Marking Spring Lambs

Spring is a glorious time on the Rock Farm.  Blossoms are on the trees, the slow combustion stove is finally allowed to go out and is laid up for summer, and lambs are frolicking in the paddocks.

These gorgeous animals require little in the way of health and welfare checks – but even such low maintenance sheep as Wiltipolls require some intervention.  And when the city cousins come to stay, it provides the perfect opportunity to bring in the lambs.

It is always a good idea to stay abreast of best practice – particularly for something we only do once a year.  After a quick brush up on the animal welfare standards, we were ready to go.  The standards are available online at:   http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/sheep/

Marking lambs is a necessary part of raising sheep.  The lambs receive important vaccinations and are drenched.  The males are castrated, and all lambs have their tails docked.  All the other sheep receive vaccination boosters and are drenched too.

We use rubber bands to castrate the males and dock the tails.  This is the most humane and cost effective option available to hobby farmers.

The vaccine we chose prevents clostridial diseases in cattle and sheep such as Tetanus.  These diseases are frequently fatal.  They are caused by anaerobic bacteria and are widespread in the environment – especially in the soil.  Protection is provided when all the herd is vaccinated.

We also drenched the sheep with a triple combination drench.  The product we chose provides protection against gastro-intestinal roundworms, lungworm, Nasal Bot and Itch Mite.  It also provides important trace minerals such as selenium and cobalt, often deficient in Australian spoil.

Cell grazing is another technique to reduce the worm burden in sheep or other livestock.  Whilst I would love to develop a cell grazing system on the Rock Farm, this requires a significant investment in fencing and is still a few years away at this stage.

The final job was to put an ear tag in our lambs.  These tags are marked with our unique Property Identification Code (PIC), and will stay on these lambs for life.  This, in combination with movement declarations, ensures a full audit trail for livestock movements in Australia.  The ear tags are also colour coded, and 2017 lambs will wear a white ear tag, allowing easy identification and sorting of stock based on age.

A couple of likely lads also decided to take a couple of tags.  They politely declined my offer to put a tag in their ears, but did agree to marking their hats!

And so our marking was quickly over.  We let the sheep settle in the yards for a couple of hours with some delicious oats before we released them back into their paddock.  All done – until next year 🙂

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Biosecurity Plan

I recently received in the mail a letter informing me that I was required to develop a biosecurity plan for the Rock Farm.  This is part of the Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program, which Australian meat producers are encouraged to participate in.

Whilst at first glance, it looks like a huge administrative burden (and cost) to be an accredited supplier, it really is little more than common sense and good practice wrapped up in a simple form.

Under the Livestock Assurance Program, each property has a unique Property Identification Code (PIC).  The Rock Farm is no exception.  All animals born on The Rock Farm are tagged with a special tag that contains our PIC.  When they are sold, or transferred to another property, we must fill out a National Vendor Declaration.  This allows a full audit trail of livestock movements across the country.

LPA service centre snapshot

Producers who choose to become LPA accredited agree to carry out on farm practices that feed into and support the integrity of the entire system. There are seven requirements:

  • Property risk assessments
  • Safe and responsible animal treatments
  • Stock foods, fodder crops, grain and pasture treatments
  • Preparation for dispatch of livestock
  • Livestock transactions and movements
  • Biosecurity
  • Animal Welfare

It can all seem a little overwhelming to a small scale producer like me, but there is an excellent online training package put together by the PLA.  It is also supported by templates and other reference material to help ensure that all requirements are met.

I am pleased to be a part of this process that helps me improve our farm practices, enhances animal welfare and supports and strengthens the industry as a whole.

Mineral supplement update 

A few weeks in and the Pat Coleby inspired mineral supplement station is working well at the Rock Farm.  The sheep have been nibbling away at the mineral salt and copper supplements, but have completely devoured the sea-weed meal.

Through this process, I am slowly identifying which minerals the Rock Farm is deficient in.  By providing minerals for the sheep, I am relying on them to select what they need and distribute the mineral wealth of the supplements throughout the paddock, thereby slowly improving the soil on the Rock Farm.

Seaweed is naturally rich in Iodine, but it also contains so many other minerals.  It is also not available at my local rural supplier.  So in desperation, I selected a different product, to get the sheep through until I can find some more sea-weed meal.

