Improving water infrastructure

You may recall that I recently spoke of the difficulties in leaving the Rock Farm for a few days. The preparations to depart on a holiday can be challenging – especially with livestock who have an uncanny ability to know when they’re unsupervised! I won’t continue the similarities with livestock and children, suffice to say they both seem to know when the adults are not around!

In January we managed to get away for a week. Our holiday was wonderful, but it wasn’t all good when we got home. The Cattle had managed to destroy the float valve in the old bathtub water trough in their paddock. Whilst the backup water supply in the dam held water, it was apparent I needed to upgrade the old bath tub to something more substantial.

With another family visit to Queensland on the cards at Easter, I knew it was time to make a significant change to our water situation. It was a two part solution. Reducing demand and improving the infrastructure.

The first stage was to reduce demand through the sale of our weaners. With special weaner sales at our local yards, we sold all our steers and some of our heifers. The young steers weighed a surprising 290kg average – far exceeding my 250kg estimate. We kept four heifers to add to our herd and sold the rest. This takes our breeding cows to 20. This is well within our soil fertility envelope (next blog entry) – but close to my comfortable maximum.

With the proceeds of the sale being, I moved to the second stage, infrastructure upgrade. My plan was to install a new concrete water trough to provide a more reliable water supply. I also wanted to move the trough down hill from the header tank – to provide better water pressure and improve reliability. I figured it would be easy to find the pipe… but how wrong I was.

My water divining rods suggested one place to dig… and then another. By the end of it I had followed pipes all over the place and dug trenches all to no avail. I spent nearly all day digging an ever expanding trench. The dog soon realised that to get my attention, she needed to drop her stick in the hole for me to throw it… There was a very dark cloud hanging over The Rock Farm as the shadows lengthened. In desperation I ran the tractor’s ripper back and forth – but it didn’t seem to find the pipe either. In frustration, I called it a night.

The following morning, I reluctantly returned to the scene of my digging to find water everywhere! The rippers had just run across the top of the pipe! I have never been so happy to find a broken pipe. I quickly turned the pump off, and raced to the rural supply shop to pick up the new trough and fittings.

From there it was relatively easy. My biggest worry was that the tractor would struggle to lift the 730kg water trough out of the trailer, but that was no problem at all. After a bit of work with the levels (and the astute eyes will see I still have a little work to do), it was relatively easy to plumb in the new fittings, repair the leak and fill the trough.

The cattle are happy with the new arrangement. Whilst some studies suggest they perform better on clean trough water instead of water from dams, my main aim was to reduce my maintenance requirements. It was not a cheap investment – but it should last a lifetime.

Weaning Cattle – Autumn 2022

Last year we weaned our calves late, and kept them over winter due to the exceptional season we were having. We made it work, partly because of the abundance of feed, and partly because we were rebuilding our numbers to around 15 breeding cows (https://rockfarming.com/2021/06/06/weaning-on-the-rock-farm/).

This year we have chosen a slightly different tact. We have decided to wean our calves before winter, to reduce the nutrition requirements for the cows, and to reduce the pressure on our pastures. The final stimulus however came when I saw there was a special weaner sale upcoming at our local sale yards – which spurned us to action.

Always eager to continue to improve our weaning system, I consulted a couple of wiser and more experienced heads than mine. John explained that he taught the calves to eat hay, buy first putting them in the yards with their mothers. The cows feed from the hay and teach the calves to eat it too. My other mentor Mac explained that the fences have to keep the calves from getting back to their mothers. They don’t have to stop the cows getting back to their calves!

We brought all the cattle into the yards, and spent a couple of days feeding them. The cows who were with us during the drought remembered the sound of the tractor (Pavlov could just as easily have done his conditioning experiments with hungry cattle!). We gave them access to a small paddock adjoining the yards giving them plenty of space to spread out.

A couple of days later we drafted the cows back to another adjoining paddock / lane where they could feed, but come back and visit the calves when they desired. The weaners all then got the latest fashion accessory (a beautiful white NLIS ear-tag). This RFD chipped tag allows the animals and their meat products to be traced back to the Rock Farm. This helps ensure Australian Beef is internationally recognised as being fully traceable throughout the entire supply chain.

The first few hours of separation saw calves and cows happily feeding, however by evening time, the udders filled. The cows returned to the yards and bellowed at the calves, and the calves bellowed at their mothers. This process repeated morning and night for around a week or so, but the intensity reduced quickly – and I felt it didn’t take long for me to feel that the cows were more interested in the hay I was delivering and not the calves!

