bignoseduglyguy

Clipping our shavers

The day-old chicks that we bought seven weeks ago have grown nicely into decently sized Brown Shaver pullets.  Having finished the grass cutting and shelter belt trimming, Wendy press-ganged our WWOOFer Alex and I into helping clip the hens’ wings.

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Wing clipping is not as complicated or nasty as it sounds and simply involves snipping the ends of the primary feathers on one wing with a pair of scissors. This is enough to temporarily inhibit anything other than the shortest of flights which, in turn, helps to keep our free range birds fairly close to home. Once clipped, we moved them into the smaller of the two chicken coops in the home paddock, where they can acclimatise to their new surroundings and the other chooks.

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Dorpers, wwoofers and trimmers

Dorpers

This week, care of my good mate Johnny, we added a Dorper ram and ewe to our stock. Dorpers are South African breed of domestic sheep which were developed by cross breeding Dorset Horn and Blackhead Persian sheep. These are great sheep for meat and, unusually, shed their own fleece.  A unexpected bonus we discovered is that the ewe is in lamb so, God willing, we’ll have a third smaller Dorper at some point.  Elsewhere, Wendy’s chicken empire is due to grow again.  With our older birds going off lay, she’s planning to pick up some younger birds rescued from a closing farm in the next few days.

The day job has kept me pretty busy so I have got a bit behind on the jobs around the smallholding.  Luckily, we have a surprise house guest staying with us for a week or so who is helping with the backlog. Alex, a young guy from Cambridge in the UK, is a WWOOFER (a Willing Worker On Organic Farms) who is travelling NZ and earning his bed and board by doing work on farms. After spending a week at our neighbour’s equestrian centre, Alex has wandered up the lane to help out around our place.

With spring here and Alex ready to crack on, I have been servicing our power tools for all the work in the summer ahead. Hopefully, this will help me get jobs done reliably on time and without stuff breaking down.

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After a couple of years using the hopeless standard bump feed line cassette on our gas-driven line trimmer, I have tired of the endless jamming of the line and repeated disassembling of the head (above right) . After seeing one in a local farm store, I bought a Littl’ Juey replacement head for our trimmer. Fitting the new head, I found that the extra-long spindle of our trimmer left a gap of a few millimetres and this meant a far-from-ideal a loose fit. After a quick think I came up with my own No.8 wire solution and butchered an old gumboot (above) to make two rubber washers that closed the gap perfectly and solved the problem (below). 

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I also gave the chainsaw a bit of service today, cleaning away six months’ worth of sawdust and oil, tensioning the chain and generally cleaning it up.

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Once the chainsaw was ready to go, I got stuck into trimming back the shelter belt that protects the house from the Westerlies that blow through. This is quite some task as the thick boughs have grown out and close to the ground, making it extraordinarily hard to wield the saw effectively. With about three-quarters of the job done, I ran out of gas and chain & bar lube so I’m now waiting for the family to get back so I can drive to town to get some more.

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Sacred Cows and The Calf Path

Depending on which account you read, Mark Twain or a Commissioner of Education for the State of New York or Abbie Hoffman once said that sacred cows make the best hamburger. While a pithy soundbite like this is full of fun and easy to recall, it doesn’t have half the charm and depth of ‘The Calf Path’, a poem by Sam Walter Foss, which tackles the same theme far more eloquently. I came across the poem whilst reading Julie Ferwerda’s Raising Hell, which explores and questions the notion of hell in Christian doctrine.

The Calf Path

One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;

But made a trail all bent askew, 
A crooked trail as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled, 
And, I infer, the calf is dead.

But still he left behind his trail, 
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day, 
By a lone dog that passed that way.

And then a wise bell-wether sheep, 
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep;

And drew the flock behind him too, 
As good bell-wethers always do.

And from that day, o’er hill and glade. 
Through those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out, 
And dodged, and turned, and bent about;

And uttered words of righteous wrath, 
Because ’twas such a crooked path.

But still they followed – do not laugh – 
The first migrations of that calf.

And through this winding wood-way stalked, 
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane, 
that bent, and turned, and turned again.

This crooked lane became a road, 
Where many a poor horse with his load,

Toiled on beneath the burning sun, 
And traveled some three miles in one.

And thus a century and a half, 
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet, 
The road became a village street;

And this, before men were aware, 
A city’s crowded thoroughfare;

And soon the central street was this, 
Of a renowned metropolis;

And men two centuries and a half, 
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout, 
Followed the zigzag calf about;

And o’er his crooked journey went, 
The traffic of a continent.

