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!

How to plant trees… lots and lots of trees…

One paddock on the Rock Farm is typical of many others in this area.  Cleared and heavily grazed in its past, it is showing evidence of years of abuse.  Areas of sheet erosion and poor soil cover meant this was a paddock in desperate need of restoration.

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One of the first things we wanted to do to that paddock when we bought the property was to plant trees in it.  With no knowledge of how to do this, we thought it best to seek out the experts.

When it comes to planting trees, few do it better than Greening Australia.  We soon found ourselves speaking with Ben Hanrahan, and he explained that our site would be perfect for their Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation (WOPR) program.  https://www.greeningaustralia.org.au/project/whole-of-paddock-rehabilitation

The program aims to plant belts of native trees along contours with 40-50 metres between each belt.  In addition to providing habitat for many species of birds, the program also improves soil structure, reduces salinity and provides shelter and additional food sources for stock during times of drought.  It is designed to increase biodiversity and habitat for native animals and also improve outcomes for graziers.

It fits well with our aim for “sustainable and ecologically sound stewardship of our property, that creates an income and food source…”  So we signed up.

The first step was to mark the contours.  Ben came out with a specially calibrated tool and marked the contours on the property.  We then sprayed the belt in Autumn and again in Spring with glyphosate to kill the grass.   Whilst I am not a fan of broad scale use of herbicides, in this case it will ensure a far greater strike rate with our trees.  The glyphosate did make large brown stripes in the paddock over winter, which contrasted with the bright green grass (and our super cute lambs).

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Spring it is time to plant.  Normally this is done in September, but with the unusually wet season, the paddock has been too boggy to work.  We finally got the spring spraying done on Melbourne Cup day, and the seeding was done two days later.

Greening Australia Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation

The seed used is a mixture of seeds from trees native to this area.  We also have a some trees from other areas that are being included as part of a trial to do with climate change resilience.   The seed hopper is designed to accept two types of seed, with one distributing the very fine eucalyptus seeds, and the other distributing the coarser wattles and she-oaks.

Greening Australia Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation

A disc turns over the soil, and the seed is pressed into the soil by the trailing wheel.  This places the seed in the ideal place for germination.

Working in tandem, Ben and Hayden were able to get to work quickly.  Four rows of trees were planted in each belt, totaling around 10 kilometres of tree lines.   It took them most of the afternoon, and whilst it doesn’t look like much now, I can’t wait to see what happens over the next few years or so.

Now we wait.  Part of the deal is we keep stock off the paddock for five years, to allow the trees to get established.  We will need to control kangaroo numbers, and keep the sheep from pushing their way through the fence.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will go a long way towards making our grazing enterprise more sustainable into the future.

A huge thank you to Ben and the team at Greening Australia for helping us achieve a better outcome for our native birds and animals, and our stock.

Helping birds with nesting boxes

Whilst the Rock Farm is blessed with many hundreds of trees, only a handful of our trees are large old trees, with all important nesting hollows for our native birds.  Hollow logs and branches take literally hundreds of years to form – and are prized by native birds for nesting.  With our young areas of re-growth promising excellent habitat in the future,  we thought we would lend our birds a helping hand.

One way to assist native birds, even in an area with as many trees as ours, is to build nesting boxes.  They replicate the hollows that take so long to form.  There is a wealth of information online, with plans freely available.  There is also a significant amount of science involved too, with the size of the box, the entry diameter and other features critical for many species.

We armed with this excellent publication from the Local Land Services (available online here: http://greatersydney.lls.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/656610/GS-LLS-Wildlife-Nest-Box-2016_Final-Accessible.pdf).  With our heads full of plans and ideas it was time to get building.

The boys had a look around the Rock Farm Resource Centre  – also known as Dad’s Shed, and we found some old flooring that was looking for a new purpose.

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This was to be the boy’s own project.  In the interests of expediency (I was looking forward to an afternoon nap) I might have cheated and run the timber through the bench saw to cut it, but I was working to their design.  The old adage of measure twice and cut once was in force… but soon there was so much pencil lines on the boards it was hard to tell which ones to cut!

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The boy’s initial thoughts were that this would be easy… but like all good plans, they soon realised that assembling the boxes would take a little effort.  I told them they couldn’t use glue – so it was hammer and nails only.  The Little Helper found his soft oregon boards were easy to work, but the Little Fisherman regretted his selection of thick hardwood boards.  He ended up pre-drilling his holes, and only broke one drill bit in the process.

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To their credit, I only was used to hold things together a couple of times.  The bench saw made small adjustments easy and before long we had a couple of neat little boxes ready to hang in the trees.

