Farming Down Under

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In April we went on a three week trip to Australia to visit Quentin’s sister Deidre and her family. It was an epic trip, which started with a fair amount of drama when Quentin and Ashley didn’t receive their visas in time to travel on our planned date. After stressing for days about what to do, I set off to Sydney alone with Livvi and Myles, while Quent made a last ditch effort to get the visas. After begging and pleading in the pouring rain on the steps of the Australian consulate, they were cleared to fly the next day and thanks to some very helpful airline officials were squeezed onto the last flight before the Easter weekend. Disaster averted, we were all soon reunited at Dee’s house in Sydney and were treated like royalty for the next three weeks.

We didn’t want for anything, except sleep and some peace and quiet. Yes, you guessed it, the kids were a handful!! The combination of jet lag, unfamiliar beds, hectic molar teething and snotty noses did not go down well. They were out of their comfort zones and they made damn sure we knew it! Thankfully Dee is a GP so she made sure that they were appropriately medicated, but the whole thing was pretty intense. Still, it was a fantastic trip and we really got to see the best that New South Wales has to offer. We met many of Dee and Mike’s fabulous friends and we became part of their day to day routine in Bronte. We experienced incredible beaches, enjoyed delicious food and wines, got up close with a koala bear at Taronga zoo, and spotted kangaroos in the wild. We really could not have asked for anything more, but the friendly immigration official could see it in our tired eyes as we checked out of the country…. we would not be back for at least another 7 years before our kids are older and more manageable on the road!

Towards the end of the trip we decided to get out of the city for a few days and to take the kids to a more familiar environment, a farm in Cootamundra owned by Mike’s cousin. Needless to say, they were in their element, especially Myles whose eyes lit up when he saw the tractors heading to the fields to plant canola! Ashley zoomed around on a motorbike and was treated like royalty by our hosts, Charlie and Bec, who said she reminded them of their daughter who is at boarding school. We feasted on a lamb roast, ate steak rolls cooked on an open fire during a paddock picnic and spotted lots of kangaroo on our Sunday morning drive around the farm. Quent spent a morning farming with Charlie and learnt about canola planting and farming sheep on a very large-scale. It was really very interesting comparing their set-up to ours. There are so many differences (such as far less staff, no security issues, dealing with kangaroos, different price dynamic due to small local market and much higher exports), but at the heart of it their love of the land and passing on the baton from generation to generation is exactly the same as ours.

We came home happy and content with where we are, but very conscious of the big challenges that lie ahead for South Africa. For three weeks we lived in a bubble, out of the relentless bad news cycle. But news did get through that our house was ransacked in a robbery the night after we left. They didn’t take much, but they tipped over everything looking for money. Thank God we were not there. Others were not so lucky; there were three bad farm attacks in our area while we were away, two of them fatal. The stats are not comforting. Our families worry constantly about our safety. Nothing about the current situation in our country is comfortable or easy especially for a farmer (“boer”), but still, we remain committed. This is our home. This is where we need to be. We want to be part of the change that gets us to a better place. We just need to figure out how.

The road less travelled

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After all the activity around our auction, we took a few days off to recover and celebrate Quentin’s birthday. The timing was perfect as it was also the start of Ashley’s school holidays so we could really spend some quality time together as a family before the new baby arrives. We love road trips and driving through remote areas of the country. Our trip took us through the heart of the Karoo to Graaff Reinet and then on to a beautiful game farm run by friends of ours near the citrus valley of Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape.

On the way home we stayed at another beautiful game farm just outside Graaff Reinet called Mount Camdeboo, which was a real treat. Our wonderful guide, Les, took us on lovely kid-friendly game drives and we even managed to track one of their resident cheetah on foot. Livia absolutely loved being outdoors and seeing lots of different animals for the first time. On our first evening a big family of giraffe provided lots of entertainment as we sipped our sundowners and the mountains faded into pink silhouette. We were also lucky to see a pair of young rhino brothers who have become inseparable since their mother was poached last year. Ashley was fascinated by their remarkable story of courage and survival. Sadly, they have been de-horned for their own protection.

