Problem Solving….

One of the things I love about living on the Rock Farm is the challenges that it throws my way. I find myself one minute learning about the life-cycle of earth worms, and the next researching how to change impellers on pumps, or learning about resistance in electrical circuits. I know that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most people prefer to live in houses where everything just works. And just for a moment last week, I was one of them.

In my last post, I revealed that we were pleased to be seeing progress on the Rock Farm. I should have known better than to brag…..

The first thing to break was the lawn mower. A particularly tough tussock caused the drive belt to slip and then before I could disengage the deck, the belt snapped.

The repair was simple. I ordered a new belt online and it was delivered three days later. Unfortunately I selected the wrong belt (there are two belts in these zero turn mowers). After realising this error, I decided to drop in and pick up a new belt from the local dealer. The dealer had none in stock. Two weeks and a couple of phone calls later I am still waiting for the belt to arrive….

The next thing to go awry was the ute. Having only just replaced the engine at great expense, I was alarmed when the glow-plug light started flashing, indicating a potential problem with the exhaust system. A quick check of the OBDII code had me terrified that the DPF (diesel particulate filter) had failed.

Thankfully I had a more advanced diagnostic tool and it revealed that one of the exhaust gas temperature sensors was malfunctioning. After unplugging all the sensors and putting them back one at a time, I was able to confirm which sensor was throwing the fault. YouTube helped me diagnose that the sensor was working correctly (resistance within the correct range) and the voltage at the other end of the plug was also correct. I ended up making a little harness to bridge the plug – and everything seemed to work – for a while.

It took me several frustrating attempts to determine that the sensor was reading the correct resistance only when the engine was cold. At some point it was failing when it warmed up. Don’t ask how many times I tested the resistance, until I worked that out. Once I was comfortable that the sensor was indeed stuffed, I then had the challenge of removing it. I needed midget hands, octopus arms, the strength of a gorilla and some helpful advice from the neighbour (and his useful universal joint driver) to get the old one out. A bit of work with the angle grinder on a 17mm ring spanner and I had the perfect tool to install a new OEM sensor, that was delivered in three days. A win!

Just as I thought I was on top of things, I came home from a long day at work to be greeted by my wonderful family with two new crisis. The first was that our refrigerator had turned into a cupboard and wasn’t cooling anything. The second was the toilets weren’t flushing.

The refrigerator was frustrating. It had only been back for just on a month after three week stay at the repair shop for the same fault. It didn’t take long for the helpers and I to load it in the horse-float to take back to the repairers for a warranty claim. That done, it was time to focus on the water.

No water in the toilets is an inconvenience in the house. The toilets are flushed with dam water, so the work-around is to flush the toilets with buckets of potable water from the laundry sink. The larger problem was the dam water also supplies all the water troughs.

And the Cattle were in a paddock watered by a trough.

It was bitterly cold and well after our bed time when Jo and I went down with Sapphire to move the cattle to a paddock with a dam. The cattle were super excited to see us. After 20 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to move them, both Jo and I were getting frustrated with the cattle, the dog and each other. It is moments like these when you question why we aren’t living in a shiny modern townhouse where everything just works.

It was time to call it, but I thought I would have a better chance on my own. Jo was grateful to be released back to the warm bliss of the house. Sapphire would have loved to stayed, but was being less than helpful, and was ordered back to the house too. After one more lap around the paddock with the cattle I shone the torch at the open gate. The girls looked at me, looked at the gate and happily trotted through the gate and waited for me to show them the next open gate. 10 minutes later I was closing the gate on their new paddock…

The immediate problem was averted, but the solution hasn’t yet been found.

Our rural plumbing arrangement has been an amazing exercise in patience. Close to 50 years of frosts, cars, cattle and horses seem to have made the pipes brittle and the joints liable to leak. The only problem this time was there was no leak. In fact with the pump running, we had no water in the system at all. The pump seemed unable to raise the water as far as the first tap in the line.

