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.

Joining the regenerative conversation

Over the past few weeks I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to attend some inspirational field days and forums discussing the future of agriculture with some incredible innovators and communicators. Great thinkers around the world like Malcolm Gladwell and Joel Salatin have both, in their books and interviews, explained that great people don’t just do great things, they share their knowledge through excellent communication skills. I have been fortunate to attend a couple of sessions with such people who have inspired our journey to deeper understanding of our land and the responsibility we have to care for it.

A few weeks ago, I ventured to Bibbaringa near Holbrook to a field day hosted by owner Gillian Sandbrook and Soils for Life.

Soils for life’s mission is “To support Australian farmers in regenerating soil and landscapes, to build natural and social capital, and transform food and fibre systems”. It was founded in 2013 by Major General Michael Jeffery, after being asked by the Government to identify the single largest threat to national security. Major General Jeffery identified soil loss and degradation was the largest threat to Australia, and Soils for Life was founded.

Soils for Life supports the growing number for farmers and rural leaders dedicated to farming in ways that improve soil. It does this through conducting case studies uncovering the stories of farmer innovators and sharing their experiences, allowing everyone else to make their own judgements. .

Gillian is part of the 8 families group and were the subject of one of the case studies. The group met during a holistic management course, and the peer support network they established after the course led to the establishment of the 8 families group. They graciously shared their journey with us at Bibbaringa, before we went on-farm to see some of the techniques used to hydrate the landscape, audit and validate the natural capital of the property and monitor the transition to new management practices. The ‘8 families’ group Soils for Life case study can be found here: https://soilsforlife.org.au/the-8-families-group/.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Gillian was the co founder of Earth Canvas. We had already booked tickets to the Regenerating Farmscapes Forum hosted by Earth Canvas a few weeks after the field day. The Forum was held at the National Museum of Australia, and we were lucky to get our tickets as it sold out quickly. The forum brought together farmers, artists, scientists and writers for a discussion on the shifting agricultural paradigm. Keynote speakers such as Dr Ken Henry, Dr Charles Massy, Darren Doherty, Stacey Curcio and Professor Sasha Grishin provided a fascinating perspective on the link between soil, animal and human health.

We found ourselves in good company in the audience too. We were sitting among regenerative agriculture pioneers, research scientists from the Sustainable Farms, neighbours, local leaders from our very own land managers network and other curious minds.

An element of the forum was the Earth Canvas exhibition that we also walked explored. The connection tween artists and regenerative farmers was thoughtful and insightful.

Confused about all the groups and names? I am too, but what is heartening is that the intent is broadly similar and the the conversations are being shared across the agricultural community. People generally tend to bond ourselves to a particular ‘tribe’ or group. What I have found is many of the leaders in this sphere cross many of the groups and share their message.

It is inspiring and humbling to be part of that journey. For a long time it felt that we were an isolated island doing our best to improve our little farm. It is apparent we are part of a much wider community, who are welcoming to all people with curious minds, no matter how large or small their property is.

These leaders in regenerative agriculture are bringing people together and communicating their journey. They are grass roots leaders who are influencing the highest levels of Australian Government. The conversation is growing, and it great to be a part of it.

Calving and a big dump of rain!

Calving is without a doubt my favourite time of year. It isn’t without its challenges, and requires twice daily (or more) checks just to make sure all is going to plan. As I write we have 13 beautiful calves on the ground, with a couple more stil to calve. The cows seem to understand what we are up to with our regular checks and seem quite happy with our presence. We only have one maiden heifer, and she gave birth to a bull calf without any issues which was a great relief. Regular readers will recall that Daisy had some difficulty calving last year, and despite my misgivings, remained on the farm. She hasn’t calved yet – indeed she might not even be in calf – but we are watching her closely.

Our gorgeous cows are lovely and quiet, however the new mums can be understandably a little more cautious around us. Over the past few years, any cow that has shown any form of aggression has been sold. That said, there are a couple who quitely let us know with a gentle shake of the head that we have approached close enough. We don’t put any more pressure on them. By sitting down a short distance away, those who want to come up and say hello are able to… and they sure make us smile.

We are calving a little earlier than last year. Whilst the soil moisture is great, the rain has reduced the solar gain on the pastures and hence grass growth is a little less than we expected. We are throwing out a bit of pasture hay, and are providing a magnesium lick to the cattle to support their nutrition requirements.

