Summer’s Fiery Blast

Just when we thought the heat of summer was waning and that autumn was on its way…a final hot day for February and out of control bushfires to deal with!

Don’t you just hate the feeling when you are sitting at work in a neighbouring town and looking out the window to see huge amounts of smoke billowing into the sky from the nearby landscape…to hear the local firetrucks roar past – those AMAZING volunteers that don their heavy yellow jackets on 40 degree days to fight the fires and try to save our landscape, communities, houses and livestock.

What’s even worse is when you realise that the smoke is from a big bushfire and with the recent wind change, that it’s headed straight for your friend’s property where your llamas and horse are currently agisted!  What follows is a very quick exit from work, a very hurried drive to get home and grab halters, ropes, woollen blankets (in case I was caught out in the fire and needed to shelter in my car), hay and treats (getting 4 unruly llamas haltered in the middle of the paddock and onto a trailer alone was going to be interesting…) and my phone and then a very quick drive towards the towering plumes of smoke for Operation Animal Evac!

Mt Bolton Fire

Adrenalin had kicked in once I got to the gate of the property and raced up the driveway.  The llamas and horse were grazing in the front paddock, so I whistled and called them to follow the car up to the shed where the trailer was located.  Luckily, I have been visiting frequently and they are used to associating the car with copious amounts of carrots and treats and all came trotting up as I hurriedly put the trailer on the back of the car.  They were all still relatively calm as the hot wind hadn’t yet shifted in our direction.

Llamas to be rescued

Lilah, my friendliest llama was the first up for treats and I quickly managed to halter her and load her onto the open box trailer.  The others I knew would be more difficult, as they have been running wild across the 15 acres for a few months.  But, with surprising speed, I somehow managed to get both Brittany and Wildfire in halter and wedged them all on the trailer.  This was a fantastic reminder as to why I got Llamas instead of Alpacas.  Llamas will come up to you in the paddock, they will respond well to training, treats, commands and halter training.  They are much, much, much easier to catch and halter in an open environment than a skittish alpaca would be.  Their domestic evolution as a beast of burden certainly comes through with the right training and I was so grateful at that moment that I had invested in training them, for there was not a minute to lose.

Meanwhile, back at the fire front on the other side of the ridge, the blaze had made it into hillside bushland…

Mt Bolton fire AJeffree

Yuki, the final llama – who was incredibly difficult to trailer load in the past and the wildest of the lot was going to be an issue.  I couldn’t fit her on the trailer – I usually only trailer a maximum of 2 llamas at a time as they like their personal space, but today I had 3 squished in there, shoulder to shoulder.  I would have to come back for her.  And somehow get her on-board…

I made the dusty dash down the driveway with the llamas all jostling and bumping along in the trailer.  As I drove out the driveway, 8 more fire engines and CFA vehicles roared past me on their way to the fire front.  Teams were coming in from near and far to fight this blaze.  I couldn’t see the flames, just the huge billowing cloud coming up from the other side of the ridge.  I hoped that they were getting it under control. 48 trucks were there already and a number of large helicopters and water aircraft.

Mt bolton helicopters AJ

Back home at White Stone Farm (which was actually only 13kms from the blaze…but a damn sight further away than my friend’s property!), I quickly unloaded the llamas.  Wildfire, not used to being crushed between the two girls had spent much of the frantic ride home spitting at Lilah, whose face was now covered in green, rank stomach contents.  Poor thing, I had no time to wash her face, I just removed their halters and turned them loose.  I needed to race back for Yuki…and had no idea what I was going to do about Jess the horse.  I don’t have a horse trailer and my friends who do were pretty preoccupied evacuating their own animals at this stage.

By this time, Stace had made it home from work and met me at the front gate of the property.  The wind had shifted and yellow-grey smoke drifted menacingly across the landscape towards us.  Poor Yuki was in a bit of a panic with all of her llama herd suddenly disappearing, but we managed to coax her over and get the halter on her.  Now for the tricky part, getting her to step up onto the trailer! I don’t know if it was her desire to get out of there, our adrenaline or the urgency of the situation, but she stepped on with relatively little fuss (compared to last time where we had to practically LIFT her 100+kgs on!!). Ok, what about the horse?  Jess was up the back of the paddock hanging out with some neighbouring horses.  We drove up there to get her as she refused to come down.  I managed to get a halter on her with minimal fuss. I couldn’t put her on the box trailer, so I gave Stace the keys to drive Yuki home and had no option but to walk the 8 kilometres home with Jess in tow. I didn’t have a helmet, saddle or bridle with me and didn’t trust that I could be calm enough bareback to ride her home safely on the roads, so we had to leg it!