My first thought was that we had a blockage at the foot valve in the dam. Some chilly moments near the water’s edge revealed that whilst it was a little crusty, the foot valve seemed to be working as it should.

A bit of work following pipes has been interesting. Taps we thought were on the main line from the pump are actually on spur lines. One thing is for sure, I am getting a much better understanding of what lies under the ground the longer I live here! Unfortunately there is nothing here to suggest a blockage, so I am back to square one.

Google reckons that I need to check the intake and venturi, which I have done. The next item is the impeller could be worn. After goodness knows how many years of pumping dirty dam water, this is a distinct possibility. Thankfully Google also found a supplier of parts for our old Davey pump, and I eagerly await their arrival to see if my prognosis is correct.

All in all it has been a frustrating week or so. I have a broken mower, broken refrigerator and no farm water. On the plus side, I did get the ute back on the road after learning about how temperature sensors work.

But would I trade it for a shiny house in the city with all the modern conveniences? Not on your life.

Winter paddock rotations

On the Rock Farm we are continuing our rotation of cattle to fresh pastures, using the regenerative principles of Allan Savory. The cattle manage a pretty good job of eating the grass and a lot of the leafy weeds however they aren’t so keen on the woody weeds or thistles. After I rotate them out of their paddock, it is often worth slashing the remaining weeds, and then following up with the hand chipper a few days later.

The old tractor and mulcher make short work of the weeds and it doesn’t take long for the paddock to look like a lawn. The mulcher also breaks up dry cowpats and leaves the clippings to mulch back into the soil. Using this process I hope to slowly increase soil microbial activity, and encourage productive grasses to out-compete weeds. This technique has been effective against thistles so far, and whilst there are still plenty of weeds in the paddock, I am loathe to use chemicals to control them.

The shot above compares the freshly mulched paddock with the paddock the cattle were in previously, only a couple of weeks ago. The previously grazed paddock is recovering quickly, with healthy patches of barely grass, cocksfoot and clover growing despite the cool weather.

One of the great pleasures this rotation brings is the antics of the cows when you invite them to a new paddock. They carry on like newborn calves – despite their own ever increasing bellies! I love it.

The girls settled quickly into their new paddock – however I needed to duck down and make a small repair to their water trough. The cows not only came over to check out my work, they also gave poor Sapphire the border collie cross a fright. She didn’t know what to do when some gentle (but very big) brown faces came snorting through the window. She placed herself very much in the middle of the seat, as far away from the open windows as she could and kept a very close eye on the inquisitive bovines.

Winter is firewood harvest time. Our neighbours have a great stand of red-box regrowth that we had selectively thinned for firewood about 18 months ago. With that block being recently sold, we took the opportunity to collect the timber we had previously cut. The reason we selected young green branches and trees to harvest is that it encourages the remaining trees to grow large and straight. It ensures we aren’t removing habitat from the area, as most of the hollows required for nesting birds and reptiles are in the large old trees – like the brittle gum below. It also means the timber doesn’t need splitting either – a bonus. We have planted red-box trees on our property, and will be sure to harvest more seed from other red-box trees this year in order to re-establish a stand of these magnificent trees on one of our ridges.

In the meantime we have been slowly working through some of the piles of wire and steel that have been scattered around the Rock Farm. Over the past couple of years we have slowly rounded up dozens of 44 gallon drums, old gates, star pickets, and tyres. They have all been taken to our ‘resource centre’, and some of the steel being recycled at our local tip.

At times it seems like a never ending task, but every now and then we look back and see progress. Whilst it might not add to our little farm’s overall productivity, it does make the farm safer, and improves its appearance. It fits with our philosophy of trying to leave the land in better condition than how we found it.

