Monday, December 28, 2009


WE HAVE just said goodbye to two wwoofers, willing workers on organic farms, after a two week stay with us. We undertook it as a bit of a trial and it went pretty well, so I think we will do it again.

Chris, 19, and Aysha, 18, were from the UK and had very little gardening-farming experience, but they were willing to get in and have a go. I made a list of jobs so they could have some choice and also gave them the choice of having two work periods of two hours each day or one four hour work period. Due to the heat they decided to work a couple of hours in the early morning and a couple of hours in the late afternoon. We only asked they work five days out of seven, in future I would probably make this six out of seven. They worked mostly on three jobs, hand-weeding the bottom paddock, re-digging the veggie patch and scrapping the paint off our house in preparation for it being painted- the job they enjoyed the least.

If you don't have separate accommodation, then hosting wwoofers is like having a house-guest. Ours stayed in our camper-trailer but lived in the house with us. We let them have as much access to the internet as they wanted, due to the fact they were pretty isolated during their stay with us because they did not have a car. They were great with the children so it made it all pretty easy. The children really loved having them with us. What they lacked in gardening experience they certainly made up for with the amount of attention they gave the children. They were very patient with them, but were able to dish some boundaries too. I was pretty impressed with this.

I learned that hosting wwwoofers is a lot of work. I spent a lot of time cooking and keeping up the supply of food. This all became a bit less formal in the second week when they helped themselves a bit more to food and I slacked off a bit with the cooking.

In terms of the work we achieved by having them here, I am really pleased with what got done. Because they came in school holidays our plans to work alongside them didn't work out. Bill had to supervise the children and I spent most of my time in the kitchen, when I wasn't at work.

A lot of people have asked me was it worth it in terms of the cost of having them here, with the amount of work which got done. I really have not done the calculations for this, it is probably break even, but we did not do it for cheap labor. We did it because we thought it would a fun and interesting thing to do.

We have invited them to come back and wwoof with us again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


ABOUT two weeks ago I bought a new jersey cow, Buttercup. She came with a heifer calf which the children have named Midnight. I shipped out Brandy, Rosie and Charlie to a friends property. Brandy was not producing enough milk due to the mastitis she developed immediately after birthing. Left with only two teats working and producing about 1.5 litres of milk, it was hardly worth the effort.

I saw an add in the paper for Buttercup and went to check her out. She was amazingly calm, full of milk and going dirt cheap. I bought her and my friend Erin took another milker called Cupcake.

Buttercup was in very poor condition as she was fostering four calves, but amazingly she has been producing up to five lites of milk each day. It has been bliss. She is also gaining weight. It is a really good time to buy due to the drought. Lots of farmers are destocking. Erin and I are about to buy some calves for meat which we will raise up.

I have been milking Buttercup twice a day most days, which involves getting up at about 5.3o am to milk on the days I have to go to work. Still, it is incredibly satisfying and her milk is amazing, although Bill won't drink it because he knows the cow from which it came- I could understand this if he was talking about meat, but milk!
Anyway it is a lot of work, but worth it. I have to start training her to milk in the bale, as she requires a lot of food to keep her in the one spot during milking.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Milk, at last

Last night I put the calf in the house block and Brandy in the paddock next to it. We did this so the calf would not be able to drink off her overnight, which would mean there would be plenty of milk on her when I milked her out in the morning. Bill and I woke this morning shortly after sunrise to the sounds of Brandy bellowing, very loudly. The calf was gone from the house block.

We scouted around for him and found him in the big paddock with Rosie, our other cow. So, I got my milking stuff together and went out to the paddock to milk Brandy. She was full of milk, poor thing. I gave her some chaff with some dairy meal, for milk production, mixed into a bucket. While she ate that I milked out one of her good teats. There was plenty of milk there.

As soon as she finished the food, and before I had finished milking her, she marched out of the paddock, right through the barbed wire fence and straight to her calf. The calf was trying desperately, at the time, to drink from Rosie, who of course had nothing for her. The calf latched straight on.

So the good news is there is plenty of milk there. I got about a litre, it's hard to know how much more was there, but I suspect a fair bit. I didn't get to the back teat, from which milk was spurting out of while I milked the front one. We need about two litres a day for our family.

She is a pretty slow milker, with only one large teat really suitable for milking, and only two teats working. The other thing is , I can't milk for very long before my arms begin to ache. I guess this will improve.

Yesterday was the first day we were able to drink her milk after the withholding period from the antibiotics had finished. I was only able to get 500ml from her when I milked because the calf had been drinking from her all day. The children all tried her milk, except Jude, who thought the idea of drinking Brandy's milk was gross. It was pretty creamy and tasted a lot different to milk from the shop.