A Hundred thousand men were led, 
By one calf near three centuries dead.

They followed still his crooked way, 
And lost one hundred years a day;

For thus such reverence is lent, 
To well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach, 
Were I ordained and called to preach;

For men are prone to go it blind, 
Along the calf-paths of the mind;

And work away from sun to sun, 
To do what other men have done.

They follow in the beaten track, 
And out and in, and forth and back,

And still their devious course pursue, 
To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred grove, 
Along which all their lives they move.

But how the wise old wood gods laugh, 
Who saw the first primeval calf!

Ah! many things this tale might teach – 
But I am not ordained to preach.


Dad, daughter and DIY

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What better way to start the day than a full farmhouse breakfast with eggs fresh from the chook house made by your daughter?  With an early season strawberry for a nose and a perky porky bacon smile, how could this fail to set me up for the day?

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Breakfast over, my penultimate day of annual leave with the family began with a run to the nearest mall for the girls and a trip to the farm store timber yard and hardware store for me.

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Back at the farm, the first job was to predator-proof the main window of the chook house. With all manner of local foraging fauna around and recent evidence of rats eating eggs, keeping them out of the almost-finished chook house is a must.  To be on the safe side and though we’ve seen few other signs, I have also laid some poisoned bait stations to try and reduce the pest around here.

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Next on the list was replacing the rusted-through hinges with new galvanised ones and rehanging the door.  As is often the case, the spring weather has brought intermittent showers, so I have been alternating between outside jobs and indoor tasks as the rain comes and goes.

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One result of working like this is the mess that comes from chucking stuff undercover and hauling it out again once the shower has passed. The basement store rapidly became untidy, especially in the feed store area close to the door so, while the rain came down outside, I knocked up a platform to keep the feed off the floor and dry.

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During the afternoon, a big white power company ute rolled up and out jumped a very jolly and pleasant Filipino linesman who came to check the transformer on our property and survey the power lines all the way up to the top of the hill. 

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We compared his English to my Tagalog and decided his language skills were far superior and had a nice chat before he carefully scaled the electric fence and marched up the hill onto the neighbouring farm.

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Having previously done all the major chook house stuff, the last couple of days have been spent finishing off the detailed stuff outside and in – like the access shutter to one bank of nesting boxes…

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…and the sliding storm shutter for the rear window.

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Part of the joy of doing this stuff is spending time with Maisie, who is almost always willing to lend a hand and learn new skills. Today, using the one I had already made as a template, Maisie had me to cut the treated timber to size with our new circular saw and set about assembling a second bank of nesting boxes.

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Maisie did a fantastic job, checking measurements, making suggestions and showing good control of the cordless drill while screwing the pieces together. Her great grandmother had great carpentry skills and I’m sure she’d be chuffed to see Maisie developing those same skills.  After installing the nesting box, we hung the water dispenser, tidied up and headed up to the house for a cup of tea.

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As a treat for putting up with me all week and being such a great helper around the farm, we ducked into the local Farmland cooperative store to get her some coveralls  to keep her clean while working with the stock in the paddocks.  Much to her delight, they stock a great line in Kiwi-made fabulous fuscia coveralls and she’s now dressed to tackle any job around the farm.


Home to roost

There is nothing like having a good mate…other than having a good mate with a bloody big tractor!  Johnny turned up at our place around lunchtime and, for the price of a couple of filled rolls and a cup of tea, he helped us get the Palais de Poulet from the driveway into its intended position in the home paddock.

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Having stropped and chained the shed onto the forks for stability and safety, Johnny negotiated the gateway with barely a millimetre between the tractor tyres and the posts either side.

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Johnny then drove around the tree and shelter in the centre of the paddock to get in line with where our original chicken coop had sat in the lee of the shelter belt planting.

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One of the joys of doing a job with Johnny is the banter and the laughs we have as we’re working. Our first attempt to site the shed square and level on the sloping paddock didn’t work out. As we stood back to reassess our approach, Johnny smirked and said ‘That the thing about working with me…you need patience as it takes at least two goes for me to get something done!’  

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As it turned out, third time’s a charm and, after employing some Kiwi ingenuity and a bit of trial and error, we had the shed sitting level and stable, just where it needed to be.

