Archive for the ‘Milking’ Category

Our Milking Cow Experience

March 17, 2018

Reading back over some of my posts I have come to realise that there are things we do that get mentioned at various times and in particular circumstances that often do not reflect the “norm”.  As time has gone by milking has become a pleasant routine and I thought it might be worth while to just go over our milking cow experiences and lay out what our normal routine has become.  I think I would have appreciated reading something like that when I was new to milking!

Our first cow was a “milky” type of Dexter called Isabelle.  We picked her up quite cheaply with her calf and were pleased to hear she had been hand milked in the past.  We were confident that we could win her trust and get her back into milking.  The long and the short of it was that she won and we failed!  Cows are stubborn creatures.  You can read about some of our experiences in earlier blog posts, but basically she never liked us and kicked like the blazes despite us trying a milking stanchion and a ‘kick-stop’ bar.


In the end we went on a house cow forum for advice and the general opinion was that we should give up on her and get a nicer cow.  🙂  It was good advice and we took it, and Izzy returned to her preferred life of being left alone with her calves in a paddock.

Thinking over our experience with Izzy, and later with Twinkles, I would advise anyone wanting a house cow, especially if you are inexperienced like us, to start with a hand reared calf and preferably rear it yourself – even though I realise it takes a number of years before you start milking that way.  Cows grow big and can hurt you without even meaning to, and it gives you a lot more confidence in being with your cow if you have handled it from a baby.  You can also make sure it is used to being rubbed all over and is familiar with clanging buckets, clunking crates and the sound of streams of fluid hitting the sides of containers.  If you do get a mature cow, at least be sure that it has been well handled and that it happily accepts people’s attention.

Anyway, to return to our experiences, we got Twinkles as a day old sooky calf.  We got her from a farmer who was giving us 3 bull calves to raise up for meat, and getting a heifer in the group was a great surprise, but a welcome one. I always think of her as my gift from God, a gift I wasn’t expecting.  She was always a sweet natured girl, and more accepting of us than her two brothers.

We made sure to halter train her from a young age and to rub her all over on a regular basis.  That doesn’t mean we did it every day, in fact I’m sure there were weeks at a time (especially in winter) where she didn’t get much more attention than being fed daily.  Food, however, was a marvellous training tool with Twinkles.  She would always eagerly come for a bucket, and we could then put her halter on and give her a leading and handling lesson.


We sent her away to visit a Dexter bull as we wanted the calf to be small for her first calving.  She calved at 2 years and 3 months of age.  She prefers to calve somewhere sheltered and partly hidden so our paddock with the tea trees is perfect for her.

She was happy for us to see and touch her calf and, following the advice of Marja Fitzgerald in her book “The Healthy House Cow” we milked her twice a day from the start.  She was a bit twitchy on her first few milkings, I think it felt a bit uncomfortable and strange, but she soon settled down.  For the first few weeks of having her calf she is always obsessed with it, licks it vigorously and often hides it in the bushes while she goes off to graze.


Immediately after she calves we start milking twice a day.  The milk is colostrum at first, so it often ends up going to the chooks, but it is supposed to help to establish a good milk supply to reduce the pressure in the udder.  The first couple of days the calf does not take much, and if we did not milk Twinkles her udder would be quite engorged and uncomfortable.  We leave the calf with her full time for the first two or three weeks.  Gradually, over about two weeks, the calf comes into his own and starts taking pretty much all of the available milk, so once that happens I drop back to milking only in the morning and just get what I can.

Cathy milking twinkles

Once I hit the two to three weeks stage I start to separate Twinkles and her calf overnight.  I usually begin by pulling her out of the paddock fairly late, perhaps 8 or 9pm.  I always feel nervous the first night I do it as our fences are all electric, and I often slip down to check the calf is okay and not tangled in the electric fence.  I am pleased to say that has never happened but I would love to have a small yard or even one fence line with mesh or wood fences just for this particular job.  Anyway, by this time the pony will have met the calf and she does the job of being the “aunty” who babysits overnight while mum is away.  It does help that the calf has company nearby I am sure.  At various times we have had steers, bottle fed calves, a horse and now the pony to take on this role.  I have locked the calves into electro mesh pens in the past, but these days I just leave them in the main paddock with the pony, and take Twinkles out into the adjoining paddock overnight.  Twinkles will always come for food, and the calf is usually not concerned at her going a small distance away by this time.  They can still see each other through the fence and talk to each other and so far it has always gone quite smoothly.

