Fencing and moving sheep

The new Rock Farm was set up originally to spell race horses.  As such its paddocks were all made with plain wire.  Later cattle were run on the property, and an electric wire or hot wire was installed.  Sadly running sheep wasn’t a concern, and we found very quickly that we would need to work on improving the fences quickly in order to rotate the sheep through the paddocks on the farm.

I have decided that the best thing I can do it work on a paddock at a time, and concentrate on making it stock proof.  I chose a 5.6 hectare paddock, that despite its small size has over 1 kilometre of fencing around its perimeter.   The first thing to do was remove the branches that had fallen on or were about to fall on the wires.

Ideally I will install a stock mesh on the fences, but for now the cheapest and easiest solution was to fix up the existing plain wire fences.

On some sections of fence I had to install a bottom wire through the bottom hole of the star picket.  This wire in most fences would  be at ground level, however these pickets are barely in the ground.  Every fourth post is a concrete post that has been dug into the ground, providing most of the stability required.  The wire spinner is invaluable when it comes to running out wire on your own.  We found this old one behind the shed and after replacing the timbers and a few days soaking in WD40 it was restored to normal operation.

In other sections of the fence, the bottom wire was broken.  This required me to join wires and strain the sections.  One of the best knots for joining wire is called the ‘Figure of 8’, for obvious reasons.  For some reason, I found it difficult to make, having to really think through it every time I made it.  It is a great knot as it doesn’t reduce the wire’s strength.  Thankfully I got better as the day went on.

Image result for figure of 8 fencing knot

Edit – The image above shows the correct figure 8 knot… it seems I didn’t get it right after all….

Source:   https://www.kencove.com/fence/100_Fence+Construction_resource.php


To strain the wire tight I used an old set of Hayes wire strainers.  The design of these strainers hasn’t changed in over 100 years.  They are simple, reliable and need very little maintenance.  The amount of purchase you can achieve with these strainers is immense, and once you have the technique, they are incredibly versatile.  I went around the paddock, straining the bottom two wires, which are the ones the sheep will put the most pressure on.

And then it was a simple case of bringing the sheep in.  A nice bucket of fresh oats, and a few loud “C’m’on” they came running… well almost.

Seventeen of Nineteen sheep followed me excitedly to the new paddock.

One ewe and her lamb eyed the open gate with suspicion and disappeared back into the paddock.  I have had a run in with this ewe before – she was particularly difficult to muster when we moved here.  In case of such an eventuality I had the boys ready on their four stroke steeds, and I thought they would have her rounded up in no time.

I was wrong.  For the next hour and a half all the whole family was pressed into service to try and push her out of her paddock.  And she refused.  Just as I was on the point of finding a very permanent solution for her lack of motivation, she must have read my thoughts.  She trotted through the gate calmly as you like, and continued up the lane and into the new paddock.

By then it was already well past 30 degrees, and the forecast for the following day was going to be just shy of 40 degrees.  We decided that the Rock Farm could do without us for a day, and decided to take the next day off and make a dash to the coast.

As much fun as swimming in the dam on the Rock Farm is, it doesn’t beat the salt water waves of the coast.  Sometimes you just gotta take a road trip!


Some more on weeds

It has been a hot few days on the new Rock Farm.   I will talk about our fire-plan in the near future, but in the mean time I have been researching some of the weeds that I have identified on the property, and developing strategies on how we will deal with them.

The best place to learn about weeds in our area is the NSW DPI (Department of Primary Industries) WeedWise website http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/.  The NSW WeedWise page is a wealth of information about what plants are listed as declared weeds in NSW, including priority weeds for different regions.

They also have a handy WeedWise App, which I have downloaded onto my pocket brain.  This means I have access to the full weed database and recommended treatment options all the time.


Managing weeds is the responsibility of the land owner.  Sadly infestations of certain weeds can render arable farmland next to useless.  It is also the source of much frustrations between neighbours particularly given the way most weeds spread with no regard to fences or boundaries.

