The new and the very very old

He's been out and about with the camera - so some of the new additions


Starting out with Alvin, Simon and Theodore - the 2 lambs are now nearly the same size as Alvin and... well absolute and utter brats. Funny as - but most of the laughing accompanies much yelling of SIMON.... get out of .....



They've taken over the duck shed these days - maybe because that's where their hay bale is...

Then there's the new chicks - the Wheaten Aracauna's are next door's but the Silver Laced Wyandottes will be staying put.






The guinea fowl is a ring-in - but will eventually go out with this lot:






Who are busily finding their way around the place - and doing in a certain little black cat's head - as they can fly - a long distance (they have a tendency to land right beside him which he's not best pleased about)!


Then there's Chloe the Turkey who is raising two Australorp chicks - they've just discovered they can get under fences that she can't (well today she seems to have gone over the wall as well, I just looked out the window and they are all running around the house...) But she's been a wonder of a mum, if not just a bit feral with anything that goes near her chicks.




Next up Max, 99 and the two young ducklings - who have formed a good little group and this morning were let out to the dam (with about 6 inches of water in it!) with the rest of the ducks. Bit of pushing and shoving, but they seem to have settled down this afternoon.



Finally, the very very old - dear Clancy - who is dealing with a failing heart and ongoing strokes but is keeping on keeping on, albeit slowly and a little bit tottery. We're grateful for the early warning that he won't be with us for a lot longer - as there's been a lot of cuddles and a lot of quiet time with him in the last few weeks.


Water, water everywhere? Not likely, but just how much is there?

Water is a hot topic around these parts. It has been dreadfully dry and so we are doing everything we can to manage our water. Part of this is measuring how much we have and how quickly we are using it. Enter my old friend the Arduino, that I've done a few things with recently.  I had been playing around with techniques to sense the level of water in a tank, and had a few designs, some using capacitive techniques, others using an ultrasonic transducer.  All of them had some level of issue, so I decided to get a pressure sensor and build it around that.

Water pressure varies predictably with depth, so a pressure sensor is very easy to use to determine the level of water in a tank.  The one I chose was a cheap Chinese pressure sensor that is designed for higher pressures than I had in mind, but still does a reasonable job for what I was after.  With a well-matched sensor I should have been able to get millimetre accuracy, with the cheap model I am getting 5cm (2") resolution.  Good enough for a tank sensor though.


The first prototype is hooked up inside the pump house for the garden/animal pens.  The ribbon cable at the top leads through the wall to a XBee radio transceiver which sends tank readings back to the house.

The closeup shows that I'd used protyping board and a Pro Mini board.  The right-hand black cable goes to a power adapter and the left-hand black cable to the pressure sensor.

Once I had the idea worked out I built one for the house tank in a slightly more weatherproof enclosure.  This one is driven by a 12v battery and solar panel.  The pressure sensor has a 1/4" thread so I drilled and tapped out the tee joint. It does mean that there are minor pressure changes when the water is flowing but in practice it has negligible effect on the measurement.  The three LEDs provide a quick visual check, with red showing at below 20% capacity and green when it gets above 60%.

Next step is to analyse the logs and start to build a usage profile.


It's here!!!!

It was one of those typical Sunday afternoons - the Weekly Times broken up into parts and spread all over the table - and both of us reading out bits and pieces of interest as we encountered them.

So he says something along the lines of "there's a 10,000 egg incubator for sale here and it's dirt cheap...".

Of course everybody wants a 10,000 egg incubator so we thought it had probably been snapped up - but why not call.

It was still available.

Most people had been assuming that the 10,000 bit was a misprint and had nearly swallowed their phones when they heard the details. So the seller was really careful to spell out the facts.

Yes it was a 10,000 egg incubator.


It was tucked away in a garage in Melbourne's South-Eastern suburbs.

Where it had been for 30 years give or take a few.


Oh and it weighs about a tonne. Give or take a few kilos.


And it's big. About 6 feet high, 6 feet 3 wide and around 8 feet long.


And it's now in our shed.

Getting it here?

Well - 1 car transport trailer and 1 hired ute (no way ours was going to pull that up a hill and besides - no airconditioning - we'd have been soup by about Ballan).

7 very large blokes at the Melbourne end - lots of water pipe, 1 winch, 1 hour's much pushing, shoving, sweating and sheer physical hard work.

3 or so hours drive.

Next morning, 2 blokes, 3 girls, water pipe, one set of welded wheels (made the night before), a couple of bars and gravity and there it is.

It "should" still work - needs a new motor, and needs a good clean out. But lordy it's beautiful.