The next morning at about 8:30am we start to milk again.  I offer the calf some food, ground grain or pollard (mixed with molasses if I am feeling generous).  (Auntie Pony has to be tied up or she will eat it!) It usually takes the calves a couple of weeks before they get interested in the food, but as time goes by they start to eat more and more grain and hay.  I put the halter on Twinkles and tie her up somewhere and then she gets her mixture of ground grain and minerals too.  I wait until she has finished eating before I start to milk, as otherwise she fidgets.  Originally Sam used to milk and we have even milked two people together sometimes, but now I do it all and he is just my backup.

I sit on a milk crate, usually on Twink’s right side although she doesn’t care which side I use, and briefly clean her teats with warm water and milk a couple of squirts from each teat onto the ground.  Then I get serious and start milking in the traditional way into a steel bucket.  I milk the rear two quarters first, and when they slow down I shift to the front two quarters.  I usually sing while I milk.  I started singing when I was first milking as it helped me to keep a good rhythm and take my mind off the fact that my arms were aching.  🙂  My arms don’t ache so much once I have built up the muscles, but they do if I have had a break for a couple of months.  However I quite like singing while I milk, and Twinkles likes routine so I think she likes it too.  She really does like routine!  The more I can keep to a familiar routine, the happier and easier my job is.

When I have finished milking I pour my milk into a plastic container with a lid ready to take up to the house.  Then I put a small amount of pollard or something as a treat into a container in the paddock with the calf, remove Twinkles halter, open the gate and let her back into the paddock.  She will always hurry through to the feed bowl, and the calf will hurry to her, and I can safely lock them back in again.  We do not have a lot of grass so I usually feed them all hay too.

Once the milking is over I bring the milk up to the house.  I strain it through some butter muslin into some milk jugs and put it straight into the fridge.  We do not pasteurise our milk as it rarely lasts more than a day or two before being consumed.

One advantage of milking once a day and sharing the milk with the calf with the cow is that you can just leave the calf with his mum overnight if you want to go away or not to milk for some reason. It is a nice option to have.

Twinkle’s milk supply goes up and down a bit.  Sometimes I think it depends on how recently the calf has drunk before I separated them.  I often decide how much milk I want, usually 3-4 litres, and just take that, and leave the rest for the calf.  If my portion of the milk supply starts getting low I will take it all for a while, knowing that the calf will be building Twinkle’s supply up by drinking a lot over the day.  If I still find I am not getting enough, I will start to separate the cow out earlier in the day and that usually does the trick.  By the time the calf is weaned I am usually separating them at about 5pm, and still not milking until around 8:30am.

Eventually the time comes when the calf no longer needs milk, and I would like a bit more.  I then decide that weaning time has arrived.  It seems to work out that I usually wean my calves at around 9-10 months of age, at which time they definitely don’t need the milk at all!  I have separated them a fair distance apart in the past for a few weeks, which often caused lots of moo-ing and pacing of fences.  However most recently I just left Twinkles in the overnight paddock after the milking and gave both her and the (not so much of a) calf a bit of extra food and they settled down pretty quickly.  After all they were used to being in adjacent paddocks overnight, so I guess it felt pretty familiar.  I left them apart for 10 days before returning Twinks to the normal paddock.  The calf went to try to drink, but she kicked him off and wouldn’t let him.  After a few days he didn’t try anymore.

Once the calf is weaned I no longer have the luxury of skipping milking for a day, as the cow needs milking no matter what, at least if I want to keep getting milk.  Milking also takes a little longer as I have to completely empty the udder each milking, rather than letting the calf do that for me.  I milk her right out, switching back and forth between tests, until I am getting hardly anything.  Usually I start milking twice a day for a few days, until I am confident Twinks is not going to get an engorged udder.

I have no milking shed yet, maybe one day, so I get to milk in sunshine, rain, wind and even snow!

Over the years I think that Twinkle’s milk supply has slowly increased, although her supply also reduces as time passes and as she nears her next calving.  This year she is 7 years old and I am getting about 5 litres each morning after weaning her calf at 10 months of age.  She is still not in calf at the moment, so we expect to be be milking for at least another 7 months.  I expect her supply will have reduced by the end, perhaps to 3 litres or possibly even less.  The advantage of that is that when I decide to dry her off in preparation for her next calving, she is less likely to get engorged in the process.  If her milk supply dropped to less than 2 litres a day, I would probably decide it wasn’t worth the effort of continuing and would dry her off.  Drying off, when her supply is low, is as simple as stopping milking and reducing her grain feed.  At the moment her feed consists of crushed barley, pollard, salt, seaweed meal, dolomite and meadow hay.