The hardest part then came in choosing which weaners get on the truck and go to sale. In the end we sold all seven of the steers, and four of the heifers. The steers averaged 290kg, which was a great result considering they were only 7 months old or so. We kept four heifers, bringing our total head on the Rock Farm to 20. Our present holding comprises of 15 cows, 1 maiden heifer due to calve this spring, and our latest 4 weaner heifers.

We will reassess our stock holdings in Spring, but will be likely to sell some cow and calf units before next Summer. It all depends on rainfall, which is our largest determinant of carrying capacity (despite what the fertiliser company tells me). Whilst I love our cattle, I am also very conscious of being a custodian of the soil, and I need to put the need of the soil first. Healthy soil will lead to healthy cattle.

Special thanks to John and Mac for the advice, and a shout out to Jimmy and Kylie who loaded and trucked our weaners to the sale yards in my absence.

A busy spring – marking calves on the Rock Farm and a new boy arrives.

After helping Daisy give birth to Buttercup, the rest of the cows all delivered healthy calves – with the exception of Miss Steak. Miss Steak was on notice, having missed delivering what would have been her second calf last year. Whilst normal commercial operators might have culled her immediately, we were happy to give her a second chance. It seemed our faith was misplaced. Whilst Miss Steak was in rather rotund condition, she didn’t appear to be in calf.

By the 5th of September we had 14 beautiful calves on the ground from the 14 other cows. The maths wasn’t quite that simple, with Uno loosing her calf, and Margurite having twins, but overall it was a pretty good result. After giving Miss Steak another week or so, we decided to mark the calves.

Marking the calves young serves two purposes. The calves are much easier to handle, and the boys are able to be castrated using rubber marking rings. I recruited Master 14 to help with the process. After I vaccinated the calves with a 5 in 1 vaccine, Master 14 was given the job of sliding the rubber rings over the bull calf’s testicles. He really didn’t like it, squirming and wincing and generally doing the whole thing with his eyes closed, which I found hilarious. After we had marked our calves we tallied 7 heifers and 7 steers, with Master 14 looking more cross-eyed than all the boys put together.

With steady and regular rain falling, we moved into September with the promise of solid growth in our pasture. The rain also was causing the weeds and thistles to grow. I took advantage of Master 16’s eagerness to earn money to upgrade his mountain bike by using his willing lockdown labour to chip out thistles each morning in lieu of the long bus ride into town. The Rock Farm pastures have really started to kick along and look fantastic. The good pastures have the cows cycling again.

I contacted our mentor and guide John, and arranged to lease another bull this season. I then asked our friend Jimmy if he could pick the bull up and bring him down to the Rock Farm. The truck arranged, it also made sense to send Miss Steak to the sale yards, a small diversion on the same trip. One of the more colourful characters on the Rock Farm, Miss Steak gained her notoriety with a terrible error of judgement she made as a young heifer (https://rockfarming.com/2018/11/16/a-terrible-miss-steak/). Sadly however, after not calving two years in a row, her time was up.

Then, a week before the truck was due to pick her up, her udder started filling. And filling. And filling. And one horrible cold and rainy night she delivered a gorgeous little heifer. Being the last calf calf, and born in the nick of time to Miss Steak, we named her “Minute”!

Jimmy happily accepted the change in cartage plans and we picked up our borrowed bull a couple of days later. This magnificent fellow shows is French Normande herritage with his markings and his length. He is also really quiet, and happily settled in with the girls. This year we are joining our 15 cows and 1 heifer with this fellow. They will be due to start calving late July, which is a little early for us, but with the season starting so well, we can only hope it holds.

In the mean time, we have been enjoying our daily strolls amongst the cattle. There are far worse ways to be spending lockdown! Special thanks to John for leasing the bull to us, and Jimmy for getting him here 🙂

The battle for Daisy (again) – Update

Having started work before the sun, I have been eagerly awaiting a phone call from Jo or the kids to give me an update on the condition of Daisy or her calf. I was still processing the events from the previous day, and had woken this morning with sore muscles in all sorts of unexpected places.

Overnight we had conducted a stock-take of our powdered milk supplies, and hunted around for our poddy calf bottle and teat. We were worried that either Daisy or her calf, or both would die overnight. It was a cold and bitter night, with some more rain in the mix. Jo came to the conclusion that it was foolish to name our cattle, and vowed never to name them again. We feared the worst.

