Joyce asked me to mind her farm for two and a half weeks so that she could visit her son and his family in Switzerland. When I think of myself as a 65 year old woman running a farm on my own, I would like to think that people will offer to help me, so I agreed.
Four days later, I wonder what had possessed me to punish myself in this way.
Joyce’s farm is off grid – drinking water is collected on the roof and is stored in a tank that needs to be pumped into another tank. Water for irrigation is pumped from a bore into a tank. To feed the pigs, this water is pumped once more into a second tank. Power comes from a 30 year old solar system or a generator when the sun isn’t working. Water can be heated by these two means as well as a wood fire stove in the kitchen.
I have daily chores to do – feed and water 12 pigs, let the chickens out and feed and water them, collect and clean eggs from 70 chickens and place them in egg cartons, make sure all the electric fencing is working and no two legged or four legged creature has escaped, turn on and off pumps to move water from one location to another. In the evening, I must turn off the water for the pigs and put the chickens away. I had thought all of this might take me a couple of hours each day.
Day 1 – Jess, the dog, ran away and I spent a couple of hours worrying and looking for her. She eventually returned and in the hope of teaching her a lesson, I tied her to a fence. She looked at me as if to say ‘are you serious?’ She was not happy and neither was I.
The chores, together with looking for Jess took up half the day. At dusk, with Jess on a lead, we walked down to the chickens to put them away for the night but none of them had returned to their coup so we went back to the house. Once it was dark, I went to take the truck down, but alas, the battery had died and it wouldn’t start. The generator had to be turned on each night for a couple of hours so I went to do that and found that that too wouldn’t start.
The phone numbers I had been given for Joyce’s son and daughter-in-law didn’t work so I had to call a neighbour and ask for help. Luckily, Danny turned up within a quarter of an hour and jump started the truck. In mutual solidarity, the generator went on with a turn of the key which previously had refused to work. With the truck now working, I drove down to the chickens, and all but four were perched on their roosts in the chicken coup.
The rebel four were roosting in an apple tree behind a wire fence. In order to retrieve them, I had to crawl under the tree and pull each one out from amongst the branches and take them one at a time back to the coup – not easy crawling out from under a tree with a chicken under one arm and a torch in the other hand. In the end I had to leave one in the tree as she had positioned herself where I could not extricate her out of the branches without doing her serious harm. The cheeky thing the following morning was found peering into the chicken coup as if to say to the other hens ‘what on earth are you all still doing inside?’.
Jess behaved herself and did not run away when we went to let the chickens out. I had equipped myself with some treats in the hope that that would keep her within close range. It seemed to work. I received a message from Danny asking me if I could have the eggs ready for pick up that evening – a day earlier than expected. It was his job to deliver them to the Arboretum in Canberra each Friday while Joyce was away. I had an hour to scrub 300 eggs with bleach and water, as I had decided to go into Canberra for the afternoon to do some shopping and look for a mother’s day card. I was almost empty on fuel so with a petrol station plugged into my GPS, I took off only to find that it did not exist at that address. Much to my relief, I found another one not too far away.
Once in Canberra, not knowing where anything was, I spent all afternoon looking for my bits and pieces and ended up returning to the farm after dark. Once home, I raced down to put the chickens away only to find that someone else had already done it. A nice gesture but a text or phone call would not have gone astray. Back up at the house, as I was in the middle of preparing dinner, Joyce’s daughter-in-law, also called Jess, arrived for the second time that day to tell me the pigs had run away, the electric fence had been trashed, there had been no water and that she had rectified all these issues. I informed her that at lunch time that day, the pigs were all in their pens, with water and an intact fence.
I took Jess (dog) down to the vegetable garden where I found Liz, one of Joyce’s volunteers, weeding the cabbage patch. Nettles and marshmallow were over a foot high right throughout the cabbages. I told her I would give her a hand once I had pumped water from the bore and fed the pigs. I left Jess with her.
I fed the pigs only to find that they did not have water again. I climbed onto the roof where the tank was and it appeared to have water. I checked the filters to see if they were blocked but they seemed fine. I clearly had an issue but wasn’t quite sure what to do so I returned to Liz, and she asked me if I had seen the dog. I spent the next four hours calling her on and off with no luck. The pigs still had no water, and although water had been pumped the previous day to the pig tank, I pumped again and finally managed to get water to come through the taps. There obviously was a leak somewhere.
Mid afternoon, Jess (daugher-in-law) turned up with Jess (the dog). She had been found on someone’s property – at least she hadn’t been chasing sheep. I spent the afternoon collecting kindling for the fire.
By the time I sat down to have a rest, it was late afternoon – so much for thinking I would have time to read and or catch up on some study in my free time.
The night before, I had not bothered to light a fire and my showers were now lukewarm, so after saying good night to the chickens (this time, none had ventured into the apple tree) and turning off the water to the pigs, I lit a fire in the stove and cooked my dinner. Distracted by a phone call, I did not realise that the kitchen and dining room were filling up with smoke until I saw a grey haze rising towards the ceiling. I turned to the stove to find it puffing smoke out of the seams. I increased the gap in the flue to fix the problem. That night I lay in bed listening to Jess snore in her crate, thinking that I might as well be at a campsite as everything smelled of smoke.
It was pouring. As I woke to the sound of the rain, I remembered that all the wood for the fire was out in the open getting wet. I woke Jess out of her crate and opened the door for her so that she could go to the toilet in the garden which was secured by an electric fence. As soon as she smelled the rain, she turned around and went straight back to her crate. I called her out again but she only made four steps out of her crate and turned back round. My patience was wearing thin, and I yelled at her to go outside and shut the door behind her so she could not come back into the house. I went to do my morning stretches and realised some time later that Jess was nowhere in sight. I went back to her crate and found her lying on Joyce’s bed. She must have pushed the door open to get back in. This dog was driving me up the wall.
The rain eventually stopped and I went to feed the pigs to find that one of the electric fences was down again. I left it as it was, as it only separated the sow and her piglets from the other sows. They could all play in the mud together. The water situation was fine, so I moved onto the chickens. I let them out and collected the eggs. They were all covered in excrement so I had another hour cleaning 60 eggs with bleach and water. At lunch time, I decided to have something to eat and to prepare my slow cooked lamb shanks for dinner only to find that there was no running water to the house. I turned on the pump but no water came.
Camping was definitely easier than this.
An hour or so later, Jess turned up with a brand new head torch. I had sent a message to Joyce the previous night asking her where the torch was in case I lost power and the generator wouldn’t go on.
I told Jess there was no water even though I had had the pump on for the last 40 minutes. We went to check on the pump and discovered a hidden valve that needed to be opened. We finally had water.
That evening only one chicken was lost by the apple tree. I found her trying to push the 9 foot fence down so I picked her up and took her back to her friends.
Today was a relatively good day – I had lamb shanks for dinner and the stove did not smoke and I had power and water. Hopefully the shower will be hot in the morning.