Of droughts and flooding rains….

Dorothea Mackellar had it right when describing her love of Australia in her poem My Country. The Australian landscape has always been one of extremes with periods of drought followed by wet cycles. Whilst the cycle is familiar throughout Australian history, the intensity of droughts and rain events has increased. This, combined with changing land use, further compounds the effects of the climatic changes, meaning we are seeing bigger floods and longer dry periods.

Three years ago, our area was gripped in drought. Doomsayers prophesised that city water supply dams in Australia would never be full again. We anxiously watched our dam drop to a puddle, knowing if we ran out of water, we would have to sell the last of our cattle. Then in early 2020 the drought broke, and we have enjoyed a cycle of wet years, which has replenished water storages, rehydrated the land and grown pasture to feed our cattle.

Earlier this week we experienced the highest flood of our creek for at least 50 years. Three hours after the rain started falling, our creek rose quickly from a small trickle to a raging flood that surpassed our last record height by another half a metre. Previously the damage caused by floods on the Rock Farm has been relatively minor, the clean up being an inconvenience. This one was something different again.

This series of photos show how quickly the creek rose during the first hour. I was anxiously waiting for the family to come home but it became apparent that they were never going to get home in time. Thankfully friends opened their doors and Jo and one of the not-so-little helpers enjoyed a night in the village. (Huge thank you to Mark and Mel).

A couple of hours later the flood was in full force. The not-so-little fisherman and I went for a walk in the paddocks, and we weren’t prepared for the amount of water roaring down our creek.

The driveway disappeared. The previous record was to the base of the gate on the right – this one came another half a metre up the gate. I sent the young fellow in to open the gate and reduce the load on the catch.

The water came up to our dam wall, and we sat and watched the water for a while. Every minute or so we heard giant Elm trees crack and shake, before seeing them appear in the middle of the flow downstream. The destruction was enormous. I have never before seen these trees break off the banks – indeed they have done a fantastic job of stabilising the bank up until now.

The following morning the water had receded and I went for a walk to check the damage. Debris was pushed up onto and over fences that have been standing for 50 years or so. I found the oak tree that used to stand near our crossing several hundred metres down stream. Several of the Elms that collapsed during the flood were lying in my paddocks. Sections of the creek banks had been scoured out, and areas that were previously grassed and covered in trees turned to river rocks and sand beaches. We have lost quite a large area of our paddock – but the young trees planted on the banks seem to have folded over and bounced back. We need them to grow and grow quickly to help hold the bank together in future floods.

The clean up will take a while – but that is all achievable. I have written a priority list for the fence repairs, however all work is on hold whilst we wait for the paddocks to dry out. It is one thing to walk on the paddocks in calf deep water. It is something else altogether to drive on them with machinery or even just tools. After a bit of work with the tractor, the driveway is again passable

The most important thing is that we are all safe and well. The cattle likewise are all safe and now back on the slopes well above the water level. And of course – it has created a wonderful playground!

In the coming weeks I am sure we will repair our fences and get the farm functioning again. In the longer term, I hope we can lift our gaze and start working at catchment levels to slow water down. If we can slow water in the landscape, it will cause floods to rise slower, the peak to last longer but at a lower height. The landscape has changed enormously in the past couple of hundred years, and any changes we make wont happen overnight. The good news is that change is happening. One of the key organisations that has conducted years of research and is at the forefront of making changes both at a landscape and the political level is the Mulloon Institute. If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can start changing the hydrology of the landscape to reduce impacts of flood events like this, check out their webpage here: https://themullooninstitute.org/

Mechanical, aborial, bovine, fencing and climate challenges on the Rock Farm.

