Four Goat Case Studies From Around Australia

We asked a few of our “goat friends” to answer some questions for us (and you) to provide more practical case studies for the world to learn from. Here you go!

Ecoburbia, Urban Fremantle, W.A

Shani and Tim

What key function/s do your goats serve on the property?

  • Our goats provide us with milk, cheese, and yogurt. They eat veggie scraps and garden refuge and also cuttings from neighbours and a local tree lopper who brings us stuff he knows they will like. Once they are finished we mulch the leftover branches and use them in the garden and compost
  • Our chickens are in the same pen as our goats and they like to scratch through the goat droppings for undigested grains. Their poo and spent oaten hay is a valuable addition to the compost.
  • Our goats are also much adored members of our household. We love them dearly. We sit and have a cup of tea in their pen every morning and that’s when they get their daily brush. They love trying to eat the tea leaves from the strainer.
  • They are also a great way to develop community.  Our sharewaste folk also bring treats for them – they will do anything for banana peels. They certainly get lots of visitors and people are free to wander into our backyard whenever they like. School finishing time is a popular time for visitors.
  • Our daily walks (down the middle of the road so no one is tempted by the roses) have meant we have met many people in our neighbourhood. There is usually someone keen to have a stroll with us and a chat as the goat’s graze. When Pumpkin was younger she used to play on the play equipment with the neighbourhood kids – she loves going up and sliding down the slide, and walking along the rope swing.
  • When we meet someone from Beaconsfield they often say “oh you’re the goat people” People seem proud of this quirky aspect in their neighbourhood.

How many goats do you have and what breed?

At the moment we have two goats – Whimsy (who is five) and Pumpkin (who is two). They are saanen goats. We mated Pumpkin recently with a 50% Nigerian dwarf and plan to mate Whimsy next year with a 100% Nigerian dwarf. Our goal is to breed a small goat who produces milk but is good for an urban environment.

What type of fencing do you have?

We have one metre high mesh fencing held in place with metal star pickets. They have only once jumped the fence – Pumpkin did accidentally when she got spooked by an umbrella. She was quite young and “frisky” She looked so shocked. People always comment that they will get out but they never have – I like to think they are happy in there.

Whimsy can however undo most gate latches so our gate has to be double locked with a carabiner. She can also undo bolts. Last year she went to the Royal Show, figured out how to undo her stall and then promptly undid all the other goat stalls – she loves a challenge. She watches everyone who leaves the pen and knows in an instance if the gate is not latched properly.

And once they are in the veggie garden . . . . .

How much space do they have in their paddocks/yard?

Our goat’s pen is about 70 square metres (not including their stables) They share this space with 12 chickens. They also have a space of about 30 square metres on the verge which is planted out with a fodder grass called paragrass and they graze there most days.

What do you feed them?

  • They get a grain mix of Lucerne chaff, goat pellets, barley and lupins twice a day at milking.
  • Also clean oaten hay daily (most of which they waste!) They get lots of veggie and garden scraps. When they go for a walk they always get some grazing time – weeks acacia, fennel – other interesting shrubs.
  • For a reward or a treat we feed them carob pods. We harvest and dry from a local tree every summer and that keeps us going all year.

How much time does it take to look after them per day/week?

  • Milking and feeding takes about half an hour morning and night. I don’t count our morning cuppa and brushing as care. The afternoon walk takes about an hour. So about 2 hours a day. Plus collecting feed, trimming hooves etc
  • When there are babies you tend to spend all day in there.
  • Although I walk the goats Tim and I share the milking duties and we like doing it together.
  • We have a few people in the community who can milk if we need them. Our most reliable is actually a 12 year old girl – the goats are better behaved for her than they are for us.

What type of preventative health approaches do you integrate into your animal management systems?

  • I would say my main preventative approaches would be daily observation – are they off their feed, what does their coat look like, were they a bit slow to eat their food, are they getting up when someone approaches with a treat? . . . . that sort of thing.
  • I don’t worm my goats unless they need it – I get a stool sample tested once every three months and they have never had worms
  • We are lucky because we are 15 minutes away from a university vet school that has a wonderful productive animal unit. They are also happy to do home visits for the cost of the travel. And they know our goats!

What’s been some of your key challenges in keeping goats?

We had goats “illegally” for many years but when we moved suburb we knew we would have to get permission. The council was well away we kept goats in our previous house but didn’t ever act as there were never complaints. Beg for forgiveness and all that!

When we moved here I enquired (anonymously) and was told there was no way. I approached the mayor who directed me to the head of health. The council had no policy so had to follow state legislation. Surprisingly, most of the conditions were easy to meet – 6 metres from the house, lots of sensible stable requirements . . . . . except for the fact they had to be 20 metres from any other house.

The head of health suggested if I could get support from all the houses within 20 metres  then they would look at my application. We wrote a letter outlining what their care etc would be like, and everyone signed.  . . . . . and we have the only legal goat stable in Freo. The cost has not been put up since 1982 ($27.50)  and they quite often forget to renew it.

I am proud of our council for their creative thinking in this regard. I think by proving it could be done (if illegally) it made things easier.

The main time things are tricky is when the goats are on heat – the constant crying is difficult. We have some soundproof walls we put up on their pen and they have to spend a couple of days inside. Our immediate neighbours are very tolerant.

We have had four complaints.

