If you're visiting Muntanui for the first time because of the feature in last weekend's Nelson Mail
(or this weekend's edition of The Christchurch Press), hello and welcome! We hope you'll stop by often. If you're a regular, hello and welcome to you too. Farmer Wan and I, thanks to the afore-mentioned feature, are currently enjoying 15 seconds of fame. Feel free to follow the link, read the story, be mightily inspired and then send us money or something.
We've been beavering away on two major projects over the last few weeks:
- kitting out the Polytunnel of Love so that we can actually grow stuff in there
- designing and planting out the knot garden and small bank behind the house
Because both involve raised beds and there was no way we could fill them with the compost we're making ourselves, we forked out for 12 cubic metres of the yummy, black stuff. So far, I've loaded about a quarter of it into wheelbarrows and trundled it around the place. This is a very satisfying process, physically speaking. Sandflies now require oxygen when scaling my biceps.
Each project will get its own post, with lots of pics, in the near future. In the meantime, here's a sampling of images to show why we love Muntanui in the springtime.
Coming soon: Compost: the agony and the ecstasy. No, just make that the agony.
Posted by Farmer Nik
Meet Flora McFauna, born late afternoon on Thursday 11 October, about five minutes before we wandered up the hill to find out why her mum didn't seem interested in the hay we'd brought.
Flora McFauna of Clan Muntanui, our first Highland calf!
The mother, Senga, had already been mated before she arrived at Muntanui in February but we weren't entirely sure she was pregnant. Although she was bulging a bit at the sides, it didn't seem to be by enough (not that we'd know, rank amateurs in animal husbandry that we are).
As it turned out, dear Senga was indeed in calf. At the appointed time, she took care of business very quietly and efficiently by herself and then lay down to have a little 'her' time. When we went to check on her and spied the brown bundle lying on the ground in front, we initially thought the calf was dead. Farmer Wan started swearing quietly. After a minute or so, the calf moved, waved a leg in the air, rolled over and stood up. Joy!
There was a fair bit of gunk still hanging out of Senga. Thinking she might have partially prolapsed, I took some very graphic photos that I won't disturb you by sharing, and emailed them to the vet. He identified the mess as "membranes" and said there was nothing to worry about unless she got sick.
Mother and calf are both doing very well, especially considering the gales, rain and snow they had to put up with over the weekend. By rights, that should be the end of the nail-biting where baby animals are concerned, although our heifer calf, Sonsie, is now looking suspiciously bulgy in her own right. I'm hoping that's more to do with the good hay she's been eating than the amorous activities of Hamish the bull but I guess time will tell.
On the subject of Hamish, yesterday was his third birthday. Given that he's recently taken to spitting out the carrots we bring him, he didn't get anything special to mark the occasion. Farmer Wan and I, however, treated ourselves to a bottle of champagne. This had nothing at all to do with Hamish's birthday; yesterday also happened to be our eighth wedding anniversary. If anyone had told us on that Friday afternoon at Brisbane's Customs House in 2004 that we'd end up back in New Zealand, learning to farm and trying to live sustainably, we'd have laughed them out of the room. I guess the joke's on us... and what a brilliant joke it's turning out to be!
Posted by Farmer Nik
I'm indulging myself and having fun while we play The Wellbeing Game
(anyone wanting to join Team Muntanui, follow the link and sign up -- it's very cool!). Enjoy!
Posted by Farmer Nik
Basically, our first experience of lambing was pretty horrendous. We’d sort of prepared: we had supplies of colostrum and milk powder, two feeding bottles with lamb teats, an elastrator with rubber rings and a woolly lamb jacket. As it turned out, those things were vital and we used them all, so yay us. But in other respects – especially where shelter was concerned-- our preparation was woefully inadequate. It didn’t help that the weather was absolutely the worst we’ve experienced here to date: gales, snow and freezing, lashing rain for the better part of ten days.
