Monday, August 3, 2015

Farm update - August 2015

Its about time for another update!  This is the post where I try to give you a bit of a taste of everything that's been happening at our place over the past month.  I'd love to know what you've been up to as well, please share your update in the comments :)

Food and cooking
With some cold weather during July it was definitely time for some pumpkin soup (recipe from The Eat Drink Paleo cookbook).  We also culled two roosters and three old hens, so we minced the meat and made some wonderful thick stock with all the carcasses, look at all that gelatin!  (Here's what we do with the older birds).  You really can't go wrong with soup when you start with a stock base like that.  If you're not making your own stock yet, I think its the one traditional cooking technique that is really worth the effort for both improved taste and the health benefits of eating all that gelatin and minerals from the bones.


pumpkin soup from The Eat Drink Paleo Cookbook

Mincing the chicken meat

Chicken stock


Greenhaven: Cooking with stinging nettles
greenhavengoodlife.blogspot.com

Snow falls in Queensland town
couriermail.com.au

Land and farming
We have been spending a lot of time walking around out property looking at the trees.  I have spent years trying to engage Pete in conversation about trees, and now that he is interested I am nearly sick of trying to figure out if that ironbark looks like a slightly different species to the tree next to it because the leaves are a little bit different!  We certainly have a diversity of trees on our property, and while other farmers see trees as a liability - just taking up space where they could be growing grass, we think of it as an opportunity to add fertility to our property, provide habitat, firewood, building material, and now bee-food!  Many of our native eucalypts flower in winter, so we actually have year-round nectar and pollen for our little 5-frame bee hive (nucleus or "nuc" for short).  We checked the nuc for the first time on a warmer day, and were a bit nervous with our bee-suits on and the smoker ready, but they were very calm bees and let us have a good look at what they've been up to.  Two frames of brood, one of honey and two more on the outside that they were still drawing out, so we need to get moving on building a bigger box for them before they fill up their nuc.

We also finally got a tank for the high point on our property, which is the beginning of the second phase of our solar bore pump project.  Phase one was to install the pump and see if it could pump to the top of the hill.  In phase two we are going to run irrigation pipe from the tank down to the house.  Checking the 1km pipeline from the bore to the tank provided yet another opportunity to look at trees!  Now we just need to set up the rest of the pipeline.  I'll write more about the solar pump soon, now that I know that its all working properly.

Our bee "nuc"


We don't know the name of this tree, I call it the "peely bark Christmas gum"
because it flowers in December and the back peels (Jackie French says to just name things so you
remember what they do that is important to you)

the tank at the top of the hill

Chickens
We culled the older chickens and now we are left with nine hens from last year, and 16 that hatched in February.  The new ones are starting to lay already, so we are getting 10 eggs a day at the moment, and its only mid-winter.  I am going to have to find some more customers in Brisbane!  We still have seven roosters from our hatch, and one lovely Rhode Island Red that was given to us.  I've picked one of the seven (a pretty orange one called "Lucky") to move into one of the hen tractors, but the rest will be ready for the freezer very soon.


Cows and cattle
Molly had her little calf one evening.  Pete called me and said he was pretty sure that Molly was in labour, and about an hour later he called to tell me that the calf was born and safe with Molly.  That was very happy news.  Over the next few days Pete thought the calf might be a girl, then a boy, and then a girl again.  When I got home I was able to confirm that she was a girl!  Now we have seen two births, we are more confident that we can recognise a cow in labour.

Molly did not suffer the same swelling that Bella had, and Pete didn't milk her right away, she came over to the milking bales to be milked the next afternoon, and then the afternoon after that, when she was ready.  It was nice to let her decide when she needed to be milked.

I named all the calves because I was sick of Pete calling them "it". The Aussie Red cross is called Rosie and the super friendly Jersey calf is called Charlotte (its very difficult to get a photo of Lucy when Charlotte keeps sneaking up behind you and licking your arm). We are still milking both cows, the poddies recovered from the paralysis tick poisoning and are taking 3-4 litres each morning and afternoon, I have seen Charlotte licking Bella's udder, but if she goes for a teat she gets a kick. Lucy is suckling from Molly and we are taking a litre here and there for ourselves.

