Archive for the ‘Land Management’ Category

The Year of the Pig in Review

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Best wishes to all for the Year of the Rat!

One year ago, at the beginning of the Year of the Pig, I set out a list of 13 goals for the Farmlet. With the year now over, it is time to review our goals and achievements, and to set new goals for the coming year.

Here’s the report on last year’s goals:

1. Have some earthworks done in the middle cow paddock, in order to create an irrigation dam and level a site for a barn. The cows will be fenced out of the dam area. (The area in question is already swampy and damp — not especially good grazing, but an excellent dam site. The elevation of the site will allow us to gravity-feed water to gardens and stock. We plan eventually to plant the area around the dam with trees, creating a special dam-microclimate.)

Yes, we had the earthworks done. Sites have been leveled for a shed and a large water tank. The dam filled up beautifully and has stayed full of water right through the summer. We have surrounded the dam area with electric tape and planted mustard and lupins in the turned soil to prevent erosion. Still to do: Establish the gravity feed water system and plant trees around the dam area.

2. Build a barn/shed in the cow paddock for milking, storage, and keeping calves. We need to have this in place by July, when the cows are due to calve. (In due course, we plan to collect rain water off the roof of the barn. We will install a water tank next to the barn, from which water can be gravity-fed down to to house.)

The barn/shed project was shelved. We have been grazing our animals down on our neighbour’s pasture, in the middle of which is an old milking shed. Having the use of this shed took the urgency out of our need to build our own. We still plan to build the shed eventually, but other projects now seem more pressing.

3. Fix the fences around the goat paddocks. We need to reinforce the fences and put in more electric wires, so that the goats can be kept in the paddocks without their A-frame collars on.

Kevin fixed the goat paddock fences, with the result that they are much more goat proof. What a relief!

4. Extend the goat houses to give the goats more space, and better access to dry feed during the winter.

We have not done this yet. Now, with the goats expected to kid this coming spring, this project needs to move to the top of the priority list!

5. Build a chook house, and get some chickens. We plan to start with a small movable chook house in the house paddock. This way, the chooks can help us to clear kikuyu and create new garden areas. (Eventually, we would like to have a larger number of chickens ranging on the pasture up the hill.)

Alas, we still have no chooks! Over the past few months, Kevin and I have started to change and refine our chook house/ chook run plans. We are determined to tackle this project soon.

6. Plant fruit trees. Build supports for passion fruit and kiwifruit vines.

We have planted some more fruit around the place — a guava, a naranjilla, a boysenberry, a couple of tropical apricots and a grapefruit. I have also propagated seedlings for more passionfruit (both purple and yellow varieties), cherimoya, plum and guava, and we have been given a small fig, a raspberry, a thornless blackberry, a blackcurrant and a macadamia nut. We have to find places to plant all these! The passionfruit have supports to climb on, and we have just been enjoying the first fruit. The kiwifruit still need a pergola to climb on. They are looking a bit wretched after getting a rather fierce pruning from Daphne — naughty goat.

7. Continue to expand and develop gardens in the house paddock – including barrier plantings to keep out kikuyu.

We expanded the gardens by a considerable margin this spring, clearing the area that we are now using to grow corn and beans. We also worked on improving the soil structure in the existing beds. I didn’t do much work on barrier plantings in the end.

8. Experiment with making kefir, quark, and various cheeses. (This will be happening after our cows have calved and we have a good supply of fresh milk. We also hope to continue making yoghurt and butter.)

We have enjoyed making kefir, kefir cheese, Caspian Sea yoghurt, and butter using milk and cream from our own cow, Coco. I have to admit, though, that since Owen came along, I’ve really only kept going with the yoghurt (we get through several litres of this every week), having killed off our poor kefir grains soon after he was born. I’ll have to get some more! We’ve also been buying butter, which saves time, even if it’s not as nice as making our own. I’ve had several attempts at quark, and all have turned into yoghurt. The yoghurt culture has obviously taken up firm residence in this house and seems set on colonising any milk that I leave out at room temperature! Not good news for my quark mission.

9. Experiment with making assorted fermented beverages — perhaps using herbs from the garden.

I have had a lot of fun with fermentation over the past year, including growing a ginger beer bug and making ginger beer using our own lemons. I’ve also made water kefir using lemons and herbs from the garden. Sadly, the water kefir grains got very sulky quite some time ago, and nothing I could do would revive them. I am now looking to purchase some more. We continue to brew kombucha.

