Cockatoos – Yellow Tailed and Glossy Black

A couple of days ago I head the unmistakable call of the Yellow-tailed black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus).  These magnificent birds are one of the largest of the cockatoo family, and are relatively widespread in eastern Australia.  They are also occasional visitors to the Rock Farm.

Their diet is varied, and available from a range of habitats.  Whilst they mostly eat native seeds, especially She-Oaks (Casuarina), the also are partial to pine cones, hence why they made a temporary stay in our pine trees.

Flying Bolt Cutters

They also enjoy larvae of wood-boring beetles, using their strong beak to peel bark and gouge into the tree to extract the tunneling grubs.  This strong beak, and tendency to rip and shred trees is the despair of many homeowners, as they frequently attack pool solar heating piping, electrical conduit and a whole manner of household fittings.

Whilst these birds are relatively common and not under threat, we have taken steps to assist in the survival of one of their cousins, the Glossy Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami).

Glossy Black Cockatoo

The Glossy Black Cockatoo is the smallest member of the black cockatoo family.  Unlike it’s larger cousin, the Glossy Black prefers to feed on the seeds of mature She-Oak trees, and very little else.  Most people associate She-Oaks with rivers, where these majestic trees line creeks and rivers in eastern Australia, but there are many species that favour more hardy areas such as the Desert She-Oak (allocasuarina decaisneana) from central Australia.

There is even one species which grows on the Rock Farm – The Drooping She-Oak (allocasuarina verticillata).  This nitrogen fixing tree likes growing on the rocky slopes of our home.  We have about half a dozen young trees that we are coaxing and encouraging as best we can.

We have also planted several of these trees in our bottom paddock through the Greening Australia Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation program.  Whilst we haven’t seen any Glossy Black Cockatoos on the Rock Farm yet, I hope that in the future our stand of Drooping She-Oaks help to extend their habitat.

And if I do see one, it will be a little bit exciting! 🙂

Advertisements

Marking Spring Lambs

Spring is a glorious time on the Rock Farm.  Blossoms are on the trees, the slow combustion stove is finally allowed to go out and is laid up for summer, and lambs are frolicking in the paddocks.

These gorgeous animals require little in the way of health and welfare checks – but even such low maintenance sheep as Wiltipolls require some intervention.  And when the city cousins come to stay, it provides the perfect opportunity to bring in the lambs.

It is always a good idea to stay abreast of best practice – particularly for something we only do once a year.  After a quick brush up on the animal welfare standards, we were ready to go.  The standards are available online at:   http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/sheep/

Marking lambs is a necessary part of raising sheep.  The lambs receive important vaccinations and are drenched.  The males are castrated, and all lambs have their tails docked.  All the other sheep receive vaccination boosters and are drenched too.

We use rubber bands to castrate the males and dock the tails.  This is the most humane and cost effective option available to hobby farmers.

The vaccine we chose prevents clostridial diseases in cattle and sheep such as Tetanus.  These diseases are frequently fatal.  They are caused by anaerobic bacteria and are widespread in the environment – especially in the soil.  Protection is provided when all the herd is vaccinated.

We also drenched the sheep with a triple combination drench.  The product we chose provides protection against gastro-intestinal roundworms, lungworm, Nasal Bot and Itch Mite.  It also provides important trace minerals such as selenium and cobalt, often deficient in Australian spoil.

Cell grazing is another technique to reduce the worm burden in sheep or other livestock.  Whilst I would love to develop a cell grazing system on the Rock Farm, this requires a significant investment in fencing and is still a few years away at this stage.

The final job was to put an ear tag in our lambs.  These tags are marked with our unique Property Identification Code (PIC), and will stay on these lambs for life.  This, in combination with movement declarations, ensures a full audit trail for livestock movements in Australia.  The ear tags are also colour coded, and 2017 lambs will wear a white ear tag, allowing easy identification and sorting of stock based on age.

A couple of likely lads also decided to take a couple of tags.  They politely declined my offer to put a tag in their ears, but did agree to marking their hats!

And so our marking was quickly over.  We let the sheep settle in the yards for a couple of hours with some delicious oats before we released them back into their paddock.  All done – until next year 🙂

Biosecurity Plan

I recently received in the mail a letter informing me that I was required to develop a biosecurity plan for the Rock Farm.  This is part of the Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program, which Australian meat producers are encouraged to participate in.

Whilst at first glance, it looks like a huge administrative burden (and cost) to be an accredited supplier, it really is little more than common sense and good practice wrapped up in a simple form.

Under the Livestock Assurance Program, each property has a unique Property Identification Code (PIC).  The Rock Farm is no exception.  All animals born on The Rock Farm are tagged with a special tag that contains our PIC.  When they are sold, or transferred to another property, we must fill out a National Vendor Declaration.  This allows a full audit trail of livestock movements across the country.