It was hot, windy, a little smoky and I realised that I hadn’t eaten nearly enough lunch for this amount of energy!  Jess moseyed along, it was her first big adventure outside the gates and other than a possible horse-eating old couch on the nature strip that she eyed suspiciously, she was absolutely fine. We made it into town where a friend saw me and offered Jess a paddock for the night, until I could float her the rest of the way home.  We reasoned that the blaze was getting under control and that the town wouldn’t be at risk now and could leave her there for the night.

Jess worried fires

With all my beasts safely relocated, we waited with bated breath to see if the firefighters could manage the blaze.  By now there were 93 vehicles attending.  With their amazing hard work, teamwork, talent, grit and determination they got the blaze under control.  We could see the fires still burning on the ridge that night from White Stone Farm. Ten days later it still burned, with teams managing the blazes as they reignited or smouldered.  Without any decent rain, these amazing crews are all we have to ensure that our homes and communities continue to be safe.

mt bolton landscape helicopter ajThe sad part is that this fire – and 2 more that were alight at the same time nearby, are believed to be the work of arsonists.  The Country Fire Authority do an amazing job, dropping everything to put their safety on the line in dangerous conditions to ensure that their communities are safe. Forget the Marvel Superheroes – these men and women are indeed real life Superheroes!

We donate to the CFA every year, as we are not able to volunteer for the brigade. It never feels like enough though when you see the tremendous work that they do. If you would also like to donate to this fantastic cause, go to the CFA Website.

My fingers are crossed that this is the last of the fire season for summer.

The amazing fire photos in this post were taken by the very talented Ann Jeffree. See more of Ann’s wonderful work at Ann’s Facebook page.

Spotlight: Chook of the Week

This week we’d like to introduce you to one of our wonderful girls, Bentley. Bentley has been with us from the start, one of our original girls that we bought as a pullet from a guy who sells Hyline Browns. Hylines are an Australian breed and are reputed to be good egg chooks, being bred for maximum egg delivery and robust health.  We’d have to agree, as Bentley has been a fantastic layer over the last 3 years, with a great temperament and a strong and healthy chook in the outdoor free range environment.

Bentley the chook

Bentley has enjoyed raising a few broods along the way too.  As with most chooks, at some point they tend to get clucky.  If the timing is right then we are more than happy for the girls to raise some chicks. It’s always a wonderful journey to watch them raise their young fluffy charges.

Bentley & chicks

Bentley is a very attentive mum, finding them yummy food, teaching them how to dust bathe and protecting them from the other rowdy chooks.  If there is food available, Bentley is the first one to it and is a prolific scratcher, so she has taught her children to forage well!

bentley and chicks

Bentley & Cardigan

She’s one of our best chooks, helping to teach all the young up-and-comers a thing or two about life in the free range chook yard here at White Stone Farm!

Resilience of Chickens

Chickens are amazing creatures.  They are really tough in many respects and really fragile in others. A chest infection or eggbound oviduct can kill them quickly, whereas grave wounds can just seem like an annoyance and they pull through.

Take, for example, one of our beautiful, big Light Sussex girls.  In the morning, as they burst out of the chicken Falcon to have breakfast, I didn’t even realise anything was amiss.  Everyone ran around and had their breakfast in a frenzy of food gobbling excitement, I gave them a cursory glance over to see if anyone looked mopey, dull feathered or otherwise untoward and then headed to the Big Shed to help Stace with some stuff.

About half an hour later the chickens ran past in their excitable hurry to find the next tasty grub.  There is usually one particular hen, or sometimes it’s the rooster leading the charge to the next feeding spot and everyone hurries along after, fearful of missing out or being separated from the flock (leaving them vulnerable to attack by our resident Magpies). The main group passed and then hobbling along behind trying to keep up was one of the big beautiful Light Sussex hens.  With blood pouring out of her foot!

