A new opportunity and a “Green Christmas”

In my last post I informed you that I had some exciting news. I was invited to join a group of local land owners (custodians) who, like me, are interested in regenerative agriculture. The aim of the group is to share knowledge and experience whilst also joining a community of people who have a desire to improve their land. None of us are full time farmers, which frees us from the constraint of having to make a living from our land, however does limit the time we can put into repairing the soils of our properties. The group was established by Cate, and our first gathering was generously hosted by Marty on his nearby property.

Marty brought his knowledge of natural sequence farming and showed us how he had been changing the hydrology of his property. At the highest points of his block, Marty had built shallow ponds, which he filled using water from a large dam lower in the property. The ponds allowed water to enter the soil and hydrate the land, with a solar pump and float switches keeping the ponds filled. As we walked downhill, we crossed swales that Marty had built along contours, slowing surface water and allowing it to enter the soil. Beside these Marty had planted banks of trees. At the bottom of the hill in old gullies, Marty had built leaky weirs, which slowed the water and again hydrated the landscape. Gorgeous Belted Galloway cattle grazed the paddocks in a rotational program. It was a wonderful afternoon and I look forward to sharing more ideas with the group into the future.

In such a wet year, the impact of our changes to the landscape are hard to tell. It is easy to convince ourselves that the fantastic condition of the landscape is the result of good management, allowing us to make the most of every drop of rain. It is really hard to know, with over 900mm falling on our farm this year (our average rainfall is closer to 650mm), the property looks fantastic. As we approached New Years Eve, the dryer weather has seen the grass turn to its typical golden summer hues, but it remains plentiful.

Over the past few years when the property was in drought, I spent several hours on the tractor putting rip lines in our paddocks along contours to assist in allowing rainfall to penetrate the subsoil. Once the soil settled, the rip lines could be easily seen as lines of green across the hills (see link: https://rockfarming.com/2019/11/02/update-on-trees-and-rip-lines/). This year, the whole hillsides are a mass of grass, and the rip lines have all but disappeared from view.

The quantity of grass is amazing, and the cattle have been unable to keep up with the growth. After the cattle have rotated out of the paddocks on our flats, I have slashed them to knock down any thistles. This also assists in breaking down the phalaris stalks (like a mulch). The paddocks have quickly recovered with the grass regrowing quickly.

The school holidays have also allowed me to make the most of some cheap available labour! Regular readers might recall in August we planted around eighty trees in an erosion gully (https://rockfarming.com/2021/08/31/more-trees-for-the-rock-farm/). A few weeks later, we planted another fifty or so in the same area. These school holidays we plan to fence around 1 hectare in this 5.5 hectare paddock to create a native vegetation habitat zone. This paddock has been off-limits to the cattle since we planted the trees, but I am fast approaching the time I need to rotate the cattle through here. With a bit of help from our neighbour’s augur, we soon had the seven strainer posts set in the ground. We will bang in the star pickets and run the wire in the next few weeks, allowing us to re-use the “tank paddock” again.

The cattle are in good condition – and revelling in the fact we are enjoying a “Green Christmas”. Our leased bull has returned to his home – after a brief excursion through two fences to our neighbour’s. That is a whole other story, along the lines of “little farms doesn’t always mean little problems”.

It has been a remarkable and challenging year for many of our friends. We consider ourselves so fortunate to live on our little hobby farm / sanctuary. Whilst it hasn’t all been easy on the Rock Farm, and at times it the list of projects feels a bit overwhelming, we do love it out here.

Sapphire and I would love to wish all of our readers best wishes for the New Year. We hope that 2022 is the year we can open up the Rock Farm to share it with you all.

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