Spring and Calving

Spring is a wonderful time on the Rock Farm. The return of warmer weather is appreciated by all of us, plants, animals and humans. This year has been such a change on previous years, with good steady rain falling regularly since March. This means as the ground warms up, we have great soil moisture leading into the growing season.

But it isn’t just the grass that is growing. Our beautiful cow’s bellies have been steadily growing bigger all winter. It was a wonderful morning indeed when we welcomed our first calf for 2020.

Within a few days we had three more calves on the ground. They are a real delight at this age. They love sleeping in the sun, nestled behind a shrub or even a deep patch of clover.

These cattle have become really quiet over the past couple of years. The mother’s are understandably cautious of us, especially when we go wandering among them and their new babies with Sapphire. One incident a couple of days ago I found particularly touching.

After putting out some bloat lick, all the herd came over for a taste. One poor cow, Latte, left her calf behind. The best thing I could do was make myself scarce, so I departed as quickly as I could. Latte then commenced a desperate search for her calf, trotting around the paddock, calling for her calf. After five long minutes of desperate searching, she hadn’t found the calf and was becoming more distressed.

I returned to the paddock and found the calf, fast asleep in a bunch of saplings. Carefully I positioned myself behind the calf, and gently started talking to it. As expected, it woke with a jolt, leapt to its feet, let out a blood curdling bellow and ran directly away from me and straight into Mum who was very pleased to be reunited.

The bellow created a very different reaction with the herd. The rest of the cattle all came running at their best speed (it would be unfair to call it a gallop, especially for the heavy cows yet to calve). Their protective instincts were strong. As they cleared the dam wall and found that all was well, they gratefully settled down to a walk. The mother Latte and her calf were reunited, everyone was happy and a few minutes later were all grazing peacefully as if non of the adventure had ever happened.

So why was I putting out bloat lick? Clover is a wonderful nitrogen fixing, drought hardy grass. This year it has grown rapidly in some of our paddocks. Cattle love it, however if they eat too much it forms a foamy gas in their rumen, which they are unable to belch. In extreme cases it is fatal, and several cattle in the district have died due to bloat this year.

The bloat lick we use has a molasses base, but the active ingredient is Alcohol Ethoxylate Teric 12A 23. I don’t know how it works to reduce the foaming in the rumen, but so far, we haven’t lost any cattle on our clover rich pastures. They do seem to know what it does though, and actively seek it out. As they eat through the clover in the paddock, the demand for it reduces – until I put them in the next paddock. More information on the bloat lick we are using can be found here: https://www.olssons.com.au/uploads/7/9/6/4/79645424/bloat-liq_brochure.pdf

With things all settled back down Jo and I were able to take a few moments to relax with the cattle. I was a little surprised when ‘Uno’, our first born heifer from last year came right up to me…. if only I hadn’t laughed just as she was getting bold!

Drainage, Trees, Cattle and Some Sad News

The magical rain of a couple of weeks ago has continued the transformation of the Rock Farm. The rain has continued, mostly on weekends, with occasional bursts of hail and sleet, usually when the kids are in the middle of their weekend sport!

The ground is literally oozing water. Where I have put rip lines on the hillsides, the ground is soft. The cattle are sinking to their knees where the ground has been opened up, showing how effective the ripping has been in getting the moisture into the soil.

All the ground moisture is great in the paddocks, but not so great when the water is oozing over the driveway. A little section of our drive had become very boggy, and with no natural drainage, I needed to take some action. The tractor allowed me to easily dig a trench, and put some large poly-pipe under the road. Some hours with a mattock to dig a spoon drain has diverted much of the surface water off the drive, and through the pipes. The drive still hasn’t dried out enough for me to drive a car along this part of the drive. I’m not complaining though, I’m far happier stuck in mud than eating dust!

The ideal conditions have increased our determination to plant more trees this season. The yellow box (eucalyptus melliodora) trees we planted last year are doing well as are the Daimyo Oaks (quercus dentata) we planted along our driveway.

