Winter 2022 Update

Recently I have written of some of the support and decision making tools available for small farmers like us. Over the past few years I have been actively seeking knowledge and making the most of opportunities to attend workshops and farm visits. I have found great inspiration in many of the people I have met and stories I have listened to, however there is still plenty to do on the Rock Farm. Pipes keep leaking, cattle need feeding, firewood needs carting – but there is great delight in sunset strolls around the property.

Over the past month or so we have been rotating our cattle every few days to a new paddock. I have been supplementing their feed with the odd bale of hay, just to help extend the rotations, and return some nutrients to the paddocks. The recent school holidays provided an opportunity to refresh the boy’s tractor skills, by getting them to start moving the big round bales safely to feed the cattle. It also means I don’t have to be here to feed the cattle every time.

We also had a bit of school holiday fun on the Rock Farm. After sitting idle for several months with a fuel issue, we got the buggy working again. After a bit of Google and YouTube, the boys gave the carburettor jets a clean, and the buggy roared to life. With two teenage boys (and a slightly older but no less enthusiastic Dad), we decided to test our driving skills with a time trial over a set course. It was great fun – but sadly the buggy wasn’t up to the work and only lasted a couple of circuits for each of us before retiring again to the shed!

It wasn’t all about hanging about on the farm though. The boys and I did escape to Sydney for a night in the big smoke. We had a great time kicking about the city, checking out Paddy’s markets, the food of China Town, the rides of Luna Park, and a Ghost tour of the Rocks.

One other project we worked on was replacing a 200 metre section of fence. We have planted dozens of trees in our ‘back’ paddock and have decided to keep the stock off that paddock for a number of years until the trees get established. This has also meant we haven’t been able to use a smaller paddock on the lower slopes as the original fence was in terrible condition. In order to utilise this ten acre paddock, we decided to replace the fence with a new one. The old timber posts literally fell over when we pulled the wire down. We replaced the fence with a new section of stock mesh. This means that effectively we will have a ‘new’ paddock of around ten acres in our rotation, which is fantastic.

I have a little more work to do before this paddock can be used again, and we will put in a new gate to make moving the cattle through this paddock easier. It will make a significant addition to our rotation, as it has good pasture, good shelter and good water.

But the most exciting news of all came on our evening stroll today. It was a wonderful surprise to find this beautiful healthy calf born bang on time. We hope the remaining 15 cows have healthy calves over the next few weeks. It is a wonderful time on the Rock Farm πŸ™‚

Weaning Cattle – Autumn 2022

Last year we weaned our calves late, and kept them over winter due to the exceptional season we were having. We made it work, partly because of the abundance of feed, and partly because we were rebuilding our numbers to around 15 breeding cows (https://rockfarming.com/2021/06/06/weaning-on-the-rock-farm/).

This year we have chosen a slightly different tact. We have decided to wean our calves before winter, to reduce the nutrition requirements for the cows, and to reduce the pressure on our pastures. The final stimulus however came when I saw there was a special weaner sale upcoming at our local sale yards – which spurned us to action.

Always eager to continue to improve our weaning system, I consulted a couple of wiser and more experienced heads than mine. John explained that he taught the calves to eat hay, buy first putting them in the yards with their mothers. The cows feed from the hay and teach the calves to eat it too. My other mentor Mac explained that the fences have to keep the calves from getting back to their mothers. They don’t have to stop the cows getting back to their calves!

We brought all the cattle into the yards, and spent a couple of days feeding them. The cows who were with us during the drought remembered the sound of the tractor (Pavlov could just as easily have done his conditioning experiments with hungry cattle!). We gave them access to a small paddock adjoining the yards giving them plenty of space to spread out.

A couple of days later we drafted the cows back to another adjoining paddock / lane where they could feed, but come back and visit the calves when they desired. The weaners all then got the latest fashion accessory (a beautiful white NLIS ear-tag). This RFD chipped tag allows the animals and their meat products to be traced back to the Rock Farm. This helps ensure Australian Beef is internationally recognised as being fully traceable throughout the entire supply chain.

The first few hours of separation saw calves and cows happily feeding, however by evening time, the udders filled. The cows returned to the yards and bellowed at the calves, and the calves bellowed at their mothers. This process repeated morning and night for around a week or so, but the intensity reduced quickly – and I felt it didn’t take long for me to feel that the cows were more interested in the hay I was delivering and not the calves!