  1. One neighbour complained about the goats and us generally (“why don’t you f… off to the country”) provoked by one of our goats pooing on his lawn. Despite our attempts to talk to him he has written or phoned the council 16 times (they told us!) They came out to investigate the smell (one of his complaints) and I made them sniff the goat! I also letterboxed an apology note from the goats (for their poo!) to all the neighbours on our usual route. Tim asked other neighbours to write letters of support about the goats (the council has a process for complaint but not compliment) and we have not heard from them since. And luckily he has sold up and moved away (not because of us!)
  2. An ex farmer felt like our pen was too small. He complained to the mayor who suggested he contact the RSPCA which he never did. He has since moved away as well.
  3. The RSPCA came one day as someone had suggested our goat has mastitis. She had what is called a pendulous udder and it did look very swollen. She checked out the goat, had a cuddle and left. She was very annoyed as she had to drive two hours to investigate (their city based officers only deal with “city animals”
  4. Someone suggested to the council that we were selling milk. Someone reported us based on a facebook post and they came around to investigate. Of course we don’t sell milk . . . . . . We just got a letter saying “don’t sell milk” and all was good.

I get very stressed with there is something wrong with the goats – they are my babies!

Melliodora, Central Victoria (rural)

David Holmgren, Sue Dennet and Brenna Quinlan (who provided this text)

What key function/s do your goats serve on the property?

  • They debark fodder sticks, which we then put through the wood chipper, and use on pathways, in veggie bed pathways, in the deep littler chook run, and in our compost. This is a major source of carbon for our property, as we don’t tend to buy in straw or other external inputs.
  • They are also our pets, so they give us love and cuddles. They get us out down the gully where we tether them each day so they can eat blackberry, so we get daily engagement with our commons, and Su gets daily exercise and ‘goatie time’, which is important when you’re in your 70s.
  • They reduce fire hazard by eating blackberry. This is very important in Central Victoria, the most fire prone region in the world. In spring when the grass is high we fence off paddocks on neighbouring properties and have them eat and trample the grass to reduce the need for slashing.
  • They give us milk each morning. We have 3 milking girls, Pip, Willow and Chia. Because none of them have had babies in two years (and three for pip), we only get about 3 litres of milk total, and now that Chia has one teat out of action, we’re only getting 2 litres. We make cheese, yogurt and use the whey for bread making and pickles.
  • They give us manure for compost.
  • We only mate them every 3 years, so when they have baby boy goats, we get meat from them as well.

  An illustration depicting the role goats play at Melliodora, by Brenna Quinlan

How many goats do you have and what breed?

We have three goats, which are all mixed breeds. Pip looks like a Toggenburg, and Willow is part Saanen, although she is fatter and has much shorter legs. Chia is Willow’s daughter. Willow and Pip were reject goats from Holy Goat, our local organic goat dairy.

What type of fencing do you have?

Our one hectare property is fenced against rabbits and foxes, and we divide it up with electronet into paddocks, depending on the season and the rotation with chooks and geese. We don’t ever let the goaties into the orchard because they ringbark the trees, and the one paddock containing fruit trees has electrified fencing around the trees to avoid ringbarking. Each day we take the goats out to the gully and tether them, or to a fenced off neighbour’s paddock to eat, and we bring them in with fodder each evening.

How much space do they have in their paddocks/yard?

From a whole paddock (quarter acre), to the length of their tether, which is about 4 metres. When they are in their stall at night they sometimes have about 10m squared, but sometimes we open the adjacent paddock and then they have about an eighth of an acre and the dam to wander around at night time.

What do you feed them?

At breakfast time they get the equivalent of a one litre jug each of a mix of lucern chaff and a small amount of seconds grain from a local organic supplier. They also get a slosh of vinegar and a handful of kelp seaweed to cut down on methane. Every second day they’ll get a half teaspoon of minerals too – a mix of sulphur, copper and dolomitic lime (so a teaspoon. so 1/2 a teaspoon of sulphur, 1/2 of dolomitic lime and the tiniest pinch of copper, divided between them). During the day they’ll demolish a blackberry patch, and a lot of other grasses, shrubs and wild plum trees that they’re tied up next to.

In the evening we’ll bring them a large bundle of willow or oak (summer), and blackwood or tagasaste (winter) or whatever needs pruning. The amount is equivalent to a small tree – almost to my limit of what I can drag up the hill.

How much time does it take to look after them per day/week?

About an hour to an hour and a half each morning, because taking them out is very time consuming, depending on how far away the blackberry is. Then in the evening about half an hour to cut fodder and bring them in. We share the duties – I do three days a week of animal care, which included feeding chooks and collecting the eggs, and I keep the milk on those three days. Su and Dave share duties and milk/eggs for the other four days.

What type of preventative health approaches do you integrate into your animal management systems?

We clip their nails every month or so. Their stall has a slotted floor so it’s relatively clean. We have dry spaces for them to be to avoid hoof rot. Su checks their condition to see if they need worming. We feed them a lot of diverse stuff during the day so they are healthy.

What’s been some of your key challenges in keeping goats?

  • Taking them out in the morning is a challenge, because they tend to run off in the wrong direction, and they are very stubborn. It’s much easier and less frustrating with two people, and I quite enjoy taking them out with Su and spending that time with her.
  • It’s also become more and more difficult for Dave to kill the baby goats as the years go on. Two years ago Pip adopted a boy goat from another farm when he was 2 days old, and even that was really sad when he was 6 months old and had to die. The goats grieve for their babies.
  • Our goats also retire here, so when I arrived we had Bet, who hadn’t been milked in 8 years, and was always getting her horns stuck in the fence and falling over. She died two years ago, and looking after her was very time consuming.
  • Chia had a wound on her udder and it has healed closed, so for the past two weeks we’ve been gently piercing the opening again, but it is slow and I would like to dry her off.

  

The above photo is of the blackberry slope that the goats cleared this winter. We had them there for a couple weeks, moving them a bit further each day. The canes will break down and now trees can be planted there.

Good Life Permaculture, urban Hobart

Hannah, Anton and Frida

What key function/s do your goats serve on the property?

  • Our goats provide milk daily which we turn into cheeses and yoghurt (plus fresh milk of course).
  • They help manage the weeds on our property and in the nearby state forest. We inherited certain ornamental weeds which we use as a windbreak and cut fresh fodder from them daily. We also cut and bring home weeds from the nearby state forest. The weeds we have that we feed them include Tagasaste, Catoneaster, Photinia and Mirror bush. We also grow some Acacia for them, but it’s their least favourite!

