Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Guinea fowl keets

As usual, its not until we get a new animal at Eight Acres until I really do some research to find out more about it.  I knew I wanted to get guinea fowl to help us with tick control, so I had been looking for some to buy in our local area, but I had not yet read much about them.  Then I was told about keets for sale and I contacted the seller and bought 10 day-old keets.  The seller mentioned that they were “pied” in colouring, that’s when I realised that I might have a bit to learn about guinea fowl.  So here is what I’ve found out.

the keets when they first came home....
Guinea fowl were originally from Africa.  There are several species, and the domesticated guinea fowl is descended from the Helmeted guinea fowl.  It seems that guinea fowl have been domesticated for thousands of years, with records of them in Roman and Egyptian literature.  More recently, in the 20th century, they have become popular with poultry “fanciers” and various different colours have been developed.  Ours are "pied" (meaning two or more colours), so they will be white and grey, but there are many other colours, including pure white, lavender and chocolate.  Really I didn't care what colour they were though, I didn't buy them for their odd looks!

week 2

Guinea fowl can be eaten and lay eggs than can be collected, however, their main value is as “guard birds” and tick eating machines.  Apparently they are only eat insects and seeds, and do not destroy gardens like chickens (who scratch at mulch and eat the leaves of plants, especially lettuce and sliverbeet in my experience).  Some people find their loud alarm noises annoying, but this is one way to help protect chickens from flying and crawling predators, some people also keep them for snake alarms. 

week 3
As you know, we had a bit of trouble with paralysis ticks at Cheslyn Rise in spring, and although this hot dry summer seems to have reduced the problem, a permanent solution is needed.  We don't seem to have a tick problem at Eight Acres, even though the vet told us that some nearby properties do have ticks, so I think that the chickens must eat them for us.  We can't leave chickens at Cheslyn Rise by themselves, but guinea fowl (apparently) live quite happily in forest land around our area and roost high in trees away from predators, so they have a better chance of living there by themselves.

week 4

I’m quite excited about keeping them.  Although they will have work to do on the farm, they will be one animal that we aren’t breeding just for eating, so they are more like a pet than the others.  We are hoping that among the 10 keets we will have more than one male, so we can split the group.  We plan to keep a few at Eight Acres so that we can collect eggs and breed more.  And take the rest of them to live and breed at Cheslyn Rise and eat all the ticks there!

a plain grey guinea fowl

Any experience with guinea fowl yourself?  Aren't they cute?!

See the full grown guinea fowl 6 months later....

By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook 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

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tanning another hide

When we have a steer butchered we like to try to use every part of the animal.  We eat the meat and some of the offal, the dogs get the bones and the rest of the offal, we render the tallow and tan the hide.  The only waste is the head, which we bury, so at least it enriches the soil.

Tanning the hid is a big job.  This our third hide, so we are getting better at the process every time.  I posted some detailed instructions (here and here) when we did the last hide this time last year.  The most important thing to get the hide spread out somewhere safe and dry and covered in salt as soon as possible after the animal is skinned.  If the hide is dried out sufficiently it will last for months, and we have found that it actually improves as it dries.  This hide was in the shed since August, so it was about 5 months, and it was very stiff and dry, which made it easier to work.

In the past we have fleshed the hide using a scraping tool, which took several days and was very hard work. This time Pete used a grinder with a wire brush attachment, and finished the job in 2 hours!  I helped by holding the hide taught over a log.  My only recommendation is to do this away from the house, as it made a bit of a mess and didn't smell too good for a few days!  We had dried using an orbital sander on previous hides and it didn't work because the hide was still too wet, so it is best to wait for the hide to dry completely if you want to use a power tool.  I think its good to know that we can do it with hand-tools, and I did quite enjoy the exercise and the time spent talking as we worked the hide last time.  The power tool was so much quicker and easier, it would be crazy to go back to the hand tool, but it was a bit sad that we both had ear plugs in and couldn't really talk while we worked.

this is the mess - dried flesh "snow"

the dogs love to help with this sort of activity

After we finished fleshing we rinsed the hide using the pressure cleaner to remove most of the blood and dirt and then put the hide in a wheelie bin of water and detergent to degrease it.  It can be difficult to fold a stiff dry hide into a wheelie bin, but it does soften as it gets wet and then only fills half the bin, so don't give up!

