More trees for the Rock Farm

My first lockdown project was addressing an immediate need for nesting sites for birds that naturally nest in hollows. The second lockdown project has a much longer timeframe before we will see the rewards. Instead of building nesting boxes for trees, we were planting tube-stock trees to restore native habitat and control erosion on the Rock Farm. With a nearby nursery specialising in local species, and a forecast wet spring, the conditions seemed ideal for us to continue our efforts in planting trees.

We were fortunate to secure 110 native tube stock plants from Damien at ACT and Southern Tablelands Nursery (https://windbreaktrees.com.au/). Our plants ranged from Red Box (E. polyanthemos) and Yellow Box (E. melliodora), to others such as Grey Box (E. microcarpa), Apple Box (E. bridgesiana) and other native trees that are being trialed in our area. Given our short notice, we sadly didn’t get any Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata), one of the key food sources for the Glossy Black Cockatoo.

Over the next couple of days Jo and I put our tubestock in the ground. We again found the Hamilton Tree Planter invaluable, however many holes also needed a good working over with the crow-bar to open up the ground for the tap roots to penetrate. Each tree was then provided a scoop or two of mulch, and then protected, either with a tree guard or with cut branches. It was exhausting work, and whilst there are easier ways to plant trees en-masse, we were able to get them placed where we wanted for best effect.

The last couple of trees we planted we learnt about on a lap around the country a few years ago. We planted three Bunya Pines (Araucaria bidwillii) as the rain came down. Whilst they occur naturally in the Bunya Mountains in SE Queensland, there are some magnificent specimens of this tree in our region that pre-date European settlement. The Bunya Mountains was a site of many great meetings of the indigenous people for thousands of years. At these corroborees, held when the trees bore nuts every three years or so, law was made, disputes settled, marriages arranged and the seeds from the tree dispersed. It seemed that the weather wanted these trees to have the best possible start with a good shower of rain falling as we put the last ones in the ground. We might have been cold and wet, but my heart was singing.

It was extremely rewarding work, and whilst my back and shoulders were sore, I know my aches will be temporary. I hope that these trees will grow and provide shade, shelter and habitat for our native friends on the Rock Farm, whilst protecting our soil. As I sat back watching the sun set after the last tree was planted, nature put on a spectacular light show. I am sure it is a good omen.

A huge thank you to Damien at ACT and Southern Tablelands Nursery (https://windbreaktrees.com.au/) for his excellent quality tube-stock and advice. If you want one tree, or a hundred, Damien will be able to help you pick the one you need.

If you build it, they will come… I hope

A few weeks ago I caught a fleeting glimpse of a Barn Owl (Tyto Alba) hard at work reducing the local mouse population. These beautiful creatures are one of the most widespread birds of prey in the world, and I held my breath as I watched her at going about her business.

Seeing this magnificent bird got me thinking about the balance of nature, and especially what do about our population of mice. Sure I could lay poison for the rodents, but then I risked killing the owls through secondary poisoning. The problem is not too many mice, but too few birds of prey like the Barn Owl.

The biggest limitation on our population of birds here on the Rock Farm is the number of suitable nesting sites. A lot of birds nest in hollows, and unfortunately these take a long time to form naturally. Whilst the Rock Farm has been blessed with innovative and forward thinking tree planting in the past, sadly there are very few really old trees on the property. This means that nesting hollows are few and far between. This is a problem we shared with our last property, and the boys enjoyed a project there making nest boxes for cockatoos (https://rockfarming.com/2016/10/23/helping-birds-with-nesting-boxes/)

So my lockdown project was to build a nesting box for a Barn Owl.

It was a relatively simple build from some dimensions I found online. I used some old exterior paint I found in the shed to protect it for a few years. The hardest part was mounting it high enough up a tree for the birds to feel safe. I picked an Apple Box near the shed as the site of our first nest box, so I can keep an eye on who might move in.

I knew it would be a bit of a challenge lifting the large box into the tree – and given the soft nature of the ground I decided to put a harness on. Oh and I got my lovely wife to come and keep and eye on me just in case gravity got the better of me.

