Thursday, November 29, 2007

More rain

Severe weather warning yesterday, so we hoisted the awning, packed the barbecue and outdoor furniture and battened down the hatches. There was a lot of rain, but 'no deaths and nobody drownded'. A day for trying out our new dvd player and some in house entertainment.

Our ship has docked in Sydney, so awaiting customs clearance ( a lengthy and expensive business). This means we will soon be reunited with such luxury items as clothes, cutlery and crockery, and a large pile of audiobooks on cd. We have decided that we are getting too comfortable here, J & G and the kids are great and we are getting seduced by the lifestyle and twitching whenever we pass a real estate agent's window- so time for the wagons to roll and move on before we get rooted here.

All advice has been not to head north as Queensland will be too hot in the summer, so we are going to set off southwards towards Orange, Wagga Wagga and Canberra. Ness's relatives based in Wagga so another freeloading opportunity!

The grey nomads, along with students and general transients, travel this route as it is a fruit-picking trail, with casual labour available for those with accommodation, their own sturdy boots and a vat of factor 50 sunscreen. I have visions of a 'Grapes of Wrath' scenario, with caravans of desperate 50-something Winnebago dwellers fighting in line for gainful employment in the heat and dust.

There have been a few problems with the pigs recently. The pink chav's babies were all born with ASBO's and there has been a spate of fighting and thuggery resulting in the 2 ginger piglets developing facial abscesses and ensuing fly strike and maggoty faces. In an attempt to separate the thugs and Mums there was also an incident involving a falling gate and a fatality due to internal injuries.

Gingers and a weedy runty pink piglet now being bottle fed, which is time-consuming, they are demanding little devils. James dog is in love with the piglets, and I will get a pic of her with them when they cease to look like 'elephant pigs' and the dead flesh has sloughed off.

Meanwhile the veggie patch is amazing. I thought that Ness and Georgie were being highly optimistic when they dug trenches in the bone dry dust and started planting a few weeks ago, but the first zucchini were picked and eaten yesterday, and beans, squashes, spuds, lettuces, melons, onions, leeks etc all thriving and looking fantastic.

We need to plant 44 more olive trees at the weekend to complete the driveway. The ones planted in early Oct are already bearing fruit. Have also planted a beautiful pomegranate tree, a lime tree, and some blueberry bushes, and fed and mulched the resident citrus trees. My ambition when we do settle is to grow a pomegranate hedge, the bright red flowers are stunning.

James is doing some locum work for the next 3 weeks for a local guy, mainly large animal stuff so he was somewhat concerned when called to the local stud to stomach tube some foals with diarrhoea. Not an easy task when you have been a small animal vet in London for several years. Fortunately all went well, and the foals worth a million dollars were decent enough not to snuff it.

He also saw 2 snake bites at the weekend- one dog dead on arrival, the other dog comatose and did not make it despite supportive treatment and antivenom. There are extra bags of intravenous fluids around the house now in case Cocoa or James dog get bitten, and I am getting paranoid whenever either of them root around on the ground or look at brown sticks.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Horse play

So, every morning we are issued with a work list by the staff at the DPI office.The theory is that we do a run in a specific area, but with large patches of no mobile phone reception ( sometimes remedied by standing on a gatepost on one leg at the top of a hill, sometimes not ), poor maps, limited information re location of horses, remote properties, and poor compliance from owners regarding being present with horses confined, the practice is challenging.

Footnotes provided on work list not always overly helpful, such as:
'7 year old Clydesdale stallion, unbroken, never been handled, loose in paddock.Owner will not be present, OK for vet to vaccinate'.

So, we trundle across the field towards the beast, trying to look friendly, waving carrots and the bit of old string that the helpful owner has left us to capture it with. This technique to date, has resulted in a high failure rate.

We are further hindered by being unable to take any rope or head collars onto the property, for fear of cross contamination, so unless the horses are wearing a head collar, or one has been provided, we have nothing with which to attempt a capture. James got an owner to show us how to make a head collar out of old string, and became very adept at knitting them on demand. I think that his macrame skills are a true talent, and he should consider making those weird plant pot holders with integral beadwork to sell at craft fairs.

The serious implications of an owner not being present while we manhandle their horse became all too apparent on one visit- the horse was supposed to be confined in a yard, but had obviously escaped and was loose in a field and very badly injured, lame on one foreleg and gashed all over the other one. Contact was finally made with the owner, and we learned a few days later that her vet had to shoot it as the leg was broken. Had that happened, after we had blood tested, swabbed, microchipped and vaccinated, I suspect the owner would have had a very strong case against us for causing the incident. We became even more wary of risking our own or the horse's well-being after that call.

A memorable vist in the brutal heat of the day was to a far flung outpost owned by an elderly lady who was somewhat intoxicated. She owned a herd of unbroken 'miniature horses' , a stallion and 7 mares, all in a smallish yard with corrugated iron shed/lean-to. A stampede ensued, and although the creatures were not huge, they made up for it by sheer numbers in an enclosed space, and utter bloody-mindedness. None had head collars, so armed with our trusty bit of old string we ventured into the fray. To be helpful the old lady tottered over and shut us both in the metal shed with the herd and locked the door.

I have never been locked in an oven with a herd of wild horses before, and would not reccommend it, even as an extreme sport. James wrestled, I jabbed, old lady yelled encouragement from other side of the door, horses bled, we all sweated enough to resolve the local drought conditions, and I think James was lucky to get out alive. Pity the poor sod who has to go back and give them their second vaccines.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Do not scare the horses

Strange how things turn out.I would never have imagined that I would be out in the middle of nowhere vaccinating horses anywhere, ever, let alone in the stinking hot environment of Dubbo NSW.

