Autumn 2023 on the Rock Farm – with a pleasant visit!

There is nothing like the joy of listening to the rain gently falling on a tin roof. First and foremost it brings life to the pasture, allowing it to continue to grow. It creates an opportunity to catch up on machinery and equipment maintenance, and even housework. Which is why I am doing none of that. I have boiled the kettle and am sitting down with a steaming cuppa in front of the fire and have decided to provide an Autumn update 🙂 I am taking a leaf from Sam Vincent; “there are jobs that have to be done now, and there are those that don’t”.

Our weaner calves went to the sale yards at a recent special weaner sale. They weighed a healthy 255kg on average. Like all these things, timing is everything. Our price was around two thirds the price per kg we received last year. Friends who sent cattle in a month later were lucky to receive around half the price they received the year before. We were lucky as the further drop in prices would have negated any weight gains the cattle would have made by going in a month later.

Our cattle mentor John, has often equated the price of cattle to how many Sydney Morning Herald Newspapers the sale of an animal would purchase. By his reckoning, things are almost as bad in the cattle industry as they were during the 1974-1978 cattle slump when cattle were cheaper to slaughter on farm than send for processing ( Again I consider myself fortunate that I am using the cattle to improve the soil on the Rock Farm (whilst bringing me great joy), and I am not trying to support my family on the (meagre) income they provide.

The Rock Farm received some beautiful rain for our ‘autumn break’. This has transformed the pastures with lush green grass growing under the yellow stalks from summer. The cows have put on weight after weaning, which means they are in great shape heading into winter. I am carrying 20 cows with two replacement heifers, bring the number of cattle on the Rock Farm to 22. It is no large herd, but we will be watching them closely over winter and into spring to see if we can sustain those numbers. For now, Farming Forecaster is predicting pasture growth of around 30-40kg dry matter per hectare per day, which is fantastic. If a cow eats around 12kg dry matter per day, I am happy the pasture bank is being replenished faster than they are eating it, which will help us in the future.

Our little lambs are continuing to grow and I have just started handling them. They are quickly learning that a bucket means a nice treat, and I am able to gently push them to the gate where they are rewarded with some sheep nuts. It is important that I am able to move them safely around the farm. The Rock Farm is mostly fenced with plain wire, meaning the sheep will almost have free reign should they get out of their current paddock and I want to be able to move them should the need arise.

Of course there is always something else to do on and off the Rock Farm. I did finally get the opportunity to attend a chainsaw course with the RFS (Clear Felled Timber). I have been trying to get on this course for years, and finally this year the stars and moons all aligned. It was in a word fantastic. The instructors all had a wealth of experience they willingly shared, with an emphasis on professional attitude and safety. It is not often that people fail RFS courses, but we had several students who didn’t make it through. It is also a course that I am sure has potentially saved lives – including mine. Several bad habits were picked up, and now I am much more aware of my use of a chain saw.

Other little jobs have kept me busy such as moving rocks out of the garden (despite many attempts using the lawnmower to grind them to a lower level), and collecting firewood. It has its own beauty working outside in the cool of autumn.

In the middle of it all we had a lovely visit from the two people who inadvertently sowed the seed for my own dream of what became the Rock Farm – my parents. My mum gave me my love of horses, and my dad gave me my love of cattle. We had a wonderful few days catching up with old friends in the district, feeding apples to the cows and sharing cuppas in front of the fire (concession for the North Queenslanders).

As we head into winter, it is a good time to pause and take stock on where we are at on the Rock Farm. I am becoming more attuned to the rhythms of the land and livestock. I am paying more attention to the birds and what they are feeding on. As I write, half a dozen eastern rosellas and a couple of crimson rosellas are picking at our lawn seeking. The burden of looking after the RockFarm is a responsibility that I find rejuvenates my soul. And it is good.


Fence and Strainer Repair on the Rock Farm

With the weaners gone, it has been time to spend some time repairing fences and getting the farm ready for winter. One of the constant jobs is maintaining and repairing fences. If you build a fence with quality steel and wire, you can expect it to provide around 50 years of service. Most of the fences on the Rock Farm are approaching that age, meaning I have a constant list of broken wires and stays to repair. The cattle don’t help, as they tend to lean on the fences to find the best green pick, but my wires are also broken by kangaroos and wombats as they move through the Rock Farm, and branches as they fall from trees that border my paddocks.

Whilst straining wires is something that can be done year round, our steel stays can only be safely repaired after the end of the bush fire danger season as it necessitates use of the welder. I do not want to be ‘that person’ who starts a bushfire in our neighbourhood. But like all jobs on my list, it stays there until the conditions are right and my excuses are low.