We took the chance to plant some Algerian Oak (quercus canariensis) and Californian White Oak (quercus lobata) to form a wind break west of the house. These magnificent trees grow well in local conditions once established. We bought half a dozen seedlings from the Digger’s Club to get going as our normal source trees didn’t have any acorns this year because of the drought.

In the meantime, the cattle’s bellies continue to grow. They will start calving in the next few weeks, so we are keeping a close eye on them. With the paddocks being so lush, I have some dolomite (magnesium) available for them, in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of bloat and grass tetany. We have been allowing them to graze the rich clover paddocks only for a few hours at a time, but they don’t appreciate being moved at the end of their session. Sapphire the Border Collie is mostly helpful, but remains a work in progress!

In some sad news, we bade farewell to Mater, the little quarter-horse with a heart of gold who lived next door. This fellow not only taught The-Now-Not-So-Little Helper the basics of riding, but reminded us all about what it means to love a horse. This little horse had defied all predictions and trekked the Bicentennial National Trail from Cooktown to Healsville a few years ago with his owners, Kathryn and Preston. This is where he (and Kathryn and Preston) came into our lives on their way south. With Kathryn and Preston away, I had been checking on their horses with even more enthusiasm than normal. Finding him dead in the paddock with his old friend Laurie watching over him was devastating.

Whilst he might have lived next door, we felt he was part of our family too. Over the years, this little fellow and his mates have received countless carrots and cuddles from all of us. He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace old friend.

Getting Winter Ready

As the cooler weather comes to the Rock Farm, I have been busy trying to get everything set up for winter. Whilst our country isn’t cold enough to bring the cattle into sheds or barns over winter, my main focus has been increasing our soil moisture and pasture health to ensure our cattle have plenty of feed.

After trialing rip lines on different parts of the Rock Farm, I found we had most success ripping along the contours of our slopes. With a little rain forecast recently, I took the opportunity to put some more rip lines in a small paddock near the house. The forecast 10mm fell , and it was great to see the effectiveness of the rip lines in slowing the water down and allowing it to penetrate the soil. This was particularly evident in areas where the soil is hard, compact and especially hydrophobic. I hope this will encourage pasture to grow in these areas.

Another area we have been working on our pasture and soil health is on our alluvial flats. Regular readers may recall that we recently split our 5.6Ha flat paddock into three smaller paddocks (https://rockfarming.com/2020/04/21/autumn-school-holiday-project-new-paddocks-on-the-rock-farm/). The reason for this is that the cattle were selectively grazing their favourite grasses, and leaving the less palatable weeds. By making three smaller paddocks, we encourage them to heavily graze the paddock, weeds and all. A long period of rest allows the pasture to regenerate and this technique has been shown to improve the pasture quality.

Our experiment is still in its early stages, however the initial results are promising. After putting the cattle in the first of our paddocks for a couple of weeks, they had grazed the grass and most of the weeds. After moving the cattle out of the paddock, I ran the mulcher over the paddock to knock down remaining weed heads (hopefully before they had run to seed).

Three weeks later and the grass is growing. The photo above left shows an area that a few months ago was all tall thistles. The pasture in this area is now strong and competing with young thistle plants. I spent about half an hour with the chipper just working on the odd patches of young thistles, and hopefully will prevent them from growing to seed. The cattle have been moved to the next paddock and we hope to repeat the cycle in that paddock too.

Meanwhile the rest of the farm is being rested. One of my greatest pleasures is taking walks around the farm and observing the recovery of the other pastures. The change in moisture has encouraged some species of grass, like the Cocksfoot above left, to seed. If you look closely, you will see a Ladybird making the most of the shelter. These pleasures make all the effort of living out here all worthwhile.

But it doesn’t take long for reality to bite.