It seems no one was keen to make their way to the yards to check on Daisy and her calf the following morning. Jo eventually made her way down, apparently checking everything else on her way to the yards. The rest of the cows had water, check. Their calves were all accounted for, check. The tractor and next bale of hay were ready to go in the shed, check. Finally it was time to check the yards… and initially Jo feared the worst because she couldn’t see Daisy or her calf.

Then she got closer, and found Daisy up and on her feet, with her beautiful heifer suckling at her udder. She called me in delight to give me the good news.

The Vet, Dr Jack from Bungendore arrived a short time later, and gave Daisy and her calf a thorough going over. He gave Daisy a slow acting antibiotic to treat a small tear. He checked out her calf, and gave her a clean bill of health, and a name… Buttercup.

I guess it is all in a name after-all. Welcome to the Rock Farm Buttercup. 🙂

The Battle for Daisy (again)….

A rainy day is welcome any time on the Rock Farm – especially now the days are noticeably longer and the ground is starting to warm up. We now have 8 beautiful calves on the ground. However the old adage, ‘you don’t have livestock without dead stock’ held true. We lost one calf during a particularly long and difficult labour for my favourite maiden heifer, Uno. The loss of the calf was heart-breaking, and we felt the mournful ‘moo’ from Uno deeply.

A rainy day is good for taking stock of things around the farm, and catching up on my blog. However no sooner had I written the paragraph above and my day turned around. By the end of it we were in a desperate struggle to save one of our beautiful girls.

The first event that dragged me outside into the wet was to lend a hand to our neighbour, who needed help with a new water tank delivery. It turned into quite the adventure, with the driveway turned to mush, and the creek (moat?) running deep and fast. The initial plan was to drag the tank delivery truck to the site with the tractor, but when we saw how low his trailer was, we realised it would float downstream on the crossing. Plan B was put into place, which involved rolling the ten thousand gallon, 800kg tank onto the back of Myrtle. This went remarkably well, and we soon had the new tank deposited in our neighbours paddock. Remarkable because no trucks or tractors got bogged during this evolution.

In my dash down to the shed to get the tractor, and then swap it for the truck, I had noticed that Daisy was in labour. When we had done with our unloading, I checked on Daisy again and my heart sank. Daisy somehow managed to beat all the odds when she was born. And despite all my reasoning to sell her, she somehow seemed to have very vocal allies on her side. The whole challenge to save her when she was born can be found here: https://rockfarming.com/2019/09/04/the-battle-for-daisy-rescuing-a-calf-on-the-rock-farm/

Protruding from Daisy’s rear was one hoof and a calf head, with its tongue hanging out. The calf’s tongue was a blueish colour, and there were no signs of life. I knew we had to get her in the yards, try to pull the calf and see if we could save Daisy. Despite our efforts, Daisy had no desire to leave her friends. It took all of us a lot of initially gentle and then more forceful encouragement to get her in the yards. By the time we got her safely secured in the crush, we were all exhausted.

Once in the yards, the real battle for survival began. We used this rope squeeze technique to lay her down. The reason for laying her down was that she can push a lot harder lying down. The next thing to do was to find out what was wrong. By now the cold was seeping through my wet clothes, and I was acutely aware of how cold it was now the sun was setting. Jo kindly brought down a bucket of warm water from the house, some old towels and some ropes. I tried to recall any snippets of advice from a childhood reading James Herriot, but sadly not much was coming. I figured it must be like helping lambs, but only bigger…

A gentle examination revealed only one leg was showing. The other leg was folded back – meaning the calf would never come. It was time to call an expert. Our first phone call was to our vet. The next was to another expert – my father. His advice was really simple – before you can pull the calf out, you’ve got to push it back in to re-align the leg. So – against nature, and the vice like grip of the contractions, I pushed the calf back into Daisy, and desperately felt around for a leg. I was on the point of giving up when I found it. That was the easy bit. Getting it to point the right direction was not so. Eventually we got there, and with both legs aligned, it took a few more tugs and our calf was born.

I was relieved that we had saved Daisy (again), but feeling sad about the calf when the calf opened its eyes and gave a breath. It was alive! My heart skipped a beat, and we quickly rubbed it down with the towels and put her next to a thoroughly exhausted but interested mum. Daisy had given birth to a beautiful little heifer.