With everything aligned, I recently took time to commence repairing some broken stays on the Rock Farm. I loaded the ute with the normal fencing gear, and also the generator, welder and a chain block. The reason for the block should become clear from the pictures below.

The block helped me pull the strainer posts back into position, allowing me to re-weld the broken stays into position. The block allowed me to make fine adjustments to the tension, meaning the stays could sit snugly in position prior to welding fast. The straightened posts allowed the gates to swing and close properly, and also had the added bonus of effectively re-tensioning most of the wires in the fence. This made the fences taught and smart again, making the job doubly satisfying and a little quicker than I had hoped.

What worked against me as I started moving around the Rock Farm was the number of stays that were broken. The two or three I thought I had, turned into five or six very quickly on closer inspection. And not all were conveniently placed across gate ways. On a couple of occasions, the ute or a nearby tree became the anchor to pull the posts back into position.

My little old stick welder proved up to the task, but my welding reminded me of the old Navy adage…. If you can’t tie knots, tie lots. My welding was definitely a case of function over form – but I hope that with a touch of paint my welds should hold for the foreseeable future.

What I really enjoyed though was the opportunity to spend a couple of days outside on the Rock Farm. I love working outside (most of the time – there are occasions when the weather can make life outside thoroughly miserable). It is rewarding when you do something that has purpose, and you can see the results of your work. The Rock Farm is now just a little bit smarter and I have one less thing to do on my job list.

Life is good.

Weaning on the Rock Farm – 2023

Weaning is a bittersweet time on the Rock Farm. It means winter is coming, and it is time to reduce the number of mouths feeding on our pastures. Without the capacity to keep our young cattle until they are finished for slaughter, it means we are at the mercy of the market when it comes to selling them.

The first stage was to separate the calves from their mothers. This was quickly achieved, and the cows were put in the lane adjoining the yards. This seems to cause the least stress as the cows can go and feed, but come back and check on their calves frequently. We kept one cow in with the young calves to provide some guidance, especially when moving the calves. She had lost her calf to a possible snake bite a couple of months earlier.

The calves quickly settled into their new routine, and the cows also seemed to appreciate a little less demand on their nutrition. After a week or so, I moved the cows to the opposite end of the Rock Farm, and let the calves into a holding paddock behind the yards. To educate the calves, I moved them back into the yards daily with the help of our faithful wanna-be cattle dog Sapphire. It proved to be excellent education for both Sapphire and the calves. After a week or so, the calves would see me arrive with Sapphire and just about trot straight into the yards… although there were exceptions to this rule.

After five weeks, we sent the weaners into the local sale yards where they weighed an average of 255kg. And this is the bit that is hardest. After raising these cattle with care and compassion, we have lost all control of their destiny with the exception of two heifers which returned to our herd. They may return to someone’s paddock for a period of time before being finished in a feedlot, I really don’t know. As a small producer, it is really hard to make a market for small scale, ethically raised grass fed animals. And it is especially difficult when most people are struggling with the cost of living. There are a few options emerging, but in the short term, we rely on the local sale yards. The good news is the cattle sold, and whilst prices were better than the weaner sale the previous month, they were still well down on the prices we received last year.

On the other hand, the cattle continue to help me improve the health of the soil on the Rock Farm. I recently trialled some bale feeding on one of our slopes (read about it here) . After resting the paddock for around a month (and some welcome rain), there is a ring of green grass where the cattle trampled heaviest. I will likely resume feeding the cows sometime in winter and will continue this way of feeding the cows, as it seems to be an effective way of returning nutrient to the soil.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole process however was perhaps my offer to collect a “wheelbarrow” of manure for the vegetable garden. The weaners had left concentrated manure/straw in the yards where they had spent a lot of time over the past month. After 45 minutes or so of concentrated effort, I had filled our black falcon “wheelbarrow”. Another half an hour and the manure mix was spread in the vegetable garden. It should be great for our winter vegetable crop!

One day I will keep a steer for us to finish. I haven’t finished a steer before, but it is something I intend to do. It is one of my goals to provide grassfed beef for our family (it is hard with such a great butcher nearby who delivers top quality meat to our kitchen table). Sheep are another story, and we recently bought four wether lambs from a neighbour. These are currently enjoying roaming in a paddock that is fully fenced for sheep. It has been a long time since we have had sheep on the Rock Farm, and I am enjoying having them back.

