Book Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean for us on the Rock Farm?

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

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

 

 

Movie Review – The Biggest Little Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

An inspirational story – Trees & Regenerative Agriculture

With the glorious sound of rain falling on our roof, it is extremely pleasant to take refuge inside with a steaming mug of happiness.  Well, after feeding the calves and repairing the tractor…. and buying some more bags of feed for the calves…. and making sure the tank inlets are clear of debris to ensure every drop is making its way into our tanks.

As I write, we have 13mm of steady beautiful rain in the gauge – just perfect timing after our big fall a fortnight ago.  All the established grass responded to the last fall and has been growing well, but the clover and other grass that germinated was just about to curl up and die.  This might be enough to get some good feed on the ground before it gets too cold to grow.

A day inside is never wasted, it is a wonderful opportunity to delve back into the books and online to find stories that inspire and motivate.  It is even better when one of those stories is about an old school mate, Michael.

I hope you have 12 minutes or so to enjoy the story of Taylor’s Run and how trees have not only made their property more beautiful and diverse, but profitable, especially in this drought.  I am exceptionally lucky to count this fella as a mate, and look forward to dropping in to check out what his family is achieving on our next drive through the New England.

 

Book Review: The Uninhabitable Earth – a story of the future

This summer I planned to spend a whole heap of time with my boys working on the Rock Farm.  Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out that way.  Total fire bans and hot dry weather have caused us to stop working on our projects and nearby bush-fires have created a toxic smoke haze that has limited our ability to get out of the house.  This has created an opportunity to catch up on some reading.

This title comes from my professional book-club, however has an application to the Rock Farm.  Indeed it has an application to all of us, and it is one of the most important books I have ever read.

David Wallace-Wells approaches an enormous topic with his book The Uninhabitable Earth – a story of the future.  It is the product of his two year immersion in the science of climate – and he attempts to make sense of it all in a way that we can understand.

It isn’t comfortable reading.

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It has been thirty years  since Al Gore published his “Inconvenient Truth”.  In that thirty years, humans have emitted as much carbon into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels as in the entire history of mankind up until that point!  Wallace-Wells bemoans our indifference to the threat of climate change and wants to spurn us into action

Wallice-Wells breaks his book into two main sections.

The first section addresses the elements of chaos.  This section looks at the physical manifestation of climate change.  What an increase of temperature will mean.  How it will affect the oceans, the air we breathe, the behaviour of wildfires, the production of food.

The second section looks at the impacts of a changing climate on society. It examines how society may be shaped through the challenges of climate change.  Wallace-Wells asks will we find solutions in technology, or will humanity descend into some post apocalyptic Mad Max type scenario?

To address these issues, Wallace-Wells has collated the best science from around the world and turned it into a non-technical book accessible to most readers. By trying to keep the book non-technical, I feel that Wallace-Wells has cherry-picked the figures that best support his case – and this makes me feel he is often overstating his argument.  One example about sea-birds reads: “one researcher found 225 pieces of plastic in the stomach of a single three-month-old chick, weighing 10 percent of its body mass“.  I found this example of one bird particularly odd, especially when Wallace-Wells is arguing that the entire sea-bird population is declining rapidly due to plastics in the ocean.

One of Wallace-Wells arguments is that disasters will no longer be considered ‘natural’.  Severe weather events will be of higher intensity and occur more frequently than in the past.  The impacts of these events on  infrastructure and human population will be greater.  Wallace-Wells puts forward that societies will get to a point where it will be uneconomic to repair the damage.  This introduces the concept of climate refugees.

Climate refugees are people displaced by climate change.  Wallace-Wells asks whether the current ongoing crisis in Syria and the rest of the middle east has its roots in climate change and pressures on food supply?  Perhaps the combination of climate change and poor agricultural practices has led to the desertification of what was once the Garden of Eden.

Heat from a global temperature rise will affect food production – drought will become a huge problem for agriculture attempting to feed an increasing population.  Wallace-Wells states that at 2 degrees warming, “droughts will wallop the Mediterranean and much of India“.  At 2.5 degrees warming, we could enter a global food deficit.  Due to the nature of drought, many of his claims are difficult to accept directly, however the overall message that drought will impact food supply is terribly important.

