Desperate race for survival – Lambing

A couple of weeks ago I was jumping for joy with our first precious lamb of the season.  There is something uplifting about seeing a new lamb frolic, with a proud mother standing by.  It is also a sign that perhaps the worst of winter is over and we are approaching spring.

But lambing is also often associated with a bitter break in the weather, and this week has been no exception.  With barely 10mm recorded in the gauge since Christmas, we are just coming out of two days of solid cold wet miserable rain.  And right in the thick of it was born our fourth lamb.

The ewes have plenty of shelter in their middle paddock, but as I am also supplementing their feeding with oaten hay, they tend to hang around the top paddock a bit.  Whilst we have planted trees in this paddock, they barely provide a twig to shelter behind.  There are solid windbreaks on two sides, but it is still exposed.  On chilly mornings, it is the first paddock to catch the sun, and being the highest part of the property, it is popular with the ewes escaping the chilly air that sinks to the lower parts.

But when the sun doesn’t come out – and the rain is steady, it can be a miserable place to be.

And sadly this is where I thought I found our fourth lamb…  but as I approached her, she kicked, and I thought we might have a chance.

Her only chance of survival was to bring her inside and warm her up.  Unfortunately I had to go to work, so my highly talented multi-tasking wife Jo was called upon to work her magic.


In no time at all the lamb was dry and warming inside the house, where chaos was reigning supreme.  Extra kids, extra puppies and now and extra lamb were staying in our little house.  Jo dug out the poddy lamb bottles and prepared to face a two hour feeding regime overnight.  But at the first feeding it was apparent we had a battle on our hands.

Sadly the lamb passed away not long after we brought her inside.

It was a sad moment for all of us.  The poor little lamb barely had a chance, but this is the struggle many of them face when born during atrocious weather.

Thankfully the other lambs are all looking healthy and we will keep our fingers crossed they all grow to be tough and hardy sheep – who can perhaps delay their lambing by a month or so.

Providing mineral supplements and improving soil health

One of the most enlightening books I have read about soil health and animal nutrition was Natural Farming by Pat Coleby.  Whilst we all know Australia has some of the most ancient soils on the planet, what wasn’t clearly understood was the relationship between soil minerals and animal (and also human) health.

Pat was one of the first people to recognise that many health ailments in animals are caused by mineral deficiences.  Natural Farming carries a simple message: healthy soil makes healthy plants which in turn make health animals and healthy people.

Our vision is for healthy and ecologically sustainable grazing on our land.  Basic soil tests have confirmed our soil is slightly acidic, but we haven’t conducted in depth mineral analysis of our property yet.

Many animals have an ability to seek out minerals they are deficient in.  One way to see what minerals your soil is deficient in is to offer minerals to your stock and see which minerals they seek.  And so we  purchased a sample kit, known as a Pat Coleby Starter Pack from VITEC in Victoria (http://www.vitec.com.au/shop-online/pat-coleby-minerals/stock-lick-20kg).

The next part of the process was to construct a shelter for the minerals so that I could leave them in the paddock.  This took a bit more planning, but I soon found a few bits of steel and an old piece of corrugated iron around the place and with a bit of dodgy welding had knocked up a frame.

I decided to use a blue ‘nelly bin’ to store the minerals, and made a rectangular frame to hold the bin.  I then made another frame to attach the roof to.

Now that I had done the hard part, it was time to open the bag and check out the contents.  The starter pack contained a mix of minerals.  Dolomite, Sulphur, Copper and Lime, with mineralised salt and seaweed meal making up the rest of the pack.

I split the various minerals into various ice cream containers – and they fitted perfectly into my nelly bin.  It was now time to see what the sheep thought of them.

Well I cheated the first time – I put some sheep pellets into the nelly bin – to help them become comfortable with the new paddock sculpture.

But once they had eaten all the food and I had replaced the pellets with the minerals, it was pleasing to see them have a nibble on the seaweed meal and try the other minerals.

And so time will tell.  It will be interesting to see what minerals they naturally seek – and this will give us a good indication where to focus our efforts on re-mineralising the Rock Farm.

And this is part of the fun, ensuring our lovely sheep produce healthy lambs, and our soil improves over our tenure.

Lucie the International 674 Tractor joins the Rock Farm

For a long time we have been discussing whether a tractor would be a useful addition to the Rock Farm.  To be truthful, I had been convinced for a while that I would find plenty of uses for one…  I just had to gain approval in principle to purchase one, and then find one that fitted the budget.  So for the past couple of years on-and-off I had been keeping my eye on Gumtree and other classifieds sites.

The main problem was deciding whether to buy a new Chinese tractor with all the features, or an older ‘name brand’ tractor.  Whilst the Chinese tractors represented excellent value for money, there were just as many horror stories out there which made me lean towards an older tractor from a known brand.