I must admit I was a little relieved to get back onto the ground safe and sound, with the nest box mounted securely in the tree. I hope the birds think it looks as good as I reckon it does. I hope the old adage, “if you build it, they will come” holds true.

If anyone else is looking a for lockdown project and would like to build some nesting boxes for us to mount in our trees, please let me know. We have lots of young trees that would be the perfect place to mount various sized boxes to support our avian friends.

Winter Planning on the Rock Farm

Winter on the Rock Farm this year has been remarkable, with steady rain creating a beautiful slushy feel when walking around the paddocks. With the rain has come plenty of cool overcast days, and some thoroughly miserable windy days. But the rain has also kept the frosts mostly at bay, and this means the grass is still growing, albeit slowly. The cattle all seem to have recovered from the curse of Mavis (https://rockfarming.com/2021/07/10/curse-of-mavis-mange-mite/), and the cows are definitely starting to look uncomfortable with their growing bellies.

Regular readers will be aware I decided to hold last spring’s calves over winter. I have been using a couple of tools to help me determine my strategy. The first is Farming Forecaster (https://farmingforecaster.com.au/). This tool, supported by Local Land Services and CSIRO examines soil moisture profiles at numerous sites. All the sites near the Rock Farm show we are in an exceptional season, with unusually high pasture growth forecast for spring. Whilst most of the sites nearby run merino sheep, there are useful graphs on forecast livestock weight. The model predicts steady increases in stock weight until around the first week in August before a steady decline, associated with lambing.

Farming Forecaster estimates our pasture is growing at around 4-5 kg/ha/day – which is not enough to feed all my hungry mouths entirely. To help me determine the balance required, I use the Local Land Services “Drought and Supplementary Feed Calculator“(DAFSC) app (https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/animals-and-livestock/nutrition/feeding-practices/drought-and-supplementary-feed-calculator). This app takes into account the amount of pasture I estimate I have, and allows me to develop a ration to meet the nutritional requirements of the cattle. Practically this means it allows me to calculate how much hay I need to feed the cattle for them to maintain condition. My theory is, if I leave it long enough for me to recognise the cows have lost weight, I have left it too late.

These calculations have allowed me to more accurately determine my supplementary feed requirements. I am feeding out a small round bale of pasture hay to the cattle every couple of days. The cattle love the sound of the tractor starting up. Their antics as I try to work past them into the paddock to unroll the bales make me laugh. I had put a couple of bales on the back of the truck – to allow the family to roll out the hay if I wasn’t there to drive the tractor, but it was more effort than it was worth. Only the hound seemed to think it was a good idea!

The winter hasn’t been entirely incident free. On one of my daily checks the cattle came running up to me – to let me know the frost (or one of their friends) had knocked the float valve off the trough. Thankfully nothing was broken, and after going and getting a couple of tools and some fresh silicone tape, I was able to get their water flowing.

One of my favourite winter past times is the early morning walks on the Rock Farm. In the still morning fog, the dam takes on an other worldly feel. The crisp crunch of the frosty grass underfoot and the silent flight of a barn owl make such moments exhilarating. After checking on the cattle, it is lovely to retreat back to the warmth of the house for a morning cuppa and cuddle on the couch.

More Trees Planted on the Rock Farm

After an usually dry April with no rain recorded at all on the Rock Farm, May started with a much needed soaking . I took the opportunity of a rainy day to relax and catch up on a long overdue book review (Call of the Reed Warbler). Rain like that is an gift not to be missed however and it was just the motivation I needed to get two new tree guards completed and some acorns in the ground before winter.

Our lock-down project last year (New Paddocks on the Rock Farm) was to divide a 6 hectare paddock into three smaller paddocks by building two new fences. It was always planned to plant trees along the new fences, which will one day provide shelter and mulching deciduous leaves to the paddocks either side.

After running the mulcher over the long grass, I put two new strainer posts in the ground 3 metres off the existing fence. At the end of a pretty solid day, I had the first tree guard finished, with acorns planted between each star picket.

I repeated the process the following day with the other guard.