The Angus cattle at Cheslyn Rise are wonderful, it seems a shame to have to sell them!  They are so tame, they followed us all along the pipeline when we were checking it and waited by a fence when they couldn't go any further.  We have taught them that the ute brings lucerne hay, so when they here the horn they come running.  Have tame cattle is a pleasure.


Molly with her calf Lucy

The angus herd follows us around the property

Bella looking more like her normal shape

The two baby house cows - Charlotte and Rosie


Three Years In The Making - The Browning Homestead

Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures In The Good Land: Not every body gets to stay. Goats. Gone.
adventuresinthegoodland.blogspot.com

Garden
We've had no rain in July and plenty of frosty weather, so everything is dry and dusty, apart from in the garden where we sprinkle the grey water.  Its weird to be in the middle of winter with a bumper crop of tomatoes (thanks to hydroponics) and the start of the strawberry season, such is the joys of growing food in the highland sub-tropics!  This month I am still harvesting plenty of greens, although many have started to flower (bee food!), the peas are taller than me, but not much to pick.  The broad beans are flowering and smelling wonderful.  And I seem to be able to grow broccoli one small floret at a time, but if you pick enough you get a meal.


greens, tomatoes, chillies, broccoli florets and eggs in winter...

its strawberry season - these don't last long

the garden is still overgrown with chickweed, giant pea plant to the left 

pak choi flowers = bee food

House
We made a start on some demolition work at the house, removing the kitchen cabinets and stripping the bathroom and toilet back to bare walls.  Its much easier to sit in an empty space and decide where things should go than to envisage it while all the ugly bits are still there.  We have some good ideas, we just have to figure out how to make them happen!  It was fascinating to see what was behind the cement sheeting (fortunately turned out it was not asbestos in the bathroom) and we could see where doorways had been moved and work out where rooms were in the past based on the paint colours.

Poor Taz, renovating is so boring!

The bath turned out to be cast iron, in pale green!

How homes kept cool before the age of AC
blog.solarcity.com

Permaculture - Catch and Store Energy
Energy is defined very broadly in this case, encompassing both the obvious heat and electricity, and less obvious forms of energy, such as water, trees, seeds, food and fertile soil. This principle is important because we live in a time of energy abundance due to the availability of cheap fossil fuels and it can be very easy to forget to plan for energy catchment and storage. We have become accustomed to buying what we need when we need it because fossil fuels have made this such an easy option.

Some of the ways that we catch and store energy:

house of simple: Vintage Safety Razor Shaving
house-of-simple.blogspot.com

How to get shiny hair and natural hair growth - Lulastic and the Hippyshake
lulastic.co.uk

What is Homesteading?
susansink.wordpress.com
Return to a Frugal Life - Imperfectly Happy
imperfectlyhappy.com

Create (and Support Me)
Lately I've been making some extra soap because I'm keen to start selling it.  I am waiting until September as I have to pay for a licence *grumble grumble* which is September to August.  I already have a few things in my Etsy shop, including a few balms and salves, and dried herbs.  My lovely neighbour and friend has started a massage clinic in Nanango (Maintain and Align Massage) and she has found the "Relax Massage Balm" to be very popular.  Its made with essential oils that relieve inflammation and encourage blood flow and healing, so its great for sore muscles and joints.

I am also very nearly finished with my eBook "Design and Use a Chicken Tractor".  I have a couple of friends proof-reading it at the moment, and then I just need to do a final edit before I put it on sale.  It will be good to have that finished, it seems like it takes a LONG time to write a short eBook!


This is just the offcuts!



I love this shot of Taz ready to play ball
How was your July?  What are your plans for August?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Simple winter knits for beginners

Over the past few winters I've been practicing my knitting.  I was taught to knit originally by my granny when I was younger, so I knew the basics, but I had never really practiced until I became interested again a few years ago.  I have been buying wool and needles from markets and op shops and teaching myself using youtube.  I never like to spend time practicing something just for the sake of it, I like to make something that I can use, so I have been trying to find things to make that help me to refine my technique, but are also simple and ultimately useful.  Obviously I can't launch into huge projects while I'm still struggling to knit consistently and neatly, but I managed to find a few small things to knit that have really helped me to gain the confidence to make something larger.


eight acres: learning to knit - some suggestions for beginners
This is what I made this winter to practice before I make something bigger.

