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 ….

polished

when the rain came

fire

digging

surveying

with shovel

african

polished

with cows

testing it

rearranged

A few weeks back we were treated to a torrential weekend of rain.  It began on the Friday afternoon and thundered down, non-stop, until Monday afternoon.  Oh my goodness, there was so much water.

Now, as a Brisbane girl – who also lived in Malaysia as a child – I thought I knew rain.  I love a good storm that stealthily appears on the horizon, turning the sky an eerie gold-green, before launching massive rolls of thunder and cracks of lightning, then torrential rain that turns your street into a creek within moments.  Yeah, yeah, I know and love that rain well.  But it’s over and done with within an hour usually.  Sometimes, if it’s arrived early enough in the afternoon, you can even enjoy a freshly washed blue sky and dazzling sunset before the moon rises for the evening.

But this rain – almost 72 hours of constant, drenching rain.  No.  That, I have never experienced.  It was delightful on Friday evening as we built the fire to roaring, tucked all the animals up safe and dry in their houses, and settled in for a cosy night of knitting and good television.  It was even adventurous on Saturday morning when Noah and I layered up and ventured over to Quaama for petrol, veggies and milk.

Saturday evening was beginning to feel a bit like we should have prepared the ark and as Sunday morning dawned – with a solid grey and plummeting sky – the novelty was definitely wearing thin. It was especially thin when we realised the pantry roof was leaking … onto our kitchen appliances.  The goats were pissed off.  The chickens were glum.  The guinea fowl had given up trying to make the best of it and were so hunched up they appeared to have lost their necks.  But the ducks and geese?  Rain is like crack to them.  They go truly insane.  They spend every outside moment running, splashing, darting their beaks into the sodden earth.  They ADORE it.

We humans were OVER it.  All the roads around us were flooding.  The ground was like walking on a sodden dish sponge.  Doing the animal chores was a drenching and depressing affair – by Monday morning I just did them in my underwear and gumboots.  No point soaking another set of clothes – and yes, I had been wearing a raincoat and carrying an umbrella!  Water was pouring out of the tanks’ overflows.  And we were having to replace the  buckets and towels in the pantry every couple of hours.  And what did the weather forecast say – oh you haven’t had the worst of it – that’s still coming!

Yep, Sunday night that rain was so loud on our tin roof it was hard to stay asleep.  And I hated thinking of all our animals – just as damp and soggy as their bedding.  All night I dreamt of big dry cosy barns – like in Charlotte’s Web – with solid wooden walls, high impenetrable slate roofs, dry dusty floors, separate little cosy stalls for all the animals, each with a lovely pile of warm, dry, sweet smelling fresh straw. Argh!

But as I staggered out of bed on Monday morning, my spirits as low as the sky, I reminded myself that this too would pass.  The skies were predicted to clear by mid afternoon.  The animals were all still healthy and whole.  Everything would dry out.  So, instead of frittering away another day, I decided to embrace my inner Rhonda and give the house a huge deep clean – and even throw in a little re-arrange.  Alas, the re-arrange potential here is as small as our house, but I still give it my best shot :-)

Julian went out to dig at his pond – with his ever faithful assistant and most unlikely farm dog ever – Fu!  I scrubbed the bathroom from top to bottom.  Washed and polished all the wooden surfaces.  Polished the silver trays and art deco coffee pots on top of the kitchen dresser.  Refreshed all the little Ostheimer corners and filled vases with feathers and gum.  Each candleholder was filled with new candles.  I scrubbed the stove.  Vacuumed and mopped the floor.  And then with my ever faithful rearranging assistant – the fabulous Noah – moved my sewing and computer desk into the far corner of the dining room and the crystal cabinet into the prime spot opposite the dining table.  We even dusted all the crystal!  And as we moved – and created ever more dust – Noah attacked with the vacuum.

It was brilliant.  We totally reclaimed the day.  We embraced our little home and made the most of it, rain or not.  Julian gave the ducks and geese their best day on earth ever – and because the ground was so sodden, was able to really get into building up the walls of the pond which had become very hard over our long hot summer.

By the end of the day we were all tired and sore.  But the rain had stopped.  The animals were indeed drying out.  The last applied towels and buckets in the pantry were still dry.  And our house shone like a new pin, no longer feeling like a damp and untidy hovel.  The homemade furniture polish I’d used – coconut oil, vinegar and a dash of rose geranium essential oil – added a lovely soft scent to every room.  The firelight and candlelight made all the wooden surfaces and silver gently gleam.  We all felt a sense of productive satisfaction.

All was good and peaceful.

