Death at Fox Hill Hollow

When looking out for a lovely country property to buy it always feels like a bonus to find a piece you like that is fully fenced.  This is particularly important if you plan to keep livestock on your property OR you want to secure your pets within your boundaries.

We purchased our land fully fenced but it was while doing our farm planning course last year that we realised our fence type was not great for Kangaroos due to the twin layer of barbed wire plus the metal wire underneath.  This can and does cause a trip hazard for young, old or panicked Kangaroos and Wallaby’s who, on becoming entrapped have to just hang around waiting for death to set in.

I have to admit that we had one such incident about a year after we purchased the property but by the time we turned up and found the leg remnants it was pretty easy to put the whole incident to the back of my mind and just get on with prioritising another job.  Sadly this weekend I saw disaster close up.

I’d only been on the property about 20 minutes when a walk down the fence line presented Maisy and I with this:

femce issueleg in the fence

Although I’m not overly sentimental about things like this I did feel sad when I thought of the pain and confusion the animal must have felt as it lay their trapped.  I only hoped that it wasn’t suffering for too long but really there is no way to tell, I wasn’t there.

I wonder if the fence situation has been made worse by the fact that in an attempt to deter the pigs we’ve closed off many of the routes out underneath the fence? I actually don’t know if the Roo’s ever creep under but maybe they and especially the little ones do…  In any case I have decided that next time we are out the fence wire is to be re-worked to make it more ‘roo friendly as while I’m going to probably regret being so Kangaroo loving when it comes to planting my tree saplings (the ‘roo’s do tend to make short work of eating them) I really don’t want to be confronted by death alley each time I rock up to the land.

So, that’s another job to add to the list and hopefully we can get to the fences before the fences get to any more Kangaroos oh and with regards to the pig barrier work we did, that looks to be working only now I’m slightly concerned that we may have trapped some pigs into the land – I just can’t find them yet…..

That’s country living for you.  Some good, some bad and some a little bit sad.

 

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Making Plans for the House

Having declared 2017 as the year when we get our house plans sorted and submitted (have to really as there is a sunset clause on our block that runs out in Jan 2018) that’s exactly what we have been doing and this weekend it was measure out time.

We had already marked out where we want our modest container home to be situated within our building envelope but somewhere along the line we had forgotten to measure that building envelope out and apparently measuring it is a very important thing to do!  So, this weekend we got on with that little job.

So out of our 50 acre block we have just under 1 acre of building plot on which to place our home.  That means we have lots of space to play with and can avoid having to clear any trees and can select the easiest building spot without much to constrain us.

Our chosen spot is towards the top of the hill facing towards our dam and the gum tree forest area as this is the prettiest outlook.  Having already staked out the container footprint a few weeks ago we wanted to double-check our original ideas and get GPS co-ordinates for the exact spot so we can pass those on to our architect and then onto the council. I must also point out that before getting to this point we have already had a geological survey carried out by Macquarie Geotech whose work has enabled us to decipher which sewage system to go with, where to locate it and what footings / pier support the house will require.

Aub measuring out

And so to the house.

So this is what we are looking to make – 4 x 40 foot containers arranged in a sort of T shape. We want four so we get the double width and can then make better use of the inside space.  We’ve also opted for containers for many reasons including their termite resistance (very important),  their low price and durability and the fact that as we are travellers we like the idea that our house has travelled too (and served a useful purpose during that journey).  Aub has modified containers into homes before so knows what is required and his welding skills are also very handy as we are going to be doing quite a bit of that.

In terms of the design although we are massive fans of the TV show Grand Designs we are not wanting to send ourselves broke or take thousands of years to make this. The idea is for us to construct a solid, low maintenance home that has a little bit of design flair but is ultimately practical and cost-effective.   We have decided that three bedrooms is enough in the main house as we can always add little pods of temporary accommodation later down the track for guests but need to ensure the main house has enough room for our family of four or for when we are a family of two for overnight guests.   Both Aub and I really wanted an en suite as not having to queue up for the loo in the morning when the house is full of visitors is really important to us and another thing we both wanted was an open plan living area that had a great outlook to the land. I think we’ve managed to achieve all of that – on paper at least! In terms of design flair Aub and I were both taken by the guttering we saw when we visited Mossman Gorge in Queensland last year.  It was an open stainless steel central gutter perfectly suited to tropical rainstorms.  Now Cowra isn’t exactly tropical but as the climate has shifted we have tended towards huge down-pours which would be well served by this type of roof.  We also liked how the roof will look with a central open gutter running through it, this design also allows us to place our water storage tanks neatly along the side of the property meaning minimal guttering is required between the roof drop and the tank!

