Eggs everywhere- it sure is Spring

There are three people living in the humpy at the moment; one can’t eat eggs, one won’t eat eggs, then there is me. We have 8 laying hens, about 6 laying ducks and 2 laying geese; we collect about 8 eggs a day, or about 66 eggs a week. If you compare both sides of this scale you can see that a lot of eggs get wasted, and I hate waste.

I do attempt to use all our eggs, but have failed miserably in the task so far. Some of the methods we use are;

Fried eggs on weekends (for me)- this uses up about 4 eggs a week

Trading them to friends for veges- about a 12 a week

Using them in baking – about 6 a week

Making quiche (not every week)- about 8 a week

Giving them to a friend with an incubator- about 6 a week

All that gives me a total of, at most, 36 eggs used. I did freeze 2 dozen for use when they all stop laying, but that was a temporary reprieve. I don’t want to sell eggs (too many regulations) and most of my friends have chooks and are in the same predicament as I am (but if you live close and want eggs let me know, especially duck eggs).

So, to address some of the extra eggs, I went looking for egg recipes that could be made then frozen. That way we use the eggs and I have another meal that can be heated up for dinner. This is what I found;

Scrambled eggs, beans and sauce in a burrito; love the sound of this one.

Blueberry scones with icing; sounds delicious

Baked French toast sticks; okay we’ve drifted away from the idea of dinners, but they do use eggs.

Egg and vegetable noodle slice; freezable and good for lunch or dinner.

Halloumi, cheese and egg hot pot; sounds good, but I’m not sure it will freeze.

Broccolli and feta strata; whatever that is.

I’m not going to try all these recipes in one day (I do hate to cook), but I think I can manage one each weekend. That should fill the freezer with breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the first frantic weeks of school.

We also take some of the excess eggs out to the edge of the firebreaks for the goannas and possums. In these dry times all our native animals are searching for food and water. The sheep water troughs and the occasional water tray around the outskirts of the humpy provide water for wildlife and the excess eggs provide just a little nutrition for struggling beings.

I know this sends a mixed message; we don’t want goannas in the house yard and the possums can be very destructive too. I do it because I can see a day, not too far in the future, when animals that are common now will be rare and endangered. I do it because I don’t want any being to suffer and if I have the means to ease suffering, it is my duty to do it. I do it because I love to see the variety of animals who show up to take advantage of the free food.

Eggs show up in the strangest places.
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Goodbye Sid

Last week we had another family crisis; Sid, our wether, had another kidney stone block his urethra. He tried to jump a fence one morning (after possibly being chased by feral dogs) and probably dislodged a large stone in his bladder. We took him to the vet as he looked very uncomfortable. The vet said she would try to remove the stone, but she wasn’t very hopeful. We said our goodbyes that evening, just in case.

Our wonderful vet managed to dislodge the stone and push it back to the bladder, but it was blocked again the next morning. We had to make the decision to end his suffering as another operation was not likely to be successful. When he had the operation we knew he may only have a few months left to live and we tried to make those months enjoyable. He has lived a good life with us; full of friends, food and fun (which is all sheep care about).

I will miss my friend; the sound of him calling out to me when I got home always made my day. I will miss his social nature, that made him come over to meet every visitor with a friendly face. Sid was a calming influence in our sheep herd and always friendly. The other sheep will miss him too; they called for him for a few days after he went to the vet for the last time, and they are still subdued and quiet.

Because the ground is so dry and hard at the moment, we decided to have Sid cremated and plant him in a large pot with a fruit tree. We have planted many smaller family members this way and it is a good way to honour a life. Sid will become a dwarf mandarin tree and we will continue to care for him and remember him.

Even though we only knew him for four years, Sid was a part of our diverse family and he will be missed.

A dwarf mandarin tree and some calendula are Sid’s new home. His ashes are in the pot.

The swallows are back. Happy Imbolc

Sorry for the picture quality, I had to zoom right up on my phone to get this shot.