As I write, they are safely tucked out of the wind in the yards. I still don’t know if either Daisy or her calf will survive the night, but we figured it was time to let them work it out by themselves. We called the vet and cancelled the late night call, but arranged for them to come out first thing to check on their progress. Time will tell if we have beaten the odds, or delayed the inevitable. But that is how things go on a farm. Things can turn around so quickly. And as hard as it can be, it helps me feel alive.

Comings and Goings on The Rock Farm

As we join the rest of our state in returning to lockdown, It would be nice to say our family has had a great opportunity to sit down and reflect on the journey that led us to choosing to make our life out here on our 100 acre hobby farm. However due to colleagues having to isolate, my regular work has fallen on fewer shoulders, meaning I haven’t had the opportunity to spend anywhere near enough time on the Rock Farm as I would like. I am very aware that we are extremely fortunate to be able to call this small patch of land home, and I hope by sharing our story during this testing time, I might bring some joy to our followers around the world.

Life on the Rock Farm continues to beat to its own schedule. Cattle continue to find their way into the wrong paddocks, machinery breaks, and trees fall on fences. But the Rock Farm continues to recharge my soul. Today my story is about the cattle and some of the comings and goings over the past few weeks.

Regular readers will know I deliberated holding last year’s calves over winter. With a wetter than average forecast, it made sense to hold them, even if we were feeding out a bit of hay. But a few weeks ago, we decided that the new calves were due, and it was time to move our weaners on. We had five steers and five heifers from last year, however I was given very stern orders that one of the heifers – named Zoe – was not to be sold.

With all the family in town at work and school (just before the lockdown), I asked our neighbour to give me a hand to bring the weaners into the yards. I was able to draft them out of the paddock with the cows easily enough, but really appreciated Stuart’s assistance to bring the young cattle into the yards. The added bonus of this arrangement was that Stuart had agreed to buy the four remaining heifers. It was also the perfect time for three two-year-old maiden heifers that had been running with our herd to make their way to their new home. I was absolutely thrilled to know that all of the girls would be going to such caring owners – and that I would still be able to feed them the odd apple over the fence! We soon drafted the small herd, and walked the girls down the lane.

Being such a small producer with full time careers, we are unable to establish a pasture to plate relationship with butchers or other local markets. We also don’t generally have the feed to finish our cattle on grass. This means that we usually sell our cattle to the local livestock exchange at Yass. This year we sent five steers in to a regular sale, and their average weight was 331kg. It was a bitter sweet moment to see the steers leave the property – but it was definitely time to move them on – because the other news of the week was that the next generation of calves had begun to arrive!

Whilst I might be back to our ideal stock rate of 15 cows (plus Zoe of course), the next generation have started to drop. Precisely 285 days after the bull joined the herd, we had our first calf. There is something magical about seeing the new calves on the ground. Their gentle mothers give me a shake of their head if I look like approaching too close, especially for the first day or two. After they find their feet, the calves are often found in a creche with one cow on supervision duties. They especially love napping in a sunny spot out of the wind. Zoe has settled back in with the the herd also – if you want to know which one Zoe is, she is the one who gave me a kiss in the last blog: https://rockfarming.com/2021/08/01/winter-planning-on-the-rock-farm/

This year, for the first time, one of my favourite cows, Margurite, gave us the most unexpected gift. Twins! Twin calves are not only unusual in cattle, but the mother often rejects one of them. We watched pretty closely for the first couple of days, but Margurite seemed more than happy to accept the duties of looking after both of them.

So be warned – lots of calf photos to follow!

Please stay safe and look after yourselves. We are surrounded by wonderful neighbours who are keeping an eye out for us. We are also fortunate to have regular jobs and meals on the table. For friends who read this – if you’re are finding the going a little tough, please reach out. I hope you enjoyed this little update.

Curse of Mavis – Mange Mite

In April this year we rescued Mavis, the Muddle Headed Wombat, who was badly affected by mange. Mange is caused by the mange mite, sarcoptes scabiei, which lives on and under the skin of mammals. It causes a particularly painful itch, and eventually leads to the animal’s death, and is sadly common amongst our native wombats. Mavis was successfully rescued and is making a full recovery at a nearby wombat sanctuary.

Unfortunately the mite that caused Mavis’ discomfort is still about and causing havoc. A couple of days ago I found evidence that it is affecting the cattle, and determined I needed to take action.