We planted a mixture of Californian White Oak (Quercus Lobata) and Japanese (or Korean) Emperor Oak (Quercus Dentata). In between the oaks, I have also planted some Tagasaste seeds (Chamaecytisus palmensis). Tagasaste is also called tree lucerne, and is a good shelter and fodder tree which fixes nitrogen in the soil.

We chose deciduous trees for these tree guards because they provide good shade during summer, allow light to penetrate during winter and their leaves form a deep mulch for fertilising the soil. Adjoining this paddock is a series of four small horse paddocks. One of these paddocks has a line of white poplar (populus alba) along its northern fence. The paddock is the lushest, and greenest of the four little paddocks – a difference I can only attribute to the tall deciduous trees that provide shade and leaf litter.

If this is your first time reading our blog, you might be asking why I haven’t planted native trees along these fence lines. The answer is complex and it relates to our desire to create a productive farmland that is in balance with nature. We are not trying to re-create the landscape as it was prior to European settlement. Rather as our climate gets hotter and dryer, we believe that large deciduous trees will help shelter our property from the extremes of the weather. We have some beautiful Elm Trees (Ulmus Procera) that are at least 150 years old near an old stone cottage ruin. Their shade and mulching leaves make this area the coolest part of the property on hot days

In other parts of the Rock Farm we have planted native trees. Along the creek bank, we recently planted 300 native trees for habitat and to help stablise the bank. That marathon effort (Can’t see the wood for the trees) has been a great success, with the vast majority of the seedlings becoming established. Wombats have knocked a few over, but overall I am very pleased with the first six months of growth.

Planting trees is rewarding. Just as I packed everything up to head back to the shed, a rainbow appeared. I hope it is a good omen for the beautiful trees I would love to see grow here. As I told my boys, it is my dream that not their kids, but their grand-kids will one day be able to sit in the shade of these trees.

A wet summer creates a problem…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The miracle of birth and a purple curse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring and Calving

Spring is a wonderful time on the Rock Farm. The return of warmer weather is appreciated by all of us, plants, animals and humans. This year has been such a change on previous years, with good steady rain falling regularly since March. This means as the ground warms up, we have great soil moisture leading into the growing season.

But it isn’t just the grass that is growing. Our beautiful cow’s bellies have been steadily growing bigger all winter. It was a wonderful morning indeed when we welcomed our first calf for 2020.

Within a few days we had three more calves on the ground. They are a real delight at this age. They love sleeping in the sun, nestled behind a shrub or even a deep patch of clover.

These cattle have become really quiet over the past couple of years. The mother’s are understandably cautious of us, especially when we go wandering among them and their new babies with Sapphire. One incident a couple of days ago I found particularly touching.

After putting out some bloat lick, all the herd came over for a taste. One poor cow, Latte, left her calf behind. The best thing I could do was make myself scarce, so I departed as quickly as I could. Latte then commenced a desperate search for her calf, trotting around the paddock, calling for her calf. After five long minutes of desperate searching, she hadn’t found the calf and was becoming more distressed.

I returned to the paddock and found the calf, fast asleep in a bunch of saplings. Carefully I positioned myself behind the calf, and gently started talking to it. As expected, it woke with a jolt, leapt to its feet, let out a blood curdling bellow and ran directly away from me and straight into Mum who was very pleased to be reunited.

The bellow created a very different reaction with the herd. The rest of the cattle all came running at their best speed (it would be unfair to call it a gallop, especially for the heavy cows yet to calve). Their protective instincts were strong. As they cleared the dam wall and found that all was well, they gratefully settled down to a walk. The mother Latte and her calf were reunited, everyone was happy and a few minutes later were all grazing peacefully as if non of the adventure had ever happened.

So why was I putting out bloat lick? Clover is a wonderful nitrogen fixing, drought hardy grass. This year it has grown rapidly in some of our paddocks. Cattle love it, however if they eat too much it forms a foamy gas in their rumen, which they are unable to belch. In extreme cases it is fatal, and several cattle in the district have died due to bloat this year.