Last year we had swallows decide to build a nest in our bedroom; it was a very exciting time for us as we watched the new babies hatch and grow. This year they are back early (an effect of climate change?).

The pair flew in through an open door yesterday as if they had never been away. They bought in cob mix and feathers and arranged the nest over the day. This morning the female was waiting at the front door when we got up (there is a new wall since last year and they seem to be locked out unless we leave a door open), she flew straight to the nest and we think an egg was laid.

A blurry photo of mum on her nest.

We hope to have new babies within 21 days. The swallows have arrived at Imbolc; the time of blessing seeds, when the Earth begins to warm up and seeds sprout. The hardenbergia flowers at Imbolc and so do the snow drops, I look forward to this time of year as there is so much joy and life in the bush it is impossible to be sad.

Having swallows nest in the house is messy, but we love to have a ringside seat to the raising of babies and we learn so much about the life of so many animals by living close to them. I can see the nest from my bed; when I wake up in the morning the first thing I see is the swallows nest. What a reminder of just how lucky I am.

Freida update- she joins the herd

This is another behind-the-times post; Freida has been living with the sheep herd for about two months now. After Eli joined the family, she bonded closely to him and they both began to explore the outside world.

At first they both slept in a tent in the back yard and ran around with the big sheep through the day. After a few weeks we began to leave the gate to their tent open at night so they could choose where to sleep. Now they live full time with the herd.

We still lock Freida and Eli up for the morning feed as the other sheep can be very pushy and will chase them off. This way we know they will get at least one good feed in the day.

Freida has become a very smart and calm sheep, which is something of a relief; we thought she may have trouble learning to be a sheep after the start she had.

She is still as loved as ever, but now she is able to fullfil her biological needs without getting in trouble (at least not much trouble).

Meet Eli- new family member

Eli and Freida at breakfast

In all the rush and confusion around the start of the year I forgot to introduce our newest family member; Eli. We adopted him as a friend for Frieda, and our way of encouraging her to realise she is a sheep, not some kind of mish mash of human, dog and rabbit.

The full story;

Just before the end of the year (I can’t be precise here, I didn’t write down the date), I was walking past a group of Mums at school (the regular afternoon chat session, which I love to join, time permitting) when one of the lovely Mums called out to ask me if I wanted another sheep. I , of course, said yes (automatic response I’m afraid) then thought I should ask some pertinent questions. The back story was; a friend of this Mum had raised a lamb in the house (the same as Freida), he was a wether and had been a pet for her two year old son. She wanted to re-home him as he was being aggressive to the little boy. Sheep can become very pushy with those they see as below them in the social order. I thought twice about getting an aggressive sheep as they can be a big problem, but decided in the end to give him a go as we were desperate to find a friend for Freida since our old ewe Ma had sadly died from pneumonia. In order to get Freida to join the sheep herd, she first had to come to terms with the fact that she is a sheep.

I picked him up one day after work when the original Mum bought him to school in the back of her car. he was ensconced in a pile of hay in the back part of her four wheel drive with a collar and lead on. We woman handled him into the back of my car, a job which went very smoothly as he was eager to do whatever we wanted. His name was Eli and he was some kind of wool bearing sheep (i.e. not a shedding sheep or a hair sheep like the rest of my herd). He rode home in happy silence and jumped out of the car to meet Freida when she came barreling out of the humpy to see what was going on. They sniffed each other and got down to the business of finding grass to eat, they have been inseparable ever since. The house he came from was a very animal friendly one and it showed in his general nature.

Look at that happy face.

Eli is polite and calm, he is as trusting as it is possible for a sheep to be and allows us to do anything with him (obviously having never been hurt). He has shown no aggressive tendencies here (probably because we have no two year old humans in the herd) and has bonded to Freida well.

He enjoys sitting in the sun, eating (anything really) and having his ears scratched. He has developed a real love of corn flakes (we give him a handful as a treat sometimes) and chaff.