The only problem is that my wife sees in every pile of scrap an opportunity.. Getting her to help me clean up the farm usually creates more projects than I finish, as her imagination transforms the items into wind-breaks, chook sheds, garden trellises and so on. And I must admit, that isn’t a bad thing 🙂

Getting Winter Ready

As the cooler weather comes to the Rock Farm, I have been busy trying to get everything set up for winter. Whilst our country isn’t cold enough to bring the cattle into sheds or barns over winter, my main focus has been increasing our soil moisture and pasture health to ensure our cattle have plenty of feed.

After trialing rip lines on different parts of the Rock Farm, I found we had most success ripping along the contours of our slopes. With a little rain forecast recently, I took the opportunity to put some more rip lines in a small paddock near the house. The forecast 10mm fell , and it was great to see the effectiveness of the rip lines in slowing the water down and allowing it to penetrate the soil. This was particularly evident in areas where the soil is hard, compact and especially hydrophobic. I hope this will encourage pasture to grow in these areas.

Another area we have been working on our pasture and soil health is on our alluvial flats. Regular readers may recall that we recently split our 5.6Ha flat paddock into three smaller paddocks (https://rockfarming.com/2020/04/21/autumn-school-holiday-project-new-paddocks-on-the-rock-farm/). The reason for this is that the cattle were selectively grazing their favourite grasses, and leaving the less palatable weeds. By making three smaller paddocks, we encourage them to heavily graze the paddock, weeds and all. A long period of rest allows the pasture to regenerate and this technique has been shown to improve the pasture quality.

Our experiment is still in its early stages, however the initial results are promising. After putting the cattle in the first of our paddocks for a couple of weeks, they had grazed the grass and most of the weeds. After moving the cattle out of the paddock, I ran the mulcher over the paddock to knock down remaining weed heads (hopefully before they had run to seed).

Three weeks later and the grass is growing. The photo above left shows an area that a few months ago was all tall thistles. The pasture in this area is now strong and competing with young thistle plants. I spent about half an hour with the chipper just working on the odd patches of young thistles, and hopefully will prevent them from growing to seed. The cattle have been moved to the next paddock and we hope to repeat the cycle in that paddock too.

Meanwhile the rest of the farm is being rested. One of my greatest pleasures is taking walks around the farm and observing the recovery of the other pastures. The change in moisture has encouraged some species of grass, like the Cocksfoot above left, to seed. If you look closely, you will see a Ladybird making the most of the shelter. These pleasures make all the effort of living out here all worthwhile.

But it doesn’t take long for reality to bite.

I arranged for a load of pasture hay to be delivered. This hay is insurance for a dry winter or a poor spring. I also look at the hay as fertilizer. It brings nutrients onto the farm, that the cattle will process into the perfect soil food. The hay took a little longer to unload as the tractor seemed to struggle to lift and move the bales – whereas it has previously lifted bales that weigh twice as much…

There is a constant requirement for maintenance and repair on any farm, and ours is no exception. Since mulching the first paddock’s weed, the tractor’s hydraulics had become problematic. The hydraulic pump was making horrible noises, and I feared that the diagnosis of a burnt out pump or bearing would be terminal for our old tractor.

A bit of research online started to lead me towards thinking I might have a problem with the bypass valve. On our tractor this is located low on the chassis, with the hydraulic oil filter. Thankfully the former owner gave me the Owner’s Manual and a new filter when I purchased the tractor. The manual described how to replace the filter and more importantly how to clean the fine mesh of the bypass valve. The clean and new filter was an undoubted success with the tractor hydraulics performing like new again! Phew.

I should have done the maintenance before the load of hay arrived, but I was terrified I’d break something and have no means of unloading the hay. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

So now I have a shed full of winter hay, a tractor that is fully operational and paddocks that seem to be becoming more productive. I love nothing more than my ambles around the paddocks. Life is good on the Rock Farm.

Best I turn my attention to that other winter activity – harvesting some firewood.

Planting Trees and Un-bogging Tractors

One of our aims on the Rock Farm is to re-rehabilitate the soil and create a parkland type landscape, similar to what was first described in the journals of the first European explorers.  We are doing this with a mixture of native and introduced deciduous species – and last week it was time to plant some natives.