And next time such rain is predicted, I know just what to stock up on, just how to prepare – and just how to enjoy it.

beautiful heads

the eccentricities of guinea fowl

in they crowded

safely tucked up for their first night

checking

where are you little guineas

very quiet

staying in

first two brave souls

then a few more

out flew the last

and the flock was whole

adore pecking

exploring

mohawks

beautiful feathers

beautiful heads

fluttering

Our guinea keets have grown up – remember when we bought them at just 4 weeks old! Well, two and a bit months later, it was time to move on out of their A-frame and into something a bit more comfy, more suitable for cosy sleeping, and with plenty of access to lovely pasture.

We did our research and discovered (we’d kind of guessed) that guineas love to fly and thus, they love a tree house which they can flutter up to each night.  Cool – building a tree house would be fun! However, being raised upon a post would limit the size we could build, and given that all 12 tiny keets have grown up into gorgeous plump fowl, complete with bizarre check pouches, black wiry mohawks and heads that are bluer by the day, it looks like we’ll need to build at least two, possibly three.  How cute will that look – three little tree houses grouped in the bottom corner of the garden – Julian even wants to build them little rope gangways so they can go visiting each other like Swiss Family Robinson!

So, it was off to the workshop, paper and pencil in hand, to survey the building supplies and work out what we could build.  Fox proof of course.  Decent ventilation.  A landing platform with a door that can opened by us from down below.  A floor frame that can be mounted on a post.  And perches.  Guineas love to roost.

Julian came up with the dimensions for the basic design – floor, walls, and roof.  My contribution was the corner door (an outdoor table top I’d bought for pennies at the dumpshop – sure it would be useful for something) with a triangular landing platform – I didn’t want to sacrifice roosting space :-) – and the little window.  I wanted the window bigger so I could peer in and see what they were up to.  But Julian was mindful of rain getting in – so it’s smallish.

It took a couple of days to build.  And the door’s not quite finished – Julian needs to buy the supplies so that it can be opened with a pulley – which is just a bit neat!

But it was ready enough for the guineas, especially given they need to be trained to live there.  You see, guineas aren’t the smartest of birds, or the homeliest, and according to our research, they would rather be like the Hamburgs and sleep in trees.  All very well, but we want to keep tabs on these little birds.  We want to know they are safe each night.  We want to find their eggs.  We want them to earn their keep as diligent pest controllers  And, truth be told, we want to roast some for supper!  Thus, they need to be trained to realise this is their home.  This is where the good stuff is.

So the idea is, you put the house on the ground at first surrounded by an electric fence so’s that you can (hopefully) keep track of them during the day, and herd them into their house at night.  Then, when they are all happy with this arrangement, you raise the house so they can (hopefully) fly up by themselves.  Eventually you remove the fence and whilst they are free to wander during the day, they will (hopefully) come back each night.  There’s a lot of hope ;-)

Our chickens manage this beautifully.  They have complete freedom to roam the farm during the day (apart from the vegetable beds) – they have their favourite corners, trees and hideouts, and a meticulously followed routine.  You know where to find them according to the time of day.  Then, an hour before sunset, they are back at their house, pottering about having a nibble and a drink and as soon as the light begins to fade, they take themselves up into their house and settle down to sleep on their perches.  Easy peasy.

Our ducks are pretty good too.  They roam about the house garden during the day and then an hour before sunset, I usher them down to the electric fenced yard in the bottom corner – in they waddle and now, after a week or so, they simply form a single line and trot on into their lovely blue house where they nestle down into the straw, chat to each other for a while, then tuck their beaks in and snooze away.

The geese are utterly hopeless.  Let’s not mention the silly geese.

And those guineas?  Well, they are highly eccentric.  The first night we simply transferred them via the big dog crate to their new abode and that was that.  The next morning, after letting out the ducks, Julian propped open the guineas’ door and we waited excitedly on the porch to watch them explode out into the field and delight in their new freedom.  They didn’t get it.  They stayed in that house all day, peering out the little window and occasionally even coming close to the door to see what on earth could be out there!?!?! But they just would not come out. We felt awful – sure that their two months in the a-frame had turned them into little prisoners who didn’t have a clue how to live on the outside.

Then, just when it was almost time to start putting all the other animals to bed, out popped two guineas.  They strutted about confidently, then after surveying the field, began yelling to their comrades.  The rest came out in pairs or threesomes.  Finally there was just one little guinea left on the inside and when she realised – poof!  out she exploded.  The flock was complete.

