Grass is greener

grass is greener

Our electric fence battery keeps running flat. The horses have discovered they can push on the electric wire braid until it sinks to the ground, and step over it into the promised land of growing grass. They’ve busted into the pasture four times over the past couple of weeks. I can’t hold it against them, I’d do the same if I were a bored horse in a sand run with lush green grass just a hot wire away. Particularly if the hot wire is only hot a very little of the time.

It’s my own fault really. I’ve recently extended the horses’ run so they can shelter under some trees, which is good because they don’t spend all day hanging around the shade of the stables. Unless it’s really hot or there’s heavy rain, they prefer natural shade. But it does mean the electric wire frequently makes contact with tree trunks and shorts out, running down the battery within a day or two.

It’s annoying but once I have covered the tricky bits with more lengths of old hose as an insulator, it shouldn’t be too bad. There are always other jobs to do and this one has just fallen by the wayside. Until I fix it up, let the escapees have their fun.

Johnny on the other side of the fence

From what I can tell, Calais uses Johnny as a sort of battering ram to test the electric and push it down, pretty clever. Though he’s not always keen to follow Johnny across that wire once its down. He’s stepped on a live wire before, and he remembers the bite.

Calais confused on the other side of the wire

You can sense how pleased Jonathon is, to be out of range of the bossy little bum-biter, for a brief while. Until I catch him and return him to the run.

Johnny on the forbidden pasture

He was happy to come willingly this time, good naughty boy!


Baked not burnt!

Oven victory! Woo hoo! The anti-Nigella (that would be me) has successfully baked bread! Only minimal swearing was required, and rather than being scarred by the experience, I am actually inspired!

Aren’t gardeners meant to be good at cooking their produce? I was vegetarian for nine years, and though I’m not at all queasy when it comes to slaughtering our chickens, I am not confident when cooking them. In the kitchen I am known for my incredible slowness and ability to burn everything, including myself.

yellow mini tomato

Stay on the vine, you will be safer there!

Rice is my favourite thing to ruin – burnt-bottomed glug in the pot! Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? I had a stovetop triumph about two months ago – cooking perfect rice for the first time ever. A bittersweet victory given that, having been a poor uni student for many years previous, I’ve been cooking rice – badly – for a long time. I was so pleased when I tasted the rice and the grains were just right, I did a victory jig, complete with self-cheering sound effects. I reckon you’ve got to give yourself a cheer every now and then – no one else will!

Needless to say, I’m not a natural in the kitchen, more like an indentured labourer. There’s a few things that I like to bake, like cookies and muffins. Technically, I only “like” to bake them because I like to eat them at the end – the only enjoyable parts of the process are the taste tests and the escalating profanities. At tea time, I’m pretty good at bunging something together Macgyver-style when the cupboard appears bare… But if I only need to cook for myself, when my partner is away working up north, I’ll quite happily plonk myself down on the couch to watch Masterchef, and eat milo cereal for dinner. What kind of aspiring farmer does that make me? I am proud of the things I grow, but shouldn’t the mere sight of over-ripe tomatoes on the vine inspire me to get cooking and canning?

Bread making seems like such a fundamental basic skill to have – I love the idea of making my own and eating it hot. It’s a way of living more independently – making my own if I run out of store-bought bread, and being able to leave out the preservatives and chemical additives. But the kitchen can be a daunting place for someone slow and uncoordinated. Along with the burning, I’m also quite good at cutting myself, grating myself, and slamming parts of myself in drawers.

One part of cooking that is satisfying is the swearing. For me, cooking always involves swearing, out of pure necessity. I have Scottish ancestry, so cursing furiously as I bash ingredients together hopefully counts as “cooking with love”. The amount you care about someone is reflected by how angry you get at them!

Anyway, I would much rather be outside shoveling manure than stuck in the kitchen. I actually enjoy making up the horses’ dinners – sweet smelling chaff, pellets and bran and mineral supplements, just add water and mix. Lovely.

the boys eating breakfast

They always appreciate my culinary efforts

Of course I love eating good food, but I’m certainly not a foodie. Anyway, if “foodie” isn’t a derogatory term by now, it should be!

So I’m not keen on food snobbery, but I do enjoying growing things you can eat, and I would dearly love to gain some more cookery skills. I envy my partner’s kitchen confidence – he’s the Masterchef around here. Ben has been encouraging me to try making bread for almost as long as we have been living together, and prior to last night, I had done it just the once.

