Spring – The grass is growing and so are the weeds!

Spring is a wonderful time on the Rock Farm. The warmer weather, coupled with the little bit of rain has caused a dramatic turn around on the Rock Farm.  Grass that was basically dormant over winter has started to grow.  Whilst the soil remains terribly dry, the grass is optimistically hoping to shoot up and set seed before the summer dries it out completely.  The garden is even starting to look a little unkempt, and I have put the battery charger on the mower, in the hope that it will get a run in the next few weeks.

But it isn’t just grass that is growing.  So are the weeds, and one of the most persistent and troublesome in our area is serrated tussock (nassella trichotoma).

Over winter the stock have grazed the paddocks thoroughly.  This makes the unpalatable tussock easy to locate and target.  It is hard work to manually chip out – and whilst it is our intention to use this method in the future, we need to reduce the amount on our property to manageable levels.

The most effective control of the tussock is a good permanent pasture.  Competition from healthy plants keeps the tussock in check. However once tussock is established, it is very difficult to get rid of.  It sets a large seed bank, and the seeds are dispersed by the wind, allowing the seed to travel a long way before settling.

Whilst I am generally loathe to use chemicals on our property, in the race against serrated tussock, it is the most cost effective method.  It is far quicker and easier than chipping out individual plants, and we hope to get on top of our tussock in the next few years.  Once we have it under control, we hope that aggressive chipping of identified plants will maintain our paddocks tussock free.

Our spray ‘rig’ is an interesting mixture of apparatus cobbled together.  A 12 volt pump provides the chemical / water mix through a jet spray nozzle.  A trigger on the nozzle allows control of the spray to spot on individual plants.

The chemical we use is a mixture of Flupropanate and Glyphosate.  This is mixed with water, dye and a surfactant. In the photo, you can see the red dye.  The surfactant breaks the surface tension of the water like a detergent, allowing the chemical to cover the leaves of the targeted plant for maximum effectiveness.  These chemicals are not great at all for the soil, or the microbes and earthworms that live in it.  This is why I really try to just spot spray the tussock, and minimise overspray as much as possible.

The boy’s buggy provides the 12 volt power, and the means to pull the little trailer around.  With 120 litres of spray onboard when full, it helps to make sure you start pointing down hill, as it is hard work on the clutch starting out!

After 12 months of sitting, my nozzle had seized up.  After pulling it apart, and cleaning and lubricating it, it worked a lot better, however had a small leak when the pump was running.  I decided that the easiest fix would be to install a switch near the steering wheel allowing me to turn the pump off from the drivers seat.  I found an old driving lights wiring harness, complete with relay, in the shed and soon had my ‘in seat switch’ in operation.

I also needed to lower the hitch height of the trailer in order to bring it to a more level ride.  I had a few ideas in my head, but eventually found an old steel post of around the right size.  Thankfully I also found a couple of long bolts in the shed, and soon had re-fitted the hitch.  The trailer isn’t level, but it is a lot closer than it was.

It takes me between two and three hours to spray out all the chemical in a tank.  I find it easiest to park the buggy and walk around when the tussock is thick.  For dispersed plants, I am able to wiz around and squirt from the comfort of the driver’s seat.  Who said weed control couldn’t be fun!

Whilst the weeds are slowly being brought under control, the rest of the Rock Farm residents are enjoying the warmer weather.  The cattle are getting quieter, however the sheep haven’t forgiven me yet for being vaccinated and the lambs marked last week.  But it sure is fun watching them all 🙂

More information on serrated tussock can be found here:  http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/Details/123

Life and death on the Rock Farm

Last weekend the family gave me an extremely valuable gift for Father’s Day… a certificate entitling me to a precious two hours of their time.  Two hours to get something done on the Rock Farm.  It was a wonderful gift, in the hectic mayhem of juggling school, sport, work and family time.

I figured two hours would be perfect to complete the most pressing requirement on the Rock Farm.  Marking our lambs.

Marking involves many steps.  We vaccinate the lambs, put in ear tags with our unique property code (colour coded for 2018), and put rubber rings around their tails and testicles.  Our yards are not ideal for this – being mainly set up to handle cattle – and we soon found some of the younger lambs were able to slip out the yards back into the paddock.

Our two hours passed quickly and we soon had marked most of the lambs.  I will need to catch up with the stragglers and sort them out soon.

This year we counted 20 lambs out of 11 ewes.  As one ewe was dry, this means that all of the lambs born were twins.  When we brought in the sheep, one poor little lamb was very weak, having either got separated or rejected by his mother.  I was hoping we wouldn’t have any poddy lambs this year, but we brought the little fellow up to the house and found the re-purposed baby bottle kept especially for occasions such as this.

The little fellow enthusiastically enjoyed his first warm drink in a long time, and we thought that we had saved him from the worst.

As cute as lambs are, the last thing you want is to keep them inside any longer than you need to get them dry and warm.  The Little Fisherman and I collected some old iron from the ‘resource centre’ and soon put together  a shelter in a little holding paddock adjoining the shed.  It was far more substantial than the old tarpaulin I had used to shelter our sick ewes a couple of weeks earlier – and I figured it would hopefully last a little longer too!

Back at the box in front of the fire, the Dachshund was only interested in licking any spilt milk off the lamb.  On the other hand, the Border Collie, Sapphire, wouldn’t let the lamb out of her sight.  She was adorable nursing the little fellow as we kept our fingers crossed.

Sadly the lamb never recovered his strength and passed away the following morning.  I don’t know why he was separated from his mother, but sometimes nature does these things for a reason.  Other times there are no reasons, and we just have to learn to accept them and move on.

They might not be easy lessons, but they are extremely valuable ones to share with our growing family.

Rainy day

The past few weeks I have been concentrating on fixing up my fences.  As the Rock Farm was originally set up for horses, there are lots of little paddocks, all fenced with plain wire.  These fences have been mostly cattle proof, but the sheep can (and do) wander where they like.

The small paddocks means I have been able to rotate the cattle with short bursts of intense grazing with long spells, inspired by Allan Savory.  The initial results are promising, with the pasture responding really well to being rested between short bursts of grazing.

The problem has been that many of the fences have been in such poor state of repair that the cattle have been able to push through to other paddocks, undoing any gains made.

Many of the wires were broken where kangaroos have pushed their way through over the years.  In repairing and straining these wires, I found I needed to improve my fencing skills.  I learnt an excellent knot which I have put to good use.  As I am no expert, you’re best watching the video by Time Thompson yourself:

My fencing has been going well, getting a little bit done here and there when I had the time, until last Friday when we had the unexpected pleasure of 10mm of glorious rain.  Light showers fell on-and-off during the day, making the wire extremely slippery.  After slipping and having a piece of wire flick up and cut my cheek, I looked at the dog, and decided to follow her lead.  It was time to do something else.

Inside jobs are many and varied.  I contemplated sorting out the shed… for just a bit.

 

And then decided that I really needed to sit down with a hot cup of coffee by the fire inside and take a Naval “Make and Mend” day…  It was quite pleasant to sit and repair my favourite oilskin vest.

The fences are still there, and I am still working away at getting them back in order.  The cattle are mostly contained now, with a few paddocks still to go.  Of course it is a never ending task, and I am sure I will still be working on fences as long as we have livestock, kangaroos and wombats…  but there are fewer more satisfying things than spending a day outside working on the Rock Farm 🙂