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.

A lesson on leadership – taught by a calf

On the Rock Farm this winter we have a six month old calf that was a bit of a bonus when he was born.  Unexpected, he was a delightful surprise that has grown into a healthy and strong steer of around 200kg.

He is now old enough to be weaned, and the (not so) Little Helper decided his school holiday project was to break the calf into halter.  We did point out to him that whilst it was our responsibility to give him the best life we could, ultimately his purpose is to be processed into beef…  We agreed that we wouldn’t do this on our place.

Having not broken a calf in before, we had to seriously consider our strategy.  My young son decided he wanted to follow some of the principles he had seen in action at The Man From Snowy River Breaker’s Challenge over the past couple of years.

I think Mum (with the white face) is enjoying the weaning process too!

Whilst a horse is a different beast entirely from a calf, we really liked the way the horsemen harnessed the horse’s natural strengths and worked with them.  We decided that we wanted to develop a relationship with the calf where the behaviour we wanted was easy for the calf to do, and the behaviour we didn’t was hard.

Lesson One: Consistency – your words have to match your actions

As you can’t use words, you have to be entirely focused on what your body language says to the calf, now named Moo.  It really makes you think about what you are asking him to do.  And when he doesn’t do what you want, it is usually because you have put your body, or your arms, or even your eyes in the wrong place.

The young fellow is moving the calf away from him using old horse whips as extensions of his arms

It is an entirely pure response. You can’t hide anything.  And your actions have to match your intentions.  If you want him to turn towards you, you have to really think about what you are asking him to do.  Remember you have to reward the behaviour you are seeking.

Lesson Two – Assertive, not aggressive

You must be assertive and assume to role of leader of his herd.  It is essential for your safety with a calf that weighs 200kg and is immensely strong.  We were very keen for Moo to turn towards us instead of away from us.  This is to keep his back legs away from us (where he could take a kick if he felt threatened).  By using rods as extensions of our arms, we were able to project our body language onto him at a safer distance.  We kept asking and putting pressure on him until he did what we want.  Soon he would recognise what we were asking and turn towards us most times.

Being the leader of the herd, you have a responsibility to meet the calf’s needs.  We had to step up and meet his need for safety, for belonging, for shelter, food and water.  By  meeting his needs, we are fulfilling his requirements to be part of a herd (even if we look different to him)

Lesson Three: Make the good behaviour easy and the stuff you don’t want hard

The calf naturally didn’t want to be with us at all.  He moved away from us and sought refuge by sticking his head in corners of the yards.  This behaviour was not what we wanted, so we continued to put pressure on the calf by moving towards him and making him keep moving away from us.

Until he stopped – and looked at us.  As soon as he did what we wanted, we stopped and took the pressure off.  And it was amazing how quickly he worked out that stopping and looking at us gave him the reward of us stopping the pressure – and lunch.

As soon as he did what we wanted, we stopped and rewarded him with a break

Each day we worked gently with Moo for around 15 minutes or so.  It only took a couple of days and we were able to put the halter on him.  The same principles applied – the pressure stopped as soon as he did what we wanted.  It didn’t take him long to work out that following us around was the best way to stop the pressure.  We modified his natural behaviour to generate the behaviours we were looking for, than trying to break his will.

Lesson Four: You have to be mentally ready

A couple of times the (not so) Little Helper and I were tired and not in the head space to enter the yard with Moo.  It was almost instantly apparent that we were not achieving any progress.  The best action to take was to stop the session and come back when we had mentally prepared to put our best foot forward.

Lesson Five: Mistakes are OK

We made plenty of mistakes.  And it wasn’t a problem.  If we put ourselves in the wrong place, Moo’s behaviour would let us know.  It wasn’t that he was doing the wrong thing, often we were.  The main part was to look at what we were asking and reflect on how we should approach the problem differently.  Often it was that we were looking at his shoulder instead of his flank – and once we understood what we were doing from the calf’s point of view it was easy to change.

What does it mean?

Training a calf has been a great opportunity to reflect on how we treat each other and are treated.  When you enter that yard, you have to be the strong leader that the calf is looking for… and you can’t hide behind clever words.  The calf reflects your behaviour in the purest sense, as all he responds to is your body language.  You have to be firm, consistent and look for ways to make it easy for the calf to do what you want.

Unfortunately at Christmas time or so, Moo will be sold.  It will be a sad day on the Rock Farm for which I hope the (not so) Little Helper will forgive me.

Around the farm

With the little helpers both now in High School, we are finding ourselves spending more time in town.  Between before school music practice and after school sports training, our days are very full and busy.  As they should be.  Whilst part of me hankers for the simpler times when the boys went to our local primary school just down the road, they are growing up and are relishing in the new experiences and opportunities that a large school provides.

As we have now lived at the new Rock Farm for over 12 months, we have also started (albeit slowly) renovating the house.  The first priority is the installation of a large efficient slow combustion fireplace.  There is nothing like a cool morning to focus the mind and allow you to recall how cold the house was last year.

