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 friend’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 🙂

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.

Lifting Heavy Things

My wonderful wife often describes me as ‘Not a smart man, but he can lift heavy things’… Be that as it may, I am finding that as I get older, and the eyesight more blurry, all the things I am asked to move also get heavier. I am sure this has something to do with the increase in gravitational force as we fill the world with more useless noise, or something like that. But it has become apparent that I needed a better way of lifting heavy things.

For the really heavy stuff, I have the tractor. Old Lucie with the front end loader has routinely lifted very heavy objects for me, and since I replaced the hydraulic bypass valve and filter, it is performing exceptionally well.

But then there is everything else. I have plenty of bits and pieces in the shed, that are getting heavier year by year. And so I decided to do something about it.

My concept was that I needed something to lift around 150kg from the ground into the back of the ute. I also wanted something simple and low maintenance, with as few moving parts as possible. I initially looked at electric hoists, but quickly decided against them.

I settled on a simple mechanical pulley design. I had some old climbing rope, and figured with a couple of new blocks (pulleys), I could rig up a system that would allow me to lift heavy items such as generators into the back of the ute.

After being horrified at the quality of the blocks at a certain hardware store, I decided that the best option would be to buy some blocks from a place that specialises in such things. A yacht chandlery.

I put in a call to an old friend Ian who owns Franklin Marine down in Tasmania. Ian has years of experience sailing, including working on some beautiful tall ships, and has a background farming. He knew exactly what I wanted and sent me up a box of goodies in no time.

I had a great time running the line through the new blocks. Being stainless steel and designed for years of use in the harsh salt air, the blocks are excellent quality. With a becket on the single block, I was able to anchor the load line, effectively increasing my mechanical advantage. I welded a couple of gate hinges to the shed frame to form a cleat, and used an extra block to redirect the line. It was soon time to load test the new lifting hoist.

The becket allows the line to be anchored on the block with a ‘figure eight on a bight’

I asked the boys the million dollar question. If their combined weight is 120kg, how much effort do I need to put into pulling them skyward? The answers were wild and without reason.

From my memory, you simply add up the number of lines doing the work (not counting the line you are pulling). By counting three lines under load between the blocks, I should pull 3 metres of line to make the load move 1 metre. And if they weigh 120kg, then I will need to pull around 40kg to lift them up. Of course there is friction to take into consideration, and stretch of the line, which I usually add around 10% to, giving me a 44kg pull. The engineers in the family will be horrified by my rough assumptions, but I figure it is near enough for something you can work out at a glance.

If you’re interested in the load ratings.

  • 2000kg – the 13mm kernmatle line
  • 2000kg – the green strops
  • 2000kg – the quality sailing blocks
  • 450kg – the Mallion mounting the block to the rafters
  • ?????? – the rafters!

Good job I figure the best I could lift is only a fraction of the system’s design – it would be a little embarrassing to pull the shed roof down on me!!

Special thanks to Ian at Franklin Marine for all his help and excellent products. You can find his details on their webpage here: Franklin Marine

Pushing Water Up Hill

My last post was regarding some of the challenges I face on the Rock Farm. Mostly I love problem solving, however, every now and then it can feel a bit much. I’m lucky in that these feelings don’t last too long. Whether it’s kids or animals, there are so many wonderful opportunities to pick you up.

The belt on the lawnmower was easily replaced (once I selected the right one). The refrigerator was at the repair shop and beyond my control. I was confident I had fixed the car , even though it hadn’t been on a test drive further than the local post office, and the water pump was still not fixed.

So we did the best thing in the circumstances and disappeared for a few days of the school holidays. Nothing like bundling the family up in the as-yet-unproven car for a five hour drive to the coast to catch up with sun, warmth and family. Thankfully the car performed faultlessly. We were lucky the COVID-19 situation was stable enough for us to enjoy a couple of days in the school holidays catching up with the cousins.

Returning home and the white-good repair shop claimed the fridge was working perfectly with no sign of fault. The only thing remaing outstanding was the pump.

That pump…

Parts for the pump arrived in our absence, so I set to work the next morning, following the troubleshooting sequence from the owner’s manual. It took a while to figure out how to pull the old impeller out (it looked fine). I replaced the bearings and seals and put it all back together. It seemed to make all the right noises – but I still had the same problem – the pump couldn’t raise enough head (pressure) to reach the house.

