Australian soils are often described as ancient weathered soils, poor in nutrient and often have very little organic matter. Here on the Rock Farm, we take it to another level, with our Ordovican shale bedrock often just below the surface of our thin gravel based lithosols.
There is an old adage that states ‘if you want to run ten sheep, you feed the sheep until you can run ten sheep’. This means that the food you feed your sheep becomes the manure that increases your soil fertility until you can run ten sheep. In essence, your sheep become a vital part of the composting cycle where the imported food is converted to fertilizer.
And when you feed your sheep, mustering becomes a whole heap easier, as they come running to you!
In this good wet winter, our problem isn’t enough food. There is plenty of bulk in the native grasses at the Rock Farm, but like Burke and Wills, I didn’t want our sheep starving on full bellies. With mineral deficiencies common, we are experimenting with a salt lick or mineral supplement block.
With the sheep and horses running in the same paddock, we had to pick a mineral supplement that doesn’t contain urea. Most cattle and sheep supplements contain urea. Urea is toxic to horses, due to the differences in the gut. The urea provides nitrogen for the the microflora that lives in the ruminant (cattle and sheep). Horses only have one stomach (like us), and the urea may cause non-protein nitrogen poisoning.
We put the lick out in the paddock, and soon had the sheep wandering up to check it out. Actually they were checking out the bucket of oats – and looking for a feed. The benefits of bucket mustering are obvious when they come when you call!
This is obviously a very broad solution to a specific problem. With a bit more time and effort, we could put out a range of different specific minerals, and see which ones they take. This will indicate strongly which minerals our land is deficient in. We hope to get to this point in the future, but in the meantime, the scatter-gun approach will have to suffice.
As an aside, you can see the bands of dead grass in this photo. The ground has been sprayed in preparation for planting of trees in spring. Whilst I am generally against chemical use on the paddocks, this is the most effective way to establish trees.
We spread the oats around the lick. The sheep crowded around it – and devoured the oats. I am not sure how long it will take them to work out the benefits of the mineral supplements now available to them. We have gone back a couple of times over the past week to encourage the sheep to check out the lick.
I don’t know how successful this will be – but we will see. Hopefully the sheep will seek out any mineral deficiencies they crave. Any minerals their bodies don’t require will pass through the sheep and become part of the mineral bank in our soil. It will take us time to work out what the best way to manage our resources on the Rock Farm… but that is what it is all about.