Stace and I raced over and grabbed her and were horrified to find that two of her toes were missing!  They had been sheared clean off!  Perplexed how it may have happened – perhaps she got her toes caught in the wire floor of the car as they all jumped out…I raced her off to the house for emergency medical treatment.  For me it was an emergency…to the chook it just seemed like an annoyance because she wasn’t eating with the others!

I bathed the foot and inspected the wound closer.  Two of her toes had been cut off from the first knuckle.  She patiently let me bathe her foot in a warm saline solution, then treat her with antiseptic and bandage the would.  We set up a clean and dry hospital cage outside the back door and although perplexed by her new bandage, she settled in well.

Chook with foot injury

We inspected the chook Falcon but couldn’t work out exactly what had happened.  No toes remained…likely they were gobbled up by an over eager breakfast eater!  Eeew.

Each day I would change the dressing and ensure that the wound was healing well and she was bestowed with the name Peggy…short for, you guessed it, Pegleg.  It looked horrific, but the healing process was amazing, with the skin growing over the exposed bone.

Chook with foot injury

Chook with injured foot recovering

Eventually it was healed enough for the Great Outdoors and Peg had taught herself how to balance on her limited number of toes.  She is going great now, with no hint of a limp or disability – you can’t tell her from her Light Sussex sister.  She has adapted her scratching technique and forges on in her chookie way.  What a trooper is our Peggy!

Peggy the chook recovering from a foot injury

Something summery this way comes…

From our lovely days of spring, the weather has now starting to warm up as summer gets into full swing and give us a hint of increasing summer heat to come.  The temperature climbs higher – mid 20’s, 30 degrees…mid 30’s…in the heat of summer (around now) the mercury will reach into the 40’s again and scorch our landscape.

The landscape held on to its last vestiges of verdant finery for quite a while.  The greenery. Oh how I love the greenery before the scenery changes to golden yellow and browns.  I love the rolling green hills of the volcanic landscape, the freshness of the growth, the flowers and abundant water.

Rose at White Stone Farm

I hold onto the wonderful memories of these mild spring time days, of longer light and activity, before heat of summer saps our strength and makes things too hot and horrible to do much. Before we switch into overheated survival mode!  Lots of opportunity to train llamas, spend time working with Jess, get stuck into weeding, watch the plants grow vigorously, harvest garlic, bask in the sunshine whilst out and about among the veggies and watch chickens grow. Often it means that we don’t sit down to dinner until the sun has gone to bed, eating at 10pm (very Spanish of us!), with little time left to do much after that but put ourselves to bed…but it certainly makes us appreciate all those daylight hours to get stuff done!  The animals and plants seem to enjoy this last bit of productivity too, with the horse and llamas relishing the extra grazing period and lazy days in the sun before the grass turns completely dry.

Wildfire and the girls

With the arrival of good friends over summer, comes the opportunity to get the llamas out and about on a trek through the landscape as we prepare for our Llama Luncheon treks in the near future. As the llama girls grow and learn, it’s really good to get them used to walking with a number of different people as we go on these walks – and it’s getting much too difficult to walk them all together by myself these days!

A trek through the landscape is always fun! Owen and Karen, our regular visitors and wonderful friends from Sydney enjoy spending time at the farm and helping us with the llamas.  Owen and Brittany have a very special connection and she absolutely loves it when he comes to stay.

Owen Brit Prue & Lilah

Wandering through the volcanic scenery with the llamas is a quiet and relaxing way to appreciate the scenery, keep fit and enjoy the peace and solitude of the country.

Heading out on a llama trek

As we wander along the llamas are inquisitive and enjoy the experience, the new sights and smells, the wildlife, the sunshine and the company.  Often Brittany will start humming happily in her llama way as she walks along.

Llama trekking with Owen and Karen

And Yuki tries to stop to eat every step of the way…with so much hay around, it’s a wonder we actually get anywhere at times!!

Yuki and balesAfter a lovely amble with the llamas there is always time for llama kisses at the end!

Llama kisses with Yuki and Karen

A big thank you for Owen and Karen for spending time with us this summer and helping us out on the farm!

So, who wants to come along next and join us for a llama trek??