And oh how funny is that flock!  They move like a school of fish.  Up and down, back and forth.  And if one breaks away, that’s it, the whole flock explodes, they race about yelling, then within seconds, come back to form their flock and move off once more.  So funny!  By day five, they still don’t come out until around midday, but then, they flock round and round the field, pecking away at the ground, squawking at the top of their lungs, and occasionally one will flutter up to the cherry tree or outside the fence.  But the minute they realise they have separated from their flock, they are frantic to get back and join their always bobbing, beautifully feathered siblings.

But come bedtime …

The first night, we went down to the field as it was getting dark and really struggled to get those guineas back in their house.  It took ages and eventually we were chasing guineas round and round the field – they run like the road runner – hoping they’d run at the (turned off) fence, get caught in the netting, then we could finally catch them and pop them into their house.  Oy!  The second night, Julian declared we should just let them be.  Nope.  If we gave up so easily, they would never learn to love their home.  So it was back down to play chasey with the crazy birds.  They would herd to a degree but then, as soon as we neared the house they would stop dead, refuse to move another step, then one would break away and we’d be off – again.  Dreadful stuff.

The third night we went down a bit later, when the guineas had already formed a little pile next to the fence and gone to sleep.   They were so asleep that they barely stirred when we approached and were quite groggy when we woke them up – we were able to pick up two each and pop them into the house effortlessly.  Then we realised the guineas couldn’t see in the dark – they ran straight into the house and waterer. We also noticed, unlike the ducks who run away from the torchlight, these guys ran into it – they preferred the light and were afraid of the dark!  So we shone the torch in front of their path instead of behind them, and lo and behold, they didn’t stop when they reached the dark house but kept shuffling forwards until eventually we’d managed to push all of them in.

Tonight, we were sitting by the fire, the wind roaring outside, lamenting that we still had to get the guineas into their house (everybody was tucked up, except of course, the silly geese) and Julian wondered whether he could set up a light in their house to attract them.  A light!  A light!  The wonderful blog article I’d read on how to train the guineas to move into their homes had SAID to put in a light and Julian had laughed this off as way too much for the humble guinea fowl.

Rubbish!  It’s not a frivolity!  It’s what attracts them to their home and makes them feel secure.  We could set up a little solar panel with a light attached, turn it on an hour before sunset, and hopefully, once it’s dark, they’ll all be in and then we can turn it out!!!!

So we tested it tonight.  The poor little guineas were huddled next to the fence (right next to the charger – which emits a green light – duh!) so we put the big dolphin torch in the corner of their house, then gently encouraged them up and began herding them over to their house.  Well.  It was a miracle.  They were still a little sleepy, but so comforted by that warm glow and trotted on over.  We got 9 out of 12 in on the first pass, the next two went in on the second, and the final guinea ran in helter skelter when he realised he was the only one left outside in the dark.  The whole shenanigans took less than five minutes.

Dear little guineas :-) With their floppy cheek pouches, vulturine eyes, blueing heads and those gorgeous, gorgeous feathers.  They are truly divine – I’m so glad they are here!  And isn’t that just the lesson – it pays to remember good advice :-)

Well, you know where Julian is going tomorrow don’t you.  Back to the hardware store for supplies to wire up that guinea house light!  And I shall paint their little door.

 

 

on angle

The Duck & Goose :: my painted farm

the fluffy helper

so much mesh

working on the fox proofing

under the ramp

tempting them in

D72_5988

close up

flora and reuben

the feeder

the rotten rosella

tools

top

middle

close up rosella

all sone

at the end of the ramp

on angle

in we go

I love building animal houses with Julian.  It’s such fun puzzling out all the questions that must be answered each time we build a new house.  What shape and size do we need for this particular species? How big does the door need to be?  What kind of access do we need to the interior?  How are we going to clean it?  What kind of floor does it need?  How much ventilation?  Does it need to be fox proof – what a silly question – everything needs to be fox proofed!!!  What are we going to build it out of?  And how much will THIS cost!?!?!

We built our original six Indian Runner Ducks a sweet little A-frame.  However, we came home from collecting the Guinea Keets with a beautiful breeding pair of Appleyard Ducks (hello Flora and Reuben!) and come the Bega Young Poultry Auction, we found ourselves with two more dear little chocolate Runners (hello Alfred and Gretel!) and three gorgeous geese (hello Guiseppe, Madonna and Francesca!).  That little A-frame was just too little.  The ducks no longer liked going in at night and there was no room for a nest for their prodigious egg laying.  Flora took to hiding her eggs around the garden (she lays huge eggs almost every day) and the Runners were simply dropping theirs near the duck pond!  As for the geese – phht! – no hope.

A new house was needed – one with ample room for now and plenty of room for little ducklings come spring.  But the building supply pile was looking skimpy as were the building funds.  Hmmm.  Serendipitously, Mum found the solution!  Being an avid gardener, she often hangs out at her local garden centre and knows the owner well – he was lamenting that he had a huge pile of hardwood pallets that were taking up way too much room so Mum asked if we could have a few and he was more than happy for Julian to visit with the trailer!  Woot!