Book Review: Heartwood by Rowan Reid

Regular readers will know that I love trees. On the Rock Farm we have planted trees for bio-diversity, stock shelter and visual amenity. The Rock Farm also has an amazing history, with ancient eucalypts that I am confident pre-date modern settlement, giant Elm trees from early settlers, and 50 year old tree shelter belts that define some of our paddocks. It is an eclectic mix of trees, of various ages, native and exotic species with different purposes and they all bring their own story and value to the Rock Farm.

Jo and I have talked about removing all stock from the Rock Farm, and creating a plantation of trees. Our harsh climate, irregular rainfall and topography mean we will never grow commercial grain crops on the Rock Farm. But we can grow grass and we can grow trees. Near neighbours have plantations of radiata pine and other neighbours have planted thousands of native trees under forestry conditions. Some plantations are for production, meaning at some time in the future the trees will be harvested. Other plantations aim for conservation, where trees are to be saved. And it has always seemed to me that each approach is mutually exclusive of the other.

This dichotomy has always puzzled me, and many people have taken opposite sides in the production versus conservation debate. Sadly the entrenched sides have often confronted each other with violence, neither side open to seeking an alternative model that meets both their needs.

Rowan Reid has also puzzled over this dichotomy. A forest scientist, his book presents a third way of growing trees. Trees that can be for conservation and for profit. And his story is not based on some theoretical analysis, it is based on his own lived experience on his farm Bambra in the Otway Ranges. His story is fascinating.

I must admit I was a little intimidated by Heartwood when I opened my Christmas present from my wife. At first glance, I thought this would be a technical Silviculture text book with each chapter on how to grow a different species of plantation timber. It is not. Reid winds a thoughtful, indeed beautiful easy to read narrative through each chapter. It is as much an autobiography as it is a journey into the language of trees and timber.

What Reid shows in this book is that there is a place for “new forests that are not primarily commercial but make good business sense,. They don’t look like conservation, yet improve diversity and reduce land degradation., They are not compromises…. They are elegant solutions, appropriate for each owner, their place and the time, which provide a balance of conservation, aesthetics and profit.

Each chapter investigates a particular species. Reid doesn’t just examine the living tree and its characteristics, such as its ability to stabilise eroded slopes or gullies, or provide winter fodder for stock. Reid also takes the reader into some of the techniques to grow straight tall trees, how to prune the branches and then into the mills, the market and in many cases through to the end user. We see examples of furniture and panelling made from timber that Reid planted at Bambra after he purchased the property in 1987, since grown, harvested, milled and then sold..

The end of each chapter explains the scientific or forestry terms used in the preceding chapter. We are gently introduced to terms such as Geotropic or Phototropic, meaning does a tree grow against gravity or does it direct its growth towards sunlight. Also milling terms such as quartersawn timber or backsawn timber and what this means for shrinkage and expected twisting or warping on boards. You don’t need to delve into these couple of pages if you don’t want to – but they have increased my vocabulary and has allowed me to have confidence that if we are to trial an agroforestry or silviculture paddock, we should be able to produce timber of real value.

Reid reminds us that sixty percent of the Australian landmass is managed by farmers. The primary reason we have lost so many native species in recent times, and have declining soil and water health is not logging for timber but clearing for agriculture. Reid saw an opportunity to develop his blend of agroforestry and decided his calling was to be a forester among farmers. As such, Reid opens his farm to visitors and has established a “Master Tree Grower’s Course”.

Many commercial foresters say my example is too complicated, too expensive and lacking the efficiencies of scale and uniformity that they strive for in their own plantation models. Many of those working in the conservation sector view any form of timber harvesting from Landcare plantings as an anathema and my attempts to mix the two, abhorrent. But the farmers who visit, it’s just common-sense to manage waterways on farms for both conservation and profit.


One of the local farmers who gets it is John, who runs Woodvale near Yass. His enterprise is based on a sheep and forestry operation. I met John several years ago – he introduced us to Wiltipoll Sheep and commenced our journey down the regenerative agriculture path. I joined our local regenerative land managers network a couple of weeks ago to revisit John’s place and look more closely at his forestry operation – planted on the ridges around his property. It can be done – and done locally. John’s trees are now 25 years old, and are looking magnificent, You can follow Woodvale’s story here:

Reid is justifiably proud of his trees, which he sees as a gift to future generations. Whilst many of the trees he has planted have been harvested and many more will be harvested in his own lifetime, there are also those slower growing trees such as Black Walnut that won’t. “The reward I seek – what motivates me – is how our children’s children might think of the person who planted them“. I would argue that perhaps Reid’s greatest legacy is the seed he has planted in the minds of thousands of farmers around the world, who in turn have planted millions of trees. This is a great book for anyone who owns some land and wants a balanced outcome that both improves the soil and water quality, that also makes a return on the initial investment whilst allowing for livestock production.