I found parts of the book frustrating in the way the science is collated and presented.  Wallace-Wells uses a lot of numbers to make his points- and deliberately chooses the numbers that sound the worst.  When talking about the threat of micro-plastics to the ocean, he uses absolute numbers: “in one square mile of water near Toronto, 3.4 million micro-plastic particles were recently trawled“.  It is hard to understand what this means, especially when we are told that each washing machine cycle can release 700 000 of these microscopic bits.  By trying to use specifics, I find the numbers almost meaningless, despite the overall message being very important.

I found the predictions as to the future shape of societies and ethics in the future concerning.  The book is intentionally alarmist – and I find that sometimes it is hard to understand the claims behind the figures presented as facts.  At least Wallace-Wells has a comprehensive notes section with references to most of his claims, and there is no denying he has done a mountain of research to base this book on.

One story that I found particularly concerning and highlights how little we know about the climate feedback loops concerns the central Asian Saiga – a dwarf like antelope.  In May 2015 over a few days 60 percent of the global population of Saiga died in what is termed a “mega death” event.  Their deaths were caused by a bacteria, pasteurella multocida which lives naturally in the animal’s tonsils.  Suddenly it proliferated, entered the animals’ blood stream, then liver, kidneys and spleen.  The cause was an extremely hot and humid weather pattern – with the highest humidity ever recorded in the areas where the deaths occurred.  Wallace-Wells described the scenario in this case as: “Climate is the trigger, Pasteurella is the bullet.”  We are entering uncharted territory and many of the feedback loops remain unknown at this time.

So what does it all mean for us at the Rock Farm.

As many of you know, we are trying to establish a woodland type setting with deciduous trees providing a shade, shelter and food source for our grazing stock.  We have sections of native trees and plants for habitat, however we want to make sure that we can protect our pasture from the buffeting winds and drying sunshine, to give us more capacity to deal with drought.  We want to offset the carbon emissions of our car travel.  We want to understand the research that suggests that holistic pasture management with cattle is actually a net carbon sink.

When looking at what plants we want to grow, we are looking at plants that thrive not just in our local area, but also further west of us, where the climate is more ‘Mediterranean’ tending arid.  We want to set our farm up to deal with the changing climate.  The current drought and bush fire crisis has sharpened our focus, and whilst it has made it hard this year to get our trees established, we remain committed to trying to improve this patch of earth we have the responsibility to care for.

It worries me that the debate about climate change and the cause of the fires on social media (and even in the mainstream media)  is increasingly binary.  I see friends using the internet not to open their minds and see different perspectives, but rather to seek other’s opinions that match their own, and then argue that because someone doesn’t share their opinion, they’re an idiot.  The internet was invented to share information, not to watch cat videos and argue with strangers.

We only have one world.  Surely it is too precious to get it wrong. I am the first to admit we live a life of extreme privilege.  It is fair to ask whether it really too hard to make a difference?  Bear in mind, that if the top 10 percent of energy consumers dropped their consumption to just the EU average, total global emissions would fall by a staggering 35 percent.   Now that is something we probably can do, and once we start, I am sure the groundswell of humanity will get on-board!

As Lydia Dotto asked in her piece Storm Warning, Gambling with the Climate of Our Planet twenty years ago

Imagine for a moment you’ve been diagnosed with a serious medical condition.  The diagnosis was difficult but the doctors think they have caught it early.  The prognosis is uncertain:  they can’t fully predict what’s going to happen, but they do know you face difficult choices because this condition gets worse before it gets better.”  

Do you wait for the proof of your condition to become undeniable, before you start treatment, even though it may be too late for that treatment to be effective? Do you take treatment that may drastically reduce your quality of life now, whilst other people say that you’ll barely notice the effects?

