Duck stuff

I was reading email this morning, when Cara the labrador started barking.

This is an unusual occurrence.  She didn’t even know how to bark until Jess’ dogs visited.  Now she barks once if a strange car comes, which is great.

But mostly we rely on the peacocks to tell us if something unusual is going on.

Nellie the duck had found Cara’s breakfast, and was getting into it eagerly.  Cara’s happy to eat anybody else’s breakfast, but she thinks it most unfair that anyone should have a go at hers.

So Cara told Nellie off, not that the duck was dissuaded.  In the process, Cara’s bowl got bumped and a whole lot of dog biscuits fell out.  So Nellie was thrilled.

Nellie the duck likes to sneak off and have a clutch of eggs in a hidden corner of the garden.  She learnt last year that dog food is easy pickings, and she can load up quickly and get back to her eggs.  She raised heaps of ducklings last year.

We have reduced our duck flocks to low numbers now.  They were costing us a lot in food, and you don’t get a lot of meat from a duck.  They are great roasted on the fire, but you have to pluck them first.  And their feathers are waterproof, so they are significantly harder to pluck than a chicken.

At the Ilkla Moor feast, we tried just skinning them, to save time.  They were stewed in a stock, with home-made medieval pasta added.  I wasn’t all that impressed, though several people said they enjoyed the dish.

We did a clutch of eggs in the incubator.  Our machine is a great little unit and turns the eggs regularly.  It has a sponge in it to create the humidity, and unfortunately it had worn out, so we had some problems keeping the unit on track this time.  We got six live mallard ducklings out at the end, two of them rather small.

We have also been given four Indian Runner ducklings.  These are rather odd-looking ducks, and their legs seem to start too far back.  My friend Jean (I guess she was technically my stepmother, but these terms don’t make sense when you’re an adult!) used to have heaps of them, and they are cheerful souls.  So we’ll keep a couple of girls for interest’s sake.

Still no goslings.  We have some goose eggs in the incubator at the moment.  The loose eggs we found in the field didn’t do anything, but now we have some eggs from the nest the geese made down at the old cemetary.  If they are going to do anything, it will be a couple of weeks yet.

Meantime the guinea fowl are at their annoying best, and dear sweet wwoofer Rachel has volunteerered to slaughter and pluck them, if it will stop them calling endlessly from outside her bedroom window.  They were hopeless at breeding last year, so we’ll see if they do any better at making a nest this time.

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Bye to Luca

On Sunday we said goodbye to Gianluca from Italy.  He wwoofed for us for three months, which makes him eligible for a 12-month visa extension.

Luca arrived while we were away in Europe.  He has been a great wwoofer for us, and we have had a lot of fun together.  He particularly loved Friday nights at the Goulburn Club, with its ping-pong table.   More recently, he loved horse-riding, and proved to be a natural.

He was our first Italian wwoofer, and took his cultural obligations seriously.  He cooked a lot of Italian food, especially for wwoofer lunches.  He made great Italian bread for us.  And he did his best to explain a proper Italian espresso coffee.  We’re becoming quite addicted to it.

We decided to have a medieval luncheon, in one of our fancy medieval tents. Luca had a couple of mates from Sydney come down to get him, and they joined in too.

The medieval lunch was Maud’s idea: she was a long-standing wwoofer with us, and spent six months away from here, much of that in a remote truck-stop in outback Queensland. And now Maud has come to stay with us again for a few weeks.  This time it counts as a visit by family, rather than as a wwoofer.

Maud loved the medieval activities, and she helped a lot with cooking this medieval lunch.  Just like our huge Twelfth Night feast in January, for 200 people, where she worked hard for weeks.

I made two big chicken pies with decorated tops.  One had three conjoined legs, Maud’s personal symbol (her father was born in Sicily, which uses that symbol).  The other had a dragon’s head, as I’m doing on a heraldic banner for Luca — it stands for Vesuvius, the volcano next to his home town of Naples.

