The Summer Work Gang

This summer we have tried a new schedule of work on the Rock Farm. On weekdays the boys (and Mum) have fronted up for work at 8am sharp for a morning of ‘farm work’. At an appropriate time, we break for half an hour for morning tea – remember we are feeding people with the appetites of Hobbits. I have to ensure all farm work is completed by midday. This leaves the afternoon free for bike riding, reading and even the Xbox…. And boy have the lads been working hard.

You may recall last summer we tried to restore an old horse float, but due to the total fire bans and constant smoke, we achieved very little until later in the year. Outside work was limited to essential tasks to keep the cattle fed and watered. This year, the summer days have been far more pleasant, and we have managed to achieve far more than I hoped, crossing lots of little jobs off my never ending list.

Some of the jobs have bugged me since we moved in. Others have been more pressing, just as repairing fences. I have been trying (not always succeeding) to make the work fun, and if not fun, at least educational. What I have really enjoyed most though is just being together with my boys, watching them problem solve and see their sense of achievement when they realise they can actually do things now without me giving them the full instructions. I am starting to give them more responsibility for the outcomes – it is coming slowly, for them as well as me as we transition to our ‘management by intent’ principle. That said, I am immensely proud of what they have achieved, and really pleased with how we are slowly getting on top of the organisation of the Rock Farm..

We spent our first morning on the job pruning the garden, and the laneways ensuring fire truck access to our property. Both the boys have started driving Myrtle (Our old Benz LA911) this year… they never thought they could have so much fun chugging along at five kilometres per hour! The truck is pretty daunting for a 13 or 15 year old, but it is relatively easy to drive, with power steering and synchromesh on all gears. The hardest part is its sheer bulk of the truck, and the narrow width of our gates!

Under the principle that a little maintenance now stops a much bigger problem later, the boys also learnt a bit about building, as we repaired our old stable block. We needed to prop part of the roof, and re-secure trusses, replacing loose nails with screws. I gave the lads very little direction in much of this task, but was impressed as they rose to the occasion and soon the stables were in much better order than when we started.

Some parts of our ‘farm work’ were just good old fashioned hard work, with nothing to do but get stuck in. Cleaning up the hayshed was the worst. This area of the farm was a real mess, and I have been slowly bringing it in to order. In the past couple of years I had used our old roofing iron to weatherproof the walls, and installed a new pair of gates. With the outside looking smarter, it was time to turn our attention to the inside. With piles of fertiliser slowly rotting amongst old furniture and junk, I really appreciated the strong and willing labour. It took us three mornings of concerted effort to clean up the mess and spread the fertiliser on our back paddock (by hand!). In the process, we found some hidden gems, including an old shearing blade grinder. Once I checked the wiring was in order, the old grinder spun up straight away when I plugged it in!

But it hasn’t all been hard work. With the recent spike in COVID cases cancelling sporting carnivals, we had planned on taking a few days off just to relax. Like so many others though, we kept a close eye on travel restrictions that were becoming more difficult to achieve. We had to cancel our original holiday booking, but were still determined to get a break from the farm and have a bit of a holiday.

We packed the car with our camping gear, and drove for a couple hours through the southern tablelands, eventually ending up back where we began… in our front yard! We turned off the phones and other electronics, set up camp and spent a couple of blissful nights reconnecting with each other. It was truly wonderful, and allowed us to see our place with a fresh pair of eyes. We even used the back of the ute for a special screening of Disney Cars. The view was spectacular, and with the dam just a stones throw away for kayaking, the bike track through the garden for tricks and the hillbilly pool available for splashing, we might have just found our new favourite camp site!

I do love the many challenges of the Rock Farm. There are times the list of jobs I want to do here can feel a little overwhelming. Whilst I am loving my mornings of work with the boys, it was wonderful to take the opportunity to step away and appreciate the farm for what it is. It is our home and refuge in this crazy world. It is nice to slow down and enjoy the quiet every now and then.

