Thursday, 5 December 2019

A New Calf and Other Happenings

Baby Asher made her way into the world without a hitch on the night that a bush-fire had caused havoc, just over the hill from us, earlier in the day.
It was a tense day. Brian had gone with his fire unit to assist in dousing the flames while I actioned our fire preparation plan at home.
We were exhausted after the day, running on fear and adrenaline, and needed sleep more than anything.  It was during our evening rounds, locking up the poultry into their night sheds, when we noticed Poppy was in her early stages of labour, five days early.
A new form of anxiety then set in, I'm always fearful of birthing difficulties in new heifers, so sleep was the last thing on my mind.
What a hot night it was. The daytime temperature was 43C degrees and fiercely windy, hence the fires sparking up in all over our district. The evening was still hovering around 39C degrees and although the wind had dropped, it had blown in billions of flying insects that clung to the torch beam and found their way into my shorts, rubber boots, t-shirt and bra every time I walked down to check on Poppy's progress through labour.
At 11pm, just 40 minutes after my previous inspection, I found Poppy licking a perfect little silver heifer calf. It was a perfect delivery and, feeling extreme relief and highly emotional, I took myself off to shower and fell into bed.

Three days after calving Poppy was eager to trot into the milking parlour, while leaving her calf to sleep in the grass. I had begun training her to be a milking cow when at just five days old we brought her home from a friend's dairy to raise here on our farm. Over the ensuing two years her and I have developed a firm trust in each other, and this trust and love was evident when I put the milking cups onto her teats for the first time.
Her udder is tiny compared to Lavender's which is ample and pendulous, having fed three calves and supplied hundreds of litres of milk to us over her six years.

Today I have a batch of feta cheese on the go from the combined milk of both cows from this morning.

In other news, I completed sewing the shade panels for the outdoor kitchen/deck.
I planned on buying some light canvas from Spotlight to make up panels that can be removed and stored after summer is over. We enjoy the warmth from the sun during winter.
How lucky I was that Aldi just happened to have painting drop sheets out on special the week before my planned trip to Spotlight. I bought four at the knock down price of $10 each, and all I had to do was trim and hem one side of each drop sheet and sew a pocket at each end for the curtain rod to slide through.
However, the trip to Spotlight could not be averted as there were rods and brackets to purchase but, as usual, I had a list of things to purchase whilst in the 'Burbs', a forty minute drive from here.

 The outdoor kitchen is useful when it's too warm to light up the wood stove in the house.

One of the highlights of the past months has been meeting my blog friend Tania and her husband Phil. If you don't already know Tania you can read her blog  Outback  here.
It was an early morning catch up over a cuppa when they came to buy some bees from us.
I experienced Tania's true country generosity when they arrived loaded with jars of Phil's pickled olives, two of Tania's home made Quondong pies, (otherwise known as Native peach) and lots of Quondong seeds for us to plant in our gardens. 
The olives are the best I've ever tasted Phil,  better than those I pickle myself, so I'll be looking on Tania's blog for the recipe next olive season.

We have chickens and more chickens. Chickens hatched in the incubator. Chickens hatched under hens. And surprise chickens that suddenly appeared from under a hedge with their proud mother hen.

 Summer is here and thankfully we have had a slow start to long stretches of really hot weather. They will come though and my garden will dry out and go into limp mode, just surviving, until the rain arrives next autumn. I always snap a few pictures to remind me of the good times when 'the dry' starts to get a bit much for everyone's mental health.
Earwigs are destroying almost every new vegetable seedling I plant in my small patch near the house, and I'm reminded that, in the past few years, they have been at their worst  and most destructive early in the season. So, I'll plant again in another few weeks and hope for better success then.
I just can't imagine a summer without a glut of cucumbers, zucchinis and capsicums.
Brian's rows of tomato plants are doing well down in the big vege garden where the Jap bantams roam and keep the earwig population under control. The Pekin bantams up here in the house yard are a bit too well fed and don't seem to be working at earwig control as they should be. They redeem themselves  however, with their cheeky personalities and good looks.
So here we are, December already. I hope to catch up with a bit more blogging this month so I won't share Christmas greetings just yet.
Thanks for dropping in.
Cheers for now,

Sally XX 

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Talking about $$ and that 'Enough" Figure

Meg and Jack ready for work. Photo taken last summer with paddocks looking vastly different to the lush green of our present Spring 2019.

