Yesterday I spent the better part of the day watching chicks hatch. My commitment, however, paled in comparison to Antigone's, who was awake and perched over the incubator at 5:45am, patiently watching the dear little beaks as they worked at the arduous task of birth from a hard shell. I never really thought about just how hard it is for birds to be born, and how different to a human birth, where the mama does the hard work while the bub copes with the big squeeze. Chicks are these tiny, weak, and fragile creatures, struggling to get a start on life in the open air. It was one of the most enthralling days I've had, perfectly rounded out sitting in the paddock in the evening with a glass of wine watching the pigs adjust after we separated Borg to keep him from impregnating Big Mama too soon.
What an enormous learning curve the first month of being 'real' farmers with livestock has been! We came here to be pig farmers, but ended up with cattle nearly a month before pigs, and here we are, finally on the land, experiencing our first time without chickens in over a decade! And then there's the dog...
So Danny Boy came first. Like many new farmers, we reckoned we needed a cattle dog if we were going to have stock. We may have been wrong. We've learned that Australian Cattle Dogs (the real name of Heelers) are so deeply bred to round up stock that it takes some concerted effort to teach them not to chase them unless you want them to. It took two steers jumping through the fences to teach us this lesson. A few days of taking Danny Boy on the lead amongst the cattle seems to have mostly taught him that they're not fair nipping game (thanks to @kristinmoore2 & @Colvinius for the tips!). We're still working on that in regards to the parade of children regularly gracing the farm, but he's learning...
The Lowlines were second. On a rainy, muddy day, we set out with the Volvo ('spot the rookies', I tweeted), picked up our hired livestock trailer, and brought the neat dozen home in two shifts, with the Volvo straining at the tonnage all the way, in trepidation lest we got bogged backing up to the boggy yards.
Alas, all went well and our boys are gaining rapidly. They're 4-7 months old, and will be with us for over a year, serving as excellent lawnmowers on our luscious grass before most are sold for beef locally and one for our own fodder for the year. In the meanwhile, I wake most mornings to a glorious sunrise while the 'cows are in the meadow, eating buttercups.'
Finding it a bit difficult to source heritage chooks nearby, we decided to go the route of fertile eggs. Stuart picked up a dozen Speckled Sussex and half a dozen Auracana eggs from a breeder in Woodend, who threw in a couple of bantam Auracanas as well. Those are the ones we're watching hatch at the moment, which is not only fascinating, but also no end of stress for those of us who are over endowed with empathy. It is excruciating to watch these tender new lives struggle to stand up on the first day, and losing one as it was hatching for reasons beyond us was very sad for everyone. I'm a little worried about one of the Sussex at the moment as well...
We had another dozen Plymouth Rock fertile eggs posted to us from Wallan, and much to our dismay received the carton with five breakages. As these breeds go for $45 a dozen, that's a pretty bad result, and we won't be doing mail order again. In fact, having watched these little daily miracles once, we'll let the hens do the work to hatch in future, and the incubator is now slated for cheese making.
But finally, the pigs. Oh, the glorious pigs!
Our six beautiful Large Blacks, a boar and five gilts, arrived late one night from the breeder in Bendigo, and hit the paddock eating. I could watch them for hours, whether they're sleeping in a porcine sardine arrangement (a phrase offered by the wonderful @th3littleredhen),
trotting across the paddock, ears flopping madly enough that I'm sure pigs do fly, or simply eating like pigs. We're learning their different grunts and squeals, and they're treating us like one of the family, eagerly stepping on our toes as we go in to feed them their morning and evening grains, often wet with whey from my cheese making or a tea of garlic, ginger and fennel for the colds two picked up in transit.
I had to go to Adelaide for an international education conference last week, and my waking thought was, 'oh, I hope I'm in time for sunrise and then I'll go see the pigs!' followed by 'oh, I'm in Adelaide, <sadface>'. Atticus, with the most finely tuned animal whisperer aura in the family, spends hours amongst the pigs, usually on all fours, mimicking their swinish habits.
As I'm writing this, our dairy farmer neighbour has just driven 20 Friesians over to agist on our side of the volcano. We struck this deal a week ago, cross-armed and broad stanced next to the tractor, when he delivered us a couple rounds of hay for pig bedding. It suits us all, as we need stock to eat more of the abundant feed in our paddocks and his animals need more feed. So now when I look up the hill past my darling black pigs, it's speckled with the rurally romantic view of gorgeous black and white dairy cows.
So is farming life all we thought it would be? Absolutely, and then some. It's a huge (and welcome) learning curve, and the reality of no travel for awhile is sinking in, but our only regret so far is that we didn't make this move sooner.