Sheep Shed Door Frame Fitted September 2017
  Work on the sheep shed continues (seems like it will never end). Although the roof is still going to be a while, we've decided to go ahead and make and fit the door.

I made a very simple door frame from some 110x38mm roofing timber. I'm now getting used to designing all my woodwork around roofing timber sizes - it works for most applications and it's easy enough to cut on the table saw if there's an odd size that is required. The roofing timber is a fairly cheap pine and after a coat or two of sealer it should last a good few years - even outdoors.

The wood was sanded smooth (roofing timber tends to sometimes be a bit rough), gave it a coat if sealer and then glued and screwed the top two corners together making sure everything was square. The bottom temporary spacer strip was lightly nailed to the frame sides to keep the frame square.

The frame was then fitted and the sides screwed well into the concrete blocks with lots of nail-in anchors.


  Busy Weekend of Firefighting
  I suppose it had to happen at some time that the fires would come our way. Friday afternoon Che called in a fire from the old mines near the highway on her way back from town. And it was heading our way.
 
Frightening sight from Kallie's farmhouse towards the hill. Picture taken by Suzette. This fire definitely was not under control - and nor were most of the forest flareups over the rest of the weekend.
 

It was action stations for everyone as the wind was quite strong. When we finally all got mobilised the fire was still in the forest area around the old mine. But when it broke out onto the grasslands on top of the range of hills, we found we didn't have enough manpower and couldn't get the firefighting vehicles near enough to the leading edge of the fire to put it out.

I walked across the hilltop and watched it spread, giving radio communications as to speed and direction to the farmers on standby and downwind. I was able to watch the most amazing sight as a whirlwind set itself up on the leading edge of the fire and with a scary furnace sound, fanned and fed the flames for over a kilometer through the long grass. There was no way to even get close to that moving inferno and I could only watch as the leading edge ran away into the distance, leaving a long edge of slowly spreading line of flame each side of it.

Not near enough manpower to cover that long area and the best we could do was to wait until it got to the rocky slopes of the hills next to our farms and attempt to manually beat some of it out there. But we didn't have near enough manpower for that either. Although we put in brave attempts to beat it out as it was coming down the slopes, the grass was just too thick and dry between the rocks and we ended up having to back off and head down the hills to prepared to catch it as it got down onto the flat ground. At least we could get our vehicles to the fire there.

By evening we had enough manpower and firefighting vehicles on site in front of our farms to burn a quick controlled firebreak right across the bottom of the hill. Thank goodness all the grass
 
Smouldering logs and constant flareups in the forests all weekend    

Night time flareup with firefighting vehicle on it's way into the forest.    
between our farm and the hill was short. But running a firebreak in the short grass was a slow process and unfortunately while we were burning the firebreak the fire had descended the hill into the very overgrown gorges and was spreading into adjoining forests in the two farms to our west. Also, by the time the firebreak team got to the end of the short grass in front of our farm the fire coming down from the top of the hill had overtaken them and was running off towards Che's farm. We left the forest fires for the time being and everyone headed off downwind to Che's farm and did a good job of protecting a bit of her grazing lands and grass bales.

We then headed over to Jack's farm where the fire had run very close past his homestead. Not much we could do but monitor the fire's progress and protect farmhouses and grass bales where we could with controlled backburning. I got back to the farm to take a quick bath and get a few hours sleep well after 04h00 Saturday morning! The rest of the weekend we were on constant standby for flareups in the forests around us.

 
The hill in front of our farm now all burned and black. Logs smouldering in all the forests for days afterwards.

  Really Making Himself at Home with Us
  "Our" waterbuck has really settled in nicely and making himself at home on the farm.

When he's not grazing in the forest and at the foot of the hill he often comes into our "back yard". On the right he's in the fruit tree orchard. He doesn't seem to pose any danger to the trees - he just eats grass. And below up at the pump-house the grass growth has had a head start where we sometimes let our greywater run out onto the grass.

 

  Fieldmouse Problem
  Not sure if the big fires had chased all the fieldmice from the hills down onto our farm, but there seems to be a lot more of them around than usual.
 
Not a friend any more!!    

Initially we let Tess catch the grey mice and rats and leave the little striped field mice alone (as if she knows the difference?) as they rarely come into buildings. And we also thought they only eat grass - but unfortunately they also like a bit of greens.

We have just lost an entire spinach seedling planting in one of our growing tunnels and were noticing quite a few of our other seedlings "disappearing" from time to time. Needless to say, Tess has been given the go-ahead to catch them now as well.


  Eye-in-the-Sky Update
  We haven't checked online for a while now, but were pleasantly surprised to find that the Google Earth satellite has been over our area taking updated pictures.

