Winter on the Rock Farm

We have settled into winter on the southern tablelands.  Our recent weather patterns seems to be cracking frosts followed by crystal clear days, or bleak overcast skies with lazy winds that seem to pass through every layer of clothing you can wear. Sadly we have had precious little rain to bring us any growth.

We have been feeding the cattle since the start of winter.  I am rotating the cattle through the paddocks, and have even opened up some of the tree guards for the cattle to graze under the established trees.  The grass has turned green – but it is too cold and dry for it to grow.  The cattle need the roughage that the old pasture hay provides, and I have just started feeding them some silage we purchased at the start of winter.

It is my preference to buy hay and silage over fertilizer.  The more I learn about soil health, it is far better for the soil to receive nutrients that have been processed by a ruminant stomach first.  If only the cost of feed was cheaper!

The one good thing to come of the lack of grass is one of our pest weeds, the serrated tussock is easy to see.  We have been chipping out tussock for a while now, but even I had to admit defeat and hit large swaths of it with chemical.  It sure isn’t my preferred model for control, but after reading Millpost (Book Review -Millpost, a broadscale permaculture farm since 1979) I decided I had to make better use of my time.  We will use chemicals on large patches until we have got on-top of the tussock and then hopefully revert to chipping to stay on top of future outbreaks.  The little hundred litre tank and 12 volt pump make spraying remarkably time effective.

I have taken the opportunity of re-purposing the old roof sheets from the house into panels on the side of the hay-shed.  With most of our pasture hay stored in an old stable, the hay-shed has become the default storage shed for the truck and horse-float.  In an attempt to make it more weather proof, and suitable for storing hay into the future, we have been using the old roof iron to make walls.  If and when feed costs become more affordable, I hope to ensure we store enough hay to get us through a couple of winters in this shed.  We have been lucky to get through this far with what we have, but we need some growth to get us through spring.

The sheep have been enjoying the run of the place, and manage to find enough pick to keep in good condition.  It was a wonderful surprise to check on them after a couple of days at work to find they had started lambing!  We will mark these lambs in a few weeks, but for now, we were happy to let them be (and give their mum’s a treat of some oats).

The only problem with all the work outside is that is cold… damn cold.  Especially overnight.

But the dogs wouldn’t know that…  they reckon it’s summer all year around on the Rock Farm!

Sadly not long after this photo was taken, the dachshund Dilys passed away.  She has been part of our family for 10 years and despite her little size, has made a big hole in our hearts.  We buried her down by the stables, where she loved chasing rabbits, even if she was never quite quick enough to catch them.  Good dog.  Rest in peace.

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Book Review: You Can Farm

Anyone considering moving onto a farm should put You Can Farm – The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise by Joel Salatin on their list of books to read.  This book is written for, in Joel’s words: “wannabes, the folks who actually entertain notions of living, loving and learning on a piece of land”.  The question the book addresses is simply “Is it really possible for me?”.  Whilst this book was written 20 years ago and in a North American context, it remains especially relevant today

This book explains what you need to consider if you want to make a living from a farm, as opposed to living on a farm.  Joel Salatin believes that the opportunities for farm entrepreneurs have never been greater, especially as people look for alternatives to industrial agriculture, and seek ethical, and healthier choices.

The other reason to read this book is it will help you develop a farm model, especially if you need to to secure finance to purchase your farm.

Joel takes us on a journey through his farm enterprise, which is a polyculture set up.  Ironically this is nothing new – however his farm looks more like a farm you would have found in the 1950’s.  As agriculture has moved towards mono-culture, and high input / high output models, Joel asks whether all this is really necessary.  His enterprise is run on ‘threadbare efficiency’, and uses many innovative (cheap) solutions to enhance production.  It is full of practical advice, with an astute business mind driving the process.