Here's what I have come up with as suggestions for beginner knitters to practice:

  1. Headband or ear-warmer - this can be as simple as a strip of 10-15 stitches knitted in either garter stitch or stockinette stitch, keep going until it reaches around your head and then stitch the ends together to form a band.  For something different you can add stripes of colours, or try a fancy knitting stitch.
  2. Button-up snood - this is just a short scarf (you could make a scarf, but that takes longer!), again, you can add stripes or fancy stitches.  I took the opportunity to practice ribbing at each end and added button holes.  I started with 30 stitches and knitted until it was long enough to go around my neck.
  3. Snood in the round - a great way to experiment with needles "in the round" is to knit up a simple snood.  If you get it twisted, its called a helical snood (great for covering mistakes!).
  4. Arm-warmers - this is a great way to practice knitting on double-pointed needles.  Just make a hole for the thumbs using the same technique as for a button-hole.  I like to add stripes to this one too, but could also be done with a fancy stitch.  Ribbing at the top stops the top from folding over.
  5. Tablet or phone cover - we bought a new tablet and I decided to knit a cover for it instead of buying a cover.  I just knitted a long strip in the right size and sewed up the seams.  Again, you can add whatever techniques you need to practice.
  6. Socks - this might seem like an odd one for beginners, but after you've figured out double-pointed needles, you have most of the skills to finish socks as well, you just have to really concentrate on the pattern!

Lately I have been side-tracked with crochet, so I haven't knitted anything bigger yet.  I am wearing my arm-warmers and ear warmer as I type though!

What do you think is a good project for learning to knit?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Three essential principles of organic gardening

Organic gardening is easy.  In fact, once you get your organic garden established, it should be easier and cheaper than "conventional" chemical gardening.  The most important thing is to forget everything the chemical companies have told you about gardening.  Forget NPK fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides.  You need to learn to work WITH nature and gradually nature will start doing most of the work for you.  Don't just replace chemicals with organic inputs either.  Here's three essential principles to get you thinking differently.

eight acres: organic gardening - don't just replace chemicals with organic inputs, let nature do the work!


1. Forget fertiliser - feed the soil
I wrote about soil a few weeks ago and my main conclusion was that if you increase organic matter everything else starts to balance.  My favourite way to increase organic matter in the soil is compost.  And my favourite way to compost is using worms.  Worm compost is fool-proof!  You just need to set up a worm farm, add worms and kitchen scraps and harvest the compost and leachate.  Lately I've also been making compost heaps on empty spots in the garden.  I just pull out weeds and heap them up in a pile, add ash from our woodstove and wood shavings from the chicken nesting boxes and in a few months, I have a pile of compost to spread over the garden.


eight acres: organic gardening - don't just replace chemicals with organic inputs, let nature do the work!


2. Control weeds with mulch, not herbicide
I don't really mind weeds in my garden, as they help me to build compost.  I do find its a good idea to keep the garden paths free of weeds, and so I keep a layer of mulch on the paths.  I also mulch around plants and just pull out any weeds that get too big.  If you are feeding your soil, there is no point worrying about weeds taking nutrients from your plants, there will be plenty to go around and the weeds can actually contribute too.  Not only does mulch help to control weeds, it also adds organic matter to the soil and helps to retain moisture.  On the other hand, herbicide will kill soil microbes and not help you do feed the soil.

For mulch I use:

  • woodchips from mulching branches around our property
  • hay that the cattle didn't eat (it does not have to be lucerne!), 
  • newspaper is really good for paths and it takes a while for the weeds to break through, 
  • wood shavings from the chicken nest boxes, 
  • grass clippings if we even mow the lawn.  


eight acres: organic gardening - don't just replace chemicals with organic inputs, let nature do the work!

3. Biological pest control is more effective than pesticides
Biological pest control is about encouraging beneficial insects and birds into your garden.  By allowing a natural balance between predators and prey, you let nature take care the pests.  Also if you feed the soil, you will find that healthy plants do not get attacked by pests.  The best way to encourage beneficial insects is to provide lots of food for them by letting plants flower.  Many of the predators will feed on nectar if their prey is not available, so keep them well-fed and you won't have to wait for them to appear.