Australia is fighting an outbreak of equine influenza- a virus the country has been free from until an incident with a stallion from Tokyo and poor vigilance at a quarantine station near Sydney ( same prison james dog was incarcerated in).

Now it is spreading like wildfire, and the government has decided to attempt an eradication program, by ring vaccinating and containment. It is not a serious disease, and in the UK and USA horses are vaccinated , but with a general election next week I suspect it is a political move to woo the rural voters. There are tight movement restrictions, and a mandatory vaccination regime has been introduced in many areas.

Quite honestly is is like pissing in the wind, with wild horses escaping the vaccine, illegal horse movements, and over such a vast area it makes the foot and mouth control in the UK look like a walk in the park.

Costing approx $500 per horse, fully government funded, it could be a very expensive waste of time, but it gives us vets something to do.

Unfortunately full biosecurity measures need to be enforced, to avoid any inadvertent virus spread, so we have to park outside the property and don boiler suits with hoods, face masks, gloves and wellies before entering on foot. No mean feat in 35 degrees- the longest distance encountered from gate/mailbox to the property was 9 km.Needless to say certain rules were modified as we went along. The old couple at the aforementioned property proudly told us the house was so secluded due to its previous use as a marijuana farm!

The equine influenza diet is proving more successful than The Atkins Diet- chasing wild horses around paddocks in the gear in these temperatures very amenable to weight loss, with no gym subscription to pay.

James has been doing the work on and off for a few weeks now, and was being paid by the DPI (Department of Primary Industries) who provided him with 'helpers', ranging from jockeys and farriers ( who are unable to work due to the movement ban and biosecurity issues) to disinterested illiterate teenagers. He has now gone freelance ( better pay ) and is working through a local practice, so needed a helper who was experienced in handling horses and able to tackle all the paperwork.Instead he got me.

Horses are big and scary, my views on that remain unchanged.However, how the Hell do you expect any animal to behave when 2 people dressed like that traipse across a field towards them armed with large needles and with malice aforethought.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Back in Mudgee

Arrived back in Mudgee yesterday after several extremely wet days in Richmond- the small farm expo was not unlike a county show in the UK; wet and miserable.

Richmond, in the Hawkesbury river flood plain, is a strange place. Lots of flash houses and equine properties, polo playing and the like.When we were there a few weeks ago it was so dry it was impossible to believe the place is prone to flooding, but it was easy to imagine on the second visit, the place was swampy with all the damns overflowing and the river level much higher.

The scenery is unusual, with the majority of the extensive river basin flat and green. It takes a while to realise that the place looks wrong, until you work out that there are no grazing animals, no trees, nothing but short grass- the whole area is thousands of acres of turf farms.

The drive back over the Blue Mountains was completely different from 5 days before, as the colours had become autumnal. The tall densely packed eucalyptus trees all had new leaf growth, which was orange and red, like enormous poinsettias. Blue skies, hot weather, spring rain and colours we associate with autumn.

I am off to earn an honest crust tomorrow- vaccinating horses in Dubbo for a week. Well, assisting rather than primary attending vet, but it will be interesting. Someone a couple of weeks ago lost a finger in an unbroken stallion in a cattle crush incident; I will try not to lose any body parts.

Monday, November 5, 2007


Finally got round to updating the blog. Weather has been rather grim ( as I am sure all those back home will be delighted to hear!), cold and wet.

We decamped from the farmyesterday and headed to Richmond to see Mary, Nick & kids. They have found an amazing house and are hoping to be in by Christmas. They have kindly had the foresight to buy a property on several acres with a heritage guest cottage, so we can upgrade our freeloading from campervan in the practice car park to luxuries such as full-sized beds and non-plastic toilets with sewerage facilities.

Nick has been forced to get the veterinary tomes out of storage and have a crash course in goat medicine, after seeing one last week. Over dinner last night Mary and I recounted simultaneously our single goat fact: namely 'cloudburst' , when a goat post mating shows all the signs of pregnancy ( distended abdomen, lactation etc ) but passes full term without producing progeny, only to 'give birth' to several litres of fluid at a later date.
Nick, who has not been qualified as long as us, decided to file this wisdom in the ' old git useless and probably fabricated veterinary facts' folder, and disregard it immediately.
This morning his first patient was a supposedly pregnant goat who was overdue to give birth and appeared to have an abdomen full of fluid.
There must be a moral there somewhere.

We are now at our first campsite- provided by the RV centre who are doing the alterations on the Winnie tomorrow. So glad we are not paying for it- row upon row of caravans and campers, over 240 pitches, pissing down with rain, and toilets and showers which are reminiscent of school field trips as a teenager. Feels like a bank holiday in Clacton-on-Sea.

Still not decided about Fragrant Farm- second visit clarified a few issues and clouded a few more. According to the council, our plans would come under the auspices of a 'trailer park', and would only be granted if there was no objection from the neighbours ( ie the 2 properties you can see without the aid of binoculars ).

Q. Fancy a trailer park next door mate?
A. No thanks

Tim the estate agent did tell us 'off the record' that the guy selling the place was not well liked by the local community. We were not unduly surprised, he really is a miserable old bastard, and a man who could not be less well suited to the hospitality industry. Tim reckoned that if we proposed a supercasino, with naked transvestite cabarets hourly throughout the night, they would embrace it as long as there was a change of ownership. Not sure we share the sentiment, and bottom line is that we could break even by renting the properties, but cannot make a go of it without 10-15 camper pitches.

Plan B would be a farm shop and chilli farm, which is rather woolly and ambitious. Now researching growing chillies in NSW- there appear to be several good reasons why people do not!

Meanwhile we will sit here in Clacton listening to the rain on the roof of the camper and watching Neighbours- Oh Brave New World!