The best part is you can meet Rowan and tour his magnificent property Bambra during a 2.5 hour ‘lecture in the paddock’. It is going to be on my calendar as soon as I can make it. More information and dates can be found here:

Decision Making on the Rock Farm – and a handy tool

One of the most challenging elements of farming – even on a small hobby farm like ours – is decision making. Decisions range in complexity and scope, the outcomes are not always known, and mistakes are a given. The self-help section of any bookstore is full of books that purport to make you a better manager / leader / thinker… but ultimately many are simply helping you become a better decision maker.

Allan Savory developed holistic grazing management. My basic understanding of holistic management is that it is about making decisions. Broadly you need to properly identify the problem. Start taking action towards addressing your intended outcome and then monitor your feedback loops closely to ensure you’re on track. Savory’s holistic principles can be applied to all kinds of decisions. The principles holistic management help guide our decisions on the Rock Farm.

As custodians of the Rock Farm, our aim is to leave the soil of our property in better health than when we arrived. One of the tools we use to do this is our cattle. Our cattle are used to help control our weeds and undesirable grasses, process grass and turn it into fertiliser to feed the microbes in the soil. The past three years of wet years have given us plenty of flexibility, and have been very forgiving if we have made a mistake – especially with our stocking rate. When it is dry – it is critical that we keep making decisions for the health of our soil – and by default our cattle.

So when the long range forecast is for a dry autumn, I knew it was time to have a good look at the tools available to helps us plan our decisions for winter.

One of the tools I find really useful is Farming Forecaster ( It collates 30 years of past soil moisture and helps predict the pasture growth over the next three months. It is really useful for someone like me who doesn’t have a lifetime of accumulated knowledge on seasonal variation on our farm. Below are some screenshots of a nearby soil mositure probe. In reality there are about three probes in our region I look at to help me make a decision on how much pasture I will expect to grow in the next three months.

From the graphs and the long range forecast, we decided we will reduce our stocking pressure this winter. We will make our final decision on numbers based on the pasture growth we will see by 1st of April. This is the logical step of course. The decision process becomes really hard when it comes to deciding which cattle we will sell, especially knowing that we lose all control of their destiny once they are on the truck to the sale yards.

In order to set the calves up for weaning, and to allow other paddocks a longer time to rest before we rotate through the paddocks again, we decided to put some hay out for the cattle. I now know this as a form of bale grazing. Bale grazing is a method of feeding, where hay is fed to stock on the paddock it was cut rather than in a feedlot, thereby keeping nutrients in the system.

We don’t cut hay – and I have long felt that I would rather import fodder (and its nutrient) instead of fertiliser. The cattle and their rumen are the ideal first stage processers to turn fodder into fertiliser for our soil.

We put the bale feeder near the top of a hill, on a patch of wiregrass. Wiregrass is a native grass of little nutritional value – however it is particularly nasty to sheep with seed heads working through the wool and into the skin of the animals. Wiregrass doesn’t like fertile soil, so I hope to improve the soil here and allow other grasses such as microlaena (another native grass) a better chance to grow.

By putting the bale feeder high in the farm, any nutrient that does wash down the hill, remains on the farm and will help feed the soil in the lower slopes.

The other advantage in putting out a couple of bales of hay prior to weaning is that it also will make it less stressful for the calves as they will be comfortable eating hay, and familiar with the feeder. Weaning is always a hard time on the Rock Farm – but it is important. It allows the cows an opportunity to put on some weight before winter. It also familiarises the calves with being handled in yards, being fed and moved around. We will sell our steers and some of our heifers, and this training will help make our cattle quiet and safe for their future owners.

It is always hard selling our cattle, but it is one of the many decisions we have to make in the interests of our soil and farm enterprise. It is part of the responsibility of owning livestock and is inseparable from owning the farm, I generally love it, but it can at times feel overwhelming. As one of the LLS Directors reminded me a few years ago during the height of the last drought. We were talking about some high profile animal welfare cases (with starving stock) in the district. He said it was a mental health issue that led to an animal welfare issue. His words stuck with me, and reminded me how important it is to look after ourselves first, so we are fit and able to make decisions in the best interests of our stock.