This means the farm part of the Rock Farm is not getting as much time for my attention as I would like to give it.  There has still been plenty to keep us busy, checking the stock water daily and moving the cattle and sheep into other paddocks.  Of course there are some gorgeous horses nearby that also demand attention – and somehow I always find time for a pat.

The cattle have been eating the remaining grass, and giving some of the weeds a good nibble in their quest for food.  They remain in good condition, which they will need heading into winter.  The skies, whilst looking promising have only yielded 2.5mm in the past two weeks.  The unseasonably hot days have burnt away any remaining moisture.

The sunsets though have been spectacular – and make me pinch myself every time.

The dry weather has put a lot of the trees under stress.  The native gum trees have a very effective method to cope with droughts.  They shed branches.  Unfortunately most of our trees are along fence-lines, requiring a bit of work to clear the branches.

Thankfully most of the branches were relatively small – and I was able to make some handy little piles of firewood for collection in a year or two once they’re seasoned.

I even was lucky enough to have a helper for a couple of hours – but he got distracted talking to the girls!

And then the helper wandered over and poured a bucket of oats on the ground for the other girls (and nearly ready) boys.

The sheep are managing to find some good grass among the weeds, and are all in healthy condition.  We have a few of our neighbour’s dorpers running with our sheep which are wiltipolls.  Both types naturally shed their wool and are bred for their meat.  The dorper tends to be a stockier animal, and tend to look more shaggy.

We sold most of the female ewe lambs, but are growing out the boys.  I will fast have to make a decision as to whether we send the boys to the sale yards, our put them in our freezer.  With two teenage boys in the family – I think that keeping the food miles to an absolute minimum will be time well spent.

I just have to find that time….

The girls come home

You may recall that a few weeks ago we took up the kind offer of John, our heifer’s breeder, to join our girls with one of his young bulls.  Getting the girls there proved to be a bit of a challenge, especially for one of our heifers now known as Miss Steak. She didn’t travel with her friends after getting stuck and injuring herself – see previous blog:  https://rockfarming.com/2018/11/16/a-terrible-miss-steak/. After training her to enter the horse-float, she travelled without any complaints at all.  When we arrived, I drove straight into the paddock, and she had a welcoming committee come down and greet her.

We had also been keeping a close eye on one of the heifers.  Over the previous month or two, it became apparent that she was pregnant. This can be a big problem for young heifers, especially if they have large calves.  We weren’t sure what to expect, and were worried we would lose the heifer.  Renamed “The Unchaste One”, she gave birth without incident to a  handsome bull calf.

The cattle continued to grow and put on condition at John’s place.  The Crookwell area seems to have escaped the worst of the drought conditions that have caused so much devastation elsewhere.

Thankfully the rest of their time at John’s proved to be without incident, and we went to bring them home the other day..

The heifers first came to our place on Jimmy’s truck as weaners.  On their first trip, they easily fitted in the front two pens.  Now they are much closer to 400kg each, several overflowed into the rear pen.

I was pleased to see how quickly they settled back at home.  I kept them in the yards for just a few minutes, letting them find the water trough.  When I let them out, they barely moved half a dozen metres before they stuck their heads down and happily commenced grazing.

We have all missed having the cattle on the place, and love having them back.  We have since moved them into a paddock with more shade – helping them through the worst of the current heatwave.

In other parts of life on the Rock Farm, the run of 40 degree days has been pretty hard on our newly planted oaks.  Some of our seedlings have clearly struggled, but others look like they are doing alright.  I think they all appreciated a drink.  Hopefully we can nurse them through the summer and give them a fighting chance at survival.

A terrible Miss-Steak

Last week was a mixed bag on the Rock Farm.  We enjoyed a glorious 12mm of soaking rain. A fox killed all our chickens.  Our sheep disappeared and we found all them roaming the neighbour’s place. The steering arm fell off the tractor. Our ram got in a fight with an other neighbour’s ram, and in a sickening head butt, our ram killed their ram.  And one of our heifers made a terrible mistake.

 

The rain well worth celebrating.  Whilst it wasn’t enough to fill our parched dams – it was very much needed – even if the dog wasn’t so sure!  The little burst will hopefully allow our ryegrass and cocksfoot grass to set seed, even if it came too late for our clover.  And there is nothing like mustering recalcitrant sheep in the rain the remind you why you love this farming game!

With feed stocks dwindling, we took up the kind offer made by John, the heifer’s breeder, to return them to his farm in the Southern Highlands to make acquaintance with one of his young bulls.  The heifers are well used to the routine now of moving around the Rock Farm.  They quietly made their way into the yards for a short overnight stay before being trucked.

After all the dramas earlier in the week, this part was all going to plan.  It was almost too easy I thought.  I shouldn’t have even thought those words.

My troubles began when I moved some of the heifers into the race to drench them prior to the truck arriving.  No sooner had I turned my back, than one of the heifers tried to escape through a narrow personnel escape opening.  I still don’t know how she squeezed her shoulders through the gap, but it was immediately apparent that her hips weren’t going to follow the rest of her body.

She was stuck.  Properly stuck.  And then the audience arrived in the form of my wife Jo, and Jimmy who was carting the cattle.

