Category Archives: Animals

Pets, venomous snakes, geese, chickens … whatever. You know, ANIMALS!

wHolistic Management

We are at the end of an inspiring three day course run by guru Kirk Gadzia, an absolute inspiration.
Kirk is a humble, passionate and down to earth man, with an incredible amount of energy and experience.
It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from a practitioner who has the ability to connect with farmer folk and a like, and pass on this invaluable information.

wHolistic Management is about people, families, community, farmers, animals, ecology and most importantly sustainable land management and regeneration. In the words of fellow class mates today, “our role here as stewards of the land is to leave things in better condition then what we found them”
Problems can not be fixed using the same mind set that created them.

Thank you Kirk and thank you Tamara for your energy, teachings and inspiration.

A few pics from the last few days in the field. Discussions of cell grazing, pasture health, animal health, stocking rates, flora disturbance, biological and ecological observations, water management and human goals and values.






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I love bees

So I was hitchhiking to Sydney a couple of weeks back, on my way to visit some friends before an international departure.
It was raining and cars were passing me by the dozens, all unperturbed by my thumb hanging out over the side of the highway.
After forty five minutes John pulled up and offered me a lift, he was very friendly and a little shocked by the fact that it had taken so long for someone to stop. It was ok by me, i was just happy to be out of the rain.

As conversation does, when you just meet a person who offers you a ride for the next three hours, it started formally.
John was a school teacher in some small town out west which i can not remember the name of, and on his way to visit a friend for the weekend. John was a good talker and easy going. Formalities eased off as I reclined in my chair listening to John talk about his family, although after having just spent a day and a half with Tim Malfroy (beekeeper extraordinaire) my attention was still with bees.
Not long after we pulled up at a road side vendor selling tubs of honey! A segway into discussion perhaps? I mean who doesn’t love honey? I have always, but never quite understood the ins and outs of a hive and just how great a roll those little guys play in this world.
So I brought up the topic, John was interested in knowing more, and I was excited to share my newly acquired knowledge.

We spoke about DCA’s which I have still not quite come to terms with, then entered heavy ground when the discussion turned to the topic of “where have the bees gone”.
It seems that John was interested to know more but at the same time not sure wether it was really important information. As far as he was concerned honey and bees could have been separate discussions. I gave it my best, relaying all the information that I had learnt through documentaries and some on line literature.
I felt that my story was received like a fairy tale and one that would have possibly made it home with him to be retold at the dinner table, but no further.

The city got closer and the thoughts of bees and nature and getting excited about lettuce coming from the garden or eggs coming from the chooks bum, all got a little diluted by the traffic.
Conversation shallowed and I said goodbye to John a short train ride from my destination.

So I think that I have been stung by the bees, they excite me, truly. And not just because they are Italian or by the fact that they are mostly female but also by the thought that a society of insects who have evolved over who knows what period of time, function in a manner where they provide so much for so little.

Right now I love that we (milkwood) invest our time in making food grow, regenerating poor environments, and in thinking about systems that better suit not just human needs but also those of nature. This is pretty important stuff!

A queen bee is determined by her swarm. They alter the shape of the cell that her egg is laid in and nourish that egg differently to the others. Then hatches a queen. She mates once in her life and that is enough “love” for her to lay hundreds of thousands of eggs during her five year life, with all the genetic diversity needed for succession.
Incredible, no?

We have been designing an Apiery here and today was the first day of implementation. It was warm and the bees were out in action.
Sabina will blog more about that later but I will leave it here with some pics from the hive.



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Bee Forage Calendar

Today three of my fellow interns (Ashley, Jurgen, and Olive) quickly cranked out a bee forage calendar that was so awesome it cried out for a digital version. Species have been selected for cold temperate Australia (this is definitely not the subtropics!). We’re all beginners when it comes to bees, and damn close toe beginners when it comes to botany, so please forgive any mistakes and omissions (especially under the “uses” column).

We’ll improve it as time permits, in the mean time I hope it provides a useful starting point for others. If you have any corrections or additions we’d love to hear them!