It is an unusually wet year, with the end of last week culminating in the largest flood waters we have seen on our creek since moving in. Our previous flood record was measured to the base of our front gate post. This most recent flood covered the gate and has fiven us a new height datum. A day of steady rain was followed by a sharp 30mm shower as the sun set. The resultant rise in the creek was mirrored with flooding throughout the district, with several roads cut. The family were safely marooned at home, and I ended up staying in town after work.

The following day the creek dropped, and required a bit of work to clear some of the debris off the crossing. Our neighbour was home and cleared the worst of it (thanks Stuart), allowing me to get home that evening. The following day, we continued to drag silt and logs off the drive way. The size of the timber moved downstream by the flood waters was phenomenal. Sadly several trees were ripped out of the creek banks. I haven’t yet established the extent of the damage, but I do know we have lost some creek bank, new trees and a temporary fence. Over the next week or two we will look rebuilding our flood gates and making the front paddock stock proof again.

It is all part of the cycle of the water way. For all the extra work the creek creates, it adds so much more to our property and we consider it an asset to the Rock Farm.

In the meantime, I will keep hanging out with the cows and enoying their company. It is good for the soul!

Special thanks to Stuart for clearing the debris so I could get home and to the Not-So-Little Helper for his amazing photos.

Winter 2022 Update

Recently I have written of some of the support and decision making tools available for small farmers like us. Over the past few years I have been actively seeking knowledge and making the most of opportunities to attend workshops and farm visits. I have found great inspiration in many of the people I have met and stories I have listened to, however there is still plenty to do on the Rock Farm. Pipes keep leaking, cattle need feeding, firewood needs carting – but there is great delight in sunset strolls around the property.

Over the past month or so we have been rotating our cattle every few days to a new paddock. I have been supplementing their feed with the odd bale of hay, just to help extend the rotations, and return some nutrients to the paddocks. The recent school holidays provided an opportunity to refresh the boy’s tractor skills, by getting them to start moving the big round bales safely to feed the cattle. It also means I don’t have to be here to feed the cattle every time.

We also had a bit of school holiday fun on the Rock Farm. After sitting idle for several months with a fuel issue, we got the buggy working again. After a bit of Google and YouTube, the boys gave the carburettor jets a clean, and the buggy roared to life. With two teenage boys (and a slightly older but no less enthusiastic Dad), we decided to test our driving skills with a time trial over a set course. It was great fun – but sadly the buggy wasn’t up to the work and only lasted a couple of circuits for each of us before retiring again to the shed!

It wasn’t all about hanging about on the farm though. The boys and I did escape to Sydney for a night in the big smoke. We had a great time kicking about the city, checking out Paddy’s markets, the food of China Town, the rides of Luna Park, and a Ghost tour of the Rocks.

One other project we worked on was replacing a 200 metre section of fence. We have planted dozens of trees in our ‘back’ paddock and have decided to keep the stock off that paddock for a number of years until the trees get established. This has also meant we haven’t been able to use a smaller paddock on the lower slopes as the original fence was in terrible condition. In order to utilise this ten acre paddock, we decided to replace the fence with a new one. The old timber posts literally fell over when we pulled the wire down. We replaced the fence with a new section of stock mesh. This means that effectively we will have a ‘new’ paddock of around ten acres in our rotation, which is fantastic.

I have a little more work to do before this paddock can be used again, and we will put in a new gate to make moving the cattle through this paddock easier. It will make a significant addition to our rotation, as it has good pasture, good shelter and good water.

But the most exciting news of all came on our evening stroll today. It was a wonderful surprise to find this beautiful healthy calf born bang on time. We hope the remaining 15 cows have healthy calves over the next few weeks. It is a wonderful time on the Rock Farm 🙂

Decision Making Tools – Farming Forecaster

James Rebanks described the importance of observation in farming. Observation informs our decisions about how we manage our farms. For thousands of years farmers have been relying on empirical knowledge passed down through generations, helping them to recognise patterns in the weather, cycles on the land and rhythms within nature. But what can you do when you don’t have that mulit-generational connection with your land?

Today we are armed with a vast array of tools to allow us to make evidence based decision making for our farming enterprises. These tools are usually expensive, difficult to use, or unable to be tailored for specific applications. In my quest to learn more about caring for the soil on the Rock Farm, I recently attended a winter update session hosted by the NSW Local Land Services. One of the sessions was on a web based tool that has enormous potential to help me make better decisions about our farm management.

