With the nice bit of rain that fell in mid January came flies. Many, many flies… so many that the buzz from the sheep shelter can be heard from the humpy. So a project that has been sitting on the bottom of the list, suddenly came to the top; an enclosed dish drainer for the washing up.
Living with nature (in all her adorable, but messy incarnations) requires us to make a few adjustments to the way things are done; we let go of socially held expectations somewhat; like having clean floors at any point, like being the only being on the bed at night and like using harsh chemicals to clean anything. One problem with having animals (other than humans) in the humpy and not being able to seal all the holes in walls, is that we have many flies in the humpy in Summer. The washing up (which I habitually air dry) is then sitting out in the open for the day and flies crawl all over it (not ideal). There is a clearly identified problem here that has a neat solution.
For years, I have wanted to install a Finnish Dish Draining cabinet, and this fly invasion (which is more extreme than other years) is the push we needed to do it. As usual, we had to do things the hard way; instead of buying the chipboard and wire modular units available, we decided to go with a steel cabinet (to match the new kitchen and to make sure it lasts) and replace the shelves with the drying racks.
We bought a cheap steel cabinet in powder coated steel (black, of course) and some dish draining racks, roughly the same length. My fairly handy partner put it all together one morning while I was doing the washing.
He screwed some structural ply over the wall frame behind the sink and screwed the cupboard onto that.
Next, he scratched his head for a while about how to fit the dish drainers in. Until finally he came up with the idea of fixing a thick piece of wood on the inside of the cabinet to provide an anchor for the drainer. The dish drainer units were about 5cm shorter than the width mof the cabinet.
Then he put the doors on for me and we were set to go.
As an added bonus… my in-the-good-books partner also screwed the peg board onto the wall.
I think this really adds to the usability of the kitchen.
The drying cupboard is used to store the equipment we use on a daily basis; coffee cups, plates, bowls, baking trays, etc. Only a few of each and only what we use daily. That way, the majority of the washing up goes straight into the cupboard and is protected from flies. It also frees up the other cupboard shelves for more storage. Our cupboard doesn’t have an open bottom (flies and lizards) instead it has a tray in the bottom to catch drips. This tray is emptied daily. There is enough air flow to dry the washing up and not enough space for critters to enter.
Since the toilet is up and running, we need to get the mulch pit finished. At the moment it is hard to concentrate on any project. The constant threat of fire and the despair that comes with knowing that so much of our ecosystem is destroyed keeps us in a constant state of depression. It is hard to concentrate on anything except watching the media releases about the fires all over Australia. However, it is important to keep working towards the future we want; how else will we reach it? In between the fire threats and increadibly hot days we made a plan that involved digging a pit to drain the effluent into then covering the lot with gravel, wood chip, soil and mulch.
The biogas system continues to impress me, the only down side I have discovered is the flammable nature of methane (which is kind of the point) and the fact that we can’t move the unit away from the house in the event of a bushfire threat (we are at a count of three direct threat situations so far in the last twelve months). We have countered this by releasing the methane into the atmosphere when there is any risk of fire. There is a handy tap that allows the gas to be vented easily. The refill time is getting less every day; currently the tank will fill in about ten hours and the effluent has proven fairly easy to bucket into the old toilet pit on a weekly basis.
Since the effluent is from human poop, it needs to be handled carefully. The effluent is passed through a chlorine chamber before it emerges from the unit. Treatment with chlorine is the accepted way to treat human effluent, it kills off a lot of nasties and oxygenation and exposure to sun takes care of the rest. After it emerges from the unit our effluent goes into a bucket, which is then emptied into the old toilet pit (which helps the waste in this pit continue to decompose). It is time to put in a hands free option for handling the effluent. In our situation we have several options; we could feed it into our septic system (except we don’t have one), we could build a dedicated transpiration pit or we could build a mulch basin. We went with a combination of the transpiration pit and the mulch pit ideas.
First we (and by ‘we’ I mean my hard working partner) dug a pit that was about 40cm deep.
Then we put in a layer of gravel in the bottom. This layer is about 5cm deep. The plumbing part of the project was then completed before the pit could be filled up all the way.
Next step was adding a straw layer to slow down the migration of soil into the gravel.
After that there is a layer of wood chips (to soak up any nitrogen rich moisture that makes it that far) and a layer of soil to seal the pit off from the surface.
