Since Ted had grown up on the farm, it was natural for him to maintain his interest in the cultivation of the plants and animals that he knew from childhood. Indeed, Ted's brothers and sisters had "green fingers". Ted's brother, George, was an excellent horticulturist, and was often called on by many people to prune the roses, citrus and other plants that need expert attention.
Ted's youngest brother Bill, was described in the Australian press (Women's Weekly, Women's Day ??) as "Australia's Plant Doctor". He often appeared on the television program Burke's Backyard. As far as I know he is the only Englart who died a millionaire.
In the 1920s Ted bought two cows and a cream separator (a large centrifuge, the lighter cream leaving from the top and the skim milk from the bottom) which was installed on the side veranda on a bench already crowded as the children's dormitory. Kate made butter from the cream in a traditional butter churn which separated the butter from the butter-milk. I don't remember what happened to the skim milk. Perhaps Ted fed it to the calves but I remember I used to like the butter-milk.
The cow shed was in the south-east corner of the yard. I don't remember how Ted dealt with the two cows (he got rid of one around 1930) but I can well recall the cow, Sally, who was with us until the 1940s. The shed was a strong structure, about five metres long by three metres wide and two metres high, with galvanised iron walls and roof. The length was divided into two sections, one section completely enclosed contained the food for Sally, a large container for the chaff of chopped hay and a smaller container for the pollard, a protein enriched wheat meal. The other section (about two and one-half by two metres) was the milking area and naturally it was open to allow the cow to enter. Sally was induced to enter the shed because she liked the tucker Ted provided.
Sally's food, especially the pollard, was an attraction to rats and mice. Ted couldn't control them with ordinary traps. He had the most ingenious devices that could trap a dozen at time (alive) and they were dispatched by drowning in the laundry tub.
As soon as she stretched her head forward to feed from her bin I would secure her head in the bail. The bail is analogous to the stocks used to punish people with their bodily parts locked into the stocks horizontally whereas the cow-bail is vertical device with a bolt to lock the cow's head into the feeding bin until the milking was finished. Sally was generally well behaved and often lingered over her feed by licking the rock salt that Ted provided for the animals.
If necessary a leg rope was provided if Sally was playing up. There is nothing more upsetting to the milker if the cow decides to step forward and lobs her hoof into the milk-pail - or worse still, if she decides to step on your foot with her hoof. But I reiterate, Sally was generally well behaved. Another cow's organ that can cause worry is the tail, especially when flies are around. Of course, the cow innocently uses it as a fly switch, but it sure can worry a milker.
Cows, like humans, get sick; like humans, cows suffer from mastitis, a bacterial inflammation of the breast, or in the case of the cow, the udder. Of course, the milk cannot be used while the cow is infected but she must be milked regularly to the point of stripping her udder of milk and I used to rub an ointment on her teats to effect a cure. It was in such a circumstances that I would use a leg rope because the cow was more sensitive.
On some occasions Ted would have to give Sally some "opening medicine", which consisted of a half kilogram of Epsom salts dissolved in water contained in a beer bottle. Ted showed a lot of skill in this operation because, if I remember correctly, he used to force the solution down Sally's nostril. Hence, the poor animal had to be securely bailed. Ted would administer such treatment when the cow was sick or had just calved.
Cows can be very smart and Mr. Dixon's cow, observing the operation of a simple over-hand catch, had the neighbourhood perplexed by this cow who had broken into yards and helped herself to the best of the vegetables and, until someone had observed her nuzzling the catch, people could hardly believe that a cow could open gates.
There were occasions when Sally would break into Ted's garden, especially eating the heart out of lettuce. it surprised us once when Sally broke into the laundry. She most favoured the bar soap used for the clothes boiler. There was Sally out in the yard blowing bubbles out of her mouth with the shit running out her other end. It seems that the fats in soap are tasteful to some animals.
After the building of the tennis court and the development of closer settlement it was more difficult to keep a cow. From about the age of ten it was my after-school job to shepherd Sally to allow her a pick in greener pastures. I used to take her down to the local corner store (Bailey's) where they would throw out unsaleable fruit and vegetables. Sally would have a real cows picnic, with watermelons and pumpkin.
She used to be so engrossed in her feasting it was a job to get her back home for milking. A cow can be a fiercesome creature to a mere boy. I used to carry a heavy waddy with which I could command the beast, sometimes with difficulty.