I braved the scary yeast voodoo about a year ago, facing it with full faith in Ben’s instructions but little in myself. I can make muffins, but bread is a bit different. Kneading is required – eek! I was petrified I would end up with a rubbery loaf. In the end, the bread I made was really good, dense yet fluffy, but it took hours. Hours of hovering anxiously, waiting for the bread to burn or morph into a granite boulder while my back was turned. Daunting. Scary. Not even the smell of fresh hot bread has been enough to tempt a second try from me.

the bounty!

Soup and stock made from our own home-grown home-butchered chicken, cooked and canned by Ben.
All the homesteader cred duly goes to him!

UNTIL… I discovered a recipe for “beer quickbreads” in one of my mum’s old cookbooks. BEER BREAD! Given my love of beer, I was instantly intrigued. At first I was skeptical. Bread? Quick? Whenever speed and ease are used as selling points, it is usually anything but. But it actually sounded super easy! And it turned out to actually be super easy!

The recipe only called for half a cup of beer, so naturally I had to drink the rest of the bottle (and then some). A recipe that invites you to enjoy a nice cold brew while you cook?! It was like the cookbook knew exactly what I needed to get me through a bout of cooking. I used our current favourite, James Squire One Fifty Lashes (pale ale). To my amazement and thrill, my four little bun-loaf-things did not turn out like little granite lumps! They were perfect and soft on the inside, with a crunchy crust. I had been so anxious about kneading the dough into rubber, I had hardly handled it at all. The worry paid off, for once, and I feel encouraged to make more! A good way to use up some of the James Squire Nine Tales (amber ale) we have sitting in the pantry (previous fleeting favourite – we’re over it now, it’s too heavy for summer anyway). Maybe it will be awesome in bread?

Bread success!

The edible results!

Here are the tasty results! We had lovely warm buttered bread for tea, with herby vintage cheddar and homegrown grape tomatoes. I had mine with pesto and fresh basil as well. As much as I can’t stand the pretentious “Ner ner look what I’m eating!” shot, I’m so stoked with my prowess I can’t help myself. This sort of kitchen success just does not happen for me.

Since my first bready foray, I have also baked savoury roll-ups, with herbs, spring onion and cheese filling – the cookbook calls them crescent scones, which sounds a lot more fancy. They were all different shapes and sizes, but they still tasted good. Me and mum enjoyed them for morning tea the other day – they didn’t last long!

morning tea

Okay, so I might be using self-raising flour rather than making dough from scratch with yeast, but if it gets a culinary hazard like me confident enough to try baking, it’s well worth the short cut.

Hooning and cold hosing

Calais cantering in the run

The horses have been hooning again Thursday morning. Cantering up and back, up and back down the run. Bucking, kicking and carrying on. Calais, the little princess, has bucked shins as a result, and I have spent the past couple of days cold hosing his hind legs. I noticed heat in both shins Thursday afternoon. The swelling was only just visible as a slight bump about half way up the front of his cannon bone on his hind legs. A normal person probably wouldn’t have even noticed, the swelling is so minor. But, I am me, and I have thoroughbreds, so when it comes to legs, I notice every tiny silly little thing.

Bucked shins

It’s tricky when the front of the leg swells, because it’s basically just bone with skin on top. The part that swells is usually the connective tissue, and there really is nowhere for the swelling to go. A severe case of bucked shins can take a long time to heal, with the initial heat often going away quickly, but the residual edema taking a long time to budge.

In such a minor case, I thought cold hosing would be enough to bring down the inflammation, along with a slather of swell-down gel. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

Later that night, a mob of kangaroos got into the paddock and tore down part of the portable electric fence. The horses panicked and ran loose through the pasture, eventually running straight through part of the electric fence themselves before my partner caught them. They weren’t badly hurt by the electric wire braid, friction burns got rid of some of their chest hair though. When I knew they hadn’t cut themselves on anything, I was more worried about Calais’ injured hind legs copping more concussive damage.

Bucked shins

Sure enough, the following morning the bucked shins were more pronounced. With more cold hosing, more swell-down gel, padding and wrapping the legs with wet bandages, both legs have come down almost back to normal. The left hind still has some heat in it, but as far as bucked shins go they really weren’t that bad to begin with. Sometimes I wonder if my acute eye for unsoundness in the legs is a blessing or a curse? Before I owned thoroughbreds, I probably wouldn’t have noticed such a minor swelling as this. Then again, any other breed of horse probably wouldn’t come down shin sore just from a morning of paddock hijinks. And there’s always the worry that if you don’t jump into first-aid overdrive and hose and wrap every leg, that it could get worse, and then you’ll be wishing you just wrapped the damn legs in the first place.