Otherwise we are keen to hold onto that feeling of living outdoors that we love so much by building verandas around the property – a private one for Aub and I off our bedroom and en-suite and a larger one for the living area.

How exciting!

Home againHomeWe’ve still got about a months worth of planning to do before we are ready to submit to council but it really does feel like things are starting to come together.  Then, like many people on Grand Designs we have a long road ahead of us to get building this thing.  Aub and I are (at this point) hoping to save up and build this out of our regular incomes rather than borrowing lots more money to get it done.  As a consequence it may be several years before it is totally finished.  The good thing with being a container home is that it can be at lock-up stage and actually semi-liveable well before it is actually finished so hopefully we can enjoy the process rather than wishing we’d never bothered (we have completed 3 fairly large building projects already in our 19 year life together…..)

So that’s what we have been up to at Fox Hill Hollow, we can’t wait to show you more!

Shower Improvements – Hot and Cold Water System!

One of the first things we did at Fox Hill Hollow was to purchase ourselves one of those weed killing backpacks and fill it with water before hanging it out under the sun for it to heat the water for our showers.  This system has served us well over the last two-and-a-bit years but now we are ready for something more!

During last years build-fest we erected a structure to capture water on top of the container and store it for a shower.  Under this new roof-let we placed an IBC and thanks to the copious rain we received on the land in July it was soon filled to the brim with water. However, thanks to the sun that water soon became murky and putrid looking (photosynthesis at its finest) making the water look somewhat less than shower-ready!  To add to our woes we (or rather I) kept forgetting to get a tap for said IBC so the shower never really did get much further until now….

Here is the blog post we wrote about the plans and showing the tanks that we are now using to store our water.

So here we go!

First up we had to cut down the replacement tank so it fits  under the roofline or snug against the down pipe – I can’t remember what we opted for to be honest as it isn’t quite finished. As you can see here it is clearly too tall as it is 🙂

pipes-on-the-roof

Re-fitting the top to the bottom!

cut-down-tank-trimmed-to-fit

Making sure the rubbish from the roof doesn’t fill the tank and block the pipes – this filter will come in handy!

filtering-out-the-gunk

Aligning it with the down pipes.

fitting-the-pipes

The shower will be gravity fed – 2.7 metre drop to the floor.  We will put a tiled board underneath and a privacy screen around so we don’t shock the friendly neighbourhood Kangaroos when we get our kit off!

gravity-fed-from-just-under-3-metres

And that’s all we could do here as next we needed a trip to the hardware store for some plumbing supplies!

trying-out-the-shower-plumbing-at-home

Back at home and the plumbing is done and been tested in our garden!   We are going to work out how long the hot pipe has to be to give a couple of good, warm showers – the pipe will be weaved around the container roof where it will heat up in the sun and thus heat the water.  As the sun can get very hot we also have a pipe coming straight from the tank to the ‘cold’ tap (although in the middle of summer cold will be more of a luke warm!).   So far so good and we are looking forward to completing this little job and making Fox Hill Hollow even more sophisticated and homely than it is already.

Update: April 2017  The working shower head – now all we need is a little gas heater as it is currently freezing 🙂

2016-05-12 06.23.20

 

 

 

Pig Invasion!

We had some uninvited and most unwelcome guests at Fox Hill Hollow this Christmas, guests that were not entirely happy about us turning up and ruining their party!  These guests were feral pigs, lots of them!

feral-pigs

Picture above is from the Cowra Guardian who, in 2014 reported on the issue of rising pig numbers – they are bad news indeed! Read more here. 