In a nutshell, ten lambs were born and we lost four, plus a ewe. Two of the lambs were lost because of our inexperience (we didn't get enough colostrum into them after their mum rejected them) and two because of the weather. We lost the ewe because we didn’t have the medication she needed. Oh, the lessons we’ve learned.
We had lambs in our laundry for almost three weeks. Two died, two survived. When we started running out of newspapers and floor-mopping energy, Farmer Wan constructed the LAMBorghini (see pic below) to contain them. It saved a lot of work but it also meant we could no longer hear little hooves clattering around the place, which was kind of a shame.
On the plus side of the affair, the two weeks of lambing coincided exactly with Farmer Wan’s R&R break home. I really don’t think I could’ve managed on my own. We also had a lot of support from our neighbours and friends: spare newspapers and drop-sheets for the laundry floor, extra hot water bottles, two beautifully-built sheep shelters, alternative teats for the bottles, help with feeding the laundry lambs and even some muffins to feed us!
So... with the laundry lambs now roughing it in the great outdoors, we have six little ovines bouncing around the place. Every afternoon between three and four o’clock they go mental, chasing each other around and finding the highest piece of ground as a look-out. I’ve taken some film footage and I’ll try to post it here sometime soon. In the meantime, enjoy the photos. And for the sake of posterity, the full, day-by-day account of our lambing travails can be found here
. Posted by Farmer Nik
On the day I discovered the limping ewe, my heart plunged into my boots. Being a diligent heart, it continued to do its job but you could tell that its own heart wasn't really in it. The poor thing had been slowly getting heavier over the previous weeks, weighed down by an assortment of stresses, including an injured back and Farmer Wan's absence.
The ewe didn't look too happy either.
I waited a couple of days to see if she'd come right by herself. Nope. She got worse. I, in turn, got more stressed and bleated long and loudly over the phone to Farmer Wan in Oz. He rang one of the local farmers back here, who then rang me. (If this sounds convoluted, that's because it is. I suck at asking for help, especially from people I don't know.)
"Sheep are the biggest wimps of all farm animals," the farmer told me. "They're the first to let you know when something's wrong with them. Cows are really robust, deer will just drop dead on you without warning, but sheep act as if they're going to cark it
for the least little thing."
This was reassuring but it didn't help with my herculean problem, which was how to catch Hopalong and get her into the paddock where the livestock yard is, ready for the vet. Our paddocks are all 1.6 hectares (nearly 4 acres), and the one relevant to this story has manuka
scrub on the northern boundary. The sheep are half wild and I, if you recall, have a bad back.
My knight in High Vis
and polar fleece appeared in the form of our neighbour, Andreas. He's a strapping young German bloke who gets a kick out of chasing livestock around paddocks and rugby-tackling them to the ground. I saw him in action back in February, when we needed to separate Spiderbuilder the Ram from the rest of the flock. Andreas ran him down, hoisted him up and heaved him over the fence. It was beautiful, I tell you.
Spiderbuilder and current squeeze
So, thanks to Andreas, we got the ewe into a trailer on the back of his 4WD, drove to the other paddock and installed her in the yard. After my sheep wrangler left, I realised I needed to fill the yard's water trough. There was a 25-litre container full of water in the shed. I could put it in the 4WD and drive it up to the yard. Great idea!
I crunched my back so badly lifting the damn thing that for the next five days, I had to get dressed sitting down. I couldn't bend over at all.
By now, I was in so much pain and so strung out generally, that I was half-expecting the vet to have a go at me for not knowing how to care for our sheep's feet. He didn't, of course. He was terrific.
"A bit of advice for the novice farmer," he said. "If you have to yard a sick sheep, always put another one or two in with it. If you leave it alone, it thinks it's the last sheep left in the world and it panics. If you have two or three in together, they keep each other calm and they're easier to work with."
Duh. It was obvious as soon as he said it but I doubt I'd have come to that myself.