There was a pleasing response to my previous post What News? where I talked about Brian's impending 'retirement' and our collective need to quash some of the taboos around discussing and sharing financial planning and monetary strategies/advice/ideas.

So I thought I should run another post to open more discussion and address some of the issues raised in the comments received.
Thank you to all who commented and sent emails. Your generous well wishes are wonderful and very much appreciated.

One of the comments on the previous blog post mentioned having a contingency plan for our old age, if we can no longer manage the physically demanding aspect of running the farm.

We do have a plan for when that occurs. Maybe in our eighties? Hopefully not until then.

We would need to sell this property and purchase something smaller which would also deem us eligible for the age pension. 

Some people are not aware that, according to current Age Pension rules, the primary residence and up to five acres is not included as an asset when assessing an individual's age pension entitlements. In our case, we have sixteen acres so we would not be eligible for the age pension as the rule stands at present.

Where the Age pension is concerned the goal posts seem to move according to which party is in government, so in our $$ calculations we have factored in a lifetime of being self-funded retirees. If we do become eligible for the age pension, for whatever reason, it would be an added bonus that we would gladly accept.

The writer of the comment below (wishes to remain anonymous), is finding it really tricky to know how much they would need to live on at their current standard of living.

"Deciding that magic figure which is 'enough' to retire on is truly

doing my head in. One website based on extensive research of retired

couples suggests the amount of around $60,000 a year and states

that by the time retirees reach 80 they live on $50,000 or so a year

and that includes inflation. I have asked my retiree friends what

their magic ‘enough’ figure is. One couple are on $72,000 per year as

they travel extensively and will continue to do so for the next 5

years. Then they plan to pare it right back. Another couple are on

$50,000 a year and they also manage to have overseas holidays every

couple of years."

How do we know how much will be enough to live on? 

She is already very savvy about her spreadsheets and projections, she seems to have thought of all the possibilities, inflation etc.

There is no ONE answer to how much we're going to need. It depends on our lifestyle, interests, hobbies and what we expect to be doing to fill our days. 

Do we want to travel? What type of travel?
Do we want to regularly eat out in restaurants or will it be fish 'n chips on the beach twice a year? 
Do we want to own the latest car or are we content with a good second hand car that we will keep for as long as it performs safely?
Will there be a possibility to earn money from a part time job, a market stall or a skill that we can do from home and earn some money?
Do we have expensive food tastes? Wine, beer and spirits?

That 'enough' figure for us will be different to someone else's 'enough' figure.

One way to get an idea of how much we will need is to track all of our spending for a year or preferably two years.

I have a Money smart app on my phone and I write down every dollar that we spend. Some months are big spenders when rates or utilities bills come in, or we need to mend or buy new equipment. Our house and car insurances are deducted from our joint access account each month. I include these figures in our monthly spending.

Every outgoing is written into my phone app. (Or just in a notebook if that works better for you). At the end of every month I write the total expenditure figure into a notebook next to a column that tracks all that we have earned during that month. 

Credit card purchases are written into my spending app too, so there are no purchases that slip through without being tallied. 
Our credit cards are paid automatically every month. A simple procedure that can be done through our bank or on-line banking.

Incomings and outgoings. My method is unsophisticated but it works for me.

It's amazing (and interesting) how a few dollars here and a dollar there, in either column, adds up over the month... and the year.

Once you have an 'enough' figure in your head, try to live on that amount for a year; try it for size. You may be pleasantly surprised, but you may also get quite a shock.

I'm quite shocked at the amount we pay in outgoings (registrations and insurance, tractor, trailer, farm and livestock expenses) but pleasantly surprised at the in-comings from selling our produce at markets and the Farmgate stall, the small bee-keeping business, and writing for Grass Roots magazine.