I arranged for a load of pasture hay to be delivered. This hay is insurance for a dry winter or a poor spring. I also look at the hay as fertilizer. It brings nutrients onto the farm, that the cattle will process into the perfect soil food. The hay took a little longer to unload as the tractor seemed to struggle to lift and move the bales – whereas it has previously lifted bales that weigh twice as much…

There is a constant requirement for maintenance and repair on any farm, and ours is no exception. Since mulching the first paddock’s weed, the tractor’s hydraulics had become problematic. The hydraulic pump was making horrible noises, and I feared that the diagnosis of a burnt out pump or bearing would be terminal for our old tractor.

A bit of research online started to lead me towards thinking I might have a problem with the bypass valve. On our tractor this is located low on the chassis, with the hydraulic oil filter. Thankfully the former owner gave me the Owner’s Manual and a new filter when I purchased the tractor. The manual described how to replace the filter and more importantly how to clean the fine mesh of the bypass valve. The clean and new filter was an undoubted success with the tractor hydraulics performing like new again! Phew.

I should have done the maintenance before the load of hay arrived, but I was terrified I’d break something and have no means of unloading the hay. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

So now I have a shed full of winter hay, a tractor that is fully operational and paddocks that seem to be becoming more productive. I love nothing more than my ambles around the paddocks. Life is good on the Rock Farm.

Best I turn my attention to that other winter activity – harvesting some firewood.

Autumn School Holiday Project – New Paddocks on the Rock Farm

I have been looking forward to the school holidays for a while now.  My last post was about some of the little jobs around the RockFarm that needed doing.  The school holidays have allowed us to tackle some of the bigger ones.

The first major project was to divide our large 5.5 hectare flat paddock into three smaller paddocks of around 1.8 hectares each.   It involved the construction of two new fences, the first of around 150 metres, and the second of around 200 metres.  For the first fence, I only had to install one new strainer post, but the other section required two new posts.  Good job the boys were at home with time on their hands – I have never found installing strainer posts or star pickets so easy!  The boys even stood up and clipped on the hinge joint in record time.  I think they enjoyed working outside – but are secretly looking forward to online lessons resuming so they can get a break from all the farm jobs.

The reason we have decided to split this paddock is two fold.  Firstly it allows us to intensively graze the smaller paddocks – thereby assisting in our weed management.  The cattle eat most of their favourite grass, and as they go, they nibble and trample the weeds.  We can then either chip or slash any remaining weeds once we move the cattle out onto fresh paddocks, hopefully improving the pasture as we go.

The second reason we have split the paddock is to allow us to install shelter belts along the new fence lines.  This will, in time, provide protection to the paddocks from the westerly winds.  The shelter belts are a future project and we intend to plant a variety of shrubs and trees in new stock proof tree guards.

New paddocks are useless without water.  Thus the next stage of the project was to install 150 metres of 1-1/4 inch poly pipe.  Because of the frosts we get in winter, and harsh sun in summer, we buried the pipe.  I don’t have a fancy pipe installer – but I do have a ripper on the tractor and two teenage sons.  The boys cleared the rip lines and I buried the pipe.  A job that would have taken me all day on my own was done in little over an hour.  I was thrilled we were able to get so much done in a morning.  We have a couple of old bathtubs we will install as water troughs once I get all the fittings sorted.

In the meantime we have still been chipping thistles – one little triangle paddock had a really bad patch that we have spent ages working on, with very little progress.  It was time to call out the big guns, so I fitted the mulcher to the back of the tractor for the first time in two years.  Thankfully with a bit of grease and WD-40 on the moving parts, it spun back to life and mashed and mulched the majority of the weeds.  If we can do this a few times and prevent the thistles from seeding, this paddock should turn around.