After that I planted the passionfruit vine I bought to (hopefully) take advantage of all that moisture and nutrient. I mulched around the vine, then realised that it is now a fire risk and would be raked away when the next fire threatens. To counter this a little, I buried the mulch under a deep layer of soil again. I hope this will protect the mulch from ember attack in the event of a fire.
So now we have a new garden bed that doubles as a transpiration pit. Hopefully the roots of the passionfruit won’t bung up the draining system and hopefully the buried mulch will be safe from ember attack (I am thinking that this method might be good for the new vegetable beds when we get to that). We, like most of Australia, are still in shock from the magnitude of the fires this year. We fear that next year will be more of the same, so everything we do from now on needs to be focused on fire safety and how to keep our family safe.
We are finally home from being evacuated. There was a blessed rain event on December 23rd-25th which allowed us to assume that the fire is now under control (along with a few other factors). We came home with everyone, only to find that we had to go straight back out again for a medical emergency. I am trying to capture the events here as I know how our memories play tricks and re-arrange things. Here is the sequence of events as I remember them now;
We had settled in to the regular work of being in the evacuation centre; walking dogs, feeding sheep, cleaning cages, feeding animals. We were making multiple calls every day to my partner, who was still at home defending the humpy. One morning, my partner (who never misses an opportunity to shop) called to say he had been looking for a farm 4WD to convert into a ‘Black Ops brigade‘ fire vehicle (unofficial fire fighting crews). The house building account was already under seige due to having to use some of it to buy food for my eldest daughter and I while we were in exile, buying fire fighting equipment and now we were looking at having to dip into it to buy a 4WD.
To cut a long story short, we ended up buying a Mitsubishi Triton that is close to being a registration failure. We had to borrow about half the money to buy it, leaving us with more debt (sigh). My partner arranged for an obliging nephew to pick him up and take him to pick up his new partner in fire fighting (he also did the initial check over of the vehicle, thanks Matt). Now it was time to outfit the old girl as a fire fighter.
We have already bought two fire fighting pumps, two 1000 litre pods and many metres of fire hose to help set up our fire defense system. We have also bought sprinklers for the roof and walls and my partner set them up in a watering system that covers the entire humpy area (now all we need is enough rain to fill the tanks). One of the pods and a pump with hoses will go on the back of the ute (she needs a name now), along with a box for the chainsaw and various other tools, such as a few water backpacks, a McCloud tool or two, shovels and rakes.
Before the pod and pump went on the ute, my partner was using it to patrol the fire front closest to us. He did regular night time patrols while a neighbour (whose property the fire happened to be on) did daytime patrols. Not to be political at all, but the RFS have been in short supply ever since this whole thing began. Let me be very clear here; the RFS is doing it’s best to fight the fires. There are just not enough resources to go around. When our little area was under direct threat they showed up with a bulldozer and pushed multiple fire breaks both around dwellings and through the bush at seemingly random intervals. They were around to do occasional patrols of the fire front and the planes and choppers flew over almost daily. The fire jumped over the first fire breaks that were put in because there were not enough patrols to observe and black out the slow moving fire that reached them. As soon as he had a vehicle capable of driving around the fire lines, my partner and other local people made sure there were regular and constant patrols on our section of the fire front. I think this has allowed the fire to be bought under control.
On the morning of the 23rd December, we decided that it was time to go home. The fire was reported as under control on our Northern side, and my partner considered it under control on our Western side, and we were feeling VERY homesick. So we packed everyone up (except the sheep) into their travelling cages and crammed them into my car, my partner’s car and one of the trailers. We set off for home like a travelling circus (or maybe like Ma and Pa Clampett), and reached home by mid morning. I quickly unpacked everyone from my car and set off back to the evacuation site to finish cleaning up the shed.
After hours and hours of scrubbing cages and cleaning out the caravan, I was ready to drop, but I kept going until my partner got there to pick up the sheep. We took the trailer up to the yards and spent some time chasing Kracken around and around as she had apparently decided she liked the lodging and wanted to stay a bit longer. Eventually we managed to drag her into the trailer and I decided to leave the cleaning until the next day. We went home for one blissful night in our own beds with our animals all around us.
The site of the humpy still standing bought me to tears. It may just be a little, rough shed in the bush, but it is our home. I was overjoyed to see the animals that live wild around the humpy still in residence. The big open area around the humpy had been widened considerably, and the chook pen and Hugelkultur garden beds had been pushed away by the bulldozer to make the humpy more fire ready (thank you RFS). The yard fences had been partially destroyed by the dozer too, and all the shadecloth awnings around the humpy had been taken down. It looked bare and strangely neat, but it is still home.