This latest picture is dated 28th May 2016 and shows all six of our growing tunnels and the chicken house (garden shed is under the trees). You can also see the beginnings of our lucern patch in the large crop growing area in front of the pumphouse.

And the season would have been end of winter and we had started mowing the grass up near the log fence, leaving the cut grass laying in very neat straight lines.


  Sheep Enclosure Gate
  Back to some woodwork for the sheep enclosure gate. I used smoothed and sanded roofing timber for the frame and used all the tongue and groove cutoff bits from our garage doors.

I bit of an overkill on the amount of work required to make this little gate but at least we're using up all our scrap bits of wood. And after gluing the tongue and groove into the slots that I routered out of the frame pieces, it turned out really sturdy and strong. And looks good too. Some cheapie hinges and a latch and another job done.


  Sheep Arrival
  Flip, one of the farmers from further down the R23 towards Balfour gave Martie three sheep for her birthday and for us helping them to get onto their farmers communications system up and running. As we didn't have a place to keep the sheep at the time, he was happy to leave them with his herd until we were ready.

Well, with the enclosure finished and the gate now on, we were finally ready for the sheep.

The instruction was to be there at 07h00 before they left for work to load up our three sheep. We were up early, fitted the canopy onto the bakkie and then headed off down to his farm. He has quite a big herd of sheep and they hadn't let them out of their overnight paddock yet, so
  after a quick selection process it was an easy task for his helpers to grab hold of three of them and drag them out one at a time by a back leg to the bakkie where they were just picked up and chucked in. A quick squirt of medicine down their throats "just in case" and after some hints and tips we were ready to go.

After an uneventful drive back to our farm we backed the bakkie up to the enclosure gate and Mandla helped them out into the enclosure. They seemed a bit bewildered at first but quickly familiarised themselves with their new home and started munching away at the dry grass we had put out for them.

We had one young ram and two young ewes, one of which looked a lot fatter than than the other - probably pregnant.

They are "Dorpers", which are a local breed of domestic fast growing meat sheep (Dorset Horn and Blackhead Persian cross developed in South Africa in the 1930s). They are very easy to care for and have a high fertility and maternal instinct, combined with high growth rates and hardiness. They have a light coat of wool and hair for winter which they shed during the warmer summer months. Pretty much self-maintaining, which will suit us just fine.


    Mandla helping with the offloading from the bakkie

    Safely offloaded and eating a bit of dry grass in their enclosure
 
Exploring their new home and getting to grips with being a "small herd"

Keeping an eye on the sheep on their first morning in the enclosure

  DVD Management
 
Shelf system built and being painted with a coat of Silkwood sealer    

New space efficient DVD shelf now in the upstairs workshop    
My life collection of music concert DVDs were in a mess - they were all quickly packed into various boxes when we moved out of the Joburg house. I've now found most of them (but there's definitely still more in some boxes somewhere) and have been enjoying watching a few of them while I work up the workshop, picking "pot luck" from the boxes. The random selection was fun for a while but it was time to get them into some kind of order. I have beautiful cherrywood cabinets for them in storage but those tend to be a bit "space inefficient". So I decided to put together a temporary little shelf system so I could unpack the boxes and keep the DVDs up in the upstairs workshop until the farm house is eventually built.

Not really a big job. A few pieces of pine shelving cut to size and glued and screwed together, a quick splashing of wood sealer and in a day or two I was able to sit for a few happy hours and pack my DVDs and a few CDs neatly onto the new shelf system, all nicely organised into some kind of alphabetical order. It's always difficult to decide how to arrange them but at least I can now scan through them all very quickly.


  Chick News
  A few weeks ago this hen went broody and as she only had two eggs under her, we put all the eggs we collected from the forest laying from the other hens under her as well, hoping she would incubate them all and end up having a few chicks to look after.

But when it was hatching time, only two eggs hatched. Not sure if it was her two eggs, but one chick was big and strong and the other small and weak. We took the little weak one away for
  extra care and feeding from time to time, not really expecting it to survive.

To our surprise, one morning we found the bigger, stronger one dead and the little weak one has now survived to be quite a tough little chicken. It seems the smaller clutches of chickens really battle to survive. When a large number of eggs hatch, the rearing process seems a lot easier for the mother hen as the chicks seem to learn from each other as well as the mom.


  In another experiment (feeling a bit like Dr Frankenstein, here) when another of our hens went broody with only two eggs under her, we got six fresh Koeokoek eggs from Tia across the road and put them under her. Shame, they must have been too big or maybe not fertilised, but when the poor hen came out from her nest she was almost lame and we had to give her a bit of muscle therapy to get her walking again. Unfortunately a failed experiment and no Koekoek chicks.