If you or someone you care about feels overwhelmed and isn’t making decisions, there are many support options available. The National Centre for Farmer Health is a great place to start:

Converting an OM366 to OM352 – or saving Myrtle from becoming an ornament.,

One of the things I enjoy about living on the Rock Farm is the range of problems I come across. From animal welfare and soil management, to rural plumbing and fencing repairs, I love the process of learning new skills. Regular readers will know, last August, I drowned the engine of our old LA911 Benz, Myrtle, attempting to cross our creek. With pride bent along with the conrods, I was in need of a new engine for our red ;drawbridge’. One of our neighbours collects old trucks and offered to sell me an engine out of a similar truck, a Benz 1217 Tipper.

An initial check seemed promising, however after consulting the Mercedes Kurzhauber (short bonnet) Facebook group I realised I had incorrectly identified the donor engine as a turbo charged version of the the OM352. It wasn’t. It was an OM366 – a much modified variant that shared little with my engine except the block. Perhaps with the ignorance caused through auto-translate from German Engineers active on the Facebook group, I figured that it shouldn’t be too hard to make the engine fit. After all I had nothing to lose.

I should have done more research…. but then if I had I might not have proceeded. The German Engineers were wise with their words of caution.

For the next five months I had three new items on my to do list:

  • Remove Engine from Myrtle (Our LA911)
  • Remove Engine from Donor (The 1217)
  • Install Engine into Myrtle.

It wasn’t until I had completed the first two items on my list and placed the two engines side by side that I had some idea of the challenge ahead of me. The engines looked entirely different. There should have been one more item on the list – something along the lines of reconfiguring the new engine to look like the old one.

I took a deep breath and started at the front of the first engine. I thought it would be simple to swap the fans over – the most obvious difference…. but first I needed to change the water pumps…. and then the water jackets didn’t line up – and so off came the turbo and the other plumbing from the new engine. Eventually we got one side of the engine looking close – and then it was time to pull off the bellhousing / clutch at the back of the engine. This again was challenging on the old engine as I couldn’t turn it over. This meant I couldn’t reach all the bolts holding the clutch plate to the flywheel. After modifying some tools with a grinder, and some help from a smaller handed wife, this challenge was eventually overcome.

And so on and so on. Every time I thought I had sorted one problem, another five were created. Swapping the sump turned into a full day job with the cascading series of other little things that also needed to change. Literally everything short of the block and cylinder head was swapped over from one engine to the other. My dreams of gaining some extra horsepower were whittled away as the new engine was reconfigured almost exactly as per the original engine.

Eventually we had swapped nearly every thing over. My biggest fear was that I didn’t get the timing of the fuel pump correct, or that I had put the clutch plate in back to front (of course I reused the old one).

I also found it extremely difficult to manoeuvre the engine to align with the gearbox, no matter what tricks I tried. Eventually I opted for a different approach and disconnected the prop shaft and slid the gearbox back. After bolting the engine in position, I was able to (with the help of all the family) push the gearbox up and bolt it to the bell-housing. It was no small feeling of joy when at last everything was bolted together. But would it start.

There was only one way to see….

To say I was relieved when the new engine spluttered to life would be an understatement! And thankfully it seemed the clutch and gearbox was all aligned correctly too.

The truck was pressed straight back into service – moving old roofs of iron sheeting to make new compost bins. And the not-so-little welder was commissioned to make a feature out of the donor engine’s fan. He did a great job fashioning a windmill out of some scrap steel.

With the truck back in working order, I was able to get back to the other things I love doing on the Rock Farm. Hanging with my bovine friends, and installing new gates to facilitate my ongoing paddock rotation. I hope I don’t have to take on a mechanical challenge of that order again, but it was a good exercise in working through a problem and I am thrilled to have a working truck again on the Rock Farm.

Book Review – My Father and Other Animals by Sam Vincent

Over the summer, I had the great pleasure of reading Sam Vincent’s heart-warming memoir, My Father and Other Animals: How I took on the Family Farm. Sam, a twenty something millennial returned to the family farm to help his father who was becoming increasingly accident prone. Part apprenticeship, part journey, part discovery, Sam’s account of his time learning the rhythm of the farm is touching, hilarious and brutally honest. Of course I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed taking some time out of the heat of the day to turn some pages before nodding off!

Sam Vincent
For any reader desiring to understand contemporary rural Australia, his entertaining and important book is a must-read. CHARLES MASSY

Sam might have grown up on the farm Gollion, and his memories as a child recall a magical place with dams to swim in, trees to climb and gullies to explore. Returning as an adult, it is an entirely different proposition. Sam shares his apprenticeship building fences, managing livestock and growing fruit through the eyes of a total newbie. Sam relates how we gains a deeper connection to not only the farm but also his father,

Sam’s journey is far more than a book about his relationship with his father. Sam shares many of the challenges facing contemporary farming in Australia, especially the responsibility that a custodian bears. He shares some of his philosophies gleaned form his holistic management courses developed by Allan Savory, lessons from Peter Andrew’s Natural Sequence Farming and some of the ethical and moral issues facing small farmers like us in finding markets for respectfully grown and cared for livestock in a mechanised feedlot based industry. Many of these stories are shared through humourous anecdotes with his father as the unwitting star,.