Getting Twinkles in calf is the next issue.  It usually takes until the calf is about 9 months of age before I can work out when she is on heat, and can try to sort out her rhythm in order to get her to a bull when she is receptive.  Our good neighbour usually has a few bulls in his paddocks and he is happy for me to take Twinks down to visit one of them when the time comes.  I often find it a challenge to know exactly when I should take her.  Bulling seems to be the one sure sign, and if I see that I will drop everything and take her for a walk down the road.  If I see less certain signs I usually mark them on the calendar and wait another 3 weeks and keep a close eye on her then.  Other signs for Twinkles are: being restless when milked, funny taste or smell to the milk (it took me years before I realised that this was caused by her being on heat, I used to think it was something she ate), mooing at the fence, her milk supply dropping for a day or two, her calf smelling her rear end and lifting his head and curling his top lip (this seems a pretty unreliable sign).  Just recently my dairy farmer neighbour told me that the time between heats reduces by one day every cycle.  I hadn’t heard that before but it may explain why I have missed catching her cycle a couple of times this year.

The walk down the road is usually a challenge as Twinks wants to run, not walk.  Then I often have to juggle gates and cattle in order to introduce her to the bull of my choice, so I usually try to take a helper along.  I am not a hugely confident cattle person, except with my own cow – and Twinkles is at her most pushy when she is on heat, but we usually manage.  Once the deed is done Twinks will always be happy to be caught for food, or even just to come home to her calf.

Twinkles first calf was a lovely little black boy called Blaze.  Just as an aside, we always put a ring on the bull calves at about 1-2 weeks of age.  They are not very comfortable with it at first, and I feel a bit mean, but it is much easier than trying to castrate them later.

Her second calf was a fawn coloured heifer who died in utero.  I should have known something was wrong when she went over time before calving.  However, when she did start to calve she was obviously having problems and it was taking way too long.  We called the vet out and she managed to pull the very dead calf out with a calf puller without too much trouble.  The vet assured us there was no problems with Twinks and that she should not have problems in the future, it was just one of those sad things that happen.  That meant we had to milk twice a day, full on from the start as there was no calf to share the milking with.  We got 10 litres each milking for the first week (the pigs were happy), then it settled down to being about 10 litres per day and dropped off more as time passed.

The third calf was a hereford coloured boy called Straight Line Stu (or Stew for short).

The fourth and current calf is a browny grey boy called Smokey.

The calves start off happy to be stroked for the first day or two, but then they quickly get nervous of us, despite having such a quiet mum.  It can be a challenge to catch them and halter train them, but it is worth doing.  I usually put a halter onto them when the cow has been returned to the paddock after milking.  At that time the calves just want to ignore me and drink from their mum, and I can generally manage to finagle getting the halter on.  Then we tie them to a tree or a fence post and start the whole training thing.  We went to a dexter training day where they showed us calves being halter trained and it was an invaluable experience, giving us an idea of what is normal (calves pulling, throwing themselves down, gradually becoming more accepting over a number of lessons, moving on to getting them to move a few steps at a time, etc.) so that were more confident to manage ourselves.

Once again this training is something we do sporadically, certainly not every day and not even every week.  Thankfully once they have learned halter training they do seem to mostly remember it, even after a long break.  I find that the calves start to regain their confidence at around 9-10 months, perhaps it coincides with weaning and starting to see me as being the main food provider?

Twinkles has not had much in the way of health problems that I can think of.  I have wormed her when she was young and also a couple of years ago when she was losing hair in a few places, but I don’t do it on a regular basis.  Izzy Had a bit of a belly ache a couple of times which I worked out was being caused by having too much lucerne in her feed.  she would look around and kick at her side with her back leg.  We gave her some warm water with molasses in it and some vegetable oil mixed in.  The oil was supposed to help to limit the gas production in her gut, and she did seem to get relief so I guess it worked.  Then of course we just watched her feed more closely and kept the lucerne content right down.