The tool is Farming Forecaster. This tool has been available in our area for a couple of years, but is rapidly expanding throughout New South Wales and Tasmania. Matt and Phil from the video below attended our session and took us through the tool, how it works, and how we can use it to make better decisions. One of the best aspects of the Local Land Service’s workshops is the calibre of people they have at the sessions, and to hear Matt and Phil explain the tool was a real privelige.

The tool uses real-time soil moisture probes in our district to predict pasture growth. Water in the soil is the largest determinator of pasture growth in our area, followed by fertility. The Farming Forecaster assumes you have appropriate fertility and uses the soil moiture profile to determine pasture growth based on either:

  • 30 years of historical data
  • Bureau of Meteorology ACCESS S long range forecast data

With accurate pasture growth data, based on 30 years of observed weather, and knowing exactly how much area is available to graze (using free GIS software QGIS) I am able to calculate with reasonable confidence how much feed will be available to my cattle for the next three months.

This information, coupled with data on the amount of feed I can expect my cattle to eat (based on tables from the Local Land Services Soil Fertility and Decision Making Workshop) allows me to make decisions on my stocking rate.

With rainfall and soil types varying across the region, it is important to look at several sites around your farm. You can do this by clicking on the ‘View Network‘ button. There are some great videos that explain the data also available. Additional information on the site can be found here: https://farmingforecaster.com.au/MemberUpdates.

From using Farming Forecaster, I am now able to confidently say that we have an appropriate stocking rate for this season – well at least for now. It is worth regularly reviewing the site as it is updated weekly. For a punter like me, who has so much to learn about animal husbandry, pasture growth and stocking rates, it really helps me to access knowledge that took generations to acquire.

Of course the ones who benefit most from it are oblivious to it – but that is ok. They’re beautiful – and now I know they should be well fed throughout the next couple of months :).

Regenerative Agriculture Reference List: Books, Podcasts and Films

There are so many wonderful people who have inspired us through sharing their story or their experiences. I thought I would start to create a reference list of books, podcasts and films that have opened our minds to the possibilities created through the regenerative agriculture journey. The list is by no means exhaustive, and I will keep adding to it as I am introduced to other wonderful resources and stories.

If I have missed anyone who has inspired you, please share them here so I can build this repository of regenerative agriculture excellence!

I hope you can find something here to help inspire you. Where possible I have provided links to the page of the author so you can find out more about their stories.

Books

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe – ISBN 9781921248016 – https://www.magabala.com/products/dark-emu

Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia by Victor Steffensen – ISBN 9781741177268 – https://www.hardiegrant.com/au/publishing/bookfinder/book/fire-country-by-victor-steffensen/9781741177268

Grassland Flora: A Field Guide for the Southern Tablelands (NSW & ACT) by Sarah Sharp, Rehwinkel Rainer, Dave Mallinson and David Eddy – ISBN 731360214 – https://www.fog.org.au/grassland_flora.htm

Heartwood: The art and science of growing trees for conservation and Profit by Rowan Reid – ISBN 9781925556117 – https://agroforestry.net.au/products/products.asp

Millpost – A Broadscale Permaculture Farm since 1979 – David Watson – ISBN: 9780646984827 – https://www.millpostmerino.com/product-page/millpost-a-broadscale-permaculture-farm-since-1979

Ngunnawal Plant Use – A Traditional Aboriginal Plant Use Guide for the ACT Region – produced by the ACT Government in partnership with local Ngunnawal elders and their families – ISBN 9781921117152 – https://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/s/article/ngunnawal-plant-use-field-guide-tab-overview

Ten Acres Enough The Classic 1864 Guide to Independent Farming – Edmund Morris – ISBN 9780486437378 – https://www.booktopia.com.au/ten-acres-enough-edmund-morris/book/9780486437378.html

The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency – John Seymour ISBN 9780571110957

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia by Bill Gammage – ISBN9781743311325

The Uninhabitable Earth – a story of the future by David Wallace-Wells – ISBN 9780141988870

What Makes a Good Farm for Wildlife – Lead Author David Lindenmayer ISBN 9780643102217 – https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/6450/

Woodland Flora: A Field Guide for the Southern Tablelands (NSW & ACT) – Sarah Sharp, Rehwinkel Rainer, Dave Mallinson and David Eddy – https://www.fog.org.au/woodland_flora.htm