  What!!!
  While Martie was cleaning out one of the rabbit hutches one morning she got a little surprise. One of the two females we had in the one hutch had given birth to eight little kits - and they were already a few days old. So the other "female" was immediately separated. Got to be able to sex these things correctly or we're going to be overrun by rabbits!
 
Putting the kits into the box to clean the hutch   
   Eight new kits in the temporary box

  Going Green Quickly
  Two weeks after the big fire and even without any rain, the grass at the foot of the hill is shooting new green growth very quickly. And the waterbuck is very quick to realise where the juicy stuff is, even if it means having to get your hooves a bit dirty.
 

  Sheep News
  "Get some sheep" they said, "they only eat grass". Well, that may be true for other breeds, but Dorpers eat everything! The they take every opportunity to dash for the new green shoots on our trees and often manage to get a mouthfull before we can get to them. So now everything has to be fenced/netted off. Fruit trees, garden plants, the lot!

And we've discovered they can quite easily hop low walls as well. It didn't take them long to realise the driveway wall was just low enough for them to hop over, so that had to be "netted" off as well. The rest of the enclosure's walls were also just not quite high enough and I don't want to build them any higher, so for now we've just layed another course of blocks temporarily along the top of the wall where it's a bit low. Hopefully when they get fatter (or better trained) we'll be able to remove all the "extensions".

For now, they are taken out on regular walks/grazings where we can keep an eye on them. They seem to respect our log fence boundaries but we just don't trust them yet. And one hop or push through the nets surrounding the fruit orchard and there could easily be a fruit tree devastation disaster.

 
Net "extension" to the driveway wall    

Above, the portrait of a rather peculiar creature. Maybe we're just too used to dogs, but it seems like their eyes and ears are in all the wrong places.

On the left, our pile of old mealie plants from last year's crop. I was going to get a big shredder to chop it all up for compost, but the sheep seem to love picking the dried leaves off the stems. They pick the stems so clean that we'll probably be able to just burn what's left over.

 
Martie taking the sheep out for a walk/graze. Notice our little almond trees have now also been fenced off.

  Gardening News
  We're waiting for the rains so we can start planting our main crops, so in the meantime Mandla has prepared us a nice little garden along the forest side wall of the forest shelter workshop. One of my clients picked us a whole bag full of sour fig plant (Cape Fig, Hottentots Fig) cuttings from his suburban pavement and we've planted them there. Thanks Richard.

The sour fig plant leaf juice is astringent and mildly antiseptic and can be used to treat a wide range of ailments naturally. After flowering, the buds develop into edible fruits which when ripe, can be cooked in syrup make a very tasty sour fig jam.

They're planted on the south side of the wall (picture below) so they'll be in full shade during the winter and semi-shade during summer. It's a very hardy succulent indigenous plant often found
  on sand dunes along the coast. Although it's best planted in full sun for flowering, let's see if we can get the plants to survive in the semi-shade and then we'll be able to take cuttings for our other more sunny gardens.

On the right, our front gate garden was planted with poppies and they are now in flower. The poppy plants not looking that healthy this year as we've had no winter rains (we normally get a few millimeters here and there through winter) and we just haven't had time to get out to the front garden with the water tanker regularly enough. But the poppies that did bloom were stunning.



  Big Corner Tree Comes Down
  We are having really strong season changeover winds right now. In fact, I don't think the wind has stopped blowing for three weeks, but it sometimes really gets strong and unpleasant.

And it's taking it's toll on our trees. The driveway is often strewn with branches and on one particularly bad day, the biggest tree on the far corner of the property near the tarred road came
  down. We didn't see or hear it, but it must have been spectacular.

After noticing it from the road we took a walk down there to see the damage. It had fallen on the game fence but some of the stronger branches were still holding the main trunk off the ground so the fence there, which is already taking strain for the water runoff when we have our summer thunderstorm downpours, wasn't squashed to the ground completely. It's going to be quite a job cleaning all that up one one day.



  Sheep Shed Door
  Final job of the month was to build the sheep shed door. The door frame was extra wide (non standard size) to let the animals in and out more easily and we decided to make it a stable door so we could keep the sheep in and have the top part of the door open for ventilation if required.
 

It turned out to be a lot easier than I anticipated but still took a few days of work to put together, fitting the plywood to size in the rails and stiles and sealing and finishing the woodwork.

A bit of roofing timber cut to size and finished for the rails and stiles, a slot routered into all of them with some 10mm ply for the panels from packing crates I salvaged from one of our computer suppliers, cut square to fit snugly into the slots in the frame. A bit of glueing and getting it all square, then some hinges, a latch and door lock and it was job done.