I think we all have a responsibility to try to make a difference – and it starts at home.  We can’t afford to wait for the politicians to catch up with us. I am an optimist, and I know that there are many wonderful people working hard to help our world solve its many challenges.  Books like The Uninhabitable Earth remind us how important it is that we stay focused on making the future a better one, for our children’s sake.

 

The Uninhabitable Earth, a story of the future by David Wallace-Wells  ISBN 978-0-141-98887-0

Book Review: The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency

This classic by John Seymour was one of the first books written for a generation that loved the idea of being self sufficient but didn’t know where to start.  First published in 1976, this book has inspired thousands of people to move forward to a “better sort of life”.  Our 1992 reprint is one of the most treasured books on our bookshelf, and I love leafing through it of an evening in front of the fire once the kids are in bed.

The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency covers the whole gambit of living a self sufficient life.  It is broken into various sections that cover different aspects of growing your own food such as:

  • Food from Fields – growing grains and cereals
  • Food from Animals (from poultry to beef, bees and rabbits)
  • Food from the Garden (growing fruits and vegetables)
  • Food from the Wild (foraging)
  • Natural Energy
  • Crafts and Skills

Seymour has tackled an enormous topic with skill and good humour.  His chapter on Horse or Tractor Power details the pros and cons of the three main methods of powering farm instruments.  The tractor, garden or walk behind tractors or animals.  His discussion of the various merits of different animals speaks volumes of Seymour’s experience

“Mules are very hardy, particularly for hot and dry climates.  They walk fast, will pull hard, can live on worse food than a horse, and I find them completely unlovable.  They will not exert so much traction as a heavy horse and are inclined to scratch, kick, bite, and generally misbehave.”

Each section meticulously lays out what techniques you need and what equipment you require.  Most of the tools described are hand tools, that today are hard to come by and look laborious to use.  We have found some of the tools in our shed, relics of a bygone era.  It is nice to know what they were used for, and for some, we have been able to re-use them.

When we started butchering our own sheep, I referred to Seymour’s book.  He describes the technique used to humanely butcher and clean several animals such as sheep, pigs, rabbits and poultry.  He explains the techniques, with a practical element borne from his experience.

“Keep working until the pig is absolutely clean… You really need two or three good men and true to scrape a big hog, with one boy to bring on the hot water and another to fetch the home-brewed beer (vital on this occasion).”

The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency is written for a much gentler climate than ours.  Seymour estimates that a horse will eat the produce of a one acre of land in a year, or of two or three acres of poorer land – which is a very optimistic estimate for our area.  Seymour’s basic model is for a one acre (4000 sq m) lot, however it can be expanded to a five acre lot (2 hectares), and meet most of the needs of a large family, except perhaps coffee and tea.

A special section deals with (almost lost) crafts such as spinning wool and cotton, dyeing and weaving fabrics, tanning hides, working stone and making bricks and other techniques important for someone who wants to have a go at everything.  In this modern age of YouTube, you can easily find videos to augment Seymour’s descriptions of how to practice these skills.

Even Seymour’s section on Natural Energy is still relevant.  Whilst not listing the latest in solar panel and inverter technology, the principles of solar passive design, insulation and harnessing wind power are almost timeless.  The section on a water-wheel was particularly quaint, as it was a form of power that was too unreliable with Australia’s cycle of droughts and floods.

Underpinning the whole book is the importance of soil – the basis of all life on earth.  Seymour’s whole enterprise is based on many facets of poly-culture.  Beneficial relationships between every enterprise increase soil fertility and recognise the inter-contentedness of every element of the farm.  We would now call Seymour’s techniques permaculture or even regenerative agriculture.

There is something magical about a book such as this.  Part of it harks back to a simpler time, however it was written in the modern world for people seeking a life more ‘fun that the over specialised round of office or factory”.  Despite it being written over 40 years ago, it is as important as ever, and one of my favourite books.