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Our back paddock has a fantastic hill, with wide views along the Yass Valley.  We have often camped up here, and enjoyed many sunsets soaking up the atmosphere of this special place.  The only problem with the hill is it has four lonely trees, three Brittle Gum (eucalyptus mannifera) and one Red Box (eucalyptus polyanthemos).  The ground however is littered with huge logs – nearly all Red Box timber, cut for firewood and fence posts many years ago. It does make for a wonderful camp fire, however it is a limited supply, and serves to remind us of what trees once stood in this special spot.

Reading Bruce Pascoe’s book  (see my review here: Book Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe), I started thinking about how I could improve this part of the farm.  After our last camp, I took the tractor up to the hill, and started spreading the logs around the paddock.  I focused on placing the logs in such a way that they straddled rip lines I made back in March, and placed them to provide protection from the prevailing westerly winds.

Then it was time to plant seed.  The first batch of seeds I planted came from an ironbark (I think it is an eucalyptus sideroxylon) near our front gate.  The others were white cypress pine (callitris glaucophylla) that we collected from our visit to the Pilliga a few years ago.  The ironbark seeds were especially small.

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The seeds had been stored in paper bags for a few years and the gum-nuts had released their seed.  I cleared grass away from each site, and planted the seeds in the soil, along with some ash from our slow combustion fireplace.  I selected places nestled near the logs I had recently moved, with good sunshine and shelter from the western winds.  The last task was to mark each site with a bit of ribbon tied to a rock.

It helped that it was a glorious morning – even if the four legged helper was more interested in sniffing out rabbits than me digging holes!  As I wandered back to the house, I was able to collect some more gum-nuts from the ironbark, which I put straight into a paper bag.  I will also collect red box, black wattle and other seed in the coming weeks and attempt to re-introduce some of these trees back on this hill too.

A few days later we had an amusing series of incidents at the Rock Farm.  A poor supermarket delivery driver managed to not only get the wrong house, but he took our bottom driveway and managed to get his truck stuck.  A couple of sunny days had failed to dry out the steepest bit of this track that is in full shade all day.  After pulling him out with the tractor, I thought I would fill in the worst of the sections with some gravel that had previously washed down a culvert.  The gravel was nice and handy – but also a little close to a small dam.

The first few buckets went well.  I was me able to skim gravel from the top of the pile, with and only the front wheels dropping into the wet ground.  And then I got greedy and went back for one more bucket.  First one back wheel slipped into the goop, followed by the other and I was stuck.  Proper stuck.

Thankfully the family were all working or schooling from home, meaning help was nearby.  I knew their lunch break would be in about half an hour, so I worked like fury with a shovel trying to move as much gravel as I could under the front wheels (now lifted by the bucket).

I also moved our mighty Mitsubishi down and put it in position.  Being automatic, I figured it would be a little easier for a not-so-little helper to use to drag me out.  With the chain hooked up, the car in low range and the rear differential locked, it was time to call down the helpers (and advisers) to get me out.

Thankfully the recovery all went off without a hitch!  Best I get a load of gravel brought in to give us all weather access to our carport!  Just another job to add to the list 🙂

Book Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

With the recent cold snap bringing 30mm of rain to the Rock Farm, it has been the perfect opportunity to catch up on some reading.  This review is on Dark Emu, by Bruce Pascoe.  First published in 2014, this edition was updated in 2018 and incorporates many changes that were unearthed after the book was first published.

Bruce challenges the historical narrative that the Aboriginal people of Australia were hunter gathers.  Through in depth analysis of first contact documents and evidence, Bruce asserts that the Aboriginal people were in fact farming the landscape on a broad scale.  And the scale of agriculture was vast.

Whilst the journals of the first European explorers described the fertile parkland country they passed through, they failed to appreciate the subtlety of the managed landscape.  They thought the open fertile plains were ‘a happy accident of nature’, yet in the next page described how they supplemented their supplies by raiding caches of grain stored by the Aboriginal people.