Thistles aren’t a new thing on the Rock Farm.  When we moved in to the Rock Farm, the adjoining 1.8 hectare paddock on the flat was full of thistles.  I slashed them a couple of times over the summer (https://rockfarming.com/2018/01/04/managing-thistles-on-the-new-farm/).  I am pleased to report that this autumn I was able to chip out the handful of remaining thistles in this paddock in around an hour.  The process works – and with a machine such as the mulcher, it is quick and easy to do – and nutrients remain in the paddock and feed the soil.

With the weeds taken care of (well in this patch at this moment), I had a few broken wires to fix around the place.  The neighbour’s beautiful helpers came down to offer advice and redistribute loose items in the back of the ute such as pairs of gloves and containers of wire clips.

A gorgeous distraction they were – but as far as helping, I’ll take my boys any day of the week!

Autumn Update

It is getting cooler on the Rock Farm.  The shorter days remind us of the approaching winter.  Regular readers might recall that a little over a month ago, we had almost no water or feed on the property and were looking at a the least worst option for our cattle (https://rockfarming.com/2020/02/03/weaning-and-a-rough-plan-for-the-cattle/).  Despite the initial promising falls of rain, and quick growth of some grass (and weeds), I wasn’t convinced that we would grow enough feed to get us through the winter.  We decided to go ahead with one of our options, to sell our steer calves, our heifer calves with horns and one cow, who was a little too aggressive for my liking.

 

The early weaning paid off, with the calves all averaging over 200kg.  We also sold our 400kg yearling steer Moo, that the Little Helper trained to halter back in July (https://rockfarming.com/2019/07/05/a-lesson-on-leadership-taught-by-a-calf/).  After the initial handling last July, he had been left to run with the cows, and had put on good weight.

We kept four of the naturally polled heifers – bringing our numbers back to 15 head.  As we returned the keepers to the paddock, we drenched them and put them into our large flat paddock with good feed.   I have a feeling we have one or two dry cows, but with the Corona Virus shutting down travel, my expert adviser (Dad) was unable to travel down to teach me how to pregnancy test them.  We will give them another chance.

In the mean time, we have all been working on little jobs around the house.  Jo has got back into the vegetable garden.  Keen to reduce waste, and make rabbit proof vegetable beds, she is re-purposing our old roofing iron to make raised beds.  Despite my initial doubts, it looks fantastic.

 

The beds are not chicken proof, and poor Sapphire doesn’t know what to do when the chooks ignore her steely gaze and leap up into the beds to scratch for earthworms.  It is hilarious watching her get more and more frustrated with the chooks who are more than happy to forage where they please.

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I tackled another job that only became important after using our neighbour’s horses as lawn mowers.  Our garden gate was in a sorry state and had fallen off its hinges.  More correctly, the hinges had fallen out of the rotten post.  The original post had sometime in the past assumed a lean, and a stop gap solution installed by owner previous was to simply put another post in the ground beside it.  The ‘new post’ had rotted completely out, so I dug out both posts and re-installed the original post back where it was originally.  The tractor saved my back lifting the heavy post.

 

 

After tidying up the fence – really hard to see in the photo below – it was nice to have a pair of gates that swing again.

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The boys have remained committed to their school work – but on the weekends we get a couple of hours of ‘farm work’ out of them.  Last weekend they were keen to get on the tools just after breakfast.  I am not sure if they love doing it,  or the reward of quid pro quo X-box time is worth it, but I’ll take any help I get.  It is good outside work that surprisingly I don’t find a chore, and it seems with tunes blasting from a portable speaker, neither do they.

Whilst the battle against the weeds is one I fear we may never get completely on top of, it is great to see some of the grasses in good condition and setting seed.  I am also really happy with the large number of earthworms we are finding in the bottom paddock.  I believe this paddock has been heavily sprayed for weed control in the past, and the earthworms are a sign that the soil is healing.

 

 

The good news is that the cattle are now relishing the experience of eating long grass – and are putting on condition before winter.  The lawnmowers managed to get ontop of the garden grass, so I even put them down there with the cows for a special treat.  Whilst Mater has spent a good deal of his life working cattle, our cows have never shared a paddock with a horse before and were most curious at their new paddock mate.