Joel opens the book sharing his philosophy about farming, so you can understand his perspective.  He also recognises that the reader may not share his views entirely, however that doesn’t mean you should stop reading. Rather it sets the context for the book.  Some of Joel’s fundamental principles are “Environmentally enhancing agriculture”.  The term today is Regenerative Agriculture – but as Joel’s book was written in 1998, that term hadn’t been coined yet.  He strongly believes in using seasonal production cycles to boost efficiency and to develop bio-regional food security.  His enterprise is based on humane animal husbandry and building soil and bio-diversity.    He does not believe in the high input farming models that chain farmers to corporate fertiliser, seed and crops where the farmer holds all the risk for the corporate giants.  Joel is all about family friendly agriculture.  These are all values that I share and partly why I really enjoyed his book so much.

One of Joel’s lessons is that if you want the make the farm your life, you have to embrace it.  The farm is every part of Joel and his family’s life – they have made a conscious decision to live as much as possible on the farm.  They don’t spend their weekends socialising or chasing kids sports in town.  The kids are involved in animal husbandry duties and are fully involved in the enterprise.

Joel also recognises that many people move to the country for a lifestyle.  And that is fine.

This book has made me think about the Rock Farm.  It helped me realise that our operation is very different from Joel’s.  There are many reasons for this.

  • We live under an hour from some of the best schools in the country and we value the education opportunities these provide for children.  We acknowledge that until our children finish high school and the associated music, sport and social activities that go on with that, we will spend a lot of time commuting to the big smoke.
  • The Rock Farm is a choice made by Jo and I to live here.  Our children are here by default, but they did not make the choice to live on a farm.  They love playing in the paddocks, building forts, riding their motor-bikes and making mischief, however the choice to live here was not theirs.  We get them to help out on the farm, especially when working stock or chipping weeds, but they have their own interests to pursue.
  • I am extremely fortunate to have a job that I really enjoy and I work with some inspiring people.  I enjoy working in a close knit team and I really enjoy the interactions I have at work. I know I would miss that aspect of my life if I was to leave it entirely.
  • Being close to a large centre, our land value is not based on farm production opportunity like most farmland throughout the world.  This means our investment in the Rock Farm is more about real-estate than farming potential.  This was brought home when I stumbled on a study conducted by our local council, that determined the ideal block size in our area was 20 acres, and 15 minutes commute from town.  Every minute extra on the commute reduced the property value and every additional acre suffered diminishing returns.

Whilst there are many aspects of our farm that are different, this book has also opened my eyes to many opportunities that exist on the Rock Farm.  It has made me realise there is comfort in threadbare efficiency and helped me look at ways to maximise the return on my effort.  It has helped me crystallise what the Rock Farm is and how we can love and nurture it and help regenerate it into a productive and healthy farm.

This book has also given me confidence that when I am ready to stop working in town, there are opportunities here, even on our small patch of earth, to make a red hot go of things.  If you have the slightest inkling that you too might want to live in the country, then make sure you read You Can Farm – The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise by Joel Salatin..

ISBN: 0-96381909-2-8

Book Review -Millpost, a broadscale permaculture farm since 1979

I have taken advantage of the cold weather and re-visited an inspirational book written by David Watson about his experience running a permaculture operation on his family farm.  Millpost is the name of the Watson’s farm, and David takes us on a journey through the many facets of the farm, and shows how permaculture principles have been put in place.  David and his wife Judith implemented permaculture principles on their farm in 1979.  They enlisted David Holmgren to help draw up a whole farm plan in 1994.  David Holmgren was one of the co-founder’s of permaculture in Australia.

Permaculture isn’t a term often applied to broadscale farming operations.  These days you might term it “Regenerative Agriculture” but digging beneath the surface, the aims of permaculture and regenerative agriculture are often very similar.  The Watson’s farm is near Bungendore, which is similar country and climate to the Rock Farm.  Whilst their operation is much larger than ours, it was the first time I had read a book where someone was able to put permaculture into practice on a large grazing property.