How many goats do you have and what breed?

We have toggenburg goats. While we normally have two female adults, we momentarily have four in our space, two females and twin boy goats who are still very young. Once naturally weaned, these boys will move to farms as we don’t have the space to keep them here.

What type of fencing do you have?

We have a hardwood timber post and rail and mesh fencing. Goats love to use fences (non-electric) to rub up against, so these timber frameworks are nice and strong and provide their scratch post. They’re around 1.5m high.

How much space do they have in their paddocks/yard?

Our goat’s yard is approximately 80m2 which includes their shed. We also tether them on our grass patches sporadically – but only when we can supervise them.

What do you feed them?

We buy in a mixed chaff (oat and lucern blend) and steamed/rolled barley grain. We feed them 2 litres of chaff (approx. 800g) and 600g of barley twice a day (morning and evening) for each milking goat and half that for each doe that’s not lactating. I’ll also cut fresh fodder daily for them and occasionally they get tethered on grass (when we’re home and can supervise).

How much time does it take to look after them per day/week?

I spend around 1 hour with them daily with them. This includes morning milking, feeding and cutting of fodder and then an evening feed. We only milk one goat in the morning.

What type of preventative health approaches do you integrate into your animal management systems?

  • Our goats came from a wonderful farm, but also came with a level of worms. My understanding is that you can never really get rid of the worm population once you have them. So we manage them.
  • We make sure they have diverse diet of fresh fodder.
  • A mineral block which they can help themselves to any time – we have “Mineral Health Essentials + Copper” from Olsson’s (that’s the brand name).
  • We cut their toenails every 6 – 8 weeks to keep their feet healthy.
  • We’re still trying to find the right worming treatment that they’ll actually eat properly. I think our goats are a bit spoiled so they often reject the herbs we mix in with their feed. They’ll literally not eat their food (or not much of it) if they think “it’s not quite right”. So we’re still experimenting with the best system for them and have tried a wide range of things. This has included conventional drenching with a product call Panacur which has a one day withholding period from drinking milk. Apparently this isn’t strong enough for most commercial herds with worms as they build up a tolerance to it quickly. We’ve used it twice in 2 years and it appears to have helped manage the situation. However we’re also still trying to train them to eat the herbs.

What’s been some of your key challenges in keeping goats?

  • Finding experts to advise on natural preventative worming approaches which work well.
  • When they’re in heat (every autumn), they can get very noisy every 3 weeks for a few days at a time. One season the youngest goat also developed advanced jumping skills and they both jumped the fence. They only did this once.
  • Finding friends who can milk and look after them while we’re away. It’s not for everyone and we generally struggle to find someone who can “do it all”. Luckily we’re happy homebodies so don’t travel too much.

You can find a bit more detail about our set up on an older goat blog from 2017 here. 

Sue Dennet milks Gerty at Good Life Permaculture while Frida shows off her chook catching skills

Twelve Trees Farm, Cygnet (rural)

Jilly Middleton (Jilly no longer keeps goats on her property, the below is from past experience)

 What key function/s do your goats serve on the property?

We had between 15-40 goats over 7 years primarily to manage gorse, blackberries and thistles. We milked some and ate goat meat. We sold live goats to eat other peoples weeds as well. we also cuddled many, many goat kids.

How many goats do you have and what breed?

We started with 15, dropped down to 9 within the first year to strengthen the herd. we didn’t breed every year, we bought some in and sold some. We had some who were worry warts and were sold to backyards where they got lots of attention. We had some who were predisposed to getting their heads stuck in ringlock, they were sold or eaten. We had some that always had triplets and would struggle to thrive. We bred for hardiness, specifically for parasite resistance, and foot health.

What type of fencing do you have?

External fences are 90cm high mesh (sheep or wallaby ringlock) with a single or double strand of electric up top, and an electric single line on an outrigger about a foot off the ground. Internal fences are many and varied. We used gallagher ‘smart fences’ which had 5 strands of electric poly wire with tread ins, and made our own temporary electric fences with steel rods and insulators to graze strategically within paddocks.

How much space do they have in their paddocks/yard?

Too much, usually! The fenced part of the property was about 80 acres. one of our challenges was maintaining a large enough herd/small enough paddocks to have significant impact on the woody weeds.

What do you feed them?

Hay – the amount depended on the length of the winter, and whether the goats were bred. We also fed them propharma mineral lick, and a monthly week of worming herbs. This varied depending on what was available on the farm and in the shops- oregano oil (3 drops/day/goat, fresh garlic, nigella seeds, pine/wormwood branches, rosemary, apple cider vinegar, kelp were long standing favourites) we’d use kelp meal and lucerne chaff to mix with supplements.

How much time does it take to look after them per day/week?

Anything from 30 minutes a week to 4 hours a day in kidding season.  For about 5 months we’d supplement their diet with hay, some weeks we’d let them into a bush paddock and pop back once a week to check them all out. we trimmed their feet every 3 months or as needed. Once, we needed to do it every 2 months and that was because we were overfeeding minerals in the Pat Coleby style.

What type of preventative health approaches do you integrate into your animal management systems?