Please note that the months indicate when the plant will be flowering in the southern hemisphere, where summer is from December to February!

I’ve posted the calendar to my website:

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The Fox

Two geese had disappeared and many eggs as well. Foul play was suspected and affirmed when remnants of the beloved birds were found in the same spot. A fox- hunting by night and eluding us farm folk by day. Well Farmer Boss wasn’t havin’ none of that. “What are you doing, Nick?”, we asked one day as he walked by the earth dome the interns were busily rendering. “Hunting fox,” he replied.

Later that evening, as we were having supper, Farmer Boss was still out stalking the fox in to the night. Suddenly he radio-ed in on the walkie-talkie that the hunt was successful. An hour later, as I walked around the corner with my clean laundry in hand, there it was- a fully grown male fox, laying on his side, still but seemingly not lifeless. Though it was motionless, I could somehow sense the movements the fox was capable of; the leaps and bounds, the crouching, darting and pouncing his nimble legs and sly body has performed for a lifetime was still somehow expressed in that scene under the dim light of the wool shed. A few of us admired the catch as we listened to the hunters’ story of searching, waiting, honing in on the behavior of prey and seizing opportunity to go in for the kill.

I was indeed moved by the whole thing. Can I justify the death of this fox? Was this fox the perpetrator of the missing geese? How will the environment be effected by the absence of the predatory creature? Do I feel sad, happy, indifferent? What is it like to stalk and kill such a beautiful and (to me) this spiritually significant creature? What will happen to the body, bury or compost? And… what of that gorgeous fur?

I have heard stories of a previous Milkwood intern who had taught herself to tan pelts and had flipped through a book in the wool shed library pertaining to the topic. Never been interested in using animals for parts. In fact I had been slightly traumatized before by a calf slaughter demonstration and since have avoided such things. But this was very different- I was propelled by the compulsion to not waste an opportunity. As I looked at the helpless fox, a story of a beautiful wild life played out in the face and fur of the animal. Every meal that generated the growth of the coat, every rainstorm the fur protected him from, the musky smell that accompanied his prowess and defined his territory was all there still expressed in the outer layer of an endless orchestra of a life that has come to a resting place right before me. It’s almost like I had the responsibility to honor the fox by preserving what my eyes beheld as most beautiful- that fur.

Sleep was lost as the kitties and I researched how to skin and tan a fox pelt. The next morning I arose to find to my great relief Olivier in the wool shed drinking his mate and playing with his iPhone. “I’m keen to skin the fox if you are!”… I knew I could count on Olive to give me a hand. The first incision was a touch awkward for me, but the rest was easy peelin’. Then it was just a matter of scratching off as much meat and tissue from the skin as possible, grinding some rock salt and layering it on thick. The pelt now rests on a wooden plank beneath the wool shed, conveniently on an old sheep run angled just enough for any juices and condensation to run off. In a few days I’ll make a soaking solution of alum, soda, salt and water to soften and preserve the pelt.

As for the rest of the fox, lets just say the compost heap is cookin hot! No meat is left on the bones after just a few days of decomposing in the middle of lasagna layered straw, grass, ash and compost. The biology and chemistry and HEAT that happens in a compost heap is something else! Have a look at what Madame Claire has to say. Thanks and much profound respect to the fox, the geese, Mrs. and Mr. Farmer Boss, my fellow interns and Chef Rose, Milkwood and to the universe at large for this opportunity to learn and grow. The cycle doth continue.