The Rock Farm is looking fantastic with the grass starting to leap out of the ground. The lawn mower has been brought out of the shed and pressed into service keeping the garden in check, the teenage helper’s desire for pocket money overcoming their inherent need to sleep. The first snake of the season has come out to soak in the sun. Our cattle are starting to put on weight, and we will join them with a new bull soon. The wet spring season has created some health challenges for the cattle which we are working through, whilst making access to the Rock Farm difficult. We have continued planting native shrubs. built more tree guards and are replacing boundary fences. We have also been working on a couple of mechanical challenges.

During the first week of the school holidays, our old black falcon ute kept disappearing with two boys, only to be heard from the house revving hard. The Not-So-Little Helpers discovered the fun of going in circles…. however they have also found out that when you push an old engine to the limit, things tend to break.

The harmonic balancer collapsed, and the boys sheepishly reported they thought a tensioner pulley had failed, as the fan belt kept coming off. Our family rule is that if you break it, you fix it (the two ‘F’ rule). I explained that I needed the capability of a farm ute – they could work out whether it was in their best interests to repair or replace the car.

They quickly realised that repair was indeed the cheapest option – even if the parts were more than the original cost of the ute. Fitting the new harmonic balancer was especially easy, as there was no grill or bumper restricting access. After an entertaining hour or so watching the boys fit the new balancer, the ute was back in service…. for a short time until they flogged our both rear tyres.

My progress with Myrtle the old Benz has been slower, but I have finally managed to remove the engine. It was straightforward, but not particularly easy. Three out of four engine mounts were easy to extract, one was nigh impossible. Seven out of eight wheel nuts were easy to undo, one was not. It was a common theme as I slowly got the engine ready to remove. I now have to remove the engine from the donor truck – which will probably be in the new year.

Around the farm tree planting continues, with a range of native shrubs planted in our biodiversity reserve. We hope these will grow and provide food and habitat for native bees, insects and birds. I find planting trees is not only great exercise, but it also incredibly fulfilling. I hope these little shrubs get well established this season, without too much pressure from the hares!

In other areas of the farm, we have been working at improving the infrastructure. We built a new tree guard for the Cork Oaks we planted near the dam (see last post) however I haven’t been game to drive down to fence off the other Cork Oaks on our western boundary due to the wet boggy conditions.

The northern boundary fence was in terrible condition, and I spent a morning removing the old fence so a contractor can replace this section. We are fortunate our neighbour supports these improvements which work for both our properties. We hope to get new posts in the ground this week before the next rain event comes.

Speaking of the wet, it is having an impact on the health of our cattle. We have been keeping the cattle on the slopes, attempting to keep their feet as dry as possible. Unfortunately all our paddocks have boggy sections. Warm wet conditions increase the likelihood of the animals suffering a painful condition known as footrot (not to be confused with Foot and Mouth disease) – see here: https://www.mla.com.au/research-and-development/animal-health-welfare-and-biosecurity/diseases/infectious/footrot/. We noticed one steer with a limp, and the vet gave us a long acting treatment to help clear the likely abscess in his hoof. The vet explained the injection ‘triangle’ site for the intra muscular injection. The steer wasn’t particularly happy when the needle entered his neck, but I hope he feels better soon.

The record breaking wet is also having a wider impact on our community. Most common complaints are the condition of the roads as the substrates collapse and giant potholes form. We are fortunate that our flooding events normally affect nothing more than our property access (drowning of big red truck aside!). We have a temporary fence in our flood prone areas, from which we need to retrieve our portable electric energiser. We have spent the odd night in town, and lent on friends and neighbours for beds when access is known to be dangerous. When a neighbour got in a spot of bother, our eldest boy rose to the occasion and calmly took charge until everyone was safe and well. It was a proud Dad moment.

Of course the rain isn’t all bad news. It allows the odd excuse to sit down and relax, whilst listening to the rain on the roof. Of course I should be tidying up the shed, and don’t even mention housework!

Somehow I think Sapphire agrees the housework can wait too ๐Ÿ™‚

Spring Update – It doesn’t always go to plan….