The bare skin patches, especially in the calves suggest that the mite has started to affect their behaviour. Cattle with the mite put on less weight and are obviously uncomfortable. My research suggested treating the cattle with moxidectin was the most effective and least harmful approach to treating the mite. The cattle seemed to want to follow me when I brought them into the yards early one frosty morning.

The reason I chose moxidectin to treat the cattle is:

  • It is effective on the mange mite sarcoptes scabiei
  • It is safe for dung beetles
  • It has no with-holding period for beef cattle and no export slaughter interval.

I am now in a waiting game to see whether the treatment is effective, and will keep you posted.

As a side note, I had some old moxidectin in the shed. It was tempting to ‘use it all up’, however I am glad I went to out local ag store. Roger explained to me how old drench goes off and can cause the chemical to be less effective, whist leaving residue in the cattle. Whilst the drench is eye-wateringly expensive, it works out to be much more palatable when calculated on a cost per head basis to treat the cattle – even for small producers such as the Rock Farm. Roger even gave me a new applicator, which allowed me to accurately deliver the required 10mL/100kg of live-weight, ensuring we give the optimal dose per animal.

The out of date drench remains difficult to dispose of safely, but the regular chemical muster remains a must do activity on my calendar. We did it a couple of years ago when we bought the property ( https://rockfarming.com/2018/11/25/farm-chemical-disposal-with-chemclear/ ), and I keep an eye on when I am able to do the same again.

A wet summer creates a problem…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The miracle of birth and a purple curse.

The past month has seen some changes on the Rock Farm. Most are due to the addition of a remarkable ingredient – water. Good steady rains have seen the grass continue to leap out of the ground, but it has come at a cost, as we shall see later.

Out of our 11 beautiful cows, we welcomed 10 calves into the world. Miss-Steak was our one cow who didn’t calve, but after the shocking season we had last year, I couldn’t hold it against her. We have a soft sport for Miss Steak after an unfortunate incident a couple of years ago (https://rockfarming.com/2018/11/16/a-terrible-miss-steak/). Miss Steak is, as you’d expect this season, in rotund condition 🙂

Thankfully all the other cows calved without incident. The Not-So-Little-Helpers got a whole heap more than they bargained for on one of our daily check ups during the school holidays. Ice-Cream was down and in labour. We sat down and watched proceedings from the dam wall. The 13 year old had the binoculars at the critical moment when Ice-Cream gave a tremendous heave, and the calf appeared with a woosh… he was more than a little horrified to witness the miracle of life in such close up detail.

We marked and vaccinated the calves, and were thrilled with five heifers and five bull calves. We used rubber rings to mark the boys, who left the yards a little cross eyed. They were soon reconnected with their mothers and on their way to a fresh paddock.

The regular rain has been most welcome. We have been spared destructive storms, with steady small amounts of rain falling regularly. This has led to a prodigious amount of grass. But with the grass has come weeds.

We are attempting to use the cattle to eat firebreaks around the house. When the grass dries out, we will be at risk of grass fires. The cattle do a fantastic job, but they’re not such great fans of Paterson Curse.

This purple (and occasional white) flower (echium plantagineum) has come up in abundance this year on our place. Whilst a weevil has been introduced as a biological control, it takes a while to build up numbers sufficient to tackle it in a meaningful way. A short term solution to reduce the seed bank is to slash the flowers. Our old mulching mower is extremely effective at knocking down the weed. A good grease, new tyres and some fresh oil in the gear box and it was pressed back into service.

The mulcher is also extremely effective at finding any wire in a paddock. I thought our paddocks were pretty clean, but I still managed to find a section that wrapped itself around the drum. Thankfully it was all pretty easy to sort out and get back on the job.

The good news is that other grasses are in full flower, with Brome, Rye and Cocksfoot grass and legumes such as clover all developing seed. I feel at times completely ignorant with such a vast variety of forbs, grasses and legumes growing on our property, but there is some pleasure in taking the time to get up close and observe the beauty of nature.

My assumption is that all plants (weeds included) are filling a niche. The trick I have to understand is what niche that is, and how to manage the grazing, slashing and resting regime to best encourage the useful plants and reduce the competition from weeds. Allan Savory is convinced that good management is the key to a successful regenerative farming operation. I just have to learn to observe closely and learn from experience. I won’t get it right all the time, but I hope we can slowly turn the tide and increase the productivity and beauty of our property.

At the very least, I can take pleasure in the small beautiful details. I hope you agree. 🙂

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!