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Slippery Jacks with Diego

This weeks forage was a fantastic learning experience with my friend and foraging partner Simone.

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our local forests (literally metres from home) offer up a glorious bounty every autumn

Simone’s key birthday wish this year, and our foraging expedition goal was to target and understand the Slippery Jack.

Mine was to spend time with the wonderful Diego Bonetto and eat the forest bounty from the sizzling pan of the wonderful Patrick Haney…… I’m thrilled to say we were successful on both counts

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Patrick, Diego and crew with our delicious orecchiette lunch. yum yum….

Although we’ve both been foraging fungi locally for a few years with confidence it’s always a great thing to anchor your knowledge and learn about wild edible mushrooms with a custodian of old knowledge.
Diego hails from an ancient European tradition with the knowledge of the shoreline, field and forest is handed down from generation to generation and where the ethical relationship between man and foraging is understood and handed on in a physical and practical way. Collect only what you need. Leave to nature what can procreate for the next season….
Understanding the golden rules of identifying and collecting edible wild herbs and the fruiting flower of fungi-mushrooms- is essential to safely enjoying the wild produce nature offers us seasonally. Pine mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with pine trees and therefore only exist in mature pine forests.
There are around 25,000 species of mushroom in Australian. Today Diego explains we are only going to look at three fungi- and collect only these two.

Suillus luteus commonly known as Slippery Jacks,

Slippery Jack- see the remains of his skirt?

and lactarius deliciosus or Saffron Milkcap.

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We would also identify and see two other fungi. These two species were both left on the forest floor.

Amanita muscaria- the Fly Agaric.

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like a faeries cottage…..

No mushroom is more iconic than Amanita muscaria. It is the mushroom of our dreaming stories- think Red Riding hood, faeries and goblins. Fly Agric is toxic and hallucinatory, but is also an indicator fungi- a signal. Where Fly Agric grow so too do the delicious pine mushrooms we seek.

And also Tricholoma terreum– commonly known as Grey Ghosts or Grey Knights.

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Grey Ghosts

I’ve seen in many forums where people encourage gathering tricholoma terreum saying they are delicacies and many enjoy eating them, In the past this mushroom was considered edible – and in France and the Catal region is has a long heritage of being consumed – HOWEVER soil biota varies so widely and there are so many subspecies he would not encourage us to collect it in this (beginners experience)group activity.

Tricholoma species may contain nephrotoxic constituents particular when eaten in large amounts. Therefore Diego explained, today we would surely see them and we may pick a few of these to examine and smell their lovely scent but we do not sell or recommend consumption of this mushroom.
Grey ghost are incredibly beautiful translucent mushrooms growing in clusters at the base of fallen timber, they famously glow in the dark and…. squeak when you cut them, which is weird. Oh dear I think that mushrooms have feelings too….

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Luminous at night, Grey Ghosts squeak when cut…..

I was very happy to leave them on the forest floor and just admire their soft grey semi transparent beauty. Would’ve been very nice to stay and see them in all their glory after dark, but that’s for another time.
The golden rule when mushroom foraging is- if you don’t know, don’t collect. Diego tells us that mushroom foraging is completely safe, provided you stick to what you know and don’t start guessing.
I’ve written at length about the glories of Saffron Milkcaps -and these are still my favourites so fast to prepare and deliciously satisfying to eat- but this post is all about Simone’s birthday adventure and the pursuit of knowledge about the Slippery Jack….

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slippery Jack. will need to find photos of Jill- but she has polka dot legs and no skirt….

Slippery jacks are probably the first wild mushrooms occurring in Southern Australia that gained popularity with the new generation of gourmet mushroom hunters (at least my kitchen rules and some of these other reality TV shows have contributed something to normalising real food in this country). Australians have gleaned this knowledge from migrant Australians of eastern European extraction who have enjoyed collecting seasonal fungi for hundreds of years – traditions that consider these mushrooms (luteus and granulatus) a delicacy when pickled or dried (not porcini but pretty damn close in flavour profile).

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spongey base- not gills

A large, weighty mushroom with a sticky, slimy brown to gold cap with age, it occurs sometimes in massive troops below groves of Pinus Radiata a pine species you’ll find in every state forest on Australia’s eastern coast. The flavour can be earthy, versitile and the mushroom gives off a lot of liquid on cooking, making it especially suited to sauces. Another popular recipe is simply sautéing the sliced slippery jacks in butter, add sliced bacon and then the strained juice with some flour served on toast with parsley.
Slippery jacks are more demanding in preparation time, but this effort is well rewarded with a bright white dense mushroom product wonderfully suited to sauces and well flavoured soups. It dries like a dream for excellent longer term storage and is a flavoursome addition to soups, pastas and cassoulet all through winters darkness.