After a couple of attempts to lift her back legs and pull her through, we realised we were down to only a couple of options.

  • Use the loader on the tractor to attempt to lift her and manoeuvre her hind legs through the gap.
  • Use an angle grinder to cut out the panel, however my generator is currently broken, meaning we would have to borrow a generator from someone or make an expensive trip into town.
  • Euthanize the heifer – a very much last resort – unless she became too distressed.

I raced up to the shed and grabbed a cattle sling, designed to lift cattle that are unable to stand.  It was when I tried to start the tractor, I realised I’d left the ignition on, thereby flattening the battery.  I am sure there was a very localised blue cloud forming over the Rock Farm at this time.

After eventually jump starting the tractor, we rigged the sling and started lifting.  We tried initially to lift her by the back legs, but that didn’t help.  We then put the sling under her chest and tried again.  With a lot of pushing, pulling, and twisting, combined with a good dose of luck, we eventually twisted her on her side.   Jimmy was able to wiggle her hips through the gap and she was free.

It wasn’t all good news though, the young heifer was very sore, especially in the right hip.  We made the decision that she was not fit to travel, and put her back in the yards.

I was too spent to take photos of the other girls on the truck, but the rest of the journey for them went without incident.  They were met by their new boyfriend, who was eager to make their acquaintance, a good looking young bull with plenty of Charolais breeding in him.

We kept the remaining heifer under close watch.  Thankfully she improved dramatically over the next few days.  After a week, she is walking without a limp. I hope to transport her to meet up with her herd, but it is hard to justify carting her on another truck.  I figure it is time to see if we can train her to use the old horse float.

To that end,  I brought her back in the yards, and moved her water trough and hay into the back of the float.  Her initial response was understandably wary.

But within 24 hours, when checking on her water, I spied her comfortably eating inside the float.  I will let her spend a few more days getting used to the float, before attempting to move her.  I will also fabricate a couple of bars to prevent her from jumping out over the tailgate before we move her.  That would be disastrous.

Of course you don’t get to do something this crazy without earning yourself a special place in the family’s heart.  Nor do you remain anonymous.  So the family decided to name our escaping heifer Miss, short for Terrible Miss-Steak.  I hope it is the one and only occasion she lives up to her name!

Barley Grass and other Pasture management

It has been a long Spring full of unfulfilled promises on the Rock Farm.  Weather forecasts predicting a 90 percent chance of 10 – 15mm of rain in three days time have withered to a 10 percent chance of 0 – 1mm.  Barely any rain has fallen, and the grass has been in a desperate race to set seed before it dries out completely.

The photo above captures the half dozen drops that fell a couple of weeks ago.  Whilst the sky looked promising, it failed to deliver.

Readers may remember that I had a paddock full of thistles when we moved to the Not-So-Rocky Rock Farm.  I slashed the thistles a couple of times over the summer, with the aim of preventing the thistles going to seed.  (https://rockfarming.com/2018/01/04/managing-thistles-on-the-new-farm/)  After slashing the paddock, the sheep moved in, and kept the grass down over winter – until about three weeks ago when the took it upon themselves to move out (The fences have never held the sheep anywhere – even this paddock which is mostly fenced with hingejoint).

The culprit was Barley Grass.  Barley Grass (Hordeum Leporinum) is a soft annual grass with bristly fox-tail like seed heads.  Once the seed heads form, it is unpalatable to sheep or cattle.  The seed heads get embedded in the sheep wool, reducing their capacity to put on weight.  Given the option to move out, our sheep had done exactly that.

On the flip side, the thistles were not so prevalent, which was pleasing to see.

With a desire to use a chemical free process to control the grass, I consulted the internet and found this guide published by HerbiGuide:   http://www.herbiguide.com.au/Descriptions/hg_Barley_Grass.htm

HerbiGuide recommended heavily grazing the paddock until the seed heads turned yellow.  I brought in the cattle,  and gave them a week to reduce the seed burden in the paddock.

It was also a good chance to check out some of the serrated tussock I sprayed a month earlier.  It seemed that the fluproponate was effective, which was a relief.

After a week of grazing, the cattle had reduced the barley grass a little, however the hot dry weather had started to turn the seed heads yellow.  In a last minute effort to reduce the grass seed being viable, I removed the cattle and took the mower down to the paddock and slashed the remaining stalks.  I am not sure if I have managed to cut the heads before the seed is viable, but it may allow the sheep to move back in and graze the stubble in the lead up to the end of the year.

I hope that grazing and slashing the paddock will significantly reduce the prevalence of barley grass over the next couple of years.  I will need to heavily graze the paddock in late winter and spring before the seed heads form. The cattle and sheep will form am integral part of this process, and it is exciting to be using the livestock as a tool to improve the pastures on the Rock Farm.

We are now at the end of the grass growing season.  Whilst is rain forecast this week, it will do little to increase our feed for the stock.  What it may do is replenish some water in our dam, which is looking very low.  We are investigating options for stock feed and agistment, and will update you soon on where we are at with this.

In the meantime, we will keep our fingers crossed.  At this time, we will take any rain we can get!