Improving water infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wet spring – getting some science on

James Rebanks in English Pastoral described the role of the farmer as one of close observation. Through examination of the interconnectedness of the landscape, Rebanks explains how farmers are able to build an intimate knowledge of every aspect of their farm. It requires farmers to walk their paddocks, getting their hands in the dirt, and examining the second and third order effects from their management decisions. It takes a lifetime to learn.

I don’t have a lifetime of experience behind me, nor do I have the time I would like to devote to unravelling this mystery. So I have to take a slightly different approach, and one method I can use to increase my understanding of my soil health is have soil samples analysed in a scientific laboratory.

I hope the analysis of our soil will answer one of the questions I have from an observation of the cattle’s behaviour. When I move them from a lush grassy paddock to another lush grassy paddock, the cattle seem to have a preference to chew the leaves from young elm suckers if they are present. This could be the cattle seeking roughage, or it could be seeking a mineral that the deep rooted elms have in their leaves that is lacking in the grass. Pat Coleby is a firm believer that the animals know which minerals they need, and their behaviour could be a clue to a mineral deficiency.

We had soil tests conducted not long after we moved to the not-so-rocky Rock Farm (https://rockfarming.com/2018/05/07/soil-analysis-results-are-in/) , so you can imagine when I saw the Local Land Services was offering a soil test program, I leapt at the chance to get onboard. It was three and a half years since our last test was conducted, and I am keen to see if there is a discernible difference in our results since we became custodians of our the 40 hectare Rock Farm.

The soil samples require multiple (around 30) 100mm cores to be taken along a transect. I chose two different areas, the first on our river flats, and the second on our shale slopes. Along the flats, the rod was easy to push in the required 100mm. On the slopes, the soil was barely more than 50mm thick, and I had to try really hard to find enough samples that met the 100mm requirement. After I had filled the buckets, I mixed the soil thoroughly, before bagging around 1.5kg of soil for testing. The colour difference in the soil samples was remarkable, but not unsurprising.

Since we bought this Rock Farm, we have not applied fertiliser to these paddocks. Our first two years experienced very low rain fall, and the last 18 months have seen much higher than average rainfall. We initially grazed sheep on the property, before buying our first cattle in May 2018. We sold our last sheep in January 2020 – just before the drought broke.

Instead of purchasing fertiliser, I have been happy to supplement the stock’s feed as required, bringing in hay and other feed as required, using the philosophy “If you want to run ten cows, feed ten cows until you can run ten cows.

We have also practiced cell grazing or rotational grazing. This means we graze a paddock heavily for around a week or so, before resting the paddock for as long as I can. I have around 13 rotations that I cycle the cattle through, meaning each area is only visited every three months or so. It doesn’t always work that way – some sections are significantly larger and have better water supplies, keeping the cattle happy for more than a week, and others they chew out after a couple of days. I also want to keep the grass around the house short in preparation for fire season, meaning this area is eaten out more than the others.

One variable I am not sure how will be reflected in the results is soil carbon. We scored between 3 and 3.6% on our last results, and whilst advocates of rotational grazing claim it increases the amount of organic carbon in the soil, field experience is lacking (https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/land/topic/soil-carbon-dynamics). Soil carbon does increase the capacity of the soil to store moisture – but the amount of carbon may also be linked to soil moisture meaning rainfall may be the biggest factor in affecting our soil carbon levels. I will be particularly interested in this element of the analysis.

Either way, I am looking forward to the test results. Of course the ones who gain most benefit from healthy nutritious soils are completely oblivious of the science behind their condition.

The good news is they are fat as fools, healthy and happy. They show passing interest in a mineral lick I have available for them, which I take as a good sign. And it is such a pleasure moving them through the farm, especially when the grass reaches their bellies.

The battle for Daisy (again) – Update

Having started work before the sun, I have been eagerly awaiting a phone call from Jo or the kids to give me an update on the condition of Daisy or her calf. I was still processing the events from the previous day, and had woken this morning with sore muscles in all sorts of unexpected places.

