Farm Chemical Disposal with ChemClear

One of the risks when buying a farm is what you find when you start going through the shed.  Farmers have an ability to see value in hoarding any thing that might possibly be useful. When they move, often much of the stuff is left in the shed as it “may be useful” to the new owner, and the shed on the Rock Farm was no exception.

Whilst we may have unearthed some fantastic treasures, we also found some skeletons.  One that has caused me the most worry was an old chest freezer packed with old drenches, herbicides and pesticides.  What was worse is that may of the chemicals were stored in old food and drink bottles and were unlabelled.  It was something that made me extremely nervous, especially with young kids visiting the Rock Farm.

Disposal of old chemicals is a real problem.  Whilst DrumMUSTER provides an avenue to recycle clean agricultural chemical containers, it is much harder to find an avenue to dispose the chemicals themselves.

And so it was a bit of a relief when I found ChemClear.  ChemClear provides a collection and disposal pathway for unwanted agricultural chemicals.  Whilst my collection was too small to make it worth registering for collection, I was extremely pleased to learn that they come to our regional council transfer station once a year.

I had been counting down the days until this morning, when ChemClear came to our regional transfer station.  I gratefully loaded up the ute with the toxic collection of goodness knows what.  The most concerning were the old food and drink containers with different coloured liquids in them.  I also had a large tub worth of expired animal drenches and a couple of 20 litre chemical drums with no labels, other than an ominous POISON stamped in the plastic.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, but the ChemClear team were ready for me.  As soon as I had pulled up, a team of appropriately dressed staff were unloading the chemicals and sorting them.  They told me that some of the chemicals would be recycled, but others would be destroyed, mostly through incineration.  They took them all, with the only question asking where I had heard about the program.

And the cost? Absolutely free.

Well not quite.  I did have to travel to our regional transfer station, some 60km instead of the 5km to our local transfer station, but it was a small price to pay.

I did then race home and take the old freezer / chemical store to our local transfer station.  It cost me $25 to dump the unit, where they assured me the fee was used to recover the refrigerant….that is if it had any left after 40 years or so of rusting away in the old shed on the Rock Farm.

I am extremely happy that our farm is a lot safer, and I am happy that the chemicals won’t cause a problem either for my family, visitors to our farm, or the greater environment.  If you have any old chemicals lying about, do yourselves a favour and check out when the ChemClear trucks are coming to your local transfer station.

A terrible Miss-Steak

Last week was a mixed bag on the Rock Farm.  We enjoyed a glorious 12mm of soaking rain. A fox killed all our chickens.  Our sheep disappeared and we found all them roaming the neighbour’s place. The steering arm fell off the tractor. Our ram got in a fight with an other neighbour’s ram, and in a sickening head butt, our ram killed their ram.  And one of our heifers made a terrible mistake.

 

The rain well worth celebrating.  Whilst it wasn’t enough to fill our parched dams – it was very much needed – even if the dog wasn’t so sure!  The little burst will hopefully allow our ryegrass and cocksfoot grass to set seed, even if it came too late for our clover.  And there is nothing like mustering recalcitrant sheep in the rain the remind you why you love this farming game!

With feed stocks dwindling, we took up the kind offer made by John, the heifer’s breeder, to return them to his farm in the Southern Highlands to make acquaintance with one of his young bulls.  The heifers are well used to the routine now of moving around the Rock Farm.  They quietly made their way into the yards for a short overnight stay before being trucked.

After all the dramas earlier in the week, this part was all going to plan.  It was almost too easy I thought.  I shouldn’t have even thought those words.

My troubles began when I moved some of the heifers into the race to drench them prior to the truck arriving.  No sooner had I turned my back, than one of the heifers tried to escape through a narrow personnel escape opening.  I still don’t know how she squeezed her shoulders through the gap, but it was immediately apparent that her hips weren’t going to follow the rest of her body.

She was stuck.  Properly stuck.  And then the audience arrived in the form of my wife Jo, and Jimmy who was carting the cattle.

After a couple of attempts to lift her back legs and pull her through, we realised we were down to only a couple of options.

  • Use the loader on the tractor to attempt to lift her and manoeuvre her hind legs through the gap.
  • Use an angle grinder to cut out the panel, however my generator is currently broken, meaning we would have to borrow a generator from someone or make an expensive trip into town.
  • Euthanize the heifer – a very much last resort – unless she became too distressed.

I raced up to the shed and grabbed a cattle sling, designed to lift cattle that are unable to stand.  It was when I tried to start the tractor, I realised I’d left the ignition on, thereby flattening the battery.  I am sure there was a very localised blue cloud forming over the Rock Farm at this time.

