alpacas here, there and everywhere.   Within minutes, Mrs. Orpington replied.  “Eight pullets available and as many roosters as you like!  Come by around lunch!”

Oh yes please!

guineas in the garden

very friendly sophie

lemon verbena

baby guinea pig

their birth home

turkey egg compost

Well – it was so much more magical than we could possibly have imagined!  The best Boxing Day EVER!

Mr and Mrs Orpington were the loveliest couple.  They have a lovely permaculture establishment – chickens and turkeys roaming around the property.  2o odd guinea pigs tearing around the fabulous large hoop netted gardens – 3 metres high, with about a 9 by 20 metre perimetre – they were hysterically cute – used for cultivating the raised garden beds and keeping down the weeds.  One hoop garden is for vegetables – the other larger one is full of fruit trees.  And their lovely deck was covered in pots of vegies all ready for transplanting into the guinea pig tilled beds.

We stayed over 2 hours.  They shared so much of their knowledge and experience – and we invited them up to Wombat Hill Farm.

We packed 7 pullets, 3 cockerels and 1 little unknown into a very large plastic dog kennel (I picked it up from hard rubbish – washed it out, dried it well and filled it with fresh straw) in the back of the car and brought them back to Bootville where they’ll spend just 2 weeks in the rabbit/guinea pig aviary before moving on up to the farm. Their initial job there will be to till the vegetable beds – Julian’s making them movable A-frames.

But before too long, he will hopefully have their permanent home ready.  A nice little house on stilts with a deep litter grilled floor and ramp, in a fenced field about 30 x 40 metres, with plenty of shady Apple gums – just in front of the house garden.  We’ve even planned where we will put some nice outdoor chairs so that we can sit in the shade and watch these lovely chickens grow and roam.
temporary house

huddled

teenage feathers

dust bath

ginger and black

under the water bowl

so many pretty feathers

amongst the butts

fus intrigued

And Fu’s going to have to learn how to be as respectful and obedient around the livestock as Mr. and Mrs. Orpington’s lovely Sophie dog is.  It’s going to be a steep learning curve, that one.

 

now i shall have to sew

needlepoint cross stitch scarf ostheimer mandarines jasmine chickenThere’s a sort of stillness to the house at the moment.  A sense of waiting.  The much longed for change of seasons is almost here.  Yes, there’s still plenty of shivery cold, but every morning the sun rises that bit earlier and I throw open the windows, declaring it fresh.  Just this morning, I noticed the jasmine dressed in her spiky pink buds, mere days away from bursting forth with her beautiful perfume.  The old hibiscus is popping out bright green leaves (the first in years) and the gnarly magnolia’s furry buds are slowly opening.  I want to ride my bike to the shops.  Bake fruitcake.  I always want to bake fruitcake in spring.  Set up camp in the back garden.  Plan for Christmas. Ditch the stockings! Wear sandals!

But not yet.  It is only the first week in August.  There’s weeks and weeks to go of winter yet. So, I shall keep savouring the days just as they are presented to us.  Wrap my hands ’round another cup of steamy tea.  Tuck a quilt ’round my lap, heavy and warm.  Admire the bare elegance of the tall planes and elms that line our streets.  Enjoy the sharp slap of the air on my cheeks when I step outside.  Layer up with wool and shawls and sheepskin slippers when I’m at home.  Make the most of that lovely, safe feeling of cosiness that comes when the sky is dark, the rain is constant, the air is frigid, and the family is all at home, curtains drawn, candles lit, warm and busy.

mandarin holly hobby tea boxes inside

And today, with all the DMC7928 stitched up, I turned back to a quilt top I started way back in summer when the days were long and hot.  One filled with bees swirling their way round and round the garden, little puffy golden chicks and an unexpected red cross in the centre.  I had all the chicks and bees stitched up and I don’t know, it just looked a little too simple.  So I chopped out the middle – literally – and added a little red (no matter how hard I try, I always end up adding a little red).  Then I loved it.  Now, just a few weeks away from graduation it’s kind of funny – I’ve made the perfect nurses’ quilt :-)

ribbon pieces sewing machine stitching rumpled

After snapping it on the line, I laid it on our bed and do you know what – I think it may need one more border – a nice wide one – maybe 5 inches deep.  In red?  Then it will be extra cosy for our bed.   And even more suited to being tossed over a teepee of sticks and opened as a first aid centre :-)

finished corner pegs chickens with the chickenTomorrow – with the forecast filled with grey and rain – I shall find this quilt a blanket, turn the kitchen radio to Classic FM, eat more mandarines, and get squiggling.  It will be a lovely winter’s day.