Overnight we had conducted a stock-take of our powdered milk supplies, and hunted around for our poddy calf bottle and teat. We were worried that either Daisy or her calf, or both would die overnight. It was a cold and bitter night, with some more rain in the mix. Jo came to the conclusion that it was foolish to name our cattle, and vowed never to name them again. We feared the worst.

It seems no one was keen to make their way to the yards to check on Daisy and her calf the following morning. Jo eventually made her way down, apparently checking everything else on her way to the yards. The rest of the cows had water, check. Their calves were all accounted for, check. The tractor and next bale of hay were ready to go in the shed, check. Finally it was time to check the yards… and initially Jo feared the worst because she couldn’t see Daisy or her calf.

Then she got closer, and found Daisy up and on her feet, with her beautiful heifer suckling at her udder. She called me in delight to give me the good news.

The Vet, Dr Jack from Bungendore arrived a short time later, and gave Daisy and her calf a thorough going over. He gave Daisy a slow acting antibiotic to treat a small tear. He checked out her calf, and gave her a clean bill of health, and a name… Buttercup.

I guess it is all in a name after-all. Welcome to the Rock Farm Buttercup. 🙂

The Battle for Daisy (again)….

A rainy day is welcome any time on the Rock Farm – especially now the days are noticeably longer and the ground is starting to warm up. We now have 8 beautiful calves on the ground. However the old adage, ‘you don’t have livestock without dead stock’ held true. We lost one calf during a particularly long and difficult labour for my favourite maiden heifer, Uno. The loss of the calf was heart-breaking, and we felt the mournful ‘moo’ from Uno deeply.

A rainy day is good for taking stock of things around the farm, and catching up on my blog. However no sooner had I written the paragraph above and my day turned around. By the end of it we were in a desperate struggle to save one of our beautiful girls.

The first event that dragged me outside into the wet was to lend a hand to our neighbour, who needed help with a new water tank delivery. It turned into quite the adventure, with the driveway turned to mush, and the creek (moat?) running deep and fast. The initial plan was to drag the tank delivery truck to the site with the tractor, but when we saw how low his trailer was, we realised it would float downstream on the crossing. Plan B was put into place, which involved rolling the ten thousand gallon, 800kg tank onto the back of Myrtle. This went remarkably well, and we soon had the new tank deposited in our neighbours paddock. Remarkable because no trucks or tractors got bogged during this evolution.

In my dash down to the shed to get the tractor, and then swap it for the truck, I had noticed that Daisy was in labour. When we had done with our unloading, I checked on Daisy again and my heart sank. Daisy somehow managed to beat all the odds when she was born. And despite all my reasoning to sell her, she somehow seemed to have very vocal allies on her side. The whole challenge to save her when she was born can be found here: https://rockfarming.com/2019/09/04/the-battle-for-daisy-rescuing-a-calf-on-the-rock-farm/

Protruding from Daisy’s rear was one hoof and a calf head, with its tongue hanging out. The calf’s tongue was a blueish colour, and there were no signs of life. I knew we had to get her in the yards, try to pull the calf and see if we could save Daisy. Despite our efforts, Daisy had no desire to leave her friends. It took all of us a lot of initially gentle and then more forceful encouragement to get her in the yards. By the time we got her safely secured in the crush, we were all exhausted.