The water jet passes through the venturi to help the pump draw water from a deep well (or low dam). It was slimy and cold. Oh so cold.

Next item to check from the owners manual was the the water jet at the intake. We pulled in the intake again, pulled it all apart and found a tiny stone wedged in the venturi. Ah ha, I thought and put it all back together – but the pump was still not pushing water up to the house.

That little stone was wedged in the venturi part of the jet… I had hoped this would fix the pump…

I pulled the pump apart again. Pulled the intake apart again. Had to bring down the old falcon ute with the tank to re-prime the line. I was out of ideas, cold, wet and hangry. It was time to take a break.

I can’t believe I am doing this again….

Around this time, the boy’s asked Mum to come and film them taking leaps on their newly constructed mountain bike track in the garden. And it was then Jo heard running water…

They’re crazy – and our garden looks like a disaster zone, but they’re having a blast. And they inadvertently led to a great discovery!

In a forgotten corner of the garden at the end of a spur line we found the leak. The pipe end plug fitting had come away, and the water was pouring down a natural drain, into the garden dam and then cycling back into the big dam…. I might have said EUREKA!!! But I think the actual record would reflect some other word with two less letters.

We set the pump running, celebrated the fact our toilets flushed, and moved the cattle back into their paddock to re-commence our cell grazing experiment. The good news is that through this process we seem to have fixed several minor problems. It used to take a couple of days to fill the header tank, but by the following morning the tank was full. The float valve in the tank at last seems to be working properly and at this particular moment in time, everything seems to be in order. I am sure this moment will pass quickly, but for now, it was a chance to breathe a sigh of relief and focus on the next project…. lifting heavy things.

Problem Solving….

One of the things I love about living on the Rock Farm is the challenges that it throws my way. I find myself one minute learning about the life-cycle of earth worms, and the next researching how to change impellers on pumps, or learning about resistance in electrical circuits. I know that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most people prefer to live in houses where everything just works. And just for a moment last week, I was one of them.

In my last post, I revealed that we were pleased to be seeing progress on the Rock Farm. I should have known better than to brag…..

The first thing to break was the lawn mower. A particularly tough tussock caused the drive belt to slip and then before I could disengage the deck, the belt snapped.

The repair was simple. I ordered a new belt online and it was delivered three days later. Unfortunately I selected the wrong belt (there are two belts in these zero turn mowers). After realising this error, I decided to drop in and pick up a new belt from the local dealer. The dealer had none in stock. Two weeks and a couple of phone calls later I am still waiting for the belt to arrive….

The next thing to go awry was the ute. Having only just replaced the engine at great expense, I was alarmed when the glow-plug light started flashing, indicating a potential problem with the exhaust system. A quick check of the OBDII code had me terrified that the DPF (diesel particulate filter) had failed.

Thankfully I had a more advanced diagnostic tool and it revealed that one of the exhaust gas temperature sensors was malfunctioning. After unplugging all the sensors and putting them back one at a time, I was able to confirm which sensor was throwing the fault. YouTube helped me diagnose that the sensor was working correctly (resistance within the correct range) and the voltage at the other end of the plug was also correct. I ended up making a little harness to bridge the plug – and everything seemed to work – for a while.

It took me several frustrating attempts to determine that the sensor was reading the correct resistance only when the engine was cold. At some point it was failing when it warmed up. Don’t ask how many times I tested the resistance, until I worked that out. Once I was comfortable that the sensor was indeed stuffed, I then had the challenge of removing it. I needed midget hands, octopus arms, the strength of a gorilla and some helpful advice from the neighbour (and his useful universal joint driver) to get the old one out. A bit of work with the angle grinder on a 17mm ring spanner and I had the perfect tool to install a new OEM sensor, that was delivered in three days. A win!

Just as I thought I was on top of things, I came home from a long day at work to be greeted by my wonderful family with two new crisis. The first was that our refrigerator had turned into a cupboard and wasn’t cooling anything. The second was the toilets weren’t flushing.

The refrigerator was frustrating. It had only been back for just on a month after three week stay at the repair shop for the same fault. It didn’t take long for the helpers and I to load it in the horse-float to take back to the repairers for a warranty claim. That done, it was time to focus on the water.

No water in the toilets is an inconvenience in the house. The toilets are flushed with dam water, so the work-around is to flush the toilets with buckets of potable water from the laundry sink. The larger problem was the dam water also supplies all the water troughs.