Book Review: You Can Farm

Anyone considering moving onto a farm should put You Can Farm – The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise by Joel Salatin on their list of books to read.  This book is written for, in Joel’s words: “wannabes, the folks who actually entertain notions of living, loving and learning on a piece of land”.  The question the book addresses is simply “Is it really possible for me?”.  Whilst this book was written 20 years ago and in a North American context, it remains especially relevant today

This book explains what you need to consider if you want to make a living from a farm, as opposed to living on a farm.  Joel Salatin believes that the opportunities for farm entrepreneurs have never been greater, especially as people look for alternatives to industrial agriculture, and seek ethical, and healthier choices.

The other reason to read this book is it will help you develop a farm model, especially if you need to to secure finance to purchase your farm.

Joel takes us on a journey through his farm enterprise, which is a polyculture set up.  Ironically this is nothing new – however his farm looks more like a farm you would have found in the 1950’s.  As agriculture has moved towards mono-culture, and high input / high output models, Joel asks whether all this is really necessary.  His enterprise is run on ‘threadbare efficiency’, and uses many innovative (cheap) solutions to enhance production.  It is full of practical advice, with an astute business mind driving the process.

Joel opens the book sharing his philosophy about farming, so you can understand his perspective.  He also recognises that the reader may not share his views entirely, however that doesn’t mean you should stop reading. Rather it sets the context for the book.  Some of Joel’s fundamental principles are “Environmentally enhancing agriculture”.  The term today is Regenerative Agriculture – but as Joel’s book was written in 1998, that term hadn’t been coined yet.  He strongly believes in using seasonal production cycles to boost efficiency and to develop bio-regional food security.  His enterprise is based on humane animal husbandry and building soil and bio-diversity.    He does not believe in the high input farming models that chain farmers to corporate fertiliser, seed and crops where the farmer holds all the risk for the corporate giants.  Joel is all about family friendly agriculture.  These are all values that I share and partly why I really enjoyed his book so much.

One of Joel’s lessons is that if you want the make the farm your life, you have to embrace it.  The farm is every part of Joel and his family’s life – they have made a conscious decision to live as much as possible on the farm.  They don’t spend their weekends socialising or chasing kids sports in town.  The kids are involved in animal husbandry duties and are fully involved in the enterprise.

Joel also recognises that many people move to the country for a lifestyle.  And that is fine.

This book has made me think about the Rock Farm.  It helped me realise that our operation is very different from Joel’s.  There are many reasons for this.

  • We live under an hour from some of the best schools in the country and we value the education opportunities these provide for children.  We acknowledge that until our children finish high school and the associated music, sport and social activities that go on with that, we will spend a lot of time commuting to the big smoke.
  • The Rock Farm is a choice made by Jo and I to live here.  Our children are here by default, but they did not make the choice to live on a farm.  They love playing in the paddocks, building forts, riding their motor-bikes and making mischief, however the choice to live here was not theirs.  We get them to help out on the farm, especially when working stock or chipping weeds, but they have their own interests to pursue.
  • I am extremely fortunate to have a job that I really enjoy and I work with some inspiring people.  I enjoy working in a close knit team and I really enjoy the interactions I have at work. I know I would miss that aspect of my life if I was to leave it entirely.
  • Being close to a large centre, our land value is not based on farm production opportunity like most farmland throughout the world.  This means our investment in the Rock Farm is more about real-estate than farming potential.  This was brought home when I stumbled on a study conducted by our local council, that determined the ideal block size in our area was 20 acres, and 15 minutes commute from town.  Every minute extra on the commute reduced the property value and every additional acre suffered diminishing returns.

Whilst there are many aspects of our farm that are different, this book has also opened my eyes to many opportunities that exist on the Rock Farm.  It has made me realise there is comfort in threadbare efficiency and helped me look at ways to maximise the return on my effort.  It has helped me crystallise what the Rock Farm is and how we can love and nurture it and help regenerate it into a productive and healthy farm.

This book has also given me confidence that when I am ready to stop working in town, there are opportunities here, even on our small patch of earth, to make a red hot go of things.  If you have the slightest inkling that you too might want to live in the country, then make sure you read You Can Farm – The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise by Joel Salatin..