The best way to secure the boxes to the trees is via two bugle headed screws.  This causes far less damage to the tree than tying wire around the branch.  We mounted the boxes in a Scribbly Gum (Eucalyptus Haemastoma).  We are just now waiting for our first guests to move in!

It was a wonderful way to spend a morning with my gorgeous boys.  They learnt a few new skills, and as a bonus, we get to help a few little birds get a head start.

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.

I’m not the only one with projects

With always something to do on the Rock Farm, it is inevitable that the Little Helpers want to get involved.  Sometimes they take it even further, and decide that they would rather work on their own projects.  They frequently have projects on the go, and I must admit that I had forgotten how fortunate they are.

In New York, they are creating an Adventure Playground for kids – and I think it looks a lot like the Rock Farm.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/nyregion/on-governors-island-mountains-of-junk-where-children-find-adventure.html

Whilst some of their ideas are inspired by such wonderful books as “The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn Igguiden, many are their own creation.

I am a big fan of the boys getting their hands dirty.  I have a good collection of hand tools, old timber and various ‘resources’ others might term ‘junk’.  The boys know which tools they’re allowed to use, and which ones they need to ask permission for.

I must admit I occasionally get nervous when they ask to borrow my tools.  I am working on solving that one, by buying them some tools of their own.  They like nothing more than using their tools to help me with my projects.

Last year they decided that they would make some bows.  It was a good fun activity, but the Rock Farm is distinctly lacking in Yew, meaning that we used wattle and then pine branches to make our bows.

It didn’t work out too well.

Other jobs the boys have taken on is the construction of a ladder into their cubby house.  I might have provided a little bit of guidance, as the Little Helpers don’t tend to use tools such as tape measures or pencils too much.

Most hand tools are pretty safe to use.  The worst the kids will do is cut themselves.  It is modern power tools that scare me.  A circular saw will take off a thumb in the blink of an eye.  I love seeing them get out there and use the traditional tools.

But of course, with all things, the kids need adequate supervision.

You might be able to do it all in New York… but I’m happy enough knowing that we have all we need right here 🙂

Drawbacks of living on a hobby farm

Just as we discussed some of the great things about living on a hobby farm (here), it must be said that there are some disadvantages to living on a farm.  Whilst I love every minute on the Rock Farm, I can freely admit that living out of town is not for everyone.  If you find any of these drawbacks sound like they might apply to you, then perhaps you should visit a farm for a weekend at a time.  If you think you’re ready to take the plunge and take a tree change, these are somethings that you might consider before leaping in!

Distance from facilities

Hobby farms by their nature are out of town.  This means that if you forgot to buy the milk or bread, you have to make up your mind whether it is worth returning to town for a little shop, or go without until your next trip into town.  You can’t roll out of bed and stroll down to the cafe on the corner for a cup of coffee…

drawbacks of living on hobby farms.

You may spend more time looking at this view than you’d like

This means that we tend to buy extra food.  We have a stash of long life milk in a cupboard.  We own a chest freezer that rarely gets below half full.  When I visit a hardware store, I tend to buy extra – to make sure I have enough to finish whatever job I am doing.  Yet despite this, occasionally we do run out of stuff, and we have to make a decision.  Is it worth travelling all the way back into town for – or can we wait until our next trip.

With no public transport other than the school bus, owning two cars is an essential part of living out of town.  The cars provide an important safety link, particularly important as we are a long way from Ambulance services.  Both of these vehicles do a lot of kilometres each year.  There is also the added risk of stray animal strike – meaning both our cars are fitted with bull-bars, and the option of a small runabout as the second car is not very appealing.

drawbacks of living on a hobby farm

Keeping the cars running is essential – especially if you need to conduct running repairs after a kangaroo strike

There is always something to do

Be it feeding the animals, watering trees, repairing fences or mowing the lawn, there is always something to do, and always an unfinished task.  Whilst we love this active lifestyle on the Rock Farm, we have plenty of friends who love coming to visit, but acknowledge that ours isn’t the lifestyle for them.  It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the things you want to do on the hobby farm, but by setting a long term plan, and prioritising your efforts, you can make it a lot less stressful.

drawbacks to living on a hobby farm

There are always little jobs to do on a hobby farm

Going away requires lots of planning and sometimes cashing in on favours

Going away for the weekend is easy enough, but leaving for more than a night or two requires a bit of planning.  We need to ensure the dog and the chooks are cared for, and the stock are in a paddock with plenty of feed and water.  If there are neighbours with teenage kids eager to earn a few dollars, then you may be able to arrange for someone to keep an eye on things for a nominal rate.

If you have house-sitters, you find yourself worrying about how much water they will use, if they understand how to reset the pump if the power goes out and they myriad of other little things you quickly learn to live with on the farm.  Sometimes they can be more stress and heartache than not having them at all.

