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.

Planting Trees and Un-bogging Tractors

One of our aims on the Rock Farm is to re-rehabilitate the soil and create a parkland type landscape, similar to what was first described in the journals of the first European explorers.  We are doing this with a mixture of native and introduced deciduous species – and last week it was time to plant some natives.

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Our back paddock has a fantastic hill, with wide views along the Yass Valley.  We have often camped up here, and enjoyed many sunsets soaking up the atmosphere of this special place.  The only problem with the hill is it has four lonely trees, three Brittle Gum (eucalyptus mannifera) and one Red Box (eucalyptus polyanthemos).  The ground however is littered with huge logs – nearly all Red Box timber, cut for firewood and fence posts many years ago. It does make for a wonderful camp fire, however it is a limited supply, and serves to remind us of what trees once stood in this special spot.

Reading Bruce Pascoe’s book  (see my review here: Book Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe), I started thinking about how I could improve this part of the farm.  After our last camp, I took the tractor up to the hill, and started spreading the logs around the paddock.  I focused on placing the logs in such a way that they straddled rip lines I made back in March, and placed them to provide protection from the prevailing westerly winds.

Then it was time to plant seed.  The first batch of seeds I planted came from an ironbark (I think it is an eucalyptus sideroxylon) near our front gate.  The others were white cypress pine (callitris glaucophylla) that we collected from our visit to the Pilliga a few years ago.  The ironbark seeds were especially small.

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The seeds had been stored in paper bags for a few years and the gum-nuts had released their seed.  I cleared grass away from each site, and planted the seeds in the soil, along with some ash from our slow combustion fireplace.  I selected places nestled near the logs I had recently moved, with good sunshine and shelter from the western winds.  The last task was to mark each site with a bit of ribbon tied to a rock.

It helped that it was a glorious morning – even if the four legged helper was more interested in sniffing out rabbits than me digging holes!  As I wandered back to the house, I was able to collect some more gum-nuts from the ironbark, which I put straight into a paper bag.  I will also collect red box, black wattle and other seed in the coming weeks and attempt to re-introduce some of these trees back on this hill too.

A few days later we had an amusing series of incidents at the Rock Farm.  A poor supermarket delivery driver managed to not only get the wrong house, but he took our bottom driveway and managed to get his truck stuck.  A couple of sunny days had failed to dry out the steepest bit of this track that is in full shade all day.  After pulling him out with the tractor, I thought I would fill in the worst of the sections with some gravel that had previously washed down a culvert.  The gravel was nice and handy – but also a little close to a small dam.

The first few buckets went well.  I was me able to skim gravel from the top of the pile, with and only the front wheels dropping into the wet ground.  And then I got greedy and went back for one more bucket.  First one back wheel slipped into the goop, followed by the other and I was stuck.  Proper stuck.

Thankfully the family were all working or schooling from home, meaning help was nearby.  I knew their lunch break would be in about half an hour, so I worked like fury with a shovel trying to move as much gravel as I could under the front wheels (now lifted by the bucket).

I also moved our mighty Mitsubishi down and put it in position.  Being automatic, I figured it would be a little easier for a not-so-little helper to use to drag me out.  With the chain hooked up, the car in low range and the rear differential locked, it was time to call down the helpers (and advisers) to get me out.

Thankfully the recovery all went off without a hitch!  Best I get a load of gravel brought in to give us all weather access to our carport!  Just another job to add to the list 🙂

Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 4)

It might have been a long time coming, but the boys have written an update to their re-build of an old horsefloat.  This is their update: 

 

The horse float project has been put on hold for the past few weeks, as school life got pretty hectic. Assignment due dates crept up, and sport infiltrated our time with grand finals and end of season parties. But due to the virus that is now devastating many business, families and countries, we are all stuck at home in isolation.

School continued for the last few weeks of term through online learning and video chats, but we found that we suddenly had time on our hands. Without the hours driving to school and home again, we realised that we could work on the trailer again.

We did a few bits of work here and there, and by the time the holidays started, we almost had a finished trailer. One side needed a few more rivets, (actually a lot of rivets) to attach the side walls.  It needed to be painted,  new electrics and wiring, a floor and the side tie down rails attached.  The end was close.

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Then it all went wrong.

