Autumn School Holiday Project – New Paddocks on the Rock Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autumn Update

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Rock Farm Transformed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weaning and a plan for the cattle

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

School Holidays – You’d think it would be easy to get away!

Despite one good fall of rain nearly a month ago, and a follow up 8mm a fortnight later, we are really starting to dry out on the Rock Farm.   My last update was a bit chaotic as we took some ewes to the sale yards, and kept a close eye on Daisy.

The reason for the mad rush was that we were trying to get everything in hand for us to take a break away from the Rock Farm for the school holidays….

And just when you think you have it all sorted, you find the youngest and last calf in a paddock three fences from Mum.  I was reluctant to interfere, so left him overnight to see if he could find his own way home.  When he was still in the wrong paddock the following day, I knew we needed to take action.

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The hound distracted him long enough for me to grab and sit on him.  Then the boys brought down the old falcon ute and we gently picked him up and put him in the back of the ute.  Somehow he managed to get one good kick in, just to remind me that he didn’t appreciate the undignified mode of transport. He got me good and proper – but I knew that I would get my revenge a few weeks later at marking time…

And then, to top it all off, the lambs were spotted in the neighbours place.  After herding them back to our side of the fence and onwards to the yards, I requested a huge favour and asked friends if we could agist our lambs on their place for the duration of our holiday….

It was just what I needed to be doing after a night shift, catching lambs and putting them in the horse float for a quick dash down the road.  But it was done.  We held our breath and counted to ten… twice.

The following morning we left at the crack of dawn with fingers crossed…. and phones turned off!

Our destination was Tasmania via the Spirit of Tasmania.  We enjoyed a wonderful break.  The main activity was the 48km hike along the recently developed Three Capes Track in Tasmania.  In a word it was spectacular.  The scenery is staggeringly beautiful, with the rugged dolerite cliffs falling away to the ocean in places nearly 300 metres below.  The quality of the track, the huts and the Rangers was an absolute credit to the people of  Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.

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What was really wonderful, apart from the scenery was the time connecting with our family.  Free from the other distractions and tasks that keep us busy, it took a few days for us to hit our groove, but it was so important to share this time.

But all too soon it was time to return home and retrieve our sheep, mark the last of our calves and get ready for returning to school.  The cattle were happy to see me, and more than happy to follow me to a new paddock.

The lambs were corralled into the horse float.  A hilarious exercise considering our friends had no yards.  We parked carefully alongside a fence line, and with the aid of a couple of old farm gates as wings, we gently pushed the mob to the float.  One ewe lamb kept trying to lead the rest of the mob around – but after breaking free once, we closed the net and loaded them up.  A few minutes later they were unloaded at home in a secure paddock near the house.  A huge thank you to Mark and Mel for answering our crisis call!

It has been a good experience for the lambs.  This little paddock is close to the house, and the lambs have become very quiet.  Now they have eaten most of the grass in it, we have started feeding them, and they are learning to follow a bucket.  I am a huge fan of ‘bucket mustering’.

As it stands, we marked 12 calves, with a bonus calf born in December taking us to 13 out of 15 maiden heifers.  We also have 13 lambs….  It is a good time on the Rock Farm….

We just need to get some chickens… but we are working on that too!  More on the chook house redevelopment soon!

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The hint of rain

The past few weeks have been a little hectic on the Rock Farm.  Calving and lambing has continued.  Life has also continued, with some big weeks at work and school keeping us all away from the farm for longer than we would like.

First an update on Daisy.  Daisy and Mum have rejoined the herd and have settled in well.  Daisy has put on weight and enjoys her fellow bovine’s company more than humans now.  This is not a bad thing – although I miss our cuddles.  She might never do particularly well, but we are really happy that both Daisy and mum are now in good health.

With the long-term forecast for spring rainfall looking grim, we elected to sell off our older ewes and ram.  With such a small herd of 13 to take to the sale-yards, it was hardly worth organising a truck.  With a bit of time, I soon had the sheep loaded in the horse-float and passed the lambs out the tailgate back into the yards.  The irony was on the day I took the sheep to the sale yards, we received our first decent rainfall in months, a delightful 22mm.  It was a rare and unusual problem to be loading the sheep in the rain!