Eli getting a good ear scratch

Eli is a Dorset/merino cross, which means he has wool in some inconvenient places (like his belly and legs). He has been tail docked when he was a lamb, this procedure is essential in wool breed sheep as the underside of their tails are wool covered and, after a week or two, very poop covered. We will be getting him crutched (where the belly, legs and bottom bits are shorn on a roughly six monthly basis) as soon as we can get the shearer out here.

He has given us a huge amount of freedom as he has become Freida’s company and he will give me some beautiful fleece to spin as well. He has also given us the privilege of getting to know him.

A sex change for Sid

Sid when he first joined us.

A few months ago, around Midsummer, we had a medical emergency among the sheep. I haven’t blogged about much from that period of time until now because of a series of hard-to-deal-with events. First my father was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer and died shortly afterwards (not the best start to the year), then I had to have some abdominal surgery which slowed me down considerably. Our old dog Spot had to be put to sleep during this period too. To top that all off, we had to evacuate our humpy because of a bushfire threat to the area and we lost two of our sheep to an unknown predator in the bush.

During the week after I came out of hospital (on strict orders to stay in bed), Sid; our wether (and companion to Shaun in the past) began to act as if he had colic. I rang the vet and was advised to keep him walking and get him to drink water. So despite having a very painful stomach and being depressed I spent many hours following the poor boy and keeping him moving and drinking for two days (my partner and daughter took many shifts also). On the second day I drove over to a nearby town to get some pain killer for him (against doctors orders, but we do what we have to), I injected him, but it seemed to have little effect. On the third morning we decided to take him to the vet, so my daughter and partner got my little car ready to cart a full grown sheep (tarp on the floor and bedding towels) then we all spent an hour catching Sid and moving him into the car. We had to lift him in, which did not make my stomach happy at all, and he had no fight in him at all once he was in the car.

Sid now. All grown up.

My daughter and I drove to the vet surgery, a trip of two hours, and unloaded poor Sid into their yards. He was in so much pain he didn’t seem to care what happened to him. After a few hours and many examinations, the wonderful vet discovered that he had a bladder stone and had not urinated for two days (I felt so bad about trying to make him drink). She gave us the option of putting him down as the operation to fix this is very dangerous and the recovery is long and involves a lot of nursing (oh and expensive). I just couldn’t imagine life at the humpy without Sid; his single minded attention to getting his food, his demands for a chin scratch and his afternoon greetings to my partner when he came home from work (to the tune of pleas for more food). We decided to give him a chance at surviving and said go ahead.

We went home then and left him to be operated on. The vet rang much later that day to say he had survived the operation but she had been forced to put in a stint to drain urine. Sid had to stay in hospital for a further two weeks, before coming home to be nursed by my daughter and I.

This is where the sex change comes in; the stint bypasses the urethra and penis altogether and exits the body in roughly the same place as it does in female sheep. Sid now pees like a cat; the urine squirts out in a stream behind him. We try not to stand behind him in good clothes these days.

Sid’s bottom now. He had to be shaved for the operation.

Sheep and goats of the male persuasion seem to be prone to bladder stones if they have a high grain diet. We did not know this previously and had fed poor Sid many grain based meals in the past. He has been confined to hay and chaff since the operation though. Apparently he is very likely to suffer from this again so we keep a close eye on him to be sure he is peeing.

His post operative care consisted of bathing the operation wound twice a day to remove built up urine dribble, putting paw paw ointment on the existing rain scald and spraying pink stuff around (but not on) the wound to discourage flies. In the middle of his recovery we had to evacuate the animals to my Mum’s place because of a bush fire. This set back his recovery a lot because of the stress of moving and because he and his friends escaped their pen and decided to walk home. They made it to my uncles house and had to be collected from there. Eventually the scabs dropped off and the wound healed, and now we only inspect and wash the site about once a week. We still watch him closely to be sure he is peeing though.

This is the actual site of the operation. I didn’t get photos of it when it was healing, but it was messy.