The bloat lick we use has a molasses base, but the active ingredient is Alcohol Ethoxylate Teric 12A 23. I don’t know how it works to reduce the foaming in the rumen, but so far, we haven’t lost any cattle on our clover rich pastures. They do seem to know what it does though, and actively seek it out. As they eat through the clover in the paddock, the demand for it reduces – until I put them in the next paddock. More information on the bloat lick we are using can be found here: https://www.olssons.com.au/uploads/7/9/6/4/79645424/bloat-liq_brochure.pdf

With things all settled back down Jo and I were able to take a few moments to relax with the cattle. I was a little surprised when ‘Uno’, our first born heifer from last year came right up to me…. if only I hadn’t laughed just as she was getting bold!

Can’t see the wood for the trees

The past week has been a little hectic on the Rock Farm – for all the right reasons. We have had a most fortunate set of circumstances, that created a flurry of activity, and led to aching muscles and blisters.

After our recent massive downpour, it was evident that some areas of our creek bank had collapsed. This loss of productive soil into our waterways is less than ideal, for both the water ways and our farm. What was evident through walking along the length of the creek that runs through our place is that trees, whether exotic or native, all helped stop the erosion. We needed trees.

Long term readers may recall that Greening Australia planted thousands of trees at the original Rock Farm, see post here. That paddock was directly seeded along contours, and as far as I can tell from recent google earth images, the trees are doing remarkably well. I put in a call to Greening Australia and spoke to Ben Hanrahan about what were the best trees to plant along our creek and options were available to us.

It seemed my timing was perfect. Due to COVID restrictions, a property that had planned to plant 5000 trees was unable to arrange volunteer labour to plant them. After discussing the options with Ben, we applied for a grant of 300 trees, which were sitting ready to go at the nursery.

Greening Australia provided us with an incredibly diverse list of species. I looked up each to determine the best habitat. A list of the species is below for those interested.

The only problem was, we needed to get them in the ground quickly, and then build a fence to keep the cattle off them. But the first priority was to get them planted before a forecast 5mm of rain was due to fall.

I managed to get 115 trees planted on the first day. Jo and I managed to knock over the rest the following day. We averaged 3.6 minutes a tree – which was by all accounts a cracking pace to clear a patch, plant the tree, install the guard and give them a quick drink. The Hamilton Tree Planter was worth its weight in gold. Some areas such as where we had vehicle access were much easier than areas on the far side of the creek, which required lugging everything over the stream – crossed by delicate leaps in strategic places, or finding holes that were just over gum boot depth!

We managed to get all the trees in the ground before a wonderful 3mm of rain fell overnight to help settle them into their new homes.

But that was only part of the battle won. The next part was the construction of a new fence. A new fence was required to isolate around four hectares (10 acres) along the creek. This will hopefully allow the new shrubs and trees to get established without the pressure of cattle. Wombats and kangaroos are another story.

It took me another day and a half to get the fence built – around 180 metres with a gate and two flood gates. I included a hot wire on the fence to discourage the cattle from pushing on it – as a lot of the posts are in pretty soft soil.

And then, after four pretty solid days (110 000 steps according to my fitbit) it was time to sit back and invite the cattle into their ‘new’ paddock, secure in the knowledge the new trees were safe.

A huge thank you to Ben and the team at Greening Australia for supporting our request for assistance. We hope that these trees will be part of the legacy we leave here at the Rock Farm. The species provided by Greening Australia were:

  • Acacia mearnsii – Black Wattle
  • Dodonaea viscosa subsp. Spatulata – Narrow Leafed Hop Bush
  • Eucalyptus blakelyi – Blakelyi Red Gum
  • Eucalyptus bridgesiana – Apple Box
  • Eucalyptus camaldulensis – River Red Gum
  • Eucalyptus viminalis – Mana or Ribbon Gum
  • Leptospermum lanigerum – Woolly Tea Tree
  • Leptospermum obovatum – River Tea Tree

And the excellent book that helped me work out the best places to plant the trees was Woodland Flora – A field guide for the Southern Tablelands, by Sarah Sharp, Rainer Rehwinkel, Dave Mallinson and David Eddy. (2015)  It is available here: http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/7609.htm

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.

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 🙂