Selling the ewes solved a couple of problems.  It reduced the immediate pressure on the feed, and also stopped me having to retrieve them from the neighbour’s on a regular frequency.  I must admit I felt a little dwarfed by all the trucks and semi-trailers unloading stock at the yards, but the stock agent showed good humour and helped me pen the sheep.

The lambs are now enjoying some time near the house, where we are supplementing their feed.  They are becoming much quieter, hopefully making them easy to handle as they grow.

The little bit of rain was welcome.  It settled the dust, but more importantly it turned the grass green.  We are still feeding, whilst we wait for the grass to grow.

If you do want to find water though – I would highly recommend hiring a Kanga.  Jimmy and his marvellous machine have an amazing ability to find water pipes.  After successfully digging holes for our carport foundation, we decided to make the most of his visit with a couple of extra post holes for gate posts….  it was the last hole (it always is) when the auger came up with water pouring out of the hole…

Needless to say I am becoming pretty handy at repairing poly pipe.  Thankfully we were able to quickly isolate the water, which was non-potable water from dam.  Around the house it is used for flushing the loo and around the garden.  This water also supplies all the stock troughs – so I needed to get it repaired relatively quickly.  It has highlighted the need to install a valve so I can isolate the garden water quickly in case of future mishaps!

After repairing the pipe, it was time to head back with the girls.

I have moved them onto the flat country.  Whilst there isn’t much feed here yet, I am just rotating them through the smaller paddocks.  I hope they will keep on-top of the Barley grass, but it all seems to be going to seed early as it struggles with the dry season.

Time will tell what the season holds.  In the meantime, we have developed a plan for the cattle which we will start to implement in a few weeks.  For now though,  it is lovely to see a little water flowing in the creek again.

The battle for Daisy – rescuing a calf on the Rock Farm

The last 72 hours have been a race against time on the Rock Farm.  Our maiden heifers have been calving and whilst the first seven calves arrived without any trouble at all, calf number eight changed everything.

We found a very exhausted calf and Mum on Sunday morning, both in a very poor way. The calf was unable to get up, and it was clear hadn’t been able to suckle from Mum.  Mum was lying several metres away, also unable to get up, with a very sore hind leg.  It was pretty grim however we decided to not interfere initially and give them a couple of hours to see if the warmth of the sun would give the calf enough energy to get up and have a drink.

These things always happen when I am at work, and the burden of managing the evolving situation fell on Jo, the kids and our wonderful neighbours.  After a few hours of waiting, it became clear we needed to intervene.  Mum had managed to get up, however had left the calf.  She was clearly very lame and was unable to assist in any way.  I feared she was so badly injured we would have to put her down.  We brought the calf into our sheltered yard beside the shed and attempted to give her a drink.

Poor Daisy as she was now known took a few attempts to get the hang of suckling our modified colostrum mix.  The first feed is so important, however we had to make do with our mix of milk, warm water, raw egg and hemp oil.

When I got home from work that evening, we found Mum was much more mobile.  Whilst she was obviously very sore, she was able to hobble, and we moved her into the yard with Daisy.  This process in the dark wasn’t exactly easy, as we ended up with half a dozen of her friends in the paddock as well – however in the end it was relatively straightforward to cut her out of the herd.  Our efforts in making the cattle quiet paid dividends that night.

The following morning revealed a very protective Mum, and a lethargic Daisy.  In order to safely feed Daisy, I had to push Mum out into the next paddock.  I always move the cattle with a long stick in my hand.  Usually it acts as an extension of my arm, enhancing my body language to the cattle – however Mum sized me up and I gave her a rap over the nose.  I was pleased Mum was very obviously guarding her precious calf as I feared she would have rejected Daisy, but I was also thankful for the stick in my hand.

Over the course of the day I fed Daisy regularly, however she still didn’t seem to want to stand up.  When the kids got home from school, I got them to keep an eye on Mum as we attempted to teach Daisy to stand with the aim of her being able to feed unaided.