The hardest part then came in choosing which weaners get on the truck and go to sale. In the end we sold all seven of the steers, and four of the heifers. The steers averaged 290kg, which was a great result considering they were only 7 months old or so. We kept four heifers, bringing our total head on the Rock Farm to 20. Our present holding comprises of 15 cows, 1 maiden heifer due to calve this spring, and our latest 4 weaner heifers.

We will reassess our stock holdings in Spring, but will be likely to sell some cow and calf units before next Summer. It all depends on rainfall, which is our largest determinant of carrying capacity (despite what the fertiliser company tells me). Whilst I love our cattle, I am also very conscious of being a custodian of the soil, and I need to put the need of the soil first. Healthy soil will lead to healthy cattle.

Special thanks to John and Mac for the advice, and a shout out to Jimmy and Kylie who loaded and trucked our weaners to the sale yards in my absence.

A wet spring – getting some science on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A busy spring – marking calves on the Rock Farm and a new boy arrives.

After helping Daisy give birth to Buttercup, the rest of the cows all delivered healthy calves – with the exception of Miss Steak. Miss Steak was on notice, having missed delivering what would have been her second calf last year. Whilst normal commercial operators might have culled her immediately, we were happy to give her a second chance. It seemed our faith was misplaced. Whilst Miss Steak was in rather rotund condition, she didn’t appear to be in calf.

By the 5th of September we had 14 beautiful calves on the ground from the 14 other cows. The maths wasn’t quite that simple, with Uno loosing her calf, and Margurite having twins, but overall it was a pretty good result. After giving Miss Steak another week or so, we decided to mark the calves.

Marking the calves young serves two purposes. The calves are much easier to handle, and the boys are able to be castrated using rubber marking rings. I recruited Master 14 to help with the process. After I vaccinated the calves with a 5 in 1 vaccine, Master 14 was given the job of sliding the rubber rings over the bull calf’s testicles. He really didn’t like it, squirming and wincing and generally doing the whole thing with his eyes closed, which I found hilarious. After we had marked our calves we tallied 7 heifers and 7 steers, with Master 14 looking more cross-eyed than all the boys put together.

With steady and regular rain falling, we moved into September with the promise of solid growth in our pasture. The rain also was causing the weeds and thistles to grow. I took advantage of Master 16’s eagerness to earn money to upgrade his mountain bike by using his willing lockdown labour to chip out thistles each morning in lieu of the long bus ride into town. The Rock Farm pastures have really started to kick along and look fantastic. The good pastures have the cows cycling again.

I contacted our mentor and guide John, and arranged to lease another bull this season. I then asked our friend Jimmy if he could pick the bull up and bring him down to the Rock Farm. The truck arranged, it also made sense to send Miss Steak to the sale yards, a small diversion on the same trip. One of the more colourful characters on the Rock Farm, Miss Steak gained her notoriety with a terrible error of judgement she made as a young heifer (https://rockfarming.com/2018/11/16/a-terrible-miss-steak/). Sadly however, after not calving two years in a row, her time was up.

Then, a week before the truck was due to pick her up, her udder started filling. And filling. And filling. And one horrible cold and rainy night she delivered a gorgeous little heifer. Being the last calf calf, and born in the nick of time to Miss Steak, we named her “Minute”!

Jimmy happily accepted the change in cartage plans and we picked up our borrowed bull a couple of days later. This magnificent fellow shows is French Normande herritage with his markings and his length. He is also really quiet, and happily settled in with the girls. This year we are joining our 15 cows and 1 heifer with this fellow. They will be due to start calving late July, which is a little early for us, but with the season starting so well, we can only hope it holds.

In the mean time, we have been enjoying our daily strolls amongst the cattle. There are far worse ways to be spending lockdown! Special thanks to John for leasing the bull to us, and Jimmy for getting him here πŸ™‚

The Battle for Daisy (again)….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comings and Goings on The Rock Farm

As we join the rest of our state in returning to lockdown, It would be nice to say our family has had a great opportunity to sit down and reflect on the journey that led us to choosing to make our life out here on our 100 acre hobby farm. However due to colleagues having to isolate, my regular work has fallen on fewer shoulders, meaning I haven’t had the opportunity to spend anywhere near enough time on the Rock Farm as I would like. I am very aware that we are extremely fortunate to be able to call this small patch of land home, and I hope by sharing our story during this testing time, I might bring some joy to our followers around the world.

