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What am I doing?

How hard can it be?  A few cows, a few sheep, some little piggies  and lots of untamed forest…….. 

Well, it seemed like it would be easy- move to the country and live a simple,  self reliant life.

Well, I haven’t stopped running yet!

Hang on, it’s ok!

There is a plan!

Bring on the New Year ….a tradition of renewal eons old

The month of January gets its name from Janus—chief among the ancient Roman deities—and is a remnant of the ancient Roman calendar. This two-faced god (one looking ahead, one looking behind), was honored by having his chief festival on the first day of the New Year. Fittingly, the Roman celebrants took their cue from Janus, and spent the day looking both backwards, in reflection, and ahead, in planning for the New Year.

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They also believed that what they sowed on the first day of the New Year would carry with them throughout the rest of the year. Thus, it was a day of giving presents, abstaining from impure or cruel thoughts, postponing and ending quarrels, and generally trying to be nice to each other. Presents and foods were given freely to others and in tribute to Janus.

New Year ushers in the festive spirit. Every family, region and country has it’s own tradition, but for many cultures, New Year symbolises a fresh start, a new chance at happiness after learning the lessons of the past.
Different customs and traditions give special importance to the New Year celebrations that can fall almost every month across the globe, with some religions celebrating in spring and others in autumn.
Across the globe, so many people make it a grand affair to welcome the coming year, often splurging on activities like spring cleaning, and wearing a new set of clothes or spending the day with family enjoying fun and excitement as a symbol of how the year will progress.

In Australia, we’ve observed 1 January, the first day of the year in the Gregorian calendar as New Year’s Day.
The Gregorian calendar, also called the Western calendar and the Christian calendar, is internationally the most widely used civil calendar. It has been the unofficial global standard for decades, recognised by international institutions such as the United Nations and the Universal Postal Union. But it hasn’t always been that way.
While the Gregorian calendar is used by most countries; many traditions and religious feasts around the world are celebrated using the other calendars.

The Murador Aboriginal tribe of Western Australia celebrated New Years on what is known on present day calendars to be 30 October. A time of reconciliation and celebration of friendship, the Murador tribe were said to have placed great importance on the past as well as the year that was coming.
The Balinese New Year, based on the Saka or Balinese-Javanese Calendar, is called Nyepi, and it falls on Bali’s Lunar New Year. It is a day of silence, fasting, and meditation observed from 6 am until 6 am the next morning. Nyepi is a day reserved for self-reflection and as such, anything that might interfere with that purpose is restricted. Although Nyepi is a primarily Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents of Bali observe the day of silence as well, out of respect for their fellow citizens. Even tourists are not exempt, although free to do as they wish inside their hotels, no one is allowed onto the beaches or streets, except for emergency vehicles carrying those with life-threatening conditions and women about to give birth and the only airport in Bali remains closed for the entire day.
Jewish New Year celebrations begin on sundown of the first day of September or October and ends on sundown of the 10th day.
Gregorian or Christian New Year celebrations begin with parties, carnivals, dinners and end with family visits.
Hindus celebrate New Year almost every month because of the diversity in their culture, and the tradition is celebrated with a lot of jollity and vigour across India.
The way of celebrating New Year is a little different in Celtic religion. They welcome their ancestors and offer them food and drinks, called ‘Up-Helly-Aa’, locals dress up like Vikings and parade around the town. They hold burning torchlights to cast away darkness in the area. This ceremony ends up with launching a burning Viking ship and bonfires.

The Muslims celebrate the day in remembrance of Prophet Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina.
Bahai New Year begins at the sunset rather than midnight.
In contrast to this, Buddhist New Year is celebrated in January (Mahayan countries) and April (in other Buddhist countries).
According to the Parsi mythology, New Year is the time when universe is recreated.
Some cultures like Chile use the day to remember those who have died, spending the last night of the year at the graveside of relatives.
Some cultures forgive past arguments with fistcuffs to settle and end old transgressions. Regions across the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes have traditional fighting festivals and ceremonies where the residents save up their grievances all year then take justice into their own fists at Takanakuy (glad I don’t live there!) and New Years Day in Ireland is also known as Day of the Buttered Bread (or Sandwich, depending on the Gaelic translation you use.) Tradition says buttered bread placed outside the front door symbolizes an absence of hunger in the household, and presumably for the year to come.
A very old tradition of ‘first-footing’ is practiced very seriously in Scotland still. When the clock strikes at midnight, a male stranger must be the first person to enter the house. It is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity for the family. The visitor must bring with him lump of coal, bread and some salt. These visitors traditionally greet the family members saying "Lang may your lum reek" (Long may your chimney smoke).
There is also an old tradition of gift-giving in Europe. It is considered the best way to give warm New Year blessings and wishes.