ISBN: 0-96381909-2-8

Book Review -Millpost, a broadscale permaculture farm since 1979

I have taken advantage of the cold weather and re-visited an inspirational book written by David Watson about his experience running a permaculture operation on his family farm.  Millpost is the name of the Watson’s farm, and David takes us on a journey through the many facets of the farm, and shows how permaculture principles have been put in place.  David and his wife Judith implemented permaculture principles on their farm in 1979.  They enlisted David Holmgren to help draw up a whole farm plan in 1994.  David Holmgren was one of the co-founder’s of permaculture in Australia.

Permaculture isn’t a term often applied to broadscale farming operations.  These days you might term it “Regenerative Agriculture” but digging beneath the surface, the aims of permaculture and regenerative agriculture are often very similar.  The Watson’s farm is near Bungendore, which is similar country and climate to the Rock Farm.  Whilst their operation is much larger than ours, it was the first time I had read a book where someone was able to put permaculture into practice on a large grazing property.

What I really liked about David’s book is that he has broken down many facets of the farm’s operation into specific chapters.  From the commercial aspects of the farm with superfine merinos, to the vegetable gardens, tree plantings and chickens, David shares how they make the various aspects work for their family in a permaculture setting.

From David’s analysis of his experience, he has developed several simple lessons.  For example: “Lesson No. 11: Work out which species are suited to your soil before mass planting anything.”  Seems like common sense really, but the words are borne out of years of planting any and all types of fruit and nut trees.  Some species have done really well, but the hot dry summers and brutally cold winters mean that not all trees survive.  Walnuts apparently are one species that doesn’t thrive in this area, with some 30 year old trees barely 3 metres tall and having never borne any nuts.

David’s advice is based on experience and is extremely practical, based on years of following his permaculture plan.  We share many of the challenges with Millpost.  One such problem on the Rock Farm is our serrated tussock weed.  I am coming to realise, like David, that I will need to use chemicals to bring the tussock under control.  Once the tussock is in manageable quantities, I hope to be able to continue chipping out any patches as they occur, like they now do on Millpost.

Why am I so keen to avoid the use of chemicals on the Rock Farm?

It’s simple really.  We eat our own products, and we feel that if our soil is healthy, then our livestock have the best chance at being healthy too.

If you are looking for more information on Millpost, and to purchase some of their superfine wool products, visit the Millpost Farm website here:  https://www.millpostmerino.com/millpost

Millpost, a broad scale permaculture farm since 1979 by David Watson, 2018.  ISBN 978-0-646-98482-7

 

Book Review – What Makes a Good Farm for Wildlife

In my quest to regenerate the Rock-Farm into sustainable and productive farmland, I have read many articles and books, and listened to lots of interviews with fascinating people.  I have also picked the brains of Rangers, Botanical experts and Farmers in an attempt to find the best way forward for our patch of paradise.   A large reason for setting up this blog was to share our lessons learnt and I thought one way to do this would be to review some of the books I have read.

The first book review, in what I hope will become a regular feature of my blog is: What Makes a Good Farm for Wildlife, Lead Author: David B Lindenmayer, published by CSIRO in 2011.  My wife found it in the local library and brought it home for me to have a read.  Being winter, it s a great time to settle down with a cuppa in front of the fire and start getting ideas.

David has pulled together a number of authors with a range of backgrounds.  From experts in ecology and conservation biology, contributions also come from farmers and people with a background in forestry.  Whilst all the findings are backed up with research and extensive footnotes, the book is easy to read and not an academic text.  It is a practical and realistic guide for landowners with achievable actions that can make a huge difference for biodiversity in a productive farm.

What Makes A Good Farm for Wildlife opens with a clear aim – and it sticks to this throughout:

Our aim in this book is to highlight some ways to promote wildlife conservation on farms.  We are acutely aware that managing land for multiple goals is a difficult task and that not all parts of a farm will be managed in the same way or with the same order of priorities.  Given this, we provide new information to help landholders make decisions about ways they might manage parts of their farms.  To do this, we describe the characteristics of good remnants, good plantings, good paddocks, good rocky outcrops, good waterways and then collectively, what makes a good farm for wildlife.