The other problem is that I had never driven a tractor.  So when the Local Land Services (LLS) advised me I had won a book voucher for answering a few questions on an online survey, it was an easy choice on choosing my book.

The book is, in a word, excellent.  Armed with a little bit of knowledge (dangerous situation), the perfect tractor came on the market just down the road.  A quick inspection confirmed it was going to be ideal for what we wanted to do on the Rock Farm – and the price was within our budget.

img_0478

The vital statistics:

  • Name: Lucie
  • Type: International 674 4wd Tractor
  • Year Built: 1974
  • Fitted with: Front bucket / loader, Mulcher (flail mower).
  • Other accessories: Hay forks, stick rake

And it has been put to work.  I have been able to clean up piles of old wire, slash weeds, move piles of dirt, repair the driveway and pull out stumps.  It has transformed the way we move firewood from the paddocks to the house – saving double handling and time.  In short, it is a great addition to the Rock Farm.

We had deferred tidying up piles of old wire due to the labour it would have required…  now we have relished cleaning up the paddocks – even if lashing the wire to the trailer is a little challenging.

If you ask the Little Fisherman though, the tractor’s main purpose is to make jumps for his motorbike…

And it was a nice place to learn how to drive the tractor and play with the settings.  I might just have to admit that this is my new favourite toy!

I am sure that Lucie will soon feature in many articles on the Rock Farm, as we work to improve the pastures and soil health.  In the mean time, we can all enjoy some of its benefits.

Have I ever said how much I love living on the Rock Farm??

Gotta love rainy days

It has been a long time since the Rock Farm has enjoyed a bit of rain. Our paddocks have been getting more bare, and we have started supplementing our sheep’s feed.

A rainy day is always a welcome relief. It provides an opportunity to catch up on the ever increasing pile of paperwork.  I also have a list of rainy day jobs which include fixing sticking doors, sharpening chainsaw chains, and minor furniture repairs.

But I really love catching up on the news – even if it is last week’s! 

But you have to be careful who might pick up your phone when you’re engrossed on the news….  fair dinkum.

Planting Kurrajong By Seed

One of our favourite trees is the Kurrajong (Brachychiton Populneus).  It is a small to medium size tree that is related to the Queensland Bottle Tree (B. Rupestris).  It grows naturally from north eastern Victoria to North Queensland.  It likes well drained soil, particularly around granite outcrops.

It is a fantastic tree for small farms like ours.  It provides dense shade and also drought fodder.  They are deep rooting trees and support honey production.

We recently planted some seedlings, which are growing well.  I also spied some seeds on a neighbour’s tree, so decided to see if I could propagate them ourselves.

The Australian National Botanical Gardens website provided me with enough encouragement to give it a go.  Their website provides a wealth of information and can be found here:  https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/interns-2002/brachychiton-populneus.html.

The first step was to soak the seeds overnight in warm water.

I then cut the ends out of some old tins.  These will be placed around the seeds, in an attempt to stop rabbits and kangaroos from chewing the young plants should they emerge.

I then selected the site for the new trees.  I chose to plant the trees along a former rip-line.  When you look at the photo below, it is obvious that the rip lines hold more moisture than the surrounding soil.  This will also help the trees get their roots established through the shale rock.

It took a few minutes to scrape away some grass, and loosen up the soil.  I placed the old tins over the seeds where I hope they will keep the new plants protected initially.

It was a glorious morning, and before too long I had my line of Kurrajong all planted.  The supervisor also enjoyed his morning watching me work.

The only problem with my chosen site is that the trees will eventually grow and block one of our favourite views to the east.  Of course that is, if they grow.  As if that would ever happen on the Rock Farm!  Here’s hoping!

Fencing

Fencing on any rural block is a challenge. The old story of the grass is always greener on the other side holds true for some of my sheep – despite my best efforts. And to make matters worse, kangaroos and wombats hold modern fencing in scant regard. It seems the native animals hold onto ancient paths, and fences are mere obstacles that must be pushed under or through.  

Boundary fencing adds another challenge to the mix… The of inclusion another person into the mix. With around 4km of boundary fencing and 4 neighbours on our hundred acre block, it is no small concern.

The basic principle of boundary fencing is that both parties have an equal responsibility to maintain the fence.  This means you both pay for the fence, you both maintain it, and when the time comes, you have to agree to replace it. 

And fencing is bloody expensive.


We had a stretch of about 150 metres of our boundary fence that had long passed its usefulness. My neighbour had been hinting for years we needed to do something about it, and finally we got our act together.

It also helped that we had some cheap labour come and visit… So with agreement reached, materials sourced and labour on hand, it was time to crack on.