  • Eventually we bought the best stock we could afford, bred for resilience, destocked in bad years, made sure they had adequate nutrition and didn’t push them too hard. We’d take a year off kidding if we thought they were slow to recover/we knew we would be busy with a new baby (of the human type for us)!
  • Rotational grazing for parasite management and many experiments with mineral supplementation. We started with the Pat Coleby regime; using dolomite, copper, sulfur. That was a good starting place – copper can help control internal parasites, dolomite makes the copper safer for the goat, sulfur helps to control the externals. However its a blunt tool and misses some marks. We had some goats present with possible whilte muscle disease one year and we started using the propharma supp to efficiently get a nice mix of minerals in. If it were just a few goats, I’d be more excited about finding the organic mineral sources to feed the goats.
  • Herbal worm treatment took many forms depending on ingredient availability. We would tend to use it every few weeks for a week, and at specific strategic times. After kidding for the mums, at weaning time for the kids, the first warm wet days of spring. Keeping housing clean and treated with lime after wet seasons and/or suspicion of worms.
2 Comments

Life in the Face of The Climate Crisis

This past weekend I (Hannah) was invited to give a brief talk at Landcare Tasmania’s conference – an exploratory chat on land and life in the face of the climate crisis. I thought a lot about what to say and even put words on paper (a rare occurrence) – here are those words…

I get a lot of people asking me what do we need to do to respond to the climate crisis? I have two responses. The first is my practical action-based answer which is full of critical initiatives we need to crack on with right now. These include establishing local food systems, stopping mass deforestation, adopting permaculture and regenerative agriculture to manage land holistically. Embracing perennial cropping and not just annual cropping, eating less meat, practicing urban agriculture, advocating for sustainable transport solutions, not flying so much, having less kids, riding a bike, divesting our super out of funds that invest in fossil fuel, resolving inequality, protecting biodiversity, composting everything you can possibly compost, advocating for good governance from our politicians, planting trees, working with First Nation Australians towards healing, supporting renewable energy and not buying so much stuff all the time… These are just a few of the many, many things that we, as a culture, need to crack on with.

My second response is more concise, yet just as critical – and could actually solve all of the issues I just rattled off above. I believe two of the most important things we can do in the face of the climate crisis is build community and foster an enthusiastic imagination.

  1. I’m going to spend my time with you today exploring these two things, starting with building community…

US congress woman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says… “Some of best work we can do right now is building and deepening our sense of community. 

….It’s how we create bonds that add meaning to our lives, how we educate one other compassionately, and how we create real, sustainable power that serves the people, the environment, and our future…”

So what does this look like in the face of the climate crisis? It involves a million different approaches to creating and organising community where people are engaged, empowered, and ultimately mobilised into effective, meaningful action… Some examples include…

  • In South Australia, the Red Cross are rolling out a program called Climate Ready Communities to mobilise people in making changes right now to adapt to the climate crisis. This is based on a peer-to-peer approach of residents talking to other residents to build relationships across whole regions to support each other to create resilience for their land and lives with both environmental and social solutions. They’re tackling big things like how to adapt to the increasing threat of fire, drought, social isolation, mental health, food security and more. And they’re doing this over resident’s kitchen tables and in local community halls.
  • A second example is Farmers for Climate Action. This is a national movement of farmers, agricultural leaders and rural Australians working to ensure farmers are a key part of the solution to the climate crisis. Because, did you know that agriculture accounts for 13% of Australia’s emissions – so while they could be seen as part of the problem, they can actually an enormous part of the solution – if they’re supported to be.

Farmers for Climate Action work directly with farmers to recruit other farmers. Together they’re building and strengthening regional communities to be more connected, educated and activated. And importantly, they’re supporting climate solutions being implemented on farms and advocating together to influence the whole sector and the government to implement climate policies that reduce pollutions and benefit rural communities.

  • A third example is a wonderful organisation you might know of called Landcare. For over 30 years people like you have been working across agricultural and environmental initiatives that restore health to the land, water ways and to whole communities. The work that Landcare has already done in responding, and adapting to the climate crisis is extensive – however the opportunities to do more is also extensive and needed more than ever. Landcare is beautifully positioned and networked to make an increasingly deep impact – politically, socially and environmentally. I specifically believe continuing your work with communities in particular is a key way to help uplift one another so we can transform lives and landscapes to be more resilient in the face of the climate crisis.

These few examples have community at the heart of what they do, because while there can be value in a top down approach to initiating change. Bottom up, grass roots movements have proven again and again throughout history that they can be the most effective method to inspire mass change when it’s needed the most. And we need it the most right now.

  1. The second thing I’d like to flesh out with you today is the important task of fostering enthusiastic imaginations…

A fellow called John Dewey who’s a social reformer defines imagination as the ability to look at things as if they could be otherwise.

Because the fact is we need active imaginations to dream up a future that’s different to the one we’re currently on track to creating. We need innovative, creative and different thinking to the “business as usual” thinking that currently dominates our collective brain.

Because…. We can’t create what we can’t dream of. Ancient Hawaiian wisdom (Huna) said “Energy flows where attention goes”. And I can see truth in that.

In recent times, when I have conversations about the climate crisis – some environmental activists I’ve known for many years are now talking the doom and gloom talk – the “we’re all gonna die” talk. While this attitude is a valid response based on facts provided by numerous climate scientists and our current political trajectory, it is not the stuff of great imagination. It is not the attitude that will help us change this trajectory into one of hope and a thriving life for all. I for one, do not want to spend any time putting my attention into thinking we’re all going to die. Saying that, we can’t ignore the facts and pretend there’s nothing concerning happening. But I’d much prefer to use those facts to inform solution-based thinking and acting for a hopeful future and let the energy flow into helping make that happen.  But we can’t do this without dreaming big.

As author, Rob Hopkins says, “…Imagination is central to empathy, to creating better lives, to envisioning and then enacting a positive future… 

He goes on to say that

…When we  reclaim and unleash our collective imagination, we can create often rapid and dramatic change for the better…”

So basically, the future is a vast land of opportunity that our imaginations can help dream into existence.