If all else fails - try neem oil, as this won't affect pollinators.

eight acres: organic gardening - don't just replace chemicals with organic inputs, let nature do the work!


Do you use organic gardening techniques?  What do new gardeners need to know?  Any questions?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Active transport = frugal exercise

Do you pay to commute to work?  Either on public transport or by driving a private vehicle?  Do you also pay to exercise at a gym?  What if I told you there was a frugal way to get to work AND get some exercise, either free or at a reduced cost compared to your current commute?


eight acres: using active transport


Active transport is a term used to describe getting around by walking or cycling (or skateboarding, roller skating, running, skipping etc).  I have been walking to work and back in Brisbane since I moved in December to a unit a bit closer to the city (I drive down there first thing Monday morning, then back to the farm on Friday afternoon, long story back here).  My main motivation is pure stinginess.  The bus was costing $35/week, and my new unit is only a 45 minute walk to work, which is actually quicker than the bus as I can take short-cuts through parkland.  I was also finding that I got home too late and didn't feel like getting any exercise in the evening.  Best to get that over and done first thing in the morning and on the way back from work!

I have always been a walker.  I walked to school from when I was 5-years old until I finished high-school.  I used to walk to music lessons, sports practice, friend's houses.  I got my drivers license at 17, but never had a car to drive, my family only had one car, so I usually had to find another way to get where I wanted to go.  I got a bicycle after high school and I cycled to uni, to jobs, to friend's houses.  I didn't get a car until I moved out to the Lockyer Valley with Pete when I was 25.  Since then we've lived in rural areas and active transport has not been an option on narrow country roads.   So I am enjoying the opportunity to get around without driving (its not so much the driving I dislike, the parking is the worst part!).

My one gripe with active transport in Brisbane is that many of the cycle paths don't actually join up to take you anywhere useful.  Unfortunately city planners seem to view cycling (and even walking) as a recreation activity, in which you may cycle around a path and back to the start, or just up and down the river, instead of actually going from one place to another.  I remember when some of the rules changed recently so that motorists had to give cyclists more space on the road and people were calling up talkback radio saying that cyclists should go to purpose-built facilities to cycle and stay off the roads!  As if people are on the roads at peak hour because they are just out for a fun ride!  Most people I see in the morning are on their way to work, cycling, walking or running (and one on a motorized skateboard, Pete said I can't get one).

Of course when I'm full-time on the farm, I get plenty of exercise.  I had to do a health check at work once and I put "farm work" down as my daily exercise.  I explained that I often have to carry heavy things long distances.  I was told that I needed to try to get more "organized exercise" into my day!  And while I'm not full-time on the farm, I don't want to lose my farm fitness by sitting on the bus!

I understand that active transport is not a possibility for everyone and there are lots of reasons why it may not work, but I challenge you to think about it.  Can you get off the bus a stop earlier?  Can you walk to the station instead of driving?  Can you cycle to work one day a week?  Think of the cost saving, and possibly a time-saving if you don't go to the gym when you get home.

Do you use active transport?  Or farm fitness routines?  Why or why not?



Monday, July 20, 2015

How I use herbs - yarrow

I haven't found the best spot for yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in my garden yet, but when it does grow well, it has a number of uses.

How to grow yarrow
According to this link, yarrow will tolerate a sunny position and doesn't like wet soil.  I currently have yarrow in a pot with my other herbs and occasionally it flowers, but more often it looks like its struggling to survive, especially if the pot dries out.  I really need to find a more permanent position for it, maybe if it has deeper roots it will be more resilient.  Yarrow can be propagated by division or from seed.  When it does grow well it can be a vigorous ground cover.

eight acres: how I use herbs - yarrow



How to use yarrow
  • In the garden, yarrow's flowers attract beneficial insects and the plant is used as a compost activator, and in biodynamic preparations
  • The plant contains volatile oils (linalool, camphor, sabinene, azulene), flavonoids, bitter alkaloid (achilleine), and tannins
  • It has medicinal uses as a diaphoretic (inducing sweat), and is therefore, good for fevers, cold and flue
  • It also stimulates digestion, lowers blood pressure, is good for circulation and can regulate the menstrual cycle
  • And applied topically it aids in healing wounds, having an anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic effect
For topical application I like to add it to a salve by infusing olive oil with yarrow leaves (and usually other skin herbs such as chickweed, calendula, borage and comfrey).  I also add dried leaves to a herbal mixture which I drink daily as an infusion.


eight acres: how I use herbs - yarrow


Do you grow yarrow?  (What am I doing wrong?) And what do you use it for?


