Monday, 24 May 2021

Trail Camera Initial Results


Some months ago our oldest son, Stuart, gave us a digital trail camera so that we could assess its effectiveness in monitoring wildlife use of the Conron Stockcrete 'Mini' water trough we installed in the 5-ways Paddock at the top of the farm. We installed the trough during the last drought to support survival of native fauna. One of the main reasons for installing the camera is for monitoring birdlife. We have had discussions with Birding NSW about them possibly being able to remotely access the camera via the internet to enable their members to check in on what's happening with bird activity.


The camera is a Campark T80 which has features such as built in WiFi function enabling wireless connection to a smart phone, 20 megapixel images (with date, time and temperature timestamp) and video option, infrared function and a bunch of other neat stuff. This photo shows the overall layout of the camera and trough, with us having attached the camera to the star post closest to the trough.

You will see that there is green vegetation around the trough. We now realise that it's due in no small part to the aggressive way some birds wash themselves in the water.

At the time of installing the camera the water in the trough was pretty mucky as we've not been in the habit of regularly cleaning the trough. We did clean it prior to installing the camera around midday on Saturday 22nd May 2021.

Initial Results

Mid afternoon yesterday, Sunday 23rd May 2021 we connected one of our smart phones to the camera and copied all of the images that had been captured since the previous day. There were about 200 still images in all; reflecting the fact that our trough is being used by quite a bit of fauna.

Here's some of the photos that were taken in the afternoon of 22nd May:

Australian Magpie

Australian Raven


Crested Pigeon

Grey-crowned Babbler

Noisy Miner

Just the one image was captured during the night via the infrared function.

Feral Cat

Whilst we were aware that feral cats are on the farm from time to time if we find that this cat is a regular user of the trough we'll most likely trap and remove it.

Here's a sample of the bird species photographed in the morning of Sunday 23rd May 2021.

Eastern Rosella (Phillip's favourite birds!)

Hooded Robin (we LOVE seeing these on the farm)

Double-barred Finch (this is the first time we've seen these on the farm and this takes total number of species we've seen to 107)

Pied Butcherbird

There were 6 more species captured by the camera but we've not included them as they were not clear or we did not know what they were.

Overall comments

Our overall comments are as follows:
  1. The camera really does do an excellent job of taking images that enable identification of what is using the trough
  2. That said, with especially small birds the images are not to a standard that would allow quality publication. On the other hand we might find that if we moved the camera closer to the trough they'd be fine.
  3. The 'high traffic' nature of the location is such that there's quite a bit involved in going through and managing the images. It would be good to 'outsource' this ... possibly to Birding NSW ... assuming we can get the internet connectivity set up correctly. For us at this point we plan on only having the camera turned on periodically; and may set it up at different locations.
  4. We were surprised that some of the more common birds we see here were not captured; such as Galah, Apostle Bird, Bronze-wing Pigeon and Blue Bonnet. This may be because the water quality in the trough has not been what it could have because we don't clean it regularly and the alternate water sources (dams ... 2 within about 1 km of the trough) are better options for them.
  5. We were also a bit surprised that we did not see species such as Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Wallaroo and foxes.
  6. Of course we don't know if there were species that used the trough but were not captured by the camera
  7. There were very few photos that showed no fauna in them. We assume that it these cases the camera detected movement but the critter was gone by the time the camera activated.
  8. We are very happy overall with the camera and what we've experienced already.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Video - How to Sharpen a Stihl Chainsaw Chain

Here's the official video from Stihl showing how to sharpen a chainsaw chain using the standard equipment they manufacture and sell (which fortunately we have on hand!).

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Equipment List for Installing Strainer Posts and Stays

Fencing seems to be a task carried out intermittently which means that it can be a challenge to remember all the bits and pieces to take with us to the pale where we are installing strainer posts and stays. We appreciate that different people have different equipment to do tasks of this nature. What follows is what we take with us together with the logic where possibly not obvious.

If it’s a full blown effort and not in the fire season we normally take the ute and the car, both with trailers. In the fire season we still use 2 trailers but transport them onto the site in sequence using the ute. We don’t take the car during fire season as the catalytic converter for ULP vehicles gets extremely hot and can cause fire. Our ute has a diesel engine.