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Evidence of the management of the landscape covers the entire continent.  From the diversion of waterways to irrigate crops, to the symbiotic relationship developed between the yam daisy and people, the message is clear.  The Aboriginal people had a sophisticated agricultural economy that supported permanent or semi-permanent villages with ingenious and often labour saving technologies.

Pascoe often quotes the journals of the explorers, as it is the most authoritative evidence remaining of the landscape and its inhabitants during these turbulent years. The Explorers were often amazed at how little effort the Aboriginal people needed to exert in order to meet their daily requirements.

Within a year or two of first contact, the landscape had irrevocably changed.  Whether by the introduced cattle and sheep eating the yam daisy and other crops to local extinction, the deconstruction of fish traps to allow passage of steamers on the waterways, or through the change in fire regime, the first contact aboriginal people found themselves unable to continue their sustainable harvest from the land.  This led to conflict with European settlers,  forever and tragically shaping the future relationship.

Once facet of this book that I found interesting is that this is a book of hope.  It attempts to re-write the common narrative that the Aboriginals were unsophisticated hunter gatherers, without apportioning blame for past wrongs.  There is definitely a feeling of loss at what has passed, and occasional frustrations at ignorance from individuals who should know better, but I felt this a book of hope and reconciliation.

What does this mean for us on the Rock Farm?

This book encourages me to look at our landscape differently.  Our property has been almost completely altered being one of the earliest areas opened up.  A local history written in the 1970’s describes the last of the Aboriginal elders dying in the 1890’s.  The evidence of the first people on the Rock Farm is hard to find.

On nearby properties, ochre pits have been recognised and a relationship re-established with the Ngunnawal people.  I look more closely at the landscape now, and at the creek, and see if there is evidence of fish traps.  It will never be what it was, but our journey to restore the soil health of the Rock Farm involves the creation of a managed park land.  This will hopefully embrace some of the principles the first people used in managing their landscape…  And if like the original inhabitants, I can get the work down to a few hours a day to support my family, I’ll be really happy!

 

 

Movie Review – The Biggest Little Farm

Whilst we have been using a lot of our time in isolation to get some work done around the Rock Farm, it has also been a wonderful opportunity to take a few moments to feed our souls.  I was super excited when Jo suggested a movie@home for a date night a couple of weeks ago.  And it wasn’t just any movie – it was all about a little farm a bit like ours…

The movie is The Biggest Little Farm.  It is the inspirational story of John and Molly Chester, and their quest to create a holistic  farm from a run down orchid in California.  John, a film maker by trade, documented their journey, their struggles and their triumphs in a heart warming honest and open story.

In 2011, John and Molly bought Apricot Lane Farm, near Los Angeles with a vision of creating an well-balanced ecosystem that creates sustainable, organic farm produce.  The farm they purchased was none of these things.  The soil was dead, the trees were sick and the farm was not profitable.

The movie tracks their progress and set-backs as they attempt to restore health to the soil, establish orchids and farm animals.  It isn’t always an easy journey – but I found the movie inspirational in showing what can be achieved with a strong vision, a comprehensive plan and a willingness to go out on a limb.

The movie has caused me to pause and look at what is going on here on the Rock Farm.  I am taking more efforts to try to understand the role each plant is playing in my paddocks – even the weeds (especially the weeds).  We have a very different farm model, and different goals for our property – but there are elements I have taken that will help shape the way we manage the Rock Farm.

I encourage anyone who cares about the future of agriculture to check out the trailer – or even better, download the movie.  It is the start of a wonderful night in.  More information on John and Molly’s farm, and a link to the movie, can be found here: https://www.apricotlanefarms.com/

Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 4)

It might have been a long time coming, but the boys have written an update to their re-build of an old horsefloat.  This is their update: 

 

The horse float project has been put on hold for the past few weeks, as school life got pretty hectic. Assignment due dates crept up, and sport infiltrated our time with grand finals and end of season parties. But due to the virus that is now devastating many business, families and countries, we are all stuck at home in isolation.