Whilst it wasn’t as popular as the seaweed meal, the sheep did seem to nibble it and continue to seek the mineralised salt.

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So things continue on the Rock Farm.  The sheep are looking forward to some fresh spring grass, new lambs continue to drop and life is good.

Desperate race for survival – Lambing

A couple of weeks ago I was jumping for joy with our first precious lamb of the season.  There is something uplifting about seeing a new lamb frolic, with a proud mother standing by.  It is also a sign that perhaps the worst of winter is over and we are approaching spring.

But lambing is also often associated with a bitter break in the weather, and this week has been no exception.  With barely 10mm recorded in the gauge since Christmas, we are just coming out of two days of solid cold wet miserable rain.  And right in the thick of it was born our fourth lamb.

The ewes have plenty of shelter in their middle paddock, but as I am also supplementing their feeding with oaten hay, they tend to hang around the top paddock a bit.  Whilst we have planted trees in this paddock, they barely provide a twig to shelter behind.  There are solid windbreaks on two sides, but it is still exposed.  On chilly mornings, it is the first paddock to catch the sun, and being the highest part of the property, it is popular with the ewes escaping the chilly air that sinks to the lower parts.

But when the sun doesn’t come out – and the rain is steady, it can be a miserable place to be.

And sadly this is where I thought I found our fourth lamb…  but as I approached her, she kicked, and I thought we might have a chance.

Her only chance of survival was to bring her inside and warm her up.  Unfortunately I had to go to work, so my highly talented multi-tasking wife Jo was called upon to work her magic.


In no time at all the lamb was dry and warming inside the house, where chaos was reigning supreme.  Extra kids, extra puppies and now and extra lamb were staying in our little house.  Jo dug out the poddy lamb bottles and prepared to face a two hour feeding regime overnight.  But at the first feeding it was apparent we had a battle on our hands.

Sadly the lamb passed away not long after we brought her inside.

It was a sad moment for all of us.  The poor little lamb barely had a chance, but this is the struggle many of them face when born during atrocious weather.

Thankfully the other lambs are all looking healthy and we will keep our fingers crossed they all grow to be tough and hardy sheep – who can perhaps delay their lambing by a month or so.

Providing mineral supplements and improving soil health

One of the most enlightening books I have read about soil health and animal nutrition was Natural Farming by Pat Coleby.  Whilst we all know Australia has some of the most ancient soils on the planet, what wasn’t clearly understood was the relationship between soil minerals and animal (and also human) health.

Pat was one of the first people to recognise that many health ailments in animals are caused by mineral deficiences.  Natural Farming carries a simple message: healthy soil makes healthy plants which in turn make health animals and healthy people.

Our vision is for healthy and ecologically sustainable grazing on our land.  Basic soil tests have confirmed our soil is slightly acidic, but we haven’t conducted in depth mineral analysis of our property yet.

Many animals have an ability to seek out minerals they are deficient in.  One way to see what minerals your soil is deficient in is to offer minerals to your stock and see which minerals they seek.  And so we  purchased a sample kit, known as a Pat Coleby Starter Pack from VITEC in Victoria (http://www.vitec.com.au/shop-online/pat-coleby-minerals/stock-lick-20kg).

The next part of the process was to construct a shelter for the minerals so that I could leave them in the paddock.  This took a bit more planning, but I soon found a few bits of steel and an old piece of corrugated iron around the place and with a bit of dodgy welding had knocked up a frame.

I decided to use a blue ‘nelly bin’ to store the minerals, and made a rectangular frame to hold the bin.  I then made another frame to attach the roof to.

Now that I had done the hard part, it was time to open the bag and check out the contents.  The starter pack contained a mix of minerals.  Dolomite, Sulphur, Copper and Lime, with mineralised salt and seaweed meal making up the rest of the pack.

I split the various minerals into various ice cream containers – and they fitted perfectly into my nelly bin.  It was now time to see what the sheep thought of them.

Well I cheated the first time – I put some sheep pellets into the nelly bin – to help them become comfortable with the new paddock sculpture.

But once they had eaten all the food and I had replaced the pellets with the minerals, it was pleasing to see them have a nibble on the seaweed meal and try the other minerals.