Some of my hot tips that can help foster enthusiastic imaginations include:

  1. Stop staring at the TV so much and start staring more at trees, soil, the ocean, rocks and the sky. I have found that this has a miraculous effect of providing perspective and reminding us of our delightfully small place in the universe.
  2. Where possible, carve out time in your busy life to daydream. For me this is often at 4am when my house and the world is quiet. With a cup of tea in my hand I watch the sun rise and let the thoughts roll through my brain. Sometimes I latch on to the ones that bring interest and hope and sometimes I just try to empty my brain and let them all wash over me. When my brain is empty, I’ve found that that’s when clarity and good thinking arrives. And,
  3. My third tip for fostering imagination is – Love. Practice loving people. This includes yourself, your immediate family, friends and community. But it also includes the strangers you pass in the street each day and the person who serves you at your corner shop. We are all in this climate crisis together – love will help keep us together as we navigate our way through it.

In summary – our future is one big, fat great unknown. There’s no way of really knowing what will happen tomorrow, next week or in 2040. Despite this, we have enormous potential to create an amazing future if we fully embrace the importance of right now –  which is the only thing we actually have control over. If we live our lives meaningfully and perhaps a bit radically we can ensure that everything we do today, can help create a tomorrow that’s the product of our brilliant, hopeful imaginations and brought to life with our resilient, glorious communities. So that while we’re stepping into a future that is largely unknown, it’s one that we can all look forward to.

5 Comments

Rodent-proof Chicken Feeder

Here in peri urban Hobart we have to stay on top of managing rodents and birds getting into our chicken’s feed. Over the years we’ve tried lots of different designs and none of them have worked as well as we needed.

Enter this beauty. While trawling the world wide web I stumbled across this design on youtube for an automatic feeder. People – it actually really works and does everything it promises to do. It’s bird proof, weather proof and rodent proof –  basically all our chicken feeding dreams coming true at once.

The basic premise is that the bucket is full of grain. A hole has been drilled into the bottom and a “ toggle” (aka an eye bolt with a chunk of wood attached) is installed which the chooks peck to access the grain – only a few grains at a time. This means they peck once, then quickly eat all the grain off the ground before doing another peck to get more grain – ensuring no excess grain is left out on the ground for rodents and birds.

One chook pecking the toggle which releases a small amount of grain. The other chooks have their heads down, eating off the ground. 

This is an automatic feeder which means you don’t have to tend them everyday (as long as they have access to fresh water). This means you can go away for the weekend or just improve efficiency in your garden tasks.

Oh, and it’s dead easy to make – here’s how…

Ingredients

  • One bucket with a handle and lid. I recommend either a 20 litre or 10 litre bucket so it can hold a decent amount of grain.
  • One eye bolt – we’ve used a 5mm one.
  • A chunk of wood.

Method

  • Using a 16mm drill bit – drill a hole into the bottom of the bucket. This size of the hole will vary depending on what type of grain you have. We have mixed grain with chunky sunflowers included – so our holes quite generous. If you’re not sure, start with a small hole and gradually make it bigger until you hit the sweet spot.
  • Drill a 5mm holes into the chunk of wood.
  • Poke the eye bolt through, with the eye on the inside of the bucket.
  • Screw the eye bolt into the chunk of wood – which I call “the toggle”.

Our mixed grain has different sizes in there so we’ve made our hole quite big to make sure they can all get through. 

The 16mm holes in the bottom of the bucket

The toggle (chunk of wood) with a 5mm hole drilled into it and the 6mm eye bolt. 

Poke the eye bolt through the hole with the eye on the inside of the bucket. 

Screw the toggle onto the other end of the eye bolt so it hangs as seen above. 

That’s it! Only three bits of materials to make the chook feeder of your dreams.

That’s it. Told you it was easy. Next up you can hang it in your chook run. Make sure you hang it from a chain or a steel rod so rodents can’t crawl along it to access the bucket.

Special thanks to Anton for making me a gorgeous spiral rod using the campfire as his forge. 

The other hot tip is to make sure it’s not too close to the ground that rodents could jump up to hit the toggle to release the grain.

And don’t worry about the chooks working it out. They’re very clever when it comes to food, and will have orientated themselves to it within one day.

This has been a game changer for us. The flocks of sparrows (small birds) are no more and I’m feeling cautiously optimistic the rodents that live in our neighbouring bushland wont find this one.

The feeding station, nestled between our worm farm (on the right-  an old bath in a timber frame) and the branch prunings from our goats which will be turned into woodchips or biochar. 

11 Comments

Salvia Leucantha: Pruning & Propagating

The Salvia family is a beautiful one. We’re slowly but surely planting a large range of them in our garden. My current favourite is the Mexican bush sage (Salvia Leucantha) – I love it for its vibrant purple flowers which come in autumn and winter, exactly when we need them (it gets a bit grey here around then). Every so often we’ll seen a brave bumble or honey bee feeding off them in this time of the year when most other garden flowers are sleeping – so its everyone’s friend.

We’ve planted them at the base of a row of native Hop bushes (Dodonaea viscosa) which will eventually be hedged tight, with all the prunings being fed to our goats.

How to prune

In order to keep this glorious colour and fresh looking foliage coming back again and again, you need to prune them *hard* once a year. All you need to do is cut all the one year old growth to the ground once you see their flowers dying and fresh, new shoots coming out of the base.

The flowers start to fade towards the end of winter – this is the time to prune them. 

A fresh shoot (white stem) next to an older shoot (purple stem)

If you look to the base of the plant, you’ll see new shoots popping up next to the older shoots as seen above. Simply cut all the old shoots off at ground level. Because I wait for the shoots to come, I never have any bare ground. Below you can see a freshly pruned shrub in the foreground and an older one about to be pruned in the background.

Edit: A very helpful person on social media pointed out that they wait until there’s no risk of frost happening in their region before cutting the old growth out. So might not cut it until mid/late spring. We have a warm(er) microclimate in Hobart, close to the ocean, so don’t have serious frost issues. 

How to propagate from cuttings

You’ll be left with *a lot* of vegetation. Instead of just throwing this in the compost or chook run, you can make many, many cuttings from it to grow more plants. Because you can never have too many Salvias.