Wild cattle would come into heat (oestrus) once or twice a year at such times that they give birth that best suits the perpetuation of the species. But many domestic animals have so evolved with human protection that they come into heat more frequently. It is impossible for a boy (or a man) to control a cow needing the sexual embrace of a bull.
Anticipating such a condition Ted would secure Sally behind a locked gate for a day or two to bellow out her frustrations. On one occasion I was shepherding Sally and she decided to bolt from me. Sorrowfully, I returned home and Ted brought Sally home the next day satisfied with her escapade.
Cows have a gestation period about the same as humans. It was an exhilaration to see Sally giving birth. Many parents in those days would hide their children from such a sight but Ted and Katie were very open to our learning the facts of life. After the waters gushed out the calf's head appeared and then it flopped to the ground.
Sally 'lovingly' (sorry about my anthropocentricism) licked it clean and nudged it to stand which is the bovine thing to do. Soon it was taking the milk which is very rich and yellow at first. Ted took over the milking during this period and we used to hand feed the calf by letting it suck on our fingers in a pail of milk. It is important to separate the calf from the cow as soon as possible. Naturally, Sally made an awful fuss when deprived of her baby. I used to feel sorry for Sally.
Most of my family used to feel sorry for me for what seemed to be an imposition on my life as a boy. But I didn't see it that way. I was always a loner and since my parents were subscribing to an scientific encyclopaedia for children, Charles Ray's The Popular Science Educator, published in weekly parts. It suited my thirst for knowledge and, since I didn't crave the company of others, being alone with Sally every afternoon was hardly a punishment for me as it may have been for others.
As far back as I can remember Ted kept chooks, mainly for eggs. Nowadays people are as likely to eat chicken as beef, especially with the flourishing of the fast food industry. But when we were kids chicken (or should I say fowl) was a two or three times a year luxury. I put 'fowl' in parenthesis because we mainly had poultry past the egg laying stage. Hence, our 'chicken' was not finger licking good but an old chook well stewed.
Very occasionally we would slaughter a cockerel when he started to annoy the hens. Then we would have finger licking roast chicken. Not that I minded stewed chook. It was better than our usual fare which was roast mutton (not lamb) or corned silverside of beef which was very cheap in those days.
In order to stop the hens from taking to flight Ted used to cut the feathers on one wing which effectively grounded the birds.
The hens were free-ranging in a fenced off area with a housing providing perches for night and laying boxes with clean straw in which there was a china egg to induce the hens to lay. I'm not sure that the china eggs really helped but such was the wisdom of the times.
Way back in my memory I remember Ted had a brooder, a device to facilitate the incubation of fertile birds eggs, which was kept in the warmth of the kitchen. I remember the excitement when the chicks would break their way our of their shell, their yellow down filled us with awe as they chirped around the brood box.
Really, chooks are pretty dumb animals. When they got out of their fenced off area you would leave their gate wide open and, with brothers and sisters, you would attempt to herd them towards the opening and, with much cackling, they run backward and forward but seem to be oblivious to the open gate. Or maybe, they were just too smart for us.
When I had an opportunity, unbeknown to my parents, I used to have fun hypnotising the chooks - its easy!! There are two methods. The simplest is to tuck the chook's head under it's wing and gently rock the bird from side to side for a few seconds and carefully sit it down. This mimics the bird sleeping with it's head under it's wing. It will stay in such a pose for quite a time, depending on the conditions. When it wakes it looks around startlingly, giving a great squawk as it say, "How the hell did I get like this??".
The second method of hypnotising a chook is lay the bird down on a level plain dark or grey surface with the chook's head looking ahead and it's beak firmly held down. Then draw a chalk line from the beak for. about 300 millimetres directly away from the beak. The bird is transfixed by the exercise until it is disturbed and it behaves as in the first method.
Being the oldest child it often fell to me to execute the birds. I would hold the bird by grasping the legs and wings together and, with a sure chop, his head was severed. At this point you must hold tightly because the nervous system goes crazy and if you were silly enough to release the bird she will run headless, spurting blood everywhere until she collapses. Once the bird is quiet you hang it up to allow all the blood to drain from the body.
In those days the men chopped the heads off, but the women took over and dressed, stuffed and baked or stewed the meat. At most the men would have to boil the water in the copper. The women plunged the birds into the very hot water in order to make the plucking of the birds feathers easier.