Swallow’s nest build

We named our property Swallow’s Nest, mainly because I wanted to build my house like swallows do; round and made from earth. I shouldn’t be surprised that a pair of swallows has decided to try building a nest inside the humpy…we did ask for it after all.

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Yes, that is a swallow’s bum

There are many legends about swallows bringing luck to a household; they are a symbol of spring and the rain coming (although here I prefer to rely on the Channel Bill Cuckoos to bring the rain), it is believed that a building where they nest will not burn down and it’s occupants will be protected from disease and harm (I found an interesting book about bird myths of the world, if you want to read about swallows go to page 40 of this book).

Personally, I have always been fascinated by the way they build nests; they carry a cob mix of mud, hair, straw and anything else they can pick up in their beaks and build a tiny cob cottage to raise their young in. They work all day every day on their project and have it finished within a few days. We had them nesting on the verandah of our previous house and I loved to watch them repair the nest every spring and reline it with soft stuff like feathers and dog hair. The babies seemed to hatch so quickly and then to grow even faster. The first flight of each clutch was always an exciting time for the whole household. When we moved from that house, the next occupant knocked down the nest and put up rubber snakes to deter them (he didn’t like the mess they make, and yes, they do make a mess), he eventually killed them because they wouldn’t leave their ancestral home. When I heard this , I cried for days. Over the decade we were at that house the swallows had become family, we knew each one and we loved them all. I imagined that they must have felt betrayed by us for not protecting their home. So when the young couple arrived here this year and wanted to build their house inside the humpy I was ecstatic (although we will be taking steps to reduce the mess).

First we need to put up a shelf to stop bits of cob dropping through to the floor. At the moment we have a bucket under the area where most of the mud is dropping. Then we will have to make sure the nearby furniture and book shelves have cloth covers over them as protection from poop and dropped mud.

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Dropped cob from the construction site.

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The short term fix; a bucket to catch cob mix

When the eggs hatch (after 21 days) one of the parents will fly out with the egg shell and drop it away from the nest. Finding an egg shell is often the first clue that you have babies. For the first week, mum (and dad, to a lesser degree) will bundle up the poop in neat white packages and fly them away from the nest too. After the new babies learn to stick their bum over the edge of the nest is when the most mess is made though; the babies will poop continually and make streaky messy, smelly marks on everything. We are hoping that a shelf under the nest will catch most of this poop and can be occasionally scraped clean (between clutches probably).

If this is going to become a yearly event, and it will if they manage to raise a clutch or two in the nest, we will have to look at arranging the furniture so the whole thing is easier to clean. We are a little worried about the position they have chosen being close to a known antechinus highway, but they will just have to take their chances, unless we can figure out a way to block access (perhaps a privacy screen?).

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I will try to set up my trail camera to take photos of the build and clutch raising as it progresses. It may be difficult once the shelf is in place though. At this early stage of building it is easy for them to decide to go somewhere else, so we are hoping that the shelf building doesn’t frighten them away.

The shelf is up. Now to see if they come back…

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They came back and continue to build their nest. I am busily trying to think of a way to block off access to the nest by the antechinus. No ideas that are workable so far though. I have decided to try setting up the trail camera this afternoon.

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House update – figuring out the slope

I do not enjoy maths, I have a lot of trouble holding numbers in my head and I get lost in the operations needed to manipulate them. However, I came close to having to do some maths today in order to figure out what degree of slope the house site has, luckily, I was saved by the internet. Why did I need this measurement? Well… apparently, having the degree of slope of the house site will make our house plans a whole lot more accurate and allow the plans to actually work on our site when we come to building. I just hope we did it right.

First I looked for what measurements I would need. Vague memories of Pythagorean theorem and hypotenuse floated through my brain along with the phrase ‘rise over run’ but with no real understanding of any of it; I didn’t know where to start. Enter the first clue; an explanation of triangle calculations on To-calculate.com.

I visualised a right angle triangle and used the handy little calculator on the site to do the hard work for me. The only measurements I needed were the length from the bottom point of the slope to the top point and the height needed to make a right angle triangle above that. The post at the corner of the chook pen was exactly at the bottom of the slope and a convenient large grey gum tree provided a marker at the top of the slope.