Whilst I would love to ensure our weed management practice is chemical free, I don’t believe this will be achieved in a timely or cost effective manner.  The WeedWise site and app provide information on chemical free, mechanical and selective grazing weed removal techniques, as well as methods using chemicals.

But no matter what technique you use, the best time to start is the present!

Tree of heaven

Tree of Heaven – source http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/Details/142

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus Altissima) is a plant of Chinese origin that is highly invasive and quickly chokes an area.  I have found one large plant and dozens of suckers in one of the old horse holding paddocks.  Mechanical removal requires the removal of all root matter as it will readily shoot from the smallest remaining root.  This will take concerted effort to get rid of, and will be best approached with a combination of mechanical and chemical methods.

Sweet Briar – (Rosa Rubiginosa) Is common in a lot of our paddocks.  Sheep eat young plants whilst goats will defoliate and ringbark the plants, killing it.  I have slashed a number of these plants in the paddock the sheep are in, hoping that the sheep will eat the young shoots as it re-sprouts.  Apparently cattle don’t eat Sweet Briar – meaning sheep stay part of the wholistic management process for this weed.

Hawthorn (Crataegus Monogyna) is also present but thankfully in only small numbers.  I will try to keep on top of the Hawthorn thickets and ensure they are mechanically slashed and see if the sheep will keep on top of the suckers.  The only catch to all this is I need to ensure my paddocks are sheep proof – and this will take additional work!

Serrated Tussock (Nassella Trichotoma) is common on our property.  It made its way to Australia during the Gold Rush of the 1850s where it was used as stuffing in saddles.  Not palatable for stock, it is most cost effectively controlled by spot spraying individual plants.  The main chemical, flupropanate can also be applied in a granular form using a device similar to a salt shaker.  The granules will activate in rain and provide a long term herbicide against re-germination of the plant, with minimal effect on other pasture, or it can be sprayed in a solution form.

Weed control is one of many competing demands on my time at the new Rock Farm – but I hope to have these plants under control and better managed within a year or so.  If anyone is keen to come and help me chip out some weeds, I’ll gladly shout you lunch!


Fencing on any rural block is a challenge. The old story of the grass is always greener on the other side holds true for some of my sheep – despite my best efforts. And to make matters worse, kangaroos and wombats hold modern fencing in scant regard. It seems the native animals hold onto ancient paths, and fences are mere obstacles that must be pushed under or through.  

Boundary fencing adds another challenge to the mix… The of inclusion another person into the mix. With around 4km of boundary fencing and 4 neighbours on our hundred acre block, it is no small concern.

The basic principle of boundary fencing is that both parties have an equal responsibility to maintain the fence.  This means you both pay for the fence, you both maintain it, and when the time comes, you have to agree to replace it. 

And fencing is bloody expensive.

We had a stretch of about 150 metres of our boundary fence that had long passed its usefulness. My neighbour had been hinting for years we needed to do something about it, and finally we got our act together.

It also helped that we had some cheap labour come and visit… So with agreement reached, materials sourced and labour on hand, it was time to crack on.

The first job was to replace the rotten strainer post. We gave the new post a few days to settle before we pulled out the old fence.  The old fence was all timber. We split the wire out of the old red box timber posts, but left the lighter stringybark spreaders in place. 

The old wire was rolled into two bundles, and then it was time to bang in the new star pickets.  We got our line by stringing a line of barbed wire first. This wire ended up being moved and tied to the top of the pickets.

It was all hands on deck…for a while at least. Unfortunatly our neighbour was ill, and unable to assist (provide adult supervision).  So we did our best.

Once the posts were all in, we moved the barbed wire to the top of the pickets, and then strung the plain wire.  This was only the second time I had used a wire spinner, and this tool was fantastic at ensuring the wire spun tangle free through the posts. 

Finally the hinge lock mesh was rolled out, strained. The end result was a fantastic new stretch of fence… that makes the other sections look decidedly shabby.