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After another well-earned cup of tea and a few chocolate biscuits, Johnny trundled off to swap his tractor for his digger to help out an old joker he knows down the road.

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I enlisted Maisie in helping me repair and generally tidying up the shed. After that, we relocated the base I made for the original chicken coop she and I built a few months back and added a new floor to keep out the rats that we suspect are responsible for eating some eggs recently.  With that done, all that remained was for us to relocate the waratah and chicken wire fence to enclose the smaller of the coops.  

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In the next few days, I will hopefully be able to fit out the new coop with the nesting boxes and perches required to turn it into a Palais de Poulet fit for our free-ranging mature hens and rooster.  This will leave the smaller fenced coop free for our ‘teenager’ hens to start spreading the wings and preparing fro free-range life, in turn making room in our nursery coop/run for our three week old chicks.

All in all, it was a great day, working and spending time together with family and friends on jobs that enrich the farm and our lives at the same time.


Henhouse and heritage

Although I’m on leave this week, there is a lot that needs doing around the place. Guilt and the stern gaze of SWMBO has so far prevented me from just loafing on the couch with a book and I have been gainfully employed each day working through the ‘Honey, do!’ list.

As mentioned last week, Wendy bought a well worn but sound homemade shed from a guy at the other end of the district.  Although well built from treated timber, having seen action first as a playhouse for his kids and then a mansion for their rabbits, it has seen better days.

After a morning spent ferrying the womenfolk around the shops of West Auckland, this afternoon was ear-marked for cleaning up the shed. After the best part of three hours with a Karcher pressure washer, the Palais de Poulet stood gleaming in the afternoon sun and I was encrusted in all manner of filth I’d rather not think about.

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Le Palais de Poulet –  before

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Le Palais de Poulet –  after

Hopefully, the weather will hold and I can do a few repairs and set about converting it into Wendy’s dream chook house.  I’ll also need to give some serious consideration to how I’m to get it over the fence and into position in the home paddock – I suspect I shall need to call upon the services of Johnny and his tractor.

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As I have already said, I was also keen to do more reading this week. Long weekdays in the office interspersed with evenings and weekends doing stuff around the farm have meant I’m barely able to get a page read before my eyelids close. As usual, I have a few books on the go on my Kindle but fancied tucking into a book for my week off – which was just as well as when I popped over to see my friend and neighbour Johnny last week, he handed me two books he had borrowed from his Dad.  Coming from a family that have farmed here for years and knowing that I was interested in leaning more about local history, he had picked them up for me when seeing his folks. 

The one I’m reading at the moment is a first edition copy of ‘Men Came Voyaging’, a detailed history of the town of Helensville (which celebrates its 150th year this year) and the surrounding area including where we live. It was written by Colleen M. Sheffield, a local resident and talented Maori writer who lost her life in a tragic bus accident on Brynderwyn Hill on Waitangi Day in 1963.

Written in celebration of Helensville’s centennial year, the book was the culmination of extensive and painstaking research by Sheffield. It covers the entire history of the district—the formation of the earliest forests and sandhills, the complicated Maori history and the changes brought by the Pakeha settlers. I was intrigued to learn that, depending on your theological / evolutionary outlook, the hillside upon which we now live is actually a silted-up sea cliff dating from the Pleistocene period one million years ago.

While sometimes hard to follow, the chapters on Maori settlement were enlightening, detailing the travels and land struggles between Ngapuhi and Ngati Whatua iwi.  Our home is between two of the southern most Ngati Whatua marae (meeting area) at Haranui and Rewiti on the side of Tauwhare Maunga (mountain).

I’m looking forward to the coming chapters and learning more about this beautiful valley that we live in.


Our Australian neighbours

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One of the first things that we noticed when we moved to our place was the little cup shaped nest on top of the security lights be the front door.  It turned out to be the home of a pair of Welcome swallows, who delight us with their arrivals and departures, swooping and diving over our frustrated cats as we watch and laugh from our kitchen sink.

Over the last month, we have seen the pair build up the nest and line it with soft grass and feathers and, in the last week, an increase in activity heralded the arrival of chicks.  Today, I set up my SLR and telephoto lens on a tripod to capture a few shots of the parents feeding the chicks.