The milk needs to be strained through a cloth, but apart from that, it can be drunk fresh from her udder.

Brandy probably needs to be milked in a stall, and there is talk of all the neighbors pitching in to build one. We have to work out a milking roster for the cow as well. We have two neighbors who have helped us a lot with the cows and we would like to be able to share the milk with them, and they are keen to milk her. I don't think there will be any surplus milk, which is a shame because I was hoping to sell it to pay for the cost of our agistment, feeds and dairy meal.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


We have decided to try hosting some WWOOFers- willing workers on organic farms. I thought we would need to have a cabin built before we did something like this, but then I discovered some hosts put their WWOOFers up in tents. We plan to use our trusty camper-trailer for accommodation. It is comfortable and it doesn't leak, and as we will only be hosting people for short stays, it should be fine.

We have made a loose arrangement with a young English woman, Aysha, and her travelling companion, Chris. They arrive in Sydney from England on November 25 and will make their way North. We have asked they give us four day's notice before their arrival.

In exchange for four hours work each day, we will provide all their meals and accommodation. I am now making a plan for what needs doing. It should really help us move the place along a bit, but I am also excited about the cultural exchange. I haven't told the children yet, in case it falls through, but they love it when people come to stay.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Turkish lemonade

The last of the citrus is maturing with about two dozen lemons left on the tree, still too green to pick. We still have a few week's supply of oranges and tangerines on the trees. The lime tree I planted two years ago has still not produced any fruit.

I have been trying to think of home made treats for the children so we can stop the buying them food from shops when we go out. It is easy to fall into the habit of always getting them a little something, especially when they wear me down with pestering. Our children have come to expect that every time they get in the car there will be a treat. About three weeks ago, they went cold turkey.

One of the things I have come up with as a substitute for expensive juices from the shop is Turkish lemonade; the children love it. Here is the recipe:

6 lemons juiced
1/2 cup of caster sugar
1 small splash of rose water

Heat all the ingredients over a low flame until caster sugar is totally dissolved, then leave it to cool. To drink it, mix it with water, about 1 part lemonade to 6 parts water. It keeps in the fridge for ages.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The food garden

It is such a good feeling to be growing food again. Last night Ivy helped me transplant the corn from the seedling pots to the garden bed. She was amazed to hear the seedlings would be producing corn in about 10 to 12 weeks.

There are lots of seedlings coming up in the green house. I have tried to stick with planting the veggies and fruit we actually eat, rather than the things I think we should be eating. So there is watermelon, rock melon, lettuce, butternut pumpkin, cucumber, tom tomatoes, loads of basil, capsicum, egg plant. I am also giving some ALL YEAR broccoli and spinach a go. Plus a few herbs.

Both the orchards are full of fruit and I am still not sure what to do to protect the fruit. The only thing I seem able to look after properly is the figs. We lost all the peaches, I netted them, but the worms got to the fruit, and the fruit was very small. The tree probably needs to be pruned properly. The pear tree is full of fruit and again, I am at a loss about what to do with them. There is also plums and some other variety of stone fruit, which I am unsure of.

It was an amazing mulberry season, every tree in the region was dripping with fruit.

The last flush of lemons are maturing and there are still some oranges and mandarins on the trees. Citrus is easy, although the oranges and mandarins have a rust on them, though it doesn't seem to affect the taste of the fruit.

There are not many nuts on the macadamia tree this year, which is strange as the local commercial industry was predicating a bumper year.

Xavier is also keen to grow some flowers again this year, I will put in the usual marigolds and sunflowers, but I am also interested in finding out more about using flowers for companion planting.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cow nurse

Brandy is on the mend, but two udders are still stuffed. I have been nursing her for the past few days, massaging her udder, milking out the two udders which are working and giving her injections of antibiotics. The vet came and gave her some anti-inflammatory, a diuretic and some more antibiotics. He said she didn't have a fever which he found amazing. Also, he said the calf was doing fine.

I now know I should have got in and milked her within 12 hours of her giving birth, especially because the calf was not latching on properly. The vet said she was over-sprung- meaning, she produced a massive amount of milk quickly. She was bunged up with milk within 24 hours of giving birth.

I have Brandy and the calf in a paddock next to the house block. Rosie is missing her and keeps bellowing out. Despite the abysmal failure of the house cow, I have not given up on the dream of one day milking our own cow, making cheeses and developing milk-maid arms. I now plan to double my chances. I will have Rosie, now 18 months, and Brandy artificially inseminated in about 5-6 weeks time. Brandy will be at her most fertile 30 to 60 days after giving birth.