We were able to salvage the old wire. Jo thought it would be perfect to reinforce the base of the orchard/vegetable garden. Our chooks live here, and occasionally rabbits and foxes do visit. So the old netting was cleared of its wire and repurposed.  The old plain and barbed wire was respun using the same wire spinner (doubly brilliant), and will be turned into garden art – or sold.

We used the opportunity to clean up some other netting that had been left lying in another paddock. This hadn’t been neatly rolled, but a handy set of hay forks soon helped move it from its resting place and to the steel recycling area at the local tip.

And so, we ended up with a great new section of fence.  And a skilled up labour force ready to start working on dividing our paddocks up into smaller cells. I just need t o find some time…

Special thanks to the willing labourers, and best wishes to our poorly neighbour.

Road Gang for Hire

Living on the Rock Farm brings us so much pleasure and enjoyment that we often forget some of the other disadvantages of living at the end of a gravel road.  Whilst our gravel road provides us with a quiet refuge from the pace of modern society, it is not on the local Council’s regular maintenance schedule.   And whilst the recent wet weather has been welcomed on the Rock Farm, it has wreaked havoc with our road.

With the pot holes reaching wheel swallowing size, it was time to call in a favour and recruit a new Road Gang.

Our neighbour David owns a tractor and has a gravel pit on his place.  David’s tolerance of pot holes is even less than mine, and he regularly fills in some of the worst of the holes on the road.  His efforts are very much appreciated by all of us, but it was time that the Little Helpers were recruited to bolster the road maintenance program.

And they loved it.  David kindly loaded our trailer with a bucket or two of great gravel, and we put the boys to work.  After many years of making mud pies, and digging holes in all the wrong places, it was great to see their handiwork with a shovel extended to constructive projects too.

They even decided they could take a moment to strike their ‘best Council Worker pose’.

Our work here is far from completed.  After emptying the trailer in the worst of the road, we dropped it off at David’s, with a ‘fill it up please’, so we can do it all again.  I hope the Little Helper’s enthusiasm remains for the next load… and the next… and the next. 🙂 

So how hard can changing a clutch be? Really?

One of the joys about living on the Rock Farm is being miles from the hustle and bustle of modern day life.  It is also one of its drawbacks, with round trips into the big city being at least a 100km journey.  This means that our cars end up driving lots of kilometres each year.  And eventually this catches up with you with a big maintenance bill.

Eventually you get to a point where a car becomes uneconomic to repair, and you are forced to get a new(er) one.  One of the ways we try to hold off this expensive option is to do some of the maintenance work on one of the cars ourselves.

Now dropping the oil and kicking the tyres is one thing, but our little Subaru was starting to make all sorts of new groans and noises.  Completely understandable after the past 270 000km of its life.  So we were faced with a  decision – repair or replace.

A short walk around a few car yards made the decision easy.  Repair was to be our choice.  With our long term mechanic finally closing his doors a couple of years ago, we have been unable to settle on a mechanic.  So I decided to give the job a go, myself – well not quite by myself – I did have a couple of little helpers.

With YouTube research confirming any old hack can replace a clutch and replace the timing belt, I decided to give it a go.  With parts alone amounting to over $1500 it wasn’t a gamble I really wanted to get wrong. An extra $75 for a workshop manual and another $99 for a chain block, it was time to swing the first spanner and give it a red hot go.

And give it a go we did. The Little Helpers were fantastic, holding the light just right, for almost long enough before deciding to create interesting shadows on the wall. The intracies of the mechanical marvel that is the internal combustion engine might have been lost on them, but it was a good introduction that most mechanical machines can be maintained. Not all of them are disposable items in this consumer driven society.

One of the advantages of this modern consumer scoiety however is the little camera that doubles as a phone.  I was able to take lots of photos during the disassembly, which greatly aided the reverse process!