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An ‘on the fly’ sketch of how we did the measurement

With some help from my partner (reluctant, but biddable enough) we strung a chalk line string between the grey gum and the chook pen post (my partner did the vast majority of the work while I provided constructive criticism) and hung a little level thingy off it. The end on the grey gum was weighted to the ground while the end on the post was pushed higher and higher up the post until the level told us it was now forming a right angle with the chook pen post as the short leg (rise).

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After that confusing explanation, I hope the diagram helps you visualise

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The little level thingy

After I had measured from the ground to the pink chalk line on the chook pen post and the distance between the chook pen post and the handy grey gum, I took these measurements in to my trusty computer. I entered the measurements into the calculator on the web site above and it gave me the degree and percentage of slope.

I dutifully (and hopefully) emailed these details off to Curvatecture (our partners in building) and waited to see what else there is to do.

I am also in the process of filling out a fire safety assessment and have the BASIX ready to roll when I get a copy of the plans. The DA is about halfway done and the On Site Sewage Management application is being filled out as we speak. Such a lot of paperwork to build a little mud hut in the bush.

Make your own deodorant

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I have been making my own soap and hand cream for a while now, for many reasons; I like to make stuff, it is much cheaper and I know what is in it. Today I thought I would try making my own deodorant. Deodorant has a lot of chemicals in it and is really not that good for your body, but when you work in a place filled with people it is expected that you at least try to keep your odour to a minimum. I am a particularly sweaty person; I seem to spend all summer in a damp state. A more natural recipe might be the answer to avoiding all the chemicals and still staying semi socially acceptable. There are many recipes for making deodorant pastes out there;

wellness mama

pronounce

thank your body

mommypotamus

and many more.

Since they all share some ingredients in common, I thought I would go with my own version, that is mostly like all the others (of course).

My first deodorant recipe

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/4 cup bees wax

1 tablespoon shea butter

1 tablespoon mango butter

1 tablespoon cocoa butter

1 tablespoon activated charcoal

1 tablespoon bentonite clay

2 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda

 

 

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Gather the ingredients

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Make sure you have some containers to put the deodorant in

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Put everything in a pot and melt over a LOW heat

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Until it looks like a tar pit

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Pour into containers and pop into the freezer to harden up

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Mine leaked a little

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I forgot to add fragrance to my first batch, and I added it to the container just a little bit too soon and it was still very liquid. It ran out the bottom of the wind-up device on  my container just a little and this made it hard to get winding started when it had hardened.

I am impressed with it’s action, I can go all day without having to reapply. Also the black colour and oils don’t seem to get onto my clothes, which is a big bonus. I will put essential oils in the next batch, but for now…unscented is doing the trick.

Using soap nuts for washing clothes

Recently I started thinking about more ways we can save water, because there doesn’t seem to be any rain on the horizon. One way I came up with is to somehow cut out the rinse cycle in the washing clothes procedure. Thinking about it, I decided that the reason we rinse clothes after washing is to remove soap residue. Following that logic I decided that I needed to find a way to wash without adding laundry gel.

Several options popped up in my Google search;

Laundry eggs using ceramic beads

Soap nuts

Magnetic laundry balls

I decided to go with the soap nuts option, because that was the cheapest (and it is plant based, which I like and understand). I searched online and found a company that sells soap nuts and are based fairly close to me; Biome soap nuts

The soap nuts came in an attractive little calico bag and includes a tiny little calico bag for plonking into the washing machine.

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I read the instructions carefully, popped five nuts into the little bag, threw it into the first load of washing and hoped. There was a very small amount of froth, maybe from the residue left in the clothes. The clothes came out of the spinner looking and smelling clean.

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The soap nuts turned into mush in the bag after seven loads of laundry. So five nuts washed an entire week’s worth of clothes, towels and sheets. I am impressed by the economy of soap nuts.