He checked Hopalong's teeth, confirmed that she was approaching four years old and then had a look at her foot. He showed me how to compare the feet, then the toes, to isolate where the problem is. One of Hopalong's toes was swollen but there was no obvious cause. The diagnosis was "bad bruising" and he gave her two injections: an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory. He demonstrated how to clip the hooves. He talked about foot-baths. And then we discussed the need to section off one of the paddocks for lambing.
Farmer Wan came home the following week and, with Andreas and his family helping, built a mighty fine set of sheep yards. Hopalong slowly healed, over about ten days. My heart climbed laboriously back into my chest and my back improved.
"But what about the herpes?" you ask. "That was in the title. What's that got to do with any of this?" To which I reply:
"An episode of shingles
, dear friend. The wages of my stress. Very painful and un-fun. I don't recommend it."
So I've decided I need to change the way I view things. We came here to escape a certain type of stress, not to incubate horrible mutations of it while living in a charming alpine setting. I'm in a place that I love, with a life that I've chosen and new experiences that I've invited. It's time to relax a little, rest a little and look forward to the arrival of new life at Muntanui. Lambing's due to commence in the first week of September. Stay tuned!Posted by Farmer Nik
Hmmm ... I'm sure I left them SOMEWHERE around here ...
According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, to wince is to:"Show bodily or mental pain or distress by slight start or loss of composure; flinch."Here's the Muntanui version:1. "Farmer Wan's involuntary movement upon realising that the hairy object the dog is holding in his jaws is not a mouse, nor a rat, nor even a squashed baby stoat, but rather our young steer's testicles, detached from their former owner and still sporting their blue elastrator band."2. "The collective reaction of all males who read this post."Posted by Farmer Nik
“I’ve got a 100% mad cow for you guys,” said the guy from the Southland transport company. “She should be in Blenheim tomorrow morning.”
“Do you have deer fencing? You’re going to need it for this one,” said his colleague.
“Your very friendly cow should be arriving around 7:30pm,” said the guy from the Nelson transport company.
“I wouldn’t get in a paddock with her,” said his driver. “I’m just glad she’s off my truck.”
Mad, murderous and Scottish... it seemed only natural to name our replacement Highland cow, Lady Macbeth.
She arrived on Thursday evening last week. On Friday, she was quiet and seemed a little dazed. On Saturday, Farmer Wan noticed her staggering, seemingly unable to hold her own weight. We rang the vet in Richmond. He said she had either ryegrass staggers
(unlikely, because all our other animals were fine) or a condition that’s uncommon in New Zealand, known as transport tetany
. The symptoms are the same as those for staggers but the cause is different: stress from long-distance travel, along with a lack of regular food and water.
Farmer Wan made the two-hour round trip into town to collect a bag of medication. Although Lady M was obviously ill, we still couldn’t risk getting near her. We had to wait.
On the Sunday morning we found her lying on her side. We spent 11 hours in the paddock with her, trying to keep her alive. We gave her the medication, poured almost 50 litres of water down her throat and, with the help of one of our neighbours, propped her up into a more natural position. She struggled hard to get to her feet but her back legs kept buckling. In the end, Farmer Wan built a frame around her to prevent her falling back on her side. There was nothing left to do but hope she’d make it through the night.
That learning curve just kept getting steeper. We now knew how to give our cow subcutaneous injections (cowhide is as tough as, well... leather) and how to make her open her mouth (hook fingers in the nostrils, pull up and back) but we had no idea how to dispose of her carcass. We couldn’t leave it where it was – in the middle of a paddock fronting the road. We don’t own a tractor or a digger and even if we did, our ground is too rocky to dig a substantial enough pit. The vet suggested hooking her up to the 4WD, towing her somewhere less conspicuous and letting nature take its course. That’s what we did. We bought some agricultural lime to spread over the carcass to hasten decomposition and we’ll cover the remains with branches. Vale, Lady Macbeth.