Especially given the residents are always happy to see you 🙂

Book Review: English Pastoral by James Rebanks

Under the Christmas Tree this year was a wonderful gift from my mother, English Pastoral by James Rebanks. Rebanks is a farmer in the Lakes district in the UK, an Oxford graduate and an expert adviser to the UNESCO on sustainable tourism. You might be forgiven for thinking what is the relevance of this book for a small hobby farm half a world away, but this book captures many of my frustrations with ‘conventional agriculture’ and provides guidance for me in our journey on the Rock Farm.

Rebanks opens his book with a memory of riding with his Grandfather as he ploughed his fields. When he was old enough, his Grandfather started sharing the traditional farming techniques used on a mixed rotational farm. Rebanks loved his apprenticeship, and learnt the old way of farming that had been largely unchanged for hundreds if not thousands of years.

As a young man, he witnessed his Father struggle with the lure of modern agriculture. With the drive for efficiency, farms started to grow in size. Fertilizers and high yielding pasture, along with specialised farms replaced mixed farms. This modern miracle increased yields enormously. But it came at a cost, and rested uneasily with Rebanks and his father.

A watershed moment came when a young woman, Lucy came from a local river conservation charity. With some simple changes, Lucy showed how the water courses running through their farm could be returned to their more natural state. And she had funds to help pay for the fencing that would be required to make it happen. Small changes made more natural areas in the farm, and Rebanks realised he was now a guardian of these wild spaces. This first step changed Rebanks as well as the farm.

Rebanks is a realist. He knows the future of farming lies somewhere between the vast industrial scope of broadacre agriculture with its intensive feedlots, and the small scale mixed farms. He is concerned with the increasingly binary arguments that place farmers at odds with environmentalists. He knows that the old style of farming is hard work. The health of animals and plants is hard work, and requires constant vigilance. I am reminded of the words of Allan Savory who believes all problems stem from poor management.

The idea that land must be either perfectly wild or perfectly efficient and sterile is unwise and blinding; it is a false and unsustainable simplification. When we despair and reduce our world view to black and white – ‘farming’ is bad; ‘nature’ is good – we lose sight of vital distinctions and nuances. We make every farmer who isn’t a saint a villain. We miss the actual complexities of farming, the vast spectrum between those those extremes and the massive scope for nature friendly farming that exists between them.

What I really enjoyed about reading Rebanks’ book was his descriptions of the land and all that lived in it. It was once said to me that a farmer’s footsteps are the best fertiliser. Rebanks embodies this, with his delight in the detail of his farm. He takes us on constant journeys around his farm, and shares the magic of sighting a barn owl in the hunt, the rising of the sun above the mist at dawn, the gentle cow nursing her new calf.

The more I learn about it, the more beautiful our farm and valley becomes. It pains me to ever be away; I never want to be wrenched from this place and its constant motion. The longer I am here, the clearer I hear the music of this valley: the Jenny wren in the undergrowth; the Scots pines creaking and groaning in the wind: the meadow grasses whispering. The distinction between me and this place blurs until I become part of it, and when they set me in the earth here, it will be the conclusion of a longer lifelong story of return. The ‘I’ and the ‘me’ fades away, erodes with each passing day, until it is already an effort to remember who I am and why I am supposed to matter. The modern world worships the idea of the self, the individual, but it is a gilded cage: there is another kind of freedom in becoming absorbed in a little life on the land. In a noise age, I think perhaps trying to live quietly might be a virtue.

This book is beautiful. It is shocking. It has challenged me to take time to get to know the detail of our farm. The wild things that live here, the changes of the seasons, the flowing of the grasses. It has also reminded me that our farm is a luxury. It is a hobby that I love, but I don’t stay up at night worrying about how I will provide for my family.

It seems the lessons of half a world away are equally relevant here too.

Harvesting Phalaris

The contrast between this summer and last cannot be more stark. Our beautiful cows are in excellent condition, which is unusual when calves are at foot. I have modified my rotation through the paddocks in an attempt to keep the grass near the house as short as possible. This is to reduce the intensity of any grass fire that may approach our house when the grass goes off.

The good news is that I am able to use the opportunity to rest some paddocks completely. It has led to the phalaris grass setting seed for the first time in years. Phalaris is a drought tolerant perennial grass that is competitive against weeds and aids in control of erosion. Too much phalaris can cause staggers, however it works well in conjunction with companion planting of clover, ryegrass and fescue.