Twinkles is most relaxed with me milking her, although she can be talked into allowing others around as well but she prefers women to men.  Sam can remind her of who he is by coming armed with an apple.  Her main vice is eating the wrong things.  She likes to munch on tarpaulins, hose fittings and the hoses themselves, electric fence handles, anything plastic really.  🙂 I don’t think it is good for her so I discourage it strongly!  Otherwise she is a lovely, quiet and patient girl.  She accepts me as her mum I am sure, and is happy for me to see her calves, give her hugs or whatever other weird thing I do.  I think having her is my favourite aspect of our new lifestyle.

Well, this post has grown overly long!  No doubt there is more to say, but I think this will do for now.  I can always edit it later.  🙂


Waiting for Spring

November 4, 2014
How are you out there?  We are waiting for Spring to settle in over here.  We have had some warm days over the last couple of months, but we’ve had plenty of wet, cold and windy ones too.  Just Sunday morning I was admiring the fresh snow on the mountain range in the distance and lighting the fire again at church.  We do love the scenery over here though, with the vivid green of the lush grass, the darker green of the trees, the blue skies and the white snow.  The dairy heifers in the paddock across the road add to the beauty too, and they found Kim very intriguing when he was taking this picture this morning.
I hope we can grow grass like that on our own property one day, and I think my cow hopes that we can even more ardently than I do!
Cathy with Twinkles

Did I mention she is the best cow ever!!!!!!!!

So, what have we been up to?  Firstly I dug up our remaining fruit trees and put them in pots.  Until we can do a better job of keeping the possums and wallabies away from them in our prospective orchard area I decided it was best to keep them in the pigeon cage – which is fully fenced and inside the electric fence to boot.  I also prepped a couple of our chook house runs as gardens for this year, shifting compost into them and moving the chooks into different areas, setting up sprinklers and planting out some peas, lettuce, broccoli, kale and beetroot.  I’ve got some tomatoes and corn in the greenhouse waiting to go out, but we’ve had some serious frosts lately so it’s just as well I haven’t planted them into the garden yet, though we’ll have to risk it sometime soon.
Our chooks have been separated into one cage for the old girls and another for the young ones.  The plan was to breed from the old girls this year, but our Araucana rooster turned nasty and began to attack some of the hens – so he had to go without delay.  I had already had one hen go broody and we had given her a couple of eggs which hatched two young Araucana chicks this last weekend, so for once we are hoping for roosters!  Her other chicks are purebred French Marans, the eggs coming from a friend in town.  We can only hope they are resistant to Avian TB, but we wanted to get a few more of that breed so thought it was worth a try.
  Hen (Pea) with Yellow Chick
Yellow Chick

French Maran chick

Our poor long suffering turkeys have been struggling this year as the currawongs (a bird similar to a crow) have been stealing all their eggs as soon as they lay them.  To prevent this we ran some anti-bird netting between our two runs of chook house / garden cages today.  I hope that will mean the turkeys can safely lay and also that any hens with young chicks can be protected in there as well.
Netted Area
I have not been making so much cheese lately as I am spending more time outside, but when I was still going strong I made myself a cheese press which works well.  It is much better than balancing buckets of water on top of the cheese mold.  🙂  However we did recently make a large batch of hams from our last pig which are yummy.  Also on the subject of food we now have a freezer full of beef again.  I do love beef and there is nothing quite like a juicy piece of eye fillet steak for delicious dining!!!  It also means we now have one less mouth to buy hay for!
Press with mIni cheeses

My home made cheese press

Kim has continued to really enjoy his photography.  He just upgraded his camera again, and is currently selling the old one on eBay.  Now he is involved with a local club who have monthly meetings and he is going on his first excursion with them to take photos this week.  They are going to our local wildlife park after hours.  They also do an annual display in the local hall and every year produce a calendar with a selection of their photos of the Mole Creek area.  Kim has begun to go to a chiropractor who has helped him to recover from a back problem he was experiencing, and has improved his posture also.  His weight continues to drop on the sugar free diet and he was pleased to tell us all that he had lost 10% of his original weight just the other day.  No doubt many of you saw the recent blood moon.  Kim took some photos of course and it was interesting to watch, though I thought it looked more of a rusty brown than red.
Blood Moon
Kim spent quite a while putting a new roof on the tractor and draining the gearbox oil (well over 100L of it which I am told is not supposed to be a milky colour as it was in the photo – that was apparently caused by water getting into it over the years) and replacing it with the 50L it was supposed to have.
Transmission oil draining from tractor

Is that really supposed to be oil draining from the tractor?