You Can Farm The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start and Success in a Farming Enterprise – Joel Salatin – ISBN 978-0963810922 – https://www.polyfacefarms.com/you-can-farm/

Podcasts

Regenerative Agriculture Podcast with John Kempf https://regenerativeagriculturepodcast.com/

The Curious Farmer with Kate Field https://www.leapfarm.com.au/podcast

The Regenerative Journey with Charlie Arnott https://charliearnott.com.au/podcast/

The RegenNarration Podcast with Anthony James https://www.regennarration.com/

Working Cows Podcast with Clay Conry https://workingcows.net/

Films

The Biggest Little Farm – John and Molly Chester – https://www.biggestlittlefarmmovie.com/

2040 – Damon Gameau – https://whatsyour2040.com/

Regenerating Australia – Damon Gameau https://theregenerators.co/regenerating-australia/

It all starts with ‘why?’

There are some fantastic workshops, courses and field visits open to landowners in New South Wales for people to develop their skills and knowledge to help make their farming enterprises more healthy, and profitable. To get the most out of these opportunities it is important to understand your vision, or your ‘why’. I am in the middle of a Farm Planning Workshop hosted by the Local Land Services. This was the very first question we were asked to consider – and perhaps the most difficult to answer.

I was thankful for the reason to re-examine our vision for the Rock Farm. We haven’t updated our vision statement since I commenced this blog back in 2016. From casting my eyes back over it as we started our farm planning workshop, it was clear our vision needs updating.

Our vision is for sustainable and ecologically sound stewardship of our property, that creates an income and food source for us in an environment that encourages our beautiful boys to grow into gorgeous men. We hope to share this knowledge with others interested in creating a sustainable and healthy future.

The first thing that struck me in re-visiting our vision is that we have moved from sustainable to regenerative in our approach. We don’t just want to maintain our land in its current state, but we want to improve it during our stewardship and set the property up for continual improvement into the future. We want to improve our soil health and fertility. We also want to increase the biodiversity of the plants and animals that live here through creating areas of habitat. We have also come to understand that community and social responsibility are also a key elements of our vision. Oh and you might have guessed, I love managing livestock and Jo loves growing vegetables.

We haven’t got the words yet for our new vision but we have most of the elements of it identified. Through creating a vision statement, we will have a lens through which we can approach all the wonderful learning opportunities that are available to us. It allows us to identify which elements of the books, courses and workshops are relevant to our enterprise, and which aren’t. Perhaps more importantly, it allows us to acknowledge other people’s visions. We can respect that their visions may be different to ours, and this will therefore shape the approach they take to their land management.

I have just discovered a fantastic podcast by Charlie Arnott which will help us define our vision. Charlie interviews some amazing people interested in regenerative agriculture, healthy soils and healthy food from around the world. We have found inspiration in many of his guest’s books or stories. Sometimes it is hard to find the words that best fit what we are trying to achieve on our small farm. To hear Charlie and his guests explain their stories helps us understand that our journey is far from unique. I cannot recommend this podcast enough – especially when he interviews one of our neighbours in episode 15. Please check out Charlie Arnott’s excellent podcast here: https://charliearnott.com.au/podcast/

Of course Sapphire knows her ‘why’. It is her job to make sure the fire doesn’t go out, keep rabbits out of the garden, occasionally ask the cattle to hurry up through a gate and make sure Dad doesn’t run into a tree whilst checking the fences!

Improving water infrastructure

You may recall that I recently spoke of the difficulties in leaving the Rock Farm for a few days. The preparations to depart on a holiday can be challenging – especially with livestock who have an uncanny ability to know when they’re unsupervised! I won’t continue the similarities with livestock and children, suffice to say they both seem to know when the adults are not around!

In January we managed to get away for a week. Our holiday was wonderful, but it wasn’t all good when we got home. The Cattle had managed to destroy the float valve in the old bathtub water trough in their paddock. Whilst the backup water supply in the dam held water, it was apparent I needed to upgrade the old bath tub to something more substantial.

With another family visit to Queensland on the cards at Easter, I knew it was time to make a significant change to our water situation. It was a two part solution. Reducing demand and improving the infrastructure.

The first stage was to reduce demand through the sale of our weaners. With special weaner sales at our local yards, we sold all our steers and some of our heifers. The young steers weighed a surprising 290kg average – far exceeding my 250kg estimate. We kept four heifers to add to our herd and sold the rest. This takes our breeding cows to 20. This is well within our soil fertility envelope (next blog entry) – but close to my comfortable maximum.