The first job was to replace the rotten strainer post. We gave the new post a few days to settle before we pulled out the old fence.  The old fence was all timber. We split the wire out of the old red box timber posts, but left the lighter stringybark spreaders in place. 

The old wire was rolled into two bundles, and then it was time to bang in the new star pickets.  We got our line by stringing a line of barbed wire first. This wire ended up being moved and tied to the top of the pickets.

It was all hands on deck…for a while at least. Unfortunatly our neighbour was ill, and unable to assist (provide adult supervision).  So we did our best.

Once the posts were all in, we moved the barbed wire to the top of the pickets, and then strung the plain wire.  This was only the second time I had used a wire spinner, and this tool was fantastic at ensuring the wire spun tangle free through the posts. 

Finally the hinge lock mesh was rolled out, strained. The end result was a fantastic new stretch of fence… that makes the other sections look decidedly shabby.

We were able to salvage the old wire. Jo thought it would be perfect to reinforce the base of the orchard/vegetable garden. Our chooks live here, and occasionally rabbits and foxes do visit. So the old netting was cleared of its wire and repurposed.  The old plain and barbed wire was respun using the same wire spinner (doubly brilliant), and will be turned into garden art – or sold.

We used the opportunity to clean up some other netting that had been left lying in another paddock. This hadn’t been neatly rolled, but a handy set of hay forks soon helped move it from its resting place and to the steel recycling area at the local tip.

And so, we ended up with a great new section of fence.  And a skilled up labour force ready to start working on dividing our paddocks up into smaller cells. I just need t o find some time…

Special thanks to the willing labourers, and best wishes to our poorly neighbour.

Rain – Glorious Rain

Things have been a bit hot and dry on the Rock Farm over January.  The fire danger has hovered between High and Severe, with the local Rural Fire Service (RFS) Captain asking all properties to ensure they are prepared.  A fire down the road threatened the village of Sutton, and a home was lost near Tarago.   Our favourite app on the smart phone over January was the excellent “Fires Near Me” app put out by the RFS  (http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/fire-information/fires-near-me).  If you haven’t got it, get it.

With everything so parched, it was a wonderful change to hear the pitter patter of rain on the roof top yesterday morning.   And not just a summer thunderstorm, but the steady sound of gentle rain…  all 26mm of it over the course of the day.  It might not do huge amount for our grass – as most of it is dormant over summer, it does top up the dams, and will help our trees get going.

And whilst not everyone was impressed with the rain – it was a good chance to get a few wet weather jobs down around the place.

One of the most critical jobs was to clear the tank strainers.  These often get blocked by leaves – particularly with the first rain after a break.  There is nothing more depressing than seeing precious rain water pouring anywhere but your tank due to blocked strainers.

It was also a good chance to check the driveway.  Over time, most drive ways like ours will form ruts.  These ruts become natural water courses, with water following the ruts, making them deeper.  I had tried to create a little mound to encourage the water off the road into the drain during dryer times.  When I checked it out in the rain, one side was working effectively.  The other wasn’t – requiring a little earthworks to put right!

Then again – there is only so much you can do.  There are about half a dozen drains off this part of our drive – none of them effectively working.  Perhaps next time…

And as the rain continued to fall, it was time to get a bit more creative.  I contemplated tidying up the shed….  but that didn’t happen.

And then things got really serious when I contemplated cooking the books…  but that didn’t happen either.

rainy-day

Sometimes you just gotta take the time to catch up on other important things…

Which is best for mustering? Horse or Motorbike…

A couple of days ago we celebrated a massive milestone for the Rock Farm.  We sold our first lambs!!!  Three adorable ewe lambs were sold to a delightful family not far away for their hobby farm.

I could go on about the virtues of the magnificent Wiltipoll and how suitable they are for small farms like us, but that is not the purpose of this post.

With two wannabe stockmen in the family, it was a perfect opportunity to put their mustering skills to the test!  It also was an opportunity for the Little Helpers to compare their preferred mustering method… horse or motorbike!

In no time at all, the boys had checked the boundary and confirmed all the sheep were enjoying a mid morning nap in the shade.  Unfortunately for the Little Fisherman, the sheep are very quiet, and assume the motorbike might also be associated with a bucket of oats, causing a slight hold up in proceedings.

The horses however were a less familiar proposition for the sheep, and they quietly pushed the sheep out from their shady mid-morning siesta.  The horses both have far more experience than either of their riders (The Little Helper and myself) at this game, and put themselves in exactly the right place to push the sheep gently towards the yards.

The Little Fisherman had a great time on his motorbike, but found it hard to match his speed to the sheep.  He also had the added complication of having to ride around obstacles that the horses just stepped over.

