By Carol Altmann: author of Four Seasons with a Grumpy Goat, published by Allen & Unwin, 2011.
When I set out on a treechange to Tasmania, I dreamt of an idyllic life where I would sit on the deck of the house my partner and I had bought on the side of Mt Wellington and watch the ducks on the dam, while the various farm animals we planned to buy wandered lazily around the paddocks.
I wanted a simpler, more wholesome life. That was the dream. What I hadn’t factored into my fantasy was how little I knew about animal husbandry, beyond cats and dogs, and how different living on the side of a mountain would be to living on a suburban block. Instead of lounging around in a deck chair, I soon learnt how to swing a block splitter to cut the eight tonne of wood we would need for a normal Tasmanian winter, and how to start and handle a brushcutter that was necessary to keep the blackberries and bracken under control.
The first animals we bought for the farm were six ducks, which included two drakes. Anyone who knows about ducks will be horrified by that last sentence as two drakes means a lot of ducklings, but as a fledgling hobby farmer full of city ignorance, I had no idea we were setting ourselves up for a breeding frenzy.
The ducklings soon began to arrive in unstoppable numbers and, worse, the duckhouse which my partner had built from timber scraps and galvanised iron sheets sat empty as the ducks refused to use it: they preferred to lay their eggs in the undergrowth.
In the meantime, we had bought a single goat, Gretal, who we hoped in the short term would keep down the blackberries and in the long term could be used for breeding. Gretal was, at one point, housed under a portable table tennis table folded in half that made a terrific shelter until it became damp and blew away in a storm. This, however, was a minor problem compared to the fact that Gretal had been a household pet and had no interest in hanging about in a paddock eating blackberries.
The story of how we coped in that first year with Gretal, the ducks, bush rats, a horse and adjusting to living without the many conveniences of suburbia is the backbone of my book, Four Seasons with a Grumpy Goat. I did learn – a lot – and would still be living on the side of Mt Wellington if a change in circumstances had not taken me back to the mainland. I now live on four acres in Gippsland with a vegie garden, two silky bantams and four very manageable Rhode Island Reds… and without a rooster in sight.