Life on the Rock Farm continues to beat to its own schedule. Cattle continue to find their way into the wrong paddocks, machinery breaks, and trees fall on fences. But the Rock Farm continues to recharge my soul. Today my story is about the cattle and some of the comings and goings over the past few weeks.

Regular readers will know I deliberated holding last year’s calves over winter. With a wetter than average forecast, it made sense to hold them, even if we were feeding out a bit of hay. But a few weeks ago, we decided that the new calves were due, and it was time to move our weaners on. We had five steers and five heifers from last year, however I was given very stern orders that one of the heifers – named Zoe – was not to be sold.

With all the family in town at work and school (just before the lockdown), I asked our neighbour to give me a hand to bring the weaners into the yards. I was able to draft them out of the paddock with the cows easily enough, but really appreciated Stuart’s assistance to bring the young cattle into the yards. The added bonus of this arrangement was that Stuart had agreed to buy the four remaining heifers. It was also the perfect time for three two-year-old maiden heifers that had been running with our herd to make their way to their new home. I was absolutely thrilled to know that all of the girls would be going to such caring owners – and that I would still be able to feed them the odd apple over the fence! We soon drafted the small herd, and walked the girls down the lane.

Being such a small producer with full time careers, we are unable to establish a pasture to plate relationship with butchers or other local markets. We also don’t generally have the feed to finish our cattle on grass. This means that we usually sell our cattle to the local livestock exchange at Yass. This year we sent five steers in to a regular sale, and their average weight was 331kg. It was a bitter sweet moment to see the steers leave the property – but it was definitely time to move them on – because the other news of the week was that the next generation of calves had begun to arrive!

Whilst I might be back to our ideal stock rate of 15 cows (plus Zoe of course), the next generation have started to drop. Precisely 285 days after the bull joined the herd, we had our first calf. There is something magical about seeing the new calves on the ground. Their gentle mothers give me a shake of their head if I look like approaching too close, especially for the first day or two. After they find their feet, the calves are often found in a creche with one cow on supervision duties. They especially love napping in a sunny spot out of the wind. Zoe has settled back in with the the herd also – if you want to know which one Zoe is, she is the one who gave me a kiss in the last blog: https://rockfarming.com/2021/08/01/winter-planning-on-the-rock-farm/

This year, for the first time, one of my favourite cows, Margurite, gave us the most unexpected gift. Twins! Twin calves are not only unusual in cattle, but the mother often rejects one of them. We watched pretty closely for the first couple of days, but Margurite seemed more than happy to accept the duties of looking after both of them.

So be warned – lots of calf photos to follow!

Please stay safe and look after yourselves. We are surrounded by wonderful neighbours who are keeping an eye out for us. We are also fortunate to have regular jobs and meals on the table. For friends who read this – if you’re are finding the going a little tough, please reach out. I hope you enjoyed this little update.

Winter Planning on the Rock Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weaning on the Rock Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out and about on and off the Rock Farm

After our last good rainfall in late March, we have barely had a drop of rain, and the farm has quickly taken on a bleak winter look. Talking to a couple of local old timers recently, they felt we are in for a long cold winter, and at this point in time, I am inclined to believe them. That said, our cattle and pastures are in good shape, and the hay shed has a good amount of hay in it.

The Rock Farm has been a hive of activity since our last update in early March. A combination of getting the farm winter ready, school holidays, unscheduled repairs combined with a busy run at work has seen the blog take a bit of a back seat.

Some of the activities we have been up to included repairs to our dam water header tank. The old galvanised pipe rusted through at the base, meaning that we had no water to our troughs, the garden or the house toilets. Thankfully we were able to replace the rusted section with some new poly pipe – but when the system was pressurised, a new ‘water feature’ appeared in the paddocks!

By the time I finished repairing our fountain it was dark, I was cold, however I had an appreciative and curious audience.

In other parts of the farm, our old Peppermint Gums (eucalyptus nicholli) are in the habit of dropping branches – newly always on fences. It doesn’t take too long to cut up the branch and repair the fence, but it does stop other jobs from being done. I’m beginning to understand why it seems every fence on the place is made up of hundreds of little lengths of wire!