With the Bureau officially declaring another La-Nina year, we are looking forward to another wet year here on the Rock Farm. It means our tanks and dam will be full, the grass will grow, and we will be able to carry our cattle through to autumn. It also means another great year to establish trees and keep working on improving our natural capital.

Whilst this blog may be a little slow to get updates, it doesn’t mean we have been sitting idly on the Rock Farm. There have been lots of different activities keeping us busy. Some planned, some not planned, but all keeping us busy, fit and challenged.

Our beautiful cows, including the four maiden heifers all calved without any difficulty this year, giving us 16 gorgeous calves. With 10 heifers, 6 bull calves, we were thrilled with the result. The antics of the calves are constantly entertaining, and I am happy to admit I spend more time than I should with these creatures. They are naturally shy, but with their quiet mums watching by, their curiosity overcomes their fears, and we have been quite close to several of them.

Once all the calves were on the ground, we marked them. They all received a multi-spectrum 5-in1 vaccination, and we castrated the males (with rubber rings). The good news was that all the calves were polled, meaning we don’t have to de-horn any of them (which is a job I hate). The calves will get another booster vaccine in a few weeks to protect them from the common clostridial diseases found in cattle.  We also took the opportunity to audit the NLIS ear tags in each of the cows. This ensures that our records are accurate and up to date, should a biosecurity event such as Foot and Mouth disease enter Australia.

In other news we have continued our work dividing our paddocks into smaller cells. Taking the opportunity presented by creating a nature reserve in one paddock, we completed a small section of fence to divide the paddock into two smaller paddocks. This will help us better manage grazing in this area, continuing our Savory rotational grazing system.

We are continuing to plant trees on the Rock Farm. A friend kindly gave us 120 Cork Oak (Quercus Suber) seedlings. We have planted these in two main areas, to create wind breaks. These medium oaks are ever green, drought hardy and long lived. They are native to the Mediterranean area, and forests are carefully managed as these oaks provide the corks in wine bottles and the centre of cricket balls. We will use temporary electric fence to protect these seedlings in the short term before we build permanent tree guards. Huge thank you to Noel for his donation of these little beauties.

The sharp eyed among you would note in the background our Amarok ute has been replaced with white Hilux. Sadly our Amarok was written off after a particularly nasty pot hole cracked a suspension mount. Whilst our insurance company has been outstanding, they are finding it difficult to replace our ute. It was unexpected (I thought a suspension bush had failed) and whilst I am grateful for the loan of the Hilux with a tub body, it sure is a different set up to our old flat tray. I find it particularly awkward and impractical for our purposes and can’t wait for our replacement vehicle to get here.

It hasn’t been our year for mechanical devices on the Rock Farm. Our dear old Benz 911 truck Myrtle, suffered a catastrophic engine failure after I took it across our creek in deep water to retrieve the family from the other side. Whilst the air intake was above the water level, I hadn’t countered on the funnel effect which forced water up to the top of the radiator and into the top of the engine. The engine came to a complete stop. After dragging it out of the creek and to the shed with the tractor my worst fears were realised when I pulled the injectors and still couldn’t get the engine to turn over. This was of course no easy process, requiring the fabrication of two Benz ‘special tools’.

Whilst the OM352 engine fitted to Myrtle is common around the world, there aren’t many in Australia. There are a couple of turbo charged variants available (OM352A) but are expensive. I happened to mention my dilemma to our neighbour and he offered an engine from a spare truck at his place. It is an OM366 – which has the same block. It won’t be a straight swap – I will have to get creative – but the engine is far more affordable – and promises 60 extra horses! It might not make Myrtle any faster, but it might not slow down as much on hills! It hadn’t run in a few years, but after hooking up some new batteries, it fired up straight away – so is the path we are pursuing for now.

It means that any spare time I thought I had has been well and truly accounted for. I do love the challenges of the Rock Farm. From getting my hands dirty in the ground planting trees and chipping weeds, to working stock, to solving mechanical problems, it does stretch me. I might not love every minute of it all – but I wouldn’t swap it for the world…

Calving and a big dump of rain!