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I hope the warm weather stays around for a little longer.  The first frost will slow the grass grown rates significantly, but for now, we are getting a nice reserve to get us through the next month or two.  It is now time to service the chainsaw, replace the wood splitter handle and get ready for the winter jobs.

Rock Farm Transformed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weaning and a plan for the cattle

The dry-as-chips Rock Farm has been sweltering through the summer school holidays and whilst the boy’s have been busy restoring the old horse-float, we have all been busy feeding and managing our stock and watching our water supplies dwindle.  I have spent some more time on big red trucks, most recently south of Canberra near Colinton. Thankfully on the day we were there, the fire was relatively benign and we spent the day watching for embers and spot fires ahead of the front.

 

Just after Christmas, the girls were visited by a bull, called Number 6.  An impressive Charolais cross, we hope he was able to service our cows during his several weeks on the Rock Farm.  We tried hard to get the cows in good condition to make the most of his visit.

We have been feeding the cattle without much of a break for months and months.  Initially we started with some old pasture hay, and then more recently with some higher quality lucerne.  The cattle have also really appreciated some willow branches that provide a bit of green pick.  That said, it has been really hard to keep the weight on the cows, with them putting so much of their energy into milk production for their calves

After talking with some experts in the beef cattle sphere, one of the recommended strategies in drought years is to wean the calves early.  This can be done anytime from six weeks of age, so our calves at nearly four months old are well ahead of the curve.  It took me a couple of days to get the water supply upgraded in the yards and arrange feed pellets before we were ready to start the big experiment.

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Bringing the cattle into the yards was the easy bit.  Separating the cows and calves was also remarkably easy to achieve.  The cows then followed the truck with hay back to the paddock and the calves got stuck into some fresh hay in the small yard paddock.  It had all gone remarkably well…  for the first few hours.

With fiercely hot days forecast, I wanted to allow the calves access to the small holding paddock behind the yards.  Surrounded by trees, it has good shelter.  Unfortunately the fences aren’t great, and by the first evening two calves had got out, and two cows had got in after crossing through two other fences…  I was still mending and strengthening the fences as the sun set.

By the next morning, four cows were out and back with the calves.  We returned them to their paddock and the calves to theirs.  In the evening we repeated the exercise.  By third day of this routine, a couple of cows had become regular offenders, and we decided that we would have to confine the calves to the yards, necessitating the rigging of an additional shade sail.

 

An old shade sail from a friend’s awning, given to us years ago was pulled out of the shed and rigged across the main pen.  Whilst trees provide good afternoon shade over the yards, the morning can get hot with little shelter.  As we had several days forecast with temperatures in the mid 40’s, the cattle quickly appreciated the shade provided by the sail.

Now the calves are contained in the yards, the most of the cows have settled into their new routine.  A couple remain defiant, and still make their way through my other fences to the yards… except the sight of the hay on the truck makes them change their resolve and they happily trot back to their paddock to get breakfast with their sisters.

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The calves seem to be settling into their new routine nicely, and now bellow more once they see me walk to the hay shed to start the big red truck than they once did for their mothers.

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The biggest risk to the calves is pulpy kidney (enterotoxaemia), which occurs when a bacterium that normally lives in their intestines multiplies to toxic levels.  This is caused by a change in feed, usually from a poor dry feed to lush pasture or a diet high in grain.  To reduce the risk to the calves, we are supplementing their feed with mineral supplements, mainly seaweed meal and mineral salts.   We are also gradually increasing the grain component in their diet, and giving plenty of roughage in good quality lucerne hay.  The calves were also vaccinated at weaning, which provides some protection, however they are due for a booster which we will give them soon.

I am watching the little heifer in the middle of the above photo.  She seems to have taken to the nuts far more quickly than the others – and she is watching me closely after I pushed her gently away from the pellets and back to the hay!

