A haggis in reserve


Recently I read over the blog entries from our early years.  Many magical things, as we did everything for the first time.


We’re a little older and a bit more cynical, but more than our fair share of magic still happens.  So back to the blog, with occasional entries from now on.  The entries may be a bit shorter.  I used to wait for Ally to check them first, so that I didn’t say anything too dreadful, but it’s more likely to happen if you get the raw unadulterated blog and I apologise afterwards.

Last week, the neighbour’s son appeared at the door with a barrel full of sheep’s innards.  And we had indeed asked for them, just not been very precise as to when.


A few weeks ago, Allison had granted Owen’s wish for a haggis.  That was a bit of a horrifying ordeal, though the results were surprisingly edible.  And somewhere along the way, I’d mentioned to the neighbour that we’d like to do it again for our medieval group.



This time we were a bit more organised about it.  The “pluck” (heart, lungs and liver) were efficiently cooked up and minced by Allison.



The part she hates is cleaning out the sheep’s stomach.  I don’t have much of a sense of smell, so it was OK to do, just time-consuming.  You have to wash out all the partly-digested grass, then scrape off the brown inner coating — some came off easily, and for other bits I had to add boiling water.



Then there’s lots of connective tissue to clean away.  I’m not sure how much is strictly necessary, but I took some care.


The stomach lining has now been frozen too, and we’ll assemble and boil haggis #2 at a later time.  Coming to a Pot Luck near you!




The farrier was here this week.  Things have been soggy here, and two horses (Paulie and Chad) have some rot in their feet.  They need to have their hooves painted every couple of days.



My favourite horse Gawaine has been off with our jouster friend, Sarah.  The plan was for him to learn jousting, but lots of wet weather and some unscheduled life events have meant that he hasn’t yet done much.



We still have the miniature horse Jasmine, but the food here is too rich so she spends most of her time at Jan’s farm.  Despite getting almost nothing from her paddock there, she’s still on the edge of foundering so she’ll just have to be locked up.
Another week has gone by without actually posting. Oh well.
Soon after we moved to Yarra, I joined the local Landcare group.  Lots of really wonderful locals, many of whom are 70+ and capable of a producing a rather excellent cake or slice.  Not that any of that motivated my attendance, of course.
We’ve had lots of wonderful times, but we’ve just had the AGM and several of them have been unwell or no longer willing to take an office.  In fact there were no nominations except me (Treasurer again).
We’ll put out the call for more volunteers, but I doubt we’ll get any.  In any case the Government is no longer going to subsidise the insurance costs, and we’re a pretty small group so we won’t be viable soon in any case.
I expect we’ll stagger on till our Christmas party (always mid November; they’re early birds) and wind up after that.  We’ll transmogrify into a monthly social gathering.

Some weeks ago the Sydney medieval club somehow bought a three-storey terrace’s worth of leather very cheaply, and we ended up with an X-trail packed to the gunwales with hides of coloured leather, for $100 and the petrol cost.  Plus we got some shelving for the shed too.  We’ve sold maybe a quarter of it (still an awful lot of leather) cheaply to our local medievalists.

Anyway, last weekend we ran a leather crafting workshop.  We had four leather-working experts, and about 25 medievalists learning how to pattern and make all manner of things.  A most enjoyable day at the Goulburn Club.
That night, we had a bonfire and pot luck dinner at our farm.  Truth to tell, mostly we spent the time around the wood fire in the wwoof house, but it was most convivial company including a few new faces and some recent friends from Sydney.  Not all the dishes were super medieval, which was fine in the circumstances.  On the night my favourite was the bread-and-butter pudding, but I have to say that the next day I had some of the sticky date pudding with (now cold) caramel toffee sauce and it was pretty amazing.
Next week I hope to tell you that I’ve been getting to the gym more often!


Happy christmas

Sorry, it’s a long time since I posted.  Here’s our christmas newsletter.

xmas 2013

Snowflake part 2

Snowflake the orphan alpaca will now take a bottle directly, so we no longer need to jam it between our legs.

Once she’s finished, she will still nuzzle at your crotch or armpit.  She won’t take any more milk, so I guess it must be a comfort thing, a kind of alpaca cuddle.

We try to give her some closeness, but it does mean getting her brekky leftovers all over your clothes.  It’s not so bad on my jeans, but wwoofer Toby only has the one pair of black casual pants.  If he’s not careful he goes into town with milk encrustrations all around the crotch, which isn’t a good look.