Winter Is Coming

Our seasons have been delayed.  A long, hot, dry, dusty summer has given way to a long, hot, dry, dusty autumn.  A strange autumn, with no rain until the very last few days.  It’s been tough here at White Stone Farm, with our dams drying and plants dying, surrounded by this brown landscape.  We’re lucky though, ours is a mere hobby compared to the ancestral tracts of land from which many farmers must carve out their entire livelihoods throughout rural Australia.  For them the prolonged dry weather has been most difficult, with feed prices sky-high, crops failing and livestock going hungry on the barren ground. When food comes so readily from supermarkets and seems so abundant, we can easily forget the physical and emotional hardships it takes to get it to our plate.

The White Stone Farm herbivores tend not to stray far from their meal during those energy taxing dry days and the prolonged dry weather has cost us more in feed than we had anticipated.

Dinner time at White Stone Farm

Our hay bales for growing, so dutifully and painstakingly collected in summer and readied for the autumn rains have stood dry.  Our grand plans to have them soak up the autumn rain in preparation for garlic planting stood unfulfilled.  We emptied the last of the dam water trying to give them some moisture so that the first stage of decomposition could take place.

White Stone Farm hay bales

We seem to be caught within a rain shadow of a rain shadow.  Clunes is reputedly quite dry and then where we are located just north of the town seems to be further shadowed by Mount Beckworth.  With our beautiful view of the surrounding volcanic landscape, we watch rain storms gather and scud across the skies beyond our boundaries.  We’re jealous to hear about the torrential rain in Ballarat, or a deluge in Melbourne.  But no amount of rain dances have brought them our way…

And then, in the final week of autumn, Mother Nature finally helped out in our dry, parched world.  The rains we were eagerly waiting on and hoping for so that we could plant our garlic finally arrived, with the skies opening up to a brief deluge to moisten the ground and refresh the landscape.  Our first 10mls was cause for celebration.  Maybe that last rain dance did work.

The light flush of green on the landscape is now taking hold, as grasses and plants rise forth out of the dusty, bare ground.  Gumboots are now out in force to combat the muddy clay and numerous puddles.  The sodden ground is slippery and you can just about hear the plants taking a big long draught of water before it disappears down the large cracks that opened up the clay during the dry!

Winter fire at White Stone FarmAll too quickly, the brief autumn rains and warm sunshine are giving way to winter.  The chill is in the air and winter is coming.  Frosts are starting and words like “brrr…minus 2 degrees this morning” have returned to our vocabulary.  The type of weather that you can pull out all those lovely, warm jumpers, long socks, scarves, beanies and gloves, get out your favourite long-johns and cosy up to the fire with a good book and a bowl of steaming vegetable soup whilst the night cools down or the rain beats down outside.  Sunset is early and night falls quickly, with us needing to dash home from work to lock up the chooks.  No detours allowed as we race to beat the setting sun and the prowling foxes and get our chicken girls safely to bed.

But it does allow us long luxurious time indoors as the early darkness closes in, time to read good books to relax and inspire, spin llama wool, weave new creations, discuss more sustainability ideas that we want to implement or go over our permaculture designs and house renovations that we have planned for the warmer months to come.

Already the garlic is sprouting, the chickens are going through their moult (although some have stoically continued to lay eggs in the colder weather – it must be all the lovely extra food we are giving them!) and the bugs are returning to the damp places beneath rocks and logs.  It’s becoming a chicken paradise again with lots of green pick to enjoy and protein galore as worms and bugs return near the surface of the moist soil.

Garlic sprouting

The herbivores are also enjoying the greenery and Jess and the llamas are full of new life that comes with the energy hit of delicious, fresh grass.  After such a protracted, hot and dry few months, it is certainly nice to look out over a carpet of green that now adorns the landscape and appreciate Mother Nature’s watery gift of goodness from the clouds above.

Newfound freedom for all

As Autumn rolls on, our baby chickens are growing rapidly.  The youngsters that we raised as surrogate parents from the incubator are enjoying the A-frame chook house that Stace built – complete with a llama to watch over them (when she’s not distracted eating grass or daydreaming!)

Llama and chook house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though our babies are growing quickly, it still takes about 5 months for a young female to start laying.  With the demand for our tasty White Stone Farm eggs amongst our family, friends and work colleagues growing, there was an increased need for more immediate layers – and fast!