Calving is without a doubt my favourite time of year. It isn’t without its challenges, and requires twice daily (or more) checks just to make sure all is going to plan. As I write we have 13 beautiful calves on the ground, with a couple more stil to calve. The cows seem to understand what we are up to with our regular checks and seem quite happy with our presence. We only have one maiden heifer, and she gave birth to a bull calf without any issues which was a great relief. Regular readers will recall that Daisy had some difficulty calving last year, and despite my misgivings, remained on the farm. She hasn’t calved yet – indeed she might not even be in calf – but we are watching her closely.

Our gorgeous cows are lovely and quiet, however the new mums can be understandably a little more cautious around us. Over the past few years, any cow that has shown any form of aggression has been sold. That said, there are a couple who quitely let us know with a gentle shake of the head that we have approached close enough. We don’t put any more pressure on them. By sitting down a short distance away, those who want to come up and say hello are able to… and they sure make us smile.

We are calving a little earlier than last year. Whilst the soil moisture is great, the rain has reduced the solar gain on the pastures and hence grass growth is a little less than we expected. We are throwing out a bit of pasture hay, and are providing a magnesium lick to the cattle to support their nutrition requirements.

It is an unusually wet year, with the end of last week culminating in the largest flood waters we have seen on our creek since moving in. Our previous flood record was measured to the base of our front gate post. This most recent flood covered the gate and has fiven us a new height datum. A day of steady rain was followed by a sharp 30mm shower as the sun set. The resultant rise in the creek was mirrored with flooding throughout the district, with several roads cut. The family were safely marooned at home, and I ended up staying in town after work.

The following day the creek dropped, and required a bit of work to clear some of the debris off the crossing. Our neighbour was home and cleared the worst of it (thanks Stuart), allowing me to get home that evening. The following day, we continued to drag silt and logs off the drive way. The size of the timber moved downstream by the flood waters was phenomenal. Sadly several trees were ripped out of the creek banks. I haven’t yet established the extent of the damage, but I do know we have lost some creek bank, new trees and a temporary fence. Over the next week or two we will look rebuilding our flood gates and making the front paddock stock proof again.

It is all part of the cycle of the water way. For all the extra work the creek creates, it adds so much more to our property and we consider it an asset to the Rock Farm.

In the meantime, I will keep hanging out with the cows and enoying their company. It is good for the soul!

Special thanks to Stuart for clearing the debris so I could get home and to the Not-So-Little Helper for his amazing photos.

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.

Keeping a driveway

When we built our carport at the Rock Farm, we knew eventually we would have to do some work on the driveway. The carport has been one of the most useful additions to the liveability of our house – with the shade welcome in summer and the lack of frost a bonus in winter for early morning starts. Building the carport was a challenge (https://rockfarming.com/2019/11/22/making-shade/) however it also created other problems that we knew we would need to address one day.

The access to the carport used a track through the garden that had been formed but not used much for the next 40 years. A large concrete pipe carries the drive over a small gully. The problem is to do with the volume of water that comes down the gully. Normally the gully is dry or barely a trickle, however on occasion it comes in torrents, through the pipe and overflowing across the road. Jo always wanted a babbling brook outside the back door…. perhaps not with all-or-nothing features of this one!

When the water subsides, the damage becomes apparent. Over the past 18 months of regular driveway use and occasional floods, the remaining base has become narrower. An attempt to address some of the drainage was of limited success (https://rockfarming.com/2020/08/31/drainage-trees-cattle-and-some-sad-news/). With the driveway now unsuitable for anything but cars, it was time to call in our neighbour, who happens to have his own bob-cat and excavator business.

Lou is an absolute master of his machines, and made short work placing large concrete blocks to form a wingwall on both sides of the driveway. The laser dumpy level helped ensure the blocks were all on the same plane – making the job far neater and more precise than I could have achieved for a fraction of the time.