Through our local Regenerative Land Managers Network and nearby Landcare group, not only did I have the opportunity to meet Sam, but also get a tour of his beautiful property Gollion late last year. Gollion is kind-of-famous in a way regenerative agriculturalists will understand. Charles Massey visited Gollion in 2016 after receiving an invitation from Sam’s father to address their local Landcare Group. Touring Gollion, Massey was impressed with a gully filled with rock that had formed a leaky weir. In the reeds growing in the pool of now-permanent water, Massey heard the call of a Reed Warbler bird, not seen (or heard) in the area for 130 years. Inspired, Massey concluded that the reed warbler could only be a talisman of a watercourse and landscape function on the path to regeneration – and named his seminal work “Call of the Reed Warbler” after this experience. I reviewed Massey’s amazing work last year:

I connected with Sam’s book on so many levels. I felt many parallels with Sam’s experience growing up on Gollion as I felt growing up on Saltersgate, a small farm owned by my parents. Sam articulates many of the feelings I felt about the farm, however he is able to share them with a gentle humour that I cannot hope to posses. My father with his cattle and sheep, and my mother with her horses were inadvertently the main influence on my journey that led me to the Rock Farm after a career forged at sea. Sam’s is a beautiful story, and I loved every page.

My Father and Other Animals has helped me reconsider how I encourage my boy’s to interact with the Rock Farm. Sam reminds me that the Rock Farm is not their dream, it is mine. Secretly I am happy my boys have already lived some of Sam’s apprenticeship. They have helped me build fences, mark lambs and calves and repair cantankerous farm machinery. But I am also glad that they have also made their own happy memories on the farm, exploring gullies, swimming in the dam, testing their courage on motorbikes and cuddling horses or cattle.

I cannot recommend My Father and Other Animals enough for anyone interested in pursuing a tree-change, or adopting regenerative practices. It is a book for anyone who cares about the future of Agriculture in the world. It is also a book about families and the special relationship between a father and his son.

Flood Repairs, a new fellow and a different kind of holiday on the Rock Farm

I cannot believe three months has passed since my last update. So much has happened that it is hard to know where to start, but a few key themes spring to mind as I reflect on what we have achieved.

  • We repaired flood affected fences and driveway,
  • We built new tree-guards to protect new tree plantings,
  • A bull came to visit the girls and then went back home,
  • We managed a family holiday in a totally different environment,
  • I learnt far more about diesel engines than I ever thought I would,
  • Our local informal regenerative land managers group continued to meet and also took steps to formalise our organisation, and
  • Our calves continue to grow, however not without some heartbreaking news.

Our floods last October were spectacular – and created several weeks of work for me, clearing debris off fences, then repairing or replacing sections. My priority was to ensure our boundary fence was rebuilt – but Jo sagely asked me how many times I would rebuild it before accepting that our “flats” were actually a flood plain. After making some glib comment that it was the first flood of its kind in over 50 years (the age of the fences), her raised eyebrow caused me to pause. Any husband is wise to listen to his wife – especially when that wife is a Meteorologist and well versed in the matters of rainfall. I elected to focus my attention on repairing the boundary fence to pre-flood strength (critical). Other sections I took Jo’s advice and chose to use temporary electric fencing to keep stock in, using a portable energiser as required. This way if the creek floods again, losses to infrastructure will be minimised.

Clearing the fences (thank goodness for the tractor) allowed the opportunity to build a new tree guard around some Cork Oaks (quercus suber) that we had planted along our western boundary. Whilst I had stood up the damaged boundary fence, it wasn’t back to original strength. I took the opportunity to build the tree guard to a high standard three metres in from the boundary. It should not only protect the trees, but keep our cattle in.

Our cattle mentor John again leased us a bull for this season. This magnificent fellow joined our girls for a couple of months. He settled in to the herd quickly, and seemed very gentle and placid (although it is always wise to exercise a degree of caution in this regard). He followed the girls around and seemed quite happy with the new surroundings for his short stay.

After the experience with our bull last year (he had a little excursion next door), we were keen to get this one home before we went away for a few days with the family before Christmas. Thankfully Jimmy our carrier was able to get the bull safely back home before he was tempted to stray.