After eventually jump starting the tractor, we rigged the sling and started lifting.  We tried initially to lift her by the back legs, but that didn’t help.  We then put the sling under her chest and tried again.  With a lot of pushing, pulling, and twisting, combined with a good dose of luck, we eventually twisted her on her side.   Jimmy was able to wiggle her hips through the gap and she was free.

It wasn’t all good news though, the young heifer was very sore, especially in the right hip.  We made the decision that she was not fit to travel, and put her back in the yards.

I was too spent to take photos of the other girls on the truck, but the rest of the journey for them went without incident.  They were met by their new boyfriend, who was eager to make their acquaintance, a good looking young bull with plenty of Charolais breeding in him.

We kept the remaining heifer under close watch.  Thankfully she improved dramatically over the next few days.  After a week, she is walking without a limp. I hope to transport her to meet up with her herd, but it is hard to justify carting her on another truck.  I figure it is time to see if we can train her to use the old horse float.

To that end,  I brought her back in the yards, and moved her water trough and hay into the back of the float.  Her initial response was understandably wary.

But within 24 hours, when checking on her water, I spied her comfortably eating inside the float.  I will let her spend a few more days getting used to the float, before attempting to move her.  I will also fabricate a couple of bars to prevent her from jumping out over the tailgate before we move her.  That would be disastrous.

Of course you don’t get to do something this crazy without earning yourself a special place in the family’s heart.  Nor do you remain anonymous.  So the family decided to name our escaping heifer Miss, short for Terrible Miss-Steak.  I hope it is the one and only occasion she lives up to her name!

Barley Grass and other Pasture management

It has been a long Spring full of unfulfilled promises on the Rock Farm.  Weather forecasts predicting a 90 percent chance of 10 – 15mm of rain in three days time have withered to a 10 percent chance of 0 – 1mm.  Barely any rain has fallen, and the grass has been in a desperate race to set seed before it dries out completely.

The photo above captures the half dozen drops that fell a couple of weeks ago.  Whilst the sky looked promising, it failed to deliver.

Readers may remember that I had a paddock full of thistles when we moved to the Not-So-Rocky Rock Farm.  I slashed the thistles a couple of times over the summer, with the aim of preventing the thistles going to seed.  (https://rockfarming.com/2018/01/04/managing-thistles-on-the-new-farm/)  After slashing the paddock, the sheep moved in, and kept the grass down over winter – until about three weeks ago when the took it upon themselves to move out (The fences have never held the sheep anywhere – even this paddock which is mostly fenced with hingejoint).

The culprit was Barley Grass.  Barley Grass (Hordeum Leporinum) is a soft annual grass with bristly fox-tail like seed heads.  Once the seed heads form, it is unpalatable to sheep or cattle.  The seed heads get embedded in the sheep wool, reducing their capacity to put on weight.  Given the option to move out, our sheep had done exactly that.

On the flip side, the thistles were not so prevalent, which was pleasing to see.

With a desire to use a chemical free process to control the grass, I consulted the internet and found this guide published by HerbiGuide:   http://www.herbiguide.com.au/Descriptions/hg_Barley_Grass.htm

HerbiGuide recommended heavily grazing the paddock until the seed heads turned yellow.  I brought in the cattle,  and gave them a week to reduce the seed burden in the paddock.

It was also a good chance to check out some of the serrated tussock I sprayed a month earlier.  It seemed that the fluproponate was effective, which was a relief.

After a week of grazing, the cattle had reduced the barley grass a little, however the hot dry weather had started to turn the seed heads yellow.  In a last minute effort to reduce the grass seed being viable, I removed the cattle and took the mower down to the paddock and slashed the remaining stalks.  I am not sure if I have managed to cut the heads before the seed is viable, but it may allow the sheep to move back in and graze the stubble in the lead up to the end of the year.

I hope that grazing and slashing the paddock will significantly reduce the prevalence of barley grass over the next couple of years.  I will need to heavily graze the paddock in late winter and spring before the seed heads form. The cattle and sheep will form am integral part of this process, and it is exciting to be using the livestock as a tool to improve the pastures on the Rock Farm.

We are now at the end of the grass growing season.  Whilst is rain forecast this week, it will do little to increase our feed for the stock.  What it may do is replenish some water in our dam, which is looking very low.  We are investigating options for stock feed and agistment, and will update you soon on where we are at with this.

In the meantime, we will keep our fingers crossed.  At this time, we will take any rain we can get!