Shiny new roof on the tractor

 It is wonderful to have the tractor back again, there is so much that is easier to do with the tractor than without!  We manually dug a couple of fencepost holes while the tractor was out of service and I am here to tell you that doing it with the tractor is preferable.  We were also pleased to pick up a cheap but good Massey Ferguson mouldboard plough for the tractor in nearby Beulah.  Using the tractor for that is more fun than digging with a mattock too.  🙂
We have been busy down at the church with things other than the usual Sunday service, Bible studies and craft group.  We have burnt off a wood stack in the back paddock, had stumps removed out the front and set up a garden bed out the front of the hall.  Our wonderful overseeing pastor, with his own church up the Tamar Valley, has become seriously unwell with Lupus.  It is especially sad for us as it means we will no longer have his regular visits since he has to cut back drastically to try to manage his disease.  However he continues to organise speakers to come and take our services, though we have had to resort to watching some online sermons a few times lately while things settle down.  Still, we keep the doors open and enjoy the fellowship that we have.
Caleb continues to study his Japanese course online with Macquarie University.  He struggles, even with his reduced workload, some days with his rotten health.  His Japanese is pretty good though!  Sam is going to see if the chiropractor can help him too with troubling neck pain and the debilitating nausea that he has had for over 10 years now.  We have tried so many other things that we figure it is worth a go.  Lydia finally talked her doctor into removing the side of her most recent ingrown toenail and killing the nail bed.  For some reason they were reluctant to do it, but having a recurring infected toe for months again motivated her to push the issue.  It was painful when it was done, but is healed now and hopefully will mean it will stay trouble free from here on.  Josiah once again has 2 new mice, this time called Cocoa and Trixie.  Along with his schoolwork he has been doing a little photography, and of course enjoys taking pictures of his mice.  He has been playing Minecraft online with a friend and they chat on Skype at the same time.  He actually got to meet this new friend in person recently on a homeschool hike and they got on well.  His friend now also has his own pet mouse, so they have even more in common!  We bought an online course in Swift programming for the iPods/iPads etc which Josiah has started as part of his homeschooling.  Kim, Lydia and myself have also been doing the lessons from the course and it is fun to get back into programming, although I haven’t gotten terribly far through the course yet.

Copyright 2014 Josiah!

The appointed day for our private power pole to be disconnected finally arrived… and passed by with no sign of Aurora coming.  We don’t mind if they delay a while.  Our power plan is to add to the small off-grid solar system we have with a micro hydro system which should bring in power 24/7 summer and winter.  It should be good but will entail a fair bit of work and money organising a decent water pickup set up and laying out 500m of large pipe through our bushland down to the micro hydro turbine which will be housed in a shed near to the house – but not too close as they get quite noisy.  In the meantime we bought a nice secondhand Honda 6.5kVA generator, so even if the power goes off tomorrow we will be able to manage by using the generator for peak times when the solar system is not enough.  Kim also intends to mount a car alternator on our old non-working generator to be used to charge the batteries if they need it when there is not enough sunlight to do the job for us.
And finally we decided we needed a place for people sit outside in the fresh air when the weather is nice, so I gathered together some bits and pieces and we have a nice little outdoor spot now.  🙂  Frivolous but nice.
Outdoor Setting

Wet and cold? Stay inside and make cheese!