What I really liked about David’s book is that he has broken down many facets of the farm’s operation into specific chapters.  From the commercial aspects of the farm with superfine merinos, to the vegetable gardens, tree plantings and chickens, David shares how they make the various aspects work for their family in a permaculture setting.

From David’s analysis of his experience, he has developed several simple lessons.  For example: “Lesson No. 11: Work out which species are suited to your soil before mass planting anything.”  Seems like common sense really, but the words are borne out of years of planting any and all types of fruit and nut trees.  Some species have done really well, but the hot dry summers and brutally cold winters mean that not all trees survive.  Walnuts apparently are one species that doesn’t thrive in this area, with some 30 year old trees barely 3 metres tall and having never borne any nuts.

David’s advice is based on experience and is extremely practical, based on years of following his permaculture plan.  We share many of the challenges with Millpost.  One such problem on the Rock Farm is our serrated tussock weed.  I am coming to realise, like David, that I will need to use chemicals to bring the tussock under control.  Once the tussock is in manageable quantities, I hope to be able to continue chipping out any patches as they occur, like they now do on Millpost.

Why am I so keen to avoid the use of chemicals on the Rock Farm?

It’s simple really.  We eat our own products, and we feel that if our soil is healthy, then our livestock have the best chance at being healthy too.

If you are looking for more information on Millpost, and to purchase some of their superfine wool products, visit the Millpost Farm website here:  https://www.millpostmerino.com/millpost

Millpost, a broad scale permaculture farm since 1979 by David Watson, 2018.  ISBN 978-0-646-98482-7

 

Cutting Edge Tech on the Rock Farm

These school holidays are fast upon us – and the weather this weekend is bitterly cold and windy.  Perfect weather to be inside and making the most of the new heating system on the Rock Farm (see – keeping-warm-part-1).

We have enjoyed a nice break from the endless running around chasing kid’s school, sport and music commitments.  Instead we have caught up with family and friends and tried hard to do nothing…  It has been a pleasant change to actually read a novel.

But not all has been quiet.  An almost constant whirring and beeping has been coming from the the study nook.  It has been emanating from the latest tool on the Rock Farm.  Unlike the majority of tools here that are old style and barely changed over the past 50 years or so, this one comes from the other end of the spectrum.  It is our very own 3D printer.

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The (not so) Little Fisherman received a box of parts a while ago, and eagerly started putting them together.  They were remarkably complex, and I started to feel a little bewildered as he tackled his task with enthusiasm.  Disaster struck though, when he lost the instructions when he didn’t shut down his computer properly.  A few months of emails back and forth requesting another copy of the assembly instructions with Chinese manufacturer who mis-understood our requests entirely.  Eventually we gave up and took a punt plugging in the last couple of wires.  Thankfully Murphy was on our side that day, and the printer came alive and successfully printed its calibration cube.

Since then, I have been amazed at the progress.  Within a week, the (not so) Little Fisherman had stopped downloading designs from the internet and had started making his own creations.  Initially plenty of catapults, trebuchets and other mini-weapons of mass destruction were crafted by the printer as we learnt it’s capabilities.

And then I thought it was about time to start harnessing this unbridled enthusiasm for good… and asked the (not so) Little Fisherman to design and make for me a  new gear knob for the tractor.  A simple round knob was required, with a central hole to fit over the metal linkage.  It had been long missing from the tractor, but proved to be a good exercise, particularly in the precision required for measurement.  We used a vernier caliper to measure the precise diameter for the central hole, and it fit perfectly.  I was very impressed.

And I quickly put the tractor to work tidying up the garden.

But the next challenge is proving to be a bit more difficult.  Somehow I had also managed to break the centrifugal dust bowl filter…  The (not so) Little Fisherman initially baulked at the size and shape of the problem – but has managed to come up with a design.

He has spent a fair bit of time measuring and even trialled the construction of a torus of revolution for the base to ensure he had it exactly right.   Don’t worry – I had to google the name of it when he told me he had made a torus!