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worth the effort to clean and prepare

The extra work involved in removing the slimy sticky brown cap skin or the yellow sponge will reduce the occasionally bitter aftertaste with this mushroom when eaten in large amounts.
We discovered there are several subspecies- so we’re very relieved at the ‘aha ‘ moment realising why we were seeing things on our home turf that made us not-quite-sure we were actually identifying edible slippery jacks to this point.
It’s seems that Jack cross dresses and wears a skirt – and Jill has spotty legs (and apparently isn’t nearly as tasty). Having an expert show us how to tell the difference very quickly gave us ‘slippery jack’ eyes and we started seeing them everywhere very quickly filling up our baskets.

Diego was a fantastic teacher and gave us great perspective on the local environment. He does a few of these trips each year and if you’re interested I’d highly recommend getting in touch with him via his Wild Stories website
Patrick Haney hangs out at the Cruise Bar, in Sydney’s Circular Quay. Patrick is one of a new breed of chef who connects directly with ethical farmers and the natural world to bring us food that is nutritionally superior in its simplicity. He’s slippery Jack pickle was just divine and a wild foraging version of a simple pho broth laden with foraged mushroom dumplings was so tasty I had third helpings. He also did an awesome creamy mushroom orecchiette redolent with parmigiana and wild dandelion greens…..

its simply reassuring to go out foraging with people you trust and who have the millennia of knowledge deep in their genetic code- understanding what to look for really does open your eyes to how much wild food nature has laid out for us all to share.

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White-winged Chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos), also called black magpies, are found throughout most of eastern and south-eastern mainland Australia and are naturally found in open forests and woodlands.
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I first met choughs in parkland in the middle of Canberra city and thought they were crows or ravens, but the curved bill and red eye distinguish it from these birds. I learned these were endangered and rare but also clever and adaptive birds and the flock here, in the middle of the city are keenly watched and protected.

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A vocal and extremely sociable bird Choughs feed mostly on the ground and are almost always seen in groups of up to 10, raking through the grass and ground litter. When I came to the farm I found I have several large clans of choughs – I call them clans because they have a really interesting matriarchal heirarchy and live in identifiable family groupings.

These groups normally consist of only one breeding pair, the other birds being offspring from previous years. The young birds help with nest building, incubation and feeding of chicks.

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The nest is distinctive-a large bowl of mud, which is built on a horizontal branch within 15 m of the ground. The eggs are cream-coloured, with large brown spots. When the chicks first leave the nest, they are not able to fly, and are easy prey for feral cats and foxes. Young Choughs start off duskier than the adults, and the eye is brown.

They do not reach sexual maturity until four years of age and, during this time, the eye changes from brown to orange and then to red, and the plumage darkens.

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Parties of Choughs are known to kidnap young birds from neighbouring groups. This might be why they have a reputation for also stealing checks and eggs – but I haven’t actually seen this and don’t know if they’re feeding habit extends to eating small birds.white-winged chough 05

This might be why they have a reputation for also stealing chicks and eggs from poultrypens– but I haven’t actually seen this and don’t know if they’re feeding habit extends to eating small birds.

I think I can probably safely leave the loss of chicks and eggs to all the OTHER predators I have actually seen doing this –goanna, eagles, the currawongs and  even native marsupials (they all look like rats)  rather than the choughs…
I’ve noticed that they are different in their behaviour to magpies and I have large numbers of magpies at the front of the property, about a kilometre away from the well established groups of choughs- and have observed the clans stay closely together and the magpies seem to avoid them.
In their natural setting, large feeding territories are kept, which are often up to 1000 ha in size and choughs are great at cleaning up grasshoppers and other insects and some seeds.

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In the city the birds territory includes the leafy ANU campus and extends throughout the adjoining suburbs and green spaces-the sad thing about losing the huge gums along Northbourne Avenue was the opportunity of observing these fascinating birds as you crawl through the morning peak hour…
While there are a lot here, they are rare and endangered because there are very few large areas of native forest left in NSW.

I was pretty disappointed to have ‘lost’ my ipad this past week while in Canberra City, so i cant share with you the fantastic video footage i had of the birds enjoying the spent brewery grain i had fed out to the pigs……

Maremma babies! Happy New Year!

Oh dear.
What a shock I got as I arrived home on Monday night…….
Sienna has had three puppies, very very unexpectedly!