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The Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) is a small passerine bird in the swallow family. It is a species native to Australia and nearby islands, and self-introduced into New Zealand in the middle of the twentieth century. It is very similar to the Pacific Swallow with which it is often considered conspecific. This species breeds in southern and eastern Australia in a variety of habitats, mostly in open areas, man made clearings or urban environments, but not desert or dense forest. Eastern populations are largely migratory, wintering in northern Australia. Western birds and those in New Zealand are mainly sedentary. via wikipedia


Another look at another life

Flicking through my emails this morning, I came across one alerting me to a comment on my last post from my fellow blogger Ian McKenzie saying:

‘You have definitely come a long way from that flat, “a mere drunken banker’s stagger from Canary Wharf.” It looks great.’

The words struck a chord and, searching back, I was stunned to learn that Ian was quoting from a post I wrote back in 2004 entitled ‘A step towards another life’. I wrote back to Ian to say how touched I am that he continues to read and staggered he could recall a post that I wrote eight years ago. Rereading that post brought me up short, for I had forgotten how deeply embedded the wish for what we know have was within me back then. 

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Canary Wharf from Mudchute Farm

We live in London, a mere drunken banker’s stagger from Canary Wharf and the new financial heart of London. We are lucky enough to have a ground floor flat with a small south-facing garden… As a child, I grew up in a home where in the back garden, my Dad grew a fair proportion of the vegetables we ate. Although this was done partly by choice, it also helped to supplement the far from stellar incomes of a self-employed engineer and nurse… Although I don’t remember playing a very active part in the actual market gardening, I do remember being captivated by John Seymour’s seminal book, The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency. Seymour’s plain economic yet evocative prose made the backbreaking and often thankless life of a smallholder seem simple, achievable but most of all, enviable. 

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Limehouse Link tunnel – part of my 50 mile daily commute in London

I have long held the desire to have a less frenetic and immediate life, hoping instead to ‘downshift’, as it is now called. Recently, SWMBO and I have discussed a variety of ways in which we can bring this about – ultimately, to find a way in which can spend far less time in traditional work environment – nine to five, stressful work, long commute, little family time – enabling us to spend more time together working in, around and maybe from the home. Over the years and months, various bouts of online research and reading have brought us to the point where we are now seriously looking at a number of ways in which we can make this idea a reality, whether at home or abroad.

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Leaving London for New Zealand

Although I am by nature a serendipitous optimist, I am no wearer of rose tinted specs and I am realistic enough to know that a corporate salary will be a necessary evil for a while yet if we are to affect such a change.

Eight years later, we have moved 18,000 kms to the other side of the world, I have traded a corporate salary for a public servant’s payslip and the family have swapped a small inner city flat in London for a house on four acres of land in rural New Zealand.

Our lives have changed in extraordinary ways: we have challenged our own notions of who we are, slowly and steadily reversed circumstances we once thought would crush us, visited places of stunning beauty and met wonderful people some of whom have become our closest friends. 

In doing so, we have confounded those who confidently predicted failure, shed a good deal of the baggage of our past, trusted the leading we felt and committed to an unknown future with a determination we never knew we had. Though there was I time when I would have scoffed at the thought, we are certain we were called to live here and that we are meant to be where we are for however long He will have us here. God has truly blessed and humbled us – we strive to hold it all with open hands so we may share that blessing with others.

The full post from 2004 – thank you Ian for reminding me I wrote it!


Spring has sprung

Today was that rare kind of day where the weather was great, the family were all at home and none of us had major plans – which turned our to be just as well.

Regular readers will recall my recent attempt to take a week’s annual leave was taken up with being ill and instead taking the time as sick leave. Undaunted, I have booked next week as annual leave in the hope that I can rest, relax and enjoy the time off without writhing around in bed and spending inordinate amounts of time in the smallest room.

I use the term ‘rest, relax and enjoy’ broadly because this morning She Who Must Be Obeyed declared that today was to be a day of toil rather than a day of rest.  So ordered, we all set to and did a whole bunch of stuff around the farm, which included all of the following and more.

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Last night, we took delivery of a well worn but sound kid’s playhouse that Wendy bought on TradeMe. First job this morning was to size up the job of cleaning it up and converting it into what I shall be calling The Poulet Palace. With our rapidly-growing Brown Shaver chicks and Sussex and Leghorn ‘teenagers’  joining our four original chickens, including Cilla Black below, we’ll be needing more space soon.

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We have been trying to prune back the rampant bougainvillea and creeper that has threatened to completely take of the deck and terrace railings. The first task of the day was to finish the job and haul the cuttings to the middle paddock to help make up a bonfire for later in the spring.