I had a few nervous moments installing the new timing belt, with the explicit and direct warnings of the workshop manual burning into my brain that severe engine damage will occur if you get any part of this wrong. There is nothing like putting the cover back on and discovering there is a new pulley still sitting in the box! We also faced the problem that the water pump provided in the kit was from an earlier model and required a different flange for the radiator hose. The right bit cost $10 and half a day from a local wrecker).

I considered replacing the whole engine with an exchange unit, however if I was going to go down that path, I would also replace the gearbox, radiator, alternator, and a whole heap of other bits and pieces.  We would also need to re-bush the suspension, and so on.  Mind you, as we went along, the Flintstone model (below) was looking mighty attractive!


But it all went reasonably well.  A friend lent me a magic 12 volt impact driver that made short work of the flywheel bolts and crankshaft pulley, without which the job would have been impossible.  Putting it all together was another exercise in methodical and careful checking, but we got there in the end.  The car started with an almighty screech from  one of the drive belts, but a quick adjustment to the power steering pump soon fixed that and we were back on the road.

All up it took about two and a half days – including the half day lost due to the trip to the wreckers.  The result is definitely worth it.  Thanks to Chris, Pa and the Little Helpers for their assistance during this exercise, and to Jo who managed to find the odd little tools and bits in town that made life a whole heap easier.

Would I do it again?  Hopefully not for another quarter of a million kilometers!

Pump woes on the Rock Farm

One of the joys of living on a rural property is beautiful fresh rainwater stored in your own tank.  The water tastes fresh, is free from chemical impurities and is deliciously soft.  It is your water, and you can use as much or as little of it as you like.  The consequences of your usage are yours alone to deal with.  It is a wonderful part of living on your small farm.

Until your pump dies.   And then you need to get it fixed. Quickly.

We were in a fortunate position that our pump gave us warning it was on the way out.  It would fail to operate, and a simple reset by turning it off and on again would fix it.  For a while at least.  When the interval between resets became daily, it was time to take action.

Davey Pumps were called, and their technical department were most helpful.  They told me that the most likely culprit was the pressure switch in the controller.  The type of controller we had fitted hadn’t been made in around 20 years, giving us some indication of the age of the pump.

I was advised to take the pump to a repair agent, where the pump could be bench tested.  One phone call later, and the pump was booked in the following morning for a thorough inspection.

The pump was easy enough to remove.  The worst bit was the cold fingers on the chilly morning easing the pipe fittings from the pump.

And in no time at all, the pump was in a tub on its way to town for inspection.

After a few hours, I was told that the pump itself was in good condition, however the controller was indeed stuffed.  Thankfully the new controllers are compatible with the older pumps, meaning we were able to fit the new controller.  A few minutes work and some new plumbing tape and the pump was reinstalled and working a charm.

This little process taught me the value of buying a quality Australian made pump, particularly for critical components such as house water.  The service and support offered was excellent, and instead of buying a complete replacement unit, I was able to save a small fortune by buying just the component I needed.

I am looking forward to another twenty years of trouble free water supply 🙂

Water Water – Improving a watering system

When we moved to the Rock Farm, our garden was irrigated by dam water, pumped by a petrol pump.  To water the garden, we would have to walk down to the dam with a can of petrol, and try to start the pump.  More often than not, the pump would be hard to start and our garden would be left parched and dry for another day.

The first step was to give the petrol pump a service, and to build a small shelter or pump house for the pump.  This helped considerably, and the pump is now far easier to start.  But it was still a long way from the house, and turning a tap on to water the garden required a considerable effort.

Water water - Improving an irrigation system

Petrol pumps are useful for moving large volumes quickly, but are tiresome when used to water gardens

Something had to be done, and we decided on a two-phase approach.  The first phase was to install a header tank up near the house, with an electric pump on it that could water the garden on demand.  The second phase was to replace the petrol pump with a solar pump and ball valve that would keep the header tank full at all times.

The most cost-effective tank for its size is the 5 000 gallon / 22 500 litre poly tank, and we ordered one from our local rural supplier.  It arrived a week or so later and was carefully placed (dropped) from the truck on my leveled site.  Thankfully I was able to move the tank into the right position with a couple of ropes and the four-wheel drive.