Other posts about herbs in my garden:
How I use herbs - Mint, Peppermint and Spearmint

How I use herbs - Aloe Vera

How I use herbs - Basil

How I use herbs - Ginger, galangal and turmeric

How I use herbs - Marigold, calendula and winter taragon

How I use herbs - Soapwort

How I use herbs - Comfrey

How I use herbs - Nasturtium

How I use herbs - Parsley

How I use herbs - Borage

How I use herbs - Herb Robert

How I use herbs - Purslane

How I use herbs - Chickweed

How I use herbs - Neem oil

How I use herbs - Rue, tansy and wormwood

How I use herbs - Brahmi


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Soap with coffee grounds

Before I started making soap I used to buy a soap with coffee grounds in it.  It was a "gardener's soap", the coffee grounds were supposed to help with scrubbing dirt off your hands.  Recently I decided to try making something similar.  I found a few recipes (here and here) to get an idea of how much coffee to use.

The recipes say to use fresh coffee grounds and fresh espresso to make the lye, but as we don't drink coffee, and this was just for washing hands, I wanted to use waste coffee grounds instead.  We got some from a friend of a friend with a cafe and I dried them in the woodstove.  I used packets of instant coffee that I keep around in case someone wants a coffee.


eight acres: coffee soap recipe



I decided to use half tallow, quarter coconut oil and quarter olive oil for this recipe as the coconut oil adds more suds and that seemed appropriate for a soap that would be used to clean hands.  The recipes also suggested that the coffee would remove other odours.  I wondered what it would smell like, so I didn't use an essential oil for this first batch.

The recipe is based on my bath soap recipe from a previous post.

Coffee soap recipe
250g olive oil
250g coconut oil
500g tallow
6% superfat
142g caustic
300-330g coffee

The soap doesn't smell like coffee, so next time I would use an essential oil like tea tree or eucalyptus.  I quite like the colour from the coffee, and it does seem to work at cleaning my hands after gardening.

What do you think?  Do you like to play around with soap recipes?  What else should I try?
PS I'm going to start selling my soap in September....



My other soap posts:

Natural soap using beef tallow

Monday, July 13, 2015

Buying, selling and moving cattle - what are the rules?

When we first started with cattle I found the rules and regulations for buying, selling and moving cattle to be very confusing.  Here are a few tips that you may find useful.  Remember that I am no expert, I'm just telling you what I understand of the system, consider this advice from a neighbour leaning over the fence, please check the details with your local stock inspector or state department of primary industries (or equivalent).  Read the rest on my house cow ebook blog.


eight acres: buying, selling and moving cattle - what are the rules?


Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on ScribdLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to arrange delivery.







Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"





Gavin from Little Green Cheese (and The Greening of Gavin)




Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book review: Omnivore's Dilemma

I feel like I am the LAST person to read Michael Pollan's 2006 book The Omnivore's Dilemma.  It has been mentioned on so many blogs as an influence over the way people eat and how they understand food production, when I saw it at the library I thought it was time I read it too.  I'm so glad I did!  I think I would enjoy ANYTHING that Michael Pollan wrote.  He really has a wonderful way with words, sometimes I read a sentence twice just to try to absorb some of that ability for myself.  Even better, the topic is something that interests me immensely.  The omnivore's dilemma: What should we have for dinner?  As an omnivore, we CAN eat nearly anything, but what SHOULD we eat?

eight acres: Omnivore's Dilemma book review


Michael attempts to answer this question by tracing four meals from their origins to the table.  The first meal is monoculture corn, through to feed-lot beef, in a burger containing corn derivatives such as high-fructose corn syrup, eaten in a car running on ethanol made from corn.  Many would not realise just how much corn is in the US food supply and why (due to farm subsidies, which are less of an issue in Australia, although the feed-lot system is very similar).