Keeping this record was one of the clinchers towards knowing that we could cease employment. Working for the boss will be a thing of the past, and gosh that's a feeling like no other.
For self confidence in managing our own money we need to educate ourselves. Read, study, explore, research. There is so much free information at our fingertips (on-line) and at our public library but sadly, there is a shortage of places where we can get advice at no cost or have informative discussions/ sharing knowledge and experiences.
It's our money, we worked hard for it, I don't want to fritter it away on costly financial guidance and an advisor who is out to feather his own nest on my hard earned savings.
I'm so very pleased that I found  Scott Pape - The barefoot Investor a few years ago and recommend the book to everyone of all ages. Every library has a few copies, have a read, buy your own copy, give a copy to each of your children. It will be the best $20 (approx) you ever spend.

To the younger readers who imagine retirement as two lifetimes away; get involved in making your money work for you now by paying attention to your superannuation. Do as Scott Pape says and flick it from 'default mode" ASAP. Your'e likely to be paying higher fees because that's exactly what your superannuation managers want you to do.

For great advice on managing money and savings, tips and inspiration on how to save money, go to Rhonda's Down to Earth blog for her gentle wisdom and traditional, but still absolutely relevant, common sense and logic. Rhonda's books hold bible status to many people. Mine is well thumbed with sticky notes at relevant (to me) pages.

There are countless valuable nuggets of wisdom on Scott Pape's blog and you can sign up to receive his free regular and educational emails. Scott Pape Barefoot Investor

Education and advice on investing in shares at Dave's blog Strong Money Australia

and Phil's generous wisdom on Mr Homemaker are both incredibly informative.

(Mr Homemaker's blog is about to move, but we can follow it through the links on his current blog)
Mr Homemaker (Phil)  has taught and guided me through some stressful moments when I needed independent advice more than I needed a stiff drink. For that I am forever grateful and this is why I want to pay it forward, open the discussion, prevent someone else from making mistakes that we almost made.

For inspiration and an interesting female viewpoint on all things finance I regularly check in on Miss Balance at All About Balance

In all things, I try to gather as much advice from all directions before making a decision on which method is right for me or us. Always being open to new, different suggestions can be an enormous help, and this is where other people's ideas are valuable.

I hope you find this discussion as helpful and enlightening as I have.

Do you have any anecdotes or words of wisdom to share? 
Hop in and join the discussion... your experience may help us.


Sally XX

Thursday, 3 October 2019

What News?

Some big changes will be happening around here next year.  There's a list of maintenance jobs to be done that is as long as my arm, plans to re-jig some of the gardens, ideas of hooking up the van and going fishing occasionally, and dreams of living less by the clock and rather by the sun and moon rhythms.
It's official.... Brian is "retiring" at the end of this year.  What I actually mean when I say "Retiring" is that he will be leaving his paid job after forty five years with Yalumba Wines, but he won't stop working. He will instead be his own boss, working his own hours at doing the things he enjoys doing, and with no staff to manage.
His position at Yalumba has grown with him over those years, so much knowledge is in his head, not written down or documented in any 'procedures' manual.  He will be difficult to replace, but replace him they must.
It's now his turn to live the life of his choice, and my turn to see more of him.

Turning sixty in June, and a minor health scare that made him think about his mortality, has brought about a change in his way of looking at life.  It also happened to me at around the age of sixty, and I was wondering when, or if, he might start to consider making some changes to enhance the quality of  the time that we have left.

A few months ago I gathered up all of our financial figures and asked a couple of finance people to look over the numbers that I had crunched.  It seemed too good to be true that we would be able to live on our superannuation and some investments until the end of our days, hopefully into our nineties. When they gave us the nod we were justifiably ecstatic.
Euphoric, but difficult to get my head around for many reasons; firstly I don't feel old enough to be "retired" but I'm certainly reminded of it every time I look in a mirror.
Secondly, we have become so accustomed  to living a frugal and simple life that our savings just kept growing to this point where there's enough to live on.
And there's that word. Enough!
When do we reach the point where we feel that we have enough?  I suspect that in our modern society many people will never feel that they have enough, regardless of how abundantly wealthy they are.
We are so very lucky that, as a team, we are both on the same wavelength regarding excessive consumerism. A simple and meaningful life of living within our means and close to nature is our manifesto, and we plan to continue living this way as long as we possibly can.
I mention this because I wonder if you can imagine the surprised look on the faces of the professional money people that we spoke to.
"You can live comfortably on that amount?? Per month??"
"We need to come and learn how you can live on that amount of money."
And yet, here's the thing, we don't feel deprived of anything. We live a beautiful, simple, abundant and thriving life.
We're rich!
Admittedly our meaning of 'rich' may differ from the way many other folks define the term.
We're happy to own and live in a small but comfortable home that we worked on to make it suitable for our needs. There may be a couple of small changes made as we age, small tweaks to assist us with our decreasing mobility in later years, but here is where we hope to be.