To propagate salvia from cuttings, cut a piece of the hardwood from the old wood with 4 – 5 nodes showing. Nodes are the part of a plant stem from which leaves or roots emerge, often forming a slight swelling. Make sure you have a node near the bottom of the stem.

Strip all the leaves from stems. As you can see below, I’ll often leave one small leaf at the top to help photosynthesise. But if any of the leaves start to wilt and die, nip them off and don’t worry, the cutting will still strike :-).

A cutting with a small leaf left on the top and 7 nodes. 

You can then plant up to 5 cuttings in each pot. Once they start setting roots in the warmth of spring you can move them up into their own pots to grow nice and big before eventually putting them into the garden.

For this batch I made the potting mix out of 40% compost (for nutrients) and 60% coco peat (to hold onto moisture) as this is all I had available. Usually you’d also put some sand in there for good drainage – but these are hardy cuttings that don’t need pampering.

And that’s it. I now have 65 Salvia Leucantha cuttings which will grow into vigorous bushes of glory.  And no, that’s not too many – I will happily home them all throughout our garden.

 

2 Comments

Our Car Share: One Less Car & One More Bike!

After many months of planning and thinking, we sold our 4WD ute, bought a second electric bike and entered a car share arrangement with some mates around the corner who have a small “buzz box” car. It feels really good.
.
Jodie and Marty’s buzz box and our two electric bikes

But Why?

Two main reasons – firstly, it’s cheaper to share a car. We did some back-of-the-envelope sums and figured out we’d save around $5000 each year. Secondly, in the very big face that is the current climate crisis, we’re constantly looking at how we can prevent carbon emissions from occurring in our own lives to contribute to the solution and not the pollution. Check out this graph drawn up by Brenna Quinlan that shows the power of personal action in the face of climate change.
.
.
Not having a car is the second most impactful thing we can do in our society – right after considering how you approach family planning. Australia’s Climate Council has this to say on the matter…
.
“Transport – cars, trucks, public transport, domestic flights and shipping – is Australia’s second largest source of greenhouse gas pollution. The sector emitted 102 million tonnes carbon dioxide (MtCO2) in 2018, representing 18% of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas pollution…
.
The major source of the problem is cars, responsible for roughly half of Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution from transport. In fact, Australian cars emit roughly the same per year as Queensland’s entire coal and gas fired electricity supply (Climate Council).”
.
Yeah, so cars are a big deal, yet most folks consider them to be an extension of our bodies and lives. But do they have to be for everyone? In an ideal world, we’d have amazing public transport systems *everywhere*, affordable electric cars and bike infrastructure and incentives that get urban folk on their bikes and out of their cars. But that’s not an option for a large portion of us.
.
For example, we personally can’t afford an electric car (however we do hope to access one in the future), our public transport system is average at the best of times and our bike infrastructure is limited. It’s easier to drive because that’s how our city and whole island infrastructure has been designed and developed.

How does the car share work?

A car share is a practical solution to our current lives where we still need a car for work and sometimes play. Tasmania currently doesn’t have a formal car share enterprise set up (as other parts of Australia do), so we initiated our own with some mates (thanks Jodie and Marty) around the corner who have a small, efficient car they were willing to share. We’ve done a range of things to formalise the agreement and make record keeping easy, these include:
  • Having a contract that outlines everything super clearly. There’s nothing wishy-washy about what we’re doing, everything’s written down which ensures we’re all on the same page.
  • Establishing an online calendar so we can book the car in when we need it.
  • We have a shared Google Docs form where we all enter how many kms we did, if you spent on money (fuel, repairs etc) and whether we did city or highway driving.
  • We have insurance – this will cover any accidents (touch wood) and remove any big financial risk associated with them.
  • Agree to meet every quarter to review the agreement and resolve any costs if needed.
  • If we both need it at the same time, the household who needs it for the least amount of time will rent a car instead.

What’s challenging about it?

There are some challenges to this new way of transport for us, actually there’s only one. We need to be more organised with our time. But really, being more organised is a pretty ace life skill, so fostering that is actually a positive.

Should everyone do a car share?

No. We acknowledge that this isn’t an option for everyone. It happens to be for us because we live in Hobart city, this makes it easy for us to walk and ride for 80% of our trips. Not everyone can access housing in a central city or town, or make their lives and/or work functional without the use of a car everyday.
.
I’m completely uninterested in sounding like a white, privileged bozo and flippantly saying that everyone should do this cause we can. What I will say is that we can all do things to transition to a meaningful life that can help prevent the climate crisis from getting worse. What that thing/s is will depend on your context. I simply invite you to explore your world and find that thing/s and make it happen :-).
.
For us, we’re on a one-way track to constantly working on untangling ourselves from being so dependent on fossil fuels and capitalism. We often ask ourselves the question “do we really need this thing in our lives, or is there another way?” Often, there is another way and we like this other way. It’s full of better health, community connections and resilience.
.
Anton and Frida rugged up and on their way to Kindy
7 Comments

Baby Blue Popcorn

Baby blue popcorn (Zea mays) is a miniature heirloom variety of corn. It’s quite hard to find any information about it online, so I’m sharing the little I know here to help you get orientated around this little gem.

Like all corn, it’s a heavy feeder, so likes lots of compost and water. And even though it’s a dwarf variety, it’s quite prolific with between 4 – 5 cobs per plant. If you’re able to, you can plant it out with the three sisters guild to get more yield from the space you’re growing in.

This corn isn’t for eating fresh, rather for drying and popping later – so after you’ve harvested, you need to let it dry. I do this by pealing back its “coat” and ideally hanging it up, as it makes for good decorations. But usually I just peal the coat off and pop it in an airy cardboard box under the kitchen bench.  Because, alas, I’m not that type of person who makes spare moments for decorating (often).

As it dries the colour can darken to a dusky, midnight blue. So pretty that I arrange it in lines and then in a mandala shape – cause it made me happy.

