Isolation on the Rock Farm

Along with the rest of the Australia, we are in virtual lock-down on the Rock Farm.  I was hoping that it would mean we could all spend some time working on the farm, but sadly the not-so-little helpers are now fully entrenched in online learning, and are expected to be online during school hours.  It is testing not only our wireless internet capacity, but also our patience as there seems to be far more video chats going on than school work!

That said, we get a bonus hour in the morning and in the afternoon together that we wouldn’t normally get – and the cancellation of sport means we are able to spend our evenings going for walks around the farm.  It has been a wonderful opportunity for our family to reconnect, check on our elderly friends in our community, and support our local businesses as best as we can.  Our small rural community has really banded together, and our faith in humanity remains strong.

We are extremely aware how fortunate we are on the Rock Farm.  My last post was on the transformation after our first decent rain in a very long time.  It would appear that just as rust on steel ships never sleeps, weeds don’t sleep either. Among our clover and cocksfoot grass, we also have a large number of weeds competing for sunlight and moisture.

I brought the mower out of retirement and started slashing the worst of the weeds in a couple of the small paddocks with the hope of giving the existing grass a chance to compete and stop the weeds setting seed. The calves were most amused, however I was frustrated.  The mower was doing a terrible job.  It was only after checking out the deck that I realised how bad the blades were, and even worse, the centre guide was completely mangled and bent out of shape.

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Thankfully the fix was relatively simple – brute force and a bit of work with the welder had the guide back into place.  Some work with the grinder on the blades (including balancing on a screwdriver) and the blades were pressed back into service for another season.  The end result was a much cleaner cut – nice to have a win.

Unfortunately slashing weeds only does so much.  I have spent a fair few hours over the past few days with the chipper cutting out thistles, or the knapsack spot spraying sweet briar.  I have managed to convince Jo to help me with the cause, but for now the boys have always seemed to be busy with urgent homework….

It is good exercise – and on glorious autumn days, it is hardly a chore.  Especially when so many people are stuck inside.  It is pretty easy for me to clock up 25 000 steps or more during the day at the moment.

One good thing about walking around the place is you get a really good understanding of where moisture sits and changes the grasses that grow.  It is also readily apparent how much of a difference my rip lines have made on the slopes.

It is a really good indication that the rip lines along the contour are beneficial to the soil moisture levels and are increasing the ground-cover locally.  We are aiming for one hundred percent ground cover, one hundred percent of the time.  And I think the rip lines will help us achieve it.  Wandering around and seeing the results inspired me to make the most of the softer soil and continue the procedure.

The back paddock is the poorest of our property – similar to the original Rock Farm with Ordovician Shale as its bedrock.  Whilst the paddock has magnificent views, the result is slopes that cause moisture and nutrients to wash away.  I spent a few hours after night shifts ripping along the contours – and I can’t wait for it to rain and start making a difference.

This paddock has far too much bare soil and native tussocks, with patches of clover growing where moisture settles.  The observant of you will also have noticed plenty of scattered serrated tussock.  I hope that by increasing the soil moisture, I will increase the ground cover and protect the remaining soil.  The serrated tussock is next on the hit list.

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On the domestic front, the grass continues to grow in the garden as well.  The last thing I want to do after managing the paddocks is work on the grass in the garden.  It is a good thing I have recruited a couple of friends to work on that – and if you look closely you might see they have recruited a couple of chooks to help them out.

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There might be better places to be stuck in isolation – but this one will suit me just fine…

Rock Farm Transformed

Since our massive fall of rain late in February, the Rock Farm has been undergoing a transformation.  Aided by another 60mm of rain a fortnight later and a further 13mm a week after that, the grass (and weeds) are growing furiously.

The transformation off the farm is incredible also.  People in our local village are upbeat, the threat of bushfires has eased, water tanks are full and gardens are a delight in colour.

On the farm, things have been busy.  The early weaning of the calves is going well.  They are getting two feeds of pellets a day – and are continuing to grow.  With recent sale prices topping over 400 cents a kilogram, it is economic to continue feeding them for the time being.  The only problem with feeding them regularly is that they are becoming part of the family….

The cows are also doing well.  I continued feeding them for a week or so after the first rainfall, in order to give the grass a chance to recover.  We have been rotating them through the paddocks giving them a chance to quickly graze the new grass and move on before it slows the grass recovery.  The strategy seems to have paid off, because the pasture is responding well.  As a bonus, this afternoon was the first time I had gone to move the cows, and they weren’t hungry enough to be interested in shifting!  Great to see them with full stomachs again!

It is such a glorious time of year, and we are enjoying talking walks around the place.  The weeds might be thriving as well as the grass at the moment, but we will start to manage them soon.  In the meantime, it is great to see life when previously the ground was dry and barren.

But with the growth comes new jobs.  Soft ground has seen trees fall – requiring clearing of fences.  I have spent a couple of days with the chainsaw tidying up trees and branches that have fallen, followed by re-tensioning fences and fixing broken wires.  It is quite pleasant working outside in the autumn weather.

The one job I dislike though is mowing the lawn…  Over summer, I had given the ride-on mower a service in the hope it might one day be used again, and even serviced the old push mower, installing a new throttle cable and wheels.  I waited for a while before finally admitting that the grass did need cutting – and the need might have been hastened by the presence of a brown snake in the vegetable garden…

So I borrowed the neighbour’s horse, King.  Funnily enough he got right on the job – and after a little altercation with Jo when he was distracted by the chook food, he did a magnificent job!

In the meantime, we join the world in watching the developments regarding the spread of Covid-19.  Living out of town, with a creek that potentially cuts our access, we have always maintained a reasonable supply of food in our pantry, and medical supplies.   We are extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful place to hold up for a couple of weeks if required.  Stay safe please people – and wash your hands!

An inspirational story – Trees & Regenerative Agriculture

With the glorious sound of rain falling on our roof, it is extremely pleasant to take refuge inside with a steaming mug of happiness.  Well, after feeding the calves and repairing the tractor…. and buying some more bags of feed for the calves…. and making sure the tank inlets are clear of debris to ensure every drop is making its way into our tanks.

As I write, we have 13mm of steady beautiful rain in the gauge – just perfect timing after our big fall a fortnight ago.  All the established grass responded to the last fall and has been growing well, but the clover and other grass that germinated was just about to curl up and die.  This might be enough to get some good feed on the ground before it gets too cold to grow.

A day inside is never wasted, it is a wonderful opportunity to delve back into the books and online to find stories that inspire and motivate.  It is even better when one of those stories is about an old school mate, Michael.

I hope you have 12 minutes or so to enjoy the story of Taylor’s Run and how trees have not only made their property more beautiful and diverse, but profitable, especially in this drought.  I am exceptionally lucky to count this fella as a mate, and look forward to dropping in to check out what his family is achieving on our next drive through the New England.