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.

Little Achievements Make a Big Difference

With soaking rain falling over much of the eastern sea-board, I have enjoyed the opportunity to sit back and reflect on some of the little projects that have been happening on the Rock Farm over the past few weeks. Each little project in isolation doesn’t make a big difference, but when we do step back from our immediate tasks, we can see progress, which is incredibly rewarding.

One thing any gardener or farmer knows is that like rust, weeds never sleep. I try to get out every few days with the chipper and spend an hour or so enjoying the great outdoors. I tend to work on the isolated thistles or tussocks, as I figure the big patches are easier to come back to.

Occasionally I think that it would be far easier to spot spray the weeds, however when I find healthy earth worms under the sods, I quickly regain my motivation to use the manual chipper. Lately nearly every sod I turn over has an earthworm scurrying for cover. Earthworms are especially susceptible to chemicals, like the canary in the coal mine, and to find so many in the paddocks is heartening.

In other areas around the place we have been busy too. We finally got around to putting some blue metal under our carport. Later Jo put in a nice brick edge, which makes the whole area far more attractive, and I will take a photo of it soon. The worksite supervisor approved of the tractor relocating the gravel, making the whole job a lot easier than I planned.

Not all the gravel went to the carport. We decided it was better to get another rain water tank to better mitigate our water risk next drought by increasing our storage capacity to around 90 000 litres. The tank needs to sit on a bed of gravel. Thankfully the family were able to help me move the 22 500 litre tank into the perfect position and we soon connected the tank, increasing our capacity by 25%. My favourite addition was a little tap, allowing me to get some potable water up at the shed when I need!

Another job on the list since we moved in was to replace the gates at the hay-shed. Or at the very least make the gates swing open and closed. Our local rural supplier had a pair of 16ft (4.8 metre) gates in stock – and they looked a whole heap smarter than the existing bent and wired together gates. I put in a new post, and swung the new gates in position. We used a bit of left over roofing iron to clad the remaining gap to fit the rest of the shed, and we now have a much smarter and more functional hay shed.

Our quest to harvest food from our land also continues in our garden. For the past few months, Jo has been steadily plugging away at her vegetable garden. Keen to recycle as much material as possible, we have been using old heavy gauge steel from our roof. Our first garden beds have healthy rows of garlic and peas growing, with cauliflowers and broccoli coming along nicely. The latest beds will be ready in time for spring planting, and we hope to increase our production once the threat of frosts reduce. I must admit I was sceptical about how the garden would look when Jo first proposed using the old roofing iron, but I am converted. I can’t wait to get the new beds full of vegetables and see what we can do with it now.

None of these projects have been particularly large, but they have all taken a bit of time to come together. And when they do come together, they combine to make our little patch more useful and enjoyable for us.

In amongst it all, we have still found time to go and check on the girls. They are all in excellent condition, and I cannot believe I haven’t had to start hand feeding them yet. The paddock rotation system I have in place is working really well, and they follow me from one paddock to the next now. Whilst not quiet enough to pat, they are inquisitive and will come right up to you if you’re quiet and move slowly.

Whilst we might have got some of these little jobs finished, there are still plenty more ideas we have for the Rock Farm. The best part of a rainy weekend is being able to sit and dream and keep putting new ones on the list….

Lifting Heavy Things

My wonderful wife often describes me as ‘Not a smart man, but he can lift heavy things’… Be that as it may, I am finding that as I get older, and the eyesight more blurry, all the things I am asked to move also get heavier. I am sure this has something to do with the increase in gravitational force as we fill the world with more useless noise, or something like that. But it has become apparent that I needed a better way of lifting heavy things.

For the really heavy stuff, I have the tractor. Old Lucie with the front end loader has routinely lifted very heavy objects for me, and since I replaced the hydraulic bypass valve and filter, it is performing exceptionally well.

But then there is everything else. I have plenty of bits and pieces in the shed, that are getting heavier year by year. And so I decided to do something about it.

My concept was that I needed something to lift around 150kg from the ground into the back of the ute. I also wanted something simple and low maintenance, with as few moving parts as possible. I initially looked at electric hoists, but quickly decided against them.

I settled on a simple mechanical pulley design. I had some old climbing rope, and figured with a couple of new blocks (pulleys), I could rig up a system that would allow me to lift heavy items such as generators into the back of the ute.

After being horrified at the quality of the blocks at a certain hardware store, I decided that the best option would be to buy some blocks from a place that specialises in such things. A yacht chandlery.