The good news is that harvesting the seed is relatively easy to do. Based on the advice of a local with years of experience, I rigged a couple of pieces of timber beside the tractor, with a tarpaulin loosely draped between them. By putting the front timber on the front end loader, I was able to adjust the height to below the seed heads. It was then a case of driving through the paddock and watching the seed accumulate in the tarpaulin.

It didn’t take long to fill four small buckets. It took almost as long to sift out the spiders, caterpillars and larger wild oat seeds, but I had a willing assistant – until he caught sight of a large spider disappearing up his sleeve! It was tedious work, but the chickens enjoyed the free feed!

In autumn, I hope to spread the seed amongst areas of unproductive wire grass. I will also spread some seed in areas of erosion or scalding that we have been managing thus far by spreading green waste. I have to be careful to manage the pasture to make sure the phalaris doesn’t dominate, however at this stage, any ground-cover is better than none.

It was also a good exercise to see how easy phalaris seed is to harvest and for that it was a complete success. I always enjoy trying new techniques on the Rock Farm, with a special thanks to Jimmy of Bushfield Farm for his advice. More information on phalaris as a pasture species can be found at the excellent NSW DPI website here: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/pastures-and-rangelands/species-varieties/phalaris

Slashing Weeds (or is that tyres?) – Changing a Tractor Tyre

With the prodigious and welcome explosion of grass this season, We have been running machines that have done very little work in the past few years. And for old machines, especially old tractors, the maintenance requirements are a little higher. I have had to replace pins, stabilising chains on the three point linkage, and a tube in one of the front tyres. But I had been watching the right rear tyre of our old tractor with increasing dread.

In my a recent post, I explained how we had been using an old mulching or flail mower behind the tractor to knock down Paterson Curse and other weeds. We had put new tyres on the mower this year, which has allowed me to manage the height the mower works at more precisely and reduce the load on the top pin.

I have also been using the mulcher to create firebreaks around the house. The grass is still green at the base, but with the heat of the last few weeks, it has browned off and stopped growing. By slashing it now, I hope to maintain a zone of safety around our house and shed for this year’s fire season.

I had been watching the right rear tyre closely for a while. It was probably original fit to the tractor, making it over 45 years old, and was in much poorer condition than the left rear, an obviously much newer tyre. The tyre in question had several tears along the lugs, including one that had opened up and had the tube protruding.

I decided to err on the side of caution, and relocate the tractor to the shed to remove the wheel before it punctured. The main reason for this is I find it much easier to work in the shade and on a concrete floor at my convenience rather than in the paddock on a terrible slope at the worst possible time.

I was concerned the tyre would be too heavy for me to move. As feared, it was filled with ballast water. Before I undid the wheel nuts, I removed the valve stem, and admired the jet stream of water pouring out of the tyre onto the shelves in my shed. Once the water was mostly drained out of it, I found I was able to roll the tyre about easily enough. The boy’s trailer came into its own, with a handy tail ramp that I could roll the tyre up and into the trailer.

Even better, the local tyre shop was able to source a new tyre – the same brand and size as the one on the left hand side. They refilled the tube with air, and explained to me how to ballast it with water. On their advice, I parked the tractor with the valve at 10 o’clock, supported the axle with the jack and removed the valve stem. I then clamped a hose to the valve and started filling with water. Every minute or so I removed the hose, to allow the pressure to release. Once the tyre was full to the mark with water, I replaced the valve stem, rotated the tyre so the valve was at 12 o’clock and topped it up with air.

A huge thank you to the team at Douglas Tyre Service who had the tractor back in service, slashing weeds and clearing fire breaks two days later.

It’s not just weeds that are growing on the Rock Farm

There is no doubt that this is one of the best spring season’s this district has seen in recent memory. Our cattle are in remarkable condition, with the calves growing quickly.

With so much condition on the cows, they have already started cycling. We decided to go with nature and bring forward our leased bull. Ferdinand, as he has been named by the family took a little encouragement to get off the truck, but once he made it down the ramp, he was welcomed quickly into the herd. A magnificent Charolais Cross, his sire was a top performing bull in the United States, especially bred using artificial insemination by our mentor, John. We are extremely fortunate to be able to use some of the world’s best bloodlines in our humble herd.