The only problem is that this is a particularly large and complex build.  The print time will be around 55 hours – if only I can hold my breath that long, I can’t wait to see what the little machine will produce!

The best part is that I am in good hands.  I now have a talented young man who is learning skills to repair old and worn out items with good-as-new parts.  I feel excited to be part of this new technology that will allow us to repair many more items previously considered beyond saving.  This cannot help but contribute to reducing our footprint on this precious planet.

A large part of our choice in living on the Rock Farm was to give our children a well rounded education, with academic opportunity tempered with responsibility to care for the land and livestock.  It is a constant juggling act, balancing the competing interests of their schooling, our work and their real education of life and how they can make a difference in this world.  Giving a child opportunities to pursue their interests is the wish of most parents and I am immensely proud of this fellow and his first steps into the future.

 

A lesson on leadership – taught by a calf

On the Rock Farm this winter we have a six month old calf that was a bit of a bonus when he was born.  Unexpected, he was a delightful surprise that has grown into a healthy and strong steer of around 200kg.

He is now old enough to be weaned, and the (not so) Little Helper decided his school holiday project was to break the calf into halter.  We did point out to him that whilst it was our responsibility to give him the best life we could, ultimately his purpose is to be processed into beef…  We agreed that we wouldn’t do this on our place.

Having not broken a calf in before, we had to seriously consider our strategy.  My young son decided he wanted to follow some of the principles he had seen in action at The Man From Snowy River Breaker’s Challenge over the past couple of years.

I think Mum (with the white face) is enjoying the weaning process too!

Whilst a horse is a different beast entirely from a calf, we really liked the way the horsemen harnessed the horse’s natural strengths and worked with them.  We decided that we wanted to develop a relationship with the calf where the behaviour we wanted was easy for the calf to do, and the behaviour we didn’t was hard.

Lesson One: Consistency – your words have to match your actions

As you can’t use words, you have to be entirely focused on what your body language says to the calf, now named Moo.  It really makes you think about what you are asking him to do.  And when he doesn’t do what you want, it is usually because you have put your body, or your arms, or even your eyes in the wrong place.

The young fellow is moving the calf away from him using old horse whips as extensions of his arms

It is an entirely pure response. You can’t hide anything.  And your actions have to match your intentions.  If you want him to turn towards you, you have to really think about what you are asking him to do.  Remember you have to reward the behaviour you are seeking.

Lesson Two – Assertive, not aggressive

You must be assertive and assume to role of leader of his herd.  It is essential for your safety with a calf that weighs 200kg and is immensely strong.  We were very keen for Moo to turn towards us instead of away from us.  This is to keep his back legs away from us (where he could take a kick if he felt threatened).  By using rods as extensions of our arms, we were able to project our body language onto him at a safer distance.  We kept asking and putting pressure on him until he did what we want.  Soon he would recognise what we were asking and turn towards us most times.

Being the leader of the herd, you have a responsibility to meet the calf’s needs.  We had to step up and meet his need for safety, for belonging, for shelter, food and water.  By  meeting his needs, we are fulfilling his requirements to be part of a herd (even if we look different to him)

Lesson Three: Make the good behaviour easy and the stuff you don’t want hard

The calf naturally didn’t want to be with us at all.  He moved away from us and sought refuge by sticking his head in corners of the yards.  This behaviour was not what we wanted, so we continued to put pressure on the calf by moving towards him and making him keep moving away from us.

Until he stopped – and looked at us.  As soon as he did what we wanted, we stopped and took the pressure off.  And it was amazing how quickly he worked out that stopping and looking at us gave him the reward of us stopping the pressure – and lunch.

As soon as he did what we wanted, we stopped and rewarded him with a break

Each day we worked gently with Moo for around 15 minutes or so.  It only took a couple of days and we were able to put the halter on him.  The same principles applied – the pressure stopped as soon as he did what we wanted.  It didn’t take him long to work out that following us around was the best way to stop the pressure.  We modified his natural behaviour to generate the behaviours we were looking for, than trying to break his will.