Once in the yards, the real battle for survival began. We used this rope squeeze technique to lay her down. The reason for laying her down was that she can push a lot harder lying down. The next thing to do was to find out what was wrong. By now the cold was seeping through my wet clothes, and I was acutely aware of how cold it was now the sun was setting. Jo kindly brought down a bucket of warm water from the house, some old towels and some ropes. I tried to recall any snippets of advice from a childhood reading James Herriot, but sadly not much was coming. I figured it must be like helping lambs, but only bigger…

A gentle examination revealed only one leg was showing. The other leg was folded back – meaning the calf would never come. It was time to call an expert. Our first phone call was to our vet. The next was to another expert – my father. His advice was really simple – before you can pull the calf out, you’ve got to push it back in to re-align the leg. So – against nature, and the vice like grip of the contractions, I pushed the calf back into Daisy, and desperately felt around for a leg. I was on the point of giving up when I found it. That was the easy bit. Getting it to point the right direction was not so. Eventually we got there, and with both legs aligned, it took a few more tugs and our calf was born.

I was relieved that we had saved Daisy (again), but feeling sad about the calf when the calf opened its eyes and gave a breath. It was alive! My heart skipped a beat, and we quickly rubbed it down with the towels and put her next to a thoroughly exhausted but interested mum. Daisy had given birth to a beautiful little heifer.

As I write, they are safely tucked out of the wind in the yards. I still don’t know if either Daisy or her calf will survive the night, but we figured it was time to let them work it out by themselves. We called the vet and cancelled the late night call, but arranged for them to come out first thing to check on their progress. Time will tell if we have beaten the odds, or delayed the inevitable. But that is how things go on a farm. Things can turn around so quickly. And as hard as it can be, it helps me feel alive.

Winter Planning on the Rock Farm

Winter on the Rock Farm this year has been remarkable, with steady rain creating a beautiful slushy feel when walking around the paddocks. With the rain has come plenty of cool overcast days, and some thoroughly miserable windy days. But the rain has also kept the frosts mostly at bay, and this means the grass is still growing, albeit slowly. The cattle all seem to have recovered from the curse of Mavis (https://rockfarming.com/2021/07/10/curse-of-mavis-mange-mite/), and the cows are definitely starting to look uncomfortable with their growing bellies.

Regular readers will be aware I decided to hold last spring’s calves over winter. I have been using a couple of tools to help me determine my strategy. The first is Farming Forecaster (https://farmingforecaster.com.au/). This tool, supported by Local Land Services and CSIRO examines soil moisture profiles at numerous sites. All the sites near the Rock Farm show we are in an exceptional season, with unusually high pasture growth forecast for spring. Whilst most of the sites nearby run merino sheep, there are useful graphs on forecast livestock weight. The model predicts steady increases in stock weight until around the first week in August before a steady decline, associated with lambing.

Farming Forecaster estimates our pasture is growing at around 4-5 kg/ha/day – which is not enough to feed all my hungry mouths entirely. To help me determine the balance required, I use the Local Land Services “Drought and Supplementary Feed Calculator“(DAFSC) app (https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/animals-and-livestock/nutrition/feeding-practices/drought-and-supplementary-feed-calculator). This app takes into account the amount of pasture I estimate I have, and allows me to develop a ration to meet the nutritional requirements of the cattle. Practically this means it allows me to calculate how much hay I need to feed the cattle for them to maintain condition. My theory is, if I leave it long enough for me to recognise the cows have lost weight, I have left it too late.

These calculations have allowed me to more accurately determine my supplementary feed requirements. I am feeding out a small round bale of pasture hay to the cattle every couple of days. The cattle love the sound of the tractor starting up. Their antics as I try to work past them into the paddock to unroll the bales make me laugh. I had put a couple of bales on the back of the truck – to allow the family to roll out the hay if I wasn’t there to drive the tractor, but it was more effort than it was worth. Only the hound seemed to think it was a good idea!

The winter hasn’t been entirely incident free. On one of my daily checks the cattle came running up to me – to let me know the frost (or one of their friends) had knocked the float valve off the trough. Thankfully nothing was broken, and after going and getting a couple of tools and some fresh silicone tape, I was able to get their water flowing.