August 19, 2014
It seems ages since I last wrote to appraise you all of the happenings at Milkenunny.  The days have been short and damp over here, with plenty of cool weather but it hasn’t felt as extreme a winter for rain or cold as we have had in the past.  Of course my view may well be affected by missing 3+ weeks of frost when we visited WA.  🙂  There has been some snow on the mountains, and Kim got this picture of a wombat in the snow when he went up to Cradle Mountain.  There was no seeing the mountain that day though.
We are now a “pig free” property, having dispatched our last two big pigs during the cooler weather.  It is kind of sad in a way as they were friendly old things, but it is pleasing too when we think about the easy access we now have to all the paddocks for tree removal, fence repairs or grazing cattle.  We are currently awaiting a call from our local farmer/butcher so that we can reduce the cattle numbers too, and get a little variety from pork.  We may get pigs again if we fence more area and need it cleared of bracken, but will not be replacing them in the immediate future.
Twinkles, our house cow, has continued to produce plenty of milk for us and the cool wet weather has been quite conducive to experimenting with making cheese.  So far I have made about 8 varieties to try out.  I made the 30 minute mozzarella for pizza one night which worked well and a soft cheese that is nice on crackers, also a fetta which was okay but no-one is that keen on fetta here.  I also have made Halloumi a few times which Kim and I quite enjoy frying up to have for lunch.  Halloumi is quite a different cheese, and is pleasant because it can be eaten immediately after making it.
I am also awaiting taste testing on the current cheeses in the cheese fridge, with fingers crossed that there are some that will be popular with the family.  The one on the top shelf is a parmesan.  I will be waxing that in another week but we have to wait a good 9 months before we can try it out.  The red waxed one is an Edam and the other one is Marangaroo cheese which is a home recipe from my Healthy House Cow book.  Since the photo was taken I have added a Caephilly too which is developing a lovely looking rind.  The Edam cheese ripens in 2-6 months, depending on how strong you want it, while the Marangaroo and Caephilly can be eaten after 3 weeks, so most of these are fairly quick cheeses.
I do not think I have a very good technique at cheesemaking yet, but hopefully I’ll improve with experience and get more consistent.  I have discovered a bunch of useful recipes and videos on a website called Little Green Cheese that are done by another Aussie, and am hoping that watching someone else prepare cheese will improve my own abilities. As I write I have another 15 litres of milk sitting in the fridge waiting for me to decide what to make with it.  Umm, perhaps Wensleydale or I could try a cheddar again????  I still separate the cream a couple of times a week so we can make ice cream and butter.  The skimmed milk gets turned into yoghurt which is mostly consumed by the chooks, who also get their grain soaked in whey these days.  I try not to waste anything!
As always Kim is kept busy with mechanics that need attending to.  The newer cars were supposed to require less work but it hasn’t turned out that way so far.  The latest is the Caravelle’s heater under the back seat which sprang a leak, quite dramatically in the middle of a trip causing hissing and steam to fill the whole van, and so Kim had to hunt high and low for a replacement which is now on it’s way from the US.  The tractor is out of service with a water leak into the gearbox oil which will need draining, the seal patched up and then refilling with 50L of very thick oil.  We are also going to replace the roof on the tractor’s canopy at the same time so that the seal is under cover again.  Of course to get the metal to replace the roof requires the van, which as I said is waiting it’s parts to arrive so we can’t do any of it yet.  Meanwhile the Peugeot has decided we don’t really need heaters in the middle of a Tasmanian winter, which is rather mean of it, but the ancient old beetle continues to chug along happily.
Kim is enjoying having a newer camera that he bought while we were in WA.  Lydia has been looking after a lady’s wallabies lately and Kim has been going along, both to supervise Lydia’s driving practice and to take pictures of the Green Rosella’s that come for the food as well.  He always did love taking photos of birds!
Green Rosella (Platycercus caledonicus)
Kim has also begun pulling out all our old slides and photographing them so we can have them all available digitally now.  He has done over 2000 so far!  It is fun to see old pictures as they bring back lots of memories.  Many of them are nature shots from when Kim used to submit photos to Landscope the CALM magazine, but there are some family ones too.  My, how we have changed.
We bought a new mac mini to replace the more power hungry computer we used to use in the lounge room.  We are expecting the power pole to be disconnected in October so we have to cut down on our power usage as much as possible, as our solar system is not very big.  Kim has been researching micro hydro again and we are planning to put a small system in place as time and funds permit.
We had one interesting day last month when we decided to find out why the slow combustion stove had started smoking so much.  It turned out there was a problem with the flue and so Kim was up on the roof pulling the flue apart to see what was wrong when he accidentally dropped a piece.  It rolled down the roof and quietly tipped off – right on top of our solar hot water system, smashing one of the tubes in the process.  Hot water was bubbling everywhere – so now we had to fix the stove and the HWS!  Thankfully we had a replacement tube for the HWS on hand and were able to fix it without too many problems, at least once the water had all emptied out, and when the flue was reassembled our stove started working much better again.  So it all worked out well in the end, but we had a few hairy moments along the way.  🙂
My parents have been away for an exciting trip to Germany recently.  They stayed with my eldest sister who is enjoying Germany while her husband is working there for a couple of years.  From all accounts Mum and Dad had a fantastic time and we are expecting to be inundated with photos and movies as they get them all up on a blog that Dad is preparing for that purpose.  If anyone is interested to see their pictures just let me know and I’ll send you the blog address.
Anyway, I think that is enough news for the time being.  Take care all.