The first week of the holidays passed without much trailer work. The time we spent on screens that first week should have broken some world records. And Dad noticed. And Dad didn’t like our work input.

So, he said he would charge us rent.

He said that it needed to be finished by the end of the holidays, rivets, welds, paint, electrics and all. Or, he would charge us $10 dollars rent for each week we were overdue.

To be fair – the boy’s also had plenty of other projects….  They learnt how to change a tyre, and we took them camping for a couple of nights….

With the motivation and the threat of losing money, the trailer now has two sides riveted on, mudguards attached with bracing, tie-downs welded on, and a lovely, pinky red undercoat paint. (Mum and Dad will probably paint it a different colour soon!). But even with the horrible paint colour, we are proud. We spent hours trying to get the trailer together, and now that it is almost done, we can kind of relax.

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It still needs wiring and a floor, but due to the current restrictions, we may struggle to get the required materials. Even so, the trailer is something that we are all proud of, and we are all very happy to see it much closer to completion.  Even if we are now being charged rent!

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.

Isolation on the Rock Farm

Along with the rest of the Australia, we are in virtual lock-down on the Rock Farm.  I was hoping that it would mean we could all spend some time working on the farm, but sadly the not-so-little helpers are now fully entrenched in online learning, and are expected to be online during school hours.  It is testing not only our wireless internet capacity, but also our patience as there seems to be far more video chats going on than school work!

That said, we get a bonus hour in the morning and in the afternoon together that we wouldn’t normally get – and the cancellation of sport means we are able to spend our evenings going for walks around the farm.  It has been a wonderful opportunity for our family to reconnect, check on our elderly friends in our community, and support our local businesses as best as we can.  Our small rural community has really banded together, and our faith in humanity remains strong.

We are extremely aware how fortunate we are on the Rock Farm.  My last post was on the transformation after our first decent rain in a very long time.  It would appear that just as rust on steel ships never sleeps, weeds don’t sleep either. Among our clover and cocksfoot grass, we also have a large number of weeds competing for sunlight and moisture.

I brought the mower out of retirement and started slashing the worst of the weeds in a couple of the small paddocks with the hope of giving the existing grass a chance to compete and stop the weeds setting seed. The calves were most amused, however I was frustrated.  The mower was doing a terrible job.  It was only after checking out the deck that I realised how bad the blades were, and even worse, the centre guide was completely mangled and bent out of shape.

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Thankfully the fix was relatively simple – brute force and a bit of work with the welder had the guide back into place.  Some work with the grinder on the blades (including balancing on a screwdriver) and the blades were pressed back into service for another season.  The end result was a much cleaner cut – nice to have a win.

Unfortunately slashing weeds only does so much.  I have spent a fair few hours over the past few days with the chipper cutting out thistles, or the knapsack spot spraying sweet briar.  I have managed to convince Jo to help me with the cause, but for now the boys have always seemed to be busy with urgent homework….

It is good exercise – and on glorious autumn days, it is hardly a chore.  Especially when so many people are stuck inside.  It is pretty easy for me to clock up 25 000 steps or more during the day at the moment.

One good thing about walking around the place is you get a really good understanding of where moisture sits and changes the grasses that grow.  It is also readily apparent how much of a difference my rip lines have made on the slopes.

It is a really good indication that the rip lines along the contour are beneficial to the soil moisture levels and are increasing the ground-cover locally.  We are aiming for one hundred percent ground cover, one hundred percent of the time.  And I think the rip lines will help us achieve it.  Wandering around and seeing the results inspired me to make the most of the softer soil and continue the procedure.

The back paddock is the poorest of our property – similar to the original Rock Farm with Ordovician Shale as its bedrock.  Whilst the paddock has magnificent views, the result is slopes that cause moisture and nutrients to wash away.  I spent a few hours after night shifts ripping along the contours – and I can’t wait for it to rain and start making a difference.

This paddock has far too much bare soil and native tussocks, with patches of clover growing where moisture settles.  The observant of you will also have noticed plenty of scattered serrated tussock.  I hope that by increasing the soil moisture, I will increase the ground cover and protect the remaining soil.  The serrated tussock is next on the hit list.