So this retirement thing!
I don't describe myself as retired.  After those first few months of "retirement" turned out to be busier just as full as when I was in the paid workforce, I soon decided to use the term, work from home.
I love having things to do, being busy. I love caring for the animals, growing our food and operating this small cottage industry that quietly churns along here with the Farmgate stall outside our front gate.
We both love teaching and running workshops. The people we've met, the warmth of the new friendships made, the community belonging-ness of it all. Sharing our produce and our knowledge, paying it forward, is immeasurable on any monetary scale. There's no price on it.

 Funnily enough, no one has asked "What will he do after retirement?" because we all know that he will have plenty to do. Well, that long list that I've got will keep him busy for awhile, but he has plans.
So, apart from the bees and maintaining our farm and livestock, he will be taking on small jobs that will come his way.
Sheep management for hobby farmers looking for someone to shear their sheep, mark lambs and general livestock maintenance.
Pruning fruit trees, regenerative land management consulting, and spraying of biodynamic preps, to name just a few of the jobs that will fill his days and keep him socially involved.
There's no denying that it will be a big change for him, and indeed for us as a couple, but I believe we're ready.
Bring it on.

We could not have got to this point without the financial advice and helpful guidance of Mr Homemaker   I am indebted to Phil, for his easy to understand, informative blog posts on superannuation, financial planning and shares investing. His generous personal guidance has been the clincher for us.

How do ordinary folks like us find their way through the maze of conflicting, (and expensive) financial advice?
It's a jungle out there, full of sharks who will weasel as much commission and fees as they can get for their own benefit, whilst maintaining they're interested only in our best interests.
In our society talking about finances seems to be a taboo subject, but surely it ought to be discussed more to educate people about their options. Almost every day we hear about someone who has been robbed of their life savings by a shonky bank or dodgy financial advisor.
Or people with no idea of what fees they are paying to have their money managed for them. You would be shocked at the high percentages that some folks are paying.
For the internet savvy there are many forums and financial education blogs at our fingertips, but for those with no access to the internet I believe there should be local discussion groups where people can exchange ideas and become informed through the sharing of  knowledge. But it's all kept to ourselves because it's not polite to discuss money matters and this is where the sharks get the advantage.

What do you think?
What has been your experience in navigating towards funding your retirement?
Do you have an interesting story to tell? Do you have a warning for us all?

Your comments and sharing of your experience just may help someone avoid making a wrong judgement or decision. If you prefer to remain anonymous, send an email so I can share your story without your name appearing.

Thanks for dropping in.
Sally XX

Thursday, 19 September 2019

What's Happening at Jembella?

The quest for a calf from Honeysuckle continues. After three separate tries with AI (artificial insemination) in January and February and then again in April, we had no luck.
I scoured the internet for ideas and remedies for infertility and found that an injection of Vitamins A D and E is often helpful in improving fertility and holding a pregnancy in cows.
After searching online to purchase a $65 bottle of the vitamin solution, of which I would likely use just one dose, I called into our local vet who supplied me a single dose in a syringe with needle for $15.
One dose is required, injected into the muscle before the next estrous. 
On Saturday, as her fertile time was approaching within a day or two, we loaded her onto the trailer for the short drive to our friend's farm where she is running with his Murray Grey bull this week. She is due to cycle today or tomorrow and I have everything crossed for a successful mating.
When I visited her yesterday she looked very relaxed and was settled in with her new paddock mates for the week.
Huge thanks to our friends Mick and Lynn for allowing us this generous favour.