And the Cattle were in a paddock watered by a trough.

It was bitterly cold and well after our bed time when Jo and I went down with Sapphire to move the cattle to a paddock with a dam. The cattle were super excited to see us. After 20 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to move them, both Jo and I were getting frustrated with the cattle, the dog and each other. It is moments like these when you question why we aren’t living in a shiny modern townhouse where everything just works.

It was time to call it, but I thought I would have a better chance on my own. Jo was grateful to be released back to the warm bliss of the house. Sapphire would have loved to stayed, but was being less than helpful, and was ordered back to the house too. After one more lap around the paddock with the cattle I shone the torch at the open gate. The girls looked at me, looked at the gate and happily trotted through the gate and waited for me to show them the next open gate. 10 minutes later I was closing the gate on their new paddock…

The immediate problem was averted, but the solution hasn’t yet been found.

Our rural plumbing arrangement has been an amazing exercise in patience. Close to 50 years of frosts, cars, cattle and horses seem to have made the pipes brittle and the joints liable to leak. The only problem this time was there was no leak. In fact with the pump running, we had no water in the system at all. The pump seemed unable to raise the water as far as the first tap in the line.

My first thought was that we had a blockage at the foot valve in the dam. Some chilly moments near the water’s edge revealed that whilst it was a little crusty, the foot valve seemed to be working as it should.

A bit of work following pipes has been interesting. Taps we thought were on the main line from the pump are actually on spur lines. One thing is for sure, I am getting a much better understanding of what lies under the ground the longer I live here! Unfortunately there is nothing here to suggest a blockage, so I am back to square one.

Google reckons that I need to check the intake and venturi, which I have done. The next item is the impeller could be worn. After goodness knows how many years of pumping dirty dam water, this is a distinct possibility. Thankfully Google also found a supplier of parts for our old Davey pump, and I eagerly await their arrival to see if my prognosis is correct.

All in all it has been a frustrating week or so. I have a broken mower, broken refrigerator and no farm water. On the plus side, I did get the ute back on the road after learning about how temperature sensors work.

But would I trade it for a shiny house in the city with all the modern conveniences? Not on your life.

Winter paddock rotations

On the Rock Farm we are continuing our rotation of cattle to fresh pastures, using the regenerative principles of Allan Savory. The cattle manage a pretty good job of eating the grass and a lot of the leafy weeds however they aren’t so keen on the woody weeds or thistles. After I rotate them out of their paddock, it is often worth slashing the remaining weeds, and then following up with the hand chipper a few days later.

The old tractor and mulcher make short work of the weeds and it doesn’t take long for the paddock to look like a lawn. The mulcher also breaks up dry cowpats and leaves the clippings to mulch back into the soil. Using this process I hope to slowly increase soil microbial activity, and encourage productive grasses to out-compete weeds. This technique has been effective against thistles so far, and whilst there are still plenty of weeds in the paddock, I am loathe to use chemicals to control them.

The shot above compares the freshly mulched paddock with the paddock the cattle were in previously, only a couple of weeks ago. The previously grazed paddock is recovering quickly, with healthy patches of barely grass, cocksfoot and clover growing despite the cool weather.

One of the great pleasures this rotation brings is the antics of the cows when you invite them to a new paddock. They carry on like newborn calves – despite their own ever increasing bellies! I love it.

The girls settled quickly into their new paddock – however I needed to duck down and make a small repair to their water trough. The cows not only came over to check out my work, they also gave poor Sapphire the border collie cross a fright. She didn’t know what to do when some gentle (but very big) brown faces came snorting through the window. She placed herself very much in the middle of the seat, as far away from the open windows as she could and kept a very close eye on the inquisitive bovines.

Winter is firewood harvest time. Our neighbours have a great stand of red-box regrowth that we had selectively thinned for firewood about 18 months ago. With that block being recently sold, we took the opportunity to collect the timber we had previously cut. The reason we selected young green branches and trees to harvest is that it encourages the remaining trees to grow large and straight. It ensures we aren’t removing habitat from the area, as most of the hollows required for nesting birds and reptiles are in the large old trees – like the brittle gum below. It also means the timber doesn’t need splitting either – a bonus. We have planted red-box trees on our property, and will be sure to harvest more seed from other red-box trees this year in order to re-establish a stand of these magnificent trees on one of our ridges.