10. Grinding flour and making sourdough bread has become part of our routine by now. I’d like to get into the habit of using the sourdough in some other creative and delicious ways.

Yes, during the past year I found some delicious sourdough recipes in “Full Moon Feast” — sourdough pancakes, crackers and scones. I have also used sourdough to make fishcakes and pizza crust. By now, these recipes have become old favourites.

11. Start growing some “bushman’s toilet paper.” We plan to start seedlings and plant them out in the garden when they are big enough.

Ah. . . ! I’d forgotten all about this one. But it sounds like a neat idea. We should do this!

12. Install a solar hot water heater to cut our power bill and increase our energy self-sufficiency.

Kevin has been researching our options in this area, and has finally found one that looks right for us. With any luck, we’ll soon be embarking on this project.

13. Keep a more systematic record of income and expenditure. In particular, I think it will be satisfying to have records that clearly document the changes in our grocery bills as we produce more and more of our own food.

I kept these records very diligently through until October last year. Since our little one was born, my attentions have been focussed elsewhere, to the detriment of my record keeping! I hope the records will remain a useful basis for comparison as the Farmlet changes and develops.

So. . . does that mean we’ve achieved 8 out of our 13 goals? I suppose that’s not too bad.

The Year of the Pig has been a special one for us. Our goats grew to maturity, the first Farmlet calves were born, Kevin learned to milk a cow and shot his first wild pig. I got my firearms license. We had a rough time when Coco’s calf was born dead and we had to mother a new calf onto her. . . and it was hard to say goodbye to our fabulous cow, Esmerelda, even though she was going off to an excellent home. Of course, by far the most significant event of the year for us was the birth of our precious baby: Owen Thom Flaherty, born on the 16th of November 2007, Year of the Red Fire Pig. Our very own dear little piglet.


Now I’ve started compiling a new list of goals for the Year of the Rat. I hope to post this list in the next few days, so please stay tuned.

Wild Pig

Friday, February 1st, 2008


I apologize for taking so long to write this post. Even now, it’s not complete. I’m going to write the first two parts, and Becky is going to write the third.

The Far North of New Zealand is paradise for wild pigs. I have been here for nearly two years, but I only recently saw my first wild pig (alive). We have, however, seen evidence of pigs on our property, almost continuously. They root up the cow paddocks, bush areas and anywhere else that they might be able to find a feed.

So, I never actually saw one… Until, one evening, I was on my way to milk Coco when I happened to look up into one of our other paddocks. Rooting around, near a tree, was a good-sized, wild pig.

I dropped my milking buckets and quickly made for the house. I was so excited that I was a little bit out of my head.

I found Becky and said, “There’s a wild pig up in the paddock!”

“A wild pig!?” she asked, surprised.

“Should I shoot it?” I asked.

“Yes! Yes! Shoot it!” she snapped, “I want the blood and the lard, if it is any good!” Owen sucked away at her bosom, oblivious to the excitement.

With that, I unlocked the gun safe and removed our brand new Remington 870 Express Magnum 12 gauge pump shotgun. (Thank you, Farmlet and Cryptogon contributors.) I loaded the weapon with OO Buckshot. With four rounds in the magazine tube and one chambered, I was off to hunt the pig.

I stayed low and moved up the side of an embankment, so the pig couldn’t see me coming. I tried to move as quietly as possible. If I stood up a bit, I could just make out the pig through the tall grass.

When I was within about 15 metres, I tried to do a little review of what was about to happen. It was pretty simple, really, but I’d never done this before.

“Ok. I’m going to spring up into a firing position, aim for the head and pull the trigger.”

Wild pig, shot dead in our cow paddock with the legendary Remington 870

I have never shot an animal of this size before. Although I’d been shooting shotguns since I was about eight-years-old, it was always clays, paper targets, etc. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that there was strong potential for me to make a serious mess of the meat with this weapon and the selected load. That was the only thing I was really sure about.

With that, I stood up to see what I could see, and shouldered my weapon.