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I pegged them out and folded them when they were dry (all in the same day!!). The soap nuts do clean the clothes, I saved about 100 litres of precious water and I am satisfied that I now have another dry weather strategy for saving water. I wonder if I could use them to wash dirty fleece?

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The tree responsible for the miracle that is soap nuts is Sapindus Mukorossis; the soap tree. It is an Asian subtropical tree so should be fairly easy to grow at the humpy. I haven’t had any luck finding seeds though. I will continue to search for seeds or a seedling tree to plant here, it would be amazing to be able to pick our laundry and washing up liquid from the garden.

Freida update- she’s home

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After losing Daisy, we have been extra paranoid about everything Freida does; we watch for any signs of sickness at all and worry endlessly about how much she is eating and pooping. Thankfully she puts up with all the fuss with good grace and is growing into a sweet little sheep.

The owner of the herd my daughter was watching agreed to let us keep her (yay!!) and we are over the moon happy about it. She is now home in the humpy and has happily joined the dog pack as a card carrying member of the protect-the-humpy-from-everything brigade (who specialize in distant planes, loud wind, leaves and people who park the car in the wrong place); she helps the dogs bark at anything even vaguely threatening around the place.

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She sleeps in a box at night; an old TV cabinet turned on it’s back. It has blankets and newspaper in it and is fairly close to the stove. Through the day she runs around with the dogs and shares their various beds. The door is always open to the yard so she and the dogs can come and go as they please. She is drinking her bottles and is starting to nibble chaff and grass.

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This is now Freida’s box. This photo is from when Daisy was still with us.

The dogs have accepted her as just another family member, they have had a lot of practice at inter species tolerance. Bandit sees her as just another possible sleeping partner and will cuddle up to her at the drop of a hat (she does put out a lot of heat).

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We love our little Freida, she is a source of constant amusement. While discussing our attachment to lambs in general with my youngest daughter she put forward the theory that we fall in love with them because they are pure joy wrapped in wool. She may be right; they are indeed, joyful little creatures who have no agenda beyond the moment. Whatever the reason, we are besotted with our new baby.

Freida and Daisy update- Daisy is no longer with us

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Some very sad news; Daisy has died after a very short illness. At nearly ten days old, the twins were doing very well, feeding and sleeping most of the time. Then two days ago, Daisy went off her feed and began to sleep all the time. We hoped it was just an off day, but when she continued to be unwell the next day we decided to take her to the vet. Between making that decision and me actually getting to where my daughter is working (a space of two hours) she was gone. Just like that, a little light had left the world.

The vet seems to think she had picked up one of the many virus or bacterial infections that lambs are prone to and because they had not had any colostrum they were much more likely to get. We are heart broken (as you can imagine) but not as sad as poor little Freida. She has spent every moment of her existence so far with Daisy; from conception, through birth to now. She is lost and confused, looking for comfort wherever she can find it. She cuddles my daughter constantly and calls her in a small panicked voice if she can’t see her. Life will change for my daughter now, she will become the sole focus of Freida’s life and she will have to be sure that Freida has company as often as possible (sheep don’t care to be alone). Freida will have to get used to sleeping alone and eating alone too.

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Feed time for them both on their last morning together

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Daisy looking very unwell on her last day alive

We buried Daisy beside Shaun. Together they will grow a mandarin tree; we plant a tree on each grave. I will miss her playful nature and loving cuddles.

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Freida, looking lost just after we lost Daisy

Freida is now an only lamb.  She is adapting to being on her own; animals are resilient that way, they don’t dwell on things too much. I am trying to do the same (it is such a healthy way to grieve) but I can’t help but feel sad that we won’t be adding Daisy to our little flock in the future.

She is helping my daughter make a night shelter for other lambs in the flock in the clip below. The nights are sometimes below zero temperatures at this time of year, and newborn lambs can always do with some shelter, so my daughter made up a small enclosure inside a roofed yard. It has straw on the floor and is surrounded by bales and ply to block the wind. The mothers and lambs are herded into the shelter when it gets dark and given some lucerne and a bucket of water to settle them.