And I am kicking myself now for not wrapping and bandaging Calais the first night I noticed the swelling. My gut feeling was to wrap the legs, but I didn’t. In truth, I was being a bit lazy. I thought cold hosing would be good enough. More fool me! I should know better than that – I own thoroughbreds!

Calais running

It certainly doesn’t help when all your injured horse wants to do is run! When I tried to catch Calais this morning to take his bandages off, he would not be caught. He trotted off, like it was the most fun game ever. I figure if he’s happy enough to trot away from me, like the naughty horse he is, then it can’t be that bad. No more bandaging for now. Woohoo!

I did give the legs one last hose down, just in case. Old habits die hard!

Muddy beasts and bile

muddy neck

The horses really enjoyed the storm last week. Caked in mud from hip to hoof, they were happy to spend most of the day under cover, the rain strumming on the corrugated iron roof. Horses and humans are not so different. I stood with them in the stables, watching the welcome weather roll in.

hens in the rain

The chickens stayed out in their coop in the rain, wet and bedraggled, rather than keeping under cover in their den. I decided I may as well let them out to roam. They ran down the hill to scratch in the horses’ hay pile – their new favourite spot.

Chickens scratching in the hay

Once the “big chickens” had evacuated the coop, the Araucana bantams beat their wings and hooned around, happy to have the space to themselves. The little Araucanas do get picked on a bit by the Australorps, but they are becoming more confident in the flock and I hope to let them out to day range with the others soon.

Muddy flank

It looks like a gross skin disease but it’s actually just water and mud!

We got 24mL of rain in 24 hours. I’d forgotten how quickly heavy rain can wash away our gutless sandy topsoil, revealing the gravel and rock underneath. Luckily we’ve established a lot more groundcover since this time last year. Run-off from the driveway and the bare dirt run collected downhill in the pasture, slowed down by ryegrass stubble and strongholds of kikuyu. Not much we can do about losing dirt from the run, unfortunately. The run is our sacrifice area for the horses while the pasture grows. We’re getting there, slowly.

Muddy socks

White socks no more!

Our dam has only been about a foot deep all summer, and it was a relief to see it fill to the brim, if only briefly. The landlord routinely drains it to top up his own enormous reservoir and keep his vast lawns green – just a few hundred metres further down the valley from our struggling pasture. He’s a businessman, not a farmer. I find it frustrating facing someone who has all that we so badly want, and more, yet he doesn’t take an interest in caring for and improving the land he has. Especially given he has the money, the staff and the equipment to do what we do in a fraction of the time and with far less effort.

Just one of many reasons I can’t wait until we have our own property. What I could do with a few more acres, and free rein!

mini-Mrs Moth & stormy day 278

It is hard living in such a beautiful place, yet in less than ideal circumstances. I find myself constantly stamping down my Scottish temper.

Johnny's muddy face

I try to remember that the things that are holding us back here are forcing us to become more resourceful and self-reliant, which will serve us in the long run. Until then, the rain does a good job keeping my temper in check. I can’t stay angry on a proper kilt-wearing day.

Pink stormclouds at dawn

pink storm clouds

mini-Mrs Moth & stormy day 013

For a brief few minutes yesterday at dawn, heavy grey storm clouds were turned into pink fairy floss by a gift of the light. The horses were not impressed by the rouged sky, preferring to remain buried head-first in the hay pile. I called out Jonathon’s name from where I stood on the verandah – I love to yell out to him because of the response I always get. His ears stood to attention, and his huge head wheeled up, right to the very top of his neck. He took a minute to stand and look straight at me, blinking, his bright white blaze painting his face with a bewildered expression. Then he released a deep, loud sigh and went back to eating his hay.

When I call out to Calais – Chappy for short – sometimes he’ll raise his head slightly and acknowledge me. It’s an improvement from the early days when he’d completely ignore me! It doesn’t exactly make you feel all warm and sentimental, at six o’clock in the morning.

So Johnny’s the one who gives me the enthusiastic “good morning” look. He may be a bit clumsy, and he doesn’t like to be patted, but there’s not much I wouldn’t do for the horse attached to that face.

Johnny's big head

The pink sky didn’t last long, but it turned into something equally special not long after, when sunlight hit the opposite hilltop, outlining the valley with gold.

golden hilltop

Anticipation of rain made the morning even better.

Hayburners playing with their food

Our two horses will demolish a 6’x4′ hay roll in a week. They burn through all the best bits, leaving everything else. This is Calais digging his way through a round bale we put in the paddock for them just … Continue reading