And big
And unbelievably heavy
Stage 1 will be a very good clean out and reoil / recondition.
Stage 2 will involve putting some industrial strength casters on it so we can move it without the jack's and a certain frisson of danger.
Then we're going to see about getting a motor onto it.
Everything's a bit dirty and dried out - but the thing is SO clever.
This is serious engineering.
Which also came with a little box of spare parts which we didn't discover until we started clearing out the extra trays and generally tidying up.
The temperature sensors and microswitches and the techy stuff in it is astounding.
As are the double doors and the amazing construction of the thing.
He's really looking forward to getting it cleaned out and having a good dig through the internals.


She's just grumpy that something else is distracting us from worshipping herself.

We Haven't Posted Much for Ages

It's been quite a gap between posts here.

A lot of that I'd written off to complete and utter lack of interest - run out of steam in other words. Mind you, the rest of this is probably going to make your eyes glaze over so as I keep saying to those who get excited about what we're saying here - our right to write. Your right to not read.

But recently something has slowly started to dawn (I'm nothing if not quick on the think these days)... this idea has only taken 12 months to solidify.

It has been busy in these parts. Lots to do on the property partially because the rainfall here has been pretty well non-existent for 2 years now. 2012-13 we went from August to August with zero (yep 0), and then whilst we did get a little rain in the winter of 2013 we had a desperately dry spring (nothing basically) and barely 20mls this entire summer, combined with the most mind-melting, long, drawn out stinking hot heatwaves. The 45+degree days dragged on for up to 10 days at a time, multiple sessions of, with stinking hot nights into the bargain.

And if you're one of the "well it's summer and you've got to expect this" school then do me a favour and go a long way away. Or better still, come here and see how you go with keeping livestock alive in the long drawn out, no break heat with extremely limited water, and zero feed in the paddocks. Be warned though, heaven help you if one of our animals dies because it turns out you're talking through an inappropriate orifice.

But - combine the heat with no rain and we've struggled. Effectively it means, is that every day is "on" as we don't have the "city" luxury anymore of a bloody great big reservoir at the end of the tap for when the tanks run dry. In 2012-13 we had to buy in water to keep the animals alive (we've given up on the trees and the garden and they are dying in waves). Won't tell you how much money it costs to cart in enough water because it still makes my eyes water and the bank manager's taken to sighing loudly when he sees us.

A big part of the battle is the constant thinking, calculating, adjusting, the measuring in your head. Can I fill this duck bath and how often? What's the water level in that tank? What's the water level divided by the number of duck baths and what do we allocate for the pig wallows multiplied by 10 or more days of 45 in ongoing waves. What will be left to die.

All the stuff that you have to do for yourself when you're not plugged into the "grid". All the stuff that anybody, who doesn't have to do it on a daily basis, would not even consider - let alone realise how much sheer bloody hard work it becomes.

So, partly the preoccupation with just keeping on keeping on, did stop us posting - frankly we've had better things to do. But it's not the full story.

There's also a more subtle problem, which has taken a while to identify. A combination of things stacked up to produce a final result - something that's becoming increasingly obvious.

Thinking about the people of Morwell at the moment, those in the Grampians who were under fire threat for ages this year, the Mallee where the fires went on and on and on. The poor unfortunates who got caught up in the Sunday the 9th fires - but aren't quite so much in the "media" eye.

There's a real problem when you live outside Melbourne in this State. You simply do not exist.

And when you don't exist it's easy to end up thinking you don't have the right to a voice.

The way it happens is clever, and subtle but the urge to run to the city when you're a kid makes sense. Everything is reported, discussed, considered from the point of view of the only place that exists in the State. And that's not where you are unless you're in Melbourne or immediate surrounds.

There are months on end when I'd swear there is no Western / Central West and Far West Victoria in particular. It feels like we're not here. And we bloody are you know - I checked.

It's also fascinating to see the "sides" of the Great Divide - which is increasingly looking like more than just a geographical barrier - it's rapidly expanding into an awareness barrier as well.

We see the differences constantly as we are forced to cross the divide on a regular basis - and the difference in everything is marked. I still remember the sound of surprise in the voice of a Ballarat based CFA rep in our local town a year or so ago - they couldn't believe how dry it was "up here". An hours drive away. Where it had been dry for over a year by that stage and still had a long long way to sink.

We're forced to get used to it mind you. People often kindly enquire how much rain we've had in the last downpour ... wherever. Normally in the South. Which "rain" rarely if ever makes it here. Same as the cool changes - in these parts a cool change is when the temperature drops from 45 to 38 in summer. Until winter comes of course and then the frosts will have us dodging the ice blocks in the animal water troughs - I jest of course - they are buckets - it's been years since we contemplated filling a whole trough!