I knew that pigs had been around the place from the patches of flattened grass and areas of recently turned earth but I was oblivious to the fact that these naughty little critters were still camping out at my place until I faced them head-on during my early morning swim in the dam.

swimming

I’d taken Maisy and Nicki on a walk around the property at first light and neither dog had alerted me to the piggy surprise at that point and so when we reached the damn I took off my clothes and slid in for a refreshing swim.   It was then, in all my vulnerability that I spotted them, well to be fair Maisy spotted them first and went charging off to chase them, well at least that’s how it started.  She didn’t get far before she realised her mistake and that’s when my ears pricked up!  I heard the pigs before I saw them but then I saw them, coming straight to me as the big daddy beasts chased my by now scared-out-of-her-skin Maisy back towards me – what on earth she thought I would do is beyond me!  I had no weapon, I hadn’t even got my knickers on hahahahahahahahaha!

Lucky for me the pigs turned back giving me enough time to pick up my clothes and hike it back to the main living area where I’d hatch a plan.

There looked to be around 20 pigs in the heard, some of which were big and scary looking while others were clearly babies.  I soon made up my mind that our place had become a nursery and a luxurious one at that having plentiful long grass thanks to the long wet winter followed by the relatively late summer heat,  a large and accessible water source (the dam) and relative peace and safety (until we came along).

Something had to be done!

I don’t have a gun but after owning property for a while I can see why people do.

I read up on pigs to see if they might have infected the water that I was swimming in (it’s a possibility),  if they would attack a human (entirely possible, especially when there’s young around),  if they could kill a human (again yes), if they could climb trees (probably not, there’s my chance!), how to repel them from your land (good fencing is a start although a big male can barge through most things – making the landscape less attractive is a better plan, shooting them probably the ultimate solution if you have a gun and can catch them all before they disperse….) and finally if you can eat them (yes you can).  I felt like I’d entered a war zone naked.  I wasn’t far wrong…..

Later that day towards sunset Meg and I took another walk around the block and spied two brazen little piglets walking down our boundary fence!  I thought these things were supposed to be secretive!  I kept the dogs on leads thinking that where there are babies there will be a mother and possibly a fat and tusky father just behind.  The piglets squeezed under the gap in the fence to the neighbours property and disappeared into the undergrowth.

pigs

A couple of weeks later we were back with ammo and a mission to find and destroy the pigs.  If that sounds pretty damn bloodthirsty it isn’t meant to but if you saw the damage that these feral creatures do to the beautiful woodland you would understand – it would be less damaging to hold a motocross weekend on the land with a bunch of rev-heads I’m sure!

While I’d completely got my head around the fact that these pigs might end up as dead meat I was quite glad that to find they had moved on from our land and saved themselves for the time being.  That said, I was unhappy to realise that those little babies would soon be big and would, in time add their input into the feral pig population of the Central Tablelands.   On the way home I googled ‘getting a gun licence’ and tried to work out if now was the time to become better prepared.  I think it probably is.

In the meantime though we spent the Australia Day long weekend repairing holes in fences and generally pig-proofing the property to the best of our abilities in the hope that we don’t have a repeat of this every breeding season but at least if we do have this again I’ll be better equip to deal with it – at least mentally.

dogs-checking-out-the-pig-proof-fencing

Maisy and Nicki checking out our border protection policy – we’ve built a fance, it is the best of fences, a truly great fence and the pigs are gonna pay for it if they come a crashing in!

Farming and Foraging in another land- Bon Voyage Meg :)

Last week we said our goodbye’s to Meg as she set off on a year-long exchange program in Finland with Rotary.  Meg’s first family own a grain farm and it wasn’t long before she was filling us in on how the most exciting right-of-passage for the average 15 year old was the right to drive your tractor to school!  How exciting.

We will miss Meg and her presence on the land here in Woodstock but will be waiting with excitement for her weekly updates and her blog posts.  You can follow her journey here: Aussie Girl Abroad.