March 25 marked the start of the new year in Great Britain (except for Scotland) until 1752. Both a religious and secular holiday, it was called both “Lady Day” and the “Feast of the Annunciation.” It marked nine months before the birth of Christ, and was recognized as the day that Mary was visited by Archangel Gabriel, and told of her upcoming delivery.
A big day in the religious calendar, it has also been named as the date that Adam and Eve were kicked out of paradise, the day that Cain killed Abel, that Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac, that St. John “the Baptist” and St. James were beheaded, and that St. Peter was released from prison. (Oddly, doomsday prophets in the 10th century foretold that the world would come to an end when the “Feast of Annunciation” and Good Friday happened on the same day—which happened in 970.)
In addition to its religious significance, Lady Day also had an important secular meaning. March 25 was the first of the “quarter days,” which marked off each quarter of the year, and created a framework for tax and rent collection (the new tax year in the UK starts on April 6), as well as marking the start of traditionally year-long contracts for servants and laborers.

In Europe, people follow a custom of making noise to welcome the New Year. This is done to scare off all the bad spirits. People burst massive firecrackers, blow horns, trumpets, whistles and bells to ring in the fresh New Year.
The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, occurs every year on the new moon of the first lunar month, roughly lining up with ‘Lichun’, or the very beginning of the Northern spring.
The exact date can fall any time between 21 January and 21 February (inclusive) of the Gregorian Calendar. Traditionally, years were marked by one of twelve Earthly Branches, represented by an animal, and one of ten Heavenly Stems, which correspond to the five elements. This combination cycles every 60 years. It is the most important Chinese celebration of the year.
The Vietnamese New Year is the Tết Nguyên Đán which most times is the same day as the Chinese New Year due to the Vietnamese using Chinese calendar.
The Tibetan New Year is Losar and falls from January through March.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the traditional New Year follows the Julian tradition and falls on 14 January each year.
The Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BC as a reform of the Roman calendar, was the predominant calendar in most of Europe, and in European settlements in the Americas and elsewhere, until it was refined and superseded by the Gregorian calendar in 1582.
The Julian calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months.
The Gregorian calendar has the same months and month lengths as the Julian calendar, but inserts leap days according to a different rule. Consequently, over the course of four centurys, the Julian calendar is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar.
For instance, New Years Day in the Julian calendar is 14 January; whereas it falls on 1 January in the Gregorian.
The Julian calendar has been replaced as the civil calendar by the Gregorian calendar in almost all countries which formerly used it, although it continued to be the civil calendar of some countries right through into the 20th century.
Where Eastern Orthodoxy predominates, many communities celebrate both the Gregorian and Julian New Year holidays, with the Gregorian day celebrated as a civic holiday, and the Julian date as the "Old New Year", a religious holiday right through the 20th century.
It helps to make sense of this tradition if you remember that in Europe mid-January is the coldest darkest point in the northern winter, and today, large-scale celebrations take place throughout Europe, Latin America, and other regions and are all about indulgence and excess, filled with ‘special’ food.
The orthodox churches of Georgia, Jerusalem, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine will also usher in the Gregorian New Year date with a huge clan gathering and celebrate with a rich and opulent feast.
I bet, if you’ve read down this far, you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Quatre Saisons Farm?
Well. Wonder no more…..Bring on the bacon!

Because pigs root forward while they forage for food (as opposed to cows, who stand still, or chickens, who scratch backwards), pork in all forms is enjoyed by many hoping to embrace the challenges and adventures that await in the coming year.

I am delighted to have been able to supply the centre piece for one big Gregorian New Year community celebration out west.

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Happy New Year, and joy to all.

16 fat happy naughty little porkers out the farm gate.