But the point is that it's different. We know you're had a downpour - we hear about it. Do you hear about our ongoing drought? I bet you don't.

And therein lies the problem - we know about what's happening in the south because that's where Melbourne is and even our "local" ABC is obsessed with Melbourne. Every hour on the hour we hear all about Melbourne's weather now, and for the next few days.

On the other hand, if we want to hear our "Local" weather forecasts we have to listen at two "special" times. Buggered if I know what they are - not enough brain cycles in the world to remember "special" times, too busy processing what "special" means now. There's the insult that we have to wait for the "special" times of course, then there's the realisation that nobody anywhere in the State has the slightest idea what's happening anywhere else because the only thing we ever hear about is "Melbourne".

Melbourne's 2 hours, and a bucket load of WHO CARES away from where we are.

That's just the ongoing insult mind you. At times of disaster it gets even more interesting. We've even had the experience between us - one in Melbourne at the time that the other, at home, was dealing with a huge flood. The one in Melbourne had no idea until they rang home. There was ZERO coverage of what was happening out here as we were putting out the boats and hunting for the sheds that had been quietly washed down rivers.

And we learnt quickly not to bother trying to listen to coverage of the remoter fires. If I was down in Goongerah or up in the Grampians, in the Mallee or around Benalla where the stock losses were horrific, I'd be chewing my shoe leather by now. The disinterest from the Melbourne-based programs has been startling. And then there was the declaration in the middle of that last Sunday afternoon when things were going horribly pear-shaped (and we know because we were listening to the CFA scanner state-wide at the exact same time) that the worst of the bushfires was the one in Warrandyte - well at that point I had to throw myself at the radio off button. Really. REALLY?????????

And then there's the ongoing naff conversations - do they realise that some of their shows are syndicated into the country? Faffing on about water features and gardening shows when the only water feature you're contemplating for the next 12 months (at least) is the bucket that's recycling water from the sink out to the garden isn't just galling - it rapidly gets infuriating. And while we're at it - stunned amazement that we don't get Digital radio in the "bush" ... well of course we don't / where have you been? Oh that's right - Melbourne. There is nowhere else. Forgot. My bad.

It's weird really - the Tax Department refuses to ignore us, but the Health Department's got it down pat. The people who repair roads and bridges can devote a lot of energy to dodging and weaving around us, but everybody's got an opinion on Farmer's a) intelligence levels and b) general bastardry to everything and everybody on their farms. The Telecommunications companies can blithely pretend we don't exist at all, but Pollies will, granted on very rare occasions, show up and tell us what they would do for us, if they only <insert excuse of the day here>.

It will all be very funny. One day. Maybe if it ever rains again. Which is looking increasingly doubtful for the rest of 2014. For here. In Victoria. On the other side of the MASSIVE divide.

On the plus side, my own little bit of ignoring the ABC radio (because I can't for the life of me remember what my "special" times are supposed to be) has meant a lot less pitching things at the pollie-waffle interviews.

So there's a silver lining to non-existent clouds after all.

The chooks don't believe the Climate Change skeptics

I often wonder about the climate change skeptics. Do they really not understand increased energy input into chaotic systems?  Probably not.  I know our chooks don't really care what they believe, all they know is that it is hot, and we have now lost two birds to heat stress so far this summer.  Doesn't sound a lot, but we don't have a huge number of birds.

Just to give you an idea, we have an open topped brooder on the back deck of the house, which has a decking floor (so plently of cool air can come up through it) and shadecloth all around.  At 8am this morning the temperature reading was 31C, and by 10am it was 39C.  Hence the somewhat strange cooling system we set up in a hurry.


For the main runs, a fan is just not going to cut it, so we broke out the trusty soldering iron, grabbed a few parts out of the electronics store (doesn't eveyrone have one?) and put together a controller that can manage 4 sectors with individual temperature control on each, using misting sprays onto the shadecloth to provide evaporative cooling.

The only thing we had to buy in for the system were the 12VDC solenoid valves, everything else we had.

The electronics were basically off-the-shelf, a few relays, a few diodes, a few mosfets, and an arduino (the little thing with the red light glowing on it).  Even the 1-wire temperature sensors were straight out of the parts store (we had purchased a heap because they were cheap and only used a few on another project).

The first test was this week where we had a 41C day followed by a 45C day and we are now on the third day of over 40C temperatures that is not expected to relent for a few more days.   So far, it is working reasonably well, and we hope to refine it further to make life more pleasant for our feathered friends.