I put in a call to an old friend Ian who owns Franklin Marine down in Tasmania. Ian has years of experience sailing, including working on some beautiful tall ships, and has a background farming. He knew exactly what I wanted and sent me up a box of goodies in no time.

I had a great time running the line through the new blocks. Being stainless steel and designed for years of use in the harsh salt air, the blocks are excellent quality. With a becket on the single block, I was able to anchor the load line, effectively increasing my mechanical advantage. I welded a couple of gate hinges to the shed frame to form a cleat, and used an extra block to redirect the line. It was soon time to load test the new lifting hoist.

The becket allows the line to be anchored on the block with a ‘figure eight on a bight’

I asked the boys the million dollar question. If their combined weight is 120kg, how much effort do I need to put into pulling them skyward? The answers were wild and without reason.

From my memory, you simply add up the number of lines doing the work (not counting the line you are pulling). By counting three lines under load between the blocks, I should pull 3 metres of line to make the load move 1 metre. And if they weigh 120kg, then I will need to pull around 40kg to lift them up. Of course there is friction to take into consideration, and stretch of the line, which I usually add around 10% to, giving me a 44kg pull. The engineers in the family will be horrified by my rough assumptions, but I figure it is near enough for something you can work out at a glance.

If you’re interested in the load ratings.

  • 2000kg – the 13mm kernmatle line
  • 2000kg – the green strops
  • 2000kg – the quality sailing blocks
  • 450kg – the Mallion mounting the block to the rafters
  • ?????? – the rafters!

Good job I figure the best I could lift is only a fraction of the system’s design – it would be a little embarrassing to pull the shed roof down on me!!

Special thanks to Ian at Franklin Marine for all his help and excellent products. You can find his details on their webpage here: Franklin Marine

Pushing Water Up Hill

My last post was regarding some of the challenges I face on the Rock Farm. Mostly I love problem solving, however, every now and then it can feel a bit much. I’m lucky in that these feelings don’t last too long. Whether it’s kids or animals, there are so many wonderful opportunities to pick you up.

The belt on the lawnmower was easily replaced (once I selected the right one). The refrigerator was at the repair shop and beyond my control. I was confident I had fixed the car , even though it hadn’t been on a test drive further than the local post office, and the water pump was still not fixed.

So we did the best thing in the circumstances and disappeared for a few days of the school holidays. Nothing like bundling the family up in the as-yet-unproven car for a five hour drive to the coast to catch up with sun, warmth and family. Thankfully the car performed faultlessly. We were lucky the COVID-19 situation was stable enough for us to enjoy a couple of days in the school holidays catching up with the cousins.

Returning home and the white-good repair shop claimed the fridge was working perfectly with no sign of fault. The only thing remaing outstanding was the pump.

That pump…

Parts for the pump arrived in our absence, so I set to work the next morning, following the troubleshooting sequence from the owner’s manual. It took a while to figure out how to pull the old impeller out (it looked fine). I replaced the bearings and seals and put it all back together. It seemed to make all the right noises – but I still had the same problem – the pump couldn’t raise enough head (pressure) to reach the house.

The water jet passes through the venturi to help the pump draw water from a deep well (or low dam). It was slimy and cold. Oh so cold.

Next item to check from the owners manual was the the water jet at the intake. We pulled in the intake again, pulled it all apart and found a tiny stone wedged in the venturi. Ah ha, I thought and put it all back together – but the pump was still not pushing water up to the house.

That little stone was wedged in the venturi part of the jet… I had hoped this would fix the pump…

I pulled the pump apart again. Pulled the intake apart again. Had to bring down the old falcon ute with the tank to re-prime the line. I was out of ideas, cold, wet and hangry. It was time to take a break.

I can’t believe I am doing this again….

Around this time, the boy’s asked Mum to come and film them taking leaps on their newly constructed mountain bike track in the garden. And it was then Jo heard running water…

They’re crazy – and our garden looks like a disaster zone, but they’re having a blast. And they inadvertently led to a great discovery!

In a forgotten corner of the garden at the end of a spur line we found the leak. The pipe end plug fitting had come away, and the water was pouring down a natural drain, into the garden dam and then cycling back into the big dam…. I might have said EUREKA!!! But I think the actual record would reflect some other word with two less letters.