One of my favourite winter past times is the early morning walks on the Rock Farm. In the still morning fog, the dam takes on an other worldly feel. The crisp crunch of the frosty grass underfoot and the silent flight of a barn owl make such moments exhilarating. After checking on the cattle, it is lovely to retreat back to the warmth of the house for a morning cuppa and cuddle on the couch.

Curse of Mavis – Mange Mite

In April this year we rescued Mavis, the Muddle Headed Wombat, who was badly affected by mange. Mange is caused by the mange mite, sarcoptes scabiei, which lives on and under the skin of mammals. It causes a particularly painful itch, and eventually leads to the animal’s death, and is sadly common amongst our native wombats. Mavis was successfully rescued and is making a full recovery at a nearby wombat sanctuary.

Unfortunately the mite that caused Mavis’ discomfort is still about and causing havoc. A couple of days ago I found evidence that it is affecting the cattle, and determined I needed to take action.

The bare skin patches, especially in the calves suggest that the mite has started to affect their behaviour. Cattle with the mite put on less weight and are obviously uncomfortable. My research suggested treating the cattle with moxidectin was the most effective and least harmful approach to treating the mite. The cattle seemed to want to follow me when I brought them into the yards early one frosty morning.

The reason I chose moxidectin to treat the cattle is:

  • It is effective on the mange mite sarcoptes scabiei
  • It is safe for dung beetles
  • It has no with-holding period for beef cattle and no export slaughter interval.

I am now in a waiting game to see whether the treatment is effective, and will keep you posted.

As a side note, I had some old moxidectin in the shed. It was tempting to ‘use it all up’, however I am glad I went to out local ag store. Roger explained to me how old drench goes off and can cause the chemical to be less effective, whist leaving residue in the cattle. Whilst the drench is eye-wateringly expensive, it works out to be much more palatable when calculated on a cost per head basis to treat the cattle – even for small producers such as the Rock Farm. Roger even gave me a new applicator, which allowed me to accurately deliver the required 10mL/100kg of live-weight, ensuring we give the optimal dose per animal.

The out of date drench remains difficult to dispose of safely, but the regular chemical muster remains a must do activity on my calendar. We did it a couple of years ago when we bought the property ( https://rockfarming.com/2018/11/25/farm-chemical-disposal-with-chemclear/ ), and I keep an eye on when I am able to do the same again.

Weaning on the Rock Farm

A few weeks ago we made the decision that we would keep the calves over winter, but I knew that this would be a significant increase on our stocking last year. I have been keeping a close eye on the cows, and noticed a couple of the cows start to show their hip bones. The best way to keep the cows in good condition for the rest of winter is to wean their calves. This should see the cows maintain condition for calving in late August. With a wetter than average winter forecast hopefully yielding reasonable pasture growth, we should be able to keep the calves until spring. To be sure, we organised a load of hay, bringing our stored total to around 15 tonnes of fodder. I just hope the cattle get to eat it before the mice!

We brought the cattle into the yards, and quietly drafted them into two mobs. We released the mothers into the adjoining paddock, where they seemed to blissfully shrug off the burden of their calves and start feeding. So I moved them an hour later to a nice fresh paddock over the hill, and thought the worst of the weaning process was behind me. Oh how wrong I was.

Weaning can be a stressful time for young calves and their mothers. So I left with the calves our four maiden heifers and Miss-Steak, one of our original herd who didn’t calve this spring. The initial separation seemed to go well. The calves, secured in the yards followed the lead of the older cattle and started enthusiastically feeding from our round bale feeder.

Later that evening as udders filled, the cows remembered their obligation to the calves and came back to the yards…. through the fences that separated them. Jo took the initiative and opened the gates to let the rest of the mob through. We left them overnight, bellowing to each other through the panels of the yards.