The last job for us to do was to install the headwall. For this I enlisted some school holiday labour. The boys were in a word fantastic, and were soon mixing the concrete to a perfect consistency. They learnt some important skills, and I really enjoyed the time working with them on this little mud pie project.

Lou also dropped a load of large recycled concrete over the boggy section – making our driveway a far safer all weather proposition…. well except for the last run up the hill to the house. But that will be a job for another day ๐Ÿ™‚

We are thrilled with the change to the driveway. Whilst it still isn’t finished properly, it provides far better access to the house for all vehicles, including RFS tankers. A special thanks to Lou for his mastery of his machinery and the school holiday helpers.

Hangry Man Welding

A couple of posts ago I promised that I would share the artistic talents of our eldest son. Those who know him would appreciate that this fellow views the world in very black and white terms. He is also the first to describe himself as not artistic at all, which makes the discovery of his hidden talent all the more remarkable.

One of our neighbours has a wonderful skill in making sculpture out of steel. We caught up before Christmas, and he heard that the not-so-little helper had enjoyed welding for the horse-float rebuild project (https://rockfarming.com/2020/07/14/little-helpers-holiday-project-part-five-and-final/). Dave very kindly invited the not-so-little helper to come and join him for a morning welding during the holidays, which he did.

And so has begun a marvellous journey of discovery.

After coming home with his first sculpture a stunning turtle, he quickly disappeared up into the shed and started looking for material and inspiration.

He called his next sculpture “Dragging Dad Along” with the hope that it would encourage me to buy him a new welder. It worked. He managed to convince me that the old stick welder he was using was limiting his style… so we bought him a nice little mig multi function welder and the production rate lifted significantly.

All of a sudden strange creatures started popping up in the garden, but it was his phone holder made out of an old stirrup that he named “Hangry Man” that caught his mother’s eye. In no time at all she had commissioned several more phone holders for the family.

Not only that – word spread and the not-so-little helper was commissioned to help repair a cracked weld in a friendโ€™s horse float. Unbeknown to me, he had to cut the trailer wiring in order to make a clean weld. When I came to check out his work, he had also soldered the wires back together and taped it all up neat as a pin.

It is great to see his confidence and skill improving all the time – and I have to admit he can do a much neater weld than I can. He will quite often disappear up into the shed to work away at his next project. In a world with so many digital distractions, it is great to see him getting his hands dirty.

I love seeing both my young men starting to hone their crafts. I hope to continue encouraging them by providing the means for them to follow their dreams.

In case you missed the video that our other son made, here is the link for it again: https://rockfarming.com/2021/02/08/2020-on-the-rock-farm-a-short-video/

The Summer Work Gang

This summer we have tried a new schedule of work on the Rock Farm. On weekdays the boys (and Mum) have fronted up for work at 8am sharp for a morning of ‘farm work’. At an appropriate time, we break for half an hour for morning tea – remember we are feeding people with the appetites of Hobbits. I have to ensure all farm work is completed by midday. This leaves the afternoon free for bike riding, reading and even the Xbox…. And boy have the lads been working hard.

You may recall last summer we tried to restore an old horse float, but due to the total fire bans and constant smoke, we achieved very little until later in the year. Outside work was limited to essential tasks to keep the cattle fed and watered. This year, the summer days have been far more pleasant, and we have managed to achieve far more than I hoped, crossing lots of little jobs off my never ending list.

Some of the jobs have bugged me since we moved in. Others have been more pressing, just as repairing fences. I have been trying (not always succeeding) to make the work fun, and if not fun, at least educational. What I have really enjoyed most though is just being together with my boys, watching them problem solve and see their sense of achievement when they realise they can actually do things now without me giving them the full instructions. I am starting to give them more responsibility for the outcomes – it is coming slowly, for them as well as me as we transition to our ‘management by intent’ principle. That said, I am immensely proud of what they have achieved, and really pleased with how we are slowly getting on top of the organisation of the Rock Farm..