The pig that I was stalking was right before me, exactly where I expected it to be. “It” was a large sow. But that’s not all I saw. Up and to the left was another big sow! And in the middle were something like six piglets, gorging themselves on roots and grubs in the freshly turned over soil.

The sow I was after hadn’t seen me yet—neither did the other sow, or the piglets. For a couple of fractions of a second, I considered my options.

From a conservation perspective, the more wild pigs that are killed, the better. (See: Economic and Environmental Risks from Feral Pigs in Northland.) Pigs are an introduced species and they wreak havoc on the native habitat. I have seen the damage that they (the pigs, not people, ahem!) do in native bush areas and it is unbelievable. It looks like a maniac with a bulldozer cleared the surface of all plant life. (Again, I’m talking about pigs, not people, ahem!) Our paddocks are routinely turned over by pigs… Our neighbors up the road, who have spent twenty years regenerating native bush on their land, mercilessly slaughter wild pigs, and get pig hunters in to get the more elusive ones. Recently, there was a boar on the property with an estimated weight of 150 pounds. Our neighbors have seen him, but nobody has been able to catch or kill the creature. They actually built a macro scale pig trap, which looks like a good sized horse corral, to try to catch him. They planned to place a succulent, young sow in there with a bunch of stinky dead possums in an attempt to lure hogzilla in there. But with all the attempts to capture or kill this boar, he apparently moved on to more hospitable tramping grounds.

But let’s keep our priorities straight: I came up here to get one pig. I decided to take the sow that I had my eye on all along, and then I would try to get the other sow. After that, I’d think about what to do about the piglets.

That was about the time that the sow I was gunning for lifted her head and looked right at me. I had her dead to rights, I placed the bead on her forehead. For an instant, I paused. The thoughts were a mixture of:

If I shoot her head-on, I’m going to make a mess of the meat.

I don’t want to shoot her, because, I actually think pigs are pretty cool, even though they wreak havoc on the place.

Pull the trigger, before you blow it and they all get away.

BOOOOOOOOM! went the roar of my cannon.

The pig dropped to the ground.

I cycled the pump action and swung the weapon toward the other sow. She was off like a flash, back into the bush block. I got nothing like a clean shot so I didn’t fire. I had no idea how fast a wild pig could move!


They were slipping away into the bush, after the other sow. Maybe I could have shot some of them, maybe not, but I didn’t pull the trigger.

I walked to within a few metres of the sow that I just shot. She was down, mortally wounded, but not dead. In all of the excitement, I didn’t take my hunting knife with me! The custom would be to stab the pig in the heart to finish it off, and drain the blood. Instead, I aimed the weapon at her head and fired.

That was it. I killed my first wild pig.

I loaded another round and went off to chase the rest of the mob. Of course, they were long gone.

I returned to my quarry. By that time, Becky was into her gumboots and headed up to see me. She had Owen in a pouch and she carried a big knife and a steel pot in which she wanted me to collect some blood so she could make blood pudding.

“Wow,” I thought to myself, standing in the pasture with my wife, my baby boy, my shotgun and a dead pig at our feet, “We are a long, long way from Irvine, California.”

But there was no time for dawdling. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and I had to butcher this pig. Somehow…

Part 2: Butchering the Pig

My only experience with butchering a pig involved watching one of Becky’s cousins do it once. In other words, I had an idea of what to do, but it was going to be really ugly; even uglier than it would be under the best of conditions. Becky suggested calling her cousin, Paul, to see if he could help me butcher this pig. That sounded like an excellent idea to me!

I proceeded as if Paul wouldn’t be able to help, since he’s very busy on his farm (not a farmlet, but a high stakes dairy farm). I took a rope and managed to get the pig strung up in a tree, head pointed down. Becky wanted the blood, so I was going to try to get some blood.

I set the metal bucket underneath the pig’s head and then I slit the pig’s throat. Some blood gushed into the bucket, but, unfortunately, some of whatever the pig had been eating when I shot it fell out of its mouth into the bucket with the blood. Woops. Ok. That didn’t go so well.

Before getting into the main job, I walked down to the house to see if Paul would be able to help me. Becky said he would help and that I should go over right away.

I managed to load the pig onto the back of our ute and then I drove over to Paul and Claire’s farm.

I pulled up and Paul looked at the pig.

“That’s a good sized pig,” he said, approvingly. We guessed the weight to be around 75 pounds.