It felt disrespectful to dispose of such a magnificent beast in this way but there wasn’t much else we could do. The meat was no good and we didn’t have the knowledge and resources to remove the hide. Farmer Wan took off the spectacular horns and we’ll use them in future when we convert our conventional orchard to biodynamic. It still seems such a waste, though -- so much energy expended down the long chain of human involvement in that animal’s life. The feed, the transport, the veterinary care... thousands of hours, huge amounts of fossil fuel, just to end as a rotting carcass in a gully. We had a vague, theoretical understanding of what's involved in producing our food before, but now we actually get it. And that’s the biggest lesson we learned from Lady M.Posted by Farmer Nik
We're discussing fractals. Go away.
Whoever it was, I’d like to take issue with them because our particular, personal ovines are not dumb as stumps, like they're meant to be. They’re smart -- not quite as smart as our dog but streets ahead of our cat (who, admittedly, isn’t that bright and still has to be shown where her food bowl is).
Clever sheep. Just our luck.
The full extent of their intellectual prowess was only made clear to us recently when we attempted to separate Spiderbuilder the ram**
from his girls. This segregation was designed to spare us the thrills of lambing during July blizzards. The problem was, we don’t have any stockyards. Or working dogs. Or experience.
The theory was simple: we’d quietly herd them to a fenceline, walk them around it until we got to the gate and then direct them into a pen fashioned from temporary electric fencing. At this point, the theory got a bit hazy but basically involved Farmer Wan rugby-tackling dear Spiderbuilder to the ground, letting the ewes escape and somehow dragging the ram into the adjoining paddock.
The first attempt started well. Aided by our friend Jan, we managed to get the sheep into the temporary pen. Then they panicked and jumped the fence, with the exception of one ewe who managed to get her head stuck through the mesh.
We decided to change the set-up: different gate, more secure pen. Three more times, we had those animals penned up. Three more times they escaped.
They’re good jumpers, our sheep. They have many talents. They're quite possibly Renaissance Sheep
The weather turned foul and we postponed the exercise until the next day. Reinforcements came in the form of Jan’s husband, Robbie. The game plan was basically the same – no noise, no fuss, just silent and implacable steering along the fence-line to the gate. (Jan has since dubbed this technique “Tantric mustering”.)
We should’ve succeeded this time but we hadn’t allowed for one vital factor: the sheep had learned from the day before and weren’t having a bar of it. They were happy to trot along the fence-line but at the first sign of the gate, they’d bolt. And bolt again. Seven times they bolted. Finally, with sheep and humans all stressed and panting, we gave up.
The solution: a substantial investment in some portable yarding, due to arrive this coming week. Until then, we have to hope Spiderbuilder exercises some restraint -- doubtful. I can just picture him with his three favourite ewes in the collective afterglow, murmuring with the utmost disdain:
“Who said humans were smart?”** It's a long story. Don't worry about it.Posted by Farmer Nik
Hamish the bull was lonely. He'd gotten to know us a bit, was happy to let us hand-feed him carrots, but he was a lone bovine in a big paddock and he needed company.Two weeks ago, it arrived.The story of how Hamish's new family finally got here is something of an epic in itself. Suffice it to say, it took four days to take the animals by road from their original home in Southland (bottom of the South Island) to Muntanui
(near the top of the South Island) and one of the cows died in the process. I should stress that this wasn't the supplier's fault. There were three different transport companies involved and one of them messed up.It was 9:30pm and pitch black when the truck eventually rolled up our driveway. Farmer Wan directed the driver to the appropriate paddock and, because we don't yet have a loading ramp, the animals either leapt (sheep) or lurched (cows) out accordingly.We were now the proud owners of the following certified organic livestock:
We introduced the new arrivals to Hamish the next day. We'd moved him into an adjoining paddock
- one cow and her steer calf plus one heifer calf, orphaned when her mother died in transit -- all Highland.