The good news is the cattle are all in excellent condition. The problem I have is that every time I threaten selling the calves to ease the feed burden over winter, I find that more have names. And of course, once it has a name, it stays…. This means that I am relying on our pasture and hay stocks to get us through winter. We are planning on holding on our 10 calves over winter and sell them in Spring when they are 12 months old. I do have an escape plan, and the boy’s did help me put NLIS ear tags in them to ensure that we can sell them at any time should we need.

I am very conscious that the Rock Farm can be all consuming, and it is very much my passion. The kids enjoy the space and help out with many of the job, but they are busy forging their own paths. It is a balancing act to keep the boys engaged, but not feel exploited in their contribution to the farm.

With that in mind, it is important to make time to get away from the Rock Farm. We did enjoy a few nights camping in Koscuizsko National Park and couple of weeks later we stayed at Thredbo. It was great to get the family together and enjoy a break together free from the distractions of work, school or the farm. We loved exploring Blue Waterholes, and the adrenaline junkie loved hitting the slopes at Thredbo on his mountain bike.

As much as I enjoyed getting away, it was lovely to get back home and enjoy a slow cooked dinner prepared in the fire pit. Something seems to slow down when you’re sitting around a fire.

While the blog might have been a bit quieter than normal, life has been anything but. And that’s a good thing.

Pasture and Trees Update – Rock Farm enters Autumn

After a most unusually cool and wet summer for this part of the world, I took a stroll around the paddocks this morning to take stock on where we are at in the lead up to winter. As usual, I took my faithful weeding tool, and chipped out a few of the thistles that were on my path.

What was most remarkable was the condition of the paddocks – especially the 2 hectare flat paddock I rested this year. After mulching the paddock in the first week of January, I put the cattle on the paddock for four days a month later. After another four weeks of rest, it is in glorious condition, with the old phalaris storks providing excellent mulch on the ground, retaining moisture and allowing the grass to really get going.

Not all the Rock Farm looks like this. The paddock next door was grazed a lot harder in summer, and is bouncing back also. Without the benefit of the mulch, it is taking longer to come back. The advantage this gives me is that I can more easily see the thistles, my least favourite being Bathurst Burr (the middle photo).

There is a perception that nature will heal itself and find its own balance. Whilst this is partly true in the long term over thousands of years, it doesn’t apply on the scale of our farm, especially if we want to graze animals on it. Organic farming (the type conducted since the beginning of modern times) was a constant challenge, requiring vigilance and management to ensure a yield. Our farm is no exception. Managing the weeds such as thistles, serrated tussock and paterson’s curse require constant effort.

My aim is to assist nature to create healthy, carbon rich soil, through the use of cattle. There is so much I have to learn about the forbs and grasses that are here. By attempting to create a good environment for the grass to grow, I might also be creating the perfect conditions for another weed to grow. I am learning to closely observe the relationships between the different grasses and weeds in my attempt to understand this place better. The cattle won’t do all the heavy lifting, and I also need to put some energy in to help regenerate the landscape.

I found myself continuing down to the creek, where many of you will recall we planted 300 trees in September (https://rockfarming.com/2020/09/11/cant-see-the-wood-for-the-trees/). This area has changed dramatically in the past five months. What was an easy area to walk through has become an overgrown tangle of grass, weeds and shrubs. The good news is that most of the trees are still going strong despite being lost amongst the undergrowth.

Some trees have been gnawed by hares and wombats, but I think the long grass has saved many from being discovered and destroyed. On the banks out of the wombat’s reach, the gums and wattles are doing particularly well. The hopbush is doing really well in the creek bed despite being almost lost in the dense growth.

It is such a privilege to be part of this project bringing trees back to the creek bank. I can only hope that the trees are well established before the next drought. Whilst the main purpose of the trees is to stabilise the creek bank and slow the water down, I would also love to be able to sit in the shade of these trees as an old man.

Our tree planting isn’t over for the year. We have plans to plant oak acorns this winter along a couple of fence lines and in some of our other paddocks, and this is where you can get involved and be a part of our journey.

We will be inviting readers to join us in our tree planting mission (and Rock Farm open day??) sometime later in the year once we have harvested our acorns. If you’d like to be a part of the day, please get in touch πŸ™‚