Lesson Four: You have to be mentally ready

A couple of times the (not so) Little Helper and I were tired and not in the head space to enter the yard with Moo.  It was almost instantly apparent that we were not achieving any progress.  The best action to take was to stop the session and come back when we had mentally prepared to put our best foot forward.

Lesson Five: Mistakes are OK

We made plenty of mistakes.  And it wasn’t a problem.  If we put ourselves in the wrong place, Moo’s behaviour would let us know.  It wasn’t that he was doing the wrong thing, often we were.  The main part was to look at what we were asking and reflect on how we should approach the problem differently.  Often it was that we were looking at his shoulder instead of his flank – and once we understood what we were doing from the calf’s point of view it was easy to change.

What does it mean?

Training a calf has been a great opportunity to reflect on how we treat each other and are treated.  When you enter that yard, you have to be the strong leader that the calf is looking for… and you can’t hide behind clever words.  The calf reflects your behaviour in the purest sense, as all he responds to is your body language.  You have to be firm, consistent and look for ways to make it easy for the calf to do what you want.

Unfortunately at Christmas time or so, Moo will be sold.  It will be a sad day on the Rock Farm for which I hope the (not so) Little Helper will forgive me.

Book Review – What Makes a Good Farm for Wildlife

In my quest to regenerate the Rock-Farm into sustainable and productive farmland, I have read many articles and books, and listened to lots of interviews with fascinating people.  I have also picked the brains of Rangers, Botanical experts and Farmers in an attempt to find the best way forward for our patch of paradise.   A large reason for setting up this blog was to share our lessons learnt and I thought one way to do this would be to review some of the books I have read.

The first book review, in what I hope will become a regular feature of my blog is: What Makes a Good Farm for Wildlife, Lead Author: David B Lindenmayer, published by CSIRO in 2011.  My wife found it in the local library and brought it home for me to have a read.  Being winter, it s a great time to settle down with a cuppa in front of the fire and start getting ideas.

David has pulled together a number of authors with a range of backgrounds.  From experts in ecology and conservation biology, contributions also come from farmers and people with a background in forestry.  Whilst all the findings are backed up with research and extensive footnotes, the book is easy to read and not an academic text.  It is a practical and realistic guide for landowners with achievable actions that can make a huge difference for biodiversity in a productive farm.

What Makes A Good Farm for Wildlife opens with a clear aim – and it sticks to this throughout:

Our aim in this book is to highlight some ways to promote wildlife conservation on farms.  We are acutely aware that managing land for multiple goals is a difficult task and that not all parts of a farm will be managed in the same way or with the same order of priorities.  Given this, we provide new information to help landholders make decisions about ways they might manage parts of their farms.  To do this, we describe the characteristics of good remnants, good plantings, good paddocks, good rocky outcrops, good waterways and then collectively, what makes a good farm for wildlife.

Lindenmayer et. al. 2011 p1

The Rock-Farm adjoins some remnant woodland, and using the description of what makes good remnant, I have been able to look at what species this habitat supports.  I was most surprised at the number of species of insect that live in woodlands, particularly beetles and how important they are for native birds and mammals.

The authors examine what makes a good planting to restore woodland.  The authors explain the various ways trees can be planted, what species to use and how large the plantation should be.  Some of the information surprised me. Plantations support and favour different species to remnant woodlands.  The size of plantations is also important, especially being large enough to provide interior areas away from the edges.  This is important for birds such as the Rufous Whistler and Willie Wagtails.  Several of the paddocks in the Rock-Farm are lined with native trees such as Casuarina She Oaks and Peppermint Gums.   Whilst these provide good food sources for birds such as the Glossy Black Cockatoo, I learnt they are limited in their value due to the breadth of the plantings.