We decided to go with the hot water method of taking the hair off the pig. Paul had an old bathtub especially for this job. We filled the bathtub about halfway with hot water. Then, Paul grabbed one side, I grabbed the other and into the bath went the pig.

Hot water bath to loosen the pig’s thick hair

The hot water makes it easier to take the hair off the pig, but you don’t want to actually start cooking the meat. After about a couple of minutes of sloshing the filthy, bloody carcass around in the water, we set about taking the hair off with our knives.

Use the blade to pull the hair out, rather than cut it

With the hair mostly off, Paul began to gut the pig. He went in from the back and worked toward the front. This is where the real expertise comes in handy. I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to try to write about this part because I’m sure there are much better materials to read about this aspect of the job than what I could possibly express here. In summary, everything back from the heart and lungs came out in one mass. Then the other bits. Decapitation followed. (See: Living Green Farm’s excellent pig slaughtering post as well as, Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game by John J. Mettler.

Next, we butchered the meat into different cuts. Paul directed my blade for one of the hind roasts, but, for the record, he was the primary butcher. Helpful Tip: Make sure you have a saw handy to take the ribs off the backbone, should you ever need to do this.

Major surgery

Here’s what we were left with.

Roasts, chops and bits

* Phew * Wipe sweaty brow.

We bagged it all up and I took it home. Becky found room in the freezer for all of it.

Thanks, Paul and Claire, for all of your help, and for taking the pictures for this part of the story.

Part 3: Preparing the Feast

Kevin (Beloved Husband and Intrepid Hunter of Wild Pig) arrived home from my cousin Paul’s place very late on the night of that eventful day when he shot his first wild pig. He looked tired and grubby. He arrived carrying some dodgy-looking bags of meat product for me to fit into the freezer. Some of the bags seemed to be leaking on the kitchen floor. Something was smelling a bit gamey and musky. I was so pleased to see Kevin. I rushed over to give him a big kiss. “Don’t touch me. I stink!” he warned. On closer inspection, I decided not to argue with him.

The condition of the pork from Kevin’s pig was bound to be less than ideal for a couple of reasons:

* He couldn’t get exactly the angle he wanted, so there was a bit of shot in the meat.

* He didn’t have a knife with him to bleed the animal quickly after shooting it.

* We don’t have a suitable spot to hang the meat before butchering it.

Add to this the fact that wild pork is generally kinda hairy and gamey (Well, this is what I’ve been told by people who know and love it!!). As drips of wild pork blood leaked onto the kitchen floor and the musky essence of wild pig wafted through the house, I probed the limits of my optimistic imagination to envision the contents of the plastic bags as a tasty wild pork roast feast. It wasn’t easy!

“Oh god,” said Kevin, “What a mess. Do you think we’ll be able to eat it? Did Paul and Claire and I do all that for nothing?”

I looked up at my tired, smelly husband and smiled as confidently as I could: “Just you wait. It’ll be delicious. This will all seem worthwhile when we’re sitting down to a fine meal of wild pork.” I hoped my words would turn out to be true!

While Kevin was out at Paul’s place butchering the pig, I was busy at home. Once I’d put Owen to bed for the night, I got on the internet to do some research.

Blood Pudding? This was off the menu already, since Kevin hadn’t been able to bleed the pig cleanly. For the record, we couldn’t have made it anyway. You need to have all the other ingredients prepared in advance so that you can mix in the blood quickly before it congeals. I still want to try this when we home-kill our own beef, since blood is one of the best sources of vitamin D you can get. And I know blood pudding sounds a bit crusty to some, but it’s fine food to those who like it.

Lard? No way! Not from a wild pig. They are lean animals, quite different from plump domestic pork! The fat they do have is soft, gelatinous and undesirable.

I found lots of good information about soaking, marinating and cooking wild pork and other game — ways to make it less gamey and smelly, more tender etc.

This is what we did to prepare our wild pork feast:

1. Kevin cleaned a roast and made sure it had no shot left in it. He also skinned it, as it still looked pretty hairy.

Still hairy… Skinning did the trick

2. We soaked it overnight in milk (as per Paul’s suggestion) — in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the fridge.