School continued for the last few weeks of term through online learning and video chats, but we found that we suddenly had time on our hands. Without the hours driving to school and home again, we realised that we could work on the trailer again.

We did a few bits of work here and there, and by the time the holidays started, we almost had a finished trailer. One side needed a few more rivets, (actually a lot of rivets) to attach the side walls.  It needed to be painted,  new electrics and wiring, a floor and the side tie down rails attached.  The end was close.

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Then it all went wrong.

The first week of the holidays passed without much trailer work. The time we spent on screens that first week should have broken some world records. And Dad noticed. And Dad didn’t like our work input.

So, he said he would charge us rent.

He said that it needed to be finished by the end of the holidays, rivets, welds, paint, electrics and all. Or, he would charge us $10 dollars rent for each week we were overdue.

To be fair – the boy’s also had plenty of other projects….  They learnt how to change a tyre, and we took them camping for a couple of nights….

With the motivation and the threat of losing money, the trailer now has two sides riveted on, mudguards attached with bracing, tie-downs welded on, and a lovely, pinky red undercoat paint. (Mum and Dad will probably paint it a different colour soon!). But even with the horrible paint colour, we are proud. We spent hours trying to get the trailer together, and now that it is almost done, we can kind of relax.

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It still needs wiring and a floor, but due to the current restrictions, we may struggle to get the required materials. Even so, the trailer is something that we are all proud of, and we are all very happy to see it much closer to completion.  Even if we are now being charged rent!

Autumn School Holiday Project – New Paddocks on the Rock Farm

I have been looking forward to the school holidays for a while now.  My last post was about some of the little jobs around the RockFarm that needed doing.  The school holidays have allowed us to tackle some of the bigger ones.

The first major project was to divide our large 5.5 hectare flat paddock into three smaller paddocks of around 1.8 hectares each.   It involved the construction of two new fences, the first of around 150 metres, and the second of around 200 metres.  For the first fence, I only had to install one new strainer post, but the other section required two new posts.  Good job the boys were at home with time on their hands – I have never found installing strainer posts or star pickets so easy!  The boys even stood up and clipped on the hinge joint in record time.  I think they enjoyed working outside – but are secretly looking forward to online lessons resuming so they can get a break from all the farm jobs.

The reason we have decided to split this paddock is two fold.  Firstly it allows us to intensively graze the smaller paddocks – thereby assisting in our weed management.  The cattle eat most of their favourite grass, and as they go, they nibble and trample the weeds.  We can then either chip or slash any remaining weeds once we move the cattle out onto fresh paddocks, hopefully improving the pasture as we go.

The second reason we have split the paddock is to allow us to install shelter belts along the new fence lines.  This will, in time, provide protection to the paddocks from the westerly winds.  The shelter belts are a future project and we intend to plant a variety of shrubs and trees in new stock proof tree guards.

New paddocks are useless without water.  Thus the next stage of the project was to install 150 metres of 1-1/4 inch poly pipe.  Because of the frosts we get in winter, and harsh sun in summer, we buried the pipe.  I don’t have a fancy pipe installer – but I do have a ripper on the tractor and two teenage sons.  The boys cleared the rip lines and I buried the pipe.  A job that would have taken me all day on my own was done in little over an hour.  I was thrilled we were able to get so much done in a morning.  We have a couple of old bathtubs we will install as water troughs once I get all the fittings sorted.

In the meantime we have still been chipping thistles – one little triangle paddock had a really bad patch that we have spent ages working on, with very little progress.  It was time to call out the big guns, so I fitted the mulcher to the back of the tractor for the first time in two years.  Thankfully with a bit of grease and WD-40 on the moving parts, it spun back to life and mashed and mulched the majority of the weeds.  If we can do this a few times and prevent the thistles from seeding, this paddock should turn around.