The aim of early weaning is to reduce the overall feed requirement, and increase the performance of both calves and cows.  It should make it easier to get the cattle in better condition, and the calves should continue to grow quickly.  The additional handling will make them extremely quiet which is an added bonus.

The strategy with the cattle as it stands is all dependent on rain.

Option A – Dam runs dry – If we run out of water – we sell all our stock and start again when we have a secure water supply.  We cannot cart enough water to sustain our cattle if there is no water.

Option B – Water but no feed – If we run out of feed, we will have to determine whether to keep calves, or cows, or a combination.  My thinking at the moment is to sell any dry cows, and all the steer calves in March or April.  I may have to bring this forward if we have no autumn break.

Option C – Bring in hay – With the price of feed due to the drought and bush-fires – this is dependent on winning big at lotto!

With hay of any quality fetching very high prices, I can only be thankful that I am not trying to make a living from the Rock Farm.  We are extremely fortunate that we are able to support our lifestyle with off-farm incomes, but even so, we can’t afford to make huge losses turning hay into manure.  At the moment, we consider it a type of fertiliser, that is processed by the cattle and dung beetles.

I am not sure what the future holds for our cattle enterprise on the Rock Farm, but it really all depends on what happens in the next couple of months.  Having a bit of a plan helps, even if it is a basis for change.  Hopefully it involves a lot more sitting and watching rain fall than ash and embers!  We could all do with a break.

 

Calving Commences and Odd Jobs

Historically the 10th of August is the coldest time of winter in our area.  From here on, the weather rapidly warms into spring.  On the ground our grass has turned green, but it is waiting for rain before it will jump out of the ground… I hope.  I have been busier than I’d like with work, and the kids have been busy with sport and music activities before and after school that reduces the time we have available to enjoy The Rock Farm.  Thankfully it hasn’t been all work and no play.

Our maiden heifers have started calving, and as I write we have two gorgeous calves on the ground.  These gorgeous calves gambol around and make us laugh.  Our sheep with their lambs are also growing strongly, however have been a little more timid.  I will try to get some better photos of them soon too.

Winter also brings with it strong winds – and we have had a few days that have tested the structural integrity of our shed.  Unfortunately some of our Peppermint Gums (Eucalyptus Nicholii) didn’t cope so well.  These trees are probably about 40 years old, and are prone to drop branches in strong winds, especially when stressed for water.

It took me a little while to cut the bulk of the branch up.  Over the weekend I will enlist the help of the family to remove the green branches and pull the balanced log safely down for next year’s firewood supply.  The rest of the tree looked in good health, with a wonderful large nest safely remaining untouched.  As to who is living in the nest, I wasn’t sure, as they didn’t like the noise of the chainsaw.

With the landscape so dry and September normally one of the windiest months, I brought forward my annual service on our water cart.  I treated to the pump to fresh oil, cleaned the spark plug and air filter and filled it with fresh petrol.  We had been using the trailer for other jobs over winter, but it was a quick job to re-install the tank and pump.  I hope its main purpose over summer is watering trees, but it is good to know we have 1000 litres of water ready to use in an emergency should we need it, until the big red trucks arrive.

Whilst the cattle were curious with my efforts on the water tank – you may see them in the background of the photo above.  I think they were also more than happy to take a few moments to enjoy the sunshine as we clawed our way from a minimum overnight of minus 5 degrees.  

We will keep a close eye on our expectant mother’s over the next month or so, and keep our fingers crossed it all goes well for them.  Our biggest challenge will be keeping them in good condition as we head into Summer.  In the meantime, it is lovely to take a moment and enjoy the sunshine and the coming of the warmer weather!

Around the farm

With the little helpers both now in High School, we are finding ourselves spending more time in town.  Between before school music practice and after school sports training, our days are very full and busy.  As they should be.  Whilst part of me hankers for the simpler times when the boys went to our local primary school just down the road, they are growing up and are relishing in the new experiences and opportunities that a large school provides.