The vet seems to think he will last another two years, we hope he does, we love our Sid. Our main concern now is making sure he has a good life in the time he has left. He is living with the rest of the sheep herd (sheep are very social and need constant companionship), and seems to be enjoying life again.

Goodbye old friend- Spot

Spot in his favorite state…relaxed

We have lived with Spot for nearly 20 years, he is part of our family history. He came to live with us as part of a deal. When we moved from Toowoomba to Tabulam (in the far distant past) we sold all our 240 Volt appliances; one of the people we sold to had a litter of puppies (mongrel terrier crossed with Border collie) and offered to pay a good price for the TV if we took a pup…best trade we ever made.

Spot has been a loyal companion for those 20 years; chasing goanna, but never hurting them, sitting patiently by my side through various crafting adventures, staying in the car while we felled dead trees for fire wood, following at my heels as I walk through the bush. He became such a part of our lives that we thought he would always be there; a permanent fixture.

Last year he began to lose weight and sleep a lot, he also began to forget himself and pee in the house; the vet did an examination and found that he had prostate cancer and doggy dementia. He couldn’t be operated on because of his age and the dementia was untreatable, so we took him home and developed ways to deal with the issues. We never left him alone in the house if we could help it (sometimes this meant leaving someone out of a social event so he would be cared for (I never minded staying home). He was shut in a dog crate at night for the first time in his life because he would get lost at night and become very distressed (his crate was beside my bed so I could hear him if he needed me through the night). We cooked him meals of boiled chicken and rice and fed him 4 times a day when his kidneys and liver began to struggle (much to the disgust of the other dogs). Last week he went back to the vet for his 3 monthly ultrasound and she found that the tumour was now too big for him to be comfortable and that he had had a stroke at some point (which mercifully made it so he felt no pain). I made the hardest decision I have had to make in a long time and made an appointment for the vet to come to our house and end his suffering. Since then we have been keeping him happy and comfortable, just waiting for the inevitable end. Well, yesterday the vet came to give him a gentle passing.

We were all home, except my youngest daughter who doesn’t live here. I held him while the vet gave him an injection and he went quietly to sleep. I cried rivers and the vet had a tear in her eye too (probably in response to my tears). My daughter wrapped him in one of his wool blankets and I carried him out to the hole dug by my partner. We buried him and planted a fig tree over him.

We had to crate him at night eventually because he would get lost in the house and become distressed
He slept a lot in his last months

He is buried next to his companion in life; Busy (one of our previous dogs). They were the best of friends in life and when Busy died a decade ago, at 17 years old, I promised to bury Spot with him when the time came.

The larger fig tree is Busy and the little one in the front is Spot. The hope is that they will eventually grow into one tree.

He has left a huge hole in our lives, it seems he was always with us, always waiting for us to get home from work, always ready to go on an adventure with us. I will miss him more than I can say.

When I think about the relationship between old dogs and their humans I can’t help but think that the relationship lasts longer than some marriages; we spend more time with our dog than with our partner (or is that just me?) and I certainly talked to Spot more than I talk to my partner. There is a deep level of understanding built in that time; he always knew when I needed someone to sit close to me and listen and I always knew when he wanted to go on a walk or play in the yard. He knew what we were thinking a lot of the time too; I remember seeing him sneak off up the road for a little adventure on his own and frowning at him, which caused him to turn right around and come back to the house.

This is just a memorial post, for me more than anyone else, full of photos and memories, to remind me that we shared something very special and that is worth the pain losing him has caused; deep love and connection allow us to feel so much joy, and lead to so much pain when it ends.

It was worth the pain of losing you to know you old friend.

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.

Well the trail cam idea did not work out at all; the photos are just too blurry to be useful. My daughter did climb up and take some photos of our new babies though.

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The babies are fine and the antechinus don’t seem to be able to get them. The babies are loud and very sweet at the moment. Let the mess making begin.

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.