Thistles aren’t a new thing on the Rock Farm.  When we moved in to the Rock Farm, the adjoining 1.8 hectare paddock on the flat was full of thistles.  I slashed them a couple of times over the summer (https://rockfarming.com/2018/01/04/managing-thistles-on-the-new-farm/).  I am pleased to report that this autumn I was able to chip out the handful of remaining thistles in this paddock in around an hour.  The process works – and with a machine such as the mulcher, it is quick and easy to do – and nutrients remain in the paddock and feed the soil.

With the weeds taken care of (well in this patch at this moment), I had a few broken wires to fix around the place.  The neighbour’s beautiful helpers came down to offer advice and redistribute loose items in the back of the ute such as pairs of gloves and containers of wire clips.

A gorgeous distraction they were – but as far as helping, I’ll take my boys any day of the week!

Autumn Update

It is getting cooler on the Rock Farm.  The shorter days remind us of the approaching winter.  Regular readers might recall that a little over a month ago, we had almost no water or feed on the property and were looking at a the least worst option for our cattle (https://rockfarming.com/2020/02/03/weaning-and-a-rough-plan-for-the-cattle/).  Despite the initial promising falls of rain, and quick growth of some grass (and weeds), I wasn’t convinced that we would grow enough feed to get us through the winter.  We decided to go ahead with one of our options, to sell our steer calves, our heifer calves with horns and one cow, who was a little too aggressive for my liking.

 

The early weaning paid off, with the calves all averaging over 200kg.  We also sold our 400kg yearling steer Moo, that the Little Helper trained to halter back in July (https://rockfarming.com/2019/07/05/a-lesson-on-leadership-taught-by-a-calf/).  After the initial handling last July, he had been left to run with the cows, and had put on good weight.

We kept four of the naturally polled heifers – bringing our numbers back to 15 head.  As we returned the keepers to the paddock, we drenched them and put them into our large flat paddock with good feed.   I have a feeling we have one or two dry cows, but with the Corona Virus shutting down travel, my expert adviser (Dad) was unable to travel down to teach me how to pregnancy test them.  We will give them another chance.

In the mean time, we have all been working on little jobs around the house.  Jo has got back into the vegetable garden.  Keen to reduce waste, and make rabbit proof vegetable beds, she is re-purposing our old roofing iron to make raised beds.  Despite my initial doubts, it looks fantastic.

 

The beds are not chicken proof, and poor Sapphire doesn’t know what to do when the chooks ignore her steely gaze and leap up into the beds to scratch for earthworms.  It is hilarious watching her get more and more frustrated with the chooks who are more than happy to forage where they please.

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I tackled another job that only became important after using our neighbour’s horses as lawn mowers.  Our garden gate was in a sorry state and had fallen off its hinges.  More correctly, the hinges had fallen out of the rotten post.  The original post had sometime in the past assumed a lean, and a stop gap solution installed by owner previous was to simply put another post in the ground beside it.  The ‘new post’ had rotted completely out, so I dug out both posts and re-installed the original post back where it was originally.  The tractor saved my back lifting the heavy post.

 

 

After tidying up the fence – really hard to see in the photo below – it was nice to have a pair of gates that swing again.

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The boys have remained committed to their school work – but on the weekends we get a couple of hours of ‘farm work’ out of them.  Last weekend they were keen to get on the tools just after breakfast.  I am not sure if they love doing it,  or the reward of quid pro quo X-box time is worth it, but I’ll take any help I get.  It is good outside work that surprisingly I don’t find a chore, and it seems with tunes blasting from a portable speaker, neither do they.

Whilst the battle against the weeds is one I fear we may never get completely on top of, it is great to see some of the grasses in good condition and setting seed.  I am also really happy with the large number of earthworms we are finding in the bottom paddock.  I believe this paddock has been heavily sprayed for weed control in the past, and the earthworms are a sign that the soil is healing.

