Knee-deep in eggs

It is a time of anticipation at Cockatrice Farm.

Domino the brood mare has a foal due some time in the next month. She’s over it, and not interacting with us very much.

Rufina the silkie bantam is very young, but she has gone clucky and has been fiercely dedicated to her eggs. We’re expecting chickens in the next week. Silkies are great mums, but not usually clucky when we want them to be.

One of the muscovy ducks has a large clutch, also due in about a week.

Nellie the brown mallard duck was missing for a couple of days, and turned up yesterday afternoon ravenously hungry. We’re sure she has a nest somewhere, no idea where. We suspect her ducklings are due soon too.

The wwoofers found a couple of goose eggs in the oats paddock — not in an organised nest, more like practice eggs. Pat the wwoofer played some games with Allison by putting the goose eggs in with the silkies and the white sussex chooks. Goose eggs are huge.

We’re pretty sure that Maelmuire the peacock is laying too — in with the muscovies, which lay eggs of about the same size. Some of the eggs from there seem to have quite a different surface texture.

In general, we are overwhelmed with eggs right now, as all the birds that are not sitting are laying profusely, including the light sussex hens. So we’re eating quiches, and rich eggy bakes. Duck eggs are amazing for baking, rich and golden.

Of course, at Cockatrice Farm we regularly dine on peacock eggs …. (Doesn’t that sound luxurious?)

We’re giving away lots of eggs to friends.

We have bought a little incubator. It’s quite high-tech, and you basically put in the eggs, click and forget. We’re going to use this to get a better handle on our poultry production, and to help the peacock numbers along. We’ll then put a brooder unit in the guest house laundry, with a heat lamp to warm the babies.

The big hole in this is that we are still buying food for all these animals. In a permaculture system, you would ideally like to have perennial shrubs and trees producing most of your animal food. We do have young tagasaste bushes in the greenhouse, which will be a good start, and some kurrajong trees already underway, but we need a lot more. We did do sunflowers last year; perhaps more this coming year. But we do need to source some more forage plants.

To the joust

We got an invitation, from the SCA Equestrian email list, to visit the jousters at their private training session near Sydney. Jousting is banned within the the SCA rules, but overseas there are active SCA groups doing equestrian games like tilting against a quintain. (A quintain is a swinging target on a pole, and if you exit too slowly the other end can come around and smack you.)

There are non-medieval groups doing much the same thing, including in Australia, as a fun sport.

I went along for a look, along with wwoofers Pat and Silvan, and my son Owen.

They made us very welcome, and it was interesting to see how they do what they do. They weren’t actually jousting on Sunday, just drills and quintain practice. And some mounted archery, which was rather neat.

They were using basically ordinary horses, many of them rescued from the knackery. They don’t use any particular training method, just gentling them and working with them. I was impressed with their horsemanship.

For my part, I prefer the heavy horse look, with feathered feet. These would be more expensive to feed and transport for a commercial jousting venture, but it’s my idea of a knight’s horse.

The historical evidence is mixed. I don’t think that the real knight’s horses were as heavy as the Shire horse breed, because these were bred in later times especially for heavier ploughs, but they would have been along those lines. There was a time when Arabian blood (the Barb breed) were really popular, because of their speed and flexibility, but then armour got heavier later in period and I have no doubt that heavier horses were required.

My brood mare Domino is half-Clydesdale, muscular without being all that tall. She is due to have a foal in a month, from a black Clydesdale stallion. I plan to ride the foal when it’s old enough.

Silvan has been working with Domino, using the clicker training method. She’s not terribly interested, being heavily pregnant, but it’s good for her to get used to the idea. Domino has been badly abused at some stage in the past, and doesn’t let anyone near her mouth. Silvan has a colourful drink bottle on a stick, as a clicker training ‘target’, but Domino’s obviously worried about being hit with it. So we’re winning her over slowly. As far as we know, she’s never been successfully ridden, though she will lead if you could ever get a halter on her.

Silvan has also been working with Rav, a 2yo gelding, who is just a visitor to our place. Rav has I think been a bit bored, so he loves it when Silvan comes to play with him. Rav is due to leave us in a month, and if he can be led quietly onto the float then this will have been a very useful exercise, and a good basis for his further training.

SCA equestrian activities are close to dead in Australia, though there is a little bit happening in New Zealand. One of the problems is lack of insurance coverage, which apparently is nearly solved. I’m working to organise a small equestrian event on our farm, next May. Hopefully it will become an annual event and build from there.

My armour projects

We had pleasant weather for the weekend, to stay that way for another week.  I’m still watching the El Niño indicators with interest — still bouncing around, though the Weather Bureau is convinced we’re up for a dry spring and summer.