Water water - Improving an irrigation system

Positioning the water tank – using four-wheel assistance

The plan was for the existing piping system to remain largely unchanged.  A short extension was added from the 2 inch feeder pipe to allow the tank to be filled by the existing petrol pump.  I needed a mechanism to bypass the new electric pump, so I added a  few valves to allow me to fill the tank, and then run the electric pump from the tank back into the piping system.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Plumbing inspector checks the scope of work

It took a while and a few attempts to get the piping installed and checked for leaks.  In the configuration below, the petrol pump on the dam can be run to fill the tank.  Once the tank is filled, I can then switch two valves and use the electric pump to irrigate the garden.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Testing for leaks – always a nervous moment… can you spot the little drip?

The fittings I used are good quality, but decidedly expensive.  The pump is a cheap one, but easily replaced should I need to.  I have found cheap fittings don’t last, but have had good luck with the cheaper pumps.  To give the pump a bit of protection from the weather, I also built a small shelter for it.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Building the pump shelter

We leave the power switched off and the tank isolated when not in use, as we have a few leaks in the irrigation system that I am still working through.  That said, it is much easier for us to open a valve and turn on the power to have water on demand in our garden.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

All done

During the peak of summer, we were able to water our garden every couple of days, without the difficulties of starting the old petrol pump.  We found that because we could use the water easily, we did use the water, and we were able to nurse new fruit trees through the worst of the summer without loss.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

And now water restrictions are lifted, we can use the water for all sorts of important things, like seasoning new swags!

The second phase of our plan – the solar pump on the dam – has been relegated to the bottom of the priority list for the next few years.  The little Honda pump keeps working away without fault, and now I am only running it once or twice a month, my tolerance and patience with it is much less likely to wear out.  It also provides a good redundancy in case of bush fire.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Old faithful gains a reprieve!

Oops – Simple plumbing repairs are sometimes necessary

Whilst a bubbling brook by the back door sounds wonderfully peaceful, there is nothing peaceful about finding a new water source with a jack hammer.  This happened to me the other day, and caused me some angst.

I was digging to put a new fitting on some 2 inch poly pipe.  I had carefully followed the pipe and avoided the water inlet to the house.  As I found the pipe I was looking for, I brought the jack hammer in to expose the pipe so I could clean it prior to fitting the new joiner, when all of a sudden, water shot up at me.

Jackhammer hits a water pipe

Oops…. The mighty hound is not impressed.

As is always the way when I have just broken something or done something spectacular, Jo arrived and surveyed my handiwork.   So I did  the only sensible thing I could think of.  I enlisted her help to bucket out the water and survey the damage.

Clearing around the broken pipe

Digging reveals the extent of the damage

As feared, I had penetrated a down pipe.  The pipe was full of water destined for our water tank.  It was imperative that I get the pipe repaired as soon as possible.  At this point in time, I could have called a plumber to come and have a giggle at my expense – or I could have a go at repairing the joint myself.

The problem with repairs to 90 mm pipe that is embedded in the ground, is that you can’t use two slip joints to repair the pipe.  I had to use a flexible rubber joint – and of course I didn’t have one of those in the shed.

After a quick dash to town for the relevant bits, it was a simple process to cut out the damaged pipe (it was cracked as well as holed).  After a trial fit, the slip joint was glued into position.  The flexible joint was then slid up over the gap and the hose clamps tightened.  I used a smear of waterproof lubricant to make it easier to slide the flexible joint over the pipe.

Slip joint and flexible coupling repair to 90mm pipe

Testing for leaks

After refilling the system with water (including several flushes) the system was checked and found to be holding water.

Repair complete - 90mm down pipe and poly pipe repair

Repairs complete

I was then able to put the new joint on the rural poly pipe above the down pipe and declare the little job completed.

Well – there was the small matter of filling in the hole and relaying the bricks, but the hard bit was done!