We then took the hide out of the first wheelie bin, rinsed again, and put the hide into the wheelie bin of chrome solution.  We have used the same solution for the past two hides and its probably the last time we'll use it as we had to dilute it to cover the hide.  We left it into the chrome solution until we could see by cutting the edge of the hide that the chrome had fully penetrated.  

Unfortunately this hide tanning story doesn't have a happy ending.  The hide was not tanned after one week, so we left it in the solution another week, the HOT heat wave week, only to find that all the hair started to fall out.  We shouldn't have tried to use the same solution three times, it had become too dilute, and the hot weather didn't help us.  We had to dispose of the partially tanned hide, so we weren't able to find out if this method gave a smoother or softer result.  I'm sharing this anyway, because it might help you to know that the angle grinder does a quicker and easier job of the fleshing.  We will have to wait for our next steer kill and try again :(

Any tanning experience yourself? 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Dried zucchini slices

My zucchini plants suffered a set back due to chicken attack back at the beginning of spring and I haven't harvest any of my own yet, but a friend was struggling with zucchini overload and gave me several kgs.  I have been wanting to try drying zucchinis, so this was the perfect opportunity.  The last time I had a glut of my own zucchinis I resorted to making zucchini soup!  It was awful!  I though dried zucchini might be more useful.

I sliced the zucchinis using the slicer on my grater, which was very quick and produced a nice thin slice.  Then I laid them out on the dehydrator trays, about 1 zucchini to a tray.  I ran the drier on and off for several days until the zucchinis were dry enough.  I then sealed the chips in vacuum bags, so that they will last longer.  I hope to be able to get these out occasionally in winter when we miss zucchini, so they can be added to soups and stews.

How do you deal with a zucchini glut? Have you dried anything interesting recently?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Making tallow soap

For some reason I've always thought that making soap seemed too hard.  For a start the number of ingredients required was confusing and all the safety warnings about using the alkali put me off.  The worst part for me was that most of the ingredients had to be purchased, and some even imported (palm oil and coconut oil), which never seemed very self-sufficient.  I can definitely see the benefits of using homemade soap instead of mass produced soap (that often contains synthetic fragrance, colour, preservatives, and has had the glycerine removed), but it seemed to me that if I was going to buy all the ingredients I may as well just buy the soap and save myself all the hassle.  For the past several years I have bought homemade soap from various market stalls and websites, and that has suited me just fine.

soap made by my friend
Then we had the steer butchered at home and I saw just how much excess fat we had to dispose, it was nearly a wheel-barrow full, and that made me think about how we could use that fat instead of wasting it.  If I can make soap using the fat from steers that we kill for meat anyway, the only other ingredient I need is the alkali and maybe some essential oil for fragrance.  This is a simple and cheap way to be nearly self-sufficient for soap as well as using up a by-product that we would otherwise have to dispose.

It took me a little while to work out how to render the tallow, which I discussed earlier this week.  Then I found out that a friend of mine makes soap and has done for a number of years.  I talked to her about using tallow and as she was always looking for cheap ingredients, she got some from the butcher to try it (at $2 for 3 kg, it is very cheap!).  She then agreed to show me how to make it.

I'm not going to write about the entire process, many people with more experience have already written detailed posts about soap making in general, for example.  With my friend, we used half tallow, and a quarter each of coconut oil and olive oil.  Now that I know how its done, I would like to experiment with a 100% tallow soap.  I have read differing opinions about tallow soap.  Some say it will form a long lasting soap that cleans well, but others say that it may not lather as much without oil.  However, the vegetable oil soaps tend to dissolve quickly in water and don't last as well.  I would like to make the tallow soap and see if we are happy with the lather.  I also made a couple of bars with no essential oil, just to see how that would smell.

Some useful links:
A post about making tallow soap here.  A post about making tallow soap in the old days using the hot cooking method here.  Frugal Kiwi making sheep tallow soap here.

Here's what we did:

The oils used - tallow, olive oil, coconut oil and lavender essential oil.

all the other equipment
weighing out the oil/fat

weighing the water

weighing the lye

mixing the lye

adding the lye to the fat after getting the temperatures the same

mixing the soap with a stick blender

smoothing the soap into the moulds

leaving the soap to set

Out of the molds and drying on a rack
Have you made soap from tallow or oils?  What do you think about the frugality and/or self-sufficiency of soap making?  I'll let you know soon how the 100% tallow soap goes and I'll have a go at processing the soapwart too.