Here we all are at the airport – Uncle Alan, Aunty Mary, Meg, Aub, Me and Emily and below the sister’s embrace.

goodbye

sisters

 

Learning from Others – Michael Mobbs, Sydney, NSW

Living off-the-grid is still a bit of a part-time project for us.  Sure we’d LOVE to cut our power bills in our Blue Mountains home and would enjoy that accomplished feeling of collecting our own water and managing our own waste but so far it’s been too easy not too here as we can and do manage the bills (albeit reluctantly).  That’s where Fox Hill Hollow is a great motivator – we have no choice but to be off-the-grid and we are embracing that with both hands but slowly, because we don’t have to rush.  So it was with great interest that I found myself at the home of Michael Mobbs, a self-confessed lazy off-the-gridder (if there is such a term) and someone who is doing it all in the centre of Sydney in a terrace house!  Now if he can do it surely we all can!!!!

There was much to be excited about in this house, from the lithium ion battery solar inverter system (6 x 2 KWH storage which is enough for three days for this chap although a typical house uses 25-30 KWH/ day – I think we are more like that at our BM home….),  the LED lights throughout the house (better lighting, lower power) the home-made camphor laurel table and the simple but effective fridge cooling system (passive ventilation really).

Probably my favourite tip aside from the ventilated fridge was investing in a solar system that can go straight from the inverter to the appliance, bypassing the batteries.  Michael mentioned that every time the power goes to the battery then comes out again it reduces the battery life a little and avoiding that as much as possible really does increase the battery life – battery storage is the one expense remaining in the off-the-grid plan although prices are reducing dramatically.

The other part that wowed me was the fact that this chap has a garden that is smaller than my patio at home and yet here he keeps chickens, grows some food, treats his entire sewage AND stores all of the houses water needs!  It just proved to me that having heaps of space is so not necessary and that necessity is indeed the mother of all invention, that and laziness 🙂

michael-mobbs-house

Michael has written a couple of books on the subject of going off the grid and is a delightful and helpful fellow.  I’d love for him to come and have a look at our block and plans when we are up to that stage (which will be soon) but for now we’ve still got much prepping to do.

You can tour Michaels house most months for $30 per head 🙂 Bookings on the website. 

 

Paralysis Tick Nightmare!

Sadly our Christmas trip out to the land brought with it a near-death experience for Nicki dog.  We’d only been home a couple of days when she started to go wobbly in her back legs, a sure sign of paralysis tick poisoning.   I rushed her down to the emergency vets where it took four hours for them to track down the offending critter under her chin!  Nicki and Maisy are usually treated with Nexgard but I’d forgotten their December dose so by the time we had reached the land and exposed her to the tick she was about 3 weeks out of coverage.

I’m glad to say that Nicki recovered well from her little ordeal only having to spend one night in ‘hospital’ on a drip. The treatment, including the anti-venom and spending New Years Eve at the facility cost just short of $2000 which means we’ll have to hold off on the first stage of our planning application for the house for an extra month to recover but at least we have Nicki!

Since that incident I’ve made two adjustments to our routine.  Firstly, Nicki will be shaved in summer so tics are easier to spot (along with grass seeds and other bugs and bits). Secondly I’ve swapped to Bravecto medication for both dogs as that gives up to four months cover for Paralysis tick at a very reasonable price – I figured that would make it less likely for me to forget, especially during Christmas and holiday season.

Well done Nicki for pulling through, we are proud of you – our Dear, dear doggie 🙂

Here is some info on paralysis ticks. 

 

Ouch, I got rugby tackled by a dog!

So I always thought that my first injury on the land would be a scratch or rolled ankle but no, instead I got rugby tackled by our dog.

She was off the lead with me checking the fences when a Kangaroo popped out on the other side of the fence.  Well my dog went crazy and ran along my side of the fence trying to catch it.  That was all well and good while the Kangaroo was running away from me but then it turned back.  Before I knew it I was facing a race between a Kangaroo on one side of the fence and a blinded-by-the-moment Staffie/ terrier cross on the other.  I went to dodge out of the way and collided with the dog at high speed.

BOOM.

Well, THAT hurt, I can tell you.

I collapsed to the floor looking up to see how Maisy my Staffie had faired. She had taken a tumble but was back up and running, determined to win the Kangaroo Vs Dog race.

