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 🙂

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 🙂

A wet summer creates a problem…

After a hot few days at the end of January, we have been treated with a wet start to February. We had over 70mm of rain fall over the past week, which has been absolutely glorious. None of the rain has run off into the dam, meaning it has soaked into the soil, which isn’t a bad thing. It has however created a rare and unusual problem for us.

But before we get onto that, a couple of weeks ago Ferdinand retuned back home. He arrived on our place in November rather restless, but soon settled in with his new herd. I was a little anxious how we would go getting him back on the truck, but we kept a quiet cow (Miss Steak) in the yards with him. Once the truck arrived, she led him up into the truck. We quickly drafted them into different pens in the truck. A few moments later, Miss Steak was back in the yards, and Ferdinand was on is way home. A special thanks to John for leasing him to us this year. With such small numbers, we really appreciate bringing new genetics into our herd each year.

So what is the problem with the rain? Is it the way it degrades our access road? No, a quick run with the tractor and blade can improve the drive. Is it the way it makes our roof leak? The leaking roof has been an ongoing saga for nearly two years now, but it isn’t that. Is it the way the creek rises and cuts our access? Not this time. With all the ground cover in the catchment, the creek level has barely risen despite all the rain.

The problem I have with the rain is that creates a period of poor feed for the cattle. The rain leeches out any goodness in the standing dry grasses, whilst germinating the seed in the ground. The new grass, whilst beautiful to see, rapidly turns everything green, however the cattle can’t eat it. I am continuing to rotate the cattle through the paddocks – but paddocks that would normally hold them for a week or so are only lasting a couple of days until they start pushing through fences. I am on the point of putting out some feed for the cattle over the next few days to help them through until the fresh grass is long enough for them to wrap their tongues around.

You’d be forgiven for thinking I sound a lot like Hanrahan with his refrain ‘we’ll all be rooned’. The grass pictured above is coming through the tall grass I mulched several weeks ago. I am resting these little paddocks, and hope the mulch helps keep the moisture in the ground for the young grass to get established. We are still at risk of some hot dry spells in February, but I’ll take the moisture whilst we have it. It is so glorious to see the rebirth of the land.

The good news is that the cows haven’t lost much condition, and the calves are growing well. Like everyone in the district, whilst I am able to support these numbers, it makes sense to keep them on the property as long as I can. If the calves are gaining around 1kg a day, they are making close to $4.00 a day. We are likely to hold them until the weather starts getting cooler in April, when we will probably sell the calves.

The most important driving factor behind our decision making is our soil health. The soil is key to everything, and the best way we can protect it is to ensure there is always ground cover. Our strategy about holding or selling changes all the time, and is dependent on the amount of ground cover and available grass. Very soon I will be moving the cattle from our fertile flat paddocks onto our slopes, which have been rested for nine months now. This will allow the flats to rest and have a good cover of grass before winter.

In the meantime, school has resumed for the two Not-So-Little Helpers. For the cricketer, this wet season has resulted in several disappointing weekends with turf wickets off limits due to the rain. For the rower, it seems Dad’s farm-fit program over the holidays paid off. His crew was selected to represent the school at the NSW State Rowing championships despite being a year younger than his competitors. It is a busy, hectic, crazy and wonderful time of life – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Harvesting Phalaris

The contrast between this summer and last cannot be more stark. Our beautiful cows are in excellent condition, which is unusual when calves are at foot. I have modified my rotation through the paddocks in an attempt to keep the grass near the house as short as possible. This is to reduce the intensity of any grass fire that may approach our house when the grass goes off.

The good news is that I am able to use the opportunity to rest some paddocks completely. It has led to the phalaris grass setting seed for the first time in years. Phalaris is a drought tolerant perennial grass that is competitive against weeds and aids in control of erosion. Too much phalaris can cause staggers, however it works well in conjunction with companion planting of clover, ryegrass and fescue.

The good news is that harvesting the seed is relatively easy to do. Based on the advice of a local with years of experience, I rigged a couple of pieces of timber beside the tractor, with a tarpaulin loosely draped between them. By putting the front timber on the front end loader, I was able to adjust the height to below the seed heads. It was then a case of driving through the paddock and watching the seed accumulate in the tarpaulin.