Phew! What a relief!

Peace and sanity again descends on my little farm……

The chicken and the egg…..

Wow. Every now and then while gathering the eggs I score a WHOPPER!
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I am asked a lot of questions about the chooks and eggs. It’s amazing how fascinated folk are about the whole egg laying process. So here are a few facts.
I wish I could know which hens are laying the ‘well over 110gm’ eggs, so I could give them some extra calcium and a little empathy!!
Egg size is dependent on breed, age, and weight of the hen. Larger chicken breeds tend to lay larger eggs; bantam breeds lay small eggs. Older hens tend to lay larger eggs than younger hens.

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In my flock, Welsummers consistently lay the largest eggs; Silver Spangled Hamburgh, although sporadic, the most prolific; Australorpe the most reliable; Arucana the prettiest and Dark Barred Rocks while beautiful and indispensable hens, are the laziest layers. With fourteen heritage breeds, I guess you could describe me as a chook fancier. And I think I know my eggs too.

The shell color is a breed characteristic. Most chicken breeds lay light-to-medium brown eggs. A few breeds lay white, dark brown, green, blue, or cream colored eggs. Those handsome Barred Rocks give me pinky brown finely speckled eggs- not many, or often, but enough that they may stay……
Shell color is only “skin deep”– the eggs inside are the same as eggs of other colors.
The shell color intensity of eggs laid by one hen can vary from time to time, with an occasional darker or lighter eggshell.
While most eggs have a slight sheen to the shell, some breeds or individual hens tend to lay eggs with a chalkier texture.
A normal fresh egg has a yellow yolk, a layer of thick albumen (egg white) surrounding the yolk, and a thinner layer of albumen surrounding that.
At opposite sides of the yolk are two chalazae, short white twisted strands of albumen that anchor the yolk to the white.
The only reason a rooster would be required with a flock of hens is to fertilize eggs. As a side job, a good rooster also serves as a watchman, warning his hens of predators and other dangers. He also seeks out food for his harem.
Even with a virile rooster in residence, not all eggs will be fertile.

A large chalaza does not indicate embryo development. Every egg yolk has a white disc called a blastoderm. It is usually visible but may be very pale. In an infertile egg, the blastoderm is solid white. In a fertile egg, the disc has a faint or distinct ring that makes it look like a disc or bulls-eye.

Fertile eggs are completely edible. In fact, some people consider fertile eggs more nutritious than infertile eggs, but scientific research does not confirm this.
Fresh fertile eggs collected daily will not have embryos in them. Embryos do not begin to develop unless the eggs are in a favorable warm environment under a broody hen or in an artificial incubator.
The yolk of a chicken egg may be any shade from pale yellow to orange, depending on what the hen has eaten. The color is usually consistent if hens are fed only one type of feed, but foraging hens and those fed kitchen scraps will often produce a variety of yolk colors.
The egg yolk or egg white may have red or brown specks in it. These “blood spots” and “meat spots” are harmless bits of tissue. If they look unappealing, the spots can be removed with a spoon or knife before cooking.

An eggshell has a protective coating that prevents bacteria from entering the egg. To retain this coating, eggs should not be washed until just before use.
Some eggs are soiled with blood from minor tissue damage or mud or poo from the nest box. This can be wiped off carefully; the shell should be thoroughly dried.
If you aren’t sure how old an egg is, you can submerge it in water. The freshest eggs will remain at the bottom of the container, while old eggs will float. Floaters should be discarded.

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Chooks are a great interest and can contribute a lot to a family budget bottom line and nutrition.
It would be fantastic if everyone could keep a few chooks in the backyard; but if you can't have your own hens then do some research, visit the farmers market, ask around and seek out fresh pastured hens eggs- give the supermarkets the flick and support local small farms.

Snakes and first aid for pets

When spring and summer is approaching it is a time to keep an eye out for snakes.

During the warmer summer months, snakes become much more active and we all need to be careful and safeguard the animals in our care from snake bites, plus look out for the warning signs should an animal be bitten.

Dogs, being inquisitive creatures, often try to chase or kill snakes resulting in snakebites usually to the dog’s face and legs. Cats, being hunters and chasing anything that moves, can also be quite susceptible to snake bites.

