We’ve been busy putting systems in place to try and reduce some of the workload. The pigs are now on a siphon for drippers and wallows, in paddocks that can be rotated every six months. This cuts out the need to start the pump every couple of days or clean out their drinking troughs. The new garden is connected to a fire fighting petrol pump on the big dam, with a hose for filling watering cans, but, most importantly, lines running down each garden bed that have drippers every 60cm. Leave the pump running for an hour and the formerly dry ground is moist and (possums willing) bountiful. The cattle paddocks have a strip of mains-fed electric along one side, so it’s easy to hook up a temporary fence. And Cari the kelpie is, well, just as hard to manage as always. One part highly strung pure-bred working dog. Two parts puppy. Three parts spoilt mutt who will come when called, if it suits her.
The stinking hot weekend a couple of weeks back has had its effect. In an instant, the old vestige of an orchard sported yellow leaves, as the aged trees sacrificed foliage to save their stems. The ground had started to split in places, the grass dried off to a mainland coloured dun. It’s been a classic year for Cygnet. Wet, wet winter, like they used to get in the old days, with the accompanying mud and bogged tractors and land that is pugged up by simply letting animals graze on it. Then a warm-to-hot summer, with barely a drop of rain, emptying the tanks, stressing the plants, and scorching the grass so it’s a serious fire risk.
And right on cue, right on the change of season, the weather has changed. Rain, enough to make the grass jump a couple of centimetres seemingly overnight. Cooler days, with morning light making a dark 6am start harder than a mere month back. And autumn fruit, like apples, finally fat and heavy and some sweet enough to pick. Those that didn’t get sunburnt on a 39°C day.
I’ve been adding a couple of things to Puggle Farm, too, including chickens bred specially as meat birds. Light Sussex, Indian game hens (a precursor to the industrial meat bird of choice) and some of the only Australian breed – the Australorp. Give it a couple of months and they’ll be ready for the pot. I’m hoping to do a taste test, to see if breed has much to do with flavour.
It does with pigs. My Wessex Saddlebacks are fine textured and sweet. Even the latest roast, which had a less varied diet than some I’ve fattened, but on plenty of grass, showed exemplary meat. Berkshires have that mouth watering porky flavour we long for in the flesh, but rarely find with modern breeds. And some Large White I had recently was good, but not great, despite having a good seven months under its belt – about twice as long as a pig raised intensively. With pork, just as with lamb and beef, age equals flavour. With chicken it may be that way, too. We’ll just have to wait to find out.