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« A Little Bit More of the Farm Life | Main | Be A Love and Pass Me the SPF 50, Would You? »

Be Prepared to Learn More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Sheep

(Tuesday to Thursday, the 16th - 18th of March)

A couple of 'regular' days in Sydney faffing about - some shopping, the Sydney Aquarium, meals out and Alice in Wonderland in 3D, which was my first 3D movie so was a pretty cool experience. Sydney is freakishly expensive - movie tickets for 2, one bag of chips and a pop = $50. A bottle of Gatorade - $4.95. 2 burgers and some fries = $27. I mean, I know that the salaries are high and the housing prices as well, but really? Really?

Jeff and Yeti tell me that the cost of living is slightly higher in Perth even.

An uneventful flight to Perth and the boys picked me up at the airport and took us back to Yeti's 'new' house, where we visited briefly, handed out pressies and then Tim and I were off for the two hour drive out to his farm.

Tim's a farmer with his dad, they each have their own chunks of land but they farm together - sheep, canola, barley, wheat and some other grain I can't remember at the moment - and when Tim told his da that he was going into Perth his dad said, "Well, then, take 20,000 kilos of grain down with you and bring 20,000 kilo of fertliizer back with you, will ya?" Consequently, my 'ride' to the farm was a huge truck with a trailer attached. Suprisingly, it was quite a comfy ride through the forest for the two hour ride at 10 pm - sighted a few wallabies but nothing overly exciting.

Last time I visited Tim still lived with his parents and they were negotiating to buy his uncle's portion of the farm which had what would become his house on it. I seem to remember that no one had lived in the house for about 20 years and it was the bit worse for wear - not to mention that its roughly a 100 years old. Once Tim married his girl Heidi, they cleaned it up, moved in and then spent roughly 2 years getting it to it's current state - which is absolutely gorgeous. 11 foot ceilings throughout, hardwood floors, I don't have the words to describe it anywhere near adequately. It's constructed around a central hallway with rooms down each side with every room having a door to outside and a full verandah around the house.

I'm not good with remembering technical things - like say, actual farm size, sheepie numbers, etc although I am good at asking questions and Tim is excellent at giving understandable answers SO let me get this down before I forget. Again. 5500 acres. Massive.

Of course, now I've forgotten the rest.

After a quick shower upon our arrival, I settled into my room and had a great sleep until I was woken at 7 am by the dawn chorus. Magpies, parrots, gallus and cockatiels. It's still a little strange, and granted, I've only been in Australia for 5 days, but it's really hard to get used to flocks of parrots and cockatiels flying about like they own the place. I have this weird feeling that I can't get past that they're zoo animals. Or pets. hah.

I headed out for a cigarette and then read my book for awhile before falling back asleep and waking up at 1230. oops.

In the afternoon, Tim and I headed out to feed the sheep with the two dogs - Heidi's dog, Gyp - a boxer blue heeler cross, who normally lives with her parents but comes up a lot for sleepovers, and Tilley, the new border collie who will eventually join as one of the three dogs who manage the sheep with Tim and his da.

Along the way I learned about the wells that feed the house (which over the years have variously used windmills, diesel pumps and now solar energy to pump the water), the dams to provide water for the sheep and the aquifers under the soil. The current well has been in operation for at least 50 years, which suprises me as there is very little rain here but Tim tells me that underneath us is granite which of course the water can't seep into. What rain does fall then just seeps into the ground and pools above the granite. The current well is 60 feet deep so that gives you an idea of the geography of it.

At one site we stopped at there was an old well that had been dug by hand. By hand. I had to say that twice cause it makes me exhausted and giggly just to say it out loud. The supports for the well consist of round concrete sections about 5 feet across and 4 feet tall. One digs a hole and positions the concrete in it then hops in and continues to dig out underneath it as the weight of the concrete forces it down farther into the ground before adding another concrete round once one gets far enough down, and so on, handing the dirt up in buckets, until the water table is found. Considering that the concrete rounds are quite cramped inside, it's got to be high up on the list of the worlds crappiest jobs. Not to mention that it's got to be a bitch on your back.

The sheep are usually given grain and hay a few times a week - today we hauled ..er.. something behind the truck and as we got into each paddock Tim would release the chute for 90 seconds. Each paddock area holds a different age of sheep - we hit the two year olds and the pregnant mothers and a couple more. Once the sheep realize Tims hauling the tucker truck there is a veritable stampede across the stubble. Its quite cool.

We stopped by his dads place to pick up some frozen parrots from the shearing shed... oh wait, let me stop here... Last time I was here it was October and I did get to see Tim shear a couple of sheep but normally they are sheared in March (next week to be exact) every year.

The sheep are self-renewing. By that I mean that there is a group that is kept to breed, usually for about 5 years, and at all times there'll be paddocks of 1 year olds, 2 year olds etc. - about 7 age groups with 12/13 paddocks of females and 2 paddocks of rams. A lamb is only a lamb until it's first two adult teeth come in - about 14 months. Then it's mutton. A large part of the farm's sheep are sold to Muslim countries so they are either transported live or slaughtered in abbatoirs specially set up to conform to the religions requirements ie: facing mecca, before being shipped.

Pricing-wise, of course its variable with the markets but say, 50 (mutton) - 90 (lambs) dollars a head. Hay goes for about 60 dollars a round, each pile of wool from a sheared sheep gets about 25 dollars.

It's all about the numbers in farming. And balancing out the percentages between grain and sheep.

Back to the parrots. Parrots that end up "accidentally" dead are tossed in the freezer for use later as bait so we picked up some traps and a clutch of bait and headed out to set the traps in a couple of dams for yabbis (basically a freshwater crayfish).

Then home again to a lamb roast (yum!) and to bed.

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