Next we follow a meal made from industrial organic chicken and salad vegetables, as well as an "organic TV dinner".  This meal highlighted the fact that organic rules can be used to simply substitute an organic input for a chemical input, and technically the food is organic, but its not necessarily any better for us, the animals or the farm-workers.  For example an organic chicken raised in a barn may not ever access the outdoors even though its "free-range".  If you do choose organic, its important to understand the certification systems that create the rules that producers must follow.  My understanding of the Australian Certified Organic system is that growers must have a management plan that aims for self-sufficiency, this means that industrial systems would not be certified, even if all the inputs were organic, however the more you can find out about the practices of an individual farm the better.

The third meal was from Joel Salatin's farm.  I was surprised to find that I learnt more about Joel and his farm through a section in this book than I have learnt in reading several of Joel's books, watching his dvd and attending a day-long seminar!  Maybe that is the power of carefully crafted prose.  If you're interested in Joel's work, then its worth reading this book for that purpose alone.  If you haven't heard of Joel, his farm is not "organic certified", but it is symbiotic with very little inputs, he produces free-range broiler chickens, eggs, beef and pork from 100 acres and sells these products locally.  This meal was very close to how Pete and I eat everyday, as much as possible produced on our property or bought locally.

eight acres: Omnivore's Dilemma book review
vegetables grown in our garden

Finally, Michael attempts to create a meal only from hunted or foraged foods, including wild boar and mushrooms.  This was a very interesting chapter for me as I'm keen to do more hunting and foraging, although I need to find out more about our local flora and fauna.  I'd love to catch some rabbits, as we can't keep them domestically, so I need to try to catch wild ones if I want to eat rabbit (and I see plenty hopping around at night).

I didn't expect this book to be as much about farming as about food, but I guess that makes sense, as Michael was addressing the question of what to eat my examining where these four meals ultimately came from.  I particularly enjoyed his assessment of modern farming:
"Wendell Berry has written eloquently about the intellectual work that goes into farming well, especially into solving the novel problems that inevitably crop up in a natural system as complex as a farm.  You don't see much of this sort of problem-solving in agriculture today, not when so many solutions come ready-made in plastic bottles.  So much of the intelligence and local knowledge in agriculture has been removed from the farm to the laboratory, and then returned to the farm in the form of a chemical or machine"
 He also discusses animal cruelty and the ethics of eating meat in the final chapter.
"To visit a modern Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) is to enter a world that for its technological sophistication is sill designed on seventeenth-century Cartesian principles: Animals are treated as machines - "production units"- incapable of feeling pain.  Since no thinking person can possible believe this anymore, industrial animal agriculture depends on the suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert one's eyes on the part of everyone else."
If you want to know more about where your food comes from so that you can make better choices for your health, the environment and the animals involved, this book covers everything you need to know.

Next on my list to read is Michael Pollan's 2008 book "In Defence of Food" in which he takes the concept further to examine further the human health impact of our modern diets.  I also reviewed "Cooked" when it was released in 2013.

What do you think?  Have you read it already or tempted to read it now?


Here's a few affiliate links to the books I've mentioned, I get a small proportion of the sale if you buy through these links.

   



Monday, July 6, 2015

How we ended up with a farm

You might be wondering how two city kids ended up with 258 acres?  This is what I wrote for Grass Roots magazine a few years ago.

*****

When I tell people that my husband Pete and I have bought a 258 acre property and we want to raise cattle and grow our own food, they often ask if I come from a farming background. When I tell them that I’m from the city, they assume that my husband must be from a farm. When I tell them that he’s also from the city, they usually look at me with a mixture of amazement and sympathy. They are clearly wondering how two city kids can possibly run a farm, and thinking that we are just wasting a lot of money on a crazy hobby.



The truth is that we started small and focused on a few things at a time as our interest in self-sufficiency grew. We took every opportunity we could find to learn from other people, and from books, how to do what we wanted to do. And we are still learning more everyday. I hope that by sharing our story, I might inspire other city people to try a self-sufficient country lifestyle.