Do you remember when I wrote about how this would be her last chance? If she can't get in calf she will have to be sold?
Well... the pressure has lessened somewhat, because...

 Brian is learning to AI....! 

Here he is Artificially Inseminating Lavender last week under the guidance of our wonderful friend Murray, who has been doing our AI for many years.  
What does this mean to us?
It means that we can add one more skill to our repertoire of self sufficiency.
We will not need to rely on Murray, calling on him to visit when he already has more than enough of his own work to do.
We do not need to pay approximately $100 each time we call the other AI practitioner in our area.
We can buy relatively inexpensive semen straws direct from the supplier and AI our cows while they're standing in the dairy munching on their favourite treats. If they don't conceive the first time, we can keep trying. No pressure!
"So my darling Honeysuckle cow,  the pressure is off....!! We will keep going with AI until you get pregnant."
 So now that the pressure has diminished, I feel that Murphy's law may move in a positive direction towards her becoming pregnant after this visit to the bull. Fingers crossed.

 Despite lower than average rainfall for the third year, our hay crop is looking good. Brian took a punt and sowed a pasture mix of  Triticale, Italian Rye, Vetch and oats after the first significant rain of the season back in May.
It's always a gamble, the cost of cropping grain and seeds is big dollars and there are so many uncertainties, from the time of sowing until harvesting and baling.
Will there be follow up rain to get it past germination and further growth?
Is this the break in the season or will it be late again?
Will we get a crop or will it just end up being a very expensive grazing pasture for the cows?
Growing our own hay is crucial to us. The hay we grow and store will be the sole source of food for our livestock after the grass has browned off in November and there is no further growth until May the following year. This is how our seasons run and as responsible land and livestock owners, we must be prepared.
It's pointless relying on bought in hay. This past year has been a perfect example of what happens when landowners rely on someone else to supply the hay for their livestock.
Much of the locally made hay was sent to NSW and Queensland to aid the drought stricken farmers there, whilst leaving our own state in a situation of critically short supply.
IF hay could be found it was priced at more than triple its true value.! People were forced the sell their stock at the worst time, when no one had any hay or feed in their paddocks. What happens then? The prices of livestock plummets unrealistically low and huge losses result.
It's not rocket science. It's logic. When we farm year after year, we follow the weather and seasonal patterns, always planning our stock ratios to match the available feed supply.

The mottle Pekin bantam eventually sat on eggs and hatched six chicks. At a week old I can see that two chicks have the ruffled wing feathers of frizzles, while the remaining four chicks are smooth feathered. I hope there are not too many roosters.

 Strategically placed electric fencing strands to stop curious dogs getting too close to chicks and chook food. Don't tell the dogs that the hot wire is not connected tho.

 In the vegetable gardens Mama Jap bantam hatched nine chicks and it has taken a week to get close enough to photograph them. This tiny hen is as protective as any fowl three times her size, and then some.
This family are doing a wonderful job of eating the pesky earwigs that were previously the bane of our vege growing pursuits.
I hope there are not too many roosters.
Why do I keep mentioning that?
Well, we know where excess roosters end up don't we?

 Beetroot at every meal.

Success with Brussels sprouts at last.
We love eating them but gave up growing them years ago when aphids were impossible to control without the use of pesticides. I didn't buy them either, knowing they would have been conventionally grown and sprayed with chemicals.
Bio-dynamics and fermented nettle tea spray has strengthened the cellular structure and kept the aphids away. They will be on our regular brassicas planting routine every winter from now on.

 Some of the celery plants had a pruning to start them off again. So simple to grow, I really love picking a few stalks every day to eat fresh or add to our meals.

Kale grows like a weed, always plenty of greens for our meals, and self seeded Calendula fills in the gaps; useful in so many ways, and great for encouraging good bugs, aiding in pollination, and generally adding smiles to the garden.