LPA service centre snapshot

Producers who choose to become LPA accredited agree to carry out on farm practices that feed into and support the integrity of the entire system. There are seven requirements:

  • Property risk assessments
  • Safe and responsible animal treatments
  • Stock foods, fodder crops, grain and pasture treatments
  • Preparation for dispatch of livestock
  • Livestock transactions and movements
  • Biosecurity
  • Animal Welfare

It can all seem a little overwhelming to a small scale producer like me, but there is an excellent online training package put together by the PLA.  It is also supported by templates and other reference material to help ensure that all requirements are met.

I am pleased to be a part of this process that helps me improve our farm practices, enhances animal welfare and supports and strengthens the industry as a whole.

More new arrivals on the Rock Farm

The last few months have been a little busy on the Rock Farm – mostly the hectic wholesome crazy of raising kids who stick their hands up for every opportunity that passes their way.  This is no bad thing at all, and the Little Helpers continue to amaze and inspire me.  I am extremely proud of them.

With so many things going on, the last thing on my mind was a new pet, but somehow we were introduced to a gorgeous blue border collie cross pup that stole our hearts.

And so Sapphire joined our family.

This little bundle of happiness has come into our lives – and reminded us of all the things you forget about puppies.  The house training, constant chewing, and ceaseless curiosity has at times tested all our patience.  But not unexpected, and we have all fallen for this sweet little girl.

The whole family has been involved in Sapphire’s training program, trying to ensure our approach is both consistent and positive.  And she is a quick learner.  We have one smart dog on our hands.

But a new puppy also needs a new house!

I had started collecting the odd pallet or two on the way home from work.  A local courier company offered free pallets to anyone willing to pick them up from the footpath.  The stack(s) at home were starting to grow, and we needed a new project.  Sapphire was the perfect excuse to get the Little Helpers involved in a new project.

Over the course of a day we carefully removed boards from some old pallets and re-purposed a small pallet to be the base of the new kennel.  After sealing the cracks, we had a sturdy floor.

A frame was made using some of the pallet bearers.  Dimensions were largely based on the existing timber lengths.  We had minimal cutting to build this frame.

Pallet boards were carefully de-nailed, cut to length and then nailed to the frame.  The Little Helper cut an entrance carefully into the front with the jigsaw.

A sheet of old iron was carefully trimmed and formed the roof.  I used the angle-grinder to cut this – not quite ready to let the Little Helper’s play with this tool.

And before long, our 99 percent recycled dog house was complete.  Poor Sapphire didn’t really seem too keen on the kennel at the start.

But it didn’t take too long for her to fully appreciate the comforts of her new home.

And there are times it is darn hard to get her out of it!

The best part about this project is that every scrap of timber and the roofing iron in this project was recycled.  The sarking was left over from our barn renovation.  The only thing that was new was the nails!

The boys are really excited about finding a project they can make – with minimal supervision.  After a quick check of Gumtree, they figure there is a market for recycled pallet dog kennels.  They hope to make another kennel or two in the school holidays – but if you’re really nice to them, they might even make one to order!

That is unless they turn all the pallets into cubby houses or forts…

Serrated Tussock 

One of the responsibilities that comes with ownership of ‘lifestyle blocks’ is weed control.  The Rock Farm is no exception – and whilst growing lush pasture is difficult here, it seems that weeds take particular pleasure in growing on our farm.

One of the weeds we have to control is serrated tussock (nassella trichotoma).  This is a weed of national significance.  It is not palatable to stock and large amounts can significantly reduce carrying capacity.

Serrated tussock came to Australia from South America in the 1850’s.  With no other commercial use, it was used as a stuffing in horse saddles.  During the gold rush, Australia received a huge influx of new immigrants, and one of the unintended by products of this mass immigration was the introduction of many pests.

A couple of years ago, we learnt how quickly it spreads.  What I thought was a small patch rapidly grew, and it took a local contractor, with a specialised spot spay set up four days to spray.  It is now a much simpler job, and a quick run through the paddock gets most of the tussock.  My spraying rig is a combination of several contraptions, but it is effective for these smaller jobs.

Whilst I would love to control the tussock without the use of chemicals, it simply isn’t cost effective.  The cost of spraying per hour is roughly equivalent to the return made from selling one lamb.  Chipping out the weeds is cheaper per hour, but takes around 4 times as long.  With consumers willing to pay generally only a small price premium for organic lamb over the regular product, it is not effective for our business.

For someone with limited time, spraying is definitely the way to go.  Even with my cobbled together arrangement, I can cover a far greater area than if I was chipping out the tussock.  The chemical burden is also very small considering the land area it is dispersed over.

The supervisor also enjoyed the ride, however was far more interested in the passing kangaroos than pointing out the tussocks I’d missed!