Snowflake now has a friend, Squirt.  Squirt lost his mother at a similarly young age, and in a large herd this wasn’t noticed for some months.  He survived on grass, but is severely stunted.  Squirt has great genes, but he’s tiny and can’t be shown, so his owner lent him to Jane to be a companion for Snowflake.

They are both living in one of our chook runs.  We have several other options, but this pen does have good shelter.

Our Indian Summer is now over, a couple of days ago.  So we had glorious weather almost to the end of May.  But now there is snow in the mountains, and a chill wind from the Antarctic.  (That’s overly dramatic — the mornings aren’t even frosty at present — but you definitely need a coat to be outside.)

A visit from Snowflake

My friend Jane has bought a little farm not so far from ours.  She runs some alpacas, geese and chickens.

On Tuesday she awoke to discover that an alpaca she’d just bought had died, leaving a baby, Snowflake.  It’s not clear why the mum died; possibly snakebite.  Snakebite in May seems bizarre, but then it’s three weeks away from winter and we’re having our nicest weather all year.

We helped Jane catch baby Snowflake, and brought her over to our farm where we can feed her more regularly.

At first, Snowflake showed no interest in the bottle, and getting any formula into her involved two people wrestling her, and half the mixture ending up over us.  No fun for anybody.

Then one time I had to feed her by myself.  I gave her a couple of minutes to get used to my presence, and then she came up and nuzzled my crotch.  Being a quick-thinking kind of guy, I fed the bottle between my legs from the back, and Snowflake got the idea and drank furiously.

So this was inelegant and possibly illegal, but it worked.  And when you’re a parent, you go with what works.  We’ve subsequently discovered that it goes best when she comes in from the back, and we’ve all had turns being mama alpacas.  Glad there’s no photos.

Snowflake still hasn’t worked out about the bottle yet, she just probes about until she finds some sustenance.

She’s much more comfortable with people now (since we’ve stopped wrestling her) and she’s decided that humans are better than abject loneliness.  So we give her as much attention as we can.

Toby (our only wwoofer) took Snowflake for a walk around the house paddock, and showed her the Wwoofer house.  He then curled up with her and a book in the glorious sunshine.

We joined him for an impromptu picnic, and Snowflake had a lovely day.

Our friend Jan warns that getting too friendly with farm animals can cause problems later.  But I think that Snowflake is a gentle soul who will end up as a lovely pet for Jane.  She goes back in a few weeks, once she can get by on two bottles a day.

Owen is now 14

My son Owen has just turned 14.
As they say, it’s not long since I was changing his nappies.  He was a real brat at nine years old, and in the last year he’s become a fairly impressive young man.
Lately, I’ve often had him working with our wwoofers, partly for some extra manpower and partly because our wwoofers are generally fine young people who set a great example.  He’s made a valuable contribution to some of the projects at the Goulburn Club, for instance.
Owen has joined the Air Force Cadets, and very much looks the part.  He had an induction camp a few weeks ago, had a great time and fitted right in.
For his birthday, he brought 6 mates out to the farm for a camping weekend.  They cooked some of their own food, and ran through some complicated Nerf-gun scenarios.  One of them by moonlight.  Owen had somehow wangled some night-vision goggles, so I think he had an unfair advantage in that one.
The plan for the big dinner was to kill a goose and some chickens and cook them over the spit.  As it turned out, the Saturday turned suddenly cold, so Allison decided to do chicken burgers for them, inside the house, instead.  And birthday cake with icecream — so much for military rations!  Then they got to watch a horror movie, and sleep in front of the wood fire.  Roughing it NOT.
So the goose lives on.  We had in mind one that the wwoofers called “Thid”, after the Ice Age sloth.  Thid is a runt or failed goose, or possibly a duck/goose hybrid.  Who seems to be blind.  His goose siblings wouldn’t have him, so he lives with the ducks.  We feel a bit mean about intending to eat him, but we certainly don’t want to breed from him.  There is a farm logic that we have to follow here.  I expect he will be tasty when the time comes.
Speaking of farm livestock, I should report that we have no beef cattle right now.  Our pure highland-cattle mother Heather (named after my friend we bought her from, not my past stepmother) got caught and damaged in a fence, and had to be put down.  Tasty the calf was due to be eaten then, and we decided to do his half-hereford big sister too.  And quite delicious they have been too.  Only we’ve eaten far too much of the delectable stewing steaks, and not enough of that boring old rump steak and t-bones.
I’m banned from having any more beef cattle until we fix up our fences.  Some were never repaired after the 1984 bushfire, and are now only a voluntary boundary to our livestock.  Hopefully, sometime this year I’ll get the materials and a good wwoofer crew and we’ll do something about all that.