The next morning, my daughter came to me with Prim in her hands. Prim was struggling to breathe and could not talk to us at all. We took off for the vet (2 and a half hours away) and reached there with her still struggling to breathe. The vet put her in an oxygen tent and recomended that she be transfered to the Gatton animal hospital. I didn’t feel able to make the drive, so we rang my partner and got him to drive up to Killarney, pick up my daughter and Prim then drive to Gatton with them. Meanwhile, I drove back home to watch over the animals still there.
Prim died that night in the animal hospital. There are no words to tell you how grief striken we are. I will write a seperate post to honour her death. The next morning, my daughter and partner drove home to bury her. The work of settling into the humpy again begins…
NOTE: My mother lost her home and farm buildings in this fire. A fact that still seems unreal to me. However, I am not posting about my reaction to this event or any other information as it is not my information to share.
My daughter and I are currently evacuated from the humpy. My partner is still at home, defending the humpy from a huge, fast moving fire. We are all shell shocked, numb and exhausted. I thought I would try to get the memories down on (digital) paper before they get any more jumbled together than they already are.
On Thursday 5th December a fire was spotted by my mum and several other locals in the bush far to the West of our place. Of course it was in rough, inaccessible country and no helicopters were available to dump a bucket of water on it. The fire grew fairly fast and by home time (for me) it was large enough that I told my principal I needed to take a day off to further fire prep the humpy. It only got bigger as I drove towards home.
On Friday we all decided to stay home and fire prep everything. We have been keeping things set up for fires since February, but there is always more raking to do. By lunch time we could see the smoke cloud billowing over us and it was really hot and windy. My sister rang and said they were evacuating and we should too. I rang a friend of ours with a trailer and asked if he could come in and get a load of animals from our place and he said he could. We began to load precious animals into their evac’ cages. We have had cages set up for an evacuation since February too. The cages are small and only intended to transport animals not house them, so a lot went into the back of my tiny car.
We loaded the sheep into our trailer and the dogs into my partner’s car along with a left over cage or two. By the time my friend arrived we only had the ducks, geese and chooks to go. With his help (and the help of a friend he bought with him) we got them all loaded and set off for our original evacuation site; another friend’s home in a nearby town.
Before our little circus convoy had got too far we all received an evacuation order for the town my friend lives in. We were shocked and scared; how had the fire, which had not hit our place when we left, travelled so far so fast? We worried about whether our family and friends had managed to get out and where everyone was.
We stopped at the Tabulm CWA rooms and checked in at the evacuation point there to see what our options were. The lovely lady there sat me down and gave me a cold drink and a calming hug. After a while, she told me we would have to go on to the Evacuation Centre at the RSM in Casino. So we set off again.
We reached the RSM and found that the Evacuation centre was not set up yet. The lovely people at the RSM tried to scramble around and find somewhere we could keep our multitude of animals and we are very grateful for the effort they went to to try to accommodate them. Eventually we remembered a good friend who live just out of Casino (put it down to stress) and we ended up taking everyone there. Our friends were so good about letting us set up our animals under the covered carports at their house, even helping us build a pallet yard to keep the sheep in for the night. We zipped into town after it was all set up to get something to eat for us all and our friend gave the evacuation centre a phone call. This time we were given the number of the animal evacuation site in Casino at the showgrounds. We rang him and dropped in to see him on the way back to the house. After some chatter, we set a date to move everyone to the showgrounds in the morning. With that all settled, we managed to spare a minute to contact friends and family and find out that everyone was OK.
The next morning we moved all the animals and ourselves to the showground and set them all up in cages before heading in to the RSM to see if we could get a tent to sleep in. The Disaster recovery people wanted to put us (the human us) into a hotel, but we insisted that we needed a tent so we could stay with our animals (many of whom need constant medical attention). Eventually an extremely kind lady (you know who you are) took me on a quick shopping trip and bought us a tent, air mattresses, chairs and other things to set up a camp. We will be forever in her debt, and we really appreciate the donation that allowed us to stay with our non-human family members. We were also given a voucher to buy food, which we used straight away to buy about a weeks supply of food. We set up the tent and collapsed into an exhausted sleep for the night.
Then we began the endless round of cleaning cages and feeding animals. After about three days (the days seem to blur together when you aren’t sleeping well) another friend called and said she was evacuating her caravan and wondered if we would like to have it to sleep in. The caravan was duly delivered and we took down the tent. We moved everything into the annex of the van and went in to get some sleep. Somewhere in the middle of the night a hail storm hit, we scrambled out to check the animals and discovered that all our things were floating in ankle deep icy water.