Meanwhile I thought my leg had been ripped out of its socket.

It took a good five minutes or so for me to come back into myself.  As the adrenaline left me I checked my knee and hip for dislocation before realising that my calf, just millimetres below the knee had taken the full 35kg/ 30 ish KPH impact.  It bloody well hurt like crazy and had already started swelling before I could muster up enough courage to try standing on it.

This all happened about 1km along from our ‘house’ and I was alone with no means of signalling for help.  Luckily enough this time I managed to hobble back to the base where my family helped me into a chair and to a cup of tea – tea fixes everything!

By this time I suspected it was just a soft tissue injury so I put up and shut up while the mowing and clearing finished and then went off home.

Anyway…..

By Monday I had an infection due to the soft tissue swelling.

And by the following week I had to get it scanned where I found out I’d fractured my fat layer.  Now I don’t know about you but I’ve never heard of that!  All I know is that it is still very, very sore.  So sore and swollen in fact that it managed to restrict my circulation to the point that I ended up dragging a dead leg around for a few days this week!  Not a good look or feel and something I absolutely don’t recommend.

I got it X-rayed as well as there is still a chance the bone was dented on impact (although I know it isn’t broken as such), I get those results tomorrow.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that shit happens and when it happens you need a plan.

I’m not sure we actually had a plan, not a good one anyway.  I do still feel lucky that a) it was me (I’m pretty strong) and b) it wasn’t something that needed urgent attention but it has reminded me of the need to carry one of the walkie talkies with me when I go on my walks, to (probably) keep the dog on a lead and to keep something cool in the esky!

red-leg

This was the infection before it spread further up my leg.

the-lump

And here’s the leg on day 12. That lump you can see is still hot, bruised and very sore. It’s also extremely hard which is why I think I was getting the pins and needles followed by the dead leg.  It’s still pretty sore and hard now (day 14) and walking on it is painful but I think it’ll soon be right.

First Mow Of The Season & First Trip in the Ute!

So winter has been and gone leaving behind a very soggy Fox Hill Hollow and those brown trees.

The Ford Ranger was definitely a good call, we managed to fit the dogs, camping fridge, clothing and dry food supplies in the back without a problem and the dogs loved it in their cages (I’ll have to get a picture next time as I forgot!).

The only down side was that yes, we did get a bit bogged…..

I didn’t manage to get a picture of that either as I was out looking for native bees and counting the flowers – away with the fairies as usual.

Anyway the good side of getting bogged was the chance to meet the neighbours! As we are not out here all the time yet we don’t get to see the neighbours very often but as luck would have it they were in and were happy to help pull a new ute out of the mud.  I still can’t believe we did that but at least it’s now been christened.

mowing-and-brown-trees

A bit of slashing – just look at that ground cover!  We were contemplating sewing lots of stuff into this paddock just to get the soil carbon up but after such a boggy year it looks like nature has done the hard work for us!  We’ll have to run another soil test next year to see if there’s been any difference.

My concern though is the trees.  As you can see in the background of this picture our gum trees are looking a bit sad.  Since we’ve been here we’ve had two hard frosty winters, one with a substantial dump of snow and flooding rain – neither of which particularly suit these trees.  That said I’m going to just keep my fingers crossed that they muster up the energy to pull through.

november-5th-ute

Yep, we made it, we bogged it, we got it out again 🙂

At least it’s looking more like a ‘real’ farm ute now.

pioneer-species

One of my jobs on the land is to clear the sapling pines so that the native understory can grow. The first to rise has been this only I’m not sure I know what it is! My first thought was that it might be a member of the Cryptandra Species (Amara?) but then I remembered I’d seen this before and labelled it as Brachyloma Daphnoides.  Maybe I need a little help!

In any case they are both native and I’m hoping that those little white flowers will bring in the bees but for now I’m just happy that the pines are on the way out and the natives are coming back.

bees-in-a-flower

And what a delight this was to find!

I spotted something that looked like little legs poking out of this flower so uncurled it to reveal these beautiful little native bees inside!  I hope they forgive me for waking them up!  How rude.

These are males of the Lassioglossum species.