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Diary of a Cackleberry Farmer (September Edition)

Updated on September 29, 2016
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We have had up to four roosters and fifteen hens. We have downsized since moving to town but still have a few chickens.

One of our bottlebrushes (callistemons) in bloom.
One of our bottlebrushes (callistemons) in bloom. | Source
Late afternoon view from or front window. Kangaroos and wallabies seem to be camera shy and never hang around long when I am trying to take their photos.
Late afternoon view from or front window. Kangaroos and wallabies seem to be camera shy and never hang around long when I am trying to take their photos. | Source

Welcome to the Cackleberry Farm

Welcome to the September edition of the Diary of a Cackleberry Farmer. If you are already familiar with the series and have read the first two parts it's good to have you back. If it's your first visit to the farm .. "G'day Mate! It's nice to see a new face." Let me take you on a virtual tour and fill you in on what's been happening over the last month.

When I started this edition I doubted I would have enough new content to fill a hub, but as the month progressed it actually became quite eventful both in terms of life on the farm and family related matters. Therefore an essay I expected to be lucky to reach 800 words looks likely to come in at over 2000. I hope you find it interesting enough to stick around to the end.

What a view
What a view | Source

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Spinners and Weavers' Exhibition at the Wondai Art Gallery.
Spinners and Weavers' Exhibition at the Wondai Art Gallery. | Source
Grandsons Ashton, Timothy, Jordan and Dylan
Grandsons Ashton, Timothy, Jordan and Dylan | Source

Away from the Farm

Late August and early September was quite a busy period for my wife and I and found us spending as much time away from the farm as on it. Kathy is the craft convenor for the CWA (Country Womens' Association) so between monthly meetings, market days, craft demonstrations and courses, and working bees, at least two days per week are devoted to this group. I am usually required to go along as a taxi driver and to help with the set up for the markets etc. and spent a good half a day weeding and digging a garden at the front of a hall the local group has been given. It was well worth the effort though, and I was given a free lunch.

During this time Kathy also had a display in an exhibition at the Wondai Art Gallery for her Spinners and Weavers group. We had to devote time to setting this up and taking it down when finished.

We were also called on unexpectedly late one night to baby sit three of our grandsons in Kingaroy. Their brother Ashton had come down with appendicitis and he and their parents had to rush to Toowoomba for him to have his appendix removed. This resulted in us being away from the farm for three days.

The jasmine in flower
The jasmine in flower | Source
Another bottlebrush in bloom
Another bottlebrush in bloom | Source
More jasmin. It's delightful fragrance wafts through the kitchen.
More jasmin. It's delightful fragrance wafts through the kitchen. | Source

Spring Has Sprung

September 1st, here in the Southern Hemisphere, signals the beginning of Spring and with this delightful season also comes a new list of challenges.

Many of the shrubs and plants that have lay dormant during the winter months are springing to life and beginning to bloom. Our bottle brush are looking splendid and the jasmin on the back landing has erupted in profusion of fragrant white flowers.

Spring also sees the emergence from hibernation of various cold blooded reptiles such as lizards, frogs, and the nemesis' (or is it nemesi?) of the cackleberry farmer farmer, cane toads, goannas, and snakes.

Cane toads are a pest because they get into any uncovered water at night time to lay their eggs. Unfortunately this includes the dogs'and chooks' water. The major problem is this that they release poison into the water which renders it undrinkable, and if the dogs or chickens do it can be fatal.

Goannas and snakes (especially pythons) are the worst problem as they will steal hen's eggs and also chickens.

Hen and Chickens
Hen and Chickens | Source
The mother hen and her chickens (about 4 weeks old)
The mother hen and her chickens (about 4 weeks old) | Source
The hatching cage
The hatching cage | Source

New Chicken Progress

The batch/clutch of chicks that hatched during the writing of the second in this series are now about six weeks old. Well, three are. The numbers have gradually reduced by about one per week with no sign of any bodies, sadly indicating that some predator has been taking them.

They still haven't grown big enough to be allowed to free range unfortunately. Being organic farmers and Permaculturists, our poultry are not fed anything containing growth hormones or steroids whereas commercially farmed meat chickens are big and fat enough to eat at eight weeks old. Ours at six weeks are still only about the size of full grown quail, which isn't really a problem as we are only breeding them as egg layers anyway.