My other soap posts:

Natural soap using beef tallow

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rendering tallow in a slow cooker

When we had our steer killed back in August, I asked the butcher to keep some of the fat for me, so that I could render it to tallow.  With the previous animal, I had attempted to render in a large pot over an open fire.  This is not how to render fat, I just made a big black sticky stinky mess.  So this time I put the fat in the freezer and did some research first.  This post was very helpful and I decided to use the slow cooker to render the fat.  We don't have a food processor that I could use to chop the fat, so I fed it through our mincer/juicer, which was very messy, and would have worked better if the fat was more frozen at the time.

preparing the fat is rather messy

I forgot to take a photo of it in the slow cooker, but you get the idea, a slow cooker full of minced fat, turned on low and left for several hours until all the fat had melted.  Pete then helped me to pour the melted fat through a sieve and into old homebrew cans.  From a nearly full 5L slow cooker, we got 1 and a half cans - over 1 kg of pure white tallow.

The hot tallow - it turns white again when solidified

We then cleaned up all the fat/tallow mess and managed to block the s-bend under the sink with a neat plug of tallow.... lots of detergent and hot water are recommended at this stage!

The tallow can be used for cooking, but I really wanted to try making soap with it..... more on that tomorrow.

Have you ever tried to render fat?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fermented lemon and barley drink

I don't know if lemon and barley is so common here in Australia, but growing up in NZ, I remember drinking lemon and barley flavoured powdered drinks (I don't know if powdered drinks are even that popular in Aus, seems to be all about cordial here).  Anyway, it goes without saying that I don't drink anything powdered (or cordial) anymore, but when I saw a recipe for barley water in Nourishing Traditions, it did catch my interest.

At the time I had no barley, so at the first opportunity I bought some.  Our local organic buying group does quarterly bulk purchases of grains, beans, dried fruits etc, so I ordered some barley.  I accidentally got a carton of 6 1 kg bags instead of 1 bag, so now I have a lot of barley to use.

The recipe for fermented lemon and barley is very simple and much like the lacto-fermented ginger ale and beet kvass fermented drinks that I had already tried.  The only complicated part is preparing the barley.  In this case the recipe said to wash 4 tablespoons of barley and bring to the boil, discard the water and then add 2 L of water to be simmered in a double-boiler for 2 hours.  The barley is then strained and the water is used to make the drink (I used the boiled barley in rissoles that I was making anyway, so its a good idea to have a use for about half a cup of cooked barley when you're finished!).

To the barley water is added some whey, lemon juice and sugar to taste.  The whole thing then ferments at room temperature for a few days.  I then strained it again, because there was a fair bit of "sludge" on the bottom of the jug, but most of it went through the strainer and settled at the bottom of the next jug anyway, so its probably not worth straining it again (doesn't worry me as long as it stays on the bottom!).

The finished drink is delicious chilled.  I'm not sure how much the barley contributes, it really just tastes like lemon and sugar to me,and surprisingly like the powdered drink too.  Pete thought it should be fizzy, but I'm used to drinking this flavour still, so I prefer it without bubbles.

This is now another favourite fermented drink, which is lucky as I have plenty of barley to use up!  Any other suggestions for fermented drinks?  Any other suggestions for using up 6 kg of barley?  I don't really know what to do with it all.....

This post is linked to Party Wave Wednesday – 1/23/13.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cleaning without chemicals

I'm not much of a cleaner.  Our house is pretty messy most of the time.  About once a week I try to at least tidy everything away and sweep the floor (we have tiles throughout the tiny house).  I try to keep the kitchen clean and sanitary (what will all the crazy things fermenting on the bench!), and we wipe the bath out before we have the next bath :)  I have never been one to buy lots of cleaning products.  I find the range of different products quite bewildering and try to avoid that isle of the supermarket because I can't stand the smell of the fake fragrances.

The things that we do buy are dishwashing liquid, toilet cleaner and a bench-spray-cleaner-thingy (we already replaced laundry powder with soap nuts).  I've been thinking for a while that we really need to find an alternative to all these products.  I hate the smell of these products, I hate that they have unnecessary blue and green colouring in them (why do I want to wash my dishes with flouro green? when did that come to represent "clean"?) and I hate buying the packaging that they come in.

Washing the dishes
A friend who makes soap recently introduced me to her soap shaker.  I had wondered what people did before the flouro green liquid was invented!  I had heard of soap shakers, but I didn't know what they actually looked like.  They are now almost impossible to buy.  You can either get them antique or from this person who started making them.  I did ask Pete to make me one, but he was very busy lately, and I didn't want to buy anymore flouro green, so I got impatient and decided to support a small business instead :)  They are quite expensive, but I think I will save that money by using soap instead of flouro green.