Our trip home took us through some amazing scenery on a long stretch of dirt road between Patterson and Craddock. We didn’t encounter anybody else on the road for over 100km! It was a bit bumpier than I would have liked, but so worth seeing the spectacular mountain landscape dotted with livestock and game. After a long day on the road we arrived home happy and relaxed and excited to tackle the next challenge of getting the house ready for the arrival of our baby boy at the end of September!

Birthday boy with his girls!

Birthday boy with his girls!

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Pass the parcel!

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We’ve just returned from a two-week overseas trip to Venice and Istria in Croatia. It was a big family affair organised by my step-father, Charles in celebration of his 70th birthday. There were 22 of us including kids and babies! I was slightly apprehensive to travel with a 7 month old, but my fears were completely unfounded. It was an absolute joy to have Livia with us, made all the more special by the fact that she could spend some real quality time with her grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and her sister Ashley. The kids had an absolute ball and Livia was happy to be dragged along wherever we went. She explored new food and the joys of gelato; discovered her little boy-cousins Tom, Ollie and Alexander; and seemed to love being passed from one adult to another, especially her granny Sussie, her aunty Hannia and her cousin Sibella. She turned 8 months old towards the end of the trip and since we’ve got home her development curve has just skyrocketed! It’s such a joy to watch.

One of the hardest things for me living on the farm is the fact that my closest family don’t live 5 minutes’ drive away, as they have done for most of my post-university life. It is so important to me that Livia has a good relationship with all of her grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins and that she should feel totally comfortable and relaxed in their company. The kind of family time we just spent together is invaluable to cement these relationships and I’m incredibly grateful for it. Here are some of the photos showing what a trooper she was and how much my precious little girl is loved by everyone. A very big thank you to Charles for bringing us all together in such special places and facilitating some very happy family memories. xx

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Road tripping!

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We’ve just returned from a two-week road trip through some of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, including the Great Karoo, Little Karoo, the Overberg region of the Western Cape and the Cape winelands. We travelled about 3000km through spectacular scenery and stayed in beautiful places. What made the trip really special is that we visited a number of different farms along the way owned by friends and fellow Boran breeders. We were reminded how lucky we are to live in this beautiful country as we travelled into the wide open expanse of the Karoo and wound our way up and down mountain passes into the Cape, stopping along the way to take in the view and enjoy some fabulous home-grown hospitality. And if we didn’t know it already, it’s a fact that South Africans are a very friendly bunch and “boerekos” (traditional farm-style food) really is delicious! We also managed some quality time with family. My dad John, step-mother Barbara and brother Johnny met Livia for the first time when we spent a weekend with them in Struisbaai. The following weekend, the other side of the family congregated for my step-father Charles’ birthday in a very special place in the Overberg called Halfaampieskraal. Livia was a little star in her car seat and grew in front of our eyes from newborn to baby as she hit the 3 month mark. How time is flying! Herewith some of the scenic shots from the journey taken by Quentin.

The Great Karoo between Beaufort West and Prince Albert.

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The spectacular Swartberg Pass.

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Sheep grazing in the rolling hills of the Overberg and the beach at Struisbaai.

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The view from Brenaissance Wine and Stud in Stellenbosch.

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The farm Halfaampieskraal near Bredasdorp in the Overberg.

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Scenes along the Route 62 between Barrydale and Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo.

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Our last night at Grootfontein farm near Colesberg.

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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!

Viva the Spice Girls!

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It was freezing cold this weekend, which put a bit of a dampener on our celebration of Spring Day. The Aga stove was fired up full steam hopefully for the last time this winter. The days are noticeably brighter and lighter and the jasmine outside my kitchen door is in full bloom so things can only get better from here! Fortunately, the cold weather didn’t stop us having a very enjoyable weekend, especially on Saturday when I joined three friends from cooking club to participate in the annual Masterchef competition at the Ladybrand church bazaar. It was a first for all of us, but we had a blast and our team, The Spice Girls, walked home with first prize!