We started off with five acres in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, and a few chickens for eggs. We slowly added a vegetable garden and then a little poddy steer to raise for beef. We soon learnt that one calf won’t stay in a paddock by himself, and prefers to go looking for other cattle, so we bought another steer from the local dairy farm (and practiced our fencing skills). That’s when we met the dairy farmers and started dropping in at milking time, and before we knew it we were helping with milking. We learnt about handling the cows, about mastitis and feeding minerals. Pete helped with odd-jobs in exchange for bales of hay and bags of grain. We spent many enjoyable afternoons helping with milking and other farm chores.  (More about our cows here)

At the same time we experimented with incubating our chicken eggs, and butchering the roosters. We decided to concentrate on breeding Rhode Island Red chickens for egg and meat production. We had our first steer killed at the local abattoir and enjoyed a freezer full of our own beef and chicken, and a garden full of vegetables. We installed a modern woodstove and cooked with it all through winter. Being on a rural property, all our drinking water was rainwater and all our wastewater went to the septic system. We felt like we were on the way to self-sufficiency on that property.

Then a job opportunity led us to move about 200 km NW to the South Burnett region of Queensland. We found ourselves a suitable property, this time with eight acres of land. We were soon settled in, with another garden started, even more chickens and a few steers. We started to improve the fencing and remove weeds (mostly lantana). We found that we missed the dairy so much that we wanted our own house cow, so, after months of preparation, we brought home our cow, Bella and her young heifer calf, Molly.

We had our first homekill steer and tanned his hide ourselves to make a nice floor rug for the house. This time we got to see how the butcher worked to transform our beast into cuts of meat. We were both sad to see the steer killed, but felt comforted that we knew he had a happy life and died eating in the paddock next to his friend, without a stressful journey to the abattoir. We also installed another woodstove and began cutting firewood from a large pile of felled tress on our property.

After a few years we realised that eight acres was not quite enough for us to live self-sufficiently, as we were still buying hay for the cattle through winter, and still buying firewood after the pile ran out. We were also worried that we could run out of water for our animals. Pete spent months looking at properties on the internet, and eventually he found one that we could afford, that was still reasonably close to our work. The property was relatively cheap because it still had a lot of remnant forest. Having read Peter Andrews’ books, we knew that this was good for fertility, so we were happy with the trees. There are plenty of cleared areas too, and 60 acres that had been set up for cultivation. It seemed like just want we needed, so we made an offer and bought the property.




We got ourselves a tractor and some implements and Pete taught himself to plough the paddock and plant forage for haymaking (although we later decided that we prefer perennial pasture). We bought some steers from the saleyard, and spent a stressful week repairing the fences that they broke until they got used to the place. Then we decided that some cows would be easier and found a herd of Braford cows and calves. We sold the steers and weaner calves from the cows and learnt about the cattle market. Pete was back on the internet looking at real estate and found us a cheap removal house to put on the property, so that we can live there eventually.

We have some ambitious plans for this property. In the house yard we will certainly have another garden, we will have our first attempt at an aquaponics system and start a “food forest” orchard full of fruit trees, nut trees, berries and herbs. We will have chickens, and maybe try some other poultry. We’d like to build huge chicken tractors and move them over the pasture. We’re not sure yet whether to try for organic certification, but we are using organic methods throughout the farm anyway, because they are cheaper than buying chemicals.

Occasionally, when we have a hard week and it seems completely overwhelming, we joke about moving back to the city, about Pete trying to weld and grind metal on an apartment balcony and where we would put Bella the cow. We both know that we could never go back to the city-life and relying on someone else to grow our food, so we just have to keep enjoying the benefits of living self-sufficiently on our little farm. If you are in the city and dream of a farm life, then maybe you can achieve it too by taking small steps.

*****

As you know, I'm currently working in Brisbane, and unfortunately that's just the nature of the current job market.  One day soon we'll figure out how to make this farm life work so that we can both be at the farm full time all the time, but in the meantime, having a job in the city helps to pay for the farm set up!

Have you "ended up" on a farm?  Or would you like to?

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