A farm tour and morning tea was organised after a reader contacted me requesting a visit. We often receive requests to come and look at what we do here, but as we're so busy running the farm and with Brian working full-time all week, we hardly ever have enough time just for ourselves and catching up with family and friends. I explained this to the reader and suggested she may like to get ten people together for a morning tea/farm tour. Within a day she had found eleven friends, and a date was set.
I think they all enjoyed themselves as much as I enjoyed hosting them.  The weather was perfect, new friendships were formed and information was shared both ways.
Brian took a few minutes away from crutching the ewes to join us for morning coffee and tell some beekeeping stories.

There will be news to share in the next post. Something we have been planning for quite awhile but are managing to pull it off a few years sooner than expected.
Watch this space.
Toodeloo.... and thanks for making it all the way through.

Sally XX

Monday, 12 August 2019

How I Make Soap

    A couple of months ago I put a photo of soap making on my Instagram account. There was a lot of interest from people who wanted to get started with soap making but didn't know where to begin so I promised to write a post about the way I make soap.  But first I need to clarify that I am not an expert at it.
We have been using my homemade soap for roughly six years and would never go back to using commercially produced soaps.
I also wanted to find another use for the tallow (rendered fat) from our on-farm killed beef and it is a very good base for the soaps that we use here.
This soap is our shampoo and for hand and body washing, and I'm happy that we have no more plastic shampoo bottles to dispose of.
It's a beautiful shampoo, leaving no soapy build up in our hair, as would happen with commercial soaps.
When I used to have my hair cut by hairdressers, they were surprised to hear that I used soap/shampoo bar and agreed that my hair was in great condition. They soon gave up on trying to sell me their "products."

There are many bloggers who write about their experiences with soap making so, as I am not the expert, I will direct you towards the ones I have found most informative and interesting.

I started off with Rhonda from Down to Earth who has an excellent soap making tutorial.  This is a very clear tutorial with lots of photos and easy to read instructions that I recommend to anyone wanted to have a go at making soap.  I used this recipe of coconut oil and olive oil to make my first batch of soap.
It is not necessary to use the best quality organic coconut oil that we cook with, so I use blocks of Copha from the butter and cheese section of the supermarket.  I wouldn't eat Copha, but I think it's OK to use it in soap.
I also buy large containers of cheaper olive oil from Aldi for the sole purpose of soap making. Once again, I wouldn't eat that cheap olive oil, but it's perfectly fine for soap.
When I make soaps from olive and coconut oils I don't add any fragrance because it has a pleasant smell and many people prefer to use unscented products.

I strongly recommend you then read more of Rhonda's various soap tutorials for all of the small details and information to get started.
If you are like me you will read them over and over to get a very clear idea of how to proceed, you might take notes, and then you will choose a day that you can afford the time to set aside a couple of hours to slowly and methodically go through the steps.

Once you learn the process and get into a rhythm, you will be whipping up soaps of your own concoctions in a spare hour at any time. It can be as creative as you want to make it.
Your home made soap will be graciously received when gifted to friends and family too.


 It is very very important to follow the exact amounts/ratios of oils to lye (caustic soda).
I use  this Brambleberry lye calculator for calculating the exact amounts of caustic soda and water that I need to add to my various types of oil to produce the correct chemical balance for perfect soap every time.

 I always make up 1000g (1kg) batches for easy round figures.

As an example;
500g of beef fat (tallow) 
250g block of copha
250g of olive oil
When I put all of these oils and fats into the calculator it tells me that I will need
145g lye (caustic soda)
330g water or other liquid

Use digital scales to ensure exact weights

I might use 200g olive oil and 50g of another type of oil, a few grams of beeswax etc etc to make up the remaining 250g
All of these oils and fats must be entered into the soap calculator at their exact weights.
Different oils and types of fats have different qualities and require the exact amount of lye and water to produce a soap.

When using tallow or animal fats I find it necessary to add some fragrance to mask the fatty smell.
Our favourite is eucalyptus oil.  *It must be the real oil, not the water soluble stuff.*
This oil holds its fragrance when stored for many months and is neither sweet nor artificial. Far more acceptable for folks who don't want fragrances.
For the above recipe, 42g of eucalyptus oil added at trace produces a very mild smell that is not overpowering.
*Trace is the term used when the oils and lye mixture thickens to a custard like consistency.