And so time will tell.  It will be interesting to see what minerals they naturally seek – and this will give us a good indication where to focus our efforts on re-mineralising the Rock Farm.

And this is part of the fun, ensuring our lovely sheep produce healthy lambs, and our soil improves over our tenure.

Breakfast at The Rock Farm

There is something delightful about frosty mornings, with clear skies and the promise of a glorious winters day.  Winter is one of my favourite times of the year on The Rock Farm.  Today, the first day of winter, was a perfect example of my ideal day.

Unfortunately winter also means our grasses stop growing and our stock start feeling hungry. With such a dry autumn, our feed levels were really low before winter began. It means our sheep are hungry.

So much so that the sight of me with a bucket has them coming running for breakfast.

The link below takes you to a hilarious YouTube video of them running to me. I will try to embed it to the site also – but at the moment posting videos from my phone is beyond my skills. 🙂

Video:  Breakfast on The Rock Farm

It also makes for an interesting stand off between the ram, and the dog, who might look like a sheep dog but is really a Labrador in disguise.

Breakfast is best served in the yards. It makes for easy mustering as the sheep happily file in for a meal.  Should I need to conduct a welfare check on any of the stock, I know that they are easy to catch, and their stress is minimised.

It is a glorious wonderful celebration of all that is good with the world. Have I ever said how much I love living on The Rock Farm?

You’ll Never Lamb Alone 2017

Meat and Livestock Australia have just released their annual Australia Day ad.  And love it or hate it, it is definitely worth a watch.

The MLA has been trying for many years now to create a tradition of eating lamb on Australia day.  As a lamb producer (albeit on an extremely small scale), there are many virtues to eating grass-fed lamb, not the least being it tastes delicious.

But the MLA’s attempt at being inclusive of all Australians has been (and continues to be) full of cultural stereotypes.  This ad is their most political yet – it doesn’t even mention Australia Day.  But it isn’t supposed to be serious.  It is supposed to sell lamb.

One thing Australians are renowned for is our ability to laugh, and that includes laughing at ourselves.  So have a look, and enjoy.

Which is best for mustering? Horse or Motorbike…

A couple of days ago we celebrated a massive milestone for the Rock Farm.  We sold our first lambs!!!  Three adorable ewe lambs were sold to a delightful family not far away for their hobby farm.

I could go on about the virtues of the magnificent Wiltipoll and how suitable they are for small farms like us, but that is not the purpose of this post.

With two wannabe stockmen in the family, it was a perfect opportunity to put their mustering skills to the test!  It also was an opportunity for the Little Helpers to compare their preferred mustering method… horse or motorbike!

In no time at all, the boys had checked the boundary and confirmed all the sheep were enjoying a mid morning nap in the shade.  Unfortunately for the Little Fisherman, the sheep are very quiet, and assume the motorbike might also be associated with a bucket of oats, causing a slight hold up in proceedings.

The horses however were a less familiar proposition for the sheep, and they quietly pushed the sheep out from their shady mid-morning siesta.  The horses both have far more experience than either of their riders (The Little Helper and myself) at this game, and put themselves in exactly the right place to push the sheep gently towards the yards.

The Little Fisherman had a great time on his motorbike, but found it hard to match his speed to the sheep.  He also had the added complication of having to ride around obstacles that the horses just stepped over.

A last-minute dash for freedom by a couple of cheeky ewes was quickly rounded up by the ever watchful horses, and a moment later all the sheep were safely ensconced in the yards.

Job done…

Well nearly.  Whilst the Little Fisherman wheeled his motorbike up to the shed, switched it off and isolated the fuel, the Little Helper had a couple more jobs to do.  Our trusty steeds, Mater and Dusty were given a refreshing shower and rub down before being put back in the paddock.

And so the debate still rages in our family as to which method of mustering is best.  The horses have a natural intelligence that means they naturally will work the stock and keep them together.  The motorbike however just sits in the shed until you need it, and doesn’t require anywhere near as much maintenance as the horse.

It must therefore come down to other attributes…  The horses were put back to work manufacturing quality garden fertilizer by processing pasture hay – which is something no motorbike could ever do!

Time to move the lambs on

With the young lambs growing quickly, it is time to make some decisions as to their future on the rock farm.  Our young ewe lambs will be weaning shortly and this will mean that soon they will start cycling.