With the proceeds of the sale being, I moved to the second stage, infrastructure upgrade. My plan was to install a new concrete water trough to provide a more reliable water supply. I also wanted to move the trough down hill from the header tank – to provide better water pressure and improve reliability. I figured it would be easy to find the pipe… but how wrong I was.

My water divining rods suggested one place to dig… and then another. By the end of it I had followed pipes all over the place and dug trenches all to no avail. I spent nearly all day digging an ever expanding trench. The dog soon realised that to get my attention, she needed to drop her stick in the hole for me to throw it… There was a very dark cloud hanging over The Rock Farm as the shadows lengthened. In desperation I ran the tractor’s ripper back and forth – but it didn’t seem to find the pipe either. In frustration, I called it a night.

The following morning, I reluctantly returned to the scene of my digging to find water everywhere! The rippers had just run across the top of the pipe! I have never been so happy to find a broken pipe. I quickly turned the pump off, and raced to the rural supply shop to pick up the new trough and fittings.

From there it was relatively easy. My biggest worry was that the tractor would struggle to lift the 730kg water trough out of the trailer, but that was no problem at all. After a bit of work with the levels (and the astute eyes will see I still have a little work to do), it was relatively easy to plumb in the new fittings, repair the leak and fill the trough.

The cattle are happy with the new arrangement. Whilst some studies suggest they perform better on clean trough water instead of water from dams, my main aim was to reduce my maintenance requirements. It was not a cheap investment – but it should last a lifetime.

Weaning Cattle – Autumn 2022

Last year we weaned our calves late, and kept them over winter due to the exceptional season we were having. We made it work, partly because of the abundance of feed, and partly because we were rebuilding our numbers to around 15 breeding cows (https://rockfarming.com/2021/06/06/weaning-on-the-rock-farm/).

This year we have chosen a slightly different tact. We have decided to wean our calves before winter, to reduce the nutrition requirements for the cows, and to reduce the pressure on our pastures. The final stimulus however came when I saw there was a special weaner sale upcoming at our local sale yards – which spurned us to action.

Always eager to continue to improve our weaning system, I consulted a couple of wiser and more experienced heads than mine. John explained that he taught the calves to eat hay, buy first putting them in the yards with their mothers. The cows feed from the hay and teach the calves to eat it too. My other mentor Mac explained that the fences have to keep the calves from getting back to their mothers. They don’t have to stop the cows getting back to their calves!

We brought all the cattle into the yards, and spent a couple of days feeding them. The cows who were with us during the drought remembered the sound of the tractor (Pavlov could just as easily have done his conditioning experiments with hungry cattle!). We gave them access to a small paddock adjoining the yards giving them plenty of space to spread out.

A couple of days later we drafted the cows back to another adjoining paddock / lane where they could feed, but come back and visit the calves when they desired. The weaners all then got the latest fashion accessory (a beautiful white NLIS ear-tag). This RFD chipped tag allows the animals and their meat products to be traced back to the Rock Farm. This helps ensure Australian Beef is internationally recognised as being fully traceable throughout the entire supply chain.

The first few hours of separation saw calves and cows happily feeding, however by evening time, the udders filled. The cows returned to the yards and bellowed at the calves, and the calves bellowed at their mothers. This process repeated morning and night for around a week or so, but the intensity reduced quickly – and I felt it didn’t take long for me to feel that the cows were more interested in the hay I was delivering and not the calves!

The hardest part then came in choosing which weaners get on the truck and go to sale. In the end we sold all seven of the steers, and four of the heifers. The steers averaged 290kg, which was a great result considering they were only 7 months old or so. We kept four heifers, bringing our total head on the Rock Farm to 20. Our present holding comprises of 15 cows, 1 maiden heifer due to calve this spring, and our latest 4 weaner heifers.

We will reassess our stock holdings in Spring, but will be likely to sell some cow and calf units before next Summer. It all depends on rainfall, which is our largest determinant of carrying capacity (despite what the fertiliser company tells me). Whilst I love our cattle, I am also very conscious of being a custodian of the soil, and I need to put the need of the soil first. Healthy soil will lead to healthy cattle.

Special thanks to John and Mac for the advice, and a shout out to Jimmy and Kylie who loaded and trucked our weaners to the sale yards in my absence.