Problem Solving….

One of the things I love about living on the Rock Farm is the challenges that it throws my way. I find myself one minute learning about the life-cycle of earth worms, and the next researching how to change impellers on pumps, or learning about resistance in electrical circuits. I know that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most people prefer to live in houses where everything just works. And just for a moment last week, I was one of them.

In my last post, I revealed that we were pleased to be seeing progress on the Rock Farm. I should have known better than to brag…..

The first thing to break was the lawn mower. A particularly tough tussock caused the drive belt to slip and then before I could disengage the deck, the belt snapped.

The repair was simple. I ordered a new belt online and it was delivered three days later. Unfortunately I selected the wrong belt (there are two belts in these zero turn mowers). After realising this error, I decided to drop in and pick up a new belt from the local dealer. The dealer had none in stock. Two weeks and a couple of phone calls later I am still waiting for the belt to arrive….

The next thing to go awry was the ute. Having only just replaced the engine at great expense, I was alarmed when the glow-plug light started flashing, indicating a potential problem with the exhaust system. A quick check of the OBDII code had me terrified that the DPF (diesel particulate filter) had failed.

Thankfully I had a more advanced diagnostic tool and it revealed that one of the exhaust gas temperature sensors was malfunctioning. After unplugging all the sensors and putting them back one at a time, I was able to confirm which sensor was throwing the fault. YouTube helped me diagnose that the sensor was working correctly (resistance within the correct range) and the voltage at the other end of the plug was also correct. I ended up making a little harness to bridge the plug – and everything seemed to work – for a while.

It took me several frustrating attempts to determine that the sensor was reading the correct resistance only when the engine was cold. At some point it was failing when it warmed up. Don’t ask how many times I tested the resistance, until I worked that out. Once I was comfortable that the sensor was indeed stuffed, I then had the challenge of removing it. I needed midget hands, octopus arms, the strength of a gorilla and some helpful advice from the neighbour (and his useful universal joint driver) to get the old one out. A bit of work with the angle grinder on a 17mm ring spanner and I had the perfect tool to install a new OEM sensor, that was delivered in three days. A win!

Just as I thought I was on top of things, I came home from a long day at work to be greeted by my wonderful family with two new crisis. The first was that our refrigerator had turned into a cupboard and wasn’t cooling anything. The second was the toilets weren’t flushing.

The refrigerator was frustrating. It had only been back for just on a month after three week stay at the repair shop for the same fault. It didn’t take long for the helpers and I to load it in the horse-float to take back to the repairers for a warranty claim. That done, it was time to focus on the water.

No water in the toilets is an inconvenience in the house. The toilets are flushed with dam water, so the work-around is to flush the toilets with buckets of potable water from the laundry sink. The larger problem was the dam water also supplies all the water troughs.

And the Cattle were in a paddock watered by a trough.

It was bitterly cold and well after our bed time when Jo and I went down with Sapphire to move the cattle to a paddock with a dam. The cattle were super excited to see us. After 20 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to move them, both Jo and I were getting frustrated with the cattle, the dog and each other. It is moments like these when you question why we aren’t living in a shiny modern townhouse where everything just works.

It was time to call it, but I thought I would have a better chance on my own. Jo was grateful to be released back to the warm bliss of the house. Sapphire would have loved to stayed, but was being less than helpful, and was ordered back to the house too. After one more lap around the paddock with the cattle I shone the torch at the open gate. The girls looked at me, looked at the gate and happily trotted through the gate and waited for me to show them the next open gate. 10 minutes later I was closing the gate on their new paddock…

The immediate problem was averted, but the solution hasn’t yet been found.

Our rural plumbing arrangement has been an amazing exercise in patience. Close to 50 years of frosts, cars, cattle and horses seem to have made the pipes brittle and the joints liable to leak. The only problem this time was there was no leak. In fact with the pump running, we had no water in the system at all. The pump seemed unable to raise the water as far as the first tap in the line.