Trailer 1 - Contents include:
·        Sand and gravel mix - for making the concrete for placement around the strainer posts and at the base of the stays

Brickies wheelbarrow – for transporting the mixed concrete to the posts and stays

Trailer 2 – Contents include:
·        Portable generator and starter cord

Concrete mixer. We find that an ideal quantity when making the concrete is 18 shovels of sand and gravel and 3 shovels of cement. This suits both the mixer bowl and the wheelbarrow.

Ratchet straps and a rope for anchoring the concrete mixer and generator on the trailer

Ute – Equipment taken on the back of the tray
Extension cord – from the mixer to the generator

Old towel – for hand wiping and cleaning up the top of the strainer post after making the concrete cap at the top

Spirit level – for ensuring that the strainer post is in fact vertical and not on an angle

Crow bar – for digging the holes and in some cases as a lever to get old fencing out of the way.

A few star posts – for keeping old fencing out of the way, levering the bottom of the strainer if not centred properly and for temporary stays while the concrete sets

Hammer – for hitting in the star posts

Bags of General Purpose cement. The mix ratio is one shovel of cement to six shovels of sand and gravel

(pocket) Knife – for cutting open the bags of cement. Norma practice is to lay the bag down and cut on one side across the centre. This then allows for the centre to be pulled up exposing 2 halves – from which to progressively shovel out the contents.

Half a dozen bricks or so – for placing under the ends of the stays to get them the right level from the ground. Also for chocks for the trailers and mixer if the ground’s not level.

Full 20 litre plastic water containers. About 6 or so. For adding to the cement, sand and gravel in the mixer; cleaning the mixer, shovel and electric fencing posts; and for other general washing.

Shovel – for filling the concrete mixer, sticking into the wet concrete around the post and stays to ensure gaps are filled, and for smoothing the surface of the wet concrete.

A round 42 litre flexible multi-tub aka horse feed bucket. Good for left over cement until next time.

Fuel – for the generator

Leather gloves – for when digging and also good for the starter cord pulling hand with the generator

Ratchet straps – for tightening the stays against the strainer until the concrete sets. See photo.

8 inch soil auger – for the strainer post hole and end of the stays.

Mattock – helps in making the trench for the stays.

Drinking water and other sustenance

Monday, 5 October 2015

Heavy Duty Ring Clips

Here's a quick tip when buying ring clips to clamp the end of a flexible hose to a camlock fitting. If your water pressure is high then it's important to buy heavy duty rather than standard ring clips, and to tighten them at least once more (after the initial tightening) after leaving the hose and fitting in the sun for a while (after the first tightening).

Below is a photo of one of our hose fittings. We also elected to use 2 rather than 1 ring clip per end fitting. Better to be safe than sorry. In our case we started with standard ring clips but the water pressure blew the fitting off when there was in excess of 50 metres of head pressure.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Ear Tagging of Cattle on Ochre Arch

We thought we’d share the accompanying photo for those not familiar with the tagging process of cattle in Australia. The high-tech white tag on the left is for compliance with the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) requirements and the tag on the left is for the low-tech Ochre Arch cattle management system. The white tags are designed for lifetime animal traceability.
The white tags have two numbers associated with them. An internal Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) number which is 16 characters long (15 numbers and a space between the 3rd and 4th) and is read electronically via a scanning device affectionately known as a ‘wand’; and an external visual National Livestock Identification System identification number.  The NLIS ID indicates the property where the animal was identified and whether that was the property of birth or not. The first 8 characters of the 16 digit NLIS ID number is the Property Identification Code (PIC) of the property it was ordered for and if the device is white in colour it means that the animal was born on that property. Pink NLIS ID tags are for use with cattle not born on the property.

The RFID can only be read electronically. The NLIS ID cannot be read electronically. There is no logical correlation between the RFID ID number and the NLIS ID number. The two numbers are supplied simultaneously by the device manufacturer to the NLIS administrators and it is via that database that ‘linking’ is recorded.