Access to services

Most hobby farms don’t have access to services such as town water or sewage.  With water storage tanks and septic tank systems widely available, it isn’t really a problem for many of us – and the bonus is you don’t pay water rates.  That said, you have to make your own arrangements for water.  If you have a small roof area, or small water tanks, you may find you need to purchase water – particularly in hot dry spells.

Many hobby farms don’t have a weekly rubbish collection service.  We carefully sort our rubbish, and store it.  Once a month or so, we take it to the local tip.   It is messy, dirty work, but it does remind us exactly how much landfill we create.  This means we recycle and reuse as many items as possible.

drawbacks of living on a hobby farm

Garbage Truck

The Internet is another service we struggle with.  When Telstra politely advised us that ADSL2 would be connected to our home on 15 December 2028, we really felt as if we were being left behind in the digital age.  Thankfully we are able to access a 4 G signal form a special antenna on our roof, meaning we can still get high speed data access from a 4G dongle, albeit at great expense.  We are presently investigating the Sky Muster satellite based NBN to see if we can improve our internet plan.

Cost of living

There is an increased cost of living when you live on a hobby farm.  You might be able to offset some costs if you qualify as a primary producer, or if you’re able to supplement your income by selling your produce.  But if you’re like most hobby farmers, you have chosen to live on your piece or paradise because of the lifestyle it provides, not the income it generates.

Despite the obvious larger mortgage required for a hobby farm compared to the regular house,  you may find the standard mortgage lending criteria don’t apply.  Depending on the size of your hobby farm, you may require a 20% deposit.  Check with your mortgage provider before you have your heart set on that nice little 40 hectare block!

You will also find the cost of insurance is more expensive on a farm.  In many instances you will require business insurance.  Again this will be determined by the size of your farm, where it is located and the stock you run.

Having to run two cars, and drive large distances, we spend a lot of money on fuel and time in our vehicles.   Whilst most of our driving is easy country miles, we still have to maintain our vehicles, and service intervals seem to come around all too frequently.

Cost of upkeep

As a responsible landowner, you will have additional costs that come with looking after a block of land.  Some of these include:

  • Fencing.  Steel wire and fence posts are inordinately expensive.  Getting someone to install fencing generally doubles the cost per metre.  The old adage that good fences keep good neighbours certainly runs true.  Your neighbour will not take kindly to your wool shedding ram covering his prize winning fine wool merino ewes!
  • Weed control.  There are many noxious weeds that can be found on rural blocks.  If you leave them, they multiply at an alarming rate, reducing the carrying capacity of your land.  You may also receive a fine from the Local Land Services department for not managing your weeds.  Spraying or mechanical control (digging them out or mulching) is expensive too.
drawbacks of owning a hobby farm

Weed control can be hard work, expensive or both!

Time Wasters

Little jobs take longer than you plan when you have lots of helpers on the farm.  Even simple stuff like testing the PH of the soil can take longer when you are visited by a gorgeous four legged friend who is after a cuddle (the two legged variety is gorgeous too!).  It is easy to get distracted, and finishing the task at hand can require a concerted effort to stay on track.

Of course I am biased – we love living on the Rock Farm.  We think that the benefits from living out here far outweigh the disadvantages.  It is very much a lifestyle choice but it does come with disadvantages.  We don’t have the trendy cafe just at the end of the street.  Our school is a 15 minute drive, work is 45 minutes.  Every trip into town is considered and if we can avoid it, we do.  Holidays require a little more planning, but really no more than anyone with pets.  Like all things, you make your choice, and live with the consequences of it,

Good luck with your decision.  If I have missed any thing, please let me know.  🙂

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

The decision to move to a hobby farm is not to be made lightly.  There are many considerations that must be thought about before taking the plunge and buying a hobby farm.  If you’re thinking of buying a hobby farm, or making a tree change, these are some of the best things we love about living on the Rock Farm.

Serenity

There is something incredibly peaceful about waking up to the sounds of nature, not traffic.  Whether it be the chatter of birds, the breeze in the trees, or the sound of silence, we take pleasure in these sounds every day.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

Nothing like the sun rising over the hobby farm

Our view is of rolling hills, not roads and apartments.  The air we breathe is clear, and at night the stars blaze in the sky.  Often on a full moon, we all walk outside and stand captured by the beauty of the night sky and the moon’s majestic rising.

I find there is a peace that settles on me after I come home after a long day at work.  A hobby farm should be a place that recharges your soul… each and every day.

Healthy active lifestyle

Being on a hobby farm, it is easy to find excuses to get outside.  Other than the obvious work tending the vegetable gardens, or harvesting firewood, there is plenty of scope to have fun too.  The Little Helper loves nothing more than kicking about with his best four legged friend.  Together the boy’s have a wonderful time building forts, tree houses or even helping me fix fences!