With the cattle doing extremely well, and requiring little more than a daily water check, I have had time to turn my attention back to more domestic matters. The garden has exploded, and I have been spending quite a bit of time either pruning excess growth or removing branches and trees that died in the drought and haven’t recovered. Unfortunately Jo and I have slightly different objectives with our pruning. I want the area under the trees clear of obstructions so I can mow easily up to the trunk with our mower. Jo would rather I leave the branches down to the ground to make a wind break.

The best thing about a little battery powered chain saw is that you can do a whole heap of pruning before you get caught… It is also the worst thing. I think the shock of seeing the truck laden with clippings caused a moment, but once Jo realised how neater the trees looked I was almost forgiven… almost. The clippings, along with some weeds from garden beds, have been used to make swales in the bottom of the garden to better capture water in the previously dry area.

All Jo’s work in the vegetable garden is starting to really pay off. We have harvested our crop of garlic, and the snow peas and green salad leaves are in fantastic condition. We even enjoyed some broccoli before it shot to seed.

I admit I was skeptical about using the old roofing iron to make vegetable beds, but Jo did a great job. The garden looks really impressive, and is a pleasure to work in. There is also something completely wonderful about the taste you get with fresh vegetables and salad leaves picked straight from the garden. I once heard it described that you can taste the sunshine – and I think it is true!

But it is not just the vegetable garden that is putting food on our plate. We are finding magnificent field mushrooms in the paddock. Each mushroom could be a meal in itself, and we have dried some of our excess mushrooms to use in the future.

Other things are growing too. I have planted fifty willow cuttings along the leading (and eroding) edge of our dam. It seems most of them have taken and are sprouting green leaves. This is a great result. Some people have queried why I have planted willows along the dam, fearing they use a lot of water. My counter is that they only use water for half the year when they have leaves on them. They will \stabilise the bank, which is their primary purpose. They will give shade when they are bigger, and also provide an emergency stock feed in drought. Being on a dam, they will not enter the catchment either. I hope they continue to grow through the summer and add to the trees on the Rock Farm.

But really the most magnificent change has been the grass. From a paddock that was bare six months ago, there is now chest high grass. You could have seen an ant walk across this paddock at Christmas time (if you could have seen through the smoke haze)….

Last week the kids played hide and seek in this paddock.. All you had to do was run like crazy when the other one was counting and then flatten yourself. With the grass swaying in the breeze, it was really hard to even know where to start looking It was hilarious fun.

It is incredible to see photos of what we went through in the last few years. This is what the same area looked like in January. It is truly amazing what happens when you just add water, lots of water 🙂

The miracle of birth and a purple curse.

The past month has seen some changes on the Rock Farm. Most are due to the addition of a remarkable ingredient – water. Good steady rains have seen the grass continue to leap out of the ground, but it has come at a cost, as we shall see later.

Out of our 11 beautiful cows, we welcomed 10 calves into the world. Miss-Steak was our one cow who didn’t calve, but after the shocking season we had last year, I couldn’t hold it against her. We have a soft sport for Miss Steak after an unfortunate incident a couple of years ago (https://rockfarming.com/2018/11/16/a-terrible-miss-steak/). Miss Steak is, as you’d expect this season, in rotund condition 🙂

Thankfully all the other cows calved without incident. The Not-So-Little-Helpers got a whole heap more than they bargained for on one of our daily check ups during the school holidays. Ice-Cream was down and in labour. We sat down and watched proceedings from the dam wall. The 13 year old had the binoculars at the critical moment when Ice-Cream gave a tremendous heave, and the calf appeared with a woosh… he was more than a little horrified to witness the miracle of life in such close up detail.

We marked and vaccinated the calves, and were thrilled with five heifers and five bull calves. We used rubber rings to mark the boys, who left the yards a little cross eyed. They were soon reconnected with their mothers and on their way to a fresh paddock.

The regular rain has been most welcome. We have been spared destructive storms, with steady small amounts of rain falling regularly. This has led to a prodigious amount of grass. But with the grass has come weeds.