- 10 ewes and one ram -- all Wiltshire.
to make the unloading easier and I don't think he was aware they were even there. We lured him to the gate with carrots. His eyes almost fell out of his big, hairy head when they registered what was waiting in the next field. He ran. He frolicked. He frisked. Yep, that's right. He's a bull
and he frisked
. Ya don't see that
every day.We've named the cow Senga, the heifer calf Sonsie and the steer calf -- who's destined for the freezer -- Stew. They've settled in well. Unlike Hamish, the newbies aren't very interested in making friends with us. They seem immune to the seductive allure of carrots. And last week, we got the first inkling that the honeymoon could be over for young Hamish and he might be craving some extra-marital excitement. He spent an entire day at the fence, bawling forlornly at a solitary cow in the neighbour's paddock over the road.
Posted by Farmer Nik
So, we've been here exactly five months today, what have we done?
The veggie garden has gone from this in 2010/11 To this in 2012
Our first livestock (worms from Farmer Bob, an organic worm farmer in Nelson) were purchased and are now living happily in the custom built Wormstead, enjoying all of the sawdust/compost/kitchen scraps/grass clippings and blood & bone they can eat.
The Polytunnel of Love was covered in September with much-appreciated assistance from Davidsons, Foxs, Moriartys and Davidson-Foxs
In October, 'No-Gate Paddock' got a new name and a new gate thanks to the tremendous efforts of the Howards, who came all the way from Australia to celebrate the All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup.
J & M were also instrumental in moving (dragging/hauling/lifting) the old chook house from the pond area to its new home in the recently re-christened 'Chook Paddock' where renovations commenced immediately in preparation for our next new arrivals.
Cinderella and the Three Amigos arrived in early November to great hopes of eggs by Christmas (a little bit optimistic, perhaps). Construction then commenced on the new chook run, closely followed by the new Palais des Poulets
, an opulent chook house in the style of Rennie Mackintosh
(not the architect Charles; his fictitious brother, Arthur, the chicken farmer). There is plenty of room for future flock expansion.
All the hard work paid off and we had our first egg on 6th January 2012. The shriek of delight from Farmer Nik on discovering the first egg could be heard far and wide.
We are now enjoying the delights of our own produce, including potatoes, broad beans, green beans, pak choy, rocket, shallots, radishes, lettuce (various varieties), snow peas, garden peas, raspberries, strawberries, red currants, black currants and gooseberries with more to come.
Hay cutting (by hand with scythes) took place around Christmas, followed by trials of the soon-to-be-patented Muntanui Baling Machine (commonly known to others as a 'cardboard box with some string'). Unfortunately the day after the rustic haycocks were built we had 110mm of rain. We were able to salvage enough dry hay for a dozen micro-bales, let's hope our animals appreciate it when the they're hungry in the winter.
By the end of the Christmas/New Year period we were "Covered in Bees!!!
" and loving it.
All these things we've achieved, along with raising vegetables and plants from seed in the polytunnel, building compost heaps, fixing holes in rabbit-proof fences, repairing fences, building gates and windbreaks, mulching, weeding, pruning, scything acres of grass, pulling up wilding douglas fir trees, cutting firewood, helping out with organising the inaugural local festival, having a stall at the local festival, joining the local volunteer fire service and fixing the water supply.
Plus there's been the arrival of our largest livestock, young Hamish, (see below) with more to follow in the next couple of weeks. Keep checking in for more updates on the ewes, cows, calves and the ram.
In 2012 we are looking forward to planting, growing and harvesting our first saffron crop; remediation of our pasture to encourage healthy, happy new livestock in the spring; increasing our water storage options; investing in alternative power sources; meeting new people and welcoming old friends.
Thanks to all who have come and visited in our first five months and contributed to the results we see today. And to all those following our progress: please come and see us, there's lots to do!
Posted by Farmer Wan