The soap shaker arrives from New Zealand and has been opened by customs -
It said "soap shaker" on the declaration, what's not to understand?

The soap shaker works by simply loading it up with soap and swishing it in the water before adding the dishes.  Its no more complicated that the flouro green liquid, just went out of fashion I suppose (you can work out the conspiracy theory for yourself).  I am lucky that the same friend who told me about it, also makes her own soap in the perfect size to fit the shaker with citrus oil, which smells lovely, but any plain soap would do the job (I'm thinking of using up all our odd soap ends in it).

Wiping the benches
Normally I just wipe the bench tops with hot water, but occasionally I will use a spray product, especially on the oven top if its greasy.  I had read that vinegar was a good substitute and had tried sloshing it around on the oven top, with surprisingly good results.  The other day when I was juicing the third bag of lemons that had been given to me by someone with an overflowing lemon tree, I decided to try a recipe that I had seen where the lemon rinds are soaked in vinegar.  After several weeks, this has resulted in a pleasing lemony smelling vinegar.  I'm sure it does the same job at the plain vinegar, so I wouldn't go out of my way to get lemons, but if you're just going to chuck them in the compost anyway, this is something else you can do with them.

Cleaning the toilet
In our house Pete cleans the toilet far more often than I do.  I don't know why, but I just don't really care so much.  We have always bought a commercial toilet cleaner.  Really its just a detergent with some colour and smell in it.  Some of them have disinfectants, but that's not great for our septic tank anyway - we want the bacteria to thrive in there!

Most of the natural cleaning ideas involve a combination of vinegar, baking soda and/or borax.  I decided that the easiest way to deal with this was to make up a mixture of baking soda and water in the old toilet cleaner bottle, so that it could easily be squirted around, and to use the vinegar spray that I made for the kitchen (in a different "bathroom bottle").  This seems to do the job and is probably better for the septic too. The baking soda can also be used in the bath if it needs some extra scrubbing.

(We also used a similar method to clean the BBQ recently, and it worked there too, and didn't burn Pete's hands like the oven cleaner he used up last time).

Mopping the floor
This usually gets done when we have visitors coming or something starts to get really sticky.  I have been using up the natural shampoo now that I stopped washing my hair, a splash of that seems to get the floor pretty clean.  When that runs out I will be using vinegar with a few drops of eucalyptus oil.  I find if the water is hot enough, you don't need much else anyway.

Any other suggestions?  What other natural cleaning products do you use?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Permaculture - Observe and Interact

Last year I discovered Permaculture and I couldn’t stop reading and thinking about it.  I tried to explain it to you back then, but its hard to explain something that you’re just starting to learn about.  I decided that I needed to know more before I could share, so I went away and read every Permaculture book that I could get my hands on:

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability (David Holmgren)
Permaculture One (David Holmgren and Bill Mollison)
Permaculture: A Designers' Manual (Bill Mollison)
Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (Toby Hemenway)
The Basics of Permaculture Design (Ross Mars)
The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture (Nicole Faires)

And now, I think I’m ready to share some thoughts about Permaculture and how we can (and do) apply it on our farm(s).  In case you want to know more yourself, I recommend both Linda’s book and Gaia’s Garden for a start, and particularly for smaller gardens.  If you have a farm, you probably need to keep reading and get into Bill Mollison’s design manual, but the other two are still a good place to start.  Principles and Pathways is a good one to get deeper into the philosophy of permaculture, but don’t be disappointed with the lack of practical solutions, use the other books for that.

This tree loses its bark in early summer and is called "salmon bark"
 In these posts I’m just going to talk about one principle at a time.  As I said in my last post, there are two sets of principles (although now I’ve learnt that Bill Mollison’s are also referred to as philosophies), but they both cover the same content, just in different ways.  I am going to use David Holmgren’s principles simply because there are twelve, one for each month.

The first principle on the list is Observe and Interact.  Obviously I have to start somewhere, but I do need to point out that this is not to say that we only need to apply this principle once at the start of a design, the principles are arranged in a circle because design is a cycle, in which we observe, make a change, and observe again.  We need to be continuously observing and interacting with our environment in order to refine and optimise our designs.

