By Judy Barnet, Farm Columnist
Conditions on the farm are becoming very dry again. The grass is dry and brittle so I am hoping the forecast prediction of rain for later this week comes true! Pikes Creek has stopped running and the little sand island that disappeared completely a few weeks ago now has its tip sticking out again.
The garden got away from me during the wet winter and parts of it resembled a jungle, but on my return from the Pioneer Village last week I discovered lots of new plantings. CJ is an accomplished gardener but even to her the task ahead looked daunting so she worked out a plan of restoring one square metre of garden per day. It doesn’t sound like much but believe me, you can see the difference now. Sometimes she does way more than her square metre, however. In fact, despite the sizeable gardens surrounding the cottage and house, I often see CJ clearing her square metre outside the house yard, planting around the chook pens and beyond.
Like many of the old farms, we have plenty of “useful” stockpiles around as well as lots of old machinery. Some cottage guests once asked how many people resided in our house after counting a dozen or so vehicles around the place. The look on their face when I replied “only two” was priceless! Actually, those guests wrote me one of the best reviews ever.
Back to CJ, she would dearly love to relocate the stockpiles around the house, preferably to the rubbish tip I am sure, however she and Richie have come to a compromise and he has been helping her relocate the piles bit by bit further away on the farm out of sight of the house.
This week’s guests are a lovely couple and their two children, who first visited the cottage this time last year. We named a kid goat that was born during their stay after their daughter, Sadie. The kids were so excited when they arrived, asking to see Sadie first, who now had two kids of her own. In fact, Sadie got in kid a little earlier than I had planned. I don’t think Sadie was quite as excited to see the children as they were her as she made her exit quite quickly. They made do with patting Unihorn, so named after de-horning didn’t turn out as planned.
I have been having fun working on a Holiday Cottage Calendar for 2022. I have so many lovely photos of the farm and animals – every photo tells a story, be it animal or scenery. The thing is, I didn’t realise how many photos I had taken and it is easy to spend hours looking through them for that perfect photo. I really need to spend a whole day organising photos into folders and deleting many of them! The calendars make great Christmas gifts for the family and also I sell a few to cottage guests who have memories of the farm and their holiday for the next 12 months.
On my agenda for this week I was hoping to do an interview with a Country Character, however, I have had to work an extra day and also had appointments in town. I hope to interview one of my favourite country characters who lives almost at the furthest south western point of the Southern Downs. He told me he once kept Chianina Cattle (the worlds largest and tallest breed of cattle) but he didn’t have a fence tall enough to keep them in or a horse fast enough to catch them.
Sheep-wise this week, all the poddy lambs are growing well. Bronte is huge now and only a few weeks from weaning whether she likes it or not! I think Dot will be proud of the job I have done! I am already having problems with fly-strike on docked tails and it is not easy to catch the lambs to treat either.
I have my hands full with Clucky Hens at the moment, here are a few hints on handling cluckies. A clucky hen, also known as a broody hen or a sitting hen, is a hen that wants to hatch chickens from the eggs that she or any other hen has laid. It does not matter whether or not you have a rooster and once a hen decides to go on the cluck it is hard to dissuade her. If you have a rooster and would like to hatch some chicks then this is not a problem, however, you will need to have a separate chicken coop to put her in with her eggs otherwise the other hens in your chook house will keep laying eggs in the same nest as she is sitting and next thing you will have more eggs than she can cover. Even if the other hens are laying in a different nest box, it is still best to move your clucky and eggs in preparation for when the chicks hatch out. The best time to move your clucky is at night and preferably when she has been sitting for around a week as this ensures she is not likely to take fright or get off the eggs after being moved – she will already have a bond with the eggs. Bantam eggs take around 18-20 days to hatch and large fowl 21 days. Muscovy ducks take 35 days to hatch, as do geese. All other breeds of duck are 28 days, Guinea fowl, turkeys and peafowl also around 28 days. Have your pen prepared with a covered area, some straw for a nest, and a waterer that the hen can drink from but the chicks can’t drown in. Guinea pig hutches make good pens for a hen and chickens. I also often use lawn mower catchers as nest boxes since being plastic they don’t harbour lice or mites and also you can pick up the catcher with the hen and eggs still inside at night and put the whole thing in your prepared pen. Minimal disturbance! Whatever you use to move your clucky hen into, ensure it has small chicken wire to prevent the chicks escaping once they are hatched. Three things are required for hatching: heat, humidity and egg turning. The hen provides the heat and turns the eggs with her feet. The ground can provide humidity but if it is dry or the hen is on concrete, the hen will take water in her beak and sprinkle on the eggs to provide the correct humidity. Try to ensure the hen is not disturbed or frightened and 21 days later you should have some chicks. I used to buy chick starter and feed the chicks along with the usual laying mash for the hen but these days unless I am hatching a fair few chicks then I just use laying mash or mixed grain and the hen will teach them to eat. Once the chicks are a couple of days old I try to move my pen onto fresh grass daily. Happy Hatching – I look forward to catching up with you next week after the rain!
• Warning for Sheep Breeders during Spring / Summer this year – Clostridial diseases, Worms and Fly-strike will be rampant after a wet winter. Ensure you twice vaccinate lambs early – especially poddy lambs. Grab a worm testing kit from your local produce – they are not expensive and will save you money by not losing lambs and not drenching unnecessarily. Be vigilant for fly-strike and treat quickly.