Spring Update – It doesn’t always go to plan….

With the Bureau officially declaring another La-Nina year, we are looking forward to another wet year here on the Rock Farm. It means our tanks and dam will be full, the grass will grow, and we will be able to carry our cattle through to autumn. It also means another great year to establish trees and keep working on improving our natural capital.

Whilst this blog may be a little slow to get updates, it doesn’t mean we have been sitting idly on the Rock Farm. There have been lots of different activities keeping us busy. Some planned, some not planned, but all keeping us busy, fit and challenged.

Our beautiful cows, including the four maiden heifers all calved without any difficulty this year, giving us 16 gorgeous calves. With 10 heifers, 6 bull calves, we were thrilled with the result. The antics of the calves are constantly entertaining, and I am happy to admit I spend more time than I should with these creatures. They are naturally shy, but with their quiet mums watching by, their curiosity overcomes their fears, and we have been quite close to several of them.

Once all the calves were on the ground, we marked them. They all received a multi-spectrum 5-in1 vaccination, and we castrated the males (with rubber rings). The good news was that all the calves were polled, meaning we don’t have to de-horn any of them (which is a job I hate). The calves will get another booster vaccine in a few weeks to protect them from the common clostridial diseases found in cattle.  We also took the opportunity to audit the NLIS ear tags in each of the cows. This ensures that our records are accurate and up to date, should a biosecurity event such as Foot and Mouth disease enter Australia.

In other news we have continued our work dividing our paddocks into smaller cells. Taking the opportunity presented by creating a nature reserve in one paddock, we completed a small section of fence to divide the paddock into two smaller paddocks. This will help us better manage grazing in this area, continuing our Savory rotational grazing system.

We are continuing to plant trees on the Rock Farm. A friend kindly gave us 120 Cork Oak (Quercus Suber) seedlings. We have planted these in two main areas, to create wind breaks. These medium oaks are ever green, drought hardy and long lived. They are native to the Mediterranean area, and forests are carefully managed as these oaks provide the corks in wine bottles and the centre of cricket balls. We will use temporary electric fence to protect these seedlings in the short term before we build permanent tree guards. Huge thank you to Noel for his donation of these little beauties.

The sharp eyed among you would note in the background our Amarok ute has been replaced with white Hilux. Sadly our Amarok was written off after a particularly nasty pot hole cracked a suspension mount. Whilst our insurance company has been outstanding, they are finding it difficult to replace our ute. It was unexpected (I thought a suspension bush had failed) and whilst I am grateful for the loan of the Hilux with a tub body, it sure is a different set up to our old flat tray. I find it particularly awkward and impractical for our purposes and can’t wait for our replacement vehicle to get here.

It hasn’t been our year for mechanical devices on the Rock Farm. Our dear old Benz 911 truck Myrtle, suffered a catastrophic engine failure after I took it across our creek in deep water to retrieve the family from the other side. Whilst the air intake was above the water level, I hadn’t countered on the funnel effect which forced water up to the top of the radiator and into the top of the engine. The engine came to a complete stop. After dragging it out of the creek and to the shed with the tractor my worst fears were realised when I pulled the injectors and still couldn’t get the engine to turn over. This was of course no easy process, requiring the fabrication of two Benz ‘special tools’.

Whilst the OM352 engine fitted to Myrtle is common around the world, there aren’t many in Australia. There are a couple of turbo charged variants available (OM352A) but are expensive. I happened to mention my dilemma to our neighbour and he offered an engine from a spare truck at his place. It is an OM366 – which has the same block. It won’t be a straight swap – I will have to get creative – but the engine is far more affordable – and promises 60 extra horses! It might not make Myrtle any faster, but it might not slow down as much on hills! It hadn’t run in a few years, but after hooking up some new batteries, it fired up straight away – so is the path we are pursuing for now.

It means that any spare time I thought I had has been well and truly accounted for. I do love the challenges of the Rock Farm. From getting my hands dirty in the ground planting trees and chipping weeds, to working stock, to solving mechanical problems, it does stretch me. I might not love every minute of it all – but I wouldn’t swap it for the world…

Book Review: Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris

I suspect Edmund Morris never expected his little volume published in 1864 to remain in print and popular 150 years later.

On one read, it a delightful autobiographical account of how one family moved to the country and became financially secure. On the other, it is a well reasoned and explained approach to managing a small farm with diverse production whilst creating a healthy lifestyle, in an era before the use of chemicals.

Nothing better on a dreary winter night than to curl up in front of the fire… whilst my humans read books!

I see echoes of Morris’ approach to farming his ten acres in modern permaculture, regenerative agriculture and the homesteading movement. Indeed that is perhaps what makes it such an important work. Morris has inspired countless farmers over the years, who have found his account inspirational, and I see echoes of his work everywhere.

Morris opens the book by sharing with readers the reason he chose to leave city life, and also hints at the research he undertook prior to selling his business and purchasing ten acres in New York State. His wife and large family feature large in this account, especially their influence in the purchase of a milking cow, managing the vegetable garden and preservation of foods.

Morris carefully catalogues his expenses and income, including his initial outlay and capital expenditure. The location of the farm is important, as it needed to be near to a large city for a market for his produce. Morris’ farm, between Philadelphia and New York City also took advantage of the new railway, which meant he was able to deliver his fresh produce to consumers in under 24 hours.

What I found fascinating was how Morris was able to generate so much production on his small plot, with the land carefully tilled and vertically managed. His main production was an apricot orchid, but he also produced tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries and also ran a cow for fresh milk, some pigs and hens. Morris’ astute observation allowed him to recognise the importance of birds in management of weevils and other insect pests against the small losses to his orchids and other crops.

Here now were six acres of ground pretty well crowded up, at least on paper. But the strawberries would never grow higher than six inches, the raspberries would be kept down to three or four feet while the peaches would overtop all. Each would be certain to keep out of the other’s way. Then look at the succession. The strawberries would be in market first, the raspberries would follow, and then fthe peaches, for of the latter I had planted the earliest sorts, so that, unlike a farm devoted wholly to the raising of grain, which comes into market only once a year, I should have one cash-producing crop succeeding to another during most of the summer.

Morris and his large family obviously relished in the change of lifestyle to farming. However between the lines, his success is down to a lot of hard work. I am amazed at the physical labour required to create the profitable business of his farm, but that is through a 21st century lens full of labour saving innovations.

If you find the phraseology dated and difficult to follow, there are updated editions that have been edited to assist the reader in understanding the intent of the original work. I found the original text easy to follow, if a little quaint, but I think that adds to the charm of what is such a wonderful little book.

Morris’ work is especially relevant today as the movement back to chemical free farming methods continues to grow. It seems to me that we will not be learning new lessons in this process, rather we will be relearning old lessons. Morris gives a us a great resource for us to draw on. I can’t recommend it enough.