We had a lovely lunch and then rode the horses.  Rocky the thoroughbred is back to being really well-behaved and reliable.  Our other wwoofers, Rachel and Timo, have been learning to trot on him.

Jan had to have words with her horse Silvester, who didn’t want to be caught, but he’s working well once he’s saddled.

My horse Paulie has had some good days, but also some poor behaviour, especially when the wind is up.  On Sunday, we had Allison’s neice Eleanor here, and Eleanor came off Paulie while he was being silly.  She was sore but did get on again for some more riding.

Yesterday we had our new wwoofer arrive: Julia from Germany.  Julia seems to be a highly skilled horsewoman, and she’s now sorting out Paulie very effectively.  And thoroughly enjoying doing so.

This week we started planting out our spring garden beds.  And we’re putting in some trees.

On Ilkla Moor again…

Last weekend was our “On Ilkla Moor” medieval weekend.  Ilkla (or Ilkley) moor is a wet and cold place in Yorkshire, about which there is a silly song in a strong Yorkshire dialect.  If you go courting on Ilkla moor without a hat, you’ll no doubt catch a cold and die.  Then we’ll bury thee, the worms will eat you up, the ducks will eat up the worms, then we’ll eat the ducks, then we’ll have etten thee.

This is our annual event in experimental campfire cooking.  We take recipes more than 600 years old, and we try to translate and re-create them.  We get the meat from the farm, as well as the vegetables and herbs.  We have to buy in nuts and spices, but we grind them up ourselves in a mortar and pestle.

Saturday had strong winds which made putting up the tents difficult.  Indeed, we had to take down our ‘purple’ tent with the latin motto because the winds were too high.

But here’s the event setup (thanks Timo for the photos):


Everybody who was not otherwise busy was asked to chop, grind or stir something.

The apple and parsnip fritters in beer batter were very popular.  They were scattered with “poudre douce” or sweet powders, made with cinnamon and nutmeg and anise and raw sugar (maybe some others).

The dish of the night was the peacock stewed in wine and dates and pinenuts.  Delicious.  Allison picked up a young peacock at the last poultry auction for $15, as she figured that was cheaper than chook meat.  We used a recipe for pheasant, as peacocks are just a large type of pheasant, and the result was very acceptable.

The other hit for the night was a savoury ginger custard sauce for the chickens roasted on the spit.  Yum.

Basically all the 12 dishes worked, and there was plenty of contrast.  I admit that we cheated a bit with the camelyne (cinnamon) sauce as we just ran out of time.  There were just 30 people at the feast, but this campfire cooking is really hard work for larger numbers.  Many thanks to wwoofer Rachel for her help in the kitchen tent.

After the feast, we sat around the campfire singing songs.  The wind dropped, and it really was very pleasant out there.  We had Bethan and Annabel and Gui from the Sydney SCA, who did some madrigals as well as some silly songs and a few campfire favourites.

On both days, but especially the Sunday, we did some horse riding.  Here’s wwoofer Luca and our friend Jan on Rocky and Silvester.  Notice Jan’s new outfit, with nifty embroidery on the front panel.

There was a heavy combat tourney on the Saturday and some training (heavy and archery) on the Sunday.  Here’s wwoofer Timo:

Jan’s husband Jim took some photos too, and hopefully they will be up on the Okewaite site in a couple of days.

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We’re working with the horses again, when we have reasonable weather.  They have had a long break over winter, and right now they are pretty “green” and have bellies full of rich spring grass.  Which means they don’t really want to leave the grass, and they have plenty of energy to be naughty.

They were pretty good the first day we brought them in, though Rocky was a bit unco-operative.  Jan warned us about the third day back, and sure enough all the horses have been difficult, Rocky better than the rest.  We couldn’t even catch Silvester yesterday.

Paulie was not at all keen yesterday, and played up a bit.  So we just went around and around the paddock slowly until he settled.  Luca had a go with him then, and Paulie played up some more, so we finished up then.  The winds were coming up and a storm was threatening.