We managed to sneak away on a beautiful bareboat charter in Broken Bay, north of Sydney for three nights. With mobile phones locked away, it was a great opportunity to reconnect with each other and nature of a different kind to the Rock Farm. It also created a hilarious fish-out-of-water moment for the two teenager’s who are convinced their parents don’t know anything about anything!

After getting the run through of the yacht, the charterer politely informed us that the westerly wind blowing creates gusty conditions in Broken Bay, and keeping the sails reefed would be a wise precaution. Shortly after leaving our berth with sails duly reefed, we were barely moving, so we decided to set all our sails. Moments later we were caught in a particularly fresh gust coming down from between a couple of hills. The boy’s eyes opened wide as the yacht heeled over and took off. We decided perhaps we should reef our sails again, and after things settled back down, the boys asked us how fast we had been doing.

It was hilarious watching their faces when they calculated how fast six knots was in kilometres an hour… (about 11km/h).

Both Jo and I have worked on the water before, and we were so glad we took the boys out to enjoy the pleasure of sailing. We moored every night, and all of us loved swimming around the yacht and exploring the bays on the included paddleboard. When we returned the yacht, the charterer couldn’t believe how little fuel we had used over our four day three night charter. It was just perfect exploring the magnificent Broken Bay at the pace dictated by the rhythm of the wind and the water.

There is a kind of magic that comes from being on the water – in many ways it is similar to how it feels on the Rock Farm. There is an inner peace, whilst being acutely aware of how the weather affects each and every part of your day. It is good for the soul.

But we couldn’t stay all at sea forever. There was still extended family to catch up with and plenty to do on the Rock Farm. When we got back home, we started working on the to-do list.

Of droughts and flooding rains….

Dorothea Mackellar had it right when describing her love of Australia in her poem My Country. The Australian landscape has always been one of extremes with periods of drought followed by wet cycles. Whilst the cycle is familiar throughout Australian history, the intensity of droughts and rain events has increased. This, combined with changing land use, further compounds the effects of the climatic changes, meaning we are seeing bigger floods and longer dry periods.

Three years ago, our area was gripped in drought. Doomsayers prophesised that city water supply dams in Australia would never be full again. We anxiously watched our dam drop to a puddle, knowing if we ran out of water, we would have to sell the last of our cattle. Then in early 2020 the drought broke, and we have enjoyed a cycle of wet years, which has replenished water storages, rehydrated the land and grown pasture to feed our cattle.

Earlier this week we experienced the highest flood of our creek for at least 50 years. Three hours after the rain started falling, our creek rose quickly from a small trickle to a raging flood that surpassed our last record height by another half a metre. Previously the damage caused by floods on the Rock Farm has been relatively minor, the clean up being an inconvenience. This one was something different again.

This series of photos show how quickly the creek rose during the first hour. I was anxiously waiting for the family to come home but it became apparent that they were never going to get home in time. Thankfully friends opened their doors and Jo and one of the not-so-little helpers enjoyed a night in the village. (Huge thank you to Mark and Mel).

A couple of hours later the flood was in full force. The not-so-little fisherman and I went for a walk in the paddocks, and we weren’t prepared for the amount of water roaring down our creek.

The driveway disappeared. The previous record was to the base of the gate on the right – this one came another half a metre up the gate. I sent the young fellow in to open the gate and reduce the load on the catch.

The water came up to our dam wall, and we sat and watched the water for a while. Every minute or so we heard giant Elm trees crack and shake, before seeing them appear in the middle of the flow downstream. The destruction was enormous. I have never before seen these trees break off the banks – indeed they have done a fantastic job of stabilising the bank up until now.

The following morning the water had receded and I went for a walk to check the damage. Debris was pushed up onto and over fences that have been standing for 50 years or so. I found the oak tree that used to stand near our crossing several hundred metres down stream. Several of the Elms that collapsed during the flood were lying in my paddocks. Sections of the creek banks had been scoured out, and areas that were previously grassed and covered in trees turned to river rocks and sand beaches. We have lost quite a large area of our paddock – but the young trees planted on the banks seem to have folded over and bounced back. We need them to grow and grow quickly to help hold the bank together in future floods.

The clean up will take a while – but that is all achievable. I have written a priority list for the fence repairs, however all work is on hold whilst we wait for the paddocks to dry out. It is one thing to walk on the paddocks in calf deep water. It is something else altogether to drive on them with machinery or even just tools. After a bit of work with the tractor, the driveway is again passable

The most important thing is that we are all safe and well. The cattle likewise are all safe and now back on the slopes well above the water level. And of course – it has created a wonderful playground!