At the end of day two, I sat down with Jo and looked at our options. Ultimately we were faced with a decision.  If Daisy hadn’t got enough strength or ability to feed from Mum, then we would put her down at the end of day three.   I feared she had possible brain damage from a long and arduous birth.  It was an awful decision to make, but we knew we had to involve the kids with our thought process before putting her down.

Day three dawned and we wanted to see if Daisy would get hungry enough to attempt to feed from Mum.  Whilst we never actually saw her move, it became apparent she was able to move from the sun to the shade.  Our neighbour gave us regular updates on her movements as our family was all in town during the day.  It was an extremely positive step, and it looked Daisy was through the greatest hurdle.

Day four and we opened up the yard into the small paddock.  Daisy was spotted at different places during the day, and I even caught her on her feet.  I was overjoyed, and whilst Daisy didn’t mind a celebratory selfie, Mum was still very protective despite my attempts to distract her with some fresh hay.

And then I saw it.  Just before heading into work at the end of day four, success.  Daisy was on her feet feeding from Mum.  It was a great sight.  Whilst we are by no means out of the woods yet, and I suspect we may have ongoing issues with Daisy and Mum into the future, it was an extremely positive sign.  Hopefully we will be able to return Daisy and Mum to the herd in the next few days – although I have one young man who hopes Daisy remembers him.  That, I am sure, will be a whole other chapter in the history of life on The Rock Farm!

Calving Commences and Odd Jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter on the Rock Farm

We have settled into winter on the southern tablelands.  Our recent weather patterns seems to be cracking frosts followed by crystal clear days, or bleak overcast skies with lazy winds that seem to pass through every layer of clothing you can wear. Sadly we have had precious little rain to bring us any growth.

We have been feeding the cattle since the start of winter.  I am rotating the cattle through the paddocks, and have even opened up some of the tree guards for the cattle to graze under the established trees.  The grass has turned green – but it is too cold and dry for it to grow.  The cattle need the roughage that the old pasture hay provides, and I have just started feeding them some silage we purchased at the start of winter.

It is my preference to buy hay and silage over fertilizer.  The more I learn about soil health, it is far better for the soil to receive nutrients that have been processed by a ruminant stomach first.  If only the cost of feed was cheaper!

The one good thing to come of the lack of grass is one of our pest weeds, the serrated tussock is easy to see.  We have been chipping out tussock for a while now, but even I had to admit defeat and hit large swaths of it with chemical.  It sure isn’t my preferred model for control, but after reading Millpost (Book Review -Millpost, a broadscale permaculture farm since 1979) I decided I had to make better use of my time.  We will use chemicals on large patches until we have got on-top of the tussock and then hopefully revert to chipping to stay on top of future outbreaks.  The little hundred litre tank and 12 volt pump make spraying remarkably time effective.

I have taken the opportunity of re-purposing the old roof sheets from the house into panels on the side of the hay-shed.  With most of our pasture hay stored in an old stable, the hay-shed has become the default storage shed for the truck and horse-float.  In an attempt to make it more weather proof, and suitable for storing hay into the future, we have been using the old roof iron to make walls.  If and when feed costs become more affordable, I hope to ensure we store enough hay to get us through a couple of winters in this shed.  We have been lucky to get through this far with what we have, but we need some growth to get us through spring.

The sheep have been enjoying the run of the place, and manage to find enough pick to keep in good condition.  It was a wonderful surprise to check on them after a couple of days at work to find they had started lambing!  We will mark these lambs in a few weeks, but for now, we were happy to let them be (and give their mum’s a treat of some oats).

The only problem with all the work outside is that is cold… damn cold.  Especially overnight.

But the dogs wouldn’t know that…  they reckon it’s summer all year around on the Rock Farm!

Sadly not long after this photo was taken, the dachshund Dilys passed away.  She has been part of our family for 10 years and despite her little size, has made a big hole in our hearts.  We buried her down by the stables, where she loved chasing rabbits, even if she was never quite quick enough to catch them.  Good dog.  Rest in peace.