One of the greatest defences against serrated tussock is good ground cover.  The seed is dispersed mostly by wind, the seed itself is not very competitive.  Part of the large reduction in tussock numbers in this paddock has been, I think, our efforts in establishing a good pasture in the paddock and removing the stock.  The planting of trees will further reduce the wind borne seed entering from the neighbour’s place (I hope).

In the mean time, we continue to celebrate the arrival of spring on the Rock Farm.

More excellent information on serrated tussock can be found on the NSW Weedwise website here: http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/Details/123

Mineral supplement update 

A few weeks in and the Pat Coleby inspired mineral supplement station is working well at the Rock Farm.  The sheep have been nibbling away at the mineral salt and copper supplements, but have completely devoured the sea-weed meal.

Through this process, I am slowly identifying which minerals the Rock Farm is deficient in.  By providing minerals for the sheep, I am relying on them to select what they need and distribute the mineral wealth of the supplements throughout the paddock, thereby slowly improving the soil on the Rock Farm.

Seaweed is naturally rich in Iodine, but it also contains so many other minerals.  It is also not available at my local rural supplier.  So in desperation, I selected a different product, to get the sheep through until I can find some more sea-weed meal.

Whilst it wasn’t as popular as the seaweed meal, the sheep did seem to nibble it and continue to seek the mineralised salt.

img_1250

So things continue on the Rock Farm.  The sheep are looking forward to some fresh spring grass, new lambs continue to drop and life is good.

Pasture improvement and weed control. 

One of the driving forces behind getting a tractor was to allow us to start rehabilitating the precious soil on the Rock Farm.  Our aim is to create a balanced and healthy soil that supports low impact grazing.

One paddock on the Rock Farm is predominantly native pasture with remanent red box, red stringy bark and brittle gum trees.  I have been encouraging the regrowth of thousands of young trees around the older trees, and have been pleased to find the odd drooping she-oak – a vital food source for the Glossy Black Cockatoo.

One problem in this paddock is patches of Sifton Bush (Cassini Arcuata).  This native plant is an invasive weed, producing vast quantities of seed and rapidly colonising bare soil.

img_0996

A section of sifton weed with some Broom Bitter Pea in the foreground

The mature sifton bush plant can produce up to 4 billion seeds a year.  It is unpalatable to most grazing animals and has been suspected of causing poisoning in lambs.  It is a declared weed in our area and we have a responsibility to control it.

The NSW dpi has an excellent page describing the Sifton Bush and its control.  http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/Details/253

Whilst we have worked hard to clear some areas through pulling plants, it is hard work and time consuming.  I had used my mower for a few trials – but it was really hard work for the mower and was causing too much damage (to the mower). Burning is not effective due to the large amount of seedling reinfestation following a fire event.

And so our preferred method for larger areas of infestation is mulching.

img_0998

Lucie hard at work turning sifton bush into mulch

Lucie the tractor has a 2.4 metre wide drum muncher that is effective at shattering the larger stems and mulching the leaves.  As this breaks down, it returns organic matter to the soil, hopefully improving the soil structure and microbial activity.

img_0999-1

The tractor pushes over the mature plants easily – but beware of old stumps

The disadvantage of this method is that some of the sharp stumps remain, making it treacherous to drive a car over the mulched section.  Also some of the younger plants aren’t effectively broken down and may shoot again from damaged stems.

img_1002-1

A much cleaner paddock

The end result is a paddock that not only looks a lot better, but has improved organic matter in the soil.  We have observed grasses recolonising the areas I have mulched as they receive better light and less competition from the sifton bush.

I expect to re-mulch these areas in another couple of years and perhaps take the opportunity then to re-mineralise the soil.  It wont be a quick process as soil takes tens of thousands of years to form, and a heartbeat to destroy.  It is all good fun and I am really enjoying the challenge of improving the Rock Farm.

 

Desperate race for survival – Lambing

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Providing mineral supplements and improving soil health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast at The Rock Farm

There is something delightful about frosty mornings, with clear skies and the promise of a glorious winters day.  Winter is one of my favourite times of the year on The Rock Farm.  Today, the first day of winter, was a perfect example of my ideal day.

Unfortunately winter also means our grasses stop growing and our stock start feeling hungry. With such a dry autumn, our feed levels were really low before winter began. It means our sheep are hungry.

So much so that the sight of me with a bucket has them coming running for breakfast.

The link below takes you to a hilarious YouTube video of them running to me. I will try to embed it to the site also – but at the moment posting videos from my phone is beyond my skills. 🙂

Video:  Breakfast on The Rock Farm

It also makes for an interesting stand off between the ram, and the dog, who might look like a sheep dog but is really a Labrador in disguise.

Breakfast is best served in the yards. It makes for easy mustering as the sheep happily file in for a meal.  Should I need to conduct a welfare check on any of the stock, I know that they are easy to catch, and their stress is minimised.

It is a glorious wonderful celebration of all that is good with the world. Have I ever said how much I love living on The Rock Farm?