The rules of the competition are simple. You need to bring all your own cooking equipment and be ready to face the elements cooking outside. Each team of four people has three hours to conjure a delicious main course dish using a meat cut provided by the judges and ingredients from the pantry. The judges had to score based on innovation, technique, creative use of ingredients, taste, presentation and team spirit. Heidi, Jenny, Vicky and I came well prepared with two Weber braais (gas and charcoal), a two-plate gas stove and every piece of kitchen equipment we could think of, including our pasta roller and ravioli cut-outs. We were only limited by the fact that there was no electricity so everything had to be done by hand. We had great moral support from our husbands, who sat in the morning sun drinking sherry and whisky happily banned from touching the fire or helping us in any way. My sister and nieces popped past for a visit on their way back from the farm to Johannesburg. City-slicker teenager, Sibella was mortified by the old-school “Boere musiek” blaring from the loudspeakers, but Sophia and Ashley were blissfully happy chomping cinnamon sugar pancakes and enjoying the cute home-made treats on sale at the bazaar.

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The look and feel of the Spice Girl tent was very understated compared to the other teams who went all out with coordinated uniforms and brightly decorated stands. We didn’t allow this to distract us from the task at hand though! At 9am the judges revealed that we had to cook with a rack of pork, which was a bit of a surprise as we were sure it would be lamb or beef. After a few minutes of consultation we rushed to the “pantry” to gather our ingredients. There was a reasonable selection of produce, but we had to make do without butter and olive oil and luxuries like parmesan and sage. We decided to risk it anyway and stuck to our plan of making ravioli to showcase some of the skills we’ve learnt over the past year in our cooking club. We made our own ricotta and two types of ravioli to complement the pork, one with roasted butternut, sweet potato and ricotta and the other with spinach and ricotta. We slow-roasted some tomatoes for a sauce. The pork was poached in a fragrant broth of apple, clove and thyme and then marinated in a sweet honey, ginger and mustard sauce before being seared on the gas. Instead of chops, we cut the pork into medallions for more elegant presentation. The crackling was salted and cooked on the braai until crisp and then cut finely and crumbled over the final dish to add texture and flavour.

We had lots of people stopping by to watch the pasta-making and the pork turned out deliciously succulent and full of flavour. The only down-side was the time it took for the judges to make their way to our table, which left the food ice cold! Fortunately, that didn’t matter too much and the Spice Girls went home victorious. All in all, it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning and we really enjoyed ourselves. My preggie belly especially enjoyed the steaming hot cinnamon pancakes our support team fed us through the morning and of course I could not leave without devouring a bowl of bazaar trifle for pudding! The things we do for entertainment in a small town….

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Hashing with the Harriers

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We took full advantage of the spring-like weather on Sunday and joined the Maseru branch of the Hash Harriers for a walk in Ladybrand. It was our first time on the Hash, but we thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people and exploring the hills around town, a nice change from our usual farm walks. The 6.5km walk was followed by a delicious lunch at the ever-charming Living Life Station Cafe which opened especially for the occasion. The sky was blue and the sun shone brightly, but unfortunately the winter landscape in this part of the country is pretty drab. The lifeless overgrazed veld crunched underfoot and the views of town were scarred by fire damage. The route was carefully marked out with white dots of flour and maize meal and occasional resting points along the way were indicated by three white parallel lines on the ground. The sandstone cliffs around Ladybrand are actively quarried by locals and along the way we saw piles of bricks ready to be sold and a carving which looked like the start of a bird bath. There were also big herds of cattle grazing on communal land and some make-shift cattle kraals hidden in the hills. We walked through a very old community grave yard, which boasted some elaborate grave stones, but it was touching that most of the graves were simply marked with a stone. The home stretch was along the now disused railway line that serviced the town decades ago leading to the Station Cafe. One can see just how long ago it was used by the large trees growing between the tracks! We enjoyed a fabulous lunch in the sun with some very pleasant background music on steel drums beautifully performed by the organiser of the walk’s daughter. We are now thinking of hosting a Hash at Vastrap later in the year to show off some of the beautiful walks on our doorstep!

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