Initial observations
We have been very lucky to have had lots of time (almost a year now) to observe our new property before we had to start developing anything.  We have spent time thinking about where to put the house and then how to orientate the house.  Where to put the shed in relation to the house and then everything else that we want close to the house.

Late last year I joined a permaculture discussion group on Homegrown and as part of that I started a permaculture design for our house yard.  The first step was to gather all the data about the climate and landscape.  For me, this was even better than just observing the property for a year.  We were able to look at data from the previous ten years (since the airport was built nearby) to see how the temperature and rainfall fluctuated between and within years. 

In Australia, the best source of climate data is the Bureau of Meteorology (affectionately known as “the bom”).  Use this page to find the closest weather station to your property, you can then download the observations as .csv files which you can open in excel and then do a bit of analysis of averages and maximums/minimums.

It is also possible to get the sun path chart for your property if you know the gps coordinates (which you can easily find onine, just google latitude and the name of your town), so you can work out how the sun angle changes with the seasons.  The best source that I found was here

I used a number of different sources to map the property.  We have the “property map of assessable vegetation” from the QLD dept of environment (can be downloaded for properties in QLD here, which includes vegetation and waterways), google maps, and my own GPS map.  I drew all the important features from these sources onto one survey map (from when we bought the property), so we now have a rough idea of roads, creek lines, dams, fences, distances and paddock areas.

You can find my initial permaculture design observations on my google docs here.

Ongoing observations
The problem with the weather observations is that the property is 10km from the airport where the readings are taken.  This means that readings are really only an indication.  As much of our rainfall is due to storms, there can be no rain on one property and 50 mL on another close by.  We need to keep our own records in order to know the real annual rainfall and temperature variations on our property.

In December I started keeping a detailed diary for the farm(s).  I was going to start in January, but then I thought best to just start, and not worry about it being the start of the year or not.  I was going to buy a diary, I thought that if I had a special diary that I had paid for, I would feel obliged to use it, but then I couldn’t find a diary that was suitable.  In the end I decided to make my own.  I just used 3 days per page, with extra space on the Sunday page.  A month prints out on 8 leaves of paper, so the entire year (when I print it) will be only 96 leaves.  I keep it clipped into a simple folder, and try very hard to fill it in every evening.  The most important thing is rainfall and number of eggs, and then any notes about where the cattle are, so we can keep track of when they were moved to different paddocks.  At first this is mainly for Eight Acres, as we aren’t at Cheslyn Rise everyday to read the rain gauge, but once I get into the habit of making notes, I hope that it will be easy to continue to observe both properties as I get the opportunity.

Another tip from Linda Woodrow is to name things.  Even if you don't know the proper name, if you name something yourself, you will remember it.  For example, there is a tree on our property that was in flower in December and I called it our Christmas tree, that will help me to remember when it flowers.  It also helped me notice where that tree was growing and how many other similar trees weren't in flower at the time.

An example of the Observe and Interact principle in practice
When we moved to Eight Acres we knew that we had one area in particular that was very badly eroded and seemed to get worse everytime we had a decent rainfall event.  When I first heard about swales and hugelkultur I wondered if we could use those ideas to help with our erosion problem.  I could see that we needed to fence the area to keep out the cattle (who were just walking all over it and making the erosion even worse), and we needed to do something to prevent more of the bank washing away.  First I build a small swale/hugelkultur at the top of the slope, just using logs and piling up grass clippings and mulch.  The logs stopped the mulch washing away, and the mulch helped to catch the top soil coming down the hill.  I could see that it was working, so I kept expanding the system gradually.  I then started to plant arrowroot and comfrey, and anything else that I had spare, to try to generate some more organic matter and start to build up some soil.  So far these plants have struggled, and maybe I need to think more about what else I could get established there, its hot and exposed and there's not much soil yet.  In some places the Rhodes grass is starting to creep over the bank, which is ideal.  Maybe it will take several years to really see an improvement, but at least I think I’ve prevented it from getting worse. 


after (different angle, sorry!)
In this simple example, I think I observed the problem, I tried a small system, I observed that it worked and I extended the system further.  This is what we need to do at each design stage of our larger property.  First observe the cause of a problem, or a possible inefficiency that could become an opportunity for improvement, make a small change, observe the impact and continue to build the system as appropriate.

How have you applied “Observe and Interact” at your place?

Each month in 2013 I reviewed a principle from David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability:

Friday, January 11, 2013

Healthy salt?