Her previous litter was August 9 and so far as I could tell she started cycling again last week of November.
I confined her to the dog run and a mad five week period of musical dogs began. She was booked in for surgery and we missed out twice in December *sigh*
Dogs it seems can have mixed litters, or add to them through multiple couplings just like cats and pigs……
My theory is that either she started cycling sooner than I realised and I caught her just in the nick of time after a very brief encounter.
Or her endocrine system was still depressed from long term poor nutrition and she only released a small number of eggs.
Either way. This is her last hurrah!
Now before anyone has a Tut Tut, or worse, please note. I am a responsible owner and care for my maremma in as proactive a way as I can.

This is the backstory.
Sienna arrived mid September, with two of her pups. She had whelped 9 August.
Very underweight (27.7 kilos) Sienna’s vet assessment determined she had had multiple litters and was just two years old.
I undertook a high protein high calorific nutrition regime to restore her weight and address mineral deficiency. Of particular concern was calcium depletion and skeletal health.
Fresh chicken plus bones ( drumsticks, wings carcasses) salmon (heads plus frames) kangaroo and pork formed the main part of her diet plus mince with cheese and rice, gradually adding vegetables and increasing grain content. Eggs whisked with milk quickly became her favourite breakfast. Some days she would refuse to eat at all and just eggy milk was all I could see her taking.
She would not eat dried biscuits and showed no interest whatever in canned or cooked meats.
As her trust started to improve (and I think keeping her with her family group ie jet and the two pups helped enormously here) it wasn’t long before she was out working regularly at night and padding about following me a I worked on the property by day.
Her alert and activity levels were very high- but as her confidence grew, she moved away from the poultry exploring further afield. I could often hear her, but could not see where she disappeared on these excursions, and between boundary training 5 kms twice a day on lead – I was too buggered to track her continuously. Plus they need to learn the ropes and understand their new context right? But I did note she barked incessantly and found she was overwhelmed by new sights sounds and smells as calving commenced, and her introduction to cattle regressed just as I thought it was going well. Sienna’s non stop chasing and barking had incited the pups to join in, so by mid November I decided to keep her more confined in the dog run during the day in an effort to try and improve weight gain and rest.
It’s about this time (late November) that Jet (new maremma) and Simba (existing male maremma) fell out- and I realised that Sienna must be cycling. So I contacted the vet immediately ( who said it was highly unlikely given the pups age) but agreed to book her in for early December spaying. So began musical dogs, with Sienna confined full time – the dog run is 30m x6m with shelter and plenty of cover, plus a great view. She wasn’t happy, and jet patrolled outside up and down non stop, refusing to eat also and never leaving her side.
Simba was very reluctantly rehomed to a friends poultry farm for his own safety while we sorted out the dynamics. I thought the 10th I’d December would never arrive!
We arrived for surgery at 7am (an hours drive away) only to be turned way as Sienna was still bleeding and the vet felt the risk of bleeding out under anaesthetic was too great. Her weight was logged at 32 kilos.
Rebooked surgery for the 18th Dec.
An emergency and staff absence that day meant we had to again rebook for first surgery day in January.
That was Monday just gone.
On Saturday, as I was grooming, I realised that Sienna seemed a little ‘full’. Now one of the consequences of her multiple quick succession large litter birthings, is that she has very distended teats and her gait is also a little wonky- I think her large femur bones are misshapen most likely from calcium deficiency and little growing time. She did not look pregnant, but has been a little snarly through the week. Not a lot, just occasionally telling her pups to bugger off and play somewhere else. She has been awesomely close to me.
I am not an experienced breeder, I just love and care for my dogs as best I know how learning as I go but it was GENUINELY the first time it occurred to me that with all the precautions and messing about she may be in pup.
After our grooming day I needed to see the vet to check Jet’s ears, so decided to bundle all the dogs (while they were so clean) into the car and get next round vaccinations and worm flea treatments sorted in one go. It’s a drama taking maremma off farm anywhere, so the more services you can bundle the less traumatic for them. My local vet has normal clinic on Saturday evenings -so very flexible. Love her 💚
I thought an evening walk on lead around the lake would be good for them too, while there are not many people about.
Normal people go out and do normal human interaction stuff on a Saturday night, right?
So……
Sienna off the lead, promptly morphs into ghost mode and was nowhere to be found and with time evaporating, I simply took Jet, Nala and Rocco to visit the vet. Jan does not do surgery. All theatre work is referred out to other specialist vets. I trust jam, and perhaps if Sienna had been with me for examination, the scenario may have been different…
I discussed my fear that Sienna may be in pup- and the vet advised me to go ahead anyway- “they’ll be too small to be worried about” I was told. But this advice didn’t sit well, and I baulked.
I contacted the surgeon vet (not the same one- a specialist de sexing clinic) and was told the same thing, still not comfortable, so I asked we not proceed with surgery Monday morning asking to wait another week while I thought about it.
Monday night I got home to three babies, and a smiling mamma.
You do the math…….

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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.