Lines of trees along fence-lines provide some limited habitat

Lines of trees along fence-lines provide limited habitat

The chapter on good paddocks examines the importance of large paddock trees.  I have several Brittle Gum trees that fit this category. I learnt it is not just the trees, but also the dead branches and fallen timber that are important for beetles and bird habitat.  The book details strategies to protect these important trees, and techniques to link large paddock trees with plantations to provide more habitat options.  I have previously cleared fallen timber from these trees, whereas now I will ensure I leave some logs and parts of the branches on the ground (after repairing the fence!).

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After cutting fallen timber off the fence, I am now leaving some of the timber, such as from this Ribbon Gum, behind to form logs for beetles and other creatures to live in.

One large Yellow-box paddock tree has recently died and I have been eyeing it off as a future firewood source. After reading this book, I will leave it standing to provide habitat for birds such as the Superb Parrot.   The good news is that the dead tree is surrounded by many young trees, that I have been encouraging to grow.  They will continue to stabilise the gully and provide a good stand of shelter in the future.

Creeks and water courses are examined.  This is an area I haven’t really explored on the Rock-Farm, but the book explored techniques to enhance this area too.  From leaving natural snags to slow water down, to managing stock access, it gave me plenty of food for thought.  I also really liked the author’s description of what made a healthy dam – including an island for bird refuge from animals.  We have been talking about making a floating island in our large dam, and this book has given us some ideas as to how to make this happen.

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The creek is an area for improved efforts to slow water down –

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but we have to be careful when it floods!

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Our dam needs work to improve habitat – we want to build a floating island to provide a refuge for ducks and other aquatic birds

What is interesting is that most of the farms examined in this book found that by increasing tree plantings and improving habitat, they also had the advantage of improving soil health.  The added benefit of improving the biodiversity also lead to psychological health benefits for the farmers, with the knowledge they were improving the land.

I like that the authors acknowledge the difficult balance that landowners face, especially when transitioning from high input-high output operations to less intensive operations.  There has been a huge change in expectations on landowners, as it wasn’t that long ago that governments instructed farmers to clear large areas of land.  The authors also acknowledge that some changes must take place beyond the farm at the landscape scale.  Whilst the challenge may seem overwhelming, if we all take little steps in the right direction, it will make a huge difference.  I feel that the future of our planet depends on not a few farmers practising regenerative or sustainable agriculture perfectly, but all farmers trying it imperfectly.

I was really pleased to find that much of the work we are doing around the Rock-Farm is consistent with the messages in this book.  That said, I have been guilty of trying to clean up paddocks by removing fallen timber.  I will now make sure I leave more of this in place – especially under large paddock trees.  It also has made me more conscious of how small changes I make can have enormous consequences for biodiversity outcomes.

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Some logs left after the branch fell on the fence. A balance of future fire wood and habitat for beetles.

Whilst What Makes a Good Farm for Wildlife is no longer in print, I borrowed a copy from our local library.  David Lindenmayer is a prolific author, and he has recently published Restoring Farm Woodlands for Wildlife (2018) which appears to build on this earlier book.  If you’re interested, it is available at the CSIRO Publishing Website here:  https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/7844

Keeping Warm – Part 2

After enduring one winter at The Rock Farm, we quickly realised that the house was like living in a tent.  It was hot in summer and unbearably cold in winter.  We installed a new fireplace as the first stage in warming the house (Keeping Warm – Part 1).

The second stage was a lot more drastic  it involved replacing the roof.

The house was built sometime in the mid seventies.  It would have been quite chic in the day, but the builders failed to install any insulation in their stylish flat roof.  40 years had also caused a few leaks and the old galvanised sheets were rusty in places where water naturally pools.

We investigated options to replace the roof with a lovely truss roof, but ultimately finances led us to decide to replace the old galvanised iron with a new zincalum product and install R4 batts in the cavity with an extra layer of anti-con under the sheets.