My first thought was that we had a blockage at the foot valve in the dam. Some chilly moments near the water’s edge revealed that whilst it was a little crusty, the foot valve seemed to be working as it should.

A bit of work following pipes has been interesting. Taps we thought were on the main line from the pump are actually on spur lines. One thing is for sure, I am getting a much better understanding of what lies under the ground the longer I live here! Unfortunately there is nothing here to suggest a blockage, so I am back to square one.

Google reckons that I need to check the intake and venturi, which I have done. The next item is the impeller could be worn. After goodness knows how many years of pumping dirty dam water, this is a distinct possibility. Thankfully Google also found a supplier of parts for our old Davey pump, and I eagerly await their arrival to see if my prognosis is correct.

All in all it has been a frustrating week or so. I have a broken mower, broken refrigerator and no farm water. On the plus side, I did get the ute back on the road after learning about how temperature sensors work.

But would I trade it for a shiny house in the city with all the modern conveniences? Not on your life.

Winter paddock rotations

On the Rock Farm we are continuing our rotation of cattle to fresh pastures, using the regenerative principles of Allan Savory. The cattle manage a pretty good job of eating the grass and a lot of the leafy weeds however they aren’t so keen on the woody weeds or thistles. After I rotate them out of their paddock, it is often worth slashing the remaining weeds, and then following up with the hand chipper a few days later.

The old tractor and mulcher make short work of the weeds and it doesn’t take long for the paddock to look like a lawn. The mulcher also breaks up dry cowpats and leaves the clippings to mulch back into the soil. Using this process I hope to slowly increase soil microbial activity, and encourage productive grasses to out-compete weeds. This technique has been effective against thistles so far, and whilst there are still plenty of weeds in the paddock, I am loathe to use chemicals to control them.

The shot above compares the freshly mulched paddock with the paddock the cattle were in previously, only a couple of weeks ago. The previously grazed paddock is recovering quickly, with healthy patches of barely grass, cocksfoot and clover growing despite the cool weather.

One of the great pleasures this rotation brings is the antics of the cows when you invite them to a new paddock. They carry on like newborn calves – despite their own ever increasing bellies! I love it.

The girls settled quickly into their new paddock – however I needed to duck down and make a small repair to their water trough. The cows not only came over to check out my work, they also gave poor Sapphire the border collie cross a fright. She didn’t know what to do when some gentle (but very big) brown faces came snorting through the window. She placed herself very much in the middle of the seat, as far away from the open windows as she could and kept a very close eye on the inquisitive bovines.

Winter is firewood harvest time. Our neighbours have a great stand of red-box regrowth that we had selectively thinned for firewood about 18 months ago. With that block being recently sold, we took the opportunity to collect the timber we had previously cut. The reason we selected young green branches and trees to harvest is that it encourages the remaining trees to grow large and straight. It ensures we aren’t removing habitat from the area, as most of the hollows required for nesting birds and reptiles are in the large old trees – like the brittle gum below. It also means the timber doesn’t need splitting either – a bonus. We have planted red-box trees on our property, and will be sure to harvest more seed from other red-box trees this year in order to re-establish a stand of these magnificent trees on one of our ridges.

In the meantime we have been slowly working through some of the piles of wire and steel that have been scattered around the Rock Farm. Over the past couple of years we have slowly rounded up dozens of 44 gallon drums, old gates, star pickets, and tyres. They have all been taken to our ‘resource centre’, and some of the steel being recycled at our local tip.

At times it seems like a never ending task, but every now and then we look back and see progress. Whilst it might not add to our little farm’s overall productivity, it does make the farm safer, and improves its appearance. It fits with our philosophy of trying to leave the land in better condition than how we found it.

The only problem is that my wife sees in every pile of scrap an opportunity.. Getting her to help me clean up the farm usually creates more projects than I finish, as her imagination transforms the items into wind-breaks, chook sheds, garden trellises and so on. And I must admit, that isn’t a bad thing 🙂