We’ve checked Paulie’s health and gear, and can see no reason for his being difficult.  It seems just to be new season irritability.  So we’ll see how he goes in coming days.

Back with the horses

I think I’ve blogged before about our friend Jan, whose parents were very sick.  Jan had been at the hospital for weeks.  Allison visited her there often.  Her mum died a week ago.  Her dad’s doing a bit better at present.

Jan has been exhausted, and Allison was pretty tired too.

After some more bad weather, last weekend was lovely.  We convinced Jan to come out to the farm to play with the horses.  They have had no work over winter, and because the weather has been bad we were only able to bring them into work on Sunday.

They were all pretty well behaved. My horse, Paulie, has been really good, and working particularly well for me.  Silvester got a bit bored and wanted to do his dressage stuff instead, so Jan had to manage him closely.  Rocky, normally the most reliable horse, was a bit silly but is now settling down.  Bonnie, Jan’s lovely old mare, hasn’t yet been brought in as she suffers arthritis, but Jan’s thinking about doing something with her as she always enjoys being involved.

Our wwoofers all got to have a ride.  Jan really enjoys working with the horses, so it was a lovely time for everybody.

We worked them again on Monday, and Luca learned to trot.  Timo and Rachel are keen too, but Tuesday was again bad weather.  Hopefully they’ll all get to extend their skills a little more.

We did have a little excitement on Monday: the first snake of the season, a tiger snake.  These are seriously poisonous, but not the most poisonous snakes on the property. They do have a reputation for aggression though, and will chase people.  This one got itself jammed in the fence and somehow died.  It is of course illegal to kill snakes in Australia, being native wildlife and important for local ecology.

I should mention that, on Monday, Jan showed the wwoofers how to use a stockwhip.  These are the really big whips that are great for working with cattle.  Allison and I had a go too — Ally was not too bad, but I kept on flicking myself in the face.

Six ducklings have hatched in the incubator, and are being looked after and loved by the wwoofers.  No action yet with the goose eggs, though they do take a little longer.

The wwoofers are rebuilding one of the chook runs, making a strong fence that can take some kiwifruit vines.

And our soil blocks have sprouted, with all sorts of vegetables growing well.

We have a medieval event coming up this weekend, “On Ilkla Moor”, which is the campfire cooking event.

Fowl weather

Another week of shocking weather, at last a couple of days of sunshine.

The “La Niña” weather pattern is in control.  It’s going to be a very wet year.  Much of Victoria (a few hours south of us) is underwater.

We have some geese out in our fields.  We originally got them because we were at the (very noisy) poultry auction, and Allison thought she was bidding on a bag of chook feed.  Then we got a few more.

We have lost some to foxes — they are particularly vulnerable when the female is sitting.  So we are now down to three.

We found a couple of goose eggs loose in the field.  This was a little bit of a surprise, as we thought we only had males left.  Most domestic birds lay a couple of practice eggs before they get around to building a next.  We put them in our incubator, along with some duck eggs.  They are due in about a week.

In the meantime, two of the geese decided to leave our property and make a nest at the old ruined church at the end of our road.  This puts them close to the highway, and in the way of the mostly elderly folk visiting the small cemetary there.

So we (myself and Allison with wwoofers Luca, Timo and Rachel) headed out with poles and towels and brought three rather indignant geese back to the yard immediately behind our house.  We collected their eggs and will try them in the incubator when it is free.

The geese were rather noisy, and we weren’t too disappointed when they escaped.  They are now back in our fields.  We’re keeping our eye on them.

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I now have a “Responsible Service of Alcohol” certificate.  This means I can do volunteer work behind the bar at the Goulburn Club, the volunteers-only social club in town.  Allison has worked behind various bars, and has all the skills, but that was in the days before you needed an RSA.  I was completely clueless behind a bar, but now getting the idea.

The club has somehow acquired a table-tennis (ping pong) table.  This has proven very popular with the wwoofers, every Friday night.  They have had some great live music there too, just lately.