In the coming weeks I am sure we will repair our fences and get the farm functioning again. In the longer term, I hope we can lift our gaze and start working at catchment levels to slow water down. If we can slow water in the landscape, it will cause floods to rise slower, the peak to last longer but at a lower height. The landscape has changed enormously in the past couple of hundred years, and any changes we make wont happen overnight. The good news is that change is happening. One of the key organisations that has conducted years of research and is at the forefront of making changes both at a landscape and the political level is the Mulloon Institute. If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can start changing the hydrology of the landscape to reduce impacts of flood events like this, check out their webpage here:

Mechanical, aborial, bovine, fencing and climate challenges on the Rock Farm.

The Rock Farm is looking fantastic with the grass starting to leap out of the ground. The lawn mower has been brought out of the shed and pressed into service keeping the garden in check, the teenage helper’s desire for pocket money overcoming their inherent need to sleep. The first snake of the season has come out to soak in the sun. Our cattle are starting to put on weight, and we will join them with a new bull soon. The wet spring season has created some health challenges for the cattle which we are working through, whilst making access to the Rock Farm difficult. We have continued planting native shrubs. built more tree guards and are replacing boundary fences. We have also been working on a couple of mechanical challenges.

During the first week of the school holidays, our old black falcon ute kept disappearing with two boys, only to be heard from the house revving hard. The Not-So-Little Helpers discovered the fun of going in circles…. however they have also found out that when you push an old engine to the limit, things tend to break.

The harmonic balancer collapsed, and the boys sheepishly reported they thought a tensioner pulley had failed, as the fan belt kept coming off. Our family rule is that if you break it, you fix it (the two ‘F’ rule). I explained that I needed the capability of a farm ute – they could work out whether it was in their best interests to repair or replace the car.

They quickly realised that repair was indeed the cheapest option – even if the parts were more than the original cost of the ute. Fitting the new harmonic balancer was especially easy, as there was no grill or bumper restricting access. After an entertaining hour or so watching the boys fit the new balancer, the ute was back in service…. for a short time until they flogged our both rear tyres.

My progress with Myrtle the old Benz has been slower, but I have finally managed to remove the engine. It was straightforward, but not particularly easy. Three out of four engine mounts were easy to extract, one was nigh impossible. Seven out of eight wheel nuts were easy to undo, one was not. It was a common theme as I slowly got the engine ready to remove. I now have to remove the engine from the donor truck – which will probably be in the new year.

Around the farm tree planting continues, with a range of native shrubs planted in our biodiversity reserve. We hope these will grow and provide food and habitat for native bees, insects and birds. I find planting trees is not only great exercise, but it also incredibly fulfilling. I hope these little shrubs get well established this season, without too much pressure from the hares!

In other areas of the farm, we have been working at improving the infrastructure. We built a new tree guard for the Cork Oaks we planted near the dam (see last post) however I haven’t been game to drive down to fence off the other Cork Oaks on our western boundary due to the wet boggy conditions.

The northern boundary fence was in terrible condition, and I spent a morning removing the old fence so a contractor can replace this section. We are fortunate our neighbour supports these improvements which work for both our properties. We hope to get new posts in the ground this week before the next rain event comes.

Speaking of the wet, it is having an impact on the health of our cattle. We have been keeping the cattle on the slopes, attempting to keep their feet as dry as possible. Unfortunately all our paddocks have boggy sections. Warm wet conditions increase the likelihood of the animals suffering a painful condition known as footrot (not to be confused with Foot and Mouth disease) – see here: We noticed one steer with a limp, and the vet gave us a long acting treatment to help clear the likely abscess in his hoof. The vet explained the injection ‘triangle’ site for the intra muscular injection. The steer wasn’t particularly happy when the needle entered his neck, but I hope he feels better soon.

The record breaking wet is also having a wider impact on our community. Most common complaints are the condition of the roads as the substrates collapse and giant potholes form. We are fortunate that our flooding events normally affect nothing more than our property access (drowning of big red truck aside!). We have a temporary fence in our flood prone areas, from which we need to retrieve our portable electric energiser. We have spent the odd night in town, and lent on friends and neighbours for beds when access is known to be dangerous. When a neighbour got in a spot of bother, our eldest boy rose to the occasion and calmly took charge until everyone was safe and well. It was a proud Dad moment.

Of course the rain isn’t all bad news. It allows the odd excuse to sit down and relax, whilst listening to the rain on the roof. Of course I should be tidying up the shed, and don’t even mention housework!

Somehow I think Sapphire agrees the housework can wait too 🙂