We’ve been out on our 11 acres in the hills on the edge of Melbourne for just over four months now. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned so far:
1. The country really is the best place in the world to grow up.
Four months into our country life and the kids have developed a freedom and ease in the natural environment that I can’t ever remember having as a child. Our four year old son can often be found sitting in the chook run contemplating the meaning of life, or gazing at the kangaroos on our neighbour’s hill as the sun sets at bedtime.
He has developed a remarkable affinity with the chickens, and is much better at catching them than I am. The other day one of the pullets ducked through the back fence close to sunset and I had a hell of a time trying to catch it before the light disappeared. He understood that a fox was likely to eat the chicken if we didn’t catch it. He came to the fence and jumped and shouted to scare the chicken further down to a more accessible location. Then he walked alone across two paddocks for about five minutes to join me at the fence line where he listened intently to my instructions until we caught the chook. Then he decided that this chook was special and named it Goldie.
I was so proud of my boy, our little chicken whisperer. If only I could get the same concentration at bath time.
2. Chickens are my favourite animal
Not only are they hysterically funny, they also give us fresh eggs every day and they taste delicious (not that we’ve been down that path yet). The ladies in our flock remind me of a bunch of old biddies living in a retirement village. If I make any change to their henhouse, such as cleaning out the nesting boxes or laying fresh straw, they all file in as soon as I’ve finished and inspect my handiwork. “Ooh, Beryl, come and have a look what she’s done with the sawdust over here… that won’t do at all… tsk tsk tsk…”.
The chooks have been my first learning curve on the farm, as I knew nothing about them when we bought our first four pullets back in December. Actually, it’s fairly obvious that I knew nothing about raising chickens as one of them turned out to be a rooster and we only got our first egg from those birds today, over four months since we bought them home! O said it’s the most expensive egg in history. (Chickenfeed doesn’t exactly cost chickenfeed these days).
3. Good fences make good neighbours.
We learned this by having a weak fence and three goats. Our goats escaped twice and kept going to the same neighbour’s house to eat their apple trees and destroy their fences. They were wild goats, and had never been handled which made them practically impossible for O to catch them. Their second escape sealed their fate and we were eating goat stew a few nights later.
4. The best way to become an expert in something is to just get started and begin learning
O reminded me of this the other night, while we were discussing whether we should buy our first cattle. I pointed out that we really didn’t know much about keeping cows, and he calmly pointed out that we’d figure it out as we went along, just like we’ve done with everything else in our life.
He’s right. We didn’t know much about raising children when our first baby was born, but 6 years later and now we’re old hands at caring for our babies. Once upon a time we didn’t know anything about running businesses either, but between us we’ve owned and run four successful businesses in our own professions. Again, we figured it out as we went along and the sky never fell in.
5. Kangaroos aren’t good swimmers
It’s horrible watching Rusty chase kangaroos. He is a breathtakingly fast runner, and can just about match a fully grown roo at top speed. If he ever got hold of one it would make short work of him. Roos are incredibly strong, and every farmer seems to have a terrible story of how a kangaroo killed someone’s dog by kicking it to death.
On the other hand I am also fearful for the kangaroo. They look so terrified when they are trying to escape him, and it’s so strange to watch a life and death scene play out in front of you and be helpless to stop it. Rusty has a one track mind when he is in pursuit of prey and he won’t answer to any calls, so once he’s on the scent and off the leash there’s really nothing I can do to stop him.
On Saturday I was in a paddock with Rusty and he took off after a young roo. I’d taken him off the leash only a few minutes before to give him a bit of a run around. He chased the poor animal back and forth across our biggest paddock for about two or three minutes, but it was too small to jump the fence and escape. Finally it jumped into the dam and Rusty went in after it. They both swam around for a bit, but the poor little kanga kept going under until it didn’t resurface again. I could do nothing but stand on the edge of the dam and call to Rusty as the poor roo looked at me with big wet eyes before it went down for the last time.
6. Summer is a bit scary
I’m not looking forward to summer. Melbourne summers are severe and dangerous. We have heatwaves that kill people, and the entire state goes up in flames every year. Last summer I was on constant alert for fires around our area and we evacuated for the city on one of the worst days. It’s a horrible feeling to worry that your home and your family may be at risk.
Summer also brings out the snakes. We have brown snakes, tiger snakes and red belly black snakes around here – some of the most lethal snakes in the world. In our first few months here we had five or six snake sightings, some of which were close to the house. I want the kids to wander freely outside in the warm weather, but I’m paranoid that one my babies will get bitten.
7. If I’m not feeding something I’m cleaning up what comes out the other end.
Ok, this isn’t strictly a farming thing, maybe it’s more of a mum thing. Sometimes I feel like my time is divided equally between putting food into the mouths around me and then cleaning it up again when it comes out the other end. I spend a lot of time cooking meals, making lunches, feeding kids, making baby bottles, expressing breastmilk, giving scraps to the chooks, feeding the dog and cat, and I guess now the cows will be needing some hay too. At the other end I regularly muck out the hen house, change nappies, wipe bottoms, clean up dog poo, compost the roo poo and change the kitty litter.
Thankfully the cowpats can stay wherever they land.
8. I have truly excellent taste in husbands.
I didn’t really need to move here to work that one out. My husband is an amazing man who can turn his hand to just about anything. He’s never afraid of giving something a go, and his adventurous spirit and his willingness to work extremely hard has made it possible for us to make the move from our little house in Melbourne’s inner west and live our dream out here.
Thank you honey. I love you very much. X