We trudged back and forward through the light hail moving our stuff into the poultry shed. In the process we discovered one of the neighbor’s cats cats had escaped confinement and was loose in the shed. We managed to catch the cat (with Chloe crawling around under the cages), and put her in more secure housing before collapsing back into bed with the attitude of ‘sort-it-out-in-the morning’. In the morning we went back to the cleaning and feeding schedule, dried all the wet belongings and tried to catch up with communications.
During all this, we had been checking fire updates obsessively and ringing for regular updates to home. My partner had gone back to protect our property on the second day out and we were making calls to him constantly. The fire had traveled fast on the Friday and rushed up the slope to my mother’s house and burned it. A lot of people lost their homes that day. The loss of my mother’s home has left me shocked and numb, I can only imagine how it has effected my mother.
We are totally thankful that our home survived, we came so close to losing everything to fire. It has made us determined to build everything in fireproof materials from now on.
We are also grateful to the love and support we have received from friends and institutions along the way. From the very start with the first warning we got from my mum (via a sister) to the donation of a tent and camp gear and the lend of an air conditioned caravan, we have been helped to deal with the crisis. The animal evacuation people have supplied us with food and bedding for the animals and checked up on us daily to make sure we were OK. The whole crisis has been awful and horrifying, but also heartening and restoring in a way.
It is now 20th December and we are still evacuated as the fire has become a slowly creeping monster that has yet to reach our fire breaks at home, but threatens to leap up and burn us periodically. We will be returning home very soon…I hope.
It rained last night…we got about 20ml in a storm just after dark. The joy around the humpy was unbelievable, every animal is celebrating this miracle. Except Big the rooster, he has had a very painful leg condition for months now and our attempts to treat him have all failed. Yesterday afternoon we decided that he is in too much pain to keep trying to save him and we called the vet for an appointment to put him to sleep. At least he got to see the rain and hear all the happy chooks one last time.
We don’t have many photos of Big; he was always in the crowd but not often on his own. He was about nine years old and had the most amazing nature (just like his dad; Ryan); he would look after babies, not just chicks but ducklings and rabbits too. Hearing Big call over babies and hens to eat was the high point of many days.
He slept inside almost every night of his life, just because he felt the cold and he often had babies to care for. The silence at 4:30am, where Big’s joyous good morning crow used to be, will sound deafening and I would rather hear him crow and know that all is right with the world than have the silence with no happy greeting.
He fathered a lot of babies in his long life, and we are happy to have his grandson as our current flock rooster; Pickett. Big became our retirement cage rooster for the previous few years where he kept the older or disabled hens company. Until this morning he had Delilah (a sussex with a broken hip) and School chook (another sussex with a broken hip) as his girls. Over the rainbow bridge, on the other side of death, there are a multitude of wives waiting patiently for him. I hope he enjoys the reunion.
We will miss him a lot, but at least he is no longer in pain. Goodbye Big, good luck on your new journeys.
We planted him in a big pot with a red paw paw planted in it. He will have a new life as a plant now. He joins Lizard the chook as a lemongrass plant and Sid the sheep as a mandarin tree.
Recently we had the sheep shorn for the year. A lovely man from a local town came out and did the job for us; after the year we tried shearing them with kitchen scissors, we decided the money is well spent. He bought his own equipment and was quick and efficient, we will be using him again I think.
Eli came out of the experience looking sorry and thin. We have been trying to fatten him up a bit, but it appears his age and breeding mean that he needs a huge amount of feed to get any weight on him at all. The current cost of feed and the fact that we have to pay so much for it means that our ability to fatten him up is limited, but we will keep trying.
Eli’s fleece is lovely and long. He has quite a bit of crimp in the locks, but the wool isn’t particularly fine. There is also a lot of vegetation in the fleece (chaff and stray mostly), but I will have a go at spinning it, because I’m excited about using our own wool.
Even though processing some of Eli’s fleece cost me an extra bucket of water, I’m glad I tried it. It is a deeply satisfying experience to process your own fleece; especially when it is donated by a family member. I think I will try to spin enough to make a beanie for the people who raised Eli, they might like it as a keepsake.
Now I am wondering how Frieda’s fleece will process. This drought had better end soon; I need to wash a lot of fleece.