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Meanwhile in the kitchen garden,  as you can see from the photo of Maisie below, the raised veggie patch had run wild since the autumn and was a mass of out of control herbs and overgrown veggies.

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Maisie and Robyn started the mammoth task without a second thought, gathering tools and digging over the patch like seasoned agricultural labourers…

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…forking the earth, loosening roots and pulling up heaps of spuds, kumara and spring onions.

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The veggie patch wasn’t the only thing that was overgrown; our rosemary bush (left below) has spread out to cover an area about 8 feet in diameter, so Wendy and Casia did some aggressive cutting back, calling me and my trusty chainsaw in to deal to the bits too thick for shears.

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With chopped greenery, gone-to-seed veggies and dead wood piling up all around, the ride-on and trailer were pressed into service throughout the day, hauling stuff either to the bonfire pile or our organic dumping spot near the gully in the back paddock.  The numerous trips afforded the three girls plenty of opportunity to hone their driving and trailer-backing skills, as can be seen in the following pictures.

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Driving Miss Maisie

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Flat Out

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That Way Inclined

Freed from her paddock for the afternoon, our little heifer TJ enjoyed munching her way round the back garden and teasing the very interested bulls in the next paddock before lying down for a siesta in the sun.

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Seeing as the animals were taking it easy, we thought it was time for a break and Maisie outdid herself laying on iced water and biscuits for the workers…

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and Robyn, rocking gently in her chair, decided to copy TJ and have a lie-down!

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Slowly, the sun was more and more obscured by dark clouds that threatened to bring the forecast rain and put an end to a busy day full of fun, laughter  and quite a bit of hard yakka.

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As we went around tidying up and putting tools away, it was good to see the results of our efforts.

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The soil in our raised veggie patch was visible for the first time since we moved onto the farm.

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The three stands of bamboo that smothered the back wall of the house were gone.

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Our first crop, albeit an inadvertent one, was harvested, washed and gifted to our friends and neighbours.

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Our ‘teenager’ chickens and their temporary dwelling were relocated to a sunnier spot.

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Rampant rosemary was reduced and harvested for use in the kitchen and, in another of Wendy’s schemes, packing in cellophane for sale in the local veggie store.

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Heading for the house and a hot shower, I took one last look across the farm, beyond the bonfire pile and over the valley and thanked God for the blessing of living in such a place. I look forward to hopefully many days such as this in the future.


Post and rail, hammer and nail

I’m sick and tired of being, well, sick and tired.  Coming to the end of 14 days of antibiotics, probiotics and electrolytes, I am still not back to 100% especially where energy levels are concerned.  That said, I feel better than I did and for that mercy I am grateful. 

I’m still not feeling up to major jobs around the smallholding but, at the request of SWMBO, briefly attacked an overgrown bougainvillea with the chainsaw until my energy ran out. Looking to take things a little easier, I ventured out today to move our neighbour’s rams from the gully paddock into the large paddock.  Given the lush spring growth we have as a result of the winter rains, Larry and Garry (or is it Barry and Harry?) needed no prompting to move to new pastures and start munching.

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While they munched, I set to and did a few running repairs to the post and rail enclosures, stiles and other wooden structures around the place, so that things looking like this…
 
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…ended up looking more like this.
 
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Jobs done, I spent a while just watching our calf TJ graze along side Poppy the lamb and the chickens in the home paddock.  There’s yet to be a time when I experience such moments and fail to feel blessed to live where we live, look after the land we live on and steward the stock we have.
 
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TJ is growing in stature and confidence, increasingly happy to use her weight and muscle to push her way to the front of the feeding queue. 
 
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Poppy is just as keen to be fed first and uses her speed, not to mention her piercingly persistent bleat to inform us that we’re taking too long or have our pecking order priorities wrong. Part of our enjoyment is sharing these times with others and being a part of a community where we can connect with people, learn from them and do life together.  
 
We are blessed to have friends like John and Justine who have given us much advice, their continuing friendship and an old bench we can sit on and enjoy cups of tea in the sun; friends like Sean and Katie whose girls come to our place and ours to theirs to spend time just doing stuff like making hokey-pokey and rehearsing their dances and friends like Johnny and Michelle who walked over this afternoon to borrow some golden syrup, stopped to chat for a few minutes and ended up having a glass of wine and a few olives as the sun slowly headed towards the horizon.