So here’s another public health stuff up for you.  Add this to the list of things you have been avoiding for no reason, which already includes the dangers of raw milk and the evils of cholesterol.  Good news, it turns out that there’s not really any conclusive evidence that salt actually causes high blood pressure, and not getting enough salt is most likely more dangerous than too much salt.  See all the details here.

However, not all salts are the same (see this article):
  • sea salt - evaporated directly from sea water
  • rock salt - mined from deposits of salt from old seas (where sea level has changed)
  • table salt - sea salt or rock salt that is refined to almost pure sodium chloride with optional added iodine
This left me wondering which salt I should be using.  At different times I have used iodised table salt, non-iodised table salt, rock salt (particularly Himilayan) and sea salt (the one most recently was "evaporated naturally in ponds and stirred by hand using wooden paddles" in Spain!).  As usual, I want to eat what is best for my health, but ideally, it should also be made locally and not create any environmental problems or excessive energy usage.

According to this article, the composition of salt is important:
Unrefined salts, whether mined from the earth or harvested from the sea, contain a broad spectrum of trace elements, often in the same balance as are found in human blood. These include magnesium and potassium, necessary for health and which help the body metabolise the sodium better. Indeed, potassium and magnesium work synergistically with sodium to regulate water balance and nerve and muscle impulses.
And that really rules out the refined salt for me.  The issue of iodine is complicated though.  The iodine content of rock or sea salt is relatively low, the best sources of iodine are seafoods (including seaweed), as they concentrate the iodine from seawater.  I don't have access to fresh seafood, so I really don't eat enough sea products to get sufficient iodine in my diet.  When I had my hair tested for mineral content, I was iodine deficient   At the time I bought iodine drops to take, this is the same iodine that is added to the refined salt, but I get to control the dose.  I also bought seaweed meal (from the stockfeed store) and add that to bread and other meals to increase our iodine intake more naturally.  I'd rather be conscious of the dose I'm taking than be mass-medicated through my salt.

Back to the salt.  If the choice is between Himalayan rock salt and Spanish sea salt, I was still really confused about which salt to buy, as neither are local and I wasn't sure if rock was better than sea.  Turns out that the main difference between the two is that sea salt is more likely to contain contamination from sea pollution, whereas the rock salt, coming from old seas prior to pollution, is more likely to be clean.  So I was sold on the rock salt idea, but I wanted to find something more local... you'd think that hot dry Australia would have some kind of salt to be mined!

And that's when I found Murray River Salt.  This salt is a bit different again, its evaporated from a saline aquifer, so its old salt like the rock salt, but it doesn't have to be mined.  Even better, this is saline water that would otherwise end up in the Murray River.  I don't know how much of a difference it really makes to the salinity problem, and I still think that Peter Andrews has the right idea about how to deal with the wider issue, but in the meantime, on balance this company is surely doing more good than harm.  AND they are located in a rural area and creating jobs there, which is fantastic.

What salt do you eat?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Brafords - a versatile Queensland breed

It may seem strange that we bought our herd of Braford cows without knowing much about the breed, but when we decided that we wanted to buy cows, it was more important to us to find a herd of a consistent breed in the local area on a (cattle) tick-free property, than worry about specific breeds.  If we had done all the research at the start and had our heart set on a breed, chances are we would never have found a herd of cows in that particular breed.  When we started looking at the Brafords, we found out a little about the breed and they seemed to be suitable for our property, so we went ahead and bought them.

By coincidence, an acquaintance of ours happened to own a book called “The Australian Braford”, which was published by the Australian Braford Society to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the breed in 1987.  The book details all the early stud breeders and, more importantly, the origins of the breed itself.  I found it absolutely fascinating to find out the origins of the breed and the historical context.

Around the 1820s the first British cattle breeds were imported to Australia from England (until then the only cattle available were a mixed herd descending from those cattle on the first fleet).  At this time Herefords and Shorthorns were particularly popular.  Such was the influence of “the old country” that the cattlemen persevered with these breeds, even though they were not particularly well suited to the Australian climate and vegetation.  They even judged the show cattle to British standards.  At the time, the Bos Indicus cattle, originating in India, were thought to have unsuitable temperament and not put on enough weight to be used as commercial beef breeds.  It seems hard to imagine now that we are so used to seeing Brahman and the Brahman-derived breeds, such as Droughtmasters, on properties across Northern Australian.  To me this shows how conservative farming practices were back then, with little innovation, possibly due to the potential cost of failure and lack of information available to farmers.