There is some chance we will get milk from this cycle. Once the withholding period from the antibiotics is over in two weeks, I will take the calf off over night to see what I can get from a morning milk. Also, my neighbor, Hairy, said they had a cow that dried up from mastitis, but came back on with milk after it was cleared up and the calf was put back on.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The problem with cows

Brandy has mastitis and is only giving milk from two quarters. The other two are tight as drums and the fourth quarter looks a bit red and is dripping a little puss. Thank god for my neighbors who have been helping with her. I went to the vet yesterday and got some drugs which needed to be injected, but the drugs are not really working. So it seems I will have to get Joe the vet out this morning which will cost a lot. The bad news is Brandy will not give milk from the two affected quarters during this cycle, they will have to dry up. The mastitis must be affecting the let down in the other two quarters, the calf is not getting enough milk.
Unfortunately this has furthered the resolve of Bill who thinks the cows are a waste of money and a pain in the arse.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A cow is born

Some time today Brandy went quietly to the top of the paddock and gave birth to a bull calf. All the children and the neighbours trekked to the top of the paddock to meet the calf and congratulate Brandy.

The calf was having trouble latching on and Gilbert, our neighbor, got the teat and stuck it in his mouth. He was still having trouble when we all walked back down the hill, but Gilbert, who grew up on a farm, said he looked pretty healthy and thought he would eventually work it all out. Brandy was being very patient and protective. It is interesting that she chose to birth in the corner of the paddock furthermost from our house .

I must say, I was a bit disappointed to see it was a bull, knowing a bull would be destined for the dinner plate. Nobody wants a half dairy, half beef cow. The children are already begging to keep the calf, and we will for a while, but he will have to go eventually. Bill wants to sell him for beef, but I want to have him slaughtered for our own meat, which Bill will not hear of.
"I can't eat a pet, " he says.

To me it is ridiculous to sell him to the abattoir for very little money, when we could have him slaughtered for a very reasonable fee, for our own table. My final words to Bill were: "When he is fully grown and charging you in the paddock maybe you will change your mind."
"Maybe," he said.
Having said all that, I imagine when the time comes I may not be able to go through with it.

I have been told to wait until the calf does its first poo before milking. Brandy's teats were dripping with milk this afternoon.

Friday, October 30, 2009

BLISS - sourdough

Things are moving ahead in the garden slowly. I now have a lot of seeds in pots, but still have to solve the problem of making the garden totally chook proof. I will transplant the seedlings when they are quite mature, that way any chook which manages to get in will be less likely to dig up the plants.

The real success of the last week was perfecting my sourdough bread. It is a hit with the children too. Ivy said: 'Mum I love your hard stale bread.'

After much indecision about making a starter, I decided to go with a yogurt based one. Here it is:

1 cup of yogurt (with all the good stuff in it)
1 cup of stone ground organic wholemeal flour
1 cup of rainwater

I use homemade yogurt which was originally started with a culture from the Paris Bio dynamic brand of natural yogurt- any yogurt with a live culture will work. Mix ingredients and leave in a bowl covered for three to five days, stirring every day to stop the flour sinking to the bottom. Once it appears frothy and bubbly on top, it is ready to use - mine took three days, but it takes longer in winter.

To bake the bread, remove half the mixture and put it in a mixing bowl. Replenish your starter with 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water- mix in and put in the fridge in a container with a lid. It will keep for six weeks, if you are using it every day you do not need to refrigerate.

Add to the mixture 1 cup of flour, three tea spoons of salt and 1/2 cup of water. Kneed for about five minutes. Add more water to a dry mixture or more flour to a wet mixture, but keep the dough slightly on the wet side. Form into the shape of a loaf and put into a bread tin greased with olive oil. Cut two lines across the top to stop loaf from splitting when it rises. Leave it to rise for half a day, the longer it sits the more sour it will taste. Leaving it overnight is fine too, but will have a stronger taste, which you may prefer. It should double in size. You will know it is done if you press the loaf and it resumes its shape.

Bake slowly in a moderate oven. I have a large fan forced oven. I cook it for about 55 minutes on 160 degrees. If your loaf is soggy in the middle it has been cooked too quickly or in an oven which is too hot, or the size of the loaf was too big. Sourdough is a dense bread and there are limits to what can be achieved without resorting to all those bits and pieces you find in commercially made breads. Once the loaf is baked, wrap it in a tea towel so it does not loose too much moisture from steam.

And on the cow front, we are still awaiting the birth of our new calf. If it is a girl the children want to call it Buttercup, if it is a bull I have suggested Beef.

Brandy, the mother, is being very affectionate and calm. The mucus has increased a lot over the past few days, so I think it must be close. Her udder is full and I have been able to easily milk colostrum from her. Her teats are on the small side, but they work fine. The children are still excited, but are getting a little impatient.

Almost forgot to mention, it rained this week after months of dry. The heavens opened at precisely the same moment the water carter was filling our bone dry tank.