As we have now lived at the new Rock Farm for over 12 months, we have also started (albeit slowly) renovating the house.  The first priority is the installation of a large efficient slow combustion fireplace.  There is nothing like a cool morning to focus the mind and allow you to recall how cold the house was last year.

This means the farm part of the Rock Farm is not getting as much time for my attention as I would like to give it.  There has still been plenty to keep us busy, checking the stock water daily and moving the cattle and sheep into other paddocks.  Of course there are some gorgeous horses nearby that also demand attention – and somehow I always find time for a pat.

The cattle have been eating the remaining grass, and giving some of the weeds a good nibble in their quest for food.  They remain in good condition, which they will need heading into winter.  The skies, whilst looking promising have only yielded 2.5mm in the past two weeks.  The unseasonably hot days have burnt away any remaining moisture.

The sunsets though have been spectacular – and make me pinch myself every time.

The dry weather has put a lot of the trees under stress.  The native gum trees have a very effective method to cope with droughts.  They shed branches.  Unfortunately most of our trees are along fence-lines, requiring a bit of work to clear the branches.

Thankfully most of the branches were relatively small – and I was able to make some handy little piles of firewood for collection in a year or two once they’re seasoned.

I even was lucky enough to have a helper for a couple of hours – but he got distracted talking to the girls!

And then the helper wandered over and poured a bucket of oats on the ground for the other girls (and nearly ready) boys.

The sheep are managing to find some good grass among the weeds, and are all in healthy condition.  We have a few of our neighbour’s dorpers running with our sheep which are wiltipolls.  Both types naturally shed their wool and are bred for their meat.  The dorper tends to be a stockier animal, and tend to look more shaggy.

We sold most of the female ewe lambs, but are growing out the boys.  I will fast have to make a decision as to whether we send the boys to the sale yards, our put them in our freezer.  With two teenage boys in the family – I think that keeping the food miles to an absolute minimum will be time well spent.

I just have to find that time….

The girls come home

You may recall that a few weeks ago we took up the kind offer of John, our heifer’s breeder, to join our girls with one of his young bulls.  Getting the girls there proved to be a bit of a challenge, especially for one of our heifers now known as Miss Steak. She didn’t travel with her friends after getting stuck and injuring herself – see previous blog:  https://rockfarming.com/2018/11/16/a-terrible-miss-steak/. After training her to enter the horse-float, she travelled without any complaints at all.  When we arrived, I drove straight into the paddock, and she had a welcoming committee come down and greet her.

We had also been keeping a close eye on one of the heifers.  Over the previous month or two, it became apparent that she was pregnant. This can be a big problem for young heifers, especially if they have large calves.  We weren’t sure what to expect, and were worried we would lose the heifer.  Renamed “The Unchaste One”, she gave birth without incident to a  handsome bull calf.

The cattle continued to grow and put on condition at John’s place.  The Crookwell area seems to have escaped the worst of the drought conditions that have caused so much devastation elsewhere.

Thankfully the rest of their time at John’s proved to be without incident, and we went to bring them home the other day..

The heifers first came to our place on Jimmy’s truck as weaners.  On their first trip, they easily fitted in the front two pens.  Now they are much closer to 400kg each, several overflowed into the rear pen.

I was pleased to see how quickly they settled back at home.  I kept them in the yards for just a few minutes, letting them find the water trough.  When I let them out, they barely moved half a dozen metres before they stuck their heads down and happily commenced grazing.

We have all missed having the cattle on the place, and love having them back.  We have since moved them into a paddock with more shade – helping them through the worst of the current heatwave.

In other parts of life on the Rock Farm, the run of 40 degree days has been pretty hard on our newly planted oaks.  Some of our seedlings have clearly struggled, but others look like they are doing alright.  I think they all appreciated a drink.  Hopefully we can nurse them through the summer and give them a fighting chance at survival.