Monday, April 30, 2012

Making hay

I can't claim to be an expert on hay, but I've certainly learnt an awful lot about making it over the past few weeks!

Since owning cattle we have spent a lot of money on hay, in round bales and square bales, to feed to our animals when we ran low on grass.  For ages I couldn't understand why the cattle didn't eat the dead dry grass in winter.  It seemed to me to be exactly the same as hay.  Well I only recently figured out that hay is not just dead dry grass!  Hay is grass cut in its prime and allowed to dry to just the right amount before baling.  Hay contains maximum nutrition for the cattle, that's why they like it so much.

When we purchased our new property, a crop of forage sorghum on the top cultivation area had just been cut for hay, and was starting to grow back.  By the time we owned the property 6 weeks later, it was ready to be cut again.  We engaged a contractor (neighbour) to cut the sorghum using a "mower conditioner" which cuts the stems near the base and feeds them through rollers, so that the stems are crushed and will dry more evenly.  We allowed the sorghum to dry on the ground for several days and then ran over it with  a "hay rake" that we bought with the property.  This turns the hay to allow it to dry more evenly.  Depending on the hay and weather, this may be done several times, but as we had hot dry days and only a thin covering of sorghum, we only ran over it once.  Our neighbour then came back and baled the hay into large round bales, which we stacked in the hay shed, using the hay spike on the tractor.

the sorghum when we bought the property
after the sorghum was cut
raking the sorghum into windrows
raking finished
And then baled by our neighhour
Moving the bales in the shed
Two little helpers....
48 bales from just a small section of our cultivation area
It may seem like a lot of work to make this hay, but we know that it will help our future herd of cattle gain weight more quickly and make more money.  We don't know what kind of hay will be the best yet, we want to try a few different ideas and learn for ourself how to improve the cattle weight gain most effectively.

Do you make hay?  Any tips?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jerusalem artichoke

My friend at work with the garden full of crazy and unusual vegetables (eg spaghetti squash) has given me some Jerusalem artichoke tubers to eat and to grow.  Apparently they go quite crazy in summer, so I decided to plant them outside the garden fence with the arrowroot (which we should also eat), so that they can provide shade in summer.

This is what the tubers look like, they were difficult to peel....

We ate the artichokes sliced thinly and fried in butter.....

the flesh is white and crispy, with a mild taste

although it did end up mixed into the gravy with left over roast beef

The passed the taste test, Farmer Pete said they were "quite nice", so now all that remains is to see if they will grow in my garden :)

I forgot to take a photo before I piled the dirt back over,
but this is where I planted to the arrowroot.
Have you grown Jeruselum artichokes?  Or anything else unusual?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Starting chicks in a chicken tractor

The transition from the chicks living in the brooder box to moving into chicken tractors can be difficult.  Ideally we hatch the chicks early enough in spring that they can move out after only 6 weeks, before they have all their feathers, because it is usually plenty warm enough by then.  Otherwise they have to stay inside longer and once they reach that noisy messy stage I can't wait for them to move out!

Even though it is warm enoug, we find that when we put chicks out in the tractor for the first few nights they need to 'tucked in' at dusk because they are so used to living in a box and not having open sides, its quite scary for them.  This means draping tarps, and old sheets, towels and blankets over the tractor so that they feel like they're still in a solid box.  Otherwise they spend the night trying to stick their little heads out of the mesh and sometimes they manage to squeeze out!  We only have to do this for about a week until they get used to it.  This also helps to keep the dew off their grass and keep out any drafts, while they acclimatise to not having the heat lamp above them at night.

We put them in a small tractor at first, and they get used to it moving along, so that when they are in he big tractor they don't get squashed when we move it.

The chicks in their tractor, still tucked in the next morning

Morning chicks!

Any tips for moving chicks from the brooder into their outside accomodation?  Any questions?

By the way, my chicken tractor ebook is now available if you want to know more about designing and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at}

What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.

Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor

Chris from Gully Grove

Monday, April 23, 2012

Buying a bigger tractor

When we bought a bigger property we knew we would also need a larger tractor.  The tractor that we have been using at "eight acres" is a 17 HP Kubota, which is about the same power as our ride on mower.  It can run the slasher (very slowly) and lift things (not always very safely) but it is not suited to running cultivation implements or a large slasher or lifting hay bales.  While we were waiting for the property settlement date, we spent a whole lot of time researching tractor options and trying to work out the size we needed and whether to buy new or second-hand.