Over the next week, both mums and bubs started getting the hang of the new routine. I kept the cows in paddocks where they had access to the yards when they wanted to drop in and check on the calves. Most of the time they were happy to graze, but would visit their little ones late in the day. The calves seemed more than happy with the company of their peers

After a couple of weeks, I was able to move the cows away into a new paddock, and this time they didn’t push through fences to get back to their calves. I will keep the calves separated for a few more weeks before running them together again for simplicity. It didn’t take the calves long to associate the sound of the tractor starting up with the delivery of fresh hay.

The not-so-little-photographer captured this gorgeous image of one of the calves lifting her head from the water trough. Most mornings I have been breaking the ice on the old bathtub trough so the claves can have an early morning drink… it has been bitterly cold.

It has been a busy few weeks, and juggling work, kids and the cattle. I have had a few late nights down at the yards until well into the night – especially when the float valve controlling the water supply failed due to a rusted split pin. My evening excursions reminded me that I need to recruit some extra help to give me a bit of redundancy if I can’t get around as easily, or if I am out of town. The not-so-little Helper jumped at the chance to drive the tractor, and he is learning the basics of moving it around (with the intention of building jumps for his mountain bike). Jo came down to the shed armed with a laminated instruction sheet on starting the tractor I made up last year. Following the instructions, she too was able to get the tractor in the right place with a bale of hay for the appreciative mouths.

In all, it has been a productive and busy time on the Rock Farm, and despite all the extra work juggling, I wouldn’t change a thing 🙂

Further information on weaning can be found here: https://www.mla.com.au/research-and-development/Animal-health-welfare-and-biosecurity/Husbandry/Weaning

I also found this research particularly interesting and will investigate doing something similar next time: http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/low-stress-weaning-benefits-on-several-levels/

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!

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.

Rock Farm Transformed

Since our massive fall of rain late in February, the Rock Farm has been undergoing a transformation.  Aided by another 60mm of rain a fortnight later and a further 13mm a week after that, the grass (and weeds) are growing furiously.

The transformation off the farm is incredible also.  People in our local village are upbeat, the threat of bushfires has eased, water tanks are full and gardens are a delight in colour.

On the farm, things have been busy.  The early weaning of the calves is going well.  They are getting two feeds of pellets a day – and are continuing to grow.  With recent sale prices topping over 400 cents a kilogram, it is economic to continue feeding them for the time being.  The only problem with feeding them regularly is that they are becoming part of the family….

The cows are also doing well.  I continued feeding them for a week or so after the first rainfall, in order to give the grass a chance to recover.  We have been rotating them through the paddocks giving them a chance to quickly graze the new grass and move on before it slows the grass recovery.  The strategy seems to have paid off, because the pasture is responding well.  As a bonus, this afternoon was the first time I had gone to move the cows, and they weren’t hungry enough to be interested in shifting!  Great to see them with full stomachs again!

It is such a glorious time of year, and we are enjoying talking walks around the place.  The weeds might be thriving as well as the grass at the moment, but we will start to manage them soon.  In the meantime, it is great to see life when previously the ground was dry and barren.

But with the growth comes new jobs.  Soft ground has seen trees fall – requiring clearing of fences.  I have spent a couple of days with the chainsaw tidying up trees and branches that have fallen, followed by re-tensioning fences and fixing broken wires.  It is quite pleasant working outside in the autumn weather.

The one job I dislike though is mowing the lawn…  Over summer, I had given the ride-on mower a service in the hope it might one day be used again, and even serviced the old push mower, installing a new throttle cable and wheels.  I waited for a while before finally admitting that the grass did need cutting – and the need might have been hastened by the presence of a brown snake in the vegetable garden…

So I borrowed the neighbour’s horse, King.  Funnily enough he got right on the job – and after a little altercation with Jo when he was distracted by the chook food, he did a magnificent job!

In the meantime, we join the world in watching the developments regarding the spread of Covid-19.  Living out of town, with a creek that potentially cuts our access, we have always maintained a reasonable supply of food in our pantry, and medical supplies.   We are extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful place to hold up for a couple of weeks if required.  Stay safe please people – and wash your hands!