Harvesting Phalaris

The contrast between this summer and last cannot be more stark. Our beautiful cows are in excellent condition, which is unusual when calves are at foot. I have modified my rotation through the paddocks in an attempt to keep the grass near the house as short as possible. This is to reduce the intensity of any grass fire that may approach our house when the grass goes off.

The good news is that I am able to use the opportunity to rest some paddocks completely. It has led to the phalaris grass setting seed for the first time in years. Phalaris is a drought tolerant perennial grass that is competitive against weeds and aids in control of erosion. Too much phalaris can cause staggers, however it works well in conjunction with companion planting of clover, ryegrass and fescue.

The good news is that harvesting the seed is relatively easy to do. Based on the advice of a local with years of experience, I rigged a couple of pieces of timber beside the tractor, with a tarpaulin loosely draped between them. By putting the front timber on the front end loader, I was able to adjust the height to below the seed heads. It was then a case of driving through the paddock and watching the seed accumulate in the tarpaulin.

It didn’t take long to fill four small buckets. It took almost as long to sift out the spiders, caterpillars and larger wild oat seeds, but I had a willing assistant – until he caught sight of a large spider disappearing up his sleeve! It was tedious work, but the chickens enjoyed the free feed!

In autumn, I hope to spread the seed amongst areas of unproductive wire grass. I will also spread some seed in areas of erosion or scalding that we have been managing thus far by spreading green waste. I have to be careful to manage the pasture to make sure the phalaris doesn’t dominate, however at this stage, any ground-cover is better than none.

It was also a good exercise to see how easy phalaris seed is to harvest and for that it was a complete success. I always enjoy trying new techniques on the Rock Farm, with a special thanks to Jimmy of Bushfield Farm for his advice. More information on phalaris as a pasture species can be found at the excellent NSW DPI website here: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/pastures-and-rangelands/species-varieties/phalaris

Slashing Weeds (or is that tyres?) – Changing a Tractor Tyre

With the prodigious and welcome explosion of grass this season, We have been running machines that have done very little work in the past few years. And for old machines, especially old tractors, the maintenance requirements are a little higher. I have had to replace pins, stabilising chains on the three point linkage, and a tube in one of the front tyres. But I had been watching the right rear tyre of our old tractor with increasing dread.

In my a recent post, I explained how we had been using an old mulching or flail mower behind the tractor to knock down Paterson Curse and other weeds. We had put new tyres on the mower this year, which has allowed me to manage the height the mower works at more precisely and reduce the load on the top pin.

I have also been using the mulcher to create firebreaks around the house. The grass is still green at the base, but with the heat of the last few weeks, it has browned off and stopped growing. By slashing it now, I hope to maintain a zone of safety around our house and shed for this year’s fire season.

I had been watching the right rear tyre closely for a while. It was probably original fit to the tractor, making it over 45 years old, and was in much poorer condition than the left rear, an obviously much newer tyre. The tyre in question had several tears along the lugs, including one that had opened up and had the tube protruding.

I decided to err on the side of caution, and relocate the tractor to the shed to remove the wheel before it punctured. The main reason for this is I find it much easier to work in the shade and on a concrete floor at my convenience rather than in the paddock on a terrible slope at the worst possible time.

I was concerned the tyre would be too heavy for me to move. As feared, it was filled with ballast water. Before I undid the wheel nuts, I removed the valve stem, and admired the jet stream of water pouring out of the tyre onto the shelves in my shed. Once the water was mostly drained out of it, I found I was able to roll the tyre about easily enough. The boy’s trailer came into its own, with a handy tail ramp that I could roll the tyre up and into the trailer.

Even better, the local tyre shop was able to source a new tyre – the same brand and size as the one on the left hand side. They refilled the tube with air, and explained to me how to ballast it with water. On their advice, I parked the tractor with the valve at 10 o’clock, supported the axle with the jack and removed the valve stem. I then clamped a hose to the valve and started filling with water. Every minute or so I removed the hose, to allow the pressure to release. Once the tyre was full to the mark with water, I replaced the valve stem, rotated the tyre so the valve was at 12 o’clock and topped it up with air.

A huge thank you to the team at Douglas Tyre Service who had the tractor back in service, slashing weeds and clearing fire breaks two days later.