The new tractor towing the big plough

The size of the tractor depends on the work that needs to be done.  A bigger tractor can tow and lift heavier implements, and it can do most jobs faster than a smaller tractor would.  However, obviously the bigger the tractor the more expensive it is and the more fuel it will use, so the first step is to determine what the tractor really needs to do and what would be the smallest size tractor that can do the job.  When we bought the property, we also negotiated to buy some second-hand implements from the property vendor.  He was happy to not have to move them all off the property, so we got a good price.  The implements were all sized to match an old 100 HP tractor that the vendor had been using (and sold just before we made our offer on the property unfortunately!), so we knew that we were aiming for around 100 HP.  We also knew that we wanted to be about to lift round bales of hay and pallets from the back of the ute, so a 1 tonne lifting capacity would be useful.

The next decision was whether to buy new or second-hand.  This depends on so many factors:
  • Time - do you have time to wait for the perfect tractor to become available second-hand? (or on sale new?)
  • Money - can you afford a new tractor at around twice the price of a second-hand one? or are there suitable finance deals available?  Does it suit your cashflow to have a small deposit now and pay the rest later?  The deposit on a new tractor may be less than the total cost of a second-hand tractor, so you can keep more money in your bank at first, if you know you'll be able to afford ongoing repayments.
  • Ability to compromise - if you are looking for second-hand, you may not find the tractor that has everything you need, you may end up paying more to modify the tractor or you may need more than one to do everything.  A new tractor package may cover everything more easily.
  • Time for maintenance - a new tractor comes with a warranty and should run for several thousand hours before needed significant maintenance investment, with a second-hand tractor, you never know if it will start when you need it and when the next expensive break-down will occur.  If you have time to fix it, that may be an acceptable risk, but if you are working full-time and need to use the tractor on the weekend for urgent work, you don't really want to spend that weekend fixing it instead!
  • New features - new tractors often come with front wheel assist, extra safety features and we found the older ones didn't have the front bucket that we needed (fitting this later would have added significantly to the overall price).
  • Available storage - a new tractor belongs in a shed otherwise you may as well just buy an old one.
This was a long and drawn out decision, in which we visited every second-hand tractor dealer in town, read about every second-hand tractor we could find in the paper, trading books and online and researched deals on new tractors.  Finally we chose the right tractor for our situation.  It is slightly undersized at 75 HP, but has front-wheel assist and 4WD, and so far it has done everything we need.

Have you bought a new or second-hand tractor?  Any tips?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Nourishing Traditions - Grains and Legumes

Continuing my review of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, this was such a huge chapter for me, I want to review it by itself.

See the other parts of my review - introduction, mastering the basics, more chapters....

The main idea is that grains and legumes require careful preparation to ensure that the nutrients are completely available.  This means soaking and fermenting overnight, or at least several hours, and no quick boiling methods!  It also includes sprouting the grains first.

I've always known that I had trouble digesting grains, but I didn't understand why.  I tried eating gluten free, but it didn't help, so I went back to eating bread and flour again.  I tried eating brown rice, but I never liked it.  I've never really enjoyed beans/legumes, they always make me feel overfull.  With all this in mind, I was very keen to try the suggestions in this chapter.

Whole grains
  • oats for porridge should be soaked overnight in kefir or yoghurt - I tried this last winter and found that the oats cooked more quickly and I was able to digest the porridge more comfortably.
  • brown rice should be soaked in water and whey/kefir/yoghurt for several hours - if I am organised and remember that we plan to have rice for dinner, I leave the rice soaking during the day, this produces delicious tender brown rice.
  • Many more recipes for different grains and flavours.....
soaking the rice

 Breads and flour products
  • this is the one that is still holding me up!  I tried the banana bread and the yoghurt herb bread and neither turned out very nice, so as I said last week, I hope I'll learn more soon!
  • The other option is sourdough....  or my soaked flour method
banana bread disaster (refused to cook on the inside)

yoghurt herb bread was a bit flat...

  • Beans should be soaked for at least 12, if not 24 hours before use.  Otherwise they can be sprouted.
  • I haven't tried any of these recipes, honestly we have so much beef in the freezer I have no need to make it go any further by adding beans, but one day I may be glad to have these recipes, they all sound very tasty.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Today is my 29th birthday.  For me, birthdays seem to be less significant as I get older, just another day with the normal work and chores to be done.  The anticipation of presents that I had as a child is not as important now that I just buy things when I want them!  However, I do want to reflect on a few birthday presents that I consider to be the best presents I have ever received (so far).  In chronological order, as there's no way I could rank them :)