3. We rinsed the roast and marinated it for 24 hours in this “Tangy Beef or Pork Marinade” . Kevin perked up when he smelled the marinade. “This stuff could make an old boot taste good,” he declared. I wasn’t sure about the old boot, but I was praying the marinade would have a good effect on our wild pork.

4. We baked the roast low and slow for about three hours. As it cooked, we basted it with leftover marinade mixed with extra maple syrup. A delicious, rich, meaty smell filled the house.

When my parents arrived for dinner, we served the roast along with roast garden vegetables and a sauce made by boiling down the leftover glaze and marinade. The meat was tender and full of flavour. Thanks to Kevin, we were all happy — eating a delicious meal in the best of company!

Wild pork feast

What happened to the rest of the meat?

* We gave a lot of it to a couple of kind neighbours who just love wild pork. One of them was horrified to hear that we’d skinned, soaked and marinated it. Apparently, he likes his pork boiled up with watercress — hair and all. . . but I suspect he has a stronger stomach than we do!

* We invited my parents to dinner again for another delicious roast, cooked in the same style as the first.

* I tried a slow-cooker experiment with some of the “chops and bits.” We skinned the meat and soaked it overnight in milk, as before. I assumed that we wouldn’t need to use a marinade if we were currying the meat in the slow cooker. I added lots of spices and yummy ingredients. Sadly, I must report that the result was repulsive! And the whole house smelt yucky for the duration of the cooking. Just as well we hadn’t invited my parents over to share this little number!

Will we be eating wild pork again in the foreseeable future? Maybe so. Kevin has seen signs that some of those wild piglets may still be in the area, and one of our neighbours is very keen to help with the butchering (and eating!) if Kevin can track one down and get a clean shot at it.

The Grand Goat Entrance

Monday, July 9th, 2007

One fine day, Kevin and I took our trusty ute (pickup truck) to the local quarry to pick up a load of gravel. Our cunning plan was to get several loads of gravel, and drive them up the hill to the site of the proposed cow shed. We’d then spread them on the site to avoid ending up with a muddy bog once the cows started walking over the ground near the shed.

Once the small scoop of gravel had landed in the bed of the truck, however, the plan didn’t look quite so cunning any more. The back tyres were obviously under a huge amount of pressure from the weight of the gravel. Kevin was concerned that the tyres might blow out on the trip back to the Farmlet. We drove home very slowly and carefully, and inched our way up the bumpy driveway. So much for our plans! There was no way we were prepared to risk taking the truck up the hill (over quite rough terrain) to the shed site with all that weight on the back. So, now we had the truck parked in the driveway, with a heavy load of gravel on the back, and no idea what to do next. It didn’t take us long to decide that walking up the hill to the shed site with little buckets of gravel just wouldn’t be worth the effort. The gravel looked too coarse and sharp for dumping on the driveway, and we couldn’t think where else to put it.

Entrance to goat paddock

We wandered off to attend to some other chores as we pondered the dilemma. Eventually, inspiration struck. Plan B: Kevin very gingerly backed the truck partway down the driveway to the gate of the upper goat paddock. After laying down a piece of plastic pipe to form a culvert, he began to unload the gravel into the ditch between the driveway and the gate to the goat paddock. After a good deal of shoveling and spreading gravel, there it was: A Grand Goat Entrance, where before there had only been a damp, muddy ditch. This ditch had irked human and goat alike when coming and going from the goat paddock. We had planned to improve the entrance eventually, but with all the other jobs to be taken care of around the place, it wasn’t a high priority. We never thought that we’d have such a fine goat paddock entrance so soon!

This was a sobering lesson in respecting the limits of our machinery. We think we damaged the front ball joint during the exercise, and were lucky not to blow any tyres. On the positive side: Even though our plans for taking the gravel up the hill fell through, at least something worthwhile was achieved from the whole debacle.

And what do the goats think? Well, frankly, Daphne and Lulu are not very pleased with life just at the moment. It annoys them that we’ve fixed the fences around the goat paddocks such that they can no longer escape and trash various trees around the place. They also dislike the damp and cold of winter, and when the rain starts they bleat pathetically at us as if we are personally responsible for their misery. Since this is their first winter, I wonder if perhaps they can’t even imagine that the cold damp weather will end one day and spring will come again. Poor goats! I’m keeping lots of fresh, dry hay in their goat house, so that they have a cozy place to shelter, and trimming their hooves extra vigilantly to prevent foot-rot setting in as they tread the damp ground. We are also taking them extra fodder whenever we can. Today I pruned the herb garden and one of the olive trees, so they enjoyed sage and tarragon prunings, along with some nice olive branches. Both grunted with delight as they devoured bunches of sage.