Even though they are caged I still have to be constantly vigilant for predators (having lost three chicks already I am obviously failing at this) and the chicks are becoming quite accomplished little escape artists. Any gap under the cage or loose wire and they take advantage of it to escape into the outside world.

Moppet on her nest
Moppet on her nest | Source
Speckle nesting
Speckle nesting | Source

Cackleberry Production

Cackleberry production has fallen a little this month as two of our best layers have decided to go clucky and nest. Muppet and Speckle are the two hens in question and are both sitting on only one egg each but they seem happy.

We are still getting three or four cackleberries per day which is still enough for our own consumption so it isn't a real problem, and there is the hope of getting a couple more chickens. I will need to try and get these hen's and eggs into cages soon before the chicks hatch and they are at the mercy of predators.

Lousy jacks and magpies trying to scavenge chicken seed
Lousy jacks and magpies trying to scavenge chicken seed | Source
Close up of an apostle bird (lousy jack)
Close up of an apostle bird (lousy jack) | Source
A flock of lousy jacks drinking
A flock of lousy jacks drinking | Source

Pests and Predators

Apostle Birds "Lousy Jacks":

One of the most annoying pests on the Cackleberry Farm are a group of birds we call "lousy jacks." They are more commonly known as "apostle birds" due to their habit of often forming flocks of twelve (though these may vary of between six and twenty).

I like most birds, actually placing seed on bird feeders for the king parrots, red-wings, and finches. I don't even begrudge the butcher birds, magpies, currawongs and noisy mynahs the left over dog and cat food, but the "lousy jacks" are certainly not on my favoured list.

These birds are noisy, an ugly grey colour, and I think evil-looking. They seem to be constantly hungry and always trying to scavenge food from wherever they can such as the chicken feed, bird seed we put out for the king parrots, and even road kill. They are like the rats of the air. Their one advantage, so I've read, is that they can act as rodent controllers in the event of a mouse plague.

They are always hanging around the chicken cage looking for food and trying to push their way through the wire or burrow underneath. I have often come home from a day out to find the mother hen distressed and the cage full of lousy jacks trying frantically to escape after somehow finding a way in. If they can get in so can predators like snakes, so I have to constantly inspect the cage to find any gaps. The following account forced me to get proactive and actually make sure the cage was predator proof. I must have spent an hour reattaching loose wire, securing the gate and moving it to flatter ground. I hope it was time well spent.

A python
A python | Source
The fireplace and wood heater
The fireplace and wood heater | Source

Carpet Pythons:

If you read the first Cackleberry Farm hub you will remember my encounter with the carpet python in my lounge room. Well, with the warmer Spring weather here .. he is back .. or at least another carpet python is. Last weekend I was sitting in the lounge (living room) and working on my laptop computer when I heard a rattling sound coming from the vicinity of the fireplace. The dogs started barking at the uncommon sound but at first I couldn't see any sign of the reason for the furore. Another bout of rattling and barking ensured that I check out the situation more closely.

Ok, I admit I was told (by my wife) that when relocating snakes you need to take them at least five kilometres away to ensure they don't keep returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak. That is however easier said than done. Each time a python has made an appearance I have been home alone, and on this most recent occassion was without a vehicle to take it anywhere.

So, getting back to the story. I heard and saw the wire warming rack fall from the top of the wood heater and clatter to the floor. Amidst more barking I stood up and walked over to the fireplace again, thinking it may have been one of the cats. Not so lucky John Boy! There staring me in the face, tongue flicking in and out, was a snake.

"Not again!" I exclaimed. Now although I don't consider myself a coward, I am definitely not the bravest guy alive either. I could feel my heart beat quicken with an instant adrenalin rush - the old fight or flight mechanism had kicked in.

Just try to move me
Just try to move me | Source
The bush (forest) where I released the snake
The bush (forest) where I released the snake | Source

Now if I had been in the snake's natural habitat, the bush, I would have just let it be and walked away quickly. But, here it was in my house as an uninvited guest - so I had no choice but to evacuate it. My mind was working overtime trying to figure out how such a large creature could get inside undetected, past me, three dogs, and four cats, until it got to the fireplace. The only logical conclusion is that it came down the chimney - like some reptilian Santa Claus.