It was not until introduced ticks (Cattle Tick from Indonesia) and drought became a major problem in sub-tropical Queensland in the 1940s that cattle producers began to consider the advantages of Bos Indicus breeds, particularly the Brahman.  Bos Indicus cattle are known to have higher tolerance to heat and resistance to parasites.  They are able to forage on poorer pasture and survive in more difficult conditions.  It is interesting timing, as in other areas of Australian culture, the country was just starting to establish some independence from the UK.
I was absolutely fascinated to read about the first Braford breeding program conducted by Adam Rea of Eden Garry, and the dedication and patience required to develop a breed that would prosper under the conditions at his property.
“In July 1946 I went to Glenparirie and bought a pure grey Brahman bull out of some of the 1933 importation.  This bull was put over 4 Eden Garry [Hereford] breeders.  This bull produced 100 brindle calves, but they all had white faces.  Ten half-bred Brahman bulls were put over more of the Hereford cows.  In February 1948, the half-bred Brahman heifers were put with a Hereford bull to get one-quarter Brahman, and some of the half-bred Brahman heifers were put back to the pure Brahman bull to test his breeding strength.  The tops were very good, but temperament was bad.  I kept a few of these three-quarter bulls to put to Hereford cows to give three-eighths progeny.  The half-bred Brahman bull went to one-quarter Brahman heifers and the Hereford cows.  The calves were numbers to know the three-eighths and one-quarter, so they could be put into their right groups.  At this stage, I had no concern for colour; conformation and fertility were the aim.  All this crossing went on until the herd carried three-eighths Brahman blood.  I formed the three crosses to give a wide range of type and conformation.  From there on, I started to close the gap and gradually a more uniform type emerged.”
This made me think that he probably kept better records than my occasional garden journal entries!  The book goes on to explain how Mr Rea eventually started to select for colouring to develop the red and white Braford that we know today.  The society wasn’t formed until 1962, which is testament to the amount of work required to develop the Braford breed.

The unique aspect of the Braford (and some other Australian breeds, like the Murray Grey), is that they were developed to suit their environment and the breed has always been allowed to be three-eighths to five eighths Brahman, depending on the environment in which they live, rather than having a uniform look, as many of the British and European breeds require.  This is very important in the diverse climate of Australia, where no one breed will do well in every area. 

As for their appearance, Brafords are (obviously) a bit of Brahman and a bit of Hereford.  Like the Brahman, the Braford has a distinct hump over the top of the shoulder and neck (although usually not so large in the Braford), and a loose flap of skin (dewlap) hanging from the neck and under their bellies, they also have distinctive long, floppy ears.  From the Hereford breed, the Brafords derive their red and white colouring.  They usually have a red body, with a white face.  Breeders aim for red pigmentation around the eyes to reduce eye cancer.  The Braford does not have the thick Hereford coat, even in winter they maintain a short coat like the Brahman.  While Hereford cattle can be bred to be consistently polled (no horns) the combination of Brahman and Hereford genes has complicated the establishment of consistently polled Braford cattle.  The standard in Australia is to remove horns if the animal is not born polled.  This is for aesthetics, safety and to prevent bruising the meat (I’ll discuss dehorning in more detail in a later post).

A typical Brahman shape

A typical Hereford shape

After the Brafords became established in the warmer climate of Queensland, there was some interest in the breed further south in New South Wales as well.  In this case, the farmers were more interested in the natural resistance to eye cancer, rather than the heat and tick tolerance that had proved important in QLD.  They don’t seem to have gained any popularity in the more southern states however, I assume this is because the British and European breeds do well in those climates. 

Even more interesting is the concurrent development of the Braford breed in America in the late 1940s.  In this case the Brahman cattle were more available and the breed was developed from Brahman cows and a Hereford Bull in Florida, where the British breeds were also suffering under hot conditions.  In both cases, the Braford genetics were created out of necessity and with the aim of developing a breed that would thrive in a warm climate. 

And finally, my favourite part of the book was a bush poem about the Braford:

The neighbour’s bull, by Gordon MacKenzie of Strathconan
My neighbour is a careful bloke,
But still nobody’s full,
And often I would say to him:
“Bill! Try a Braford bull”.

Any always his reply would be
“Don’t take me for a sucker”.
The stock I’ve got are quite alright
They only need more tucker

One day I missed a Braford bull,
I’d put him out to work
And when my neighbour brought him back
He told me with a smirk:

“I’ve had him there for quite a while,
My bulls are poor as hell,
And though he’s done a lot of work,
Your bull looks pretty well”.