We spent our first morning on the job pruning the garden, and the laneways ensuring fire truck access to our property. Both the boys have started driving Myrtle (Our old Benz LA911) this year… they never thought they could have so much fun chugging along at five kilometres per hour! The truck is pretty daunting for a 13 or 15 year old, but it is relatively easy to drive, with power steering and synchromesh on all gears. The hardest part is its sheer bulk of the truck, and the narrow width of our gates!

Under the principle that a little maintenance now stops a much bigger problem later, the boys also learnt a bit about building, as we repaired our old stable block. We needed to prop part of the roof, and re-secure trusses, replacing loose nails with screws. I gave the lads very little direction in much of this task, but was impressed as they rose to the occasion and soon the stables were in much better order than when we started.

Some parts of our ‘farm work’ were just good old fashioned hard work, with nothing to do but get stuck in. Cleaning up the hayshed was the worst. This area of the farm was a real mess, and I have been slowly bringing it in to order. In the past couple of years I had used our old roofing iron to weatherproof the walls, and installed a new pair of gates. With the outside looking smarter, it was time to turn our attention to the inside. With piles of fertiliser slowly rotting amongst old furniture and junk, I really appreciated the strong and willing labour. It took us three mornings of concerted effort to clean up the mess and spread the fertiliser on our back paddock (by hand!). In the process, we found some hidden gems, including an old shearing blade grinder. Once I checked the wiring was in order, the old grinder spun up straight away when I plugged it in!

But it hasn’t all been hard work. With the recent spike in COVID cases cancelling sporting carnivals, we had planned on taking a few days off just to relax. Like so many others though, we kept a close eye on travel restrictions that were becoming more difficult to achieve. We had to cancel our original holiday booking, but were still determined to get a break from the farm and have a bit of a holiday.

We packed the car with our camping gear, and drove for a couple hours through the southern tablelands, eventually ending up back where we began… in our front yard! We turned off the phones and other electronics, set up camp and spent a couple of blissful nights reconnecting with each other. It was truly wonderful, and allowed us to see our place with a fresh pair of eyes. We even used the back of the ute for a special screening of Disney Cars. The view was spectacular, and with the dam just a stones throw away for kayaking, the bike track through the garden for tricks and the hillbilly pool available for splashing, we might have just found our new favourite camp site!

I do love the many challenges of the Rock Farm. There are times the list of jobs I want to do here can feel a little overwhelming. Whilst I am loving my mornings of work with the boys, it was wonderful to take the opportunity to step away and appreciate the farm for what it is. It is our home and refuge in this crazy world. It is nice to slow down and enjoy the quiet every now and then.

Especially given the residents are always happy to see you ๐Ÿ™‚

Slashing Weeds (or is that tyres?) – Changing a Tractor Tyre

With the prodigious and welcome explosion of grass this season, We have been running machines that have done very little work in the past few years. And for old machines, especially old tractors, the maintenance requirements are a little higher. I have had to replace pins, stabilising chains on the three point linkage, and a tube in one of the front tyres. But I had been watching the right rear tyre of our old tractor with increasing dread.

In my a recent post, I explained how we had been using an old mulching or flail mower behind the tractor to knock down Paterson Curse and other weeds. We had put new tyres on the mower this year, which has allowed me to manage the height the mower works at more precisely and reduce the load on the top pin.

I have also been using the mulcher to create firebreaks around the house. The grass is still green at the base, but with the heat of the last few weeks, it has browned off and stopped growing. By slashing it now, I hope to maintain a zone of safety around our house and shed for this year’s fire season.

I had been watching the right rear tyre closely for a while. It was probably original fit to the tractor, making it over 45 years old, and was in much poorer condition than the left rear, an obviously much newer tyre. The tyre in question had several tears along the lugs, including one that had opened up and had the tube protruding.