We’ve already had our first experience this year on the farm. Actually it’s the first incident we’ve ever had, but usually I’m not watching carefully or making sure I have boots on rather than thongs before mid summer….not usually before January around here.

The eastern brown snake is considered to be the second most venomous land snake, and is found all the way along the East coast of Australia (✔tick for me…), from the tip of Cape York, along the coasts and inland ranges of Queensland, New South Wales (✔✔), Victoria and South Australia. They are also found in arid areas of the Northern Territory and the far east of the Kimberley in Western Australia. We don’t need to be concerned about the ones in Papua New Guinea – they can’t trouble us from there!

The Eastern Brown snake can be found in a varied range of habitats from dry sclerophyll forests (Eucalypt forests ✔✔✔) and heaths of coastal ranges, through to savannah woodlands, inner grasslands, arid scrublands and cultivated farm land.
Snakes are often attracted to houses and farms (✔✔✔✔✔oh my! Five ticks!) especially chook pens and outbuildings- anywhere that offers shelter and a food opportunity for those pesky rodents. Spilled grain is a classic.

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The Eastern Brown snake is active during the day. It is notorious for its lightening speed and capacity to defend its territory when highly agitated.
While most snakes usually flee when confronted, the brown can be highly aggressive and will pursue you, if provoked. Capable of climbing, an Eastern Brown will lift itself off the ground into an upright S-shape just before it strikes (so don’t blink).

Snakes are endemic in rural and farming areas, probably due to the large numbers of associated rodents within the natural environment- if you were a snake this would be the place to raise a family, right?

But don’t get too smug -Eastern Brown, red Bellied Black and Tiger snakes are increasing in number in urban areas, and are now frequently sighted in city suburbs. The suburbs of Brisbane and Sydney have significant populations of brown snakes in particular and they are often seen in suburban backyards searching for rodents. City areas also provide ideal snake shelter in the form of rubbish and other cover.

The main component of their diet may be rodents, particularly introduced house mice but they also find  -chook breeders take note- eggs, chicks, frogs, small birds and even other snakes (gross; but ok by me) quite delectable, not to mention those biscuits you leave out for the cat.

I have been pretty much in denial over the existence of snakes on my place- I have in fact rarely spotted one in person, so until Simba fell victim last week I was no better than a climate change sceptic. In total head-in-the-sand-la-la denial that there are any snakes on my place; but weather I see them or not; weather I face up to the reality and take action or not – they do exist. (Did you see what I did there with ‘weather’……)

This year, snake season is very early- so be aware and learn what to look for- it could save your pets life- or your own.

If you think a snake has bitten your pet, you must keep the animal calm and quiet and take it to a vet immediately. This means you have to also stay calm and rational.

REPEAT!       This is an *emergency* situation, transport your pet to a vet immediately.

The chances of recovery are greater if your pet is treated early (80%) with some pets making a recovery within 48 hours. Simba had a very rocky eighteen hours but then quickly improved. Lucky dog and fortunate me.

Left untreated, domestic pets have a much much lower survival rate and many die.

If your vet is some distance, there are first aid options you can apply.

  • Keep your pet calm and quiet
  • Apply a pressure bandage – a firm bandage or thickly folded cloth pad like a towel over and around the bite site – to help slow the venom spreading to the heart.
  • Do NOT wash the wound or apply a tourniquet.
  • Carry your pet to the car and transport as soon as you possibly can. Do not encourage or allow the animal to walk- this hastens the venom moving through the animals system. (Simba weighs 50 kilos- so this was not an easy thing to do!)  Ring ahead to the vet so they are aware you are coming in and can triage as soon as you arrive.
  • If you have Vitamin C injections on hand, use them. 
    For rural based folk, consider asking your local vet to show you how to administer
    injections and intravenous fluids to your animals. It’s training that can save life
    or animals suffering.

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Vitamin C is also a useful first aid option for horses and cattle or other livestock that have tangled with a snake. You can read more about this in any of Pat Coleby’s fabulous books-she’s an Australian icon of understanding rock minerals, soil and pasture health and those organic influences on animal health.

If you can identify the snake tell your veterinarian – but don’t try to catch or kill the snake.
Snakes are protected wildlife, it is illegal to kill a snake in Australia.