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On the domestic front, the grass continues to grow in the garden as well.  The last thing I want to do after managing the paddocks is work on the grass in the garden.  It is a good thing I have recruited a couple of friends to work on that – and if you look closely you might see they have recruited a couple of chooks to help them out.

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There might be better places to be stuck in isolation – but this one will suit me just fine…

What a difference a day can make

Last Sunday night we were woken from our sleep by a strange noise reverberating around the house, and a sweet smell coming through the open windows.  It was the sound and smell of rain.  Lots of it.  It was such a glorious sound to hear, knowing that our tanks and dam would be filling with water, and we drifted back to sleep with smiles on our faces.

The next morning two things were apparent.  Firstly, we had received a wonderful 80mm or so of rain overnight, and secondly, the tickle in my throat and developed into a full blown cold.

So after feeding the cattle, I went back to lie on the couch and feel sorry for myself whilst Jo and the boy’s went for an explore around the property.

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The first thing the boys excitedly reported was that the driveway was cut.

There was water running everywhere, and it was great to see where I had taken time to rip lines in the paddock, the water seemed to be soaking into the ground.  The rip lines looked to be more effective on the slopes than the flats, and I will be putting more effort into ripping these areas than ever before.

By lunchtime the water had receded and the crossing reopened – much to the boy’s disappointment.

The most striking difference was in our large dam, which you may have remembered in my last post was less than 30cm deep across its entire area.  It had received a huge body of water overnight – with at least a third of it coming through our garden.

The change has been remarkable – with a green tinge almost overnight.  The grass needs follow up rain for all the seed that has germinated to mature and set its own seed.  The storm may have filled the dams and the tanks – but it hasn’t broken the drought.  If anything, we are feeding the cattle more now the rain has fallen, as what little quality  remained in the dry stubble has now gone.

Since time began, our area has experienced dry conditions, and the old timers know that a storm or two isn’t enough to ‘break the drought’.  Our region still very much is sitting in the balance – but we were thrilled with our first real rain in over 12 months.

Nearly 50 years ago, a local historian Errol Lea-Scarlett wrote a wonderful history of our local area.  I was recently reading his work and was struck at how some things really haven’t changed.  Errol was describing the disastrous floods that struck our valley in 1870, 1894 and 1899.  These floods happened during periods of drought.

These occurrences served only to prove the fact that in coastal Australia a drought is not so much a time of no rainfall as a time when unusual climatic and environmental factors combine to make rainfall useless or even positively destructive…..  In March 1897 farmers began to cut down willows for stock feed.  The summer of 1897-1898 brought the first big plague of grasshoppers.  They could do little to worsen the condition of the empty pastures, yet where the insects came to rest and died in the little greenery remaining near Lake George the stinking piles of their carcasses, sometime two feet high, were so offensive that cattle were driven from the water.

This rainfall has been extremely useful.  It filled our dams, at a time when we were seriously considering getting rid of all stock.  It has given hope that perhaps we will get some autumn growth and whilst we will reduce numbers over winter, I think we are in a better position than we were a week ago.

The only problem was that I was crook.  Proper crook.  Whilst part of me wanted to skip for joy, I really needed to get better.  I spent a couple of days in bed, and then when I thought I was past the worst of it,  I sat down for a few minutes on the couch and lost four hours.  When I finally returned to the land of the living I found someone had taken a cheeky photo of the hound and I.

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Thankfully I have emerged out the other side of my cold and it is great to feel human again, although I think Sapphire secretly enjoyed our little quiet time on the couch!  As I get about more, I’ll share more photos of the farm returning to life… and keep my fingers crossed we don’t get a plague of grasshoppers.

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.

 

Summer on the Rock Farm

With the continuing hot and dry conditions, coupled with ongoing hazardous air quality, we made the decision to stop work on the horse float restoration. Whilst disappointing, it was an easy decision to make.  As I write, our nearest air quality station is reading 999 – its maximum reading, and we have just sweltered through another day of howling westerly winds and temperatures over 40 degrees.

We are extremely fortunate to have not yet been directly affected by the ongoing bushfire crisis that is the south east coast, other than the lingering smoke haze.  That said, we have been on high alert.

Our local fire captain has a challenging role, juggling the requests to support strike teams  in other areas, whilst maintaining the ability to respond to local incidents.   I have been part of the team that is on standby for local incidents.  Other than a few nervous moments caused by a dusty willy willy, we have been ok – for now.