Freida and Daisy update

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A quick update on our new family members. My daughter is currently doing the hard work of raising the babies, so Freida and Daisy are technically my grandlambs. They are doing well, they are drinking their formula well and are in the process of weaning from Divetalact to a specialised formula for lambs. My daughter is feeding 50/50 of each milk formula at the moment, after two days on 1/4 formula to 3/4 Divetalact. This slow change over is to make sure the babies don’t get upset stomachs.

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Lambs grow so fast, they are already starting to show interest in hay and grass and to chew everything in sight. They also seem to love their temporary big brother; the dog my daughter is looking after. I thought I would share some of the photos and video we have been taking because I think they are adorable. Lambs seem to be particularly easy to fall in love with, my daughter and I have both bonded very closely with the grandlambs.

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Trying to get rid of old dog pee smells

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Our old dog; Spot, is 19 years old (yes, in people years), he is a fairly healthy old boy who still loves life. He has Canine Cognitive Disorder; or doggy dementia. His mind is going and he can often be found wandering around looking for the door in any given room, gets stuck in odd places and circles endlessly looking for the nearest human. He often forgets to go outside to pee these days, which is a real problem for us. We tried putting him in a belly band (a male dog nappy) for a while, but he ended up with a kidney infection so that was out. We now cage him when nobody is home to minimise and contain his leaks, . when we are home, the door is always open to his little, safe yard and we make sure we put him out every hour or so, but that still leaves some pretty smelly spots on the floor to deal with from the pre-cage days and times when we miss the signs.

I researched ways to get rid of the awful smell from pavers and came up with some alternatives;

hydrated lime

bicarbonate of soda

vinegar

peroxide

Of course I decided to use all of them (the smell was really bad).

First I vacuumed the areas really well.

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Yes, this is after vacuuming

Then I sprinkled lime over the spots and left them for a night

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After vacuuming up the lime I washed the whole floor with vinegar and peroxide in a bucket with warm water. I used a scrubbing brush to make sure I got into every crack around the pee spots.

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When the floor was dry, I sprinkled bi-carb of soda over the pee spots again and left them for another day.

Finally I vacuumed the floors yet again and the smell was gone.

 

I will probably have to do this all again, we still have the old dogs after all, but at least I now have a plan of attack.

 

 

What to do with dog poop- Bokashi

Because our old boy; Spot gets lost easily these days we have restricted the dog yard to a small area in the front of the humpy (what were we thinking?). This means that great piles of dog poop, never guessed at levels of dog poop, have gathered in the yard and have to be picked up daily. We have four dogs, who until recently, pooped either outside the yard or where chickens could tidy it up. I have not had to deal with it for years.

Suddenly I have a problem; poop. I decided to try a sort of modified, cobbled together, bokashi composting system, to see if I can turn all that problem into a resource. The compost which results can be buried in ornamental bed (which I will have to install).

Bokashi compost is a form of anaerobic composting that uses a bacteria culture grown on bran of some sort to activate it. It is great for city living; where you don’t have access to wide open spaces it is OK to be smelly in. I don’t bother with it here as the compost goes through so many animal systems that it doesn’t make sense to separate it into a bucket really. However, I think it is ideal for Composting dog poop.

The trouble is, Idon’t want to spend $100 on a few plastic props and a pair of tongs. So I decided to make my own;

An old yellow bin I found laying around will do as a container. It has no bottom (rusted away years ago) and has a lid (somewhere around).

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Yes, that old bin near the peach tree

I added an old Pooper Scooper that had ended up in our animal medicine cabinet (don’t ask me, I just work here), to make it clear what the purpose of the bin was. I collected all the poop from the yard and layered it in to bin with sprinkles of the Bokashi starter in between layers.

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I think the label should say Bokashi Maize, but it still works, even with bad spelling

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I will continue to layer the poop and starter until the bin is full. Then I will let it sit for six months or so (and find another bin to continue the process). After that, I should, in theory, have a great compost to add to the peach tree as a Spring treat.

I have once again taken over a job that nature usually deals with, all because I have to confine my old dog for his own safety. I do get to learn more about the secret world of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria and how it relates to nutrient cycling though.