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

The boy’s love living on the hobby farm

I find it much more rewarding to spend some time and effort doing something around the hobby farm, than to spend my money on fancy gym membership.   The physical activity keeps me healthy, and I feel good knowing I have contributed something to the farm or the family.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

Nothing like taking a walk with friends… on the hobby farm

There is nothing nicer than going for a walk around the property along the boundary fence.  It is good exercise, there is no traffic to watch out for, and often you have some friends follow along too!

Teaching kids

I’ve alluded to this earlier, but the hobby farm gives so much to the kids.  Both our boys love living on the farm.  For them it is one big adventure playground, but please don’t tell them they are learning far more than just how to ride horses or motorbikes.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

Who said checking the boundary fence was boring!

They are learning all kids of lessons.  Lessons about how to fix fences, repair small engines, care for animals, care for the land, the differences between weeds and grasses, and the list goes on.  By the age of nine, they were both driving a car.  They can check the oil, and change a tyre.

Best reasons for living on a hobby farm

Changing a tyre… adjusting the brakes or fixing a wheel bearing – these kids can lend a hand to almost anything

More importantly, they are learning responsibility.  They have to check and feed the chooks each day.  The horses need to be fed, and rugged in winter.  They know that we volunteer in our community and can’t wait until they’re old enough to join the Rural Fire Service.  In the meantime they come along  and help set up or pack up for fundraising functions.  Their little chores become foundations for a responsible life.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

The Little Helper loves his chooks on the hobby farm

Freedom – with consequences

Our hobby farm allows us enormous choice.  Whilst we still have council rules to comply with, we have a lot more freedom as to what we can do on our place.  We can run just about whatever kind of stock we want. If we want to paint our house purple, or make a track for the kid’s motorbike, we can.

Top reasons for living on a hobby farm

Watch TV, or go for a ride…. tough choice!

If we want to run a sprinkler on a 40 degree day, we can… it is our water.  That said, we are also responsible for the consequences.  If we run out of water, then we will have to buy some.  But I am much happier being in control of our destiny, than being dictated to by some council.

Healthy Food Choices

Whilst our little hobby farm isn’t self sufficient, it allows us to explore healthy food choices with our children.  We try to encourage our children to tend their their own vegetable beds.  Nothing teaches them the value of food more than trying to grow some vegetables themselves.

How to build a wicking garden bed.

Fresh vegetables on the hobby farm

We also can explore ethical raising of animals for slaughter with our children.  I think it is extremely important that we understand our food supply chain.  Our children are well aware that we have a responsibility to our sheep for their welfare.  We are comfortable knowing that our sheep have a wonderful quality of life, and that their slaughter will be humane.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

Poddy lambs – one will grow to make jumpers… the other will taste delicious. Both will have a great life.

Custodians of the land

One of the most exciting parts of owning a hobby farm is the sense of responsibility we have to future generations .  Instead of watching the TV and seeing the consequences of years of misunderstanding and neglect of the land, we see ourselves as part of the solution.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

Tree planting with the good folk at Greening Australia – restoring the health of the soil

Our land was cleared and then heavily grazed in its distant past.  We are excited to be planting thousands of trees in spring to start returning health to the soil,.  We  also  will be  trying to graze a small number of sheep (and the odd horse or two) in a sustainable way.  We believe that we can strike a balance between the need to conserve nature and our requirements to feed our selves.

Connection with nature

Our hobby farm abounds with native plants and animals.  In spring, a walk around our paddocks is a stroll of discovery, with so many native plants bursting into colour.  We have kangaroos, walaroos a plenty.  In the poa tussocks, we often find shingle back lizards, marsupial mice and the odd echidna.  Our hobby farm is a teeming hot-spot of bio diversity, but that is not to say we can’t do better.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

The shy echidna – a delightful visitor at the Rock Farm

When harvesting firewood, I generally cut green branches off living trees.  I leave a part of the branch on the ground to become a log for beetles and other animals to live in.   The leafy branches are left to mulch and return nutrients and organic matter to the soil.   Over time this will help improve the quality of our soil, but importantly increase the biodiversity on our place by providing habitat for the insects and small animals that underpin it all.

Community

It’s a funny thing, but I think the further apart people live, the stronger the community is.  We might not be able to see our neighbours, but our community is strong.  We are part of our local school, Rural Fire Service, and Scout Group communities.  Our children are growing up to be responsible members of our society.  It is wonderful to share this journey with them too.
Every day our choice rewards us with an immense feeling of satisfaction, but it does have some minor drawbacks.  I will talk about some of these in my next blog.

Let me know what you love about living on a hobby farm 🙂