In the middle of preparing for yet another possible bush fire threat we had a happy event; one of the female geese started to hatch her four eggs. We are trying very hard to not let any of the animals breed this year as the cost of feed for them all is getting way too much. We have been picking up all eggs we find and carefully following ducks and chooks who wander off into the bush with the telltale nonchalant, meandering gait that includes quick glances over the shoulder to be sure nobody is looking (if only ducks could whistle). We have picked up every egg (or so we thought), until one of the female geese was discovered with a nest under the washing machine beds. We hadn’t even seen her sneaking off to lay.
As I am against late term abortion (at least in my house), and she had been sitting for a while by the time we found her (getting off to appear as usual with the flock when she heard us coming, it seems), we let her set the four eggs.
They began to hatch one afternoon and by the next morning there were two sweet little fluff balls. Mum stayed on the nest until a third baby was hatched and dry, then she got off, leaving only one egg unhatched.
My daughter bought the last egg in for me to see; it had a small chip through which a beak protruded and gave sad little squeaks now and then. We saw that the membrane around the baby was dried and tight, so we carefully chipped some of the shell away and wet the membrane a little, being careful to not get water in that little beak (chicks drown that way very easily). We gave the little goose frequent rests to get used to the idea of being born, but continued to chip the shell away in a circle around the egg. We were trying to mimic the pattern the chick follows when breaking out of the egg.
Eventually the new baby could push free from the egg. We were very careful to not rip any of the membrane that looked like it still had blood flow (you can see veins in it when it is still alive), and waited patiently for the baby to absorb the blood from the membrane and yolk (what was left of it).
We let her dry off and kept her on a soft towel for the night. Because she saw my daughter and I first (before seeing her mum), she imprinted on humans. This means she will be unlikely to breed in the future as she thinks she is human. She is also not happy away from people, again because she has the instincts of a goose, but the self image she has is people shaped.
Most animals that care for their young will imprint to some degree; mammals are pretty good at it, but water birds have a really strong imprinting instinct. Little Darby will be introduced to her siblings over time, but she will be an inside goose for a while yet. We need to introduce her to other goslings so she doesn’t decide to imprint so strongly that she wants to mate with a human. That scenario leads to really aggressive and dangerous geese who get so frustrated that they attack any human they see.
For the moment, she is one happy little goose. We will enjoy the baby stage with her, while making sure that she gets to see her siblings often. Then when the teen aged angst begins, we will look for another goose companion for her and see if we can move her to the flock (slowly and without rejection). I think that a lot of animals become angry and hurt when the family they thought they belonged with rejects them by making them sleep outside the territory (the house) and doesn’t spend time with them anymore. We try to make the moving away process a gentle one here, by giving the animal in question a new friend or set of friends and making it clear that they are still part of our family, even if their lifestyle has changed.
One of our old kitchen cupboards fell apart; it was a third hand, patched up old thing, but it served us well for many years. Instead of patching it up again, I decided to go with the option we had identified for the house (when it is finally built); a garage storage system. We can use the storage system in the humpy, then move it to the house when it is finished.
Instead of spending thousands on a chipboard, prefabricated kitchen for the round house (which wouldn’t really fit anyway), we decided to go with stainless steel storage modules. So I went online and found some reasonable options. To be fair, the prices were only reasonable if you factored in the decades of service we expect from this kitchen.
The delivery truck came right out to the humpy; a total unknown experience for courier companies up until this week. Usually we have to take a trailer in to the local town to pick up anything delivered ‘to the door’ by courier companies. He unloaded the flat pack boxes and drove away fast, no doubt vowing to never deliver out of town again.
We got to work putting the cupboards and bench together in between bush fire preparation and animal care, and managed to get everything sorted and put away with only two days work.
I am really looking forward to cooking in this new kitchen space. It feels clean and fresh. The space seems much bigger in there now too.
As predicted, the lounge recovering is going slowly. This weekend I managed to cover the arms of one armchair. I don’t mind taking my time with the job though, I am learning so much along the way. The fact that the whole pile of work-in-progress is sitting in everyone’s way is annoying, but we are coping with a minimum of snarky comments and stubbed toes.
The inside arm covering was not without it’s challenges. There was a broken piece of frame to be fixed and a lot of tucking and stapling to do…
I do love the wheat colour of the fabric, but I am learning that I have to go very slowly on this project or I make silly mistakes like putting the wadding too far forward over the front of the arm. Oh well… on to the inside back next.
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.
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.