Now, the important bit – the popping…

To pop the corn, heat a pot on the stove with 1-2cm of oil on the bottom (we use olive oil). To make sure the oils hot enough, put one bit of corn in – it should pop quickly. If it doesn’t, wait for the oil to heat more. Once it’s all in, shake the pot every now and then to make sure all the corn gets popped. And after a few minutes or so it’ll all be done.

You’ll notice, the corn turns white once popped – slightly disappointing, but still darn tasty.

Where can you buy seed in Tasmania?

  • I got given seed by someone many years ago and haven’t been able to source it commercially. BUT I just noticed that Southern Harvest in Tasmania are saving some seed to sell. It’s not yet on their website (at the time of writing this), but get in touch with them to let them know you’re keen.
  • Seed Freaks (also have other types of heirloom corn which you can find here.
8 Comments

Mab Ueang Agri-Nature Centre in Thailand

The Mab Ueang Agri-Nature Centre is an educational, diverse farm located one hour out of Bangkok, Thailand. At 30 years old, this mature farm is predominantly a giant food forest with small rice paddies and strategic water systems integrated. It’s amazing.

It’s based on the late King Bhumibol’s many decades of research and advocacy in agriculture and culture to create the New Theory Sufficiency Economy. King Bhumibol initiated this theory to help Thai farmers who suffer from the impacts of economic crisis, natural disasters and other unproductive natural conditions.

The New Theory suggests that farmers apply moderation, due consideration and self-immunity to their practice of farming to shield them from the risks and impacts of globalisation and other uncontrollable factors in their farming.

“…I ask all of you to aim for moderation and peace, and work to achieve this goal. We do not have to be extremely prosperous…If we can maintain this moderation, then we can be excellent…” His Majesty the King’s Statement given on 4 December 1974

After visiting quite a few farms throughout Thailand, THIS one was by far the most sophisticated, resilient, clever and successful that’s in line with what we look to create with permaculture design. Here’s a brief tour of some of the key elements…

The water systems

Throughout the food forest are many strategic channels guiding water from pond to pond. While I was there it was the end of the dry season so these channels were mostly dry (as they should be). I can imagine them in the wet season all full and flowing beautifully.

This small bamboo structure above is designed to slow and sink water into the soil as it moves through the system.

These depressions above are designed to grow small rice crops in once. Out of shot uphill is a “header tank” where water can be released into these areas (or other gardens) to irrigate as needed.

And everywhere there are demonstrations on how to use slope, contours and terracing to manage water and vegetation as can be seen below.

The structures

Throughout the food forest are small homes for staff and volunteers. They’re cleverly integrated into the landscape, providing comfortable places to live. In the extreme heat of this area (it was 42 degrees when I was there), inside this forest was significantly cooler.

Impressively there’s an example of how, even if you don’t have land, you can live and grow on water. The example below shows how you can build a floating house and garden on a fresh water pond where abundant fish are also available as food.

In the 30 seconds it took me to take this photo, 5 fish jumped out of the water. It’s so abundant. 

A solar panel demonstrates fo solar energy can be harvested for lighting.

Shadecloth with a surprisingly small amount of soil are held in bamboo frames to grow vegetables, rice and fruit trees. Fish eat the bugs and worms that thrive in this system, meaning no other food needs to be provided to the fish.

Energy

As well as food, this farm demonstrates how you can make your own energy for cooking. Specifically with bio-digesters which use buffalo poo and water in an anaerobic environment to create methane gases. This gas is harvested and piped to the nearby kitchen for cooking. Low-tech and highly effective.

The kitchen with the bio-digester in the background.

Bamboo

Bamboo is grown extensively as a building material for homes and garden structures. The image below shows how bamboo can be used to help establish Vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanoides) in steep banks to stop erosion.

And for building structures and garden edging as seen below…

Bamboo used as garden edging. 

Rice

Amongst the food forest are rice paddies. Rather than large rice paddies, they have more of them but at smaller dimensions amongst the trees with strategic water channels to let water in and out as needed. This is more inline with “dry land” rice production – using less water to fit in erratic rainfall.

Seeds

Seeds are harvested and stored to preserve diversity and to share with other Thai farmers. While seemingly modest, saving seed has always been a key part to a country’s cultural independence. Having control over seed varieties and distribution means you have control over the food system.

While permaculture was developed by two white men in Australia (Bill Mollison and David Holmgren), I believe it stands on the very broad shoulders of traditional cultures everywhere. There are many design and ethical similarities between the New Theory and permaculture. Not for the first time, I’m struck at how traditional cultures *all around the world* have already worked out how to live well intuitively and through observational science.

If you’re working in a foreign country in permaculture, the best thing you can do is look to the local people with healthy landscapes and communities – they’ll have all the strategies and techniques appropriate for that environmental and cultural context.

This place will forever stay with me as an incredible example of good design in action. I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s happening there, so encourage anyone in that part of the world to have a visit…

9 Comments

How To Grow Beans For Drying (& Eating Later)

This past season we grew enough purple bush beans to eat fresh and save a bunch for drying and eating in winter. As we’ve got limited space, it’s not enough to supply all our needs, but we like trying new things each year and thought we’d experiment with how much we could do.

We grew purple bush beans, we’re fond of the bush variety as they require no staking – a major bonus in the time saving department. We planted two long rows with beans 15cm apart and transplanted them out to 30cm – 40cm once they had germinated. That’s not necessary – but I wasn’t sure on the viability of the seed as they were a bit old. Turned out their was nothing wrong with the seed, so we got lots!

We ate plenty of young, fresh beans in their early stages and then let the rest dry out on the bush until they were 90-100% mature. You can see the leaves below left starting to yellow and brown off. Ideally you want to leave the beans on the bush until you can shake the pods and here the beans rattling inside.