On Ochre Arch we don’t have the volume of cattle to warrant the purchase of a ‘wand’ and use of associated software to use the NLIS tags for cattle management. It is really only practical for us to see and read the NLIS ID number when the animal is in the cattle crush. Of course we do install the NLIS ID tags as this is a prerequisite for any process that results in cattle moving off our farm. To date our cattle have had only two destinations – the Forbes Central Livestock Exchange for sale at the weekly ‘fat’ cattle market and direct to the Cowra meat processing plant in connection with our direct sales of beef as quarter packs. In both cases the NLIS database is advised by third parties of the animal transfers – by the stock agent and by the meat processor.

When we order and purchase NLIS ID tags the manufacturer sends details of the tag and their numbers to the NLIS database and the tags are recorded against our PIC in the database. We also have tag numbers move onto our database when we acquire stock. To this point we have only acquired stock from two sources – purchase of our cows and bull from a neighbour; and purchase of steers at store sales held at Forbes.

We have installed pre-printed yellow management tags on all of our cattle and keep manual records. We initially purchased ‘blank’ yellow management tags but found that the hand-written numbers we put on them using permanent marker pens faded making them pretty useless. The tags enable us to do a range of tasks such as:

  • Matching’ cows with their calves
  • Calculating calf ages in the context of doing visual growth rate assessments
  • Off the above … using the age to estimate when to sell calves to optimise the financial return. All things being equal buyers tend to pay a higher price per kg the younger the animal is.
  • Seeing how many cattle we’ve sold over time and have on hand
  • Identifying cows that may have not fallen pregnant and need to be culled.
  • Problem solving when and if the NLIS tag gets lost.

The last point was particularly relevant with stock we sent to market last Sunday for sale on Monday. After the sale we received an email warning notification from the NLIS that one of the steers recorded against of National Vendor Declaration had a NLIS tag with a number suggesting it had come from another property. After much investigation by us and our agent it was discovered that the steer had lost its National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) ear tag in transit and due to unusual circumstances a replacement tag from another property was installed in error at the yards. This event has been the catalyst for us doing the research behind this article and also reconciling and amending the records in the NLIS database for our farm. The NLIS database is not particularly friendly to use!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Just Add Water Experiment - Final Write Up

At the start of this year in the midst of very dry conditions we set up an experiment where we enclosed and regularly watered a small area of land. The last update was on 25th January and link to that article is here.
We continued the watering until mid February when reasonable rainfall occurred and it became clear that strong growth was occurring both within and outside the enclosure. The bottom line of the experiment was that, not surprisingly, good growth of grass does occur just through regular watering ... and that it was not necessary to add seed or fertiliser to make grass grow. What follows is a series of photograph taking you through to present day. The area is still enclosed and provides a good insight into the continuing growth of plants not subject to any grazing pressure.

1st February 2014 - Bird Life Attracted to the Enclosure

1st February 2014 - Rams pushed the enclosure out of the way to access green pick

13th February 2014 - Rabbits attempt to move in to the enclosed area

19th February 2014 - Real progress evident within the enclosure

13th July 2014 - Condition inside enclosure - due to stock exclusion

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Just-Add-Water Experiment - Update

On 4th January 2014 we kicked off our 'Just Add Water Experiment' which we described in our blogsite post dated 6th January 2014. Here's a link. In the comments section of that post you will find updates describing watering events, daily temperatures, rainfall events and a few other bits and pieces.

It's now 19 days since we kicked things off and we felt it time to share photos taken today showing what's happening at the site.

The photo below was taken outside but adjacent to the site i.e. not watered aside from natural rainfall. Stock are able to access this section of land. If you enlarge the image and look very closely you will be able to see some very slight green grass growth ... just a few plants:

The photo below was taken inside the watering area of the site. Stock are able to access this section of land. If you expand the image and look closely you will see many green plants but only minimal leaf area due to the grazing impact.

The photo below was taken inside the watering area of the site and inside the stock exclusion area. You will see many plants and most have a reasonable amount of green leaf area. We expect to see rapid growth in the coming weeks.

At this point it is fair to say that considerable seed germination has occurred on the watered area.

Remote Power Supply Performance During Serious Heat