Lindenmayer et. al. 2011 p1

The Rock-Farm adjoins some remnant woodland, and using the description of what makes good remnant, I have been able to look at what species this habitat supports.  I was most surprised at the number of species of insect that live in woodlands, particularly beetles and how important they are for native birds and mammals.

The authors examine what makes a good planting to restore woodland.  The authors explain the various ways trees can be planted, what species to use and how large the plantation should be.  Some of the information surprised me. Plantations support and favour different species to remnant woodlands.  The size of plantations is also important, especially being large enough to provide interior areas away from the edges.  This is important for birds such as the Rufous Whistler and Willie Wagtails.  Several of the paddocks in the Rock-Farm are lined with native trees such as Casuarina She Oaks and Peppermint Gums.   Whilst these provide good food sources for birds such as the Glossy Black Cockatoo, I learnt they are limited in their value due to the breadth of the plantings.

Lines of trees along fence-lines provide some limited habitat

Lines of trees along fence-lines provide limited habitat

The chapter on good paddocks examines the importance of large paddock trees.  I have several Brittle Gum trees that fit this category. I learnt it is not just the trees, but also the dead branches and fallen timber that are important for beetles and bird habitat.  The book details strategies to protect these important trees, and techniques to link large paddock trees with plantations to provide more habitat options.  I have previously cleared fallen timber from these trees, whereas now I will ensure I leave some logs and parts of the branches on the ground (after repairing the fence!).

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After cutting fallen timber off the fence, I am now leaving some of the timber, such as from this Ribbon Gum, behind to form logs for beetles and other creatures to live in.

One large Yellow-box paddock tree has recently died and I have been eyeing it off as a future firewood source. After reading this book, I will leave it standing to provide habitat for birds such as the Superb Parrot.   The good news is that the dead tree is surrounded by many young trees, that I have been encouraging to grow.  They will continue to stabilise the gully and provide a good stand of shelter in the future.

Creeks and water courses are examined.  This is an area I haven’t really explored on the Rock-Farm, but the book explored techniques to enhance this area too.  From leaving natural snags to slow water down, to managing stock access, it gave me plenty of food for thought.  I also really liked the author’s description of what made a healthy dam – including an island for bird refuge from animals.  We have been talking about making a floating island in our large dam, and this book has given us some ideas as to how to make this happen.

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The creek is an area for improved efforts to slow water down –

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but we have to be careful when it floods!

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Our dam needs work to improve habitat – we want to build a floating island to provide a refuge for ducks and other aquatic birds

What is interesting is that most of the farms examined in this book found that by increasing tree plantings and improving habitat, they also had the advantage of improving soil health.  The added benefit of improving the biodiversity also lead to psychological health benefits for the farmers, with the knowledge they were improving the land.

I like that the authors acknowledge the difficult balance that landowners face, especially when transitioning from high input-high output operations to less intensive operations.  There has been a huge change in expectations on landowners, as it wasn’t that long ago that governments instructed farmers to clear large areas of land.  The authors also acknowledge that some changes must take place beyond the farm at the landscape scale.  Whilst the challenge may seem overwhelming, if we all take little steps in the right direction, it will make a huge difference.  I feel that the future of our planet depends on not a few farmers practising regenerative or sustainable agriculture perfectly, but all farmers trying it imperfectly.

I was really pleased to find that much of the work we are doing around the Rock-Farm is consistent with the messages in this book.  That said, I have been guilty of trying to clean up paddocks by removing fallen timber.  I will now make sure I leave more of this in place – especially under large paddock trees.  It also has made me more conscious of how small changes I make can have enormous consequences for biodiversity outcomes.

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Some logs left after the branch fell on the fence. A balance of future fire wood and habitat for beetles.

Whilst What Makes a Good Farm for Wildlife is no longer in print, I borrowed a copy from our local library.  David Lindenmayer is a prolific author, and he has recently published Restoring Farm Woodlands for Wildlife (2018) which appears to build on this earlier book.  If you’re interested, it is available at the CSIRO Publishing Website here:  https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/7844