The episodes you’ve missed

I used to blog weekly, and those days are long gone.  Then we were doing everything for the first time, and there were lots of stories to tell.
These days, the seasons roll on and we face much the same opportunities and challenges each time.  Sometimes we’re more successful, sometimes less.  We kind of know what we’re doing now, which is not always a good thing.
Life has become a little more difficult lately.  Government cutbacks mean that my own work comes in short spurts; which gives me time off in-between, but I spend that time applying for new contracts.  We have to be careful with our expenditure.
Allison’s specialised work (training internet trainers) came to an end last year, and her lovely break has turned into an extended period without work.  Partly personal and family circumstances, partly fewer opportunities to go for.
Life has still been interesting and often rewarding, but the outcomes are not as colourful as in the past.
I mentioned here that I became President of the Goulburn Club in November.  It has taken a lot of work, which for the most part has been fun.  We’ve turned the Club from a break-even proposition into quite a profitable venture, and now we’re tackling decades of maintenance backlog.  But it doesn’t make good blog copy.
I’ll specifically mention that we (myself, Allison, Owen, and a variety of wwoofers) restored and painted the ornate plasterwork in the Club’s ballroom — it took weeks of work.  And now looks fabulous.  We’re just finishing repairing and repainting the nearly derelict squash court at the back of the Club, which has become one of the Club’s main earners.
I spent weeks going through dusty old boxes in the Club’s old cellar, and put together a sizzling history of the Club for Goulburn’s 150th birthday as a city.  That’s actually a good story, and I should really write up a separate blog post on it.
Our medieval activities have been quieter, though we did have a fabulous Rowany Festival over Easter.  We now have some enthusiastic new members and a big list of new SCA projects.  Matt (aforementioned enthusiastic newbie) is going to keep us on track with these.  He and I have both promised to get our ancient and lumbering frames back into armour, to have another go at getting SCA fighting happening again locally, come Spring.
We did do some good work with the horses last Spring, but not so much lately.  It depends on the wwoofers we have at the time.  Domino (antisocial mother of Gawain my cuddly Clydesdale riding horse) is pregnant and expecting around Christmas Day.
We’ve had some gorgeous wwoofers lately, including belgians Tim and Shanna along with brits Toby and Abbie.  And we’ll never forget Danny, and eight foot tall (so it seemed) yankee who made a wallaby-skin man-thong and wore that (and only that) at every conceivable opportunity.  For this crew, I dug out my old Dungeons and Dragons books and they disappointed some gnomes and dashed the wicked plans of the wizard Carrion.
More recently we had Raja and Luisa from Germany and Dominick from Switzerland, who strove to turn our somewhat neglected farm into something a bit tidier.
Summer was a hot one, after two cool years.  Autumn has been just stunning, and it’s just now starting to get a little chilly in the mornings.  And again the seasons turn and Winter is Coming — oh, I put a lot of time into reading Game of Thrones, which was well worth doing despite the sheer complexity of the plot and the inevitable messy demise of all my favourite characters.
I’ll try to keep the ravens coming a bit more regularly.

Some guests

I call Jean my step-mother, but it’s not a great term for somebody who was your father’s partner well after you grew up.  “Close family friend” might be a better phrase.  We catch up when we go to Victoria, every year or so.

We had Jean and her friend Pat visit last weekend.  Jean’s been a follower of this blog for years, and keen to experience life at Cockatrice Farm, so they stayed in our cottage.  We have three wwoofers at the moment (Johanna, Tim, Leon) and they stayed there too.

Jean and Pat did get the whole CF experience — dinner at the Goulburn Club on Friday, a medieval feast on Saturday (at our friend Jane’s new farm), dinner at the wonderful Bank Thai restaurant on Sunday, and a chicken dinner on Monday which was harvested and plucked on the farm.  I suggested that Jan and Pat chop out some tussocks too, but they weren’t so keen; hard to get good wwoofers now.

