Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pest or not???

Around here, the blackberry is regarded as a terrible pest, to be sprayed and destroyed at all cost (the cost being the health of the sprayer and their family and the environment....). We try and do our bit to keep pests down etc, and we try and get the blackberries out of the native vegetation, as they can be a little dominating over revegetation. But to us blackberries are also a really valuable resource.

Blackberries at this time of year (mid-late summer) are in full fruit. As an example, this morning we spent maybe 30mins or so, and picked nearly 2kg of berries, and got to enjoy a nice walk while we were at it. In the supermarket blackberries sell for at least $5 per 250g punnet.... (hmm, the 2kg of blackberries simmering on the stove would make a pretty expensive jam.... we live a pretty luxurious life!)

Blackberries are fodder for stock - we keep goats and goats LOVE blackberries (horses like the fruit, alpacas the young shoots). I think that they would be happy to only eat blackberries for their entire lives! Bees love the blackberry flowers - so for bee keepers they are also important (fingers crossed the bees will happen this year).

Blackberries are medicinal. The leaves can be used to make an ezcema remedy, and the berries (eaten) are a pregnancy tonic among other things (Raspberry leaf tea is normally drunk during pregnancy - and raspberries and blackberries belong to the family Rubus). There are specific remedies that use blackberry, read up on it in one of the many herbal books around - I recommend Juliette de Bairacli Levy, who has written on herbs for both humans and animals.

Hmmm, now I present you a pest, probably far more damaging to the garden than the humble blackberry....

This young man has discovered the art of pulling up carrots! Yes, the carrot patch that I am so proud of, my very first successful carrot patch..... I think there might have to be a child proof fence put up around the bed, or else we will only be eating very very tiny carrots!!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Click go the shears

We have been waiting on the shearer to come and shear our 4 alpacas for a while now, and he hasn't turned up. Not anything new there, shearers can make life difficult, and can turn up with little notice. Its been hot (on and off thank goodness) and 2 of our alpacas have alot of fleece around the eyes, so they were essentially blind (wool blind).

So, after a friend dropped off some fleece that he had shorn himself with the old fashioned handshears, we got to thinking.... So for the cost of shearing the alpacas once, we got a reasonable set of handshears. But the real advantage is in the satisfaction of doing it ourselves! From 'back to back' the process is all done by us by hand, and that is a good feeling. Although I think Brad gets the easier end of the deal!!! He does the shearing, and my job then is to spin and knit the fibre into clothes.

So far only 1 and a half are done. It takes much longer to shear by hand and with 2 young children sitting patiently while we shear, we just can't do them all in one sitting. I would estimate between 1 and 2 hours per animal, most of that time being spent on the 'rubbish' parts of the fleece - the legs, belly, neck, tail, and around the head. All fiddly and the fleece is shorter and often very guard hairy and coarse. The 'saddle' or 'blanket' is the prime fleece, and its fairly easy and quick to shear.

If you haven't seen alpacas shorn before, you lie them down on their side and tie the front and back legs to posts so the animal is stretched out and can't move much (no action photos - we are too busy holding the animal and getting on with the work!). They are much stronger than sheep, and I don't think it would be a safe thing to try and shear them the way sheep are shorn!!! This time I administered a little 'rescue remedy', and the animal was so calm we both stopped to check if he was still alive!!!! I can't say for sure if it was the rescue remedy or whether it was just how he was going to behave, but he sure did fight before we got him on the ground, and actually dragged Brad about 10m along the ground!!!

So, another step forward, a new skill obtained, and its only January!!! I think there will be many things to learn this year, probably not all will be as easy or fun, but knowledge and skills are invaluable.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Meet the chicks

Here are some photos of each of the three chicks that we hatched last year. They are now about 5 weeks old, and doing great.

Featherlegs - the only rooster of the three, and by far the most charismatic of the chicks. Quite a character, although he is not afraid to peck the hand that feeds him!!! He has taken on his father's characteristic leg feathering. Most likely his mum is our other welsummer hen 'Henny'.

Fivetoes (now named Daffy - by our daughter). She has taken on her father's 5 toes. Also likely to be half welsummer. She has the most feathering of the chicks.

No distinguishable characteristics (yet to be named) - I initially though she was a he. Much slower at feathering up. She has no particularly distinguishable characteristics. Most likely, her mum is our Light Sussex x Leghorn hen, a very good layer.

Life has been good, if a little busy here. Trying to keep the ragwort from setting seed is probably one of the big jobs at this time of year, and unlike everyone else in the area, we are tackling it organically - so pulling or cutting the plants off. We hope that one day we can show people the place and say that you don't need to spray chemicals all over the place to deal with weeds. At this stage no one believes that it is possible!!

Apart from weeding, another job that we have to tackle is tensioning the fence and adding droppers between the posts to make it harder for the goats to get out! Hmm, I read in a book that the goat owner spends many hours upgrading fences and trying to outsmart the goats, but the goats have all day to think of how to get out!!! How true! Ah, fun times.