If it is already dead, you could bring the snake with you, but a good photo will do.

Identifying the type of snake is important because the treatment varies and the antivenin is different for every snake group.  There is a blood or urine test that can identify whether your animal has been bitten and the type of snake responsible, but again its very costly.

I am super grateful that my vet is so experienced and is not only an active wildcare expert specialising in Australian fauna, but a reptile enthusiast as well. Jan Spate rocks!!!

Once the snake has been identified your vet can administer the correct antivenin.

Please be warned that antivenin is quite expensive and can result in a hefty veterinary bill, so prevention is best. Try and keep your pets as safe as possible.

If you are walking your dog close to bushland – especially near water during the summer months – please keep your dog on a lead and avoid long grassy areas.

Keep the grass low in your backyard/property, clean up any rubbish piles or clear away objects where snakes may be able to hide (wood piles, under sheets of corrugated metal etc.).  Wear your boots on the farm, or at least enclosed shoes and long pants when outdoors.

I could have an easier life.
I farm because I want clean nutrient dense food for my family. That is all.

I’ve been watching the conversations go round and round arguing the case for GMO technology as the best way of improving productivity and ‘feeding the world’.
I’ve also watched as people trained in the sciences abuse others for thier ‘lack of capacity to mount an argument of measured evidence’ in trying to express their reticence about accepting the stated benefits of GMOs and their clumsy but very legitimate articulation of an alternate view.

Genetic modification can be as simple as identifying desirable traits in a plant and breeding them into a crop, sometimes forming a new species. Humans have been doing that in a simple form since Mesopotamia.
So why the hub bub and rhetoric from many countries, in particular via import bans throughout the European Union?

What many markets fear, particularly Europe and parts of Asia, is the impact of recombinant DNA on the human body in ways we haven’t yet understood. That includes the potential for desirable traits in one species to transfer to another species, where the trait would be harmful.
This is true of herbicide-resistant wheat and alfalfa.
If such herbicide resistance were accidentally to slip into the DNA of a weed, for instance, it could form a superweed, impossible to kill with modern methods.
Sobering thought. Think cane toad, think rabbit and then put this possibility into an Australian context- introduced to help solve a production issue and now a scourge in this land. Do we really want to take another risk with what’s left of our biodiversity- and our arable farmlands?

The question for me is not the economic imperative but simply why take the risk with ANY unproven technology, especially one that manipulates nature herself, when already the signs are there of unintended consequences and community disquiet.

I don’t know the full scientific breakdown of the pros and cons of GMOs. I’m not a scientist (but even if I were – could I know every fact or possible outcome? I don’t possess the arrogance to think so…)

Why are there rising levels of glyphosate residue being found in human urine samples across more than 18 European countries?

A proclaimed ‘simple, effective and environmentally harmless’ compound developed to make monoculture agriculture machinery-friendly and profitable, and ‘gifted’ in the 70’s to home gardeners- surely the reporting of glysophate in all food chains including meat tissue and milk products is just greenie, tree hugging, frogshit propaganda??? (See articles and study’s at Glyphosate and GMOs)

Why, after destroying the traditional cultures of African nations in the 19th century to give them the gift of ‘modern’ society did we not consider, observe and learn from what was done? In forcing them to become urban societies we took away their capacity to feed themselves through sustainable farming practices dating back millennia, only to leave them dependent on Nestlè and other corporations to feed thier children while Royal Dutch Shell destroyed arable land across Nigeria just to pipe oil. Have we learned nothing?

So it’s right that Europe is showing leadership and hesitating before accepting GMO imports.

Africa, South America and Australia are all historical examples of typical environmental destruction through careless stewardship .
So then why are we prepared, as an international community to accept that corporations such as Monsanto have the nutrition of the human race as thier guiding principle in developing and pushing GMO technology?

For me it’s no different to pondering why we are at war, even at the farm gate, over oil or gas or coal – it has NOTHING to do with democracy or freedom to live or even food. Nothing.

We are too many on this planet now to wind back ‘progress'; but I for one am not sitting back waiting for governments to legislate or regulate to protect me and my family’s food supply.
I trust the cow – no20131019-093738.jpgt the laboratory -so I will eat butter.