That said, we have been using our time to check in on neighbours and prepare the house.  The falcon has been positioned next to our hillbilly pool – giving around 15000 litres of firefighting water if the bladder doesn’t burst!  The roof sprinklers have been tested and are working.  Mum and the boys are the critical element in our fire plan, because it is highly likely that in the event of a fire, I will be fighting it elsewhere on a big red truck – or at work.

Our large dam is nearly empty with an average depth remaining of less than 30cm.  Our pump inlet that supplies the water troughs is sucking little more than mud.  All the other dams are dry.  We have isolated all the water troughs and hopefully fixed any leaks to try to conserve every drop.  There is always more that can be done – but for now we are in a relatively good place.

In the meantime, the cattle are hungry.  We are feeding hay twice a week, and are supplementing their feed with willow branches.  They have learnt to love the sound of the tractor starting up.  Obviously Pavlov never fed cattle during a drought, or he may have made is conclusions regarding conditioning much earlier!

We have taken refuge in the house where we all, dog included, are going a little stir crazy.  The boys have re-discovered their Lego, have devoured some books, done some music practice and we have enjoyed some board games.  We have also purchased a couple more games for the Xbox, and have allowed a little more time each day on their devices.

When the air has been a little clearer, we have taken a turn at woodworking.  The boys are making some pens and spinning tops.  I was lucky we had a stash of P2 dust masks in the shed because every shop is sold out for miles around.

It has been an usual summer with many temperature records broken.  I fear we are entering a new era, where extreme weather events become much more the norm.  I have found this book fascinating, and confronting.

David Wallace Wells has collated all the science regarding climate change and tried to make sense of what it means for us.  The difficulty is trying to understand what will happen because there are so many feedback loops.  This piece is worthy of its own article, and when I get a chance, I will try to write a proper review.

For now, please stay safe and check in on your family, friends and neighbours.  We have a couple of months before the fire season will even begin to abate.  I have a feeling that there are still plenty more nervous days ahead of us.

The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 2)

It has been a hot couple of weeks on the Rock Farm.  We have been busy watering trees, feeding cattle and trying to stay cool.  The bush-fires have been an ever present threat.  This instalment comes from the (not so) Little Fisherman. 

Due to the weather, we have not been able to work much on the float since the other Little Helper did his last blog (The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 1)).  The last couple of days have been total fire bans with one of the days even being a catastrophic fire danger day.  But the next day brought some relief.  The temperature was set to be a maximum of 28 degrees Celsius, and the fire ban had been lifted!

We decided to use the break in the weather to replace some of the rusted frames in the float.  Our replacement bar for one of the more rusted floor sections, was slightly to small and did not have the strength needed of it (Dad will take more care to purchase steel of the correct dimensions next time).  Despite this, we still managed to replace some of the other frames on the side of the float.

This turned out to also be the perfect time for me to hone my grinding skills…  Although it took a while, I managed to successfully remove one of the old bars and clean up the cuts, before cutting a new piece (A tad to long).  I also asked dad if I could weld the bar in place, but after watching him struggle to weld the thin steel we decided that I would do more harm than good.  Instead, I took my new-found grinding skills to finish making my mother’s Christmas present.

After the horizontal struts were in place, we realised that we needed to replace one of the vertical supports.  This meant that dad had to cut up some of his pre-existing welds to put the new piece in place.  Let’s just say, I don’t think that he was to happy with having to re-weld the weak steel.

Meanwhile, the little helper was cleaning up the tailgate with a wire brush and a lot of elbow grease.  After he had finished polishing off the tailgate, he proceeded to rust-proof all the exposed metal he could lay eyes on with some ‘Rust Converter’ (phosphoric acid).

A couple of days later, the weather cooled down again.  We took this opportunity to remove the fibreglass section of the roof.  This proved somewhat difficult as many of the rivets where rusted in place.  We ended up drilling out the rivets.  After some effort we got the roof down, where it now lies, waiting to be sanded, patched and painted.

All in all, we have made many very important structural repairs and have begun looking at the roof.  Hopefully the next blog will be about reattaching the roof and possibly finishing our structural repairs.  We are looking forward to being able to start re-assembling the body of the horse float soon.