The first was the gift of a new sewing machine from my parents for my 21st birthday.  It wasn't really a surprise, because I did ask for it, but I didn't know what kind of sewing machine I was going to get.  I actually told them to just get me a second-hand one.  Having grown up using mum's Bernina, I would have been perfectly comfortable with an old model.  However, knowing that I wanted to travel, my parents decided to buy me a new Brother.  Its only 7kg, compared to the Bernina's 20 kg (it feels that heavy anyway!).  It has moved around with me from house to house (I've kept the original box, just in case). Its so light because most of it is made out of plastic, so its not as robust as the old metals ones, but I haven't broken anything yet, so its not too bad!  It also has a clever 'self-threading' device, which negates what is usually the most tedious part of sewing!  Recently it hasn't had much use, as I don't have a sewing room in this house :( so it has to be unpacked from the cupboard every time I want to sew, which takes so long to do, I really need a few hours of dedicated sewing time (at the dining table) to make it worth the effort.  I did use it more when I was living in the city and had more free time, I sewed lots of skirts and tops, just to entertain myself!  And I would still rather sew something than go shopping.  I used to spend far too much time in Spotlight picking through the remnants bin as well!  In our last house I bought curtain material on special at $2.50 a metre and sewed 3 long curtains and 14 short curtains for the porch, its easy but boring just sewing straight lines all day!  This sewing machine has saved me money and provided hours of entertainment and a creative outlet.

My fabric collection!  No excuses for not sewing!
 The second best-present-ever was the garden at 'eight aces' that my husband built for me as a surprise the first birthday after we had moved in.  We had discussed where to put the garden, but didn't want to rush into anything until we had other things sorted out.  I was still maintaining my garden of potted plants that I had rescued from my previous garden.  It was a total surprise when I came from work (and my husband had been on a shift day off) to find that he had started cultivating the garden area and building the fence!  Over the next few days he constructed the fence and shade structure and then went back on shift that weekend, leaving me to spend my birthday arranging the garden beds as I wanted them.  This was better than anything he could have bought me!  Again, the garden has saved us money and provided hours of entertainment!

My temporary garden while we were getting the new garden ready

Early days in my new garden (looked very tidy back then!) 
The final present is little Molly our heifer calf.  She was born on my birthday last year when Bella was still living on our friends' dairy farm.  She wasn't really a present, we did have to buy her and Bella!  But she was born on my birthday, so she feels like a present.  That means that Molly is one year old today.  She has no idea how lucky she is to have spent her first year with her mum.  Most dairy heifers spend only the first couple of days with their mum to make sure that they receive colostrum, and after that they are bottle fed with all the other calves, and weaned at 3 months.  Molly is still suckling, as we don't need to wean her until Bella is a couple of months away from having her next calf, and it means that we can keep milking when we want to.  Molly is nearly as tall as Bella and having trouble reaching her teats, but she still loves her milk.  We can see that it has helped her to grow big and strong, compared to calves that we have bottle fed, or bought as weaners at 3-4 months old.  This will influence how we raise calves in the future.  Having Molly and Bella at our farm has allowed us to drink raw milk for nearly a year now and learn to make various dairy products.  They are both gentle and tame, with jersey cow 'difficult personalities' at times.

Baby Molly (about 1 month old)
Molly now (one year old)

And just for fun, this is a photo of me on my 8th birthday, with my best ever birthday presents
- pink drink bottle, lunch box, bum bag and sun glasses - it was the early 90s, I think flouro was still fashionable!
And I think I was still doing ballet lessons - notice the pointed toe :)

 What presents have stood out as favourites in your experience?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Farmer Pete and the new property

When I started this blog, I didn't know what my husband would think of it, and I didn't know if he would particularly want to feature it in, so I kept his name anonymous at first.  As he's seen what the blog is about and how nice it is to share our thoughts, our plans, our successes and our mishaps, he's been keen to get more involved.  In particular after my 1-year-blogoversary post when everyone said how much I had done, he was quick to point out to me the role that he had played too!

Now that we have our larger property, it seems time to introduce you to Farmer Pete, principle tractor driver, chicken wrangler, fire wood chopper, metal fabricator, cattle herder, paddock slasher and excellent husband that he is, there's no way I could do any of this without him, so I want you to know that its not just me doing all the work.  He even hangs out the washing, cleans the toilet and cooks dinner!


Here's some photos of the work Farmer Pete has been doing on the new property.  We have learnt so much about tractors, hay and cultivation over the last few weeks!  While he's been on the tractor, I've been reading the tractor service manual and Joel Salatin's book "Salad Bar Beef".

checking out some cultivation work
While Farmer Pete was ploughing, we went for a walk around the property

piles of future firewood

checking things out

I think these are Sugar Gums

and these are Narrow Leaf Iron Bark

more firewood

catching up

the ultimate hugelkultur!


showing me the way


stock yards

the driveway

worn out!

and waiting to play ball later on


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