Another very good resource  is this ebook from Liz at Eight Acres who is a very experienced and energetic soap maker, among many other things.
I wrote a review about it here.

As you can see, I have not purchased any special equipment for making soap.  After all, I've had years of  making-do and finding things at op-shops.
I didn't even buy these disposable moulds... they were gifted by friends who purchase their milk from a shop.

In the first photo you will see that I use stainless or enamel saucepans. I did use a pyrex jug initially for combining the lye with water, but it cracked under the intense heat so, a small stainless steel saucepan from the op-shop is perfect for the job.
The larger stainless saucepan is used for melting the fats/oils and then the lye/water mixture is poured into this same saucepan for the mixing.
** To avoid spills and splashes while mixing I use this larger saucepan.
Soap making equipment is used solely for this purpose and stored in the laundry cupboard when not in use.

DO NOT USE ALUMINIUM containers and do not let any of the raw soap mixture touch your skin or kitchen surfaces.

The soap is easy to remove from the moulds after allowing to set for twenty four hours.

A cutting tool and guide is not necessary if you don't mind the bars being a bit irregular.

After cutting into bars they should be stored in a cupboard for four to six weeks before using.
The soap will go through a process called saponifacation. 
(to saponify - the hydrolysis of fat by an alkali with the formation of a soap and glycerol.)
Allow air to circulate between the pieces while aging as in the photo above.

 I always enjoy reading Nanna Chel's wide range of soap recipes on her blog "Going Grey and Slightly Green"
She is the queen of experimentation, using unusual and colourful ingredients.  Check out some of her  soap making blog posts for knowledge and inspiration.

So why not have a go at making your own soap? Once you've done it once you will want to keep going.
Do you already make your own soap/shampoo bars? What are your favourite ingredients? 

Feel free to ask any questions, no matter how 'silly' you may think they are.  I can't promise to have all the answers, but between us, we will work it out.

My supplies are running low, so a soap making session is on the calendar for next week.


Sally XX

Friday, 9 August 2019

The New Electric Cream Separator - (All guesses were correct)

 We have been using this old cream separator for all of the years we have been milking cows and I'm very grateful to have it.
I taught myself to turn the handle at just the correct speed to get delicious thick cream from our cow's milk. It requires a bit of fancy foot work and juggling whilst tipping heavy buckets of milk into the bowl while the handle is still in full spin mode. But we country women are multi-taskers and multi-skilled, determined to get the job done when there is no one about to lend a hand.

Occasionally we have made an effort to find an electric separator like the one on the farm that I visited as a kid.
Memories of milking time on the farm as my friend's mum hand-milked all eight house cows of varying colours and breeds. Hand milked...! Here's me fifty years later,  like a princess.. needing a machine to milk my one or two cows because my hands get too sore after the first five minutes. (Rolls eyes with shame!)
She would let us milk one of the quiet multi-coloured old girls, squirting each other with warm milk straight from the teat. The cats lined up, happily accepting our squirts of milk onto their coats before slinking away to lick themselves clean.
After milking was done I loved to follow Mrs A into the cream room where she tipped the milk into the electric milk separator. Golden cream poured into a container from one spout, and the whitest of white milk poured into buckets from the other spout.
Perhaps that is where it all began? My ingrained love of cows and obsession with all things cream, milk and cheese. Who knows, but I've always had a hankering for one of those electric milk separators.
All of my searches for the holy grail of separators, over the years, amounted to nothing. All that showed up on Gumtree and similar on-line market places were old and beyond repair.


Recently we were invited to a long lunch as a thank you for hosting some organics agriculture students at our property last summer.
The three course lunch was entirely made up of ingredients grown and cooked by the students.
Can you imagine how thrilled we were to be attending this beautiful event?
And by the way, it was held on a weekday. You already know how we never commit to lunches out during our busy working weekends.
*Edited to apologise for the blue coloured words. All of my editing efforts will not remove them.*

One of the students had supplied the fresh jersey cream for the amazing citrus desert.
I was chatting to him across the table about milk separators (as you do) and which type he uses.  I mentioned that although we have a hand winding one, we have been looking for an electric model for years, with no luck.
The older couple sitting along from us heard this and called out that they had one they wanted to sell.