Pallet building has surely become an “in-thing” – look on Pinterest and you’ll find heaps of furniture built out of the humble pallet.  However, these misguided carpenters appear to mostly rip apart the pallets – a lot of effort for some pretty crappy timber.  We wanted to use ours whole – fast and sturdy.  So – two pallets for the floor, two for each long side, one for the back and two for a ramp – all screwed together.  A big hinged door made out of hardwood fence palings we sourced from the dumpshop.  Corrugated from the dumpshop for the roof – mounted on a bit of our building timber left over from the chicken house.  And the whole thing was mounted on besser block footings that Julian spent hours carefully digging into the ground and levelling.  This means the straw litter will filter through to the ground and all we’ll have to do is keep adding fresh straw to the top!  Works a treat in the chook house.

However, pallets are NOT fox proof.  The author of my favourite chicken book – The Small Scale Poultry Flock – says he keeps the skulls of the few predators that have breached his defences – so that he can push them through gaps in his building to see if they fit!  I reckon foxes probably have pretty flattish skulls so I’m into filling in every nook and cranny.  Julian thinks I should get myself a dead fox, let it decay and then test that bloody skull just to make sure!  He’s quite sure foxes are no where near as flat as that.  I don’t know.  There’s a reason so many stories and nursery rhymes have been written about foxes and their fondness for stealing poultry.

Anyways, the pallets lack of fox proofing meant I had to completely mesh the inside of the duck house with poultry mesh.  It didn’t take as long as I thought – but it was rather cramped and arm-exhausting work, stapling all that mesh on.  There sure won’t be any foxes dining at my duck house tonight :-)

But the BEST bit about building animal houses is that I get to decorate them when done :-)  As I’m sure you can guess dear folk, I loooooooove that bit.  And on Tuesday, after having a complete hissy fit and floods of tears over the rats eating my arrowroot, echinacea and elder, rather than spending the morning ranting at Julian and Noah about the unfairness of nature, or stewing on the porch, or sulking in my bedroom, I gathered up my paints and headed down to the duck house.  There was that beautiful big fencing paling door just wanting for a spot of prettiness.

I never really know the details of what I shall paint before I start.  I’m a bit like that.  I knew there would be a tree – with blossoms and apples and leaves all at once :-) I call it the Hayao Miyazaki art style (Japanese filmmaker – always has all his favourite flowering plants in flower at once no matter what the time of year ;-).  I knew there would be ducks.  Runners?  Appleyards? Whatever was right at the moment.

And I have to say, I am utterly thrilled to pieces with this work.  For the tree’s trunk and branches, I took my inspiration from the cherry tree that shades the duck house.  Then added my details – I’m especially pleased with the leaves – I managed to achieve a build up of colour that from a distance looks appliqued!  Grass underneath – with fallen blossoms and fruit.  Then Reuben and Flora – the runners always run about as one flock so I couldn’t just pick a couple out.  Whereas Reuben and Flora – well, they’re like an old married couple :-)  So identifiable and so much character.  Perfect for painting.  The other side of the tree needed something but there wasn’t enough room for more ducks so I thought about what the ducks love – their feeder!  Even though they spend most of their day foraging around the garden, they do love to greedily guzzle up a slurp of scratch mix as soon as they burst out of their house each morning.  And finally, one of those pesky Rosellas.  They ate all our cherries and apricots last spring.  And now they love to hang out on the roof of the duck house and in the bare branches of the cherry tree, waiting to swoop down and have a little nibble of the scratch mix.  Buggers.  They’re exquisitely beautiful – but they are buggers.

I also feel, with this piece, that I’m really growing a style I love and that feels doable.  I want to paint much much much more.  Julian loves it so much, he went straight to the workshop and put together a big “sign” made out of marine grade ply with a rustic paling frame (he even mitred the corners) for me to paint “The Duck & Goose” on – we’ll hang it on the front of the house like an old fashioned English pub sign :-)  You see, we were hopeful our three geese would move in too – but they are so bolshie and just won’t.  Means the electric fence has to stay up – and means they are not as safe as I’d like, but what can you do.  Geese that refuse to go inside and Hamburg chickens that sleep in the gum tree!

We’ll have to come up with a different style house for the geese – I’m thinking an on the ground kind of lean-to that has a fox-proof floor and a very very easy to navigate door – they’re a bit dim those geese.  Oh well – whatever, it is, there’ll be more gorgeous opportunities to keep working on my painted farm.