In the meantime we have been slowly working through some of the piles of wire and steel that have been scattered around the Rock Farm. Over the past couple of years we have slowly rounded up dozens of 44 gallon drums, old gates, star pickets, and tyres. They have all been taken to our ‘resource centre’, and some of the steel being recycled at our local tip.

At times it seems like a never ending task, but every now and then we look back and see progress. Whilst it might not add to our little farm’s overall productivity, it does make the farm safer, and improves its appearance. It fits with our philosophy of trying to leave the land in better condition than how we found it.

The only problem is that my wife sees in every pile of scrap an opportunity.. Getting her to help me clean up the farm usually creates more projects than I finish, as her imagination transforms the items into wind-breaks, chook sheds, garden trellises and so on. And I must admit, that isn’t a bad thing 🙂

Getting Winter Ready

As the cooler weather comes to the Rock Farm, I have been busy trying to get everything set up for winter. Whilst our country isn’t cold enough to bring the cattle into sheds or barns over winter, my main focus has been increasing our soil moisture and pasture health to ensure our cattle have plenty of feed.

After trialing rip lines on different parts of the Rock Farm, I found we had most success ripping along the contours of our slopes. With a little rain forecast recently, I took the opportunity to put some more rip lines in a small paddock near the house. The forecast 10mm fell , and it was great to see the effectiveness of the rip lines in slowing the water down and allowing it to penetrate the soil. This was particularly evident in areas where the soil is hard, compact and especially hydrophobic. I hope this will encourage pasture to grow in these areas.

Another area we have been working on our pasture and soil health is on our alluvial flats. Regular readers may recall that we recently split our 5.6Ha flat paddock into three smaller paddocks (https://rockfarming.com/2020/04/21/autumn-school-holiday-project-new-paddocks-on-the-rock-farm/). The reason for this is that the cattle were selectively grazing their favourite grasses, and leaving the less palatable weeds. By making three smaller paddocks, we encourage them to heavily graze the paddock, weeds and all. A long period of rest allows the pasture to regenerate and this technique has been shown to improve the pasture quality.

Our experiment is still in its early stages, however the initial results are promising. After putting the cattle in the first of our paddocks for a couple of weeks, they had grazed the grass and most of the weeds. After moving the cattle out of the paddock, I ran the mulcher over the paddock to knock down remaining weed heads (hopefully before they had run to seed).

Three weeks later and the grass is growing. The photo above left shows an area that a few months ago was all tall thistles. The pasture in this area is now strong and competing with young thistle plants. I spent about half an hour with the chipper just working on the odd patches of young thistles, and hopefully will prevent them from growing to seed. The cattle have been moved to the next paddock and we hope to repeat the cycle in that paddock too.

Meanwhile the rest of the farm is being rested. One of my greatest pleasures is taking walks around the farm and observing the recovery of the other pastures. The change in moisture has encouraged some species of grass, like the Cocksfoot above left, to seed. If you look closely, you will see a Ladybird making the most of the shelter. These pleasures make all the effort of living out here all worthwhile.

But it doesn’t take long for reality to bite.

I arranged for a load of pasture hay to be delivered. This hay is insurance for a dry winter or a poor spring. I also look at the hay as fertilizer. It brings nutrients onto the farm, that the cattle will process into the perfect soil food. The hay took a little longer to unload as the tractor seemed to struggle to lift and move the bales – whereas it has previously lifted bales that weigh twice as much…

There is a constant requirement for maintenance and repair on any farm, and ours is no exception. Since mulching the first paddock’s weed, the tractor’s hydraulics had become problematic. The hydraulic pump was making horrible noises, and I feared that the diagnosis of a burnt out pump or bearing would be terminal for our old tractor.

A bit of research online started to lead me towards thinking I might have a problem with the bypass valve. On our tractor this is located low on the chassis, with the hydraulic oil filter. Thankfully the former owner gave me the Owner’s Manual and a new filter when I purchased the tractor. The manual described how to replace the filter and more importantly how to clean the fine mesh of the bypass valve. The clean and new filter was an undoubted success with the tractor hydraulics performing like new again! Phew.

I should have done the maintenance before the load of hay arrived, but I was terrified I’d break something and have no means of unloading the hay. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

So now I have a shed full of winter hay, a tractor that is fully operational and paddocks that seem to be becoming more productive. I love nothing more than my ambles around the paddocks. Life is good on the Rock Farm.

Best I turn my attention to that other winter activity – harvesting some firewood.

The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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