We are attempting to use the cattle to eat firebreaks around the house. When the grass dries out, we will be at risk of grass fires. The cattle do a fantastic job, but they’re not such great fans of Paterson Curse.

This purple (and occasional white) flower (echium plantagineum) has come up in abundance this year on our place. Whilst a weevil has been introduced as a biological control, it takes a while to build up numbers sufficient to tackle it in a meaningful way. A short term solution to reduce the seed bank is to slash the flowers. Our old mulching mower is extremely effective at knocking down the weed. A good grease, new tyres and some fresh oil in the gear box and it was pressed back into service.

The mulcher is also extremely effective at finding any wire in a paddock. I thought our paddocks were pretty clean, but I still managed to find a section that wrapped itself around the drum. Thankfully it was all pretty easy to sort out and get back on the job.

The good news is that other grasses are in full flower, with Brome, Rye and Cocksfoot grass and legumes such as clover all developing seed. I feel at times completely ignorant with such a vast variety of forbs, grasses and legumes growing on our property, but there is some pleasure in taking the time to get up close and observe the beauty of nature.

My assumption is that all plants (weeds included) are filling a niche. The trick I have to understand is what niche that is, and how to manage the grazing, slashing and resting regime to best encourage the useful plants and reduce the competition from weeds. Allan Savory is convinced that good management is the key to a successful regenerative farming operation. I just have to learn to observe closely and learn from experience. I won’t get it right all the time, but I hope we can slowly turn the tide and increase the productivity and beauty of our property.

At the very least, I can take pleasure in the small beautiful details. I hope you agree. 🙂

Spring and Calving

Spring is a wonderful time on the Rock Farm. The return of warmer weather is appreciated by all of us, plants, animals and humans. This year has been such a change on previous years, with good steady rain falling regularly since March. This means as the ground warms up, we have great soil moisture leading into the growing season.

But it isn’t just the grass that is growing. Our beautiful cow’s bellies have been steadily growing bigger all winter. It was a wonderful morning indeed when we welcomed our first calf for 2020.

Within a few days we had three more calves on the ground. They are a real delight at this age. They love sleeping in the sun, nestled behind a shrub or even a deep patch of clover.

These cattle have become really quiet over the past couple of years. The mother’s are understandably cautious of us, especially when we go wandering among them and their new babies with Sapphire. One incident a couple of days ago I found particularly touching.

After putting out some bloat lick, all the herd came over for a taste. One poor cow, Latte, left her calf behind. The best thing I could do was make myself scarce, so I departed as quickly as I could. Latte then commenced a desperate search for her calf, trotting around the paddock, calling for her calf. After five long minutes of desperate searching, she hadn’t found the calf and was becoming more distressed.

I returned to the paddock and found the calf, fast asleep in a bunch of saplings. Carefully I positioned myself behind the calf, and gently started talking to it. As expected, it woke with a jolt, leapt to its feet, let out a blood curdling bellow and ran directly away from me and straight into Mum who was very pleased to be reunited.

The bellow created a very different reaction with the herd. The rest of the cattle all came running at their best speed (it would be unfair to call it a gallop, especially for the heavy cows yet to calve). Their protective instincts were strong. As they cleared the dam wall and found that all was well, they gratefully settled down to a walk. The mother Latte and her calf were reunited, everyone was happy and a few minutes later were all grazing peacefully as if non of the adventure had ever happened.

So why was I putting out bloat lick? Clover is a wonderful nitrogen fixing, drought hardy grass. This year it has grown rapidly in some of our paddocks. Cattle love it, however if they eat too much it forms a foamy gas in their rumen, which they are unable to belch. In extreme cases it is fatal, and several cattle in the district have died due to bloat this year.

The bloat lick we use has a molasses base, but the active ingredient is Alcohol Ethoxylate Teric 12A 23. I don’t know how it works to reduce the foaming in the rumen, but so far, we haven’t lost any cattle on our clover rich pastures. They do seem to know what it does though, and actively seek it out. As they eat through the clover in the paddock, the demand for it reduces – until I put them in the next paddock. More information on the bloat lick we are using can be found here: https://www.olssons.com.au/uploads/7/9/6/4/79645424/bloat-liq_brochure.pdf

With things all settled back down Jo and I were able to take a few moments to relax with the cattle. I was a little surprised when ‘Uno’, our first born heifer from last year came right up to me…. if only I hadn’t laughed just as she was getting bold!