A last-minute dash for freedom by a couple of cheeky ewes was quickly rounded up by the ever watchful horses, and a moment later all the sheep were safely ensconced in the yards.

Job done…

Well nearly.  Whilst the Little Fisherman wheeled his motorbike up to the shed, switched it off and isolated the fuel, the Little Helper had a couple more jobs to do.  Our trusty steeds, Mater and Dusty were given a refreshing shower and rub down before being put back in the paddock.

And so the debate still rages in our family as to which method of mustering is best.  The horses have a natural intelligence that means they naturally will work the stock and keep them together.  The motorbike however just sits in the shed until you need it, and doesn’t require anywhere near as much maintenance as the horse.

It must therefore come down to other attributes…  The horses were put back to work manufacturing quality garden fertilizer by processing pasture hay – which is something no motorbike could ever do!

Time to move the lambs on

With the young lambs growing quickly, it is time to make some decisions as to their future on the rock farm.  Our young ewe lambs will be weaning shortly and this will mean that soon they will start cycling.

With only one ram, it is important that we move these girls on before they are covered by their father.  Therefore it is time to sell them.

Being such a small farm, we have only eight ewe lambs to sell.   In an area where people sell lambs by the hundred, it isn’t as easy to sell such small numbers.

Our lambs have all been tagged with NLIS (National Livestock Identification Scheme) ear tags.  These tags mean that they can always be traced back to our property, through our unique PIC (Property Identification Code).  When moving livestock around Australia, you need a vendor declaration form.  The PIC registration, ear-tags, and declaration forms all cost money – making dealing with such small numbers not really cost effective at all.

Whilst I am a firm believer that our future lies in small, poly-culture farms, our national system is geared towards large scale mono-culture.

If you are interested in buying some of our gorgeous girls, check out our advertisement here:

http://www.gumtree.com.au/s-ad/gundaroo/livestock/wiltipoll-ewe-lambs-not-dorper-/1132474243

Our eight weather lambs will become staying on a little longer.

 

 

How to plant trees… lots and lots of trees…

One paddock on the Rock Farm is typical of many others in this area.  Cleared and heavily grazed in its past, it is showing evidence of years of abuse.  Areas of sheet erosion and poor soil cover meant this was a paddock in desperate need of restoration.

img_8257

One of the first things we wanted to do to that paddock when we bought the property was to plant trees in it.  With no knowledge of how to do this, we thought it best to seek out the experts.

When it comes to planting trees, few do it better than Greening Australia.  We soon found ourselves speaking with Ben Hanrahan, and he explained that our site would be perfect for their Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation (WOPR) program.  https://www.greeningaustralia.org.au/project/whole-of-paddock-rehabilitation

The program aims to plant belts of native trees along contours with 40-50 metres between each belt.  In addition to providing habitat for many species of birds, the program also improves soil structure, reduces salinity and provides shelter and additional food sources for stock during times of drought.  It is designed to increase biodiversity and habitat for native animals and also improve outcomes for graziers.

It fits well with our aim for “sustainable and ecologically sound stewardship of our property, that creates an income and food source…”  So we signed up.

The first step was to mark the contours.  Ben came out with a specially calibrated tool and marked the contours on the property.  We then sprayed the belt in Autumn and again in Spring with glyphosate to kill the grass.   Whilst I am not a fan of broad scale use of herbicides, in this case it will ensure a far greater strike rate with our trees.  The glyphosate did make large brown stripes in the paddock over winter, which contrasted with the bright green grass (and our super cute lambs).

img_9669

Spring it is time to plant.  Normally this is done in September, but with the unusually wet season, the paddock has been too boggy to work.  We finally got the spring spraying done on Melbourne Cup day, and the seeding was done two days later.

Greening Australia Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation

The seed used is a mixture of seeds from trees native to this area.  We also have a some trees from other areas that are being included as part of a trial to do with climate change resilience.   The seed hopper is designed to accept two types of seed, with one distributing the very fine eucalyptus seeds, and the other distributing the coarser wattles and she-oaks.

Greening Australia Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation

A disc turns over the soil, and the seed is pressed into the soil by the trailing wheel.  This places the seed in the ideal place for germination.

Working in tandem, Ben and Hayden were able to get to work quickly.  Four rows of trees were planted in each belt, totaling around 10 kilometres of tree lines.   It took them most of the afternoon, and whilst it doesn’t look like much now, I can’t wait to see what happens over the next few years or so.

Now we wait.  Part of the deal is we keep stock off the paddock for five years, to allow the trees to get established.  We will need to control kangaroo numbers, and keep the sheep from pushing their way through the fence.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will go a long way towards making our grazing enterprise more sustainable into the future.

A huge thank you to Ben and the team at Greening Australia for helping us achieve a better outcome for our native birds and animals, and our stock.