But then the drought got worse and worse
I was worried, I’ll confess,
My Brafords battle through OK
But Bill’s were in a mess.

And when the drought was over
He came to me and said:
“I’d like to buy some Braford bulls
For most of mine are dead”.

“Those Braford weaners by your bull
Are proof for all to see
I’ve nought to lose, and much to gain,
It’s Brafords now for me”.

So when you Braford bull gets out
Don’t rave and get all tense;
The best promotion guy we’ve got
Is the bull who jumped the fence.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Farm update - Jan 2013

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you had a good break.  For most of December I thought it was NEVER GOING TO RAIN AGAIN!!  Why does it always rain towards the end of the month?  We had about 30 mL at Nanango, over a few days.  PHEW!  It was starting to get really dry.  It stayed green for a little while, but with the following days being long, hot and dry, it doesn't take long to use up all that moisture.  To put that in perspective, December and January are usually our big rain months, we were expected 100-200 mL over the two months, but that doesn't look very likely now.  

At Kumbia we have had even less rain and realised too late that we kept the steers for a little too long, and over Christmas there is no market at which to sell them, so we had to hold them over Christmas and will sell at the first market in January.  Unfortunately this has meant that we were feeding hay to the Braford cows as we started to run low on decent grass for them.  The poor girls are getting a little skinny, but soon they will have some extra paddocks that the steers have just picked at, so that will help them, also our sorghum will be ready to feed off soon (if we get enough rain, it needs to get high enough to not contain prussic acid).  Our little weaner calves that we thought we might start to fatten will also go to the market at the next opportunity and then we might have our numbers down to a more sensible level.  

Our grand plan of over-grazing at first to get rid of the excess of grass has certainly worked, there's not much grass left in some paddocks and they have even stripped back some really overgrown areas.  We only kept the number because we were expecting rain and more grass, and the rain didn't come, so we really had too many cattle for our property.  Pasture management is a steep learning curve, and depends so much on the weather, it has been difficult to manage it from afar and I think we will do a better job when we can assess it daily instead of weekly.

We keep having to remind ourselves that some of our neighbours are real farmers, who depend on farm income and they are doing it tougher than us.  Sure we may lose some money selling these animals, but while we have full-time jobs, we won't lose the farm.  So when you see these weather forecasts of no rain (or when they forecast rain and it never comes), think of the farmers who don't have any grass for their animals, it can be very a very stressful time when you don't get the rain that you expect.

the steers showing off their plump rumps

one of our new baby brafords
the sorghum needs to be 50cm before we can feed it of in case of prussic acid poisoning
In the garden, the harvest is a little slower than last year.  I have a few beans, some lettuce (until the chickens got in and ate it all), some of the kale has gone to seed, the curcubits are safe in their chicken-proof netting and starting to flower, corn ears are starting to form (but the plants seem too short), and the tomatoes seemed to take forever to ripen but finally some of the yellow "taxi" tomatoes are ready (and I've lost some with blossom end rot even though I put lime in the soil for calcium).  My best harvest so far has been the pickling cucumbers, they grow so well and must be picked as soon as they reach a decent size as they seem to double overnight!  I have made two jars of fermented pickles already, yum!  And I think I will just use some in salad this year as we can't eat all the pickles.  I've been using my dehydrator to dry garlic and zucchini (neither grown by me) and lots of herbs.

leek flower

borage flower - taste them, they are so sweet!
I updated you on the house cattle before Christmas.  The chickens are doing a great job of laying and we were trying to decide when to start collecting eggs for the incubator, when I finally found some guinea fowl keets, only a day old, so in the brooder now.  They are so cute!  I hope they will grow up and eat all our ticks!

Deck chicken right before she laid an egg in the dog bed
 - we think they have an "arrangement" as we sometimes find egg shells from dogs helping themselves
Pied guinea fowl keets!!!  cute and very noisy
In December I discovered a new-to-me blog (that everyone probably knows about already) called Nourish Me.  I have a give away later in the week and I've decided to write more about permaculture - this month it will be about "Observe and Interact".  I also learnt how to make soap from the tallow that we rendered AND we started working on the steer hide that has been in our shed since August.  I will tell you all about it soon.


How was your December and what are your plans for January?

Never miss a post! Sign up here for our weekly email...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Suggested Reading