We set the pump running, celebrated the fact our toilets flushed, and moved the cattle back into their paddock to re-commence our cell grazing experiment. The good news is that through this process we seem to have fixed several minor problems. It used to take a couple of days to fill the header tank, but by the following morning the tank was full. The float valve in the tank at last seems to be working properly and at this particular moment in time, everything seems to be in order. I am sure this moment will pass quickly, but for now, it was a chance to breathe a sigh of relief and focus on the next project…. lifting heavy things.

Little Helper’s Holiday Project Part Five and Final!

At last the boy’s part of this project has been completed. I have insisted that I will only pay them for the trailer once their paperwork is submitted… this blog being their final requirement. To say I am super proud of them is an understatement. This is their words.

It’s time to get paid!  After a long pause on the project due to school assignments and assessments, we have finally got around to finishing the trailer!  Despite the fear of been charged rent by Dad, we didn’t do much work on the trailer.  Well that is not entirely true, we finished riveting on the sides and then re-painted every surface in sight.

Five weeks after the end of the holidays, losing a significant portion of our potential earnings to Dad’s rent, we got around to the wiring.  On one wet weekend, we put the wiring through the underside of the trailer, connected up the brakes, side lights, rear lights and number plate light to the plug.  Which in turn meant that we could now connect the trailer to the car.

We were all very excited. Dad drove the car into the shed and plugged in the trailer.  Voila!  The side lights and tail lights instantly came on, when Dad turned on the headlights! Dad put the blinkers on, and one after another they worked.  The last thing we needed to do was check that the brakes worked.  Since they are electric, to check if they work, you put your ear close to the wheel and as someone steps on the brake pedal, you should hear the magnet ‘clang’ onto the brakes.  The little Helper and I sat down and listened carefully as Dad stomped on the brakes… and nothing. Not one sound.

What was going on? We were pretty certain that we had wired them correctly, and we could not think of anything else.  My brother and I stood there out of ideas staring numbly at what was turning out to be a disaster. Then Dad sheepishly called out for us to listen again.  Humouring Dad, we did as he said.  “Clunk”. What was that ….. the brake magnet?  Surely not?  As it turns out, the brakes had worked all along, but SOMEBODY had disconnected the electric brake controller in the car.

With the wiring in order, it was time to start on the floor.  The floor was relatively straight forward. All we had to do was cut the timber boards to size and then use clamps to push them hard up against the edge. We pre-drilled holes in the timber for the self tapping bugle head screws. We used Dad’s impact driver to drill the screws into the steel chassis. Then we removed the clamps, got the next piece of timber and repeated.  Simple.

Once the floor was in place, Dad was eager to test out the capabilities of the trailer. He took the opportunity to fill the trailer with tonnes of lovely firewood… twice.  

The trailer turned out to be a big success, but there were still two problems.  The first problem was getting the trailer registered.  Since this is the first time that we are registering this trailer, it needs a blue slip.  Normally this is a simple process but as this is an old trailer manufactured before 1989 we have no paperwork for it. We could not find a chassis number anywhere, so it needs the RTA to issue a VIN. We are not sure whether the RTA will agree to issue us a chassis number at all!

The second problem was with the front wheels of the trailer. They wobble.  This is a very big issue as it means that the bearings overheat. If you want to know why Dad is so sensitive to bearings overheating, take a look at this blog post from our 2014 trip around the country.  After taking the wheels off multiple times, we have concluded that the problem may be with the backing plates for the brake hubs. The trailer’s original backing plates did not fit our new electric brake ones so we had to replace them. We might not have got the new plates on square, which would explain the wobble… Or it could just be down to the very cheap brakes that we bought.  (The brake pads are already showing signs of wear that should not be on brakes that are only hours old.)

Despite the wobble, Dad and I took the trailer to our local weighbridge.  If you are registering a trailer for the first time, it is mandatory that you have a weighbridge certificate.  The weighing was a success with the total weight of the trailer coming out at 460kg.

With the weighbridge certificate in hand, we then drove to a Mechanic who will see if he can sort out the issue with the front axle, and issue a Blue Slip, ultimately allowing us to register the trailer.  Currently, the only thing standing between us and getting paid is this blog.  So with the completion of this sentence, I might just be able to get enough money to buy myself a new mountain bike 😊.

I am extremely proud of their efforts and the skills they have learnt or being exposed to during this little project. If nothing else, it has taught them that these things often take longer than you think. Regardless of the RTA’s decision, I am sure this trailer will be an extremely useful addition to the Rock Farm!

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.

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 🙂