Knowing that my cattle eat native pasture and that I’ve sourced good forage to supplement them in hard seasons I will use the cows poo pats to improve my vegetable patch and give thanks for what I can grow on my piece of country.
I will continue to raise hens and pigs -for us-in as sustainable and light a way as my simple brain can think through.

I am aiming for a closed system small farm, not an economic bonanza.

I want to take responsibility for my own and my family’s health and well being.

I just don’t want to be forced to accept ANY process that I haven’t gone into willingly with my eyes wide open.

Why should any farmer be the collateral damage of a new technology, anymore than war or economic growth or land acquisition for mining or ‘development’ be allowed to displace indigenous populations.

People we’ve already given away too much of our autonomy and individual capacity to make a difference in any way other than grass roots action.
I don’t know any other way, and I for one will just keep plodding along my chosen path until – well, until I just can’t anymore…

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The repercussions of agisting off farm

One of the most challenging learning curves I’ve dealt with this year has been some tough lessons around the art of contract agistment….
After surviving ten years of drought, followed by two years of flooding the last thing I expected last summer was to be plunging into a dry that was worse than all that had gone before.
It was sadly clear by early January that in spite of opening up all the forest pastures, there was not going to be enough feed for our cattle to do well this year. Selling cattle into a falling market was not an option, though I did sell some of the Wagyu breeders.
I was keen to implement some pasture renovation techniques I’d studied in a number of courses I’ve completed over the past year; and I was urged to consider agisting my herd on a property closer to the coast with good pasture growth, and the bonus was it would give me the breathing space to resow and mulch the grazing paddocks. Twelve months was agreed.
Moving the cattle out there was traumatic (for me) and exhausting. It felt wrong to not see my cows dotted on the hills outside my windows.
What I didn’t really expect was to have the whole deal fall in a heap less than three months in, with no explanation aside from an irrational ‘we’ve changed our minds’.
New arrangements in that location had to be organised quickly, because the cattle couldn’t be transported anywhere without infrastructure to load them and luckily we struck an amicable agreement with the neighboring property to agist the herd till I could find a means to get them home. To add to the challenge- we still needed to hand feed forage to keep up with the nutrition levels the cattle required.
It was a very tough decision to go down the off farm agistment path initially, and I don’t think I would feel very open to doing it again, unless it were possible on an adjoining property where I retained full control of the herds welfare.
After a lot (a LOT) of delicate negotiation, and stress to find a contractor who could load up cattle with their own yards (i.e. build yards, provide loading facilities and a truck to transport). The cost was huge- financial and emotional.
But we managed.
It was such a relief to get the herd back home again, even though the goals I hoped to achieve by having them off farm were not realised.
One of the issues in shifting the cows home last weekend was that calving had already started so there was a bit of extra juggling to get little calves, frantic mumma cows and bigger animals split off and travel everyone home safely, without mishap.
One of the cows, a first time calver named Mirrabelle had her heifer calf just 48 hours before the big move, and managed to get locked into the truck with bigger cows minus her calf, so the concern was to have them reunited as quickly as possible to ensure the calf was not dehydrated or otherwise ‘mis-mothered’. We did notice Mirrabelle was a bit disconnected from the calf as we were working the cattle through the yards, but I just put it down to the clanging steel and strange blokes.
Back at home, by Sunday morning it was clear there was something more amiss and we found the heifer alone and calling…
An intervention was needed, and I was feeling pretty smug that all was sorted once I’d confined Mirrabelle in a small yard, tethered her head so she could eat but not horn the calf, and voila- drinking calf.

But alas!
In spite of lots of encouragement, Mirrabelle was clearly declining and not interested in the heifer. Poor little baby.
So last chance, having had 24 hours of at least some milk, we turned Mirrabelle and the calf out with the rest of the herd and crossed our collective fingers.
This morning, the calf was again abandoned, so there was no choice out to pick her up and feed her ourselves.

We have called her Lorraine, after the region in France where the delightful mirabelle plum is grown and concocted into marvelous liqueurs and divine Mirabelle de Lorraine, recognised and promoted by the EU as a high-quality regional product. Our french lass Melina chose the name and it seems appropriate.
So far little Lorraine is doing ok…

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