No time was wasted agreeing on a time to visit them early on the following Saturday morning. All planned farm jobs were moved aside to accommodate this special excursion.
We bought it for a song at twice the asking price.  Neither of us could walk away without paying a fair price for this beautiful piece of working history, but it was definitely a "start the car" moment.

So to all of you who guessed correctly, it is indeed Alfa Lavel brand, congratulations and well done!

There were just a few minor teething problems, getting the the thickness of the cream just right; the tiny allan key was missing so we had one made up by a friend.
At present I'm not into full-swing milking mode as Lavender holds back the best part of her milk for her calf Minnie, and I'm milking only a couple of times each week. But come October, when the calf is weaned AND Poppy's calf is born, there will be milk and cream and all the good things.
So I will enjoy this relatively relaxed milking time, using my energy elsewhere for now.

As I've been writing this, the rain has been pelting down for two days, with 20mls in the gauge so far. It couldn't have come at a better time. Our rainfall is well below average again this year, our crops are only just hanging on. It is also allowing me some respite from outside work as I've injured my shoulder and am feeling rather helpless until it recovers.
Brian is on hay feeding and firewood duty for another couple of days, while the-up side (for me) is having the time to sit at my laptop and write.
Covering for each other when one of us is away or ill/injured is a good reminder of the work and effort that each of us adds to the smooth running of our home or farm. We can easily take for granted all the work that the other does. I can't help feeling that the universe throws these hiccups at us for a reason.

And as the rain falls here, filling our tanks with precious water, I feel so terribly helpless for all of the parts of our country that haven't seen rain for too long. Stanthorpe in Queensland is only hours away from running out of water. Millions of dollars of water will be trucked into the town until it rains again. Our thoughts are with all of the residents there and in surrounding districts.

Thanks for dropping in friends.
Sally XX

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Sheep Maintenance - A Farmer's Work is Never Done

Whilst Brian is still employed full time, our weekends are always full of farming maintenance jobs. Never ask a part time farmer out to lunch on a Sunday, or expect us to commit to anything.
Saturdays and Sundays are when we are head down, bottoms up!
There's an almighty long list of all the jobs to be done over the coming weekends, and that's just my list. His list is probably just as long. 
Oh if only it were possible to work a four day week, we might actually get on top of things.

We brought the young ewes in for crutching (trimming wool from the breach area) and wigging (trimming wool away from the eyes).
All of our sheep will be shorn in October when the weather is warmer; Brian will be taking some annual leave.

Feet are trimmed while they are in the shed and getting a once over.

We usually use a natural mixture of seaweed, apple cider vinegar, aloe, minerals and herbs to manage worms and internal parasites, whilst boosting the animal's immune system at the same time. However, upon close inspection of the droppings, which all stock owners should do regularly, we found some worm eggs. A sample was sent off to the lab to determine which parasites we needed to treat, and a commercial worming preparation was purchased from the local Stock and Agriculture outlet.
The use of commercial chemical wormers should never be routinely administered to livestock (sheep, cattle, goats, poultry). This is what farmers had been doing over the last sixty, or so years and it is why stock have developed a resistance to them.  New, more powerful preparations are always coming onto the market but soon they will run out of ways to make an effective wormer for when we really need to eradicate harmful parasites.

These two dogs are worth two farmhands, but are much cheaper to feed, super loyal and lovable, and never argue the point. Where would we be without them?  Oh and the bloke is rather useful to have around too.

Can you guess what this is?
A serendipitous find a couple of weeks ago, which prompted one of those "Start the car" moments.
I'll tell you about it next time.

A very dry July, we have had frosts for the past two mornings, but thankfully, the hay crops are hanging in and still putting on growth. Rain is forecast and Brian's dowsing apparatus tells him we're in for a nice few drops over the coming days.
This afternoon I'll bring up a couple of extra wheelbarrow loads of firewood from the wood heap down the back and fill the kindling bucket to keep me going with dry wood for starting the fires. 
I hope there is some rain coming your way too if you're in one of the many places that is in dire need.

Until next time when I share the story of the mystery object,
See you!

Sally XXX

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