Happiness is…

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We had one of those fabulous farm weekends where the laughter of playing children permeates every inch of the house from early until late. We had a house full of visitors for half-term weekend, including Ashley who we hadn’t seen since September. The weekends always fly by far too quickly, but it’s magical to see how much the kids enjoy their freedom and all the activities the farm has to offer – riding on tractors and combine harvesters, feeding cattle, stroking calves, endless games in the garden, sundowners and more! Of course the parents can have fun too, and we indulged in good food and wine while the conversation flowed seamlessly and people joined in and sneaked off for naps as they pleased. We made a special effort this weekend because it’s probably the last big group of friends we’ll have at Vastrap for a while. Quentin’s busy season on the crop farming side is about to start and I’m planning to take it easy as my expected due date early in the new year approaches. Apart from family visits, I’m hoping to wind down the year quietly.

Our little puppy, Hope was a big hit with all the kids and we exposed her to some new experiences on the farm. She was 12 weeks on Saturday so it’s time for her to toughen up and become a farm dog. She wasn’t so sure about her first ride on the back of the bakkie, but it’s only a matter of time before she’s clamouring to go for a ride, just like her mother! We’ve been waiting for Ashley to visit before doing a proper memorial for our Boerboel Tumi, who passed away unexpectedly a month ago (see Endings and beginnings). We bought a beautiful sandstone angel from Living Life and placed it under a newly planted purple Pride of India that is encircled with a heart. This morning we all got teary eyed as we remembered Tumi and all the things we miss about her. I can see the angel from my kitchen window so it will be a constant reminder of her gentle, loving spirit.

Happily, we’ve had a bit more rain and this afternoon there was a huge hail storm. The veld still needs time to recover and our dams are still low, but it’s been a great start. The garden is looking so colourful and I’m loving the luxury of walking out and picking buckets full of gorgeous flowers. All of these things are a constant reminder of how incredibly lucky and blessed we are.

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R.I.P. Tumi.

Hope with her two mothers.

Little Hope at 12 weeks with her two mothers.

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The gang!

The gang!

29 weeks - counting down to 2 January!

29 weeks – counting down to 2 January 2014!

Road trip and rain!

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Quentin and I had an unusual day of work on Friday as we set off on a mission to deliver two of our Boran bulls to a fellow farmer in Barkly East, which is about 4.5 hours south of us in the Eastern Cape. Our route hugged the Lesotho border and passed towns like Hobhouse, Wepener, Zastron, Sterkspruit and Lady Grey. I was keen to go along for the drive because I’ve never visited this part of the country, which is quite remote and not really on any of our main driving routes. My sister’s best friend from school days grew up in Barkly East so I’ve heard a lot about it and the magnificent farm gardens in the area. Unfortunately drought conditions were evident all along the way, but there was an encouraging build-up of clouds as we approached the town.

The bulls were well behaved and by lunch time they were loaded onto another truck en route to their final destination in Matatiele in KwaZulu-Natal. We stopped at the local home industry for a bite to eat and couldn’t believe it when the only other person having lunch was my sister’s friend’s mother! I had never met her before, but as soon as she introduced herself the penny dropped. Their farm is 50km out of town so it really was a huge coincidence to bump into her like that. In typically friendly farmer style she invited us to visit next time we pass through.

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We stayed over in Lady Grey on the way home and took the scenic route over the Witteberg via Joubert’s Pass. It’s supposed to be the 4th highest pass in the country (2236m above sea level) and was built entirely by hand in the early 1900s by a group of farmers looking for a short cut into Lady Grey. It was a spectacular drive through a deserted valley framed by majestic mountains. We came across one farmer herding a stunning group of Nguni cattle – such an unusual sight that we couldn’t resist stopping to take photos. The next day we also stopped to capture some Ankole cattle with their characteristic large horns grazing alongside the road.

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Lady Grey itself is quite a sleepy little town and we hardly saw any people on our walk on Saturday morning. We stayed in a lovely B&B called Comfrey Cottage set against a dramatic mountain backdrop. The town ran out of water a few weeks ago, but the guesthouse fortunately has a borehole. I can only imagine how lovely the garden would be in a normal year with its abundance of fruit and nut trees and old roses. They also have a herd of very charming Alpaca sheep which add a lot of character!

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We got home to a cloudy day and a forecast of rain for Sunday. We waited and waited and waited and the heavens finally opened with pouring rain yesterday evening. This morning everything feels fresh and bright and clean. Such a great change from the dust and wind. The veld and animals are rejoicing along with my farmer love who left home this morning up with an unmistakable spring in his step!