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Learn somethin’ new every day

One fine day, the sheep needed to be fed. Nick, who I amicably refer to as Farmer Boss, took a fellow intern Jurgen and I in the Ranger buggy to feed the wiltipol sheep. Stocked with sheep grub, we zoomed through the olive grove in attempt to beat the hungry flock chasing after us toward the feeder trays. No sooner than I decided to hold on for dear life did a mess of lambs dart out in front of us clumsily kicking and prancing- as aimless as they are adorable! We poured the grain and chaff and stood back and observed the ewes gather and munch lustily. Our attention was drawn to the olive trees. Farmer Boss Nick pointed out the lace wing pest that had wiped our nearly every tree of a particular variety (good thing there are several varieties in the grove!) Another problem with the olive trees is black sooty stuff. These trees are sick, and like any sick organism, these trees need a remedy. A simple remedy in particular would do a lot of good, not just in one way, nor two, not three, but at least four ways. Farmer Boss Nick prescribes simply to raise up some hardenburgia violacea. This will draw some beneficial mycelium in the soil, attract some much needed predatory insects, provide more diverse sheep fodder, fix some wonderful nitrogen in to the soil, and probably more. This exemplifies a key tenet of permaculture: stacking functions. Awesome. It’s good to be here.


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Notes – Chicken Coop and mulch run

New chicken coop to be constructed with a 15m run to produce manured deep mulch to be used around property

Desire for meat and egg laying birds

Desire to raise chickens from eggs

Utilize new chicken tractor

Points to consider

size and construction of coop – materials – recycled from around property –

Dimensions = 1600w x 1800L x 2400 on high side1200H low side with Skillion roof

Pitch of roof – est 30 degrees

water harvesting off roof into a seres of water barrels down slope that overflow into swale

Coop on stilts with slat floor to keep clean

Deep mulch run 3m x 15m

Laying box size – 400 x 400mm per 5 birds

dimensions for perches:

number of perches = 3 – (200mm per bird)

perches = 50mm diameter

1st perch optimum height from floor = 1200mm

spaces between = 400mm (back and above)

position for coop on property

position of tractor on property

chick raising program and equipment needed – hen raised

seperating broody hens into own portable pen

breeds of chickens for each purpose

– Australorps and Favorelle for meat and eggs

– Indian Game for meat

– Aracauna for eggs (existing)

Number of birds for coop – max 20

Number of birds for tractor – approx 10

growing forage near by – Millet, Buckwheat, Amaranth, sunflowers

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Cell Grazing and Ewes are so Sneaky

For the next 5 weeks I have been assigned to ‘Sheep’ –  a new and challenging experience.

Milkwood have recently implemented ‘Cell Grazing’ using 55 Wiltipoll wethers and ewes. In addition to the economic benefits of owning Wiltipoll sheep they are also used to reduce unwanted growth of blackberry and weed grasses on the property.’Cell grazing’ bascially means a small fenced off paddock is constructed with movable electric wire and posts – the 55 sheep are grazed in this cell of about 480m2 for 24 to 48 hours then moved to the adjacent cell. The sheep are very selective and will eat the good stuff first, but as they are restricted they will eventually eat the less palatable growth/weeds. (Just like how we humans eat the choc chip biscuits from the biscuit tin first and gradually move on to the scotch finger, then when there is no other option, we finally get around to eating the milk arrowroot). The cell is then left for a minimum of 100 days to allow regrowth and manure decomposition. Evidence of Dung Beetle action is great as they return the carbon and nitrogen in the sheep dung to the soil, so that the nutrient cycles can be maintained. I’ve observed Dung beetle activity after only one day which means there are plenty of beetles around. In this way the soil is fertilized and eventually the area could be planted out with a crop of food trees –  enriching and building soil is the goal. Building soil with mulch and manures also improves water retention.

The challenges so far have been erecting the mobile electric fences  securely to ensure the sheep don’t escape – as being confined is not what they are used to. Of course there are a select few who manage to slip their way through – Houdini #320 and Lamb Chops #318 to be precise – the sheep are ear tagged with numbers so ID is made easy. Due to the increase in getaways I have upped security, from 3 electric wire strands to 4. Each day after breakfast I head to the other side of the property to check on the sheep and monitor the level of pasture consumed. Dung is also monitored for irregularities and worms. Unfortunately one of the herd suddenly passed away last week and we suspect either snake bite or Barbers Pole worm – the latter being less likely, but monitoring for this condition is underway. Moving the herd to a new paddock every other day also breaks the worm cycle – another huge benefit of Cell Grazing.





Lamb Chops got her name because this will be her fate for being too smart!



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