Continue reading

Marching into Autumn at White Stone Farm

Phew – a long hot summer is now behind us.  Scorching temperatures, tinder dry landscape, fierce winds and bushfires here, there and everywhere!  The hills and paddocks are a golden yellow of dry grass stalks or (as in the case for some of our paddocks) sun-baked earth as the new grass seeds wait for autumn rains to encourage their new green growth.

The incendiary landscape and strong winds were a real concern some days, with the car packed with valuables and important documents and fire plan at the ready should we need to evacuate.  Luckily it didn’t come to that, but there were some anxious days watching wind direction and hoping that fires burning a few kilometres away wouldn’t come racing over the back fence.  We chose White Stone Farm carefully, ensuring we are not among thick bushland (the tragedies of Black Saturday bushfires here in Victoria were still fresh in our mind when we bought the property in 2011 and served as a good reminder that being engulfed by trees can also lead to being engulfed by flames).  The property backs onto large tracts of open pasture and grassland, although grassfires can also be incredibly fast and destructive.  We kept our eye on this one burning not far away…

Bushfire

The dry spell was broken by a watery reprieve the other week, prompting some new growth to poke its green shoots through the dirt (only to be eaten by hungry chickens!) and the weeds are coming back with a vengeance! Continue reading

The Highs and Lows of Ethical Meat

One of the biggest reasons that we moved out of Melbourne and onto our own land at White Stone Farm was to be able to produce our own food.  Where food comes from is important to us.  What chemicals have been used in the production of fruit and vegetables, what sort of conditions were supposedly ‘cage free/barn laid/free range’ chickens kept in (you’d be surprised just how little area is allowed for commercial ‘free range’ egg production) and how long has that leafy green been in cold storage and trucked across the nation to get to our plate??  When you buy your produce from a supermarket, you can never be really sure of the answers to all of these questions.  And that just wasn’t good enough for us.

The same goes for meat. Top of our concerns is the treatment of animals, the conditions they are kept in and very importantly, how much stress they had to endure as they meet their maker to become made into meat.  In today’s mass consumerism for meat products on a huge scale, it requires a huge need for thousands of animals to supply the demand.  And conditions are not always so favourable. Continue reading

Poultry Politics

Our poultry are an important part of White Stone Farm.  They are our natural insect control, fertilizer makers and feathery entertainers.  (And one day, some of them will make it to the dinner table as well).

Poultry are fascinating.  The way the chickens go about their business in their endless search for tasty bugs, the way they relate to each other in the flock, maintain their pecking order, interact with the other animals, peck, preen, dust-bathe, squawk, cheep, cluck, scratch, explore and cock-a-doodle-do (for the rooster at least!) – all of that is really interesting stuff!  And it entertains us to no end!  Except the cock-a-doodle-doing at 4am…

Chicken peckOur house chooks – Avalon, Bentley (and her 2 chicks), Commanche, Delorian, Eldorado (and her 9 fluff-ball chicks), Ferrari, Galaxy and rooster Henry Ford (yes, all alphabetical and car-themed…) live in the old stables and go about their business of scratching and exploring around the house, garden and nearest paddocks.  On a hot day their favourite spot is under the house, so it’s not uncommon to be sitting in the lounge and have Henry cock-a-doodle-dooing under your feet directly under the floor! Continue reading

Winter wanes at White Stone Farm

With its last gusty, frosty breath, winter seems to be finally waning here at White Stone Farm.  The warmth of spring is starting, the fruit trees are in their flowery finery of pinks and whites and the pastures are becoming verdant and lush once again.  Ah Spring, my favourite month at the farm as the landscape dries out after its winter deluge.

White Stone Farm blossom

Golden rays and deep blues
White and pinks and purple hues
Heady scent upon the breeze
Will likely bring hayfever’s sneeze
But Spring is welcomed in all her glory
To help us with our White Stone story

A change in the seasons also sees a change in birdsong.  Birds quiet, hidden or holidaying somewhere else during the colder parts of the year are back with their songful presence – Grey Shrike Thrushes delight us with their whistling and Striated Pardalotes call and flit amongst the Eucalyptus trees near the house.  The Welcome Swallows have returned and are again nesting above the back door, their indignant calls berating you if you disturb them when going in or out of the house. Continue reading