Silver linings

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Heat, wind and dust do not make for good walking conditions so I haven’t been getting out on the farm with the dogs that much over the past month. Some days, like today, the sky is thick with dust. This afternoon on my way back from town I had to literally stop the car as a dust storm reduced visibility to zero. When I got home the garden looked like it had been hit by a mini tornado and everything inside the house was covered in a layer of dust. Ugh!!

On a good day, there is a little gap of time just before sunset when everything goes quiet, the temperature drops and the dust settles. While friends were visiting us last week we took a gap and drove up the mountain for sundowners. It was absolutely perfect. There were clear views of the Maluti mountains in the distance and somehow it didn’t feel as dusty as the overgrazed veld below. The puppies, Hope and Poppy, were extremely curious on their first real walk with the big dogs. After our stroll we cracked open some cold beers (non-alcoholic for me!) and watched the sun go down before heading home for a meal of Vastrap lamb chops. It was the perfect distraction for my stressed farmer love and a reminder of how lucky we are to be living here.

Happily, today’s dust storm has brought some clouds to the sky and the forecast promises rain for next week…. please hold thumbs it materialises!

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Parched earth

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It is incredibly dry on the farm right now. We haven’t had a drop of rain since April and that after an unusually dry summer. Farmers never seem to be happy with the amount of rain they get, but this really is a drought. One which could have devastating consequences if it doesn’t rain soon. What is normally considered a quiet time on the farm has now become a daily struggle to make sure our animals have enough food and water. Many of our dams have been depleted to pools of mud so water has to be brought in by tractor twice a day – a very laborious and time consuming process. Fully functioning boreholes and windmills are precious commodities right now. Sadly not all of ours are working, which limits grazing options especially in the tracts of land on top of the mountain. There are spots of green where wheat is growing, but the crop is definitely a failure since the germination rate was only about 30%. The landscape would be pretty monotone brown if it wasn’t for the willow, poplar and oak trees! Nevertheless, life goes on and Quentin is making the best of a depressing situation carefully eyeing the weather forecast each day for rain. Hopefully it will come next week or at least before the end of October.

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Calving season has been in full swing since August, which is usually a joyful experience. We have many different groups of cattle sorted according to age and type (Boran, Angus and cross-bred animals). This year, our heifers (cows calving for the first time) have been very labour intensive because they are still quite young so many of them are having trouble giving birth. The heifer group is checked twice a day so that problems can be picked up quickly. I can’t count how many times Quentin has been called out to go an “pull” a calf or rescue a weak mother stuck in the mud. Sometimes it feels like he is a gynaecologist rather than a farmer! The calves are eternally cute especially when they have just been born and stand up on wobbly legs in search of their mother’s teats. One often has to look carefully to find the calves because their mothers hide them away from predators during the day. Most of our cows should calve by mid-November and then if it has rained, attention will turn to the planting of summer crops. It is amazing how the same cycle of activity can feel so different each year depending on the weather. In the three years I have lived at Vastrap I’ve experienced both extremes of too much rain and too little… is it too much to hope this time for a Goldilocks season that’s just right? Only time will tell.

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Goodbye Poppy!

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Today we say goodbye to the last little puppy, Poppy Reid. She is flying back to Cape Town with her new parents Penny and Mark who have been visiting us for the past two days. All of us have become very attached to little Poppy, especially Hope and Coco who spend hours playing together in the garden. Coco is still very attached to her little ones so it must be hard for her when they don’t come home, but at least little Hope is staying with her. We’re going to have our hands full with two beagles, because they really do like chasing after scents and it’s impossible to stop them running off once they’re on a trail. In fact, Coco has been taking puppies on expeditions up the mountain whenever she gets a gap, which usually ends in some kind of rescue mission to retrieve a crying distressed puppy! They are simply not big enough or brave enough to keep up with their mother so it’s been quite stressful keeping them safe. We’ve had an incredible 10 weeks with Coco’s litter, but all good things must come to an end and it’s time for life to return to normal. I am so grateful that all four little ones have gone to amazing people who will take good care of them and keep us updated on their progress. What a rewarding and joyful experience this has been and a little insight to what’s in store when our real deal baby arrives in January! Goodbye little Poppy. Thank you for your love. Be well, be safe and be happy with your new family. We will miss you little one.

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