With only one ram, it is important that we move these girls on before they are covered by their father.  Therefore it is time to sell them.

Being such a small farm, we have only eight ewe lambs to sell.   In an area where people sell lambs by the hundred, it isn’t as easy to sell such small numbers.

Our lambs have all been tagged with NLIS (National Livestock Identification Scheme) ear tags.  These tags mean that they can always be traced back to our property, through our unique PIC (Property Identification Code).  When moving livestock around Australia, you need a vendor declaration form.  The PIC registration, ear-tags, and declaration forms all cost money – making dealing with such small numbers not really cost effective at all.

Whilst I am a firm believer that our future lies in small, poly-culture farms, our national system is geared towards large scale mono-culture.

If you are interested in buying some of our gorgeous girls, check out our advertisement here:

http://www.gumtree.com.au/s-ad/gundaroo/livestock/wiltipoll-ewe-lambs-not-dorper-/1132474243

Our eight weather lambs will become staying on a little longer.

 

 

You can shear a sheep many times, but…

One of the reasons we moved to the Rock Farm was to ensure our kids have a well rounded understanding of our food supply chain.  One part of this food chain includes the raising of sheep for meat.  And whilst we could sell our sheep through the regular sale yards, and buy our meat from a butcher, I think we have a responsibility to teach our kids about what meat production actually involves.  By slaughtering the lamb ourselves, we reduce the stress on the animal significantly and save on food miles.

I appreciate that many people may feel uncomfortable with this process, and indeed many people make the choice not to eat meat at all.  I understand and respect those choices.

But I also feel that meat production often gets an unfair portrayal.  We are told it is bad for the environment, however I know that the Rock Farm has an incredible range of biodiversity that you don’t find on mono-culture cropping farms.  We have hundreds of native animals, lizards and birds, native grasses, shrubs and trees that live in harmony with our small scale sheep production. I also know that all who raise animals have a social responsibility to ensure the stock are raised in a humane, healthy manner.  I see small scale poly-culture or permaculture that works with the natural environment as being our future.

You may notice one sheep above that doesn’t look like the other ones.  Most of our sheep are wool shedding Wiltipolls, however the fellow with a full clip of wool is a first cross Meriono/Suffolk wether.  Despite his size, he still has a mouth full of baby teeth, meaning he is still a lamb.  He had been raised as a poddy by the boys, but we had always told them that his job (every animal has a job on a farm) was to feed us, and he was now ready.  His wool was also long enough to shear, and whilst it will never win any awards, the first cross wool is usually handy enough (medium fine) to make the effort to shear.  It did remind me of the old adage that “You can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin them once.”

Butchering a lamb is a skill, and it had been many years since I had last butchered a couple of lambs.  I found a few moments to enjoy a cup of coffee refreshing myself with the excellent words of John Seymour in his Self Sufficiency guide.

The first thing to do with the lamb was to shear him.  Thankfully friends down the road kindly agreed to shear the lamb, and also give the Little Fisherman a lesson in shearing.  This is definitely something I cannot do, but Jimmy made it look easy.

After shearing, it was important to slaughter the lamb quickly and humanely.  Again I learnt from Jimmy, who after many years has perfected the skills of cleanly slaughtering and butchering sheep.  The principles were as described in John Seymour’s book, however Jimmy was unbelievably quick and in no time at all we had skinned and cleaned the carcass.

We then hung the carcass in a cool room for 10 days, before running it through a band-saw.  With the legs and shoulders making great roasts, we cut most of the rest into chops.  It took under ten minutes to turn the carcass into meals.

It was then a relatively simple process to divide the meat into meal size portions for the freezer.  The dog also managed to do extremely well out of the offcuts.

And the verdict?  Delicious 🙂

There are few rules that apply to home butchering in NSW.  The basic premise is that meat that is butchered at home is not able to leave the property.  You are not able to sell, swap or barter it, or even give it to family and friends.  This is to protect us all from disease and parasites that used to be common place in yesteryear.  Making sure the meat is well cooked is a good start, but you also need to wash your hands frequently, make sure you dispose the offal properly and keep vaccinations and dog worming up to date.

A huge thank you to Jimmy for his guidance, and patience in bringing me back up to speed.  It was much appreciated.