This is where we could get involved as a key part of our plan was to remove any redundant penetrations in the roof.  The largest and most obvious was the old brick chimney.

There didn’t look to be too many bricks on the roof, but it was a fair load in the back of the ute!  The old bricks were put to use stabilising a gully head.

Mark from 24SEVEN Plumbing got stuck right in removing the old sheets.  He worked in sections, taking off a few sheets and the filling the void with insulation, before installing new clips and the new sheets.  Whilst the sheets look similar, they are a completely different profile and size.

The install wasn’t without problems.  The old clips were nailed into the hardwood rafters, making removal an exercise in brute force.  Also the evidence of rats was apparent with one junction box showing exposed wires.  A panic phone call to a nearby sparky soon had it safe.

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The gutters and exterior flashing will also be replaced soon, and will not only increase the functionality but also the appearance of the house.

The old sheets have been stacked on the back of Myrtle, the old Mercedes.  We will use some of them around the place, and will try and sell the rest at some stage.  Have I said how handy this truck is for odd jobs!

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The difference is remarkable.  From a house that routinely dropped below 10 degrees overnight – even with a fire burning, we are now keeping the living space around 19 degrees.  It is a different house, and I have a very happy family.

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But don’t take my word for it! I think the dogs love it too. At least I’ll know where to find them until for the next few months!

 

Out and about

School holidays are one of my favourite times on the Rock Farm.  In between days at work, we get to spend time doing various things around the place. Some of the activities are related to the running of the farm, some have the boys learning valuable skills.  Others are just fun.

The young fellows have a couple of projects they want to complete.  Indeed they wrote a list of activities they wanted to tick off these holidays (they must take after their mother)!  They have a couple of woodwork projects to complete – a pair of picture frames.

For me, it is all about hanging with the animals.  The neighbour’s beautiful horses love any excess carrots, whilst the cattle are just curious (and hopeful I will move them to a different paddock).

Of course not all farm jobs can wait until the holidays are over.  Our header tank float valve was leaking, causing the pump to run continuously.  The resultant leaking water might have been a boon for the nearby grass, but it wasn’t good for our dam’s water levels.  Jo volunteered to enter the tank and remove the old valve.  Thankfully it just needed a good clean and fresh lubrication, and was as good as new.  I quite enjoyed offering advice from the sidelines…

We also had a few mechanical issues to deal with. The falcon ute needed a new idler pulley and the young fella broke something on his motorbike.

The falcon was an easy fix. The motorbike needed to go and visit an expert…

An old meat saw on Gumtree somehow ended up in the back of the car.  I re-purposed an old kitchen bench top and some leftover pine into a mount for the saw.  It should make processing our lamb a little easier.

Speaking of lamb – we enjoyed a couple of roast legs of lamb in the camp ovens.  The brick lined fire-pit hasn’t had much use over summer – but we hope to change that now the weather has cooled down a little.

We also made a warning sign to put on the gate 🙂 It is a simple form of security after a car we didn’t recognise drove up our drive and into our property, before leaving.

And on one glorious day we went for a hike.  With some hearty snacks, we put on our hiking boots and walked the boundary of our place and our neighbours.

We loved it, as it was a fantastic opportunity to check out the place and really take time to enjoy the Rock Farm.  All too often there are little jobs to do, but at the end of the day, spending time with this gorgeous family is what really matters.

It was good to recharge the soul. After all isn’t that what school holidays are for?

Keeping Warm – Part 1

When we moved into the not so rocky Rock Farm, we knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us.  From bringing fences and paddocks back into order, managing the weeds and maintaining the water supplies – there is no end of projects to keep me amused.

To keep from being overwhelmed, we developed a master plan.  On one branch of the master plan was two words….  Renovate House.

We gave ourselves twelve months to live in the new house before touching anything.  And a good thing too.  Updating the kitchen and bathrooms moved down the list as the cool weather came and we decided that making the house warmer was essential.