It didn’t take long to fill four small buckets. It took almost as long to sift out the spiders, caterpillars and larger wild oat seeds, but I had a willing assistant – until he caught sight of a large spider disappearing up his sleeve! It was tedious work, but the chickens enjoyed the free feed!

In autumn, I hope to spread the seed amongst areas of unproductive wire grass. I will also spread some seed in areas of erosion or scalding that we have been managing thus far by spreading green waste. I have to be careful to manage the pasture to make sure the phalaris doesn’t dominate, however at this stage, any ground-cover is better than none.

It was also a good exercise to see how easy phalaris seed is to harvest and for that it was a complete success. I always enjoy trying new techniques on the Rock Farm, with a special thanks to Jimmy of Bushfield Farm for his advice. More information on phalaris as a pasture species can be found at the excellent NSW DPI website here: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/pastures-and-rangelands/species-varieties/phalaris

It’s not just weeds that are growing on the Rock Farm

There is no doubt that this is one of the best spring season’s this district has seen in recent memory. Our cattle are in remarkable condition, with the calves growing quickly.

With so much condition on the cows, they have already started cycling. We decided to go with nature and bring forward our leased bull. Ferdinand, as he has been named by the family took a little encouragement to get off the truck, but once he made it down the ramp, he was welcomed quickly into the herd. A magnificent Charolais Cross, his sire was a top performing bull in the United States, especially bred using artificial insemination by our mentor, John. We are extremely fortunate to be able to use some of the world’s best bloodlines in our humble herd.

With the cattle doing extremely well, and requiring little more than a daily water check, I have had time to turn my attention back to more domestic matters. The garden has exploded, and I have been spending quite a bit of time either pruning excess growth or removing branches and trees that died in the drought and haven’t recovered. Unfortunately Jo and I have slightly different objectives with our pruning. I want the area under the trees clear of obstructions so I can mow easily up to the trunk with our mower. Jo would rather I leave the branches down to the ground to make a wind break.

The best thing about a little battery powered chain saw is that you can do a whole heap of pruning before you get caught… It is also the worst thing. I think the shock of seeing the truck laden with clippings caused a moment, but once Jo realised how neater the trees looked I was almost forgiven… almost. The clippings, along with some weeds from garden beds, have been used to make swales in the bottom of the garden to better capture water in the previously dry area.

All Jo’s work in the vegetable garden is starting to really pay off. We have harvested our crop of garlic, and the snow peas and green salad leaves are in fantastic condition. We even enjoyed some broccoli before it shot to seed.

I admit I was skeptical about using the old roofing iron to make vegetable beds, but Jo did a great job. The garden looks really impressive, and is a pleasure to work in. There is also something completely wonderful about the taste you get with fresh vegetables and salad leaves picked straight from the garden. I once heard it described that you can taste the sunshine – and I think it is true!

But it is not just the vegetable garden that is putting food on our plate. We are finding magnificent field mushrooms in the paddock. Each mushroom could be a meal in itself, and we have dried some of our excess mushrooms to use in the future.

Other things are growing too. I have planted fifty willow cuttings along the leading (and eroding) edge of our dam. It seems most of them have taken and are sprouting green leaves. This is a great result. Some people have queried why I have planted willows along the dam, fearing they use a lot of water. My counter is that they only use water for half the year when they have leaves on them. They will \stabilise the bank, which is their primary purpose. They will give shade when they are bigger, and also provide an emergency stock feed in drought. Being on a dam, they will not enter the catchment either. I hope they continue to grow through the summer and add to the trees on the Rock Farm.

But really the most magnificent change has been the grass. From a paddock that was bare six months ago, there is now chest high grass. You could have seen an ant walk across this paddock at Christmas time (if you could have seen through the smoke haze)….

Last week the kids played hide and seek in this paddock.. All you had to do was run like crazy when the other one was counting and then flatten yourself. With the grass swaying in the breeze, it was really hard to even know where to start looking It was hilarious fun.

It is incredible to see photos of what we went through in the last few years. This is what the same area looked like in January. It is truly amazing what happens when you just add water, lots of water 🙂

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!