I decided to err on the side of caution, and relocate the tractor to the shed to remove the wheel before it punctured. The main reason for this is I find it much easier to work in the shade and on a concrete floor at my convenience rather than in the paddock on a terrible slope at the worst possible time.

I was concerned the tyre would be too heavy for me to move. As feared, it was filled with ballast water. Before I undid the wheel nuts, I removed the valve stem, and admired the jet stream of water pouring out of the tyre onto the shelves in my shed. Once the water was mostly drained out of it, I found I was able to roll the tyre about easily enough. The boy’s trailer came into its own, with a handy tail ramp that I could roll the tyre up and into the trailer.

Even better, the local tyre shop was able to source a new tyre – the same brand and size as the one on the left hand side. They refilled the tube with air, and explained to me how to ballast it with water. On their advice, I parked the tractor with the valve at 10 o’clock, supported the axle with the jack and removed the valve stem. I then clamped a hose to the valve and started filling with water. Every minute or so I removed the hose, to allow the pressure to release. Once the tyre was full to the mark with water, I replaced the valve stem, rotated the tyre so the valve was at 12 o’clock and topped it up with air.

A huge thank you to the team at Douglas Tyre Service who had the tractor back in service, slashing weeds and clearing fire breaks two days later.

Drainage, Trees, Cattle and Some Sad News

The magical rain of a couple of weeks ago has continued the transformation of the Rock Farm. The rain has continued, mostly on weekends, with occasional bursts of hail and sleet, usually when the kids are in the middle of their weekend sport!

The ground is literally oozing water. Where I have put rip lines on the hillsides, the ground is soft. The cattle are sinking to their knees where the ground has been opened up, showing how effective the ripping has been in getting the moisture into the soil.

All the ground moisture is great in the paddocks, but not so great when the water is oozing over the driveway. A little section of our drive had become very boggy, and with no natural drainage, I needed to take some action. The tractor allowed me to easily dig a trench, and put some large poly-pipe under the road. Some hours with a mattock to dig a spoon drain has diverted much of the surface water off the drive, and through the pipes. The drive still hasn’t dried out enough for me to drive a car along this part of the drive. I’m not complaining though, I’m far happier stuck in mud than eating dust!

The ideal conditions have increased our determination to plant more trees this season. The yellow box (eucalyptus melliodora) trees we planted last year are doing well as are the Daimyo Oaks (quercus dentata) we planted along our driveway.

We took the chance to plant some Algerian Oak (quercus canariensis) and Californian White Oak (quercus lobata) to form a wind break west of the house. These magnificent trees grow well in local conditions once established. We bought half a dozen seedlings from the Digger’s Club to get going as our normal source trees didn’t have any acorns this year because of the drought.

In the meantime, the cattle’s bellies continue to grow. They will start calving in the next few weeks, so we are keeping a close eye on them. With the paddocks being so lush, I have some dolomite (magnesium) available for them, in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of bloat and grass tetany. We have been allowing them to graze the rich clover paddocks only for a few hours at a time, but they don’t appreciate being moved at the end of their session. Sapphire the Border Collie is mostly helpful, but remains a work in progress!

In some sad news, we bade farewell to Mater, the little quarter-horse with a heart of gold who lived next door. This fellow not only taught The-Now-Not-So-Little Helper the basics of riding, but reminded us all about what it means to love a horse. This little horse had defied all predictions and trekked the Bicentennial National Trail from Cooktown to Healsville a few years ago with his owners, Kathryn and Preston. This is where he (and Kathryn and Preston) came into our lives on their way south. With Kathryn and Preston away, I had been checking on their horses with even more enthusiasm than normal. Finding him dead in the paddock with his old friend Laurie watching over him was devastating.

Whilst he might have lived next door, we felt he was part of our family too. Over the years, this little fellow and his mates have received countless carrots and cuddles from all of us. He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace old friend.