So, the problem was now how to manage the eviction? The fire tools were close at hand but not much help. The snake was slowly and smoothly flowing into the woodpile next to the heater. I didn't have much time to procrastinate, so settled on the successful method from my previous encounter - an oven mitt. I grabbed the python by the part of its tail still exposed and began to drag it from the woodpile until I could grip it around the neck directly behind the head with my mitted hand.

The antique milk can
The antique milk can | Source

Fortunately this python did not appear to be the nine foot giant from before but still quite a challenge when struggling and coiling around your arm. I carried my friend outside and proceeded to search for a sack or container to place him in. I decided to use an old antique milk can beside the back door.

Uncoiling him from my arm I slowly lowered him into the can which proved to be the perfect size. Covering the opening with a tile, I then carried the milk can containing the snake across the field to a forested area about 800 metres away. Placing the can under a tree, I uncovered it to release the snake but he obviously considered the can a cosy place to ride out the upcoming cool night and decided to stay put.

I went back the next day and retrieved the now empty milk can. I hope the python takes the hint and doesn't come back in a hurry, but I can't guarantee that.

Daniel with Radane and Kahlia in Brisbane
Daniel with Radane and Kahlia in Brisbane | Source
Macadamia Nut trees
Macadamia Nut trees | Source
Macadamia Nuts on the ground beneath the trees
Macadamia Nuts on the ground beneath the trees | Source
Nuts ready for cracking
Nuts ready for cracking | Source

When Kin Drop In

We received a most welcome message on Facebook last week from our eldest son Daniel advising that he had taken three days off work to come visit as a belated Father's Day gift to me (In Australia this is celebrated on the first Sunday in September). He, his wife Widya and children live in Brisbane, about a four hour drive from our Cackleberry Farm. So it is great news when we hear they are coming to visit.

Daniel and Widya arrived on Tuesday afternoon with their two youngest children Radane, four, and Kahlia, two. It was great catching up with what is happening in their lives and to spend much needed time with these two grandkids who we only get to see about three or four times a year.

They live in the big city so always cherish their time spent on the Cackleberry Farm, running wild outside, chasing the chooks, and searching for cackleberries. Because they have no pets of their own the children used to be frightened of our dogs but they have finally grown out of that and actually had fun playing with them too.

Kathy, Widya and the children spent time collecting macadamia nuts from beneath two of our trees, and then had fun cracking open the shells and feasting on the treasures inside. We get so many nuts off these trees that we can keep all our friends and family supplied year round. If we sold them we could make a pretty penny as they bring about $10 for a 500 gram bag.

Radane at one of the dingo caves
Radane at one of the dingo caves | Source
Stopping to water the dogs
Stopping to water the dogs | Source
Widya and her umbrella :)
Widya and her umbrella :) | Source

On their second day with us I decided to take the whole family (including the dogs) on the famous "walk to the mailbox." Daniel was a little reluctant but when I said it would be good for us all do do something together, he agreed. On the way I led them to the dingo caves which they found very interesting and took lots of photos.

The walk home was eventful as Widya took an umbrella to protect her from the sun, but a big wind sprung up and turned the umbrella inside out, stripping the fabric from the frame. Quite hilarious, but please don't tell her that :)

All in all they thoroughly enjoyed the break from the hustle and bustle of city life, and said that they had a relaxing time and wish they could visit more often. It seems that every time we have visitors/family stay-overs our gas bottle runs out due to the extra showers, cooking etc. That was a small price to pay for having the much needed and cherished company at the Cackleberry Farm.

A leisurely stroll along the drive way
A leisurely stroll along the drive way | Source

Thank You to The Readers

Thank you for taking the time to read this hub. I welcome and enjoy reading your comments so if you enjoyed reading this essay let me know so I can decide whether to keep the series going. I am sorry it ended up so long but hope it wasn't boring. The python incident is responsible for that and I promise not to mention any snakes in the next edition (if I write one).

If you want to read where it all started, when we first moved to the "block" now called "the Cackleberry Farm" you may like to read: Life on the Block and In Search of Self-Sufficiency.

© 2015 John Hansen


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