Can’t see the wood for the trees

The past week has been a little hectic on the Rock Farm – for all the right reasons. We have had a most fortunate set of circumstances, that created a flurry of activity, and led to aching muscles and blisters.

After our recent massive downpour, it was evident that some areas of our creek bank had collapsed. This loss of productive soil into our waterways is less than ideal, for both the water ways and our farm. What was evident through walking along the length of the creek that runs through our place is that trees, whether exotic or native, all helped stop the erosion. We needed trees.

Long term readers may recall that Greening Australia planted thousands of trees at the original Rock Farm, see post here. That paddock was directly seeded along contours, and as far as I can tell from recent google earth images, the trees are doing remarkably well. I put in a call to Greening Australia and spoke to Ben Hanrahan about what were the best trees to plant along our creek and options were available to us.

It seemed my timing was perfect. Due to COVID restrictions, a property that had planned to plant 5000 trees was unable to arrange volunteer labour to plant them. After discussing the options with Ben, we applied for a grant of 300 trees, which were sitting ready to go at the nursery.

Greening Australia provided us with an incredibly diverse list of species. I looked up each to determine the best habitat. A list of the species is below for those interested.

The only problem was, we needed to get them in the ground quickly, and then build a fence to keep the cattle off them. But the first priority was to get them planted before a forecast 5mm of rain was due to fall.

I managed to get 115 trees planted on the first day. Jo and I managed to knock over the rest the following day. We averaged 3.6 minutes a tree – which was by all accounts a cracking pace to clear a patch, plant the tree, install the guard and give them a quick drink. The Hamilton Tree Planter was worth its weight in gold. Some areas such as where we had vehicle access were much easier than areas on the far side of the creek, which required lugging everything over the stream – crossed by delicate leaps in strategic places, or finding holes that were just over gum boot depth!

We managed to get all the trees in the ground before a wonderful 3mm of rain fell overnight to help settle them into their new homes.

But that was only part of the battle won. The next part was the construction of a new fence. A new fence was required to isolate around four hectares (10 acres) along the creek. This will hopefully allow the new shrubs and trees to get established without the pressure of cattle. Wombats and kangaroos are another story.

It took me another day and a half to get the fence built – around 180 metres with a gate and two flood gates. I included a hot wire on the fence to discourage the cattle from pushing on it – as a lot of the posts are in pretty soft soil.

And then, after four pretty solid days (110 000 steps according to my fitbit) it was time to sit back and invite the cattle into their ‘new’ paddock, secure in the knowledge the new trees were safe.

A huge thank you to Ben and the team at Greening Australia for supporting our request for assistance. We hope that these trees will be part of the legacy we leave here at the Rock Farm. The species provided by Greening Australia were:

  • Acacia mearnsii – Black Wattle
  • Dodonaea viscosa subsp. Spatulata – Narrow Leafed Hop Bush
  • Eucalyptus blakelyi – Blakelyi Red Gum
  • Eucalyptus bridgesiana – Apple Box
  • Eucalyptus camaldulensis – River Red Gum
  • Eucalyptus viminalis – Mana or Ribbon Gum
  • Leptospermum lanigerum – Woolly Tea Tree
  • Leptospermum obovatum – River Tea Tree

And the excellent book that helped me work out the best places to plant the trees was Woodland Flora – A field guide for the Southern Tablelands, by Sarah Sharp, Rainer Rehwinkel, Dave Mallinson and David Eddy. (2015)  It is available here: http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/7609.htm

Drainage, Trees, Cattle and Some Sad News

The magical rain of a couple of weeks ago has continued the transformation of the Rock Farm. The rain has continued, mostly on weekends, with occasional bursts of hail and sleet, usually when the kids are in the middle of their weekend sport!

The ground is literally oozing water. Where I have put rip lines on the hillsides, the ground is soft. The cattle are sinking to their knees where the ground has been opened up, showing how effective the ripping has been in getting the moisture into the soil.