 

 

The good news is that the cattle are now relishing the experience of eating long grass – and are putting on condition before winter.  The lawnmowers managed to get ontop of the garden grass, so I even put them down there with the cows for a special treat.  Whilst Mater has spent a good deal of his life working cattle, our cows have never shared a paddock with a horse before and were most curious at their new paddock mate.

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I hope the warm weather stays around for a little longer.  The first frost will slow the grass grown rates significantly, but for now, we are getting a nice reserve to get us through the next month or two.  It is now time to service the chainsaw, replace the wood splitter handle and get ready for the winter jobs.

Isolation on the Rock Farm

Along with the rest of the Australia, we are in virtual lock-down on the Rock Farm.  I was hoping that it would mean we could all spend some time working on the farm, but sadly the not-so-little helpers are now fully entrenched in online learning, and are expected to be online during school hours.  It is testing not only our wireless internet capacity, but also our patience as there seems to be far more video chats going on than school work!

That said, we get a bonus hour in the morning and in the afternoon together that we wouldn’t normally get – and the cancellation of sport means we are able to spend our evenings going for walks around the farm.  It has been a wonderful opportunity for our family to reconnect, check on our elderly friends in our community, and support our local businesses as best as we can.  Our small rural community has really banded together, and our faith in humanity remains strong.

We are extremely aware how fortunate we are on the Rock Farm.  My last post was on the transformation after our first decent rain in a very long time.  It would appear that just as rust on steel ships never sleeps, weeds don’t sleep either. Among our clover and cocksfoot grass, we also have a large number of weeds competing for sunlight and moisture.

I brought the mower out of retirement and started slashing the worst of the weeds in a couple of the small paddocks with the hope of giving the existing grass a chance to compete and stop the weeds setting seed. The calves were most amused, however I was frustrated.  The mower was doing a terrible job.  It was only after checking out the deck that I realised how bad the blades were, and even worse, the centre guide was completely mangled and bent out of shape.

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Thankfully the fix was relatively simple – brute force and a bit of work with the welder had the guide back into place.  Some work with the grinder on the blades (including balancing on a screwdriver) and the blades were pressed back into service for another season.  The end result was a much cleaner cut – nice to have a win.

Unfortunately slashing weeds only does so much.  I have spent a fair few hours over the past few days with the chipper cutting out thistles, or the knapsack spot spraying sweet briar.  I have managed to convince Jo to help me with the cause, but for now the boys have always seemed to be busy with urgent homework….

It is good exercise – and on glorious autumn days, it is hardly a chore.  Especially when so many people are stuck inside.  It is pretty easy for me to clock up 25 000 steps or more during the day at the moment.

One good thing about walking around the place is you get a really good understanding of where moisture sits and changes the grasses that grow.  It is also readily apparent how much of a difference my rip lines have made on the slopes.

It is a really good indication that the rip lines along the contour are beneficial to the soil moisture levels and are increasing the ground-cover locally.  We are aiming for one hundred percent ground cover, one hundred percent of the time.  And I think the rip lines will help us achieve it.  Wandering around and seeing the results inspired me to make the most of the softer soil and continue the procedure.

The back paddock is the poorest of our property – similar to the original Rock Farm with Ordovician Shale as its bedrock.  Whilst the paddock has magnificent views, the result is slopes that cause moisture and nutrients to wash away.  I spent a few hours after night shifts ripping along the contours – and I can’t wait for it to rain and start making a difference.

This paddock has far too much bare soil and native tussocks, with patches of clover growing where moisture settles.  The observant of you will also have noticed plenty of scattered serrated tussock.  I hope that by increasing the soil moisture, I will increase the ground cover and protect the remaining soil.  The serrated tussock is next on the hit list.

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On the domestic front, the grass continues to grow in the garden as well.  The last thing I want to do after managing the paddocks is work on the grass in the garden.  It is a good thing I have recruited a couple of friends to work on that – and if you look closely you might see they have recruited a couple of chooks to help them out.

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There might be better places to be stuck in isolation – but this one will suit me just fine…