The goats are growing up. They are eight months old now, and started going into season a couple of months ago. Now, as well as bleating about the rain and the wet grass, they are also periodically crying out to any passing billy goats. What a din. Just as well our neighbours don’t live too close! We hope no billy goats will respond to their call, since Daphne and Lulu are still much too young to be getting in kid. We need to wait until they are fully mature to breed them.

And yes, Daphne and Lulu do seem to appreciate having a nice gravelly entrance for coming and going from their paddock. They never did like having to put their dainty goat hooves into the damp ground in and around the ditch.

The Green Grass on the Other Side of the Fence

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Three dairy cows eat a lot of grass! This is certainly true of Rosie, Coco and Esmerelda. The Farmlet is just five acres, and subtracting the goat paddocks, house paddock, orchard, and the strip of native bush along the stream, the area to be grazed is a good deal less than that. Strictly speaking, we should be a 2-cow operation, and this is most obvious in the middle of winter when the growth of the grass slows down.

Kevin and Bruce put in a gate to the property next door

We are very lucky that our next-door neighbours have several acres of grazing land just over the fence. . . and no animals to graze it since they put their fat black steer in the freezer a couple of months ago. Of course, our cows have been keeping a close eye on the green grass on the other side of the fence, especially as the winter has advanced. They would be delighted to assist in keeping those paddocks nicely grazed. Our neighbours have lots of children, and would love to share some of the fresh milk we’ll be getting after the cows have calved. Also, with the extra grazing, we will be able to keep a couple of the calves to raise for the freezer, so that in due course we and our neighhours can enjoy delicious home-grown beef. It seems like this arrangement will work out really well for us and our neighbours.

Rosy enjoys fresh grass, next door

In order to give our eager cows access to the grass on the other side of the fence, we needed to install a new gate. Kevin and I were a bit daunted by this task, but my Dad (who has swung a few gates before) was kind enough to come and help out. Kevin and Dad set to work on this project while I was mucking out the goat house. I returned to find that they’d dug a pretty impressive hole for the new strainer post. I think I could have jumped into that hole and vanished completely. . . although, maybe my pregnant belly would have got me stuck before I got all the way down!

The gate is looking good, though it still needs some finishing touches once the rain has cleared. As for the cows, they look wonderfully contented on their new pasture. From the neighbour’s paddock, they can look straight over the fence into the house paddock. We enjoy the chance to come almost nose-to-nose with them when we are out at the clothes line, or turnip bed.

The Winter Solstice Approaches

Friday, June 15th, 2007

The winter solstice is approaching, and it is still unseasonably warm. We have not had a frost here yet, though friends down on the flats have. We are still picking peas and a few peppers from the garden, and the broad beans that I planted in autumn have started to flower already.

Still, it has started to feel a bit wintry, mostly because we have finally had a decent dump of rain. The claggy clay soil in our house paddock is now making seasonally-appropriate squishing and sucking noises under my trusty gumboots. Best of all, our new dam is now full. Kevin and I walked up the hill the day after the rain cleared, and found that it is full to the brim, with some water coming out the overflow. Seeing our dam full for the first time gives us immense satisfaction!

The dam is full

The cold and damp weather has also had some less desirable effects. A few resourceful rodents have been driven to seek better living arrangements. Alas, they have moved into the house with us, and we now have a mouse problem. Last year we had no difficulty trapping the mice with a bit of peanut butter, but this year’s mice seem not to like peanut butter or cheese! We are really starting to wonder how we can get rid of these creatures.

Though the weather is unseasonably warm, I’m glad to say that it has been cold enough to stop the white cabbage moths in their tracks. Instead, we are seeing increasing numbers of praying mantis in the garden. We imagine they are cleaning up all the other bugs and insects that multiplied in the garden over the summer and autumn. Yesterday, as Kevin worked at the computer, he felt he was being watched. Looking up, he saw a big green mantis at the window, staring in at him with its hundreds of eyes.