All the ground moisture is great in the paddocks, but not so great when the water is oozing over the driveway. A little section of our drive had become very boggy, and with no natural drainage, I needed to take some action. The tractor allowed me to easily dig a trench, and put some large poly-pipe under the road. Some hours with a mattock to dig a spoon drain has diverted much of the surface water off the drive, and through the pipes. The drive still hasn’t dried out enough for me to drive a car along this part of the drive. I’m not complaining though, I’m far happier stuck in mud than eating dust!

The ideal conditions have increased our determination to plant more trees this season. The yellow box (eucalyptus melliodora) trees we planted last year are doing well as are the Daimyo Oaks (quercus dentata) we planted along our driveway.

We took the chance to plant some Algerian Oak (quercus canariensis) and Californian White Oak (quercus lobata) to form a wind break west of the house. These magnificent trees grow well in local conditions once established. We bought half a dozen seedlings from the Digger’s Club to get going as our normal source trees didn’t have any acorns this year because of the drought.

In the meantime, the cattle’s bellies continue to grow. They will start calving in the next few weeks, so we are keeping a close eye on them. With the paddocks being so lush, I have some dolomite (magnesium) available for them, in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of bloat and grass tetany. We have been allowing them to graze the rich clover paddocks only for a few hours at a time, but they don’t appreciate being moved at the end of their session. Sapphire the Border Collie is mostly helpful, but remains a work in progress!

In some sad news, we bade farewell to Mater, the little quarter-horse with a heart of gold who lived next door. This fellow not only taught The-Now-Not-So-Little Helper the basics of riding, but reminded us all about what it means to love a horse. This little horse had defied all predictions and trekked the Bicentennial National Trail from Cooktown to Healsville a few years ago with his owners, Kathryn and Preston. This is where he (and Kathryn and Preston) came into our lives on their way south. With Kathryn and Preston away, I had been checking on their horses with even more enthusiasm than normal. Finding him dead in the paddock with his old friend Laurie watching over him was devastating.

Whilst he might have lived next door, we felt he was part of our family too. Over the years, this little fellow and his mates have received countless carrots and cuddles from all of us. He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace old friend.

The big wet

The Rock Farm was fortunate to receive a good soaking last weekend, with over 100mm of rain falling in just 48 hours. The magical beautiful rain soaked into the ground, and when the ground could take no more, it started to fill the creeks, and rivers. All across our valley roads were closed as the waters rose. The only problem was I was in town at work, and as the waters rose, I knew I wouldn’t be getting back home any time soon.

You may remember the dam looking like this back in February. The dam was barely 30cm deep when we received around 80mm of rain overnight. The difference the following day was remarkable… but we had no idea what the dam looked like full.

Well this weekend changed all that. The dam filled and then overflowed. It is hard to get some sense of scale from the photo, but the water has risen another 1.5-2 metres or so. With the dam over 200m long and 100m wide, it represents a huge body of water – a wonderful legacy from owners past.

This photo is taken on the same post as the photos above…. a massive transformation. The water from the dam overflows down a channel into a creek. Even that overflow drain couldn’t cope, and our flat was covered with standing water. Just stunning. Especially when you compare it to the scenes we were facing in summer a few short months ago: https://rockfarming.com/2020/02/03/weaning-and-a-rough-plan-for-the-cattle/

The photo on the right below was from a couple of weeks ago when I was sorting out problems with my water pump. You can see the pump house on the bank in the left of frame. The water has now risen to the pump!

After enjoying the hospitality of friends for a couple of nights, the water had receded enough by Monday morning for me the attempt to get home. The crossing had dropped below the base of my secondary marker (a strategically placed star picket on the bank).

It was an easy crossing – but the boy’s were disappointed. Their hopes of staying home for a school day were dashed when I turned around and ran them into town.

When I got home, I spent an hour on the tractor clearing all the silt and debris from the crossing.

The next job is to tidy up the flood gates – but that can wait until the water recedes a little further…. It is a minor inconvenience. Given a choice, I’ll take the water any day of the week! A huge thank you to Adrian and Mark & Mell for your kind hospitality whilst I was marooned on the wrong side of the moat!