We left them in the ground as long as possible, but had to pull them to get the winter garlic crop planted, so some of the beans were more purple than I was planning. But not to worry – I simply left them in an airy brown box for a few weeks inside to dry out thoroughly before shelling them.

Halfway through the harvest

For a small batch like this you could simply pop them into a pillow case and bash it around to shell the majority of them quickly. Or, like me you can do them one by one each night as a form of mediation to slow my busy brain down over a few evenings.

The next thing to do is a grading process to make sure there are no rotten or mouldy culprits slipping through. We ended up having a pile for the chooks and a small bowl for eating right now – these ones were cracked or slightly damaged, but will still taste delicious.

And then into a glass jar they go for winter soups and stews.

Wondering whether it’s not worth your time to grow and dry your beans? Well considering how cheap organic beans are to buy from the local shop, it doesn’t really make sense. However it *is* worth your time if you’re interested in learning new skills and having beans that don’t take as long to cook and knowing where your food comes from. All the good things. Would we do it again? Absolutely – next season we’re thinking of growing the borlotti bean for drying as it’s larger size appeals to us.

Here’s to many wintery bowls of bean soup and stew!

9 Comments

Dirty Hands Composting Cooperative

Recently I interviewed Tom Crawford from the Dirty Hands Composting Cooperative about exactly why he spends so much of his time harvesting food scraps from the urban landscape. Based at the Hobart City Farm, this enterprise is helping to turn a problem into a nutrient-dense solution!

What is Dirty Hands?

“Dirty Hands is a cooperative based business that collects food scraps from cafes and restaurants around nipaluna/Hobart and processes it into compost. We operate in collaboration with a few community gardens and provide compost in return for their use of space.”

Who’s involved and what are their roles?

“Currently we have three people involved in the business. Tom is the founder who started through a Hobart City Council grant in 2016. Gabriela has been involved for the past year and helped Tom evolve the business into a financially sustainable operation. We also have Marissa who has been helping with collections and processing for the past three months. All three are involved in the weekly collection and processing of food scraps into compost.”

Tom Crawford and Gabriela O’Leary – photo by the ABC.

When did you start?

“In May 2016 the idea of a community composting hub was first submitted to Hobart City Council when applying for a grant with the support of Hobart City Farm and Source Community Wholefoods. As of August 2016 the grant was successful. The first collection began in November 2016, and continued ever since. And after over two years of running a free service to businesses, the operations have managed to transition to a fully paid service for the past six months.”

Just wanted to pipe in here and say that this is such an achievement! Making these types of projects financially viable and sustainable is always a bit tricky – so Tom and co are doing an amazing job in this regard. 

What are you looking to achieve?

“The main aims of the business are to reduce waste to landfill; utilise the resources of organic materials and returning it to the soil; and creating employment with a social and environmental focus. Building community awareness around waste reduction through composting is also a big focus.”

Is it hard work to set up and manage?

“The work is at times challenging but rewarding due to the aims being achieved. The collection can be frustrating due to logistics of organising buckets and “tetrising” the buckets into the vehicle, and getting stuck in traffic is less than ideal. The composting is a physical job but satisfying when you get to see the amazing final product: rich dark compost. Cleaning buckets can also be a job that lacks inspiration, but it is part of the bigger picture, and we’re sure that the customers appreciate it.

One of the hardest things for us to do was switching from a free service to paid as paying extra to do the right thing doesn’t always work out. It can be really challenging for businesses as composting is an added pressure for the hospitality sector. But we have a fantastic group of businesses that we work with, and we are always keen for more to join.”

Some of the many food scrap buckets!

What’s your favourite thing about running Dirty Hands?

“We love that the business is set up on cooperative principles, meaning that we all have an equal say in what goes on, as well as equal pay. We also really appreciate working with Hobart City Farm and gaining all of their insights. And WORMS!!! Worms are the most incredible animals, turning food-scraps into gold! The worms have made our operations so much easier due to less physical turning of the compost.

An example of just one of the large worm farms that are built from rodent-proof corrugated iron

What’s your hope for the future?

“We hope to continue building our operation, evolving with the changes and hopefully reach the point where we can transition to an actual cooperative business that can provide a quality composting service to a larger community of people and businesses, whilst staying true to our aims and getting our hands dirty!”

See more about this project here…

Learn how to compost at home…

*All images are provided by Dirty Hands, ABC or The Mercury Newspaper. 

Leave a comment

Do Cold Frames Actually Work?

The short answer is yes – but let me elaborate….

We built a cold frame in late 2018 to create a warmer micro-climate to grow early season tomatoes and eggplants with ease. You can see below how we built it here.

Some of you have asked how it’s gone in its first season. Very good thanks – it went (and is still going) very, very good. Below is some evidence of this.

We ended up harvesting/eating tomatoes 6 weeks earlier which is the best treat ever and eggplants?  In the past growing eggplants usually involves a bit of pampering to make sure they have enough warmth – but this season I’ve only paid them attention when harvesting bowls of them. That’s a nice turn around.

The only minor downside is that this cold frame ended up being a bit short for the eggplants (the tomato plants were a bush (short) variety so didn’t have this issue). But as this only became an issue later in the season (when it’s warmer) we have simply left the lid notched up as you can see above.

Prolific fairy tale eggplants

Likewise with basil – we have much pesto in our fridge and freezer and fresh basil on everything. Abundance!

The cold frame is now slowly coming to a natural end. Over winter we’ll grow a mixed green manure crop to rest and feed the soil so it can get ready to do it all again next year.

In addition to the cold frame, we planted 12 tomato plants (in normal outside beds) which are still pumping away. There’s been so much pumping we’ve almost filled our pantry shelves. And that’s what we call winning!

Usually we’d buy some tomatoes to preserve in our fowler vacola jars – but not this year. This year it’s 100% toms from our garden (plus other fruits and veggies). A maturing garden and gardener (with more skills) is the most beautiful thing.

Leave a comment