The main heating for the house came from a slow combustion stove that had been installed into a brick wall.  The small fire struggled with the large space it was trying to heat, especially as there is no insulation in the house whatsoever.  Pulling the old fireplace out revealed a full brick hearth from an earlier open fireplace and chimney.  We couldn’t imagine how cold the house would have been with an open fireplace in the lounge room!

We recruited a couple of helpers to remove the old hearth – that had been extended when the slow combustion stove had been fitted.  Demolition was good fun – and created an abundance of mess.

Then came the tedious part of setting up for a new fireplace.  We elected to brick up the old fireplace entirely and render the wall.  A brick layer I am not, but I found it easier to do than rendering.  It took me three coats to get a finish we were happy with.

We tinted the render with a blue-stone oxide that matched some stone paving stones.  We carefully measured the size of the base to ensure it met the required clearances.  Jo found an old shearing shed frame that we used to make the timber surround.  We trialed the fit many times to try and get it right.

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At this point it was time to get the professionals in.  We were lucky to get Phil, the same installer who fitted a similar fireplace at the original Rock Farm.  Phil worked hard to ensure the fireplace sat perfectly in the hearth – and we were lucky that the flue missed all important structures in the ceiling cavity.

We had also fitted and oiled the timber – and were thrilled with the result.  The best part was it only took a day or two before we had a cold snap – just the excuse to light it up and set the paint.

There is still a long way to go to make the house warm and we have a few plans we will look at soon.  Meanwhile if the pooch is anything to go by, the fire is a roaring success. 🙂

Ripping Lines for Soil Health

With the tractor repaired, I was keen to press on and continue our journey along the path of improved soil health.  My next project was to test the effectiveness or ripping lines in one of our flat paddocks.  I have previously experimented with ripping lines on some of the slopes late last year, and the initial results are promising.  Moisture is remaining in these contours for longer than other areas, and we are starting to see green bands along those rip-lines.  See story here: https://rockfarming.com/2019/01/13/school-holidays-on-the-rock-farm/

The paddock for this experiment is a 1.8 hectare flat alluvial plain, with deep soil.  This flat area is the best soil on the Rock Farm – but in a short cloud burst we had before Christmas (35mm rain in 30 minutes), water sheeted across this paddocks. Barely any of the water soaked in before it made its way  into the creek.  (https://rockfarming.com/2018/12/17/of-droughts-and-flooding-rains/)

The paddock was heavily grazed for a week.  Then I spent an hour or so chipping out thistles and the odd serrated tussock to get the paddock ready for ripping.

A couple of hours with the tractor pulling hard in 2nd gear low range, and the rippers had opened up the soil in the 1.8 hectare flat.  I ran the lines about 5 metres apart, in a concentric spiral.   In areas where the soil was compacted, the rippers barely scratched the surface, however in other areas they penetrated a good 30cm or more into the soil.

The purpose of this is two-fold.  It aims to aerate the soil, increasing the microbial activity within the soil, thereby improving the availability of nutrients for grass.  It also allows moisture to penetrate deep into the soil, reducing run off and storing moisture in the soil for longer.  Pat Coleby is one of the many authors who recommend ripping lines along contours and I thought it was worth the experiment.  The main difference is she recommends ripping after rain… but with barely any rain falling this month, I figured I was best to see if we could open some of the soil up and ensure if any rain does fall, we could capture it.

Interestingly another technique to aerate the soil relies on grazing management.  As cattle eat the longer grass, the plant’s roots die off, and as they rot, the soil is opened up allowing earthworms to do the hard work.

It was interesting to rip a section of a much smaller paddock that the cattle had been in a couple of weeks earlier.  Whilst they had compacted the soil around the water trough, in the areas where the grass had been tallest (and since eaten), the rippers penetrated deepest, and didn’t turn the soil over.  This is a sign of deep friable soil – the best kind.  This encourages me that we are doing good things for our soil health, and that our soil rotation is working.

Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed for rain!