Jan and Pat did have a good time with our wwoofers, and made them pancakes.  I think the wwoofers were pretty considerate house-mates too; this lot are very easy to have around.

Fortunately we had mostly good weather for the visit.  I took Jean and Pat into Floriade, the spring tulip festival in Canberra.  We also managed some work with the horses.

On the Monday I convinced Pat to help me as typist to transcribe some old court records from 1619, for my family history research.  Arthur Hewet, draper of London, had been languishing in the Fleet Prison for debtors for 10 years.  He had once bought properties in the names of his three sons, as it was otherwise hard to leave anything to younger sons, but now that Dad was languishing “in decaie” in prison they wouldn’t help him out.  Maybe his debts were so big, and Arthur so close to death, that they made a commercial decision to leave him there….

We had a lovely time with our guests, and hope we’ll see them here again before too long.  Particularly if they keep bringing Christmas cake with them.

Jean did remark that the regularity of blog postings has dropped a bit, so I’ve found a couple of old stories which didn’t quite make it to the Web.  And I’ll try to post more regularly now.

The lost post #2

(Written on 2 Oct, but not posted till now sorry.)

It’s really spring now, and we have some wwoofers again.

The garden was a complete mess after winter.  That’s still pretty much the case, but it’s making good progress.

Yesterday was a lovely day and we brought the horses back into work after a break of many months.

Gawaine (the clydesdale) was his usual delightful self.  We think he’s finished growing now, as all the bits are back into proportion, and he’s working really smoothly.  He’s great to ride, but a few inches taller than last year — a big boy, but not too big for riding.

Paulie (standardbred ex-trots-racer) was more co-operative than I expected.  Jan thinks he gets his emotional cues from the rider — which all horses will do, but Paulie seems to respond particularly well to a calm and confident rider.

Doc (thoroughbred brat) was a bit all over the place, and we didn’t ride him.  Jan was keen to give him some time to get his head together.  Usually he’s very good to ride despite being an overly-friendly nuisance the rest of the time.

That’s all the riding horses we have at the moment.  Rocky is now retired — he’s getting a bit old, and he had leg problems the last two years.

The lost post #1

(Written on 18 Sep; sorry not posted till now.)

We’ve just had our first wwoofers for the season, three young German guys.

They were good workers, and we got a lot done in two and a half days — but they’ve found some paid work in Victoria and left this morning.  We’d be happy to have them back in the future.

We’re definitely getting less enquiries than in past years, and the wwoof website is pretty quiet.  Things are obviously tough in Europe, but I’m surprised that hasn’t increased the number of wwoofers in Australia.  Instead of being unemployed at home, a year of adventure in Australia could be a plus.  Unless the families just can’t afford to send the kids overseas any more.

For the last couple of years, the Australian Government has had a rule than anybody wwoofing for three months could get an extra year on their tourist visa.  For us, that meant that suddenly everybody wanted to stay for three months and one day, just in case they wanted to extend their visit.  The ideal visit length at Cockatrice Farm seems to be about 2 months, so in the last few weeks the wwoofers started to get bored.  So that arrangement wasn’t great for us.

The new rules are that wwoofers can still get extended visas, but they have to work 7 hours a day for 5 days and then have 2 days off, still for 3 months.  Which doesn’t suit our farm very well, so we’re not doing that.

It’s not yet the peak wwoofing season, so we may yet get a rush of enquiries.  But it would be handy to have some helpers again soon.

Spring has sprung

It’s now spring, the way we calculate it in Australia.

The animals decided it was spring a couple of weeks ago, with lots of frolicking and nesting and all that stuff.

Little Jasmine the miniature horse has been especially frolicsome.  She’s meant to live in the orchard, with very restricted food intake, but Allison lets her out in the house yard for a bit of respite.  One day, we were putting her back in her yard, and she raced off and ran around the houses twice.  Never seen her move so fast.  I think she was having fun.

I mentioned that we had lots of sunny days this winter, which was true, but there were a few shockers too, some in the last couple of weeks.  It’s much worse when the winds come up — we stay inside by the fire.

The weather in spring was perfect for serrated tussock weeds, especially in the big open paddock where we ploughed a couple of years ago.  I’ve gone out a few times to clear them, but you really don’t feel like it in the colder weather.

We’ve had no wwoofers over winter.  Hopefully we’ll get some soon, and get back to the tussocks and farm maintenance.