Pat and Silvan (our current wwoofers) were away on Sunday, so I took the opportunity to advance a couple of armour projects.

One is a new helmet.  I got the plans from the Net, but had a lot of trouble coming up with a size that looked sensible.  Eventually I discovered in the fine print that I had to expand the graphic by exactly 128%, and then constrain my printer to do what it was told — it wanted to optimise everything for the page.

The helmet is an open-faced bascinet.  I cut it out of heavy sheet steel using a jigsaw, and cleaned up the edges with the grinder.  The steel comes black with mill scale — my friend Blayney has advised me to soak this off with vinegar, but I only had a few hours in cool weather and the results weren’t brilliant.

The top bit is made in two halves, each of which has to be ‘dished’.  This means using a metal former bowl, made from the base of an old oxy tank.  At Alfar’s suggestion, I used some leather inside this to reduce any scratches to the metal surface.  You then belt this with a rawhide leather hammer until it gets the right curve.  Every now and again, you run your fingers over the inside and mark any raised points, which then get bashed a bit harder.  This is essentially panel-beating.

I got one of the halves mostly dished, before I decided that my arm was done for the day.  When you armour regularly, which I did in the late 1980s, you build up massive forearms.  When you’re a computer jockey, you need to pace yourself or you can get an injury.  So I’ll do a bit more from time to time, or maybe Pat and Silvan can help out here.

My other project is some body armour, based on a nifty design by Jason in Melbourne (Everard Sefar).  It’s made from heavy plastic, cut from a pickle barrel.

The really nifty thing about the design is that it folds up to be very compact, very handy if you have to fly anywhere with your armour.  It’s very comfortable and flexible, and you use it covered with a fancy heraldic tabard.

I already had some of the pieces cut out previously by an earlier wwoofer, Markus.  So I cut out the remaining bits and cleaned them up.  The plan is to rivet the overlapping plates to a coat made from canvas. Unfortunately, my fancy punch didn’t work very well in putting the holes through the plastic, so I’ll have to do it with the drill press.  On another day. 

Pat and Silvan have been plugging away, completing a barrel helm that lots of our past wwoofers have done bits of.  They have prettied up another old helm that we were donated, and are repairing some other donor pieces.

Rather a lot happening

You might like to take a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPFq4JzUkLQ

Pat and Silvan, our current wwoofers, made it on the farm to enter a competition.

On Sunday we had a visit from some of the Sydney SCA people, led by Sir Alfar and Sir Gui. Sydney is called the Barony of Rowany, and Gui is the Baron. Alfar has been King twice, and so is entitled to be called a Duke, though he prefers to be called Jarl Alfar, the norse viking equivalent.

Their visit was in response to our request for help to get our Goulburn SCA group started. We want to call our group the Hundred of Okewaite.

Partly the visit was about fighter training for our wwoofers Silvan and Pat and our Okewaite locals Andrew and Cherrie. Over the day there were several excellent lessons, and an opportunity for them to get into armour, except Cherrie, who got there later in the day. I got into armour too and had a bit of a hit.

The visitors brought some loaner armour with them, which was really handy but fit some of us better than others. Pat in particular is eight foot fifteen inches tall (or something like that) and while we did get him in armour it didn’t work very well.

It turned out that people’s enjoyment of fighting in armour was directly proportional to the comfort levels of their armour, which I guess should not be news to anybody. We will really need to work on that to get our group going.

Throughout the day, we worked on making armour too. A fellow called Tom was a whiz with the welder, and sorted out a partly made barrel helm for us. We made the pieces for a whole stack of elbow cops, the key ingredient for arm armour. We copied lots of armour templates.

It was a great day, and there will now be a really close link between Okewaite and Rowany. We have established some new friendships. With the Rowany assistance, we have established firm foundations for SCA fighting in our new group.

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After all that excitement, we had tea and were starting to clean up. Pat smelt something funny, then we noticed smoke coming through an electrical switch on the wall behind the wood stove. The smoke was building quickly.

We suspected an electrical fire, so we raced to turn off the power, Allison hit the wall with the fire extinguisher, and I rang 000. Silvan headed up into the roof to look for trouble. Sarah headed down to the highway to show the fire trucks where to go.

Very quickly, our local rural fire service people arrived, then several town brigade trucks followed.

We felt a little silly, as we had handled the incident ourselves, but this is not the sort of thing you want to take chances with. Our local Fire Captain said we had done exactly the right things. If we had not been right there, the results could have been very serious.

The fire brigade checked it out, and determined that it was just a switch failure on the hot water system circuit. So we just left that off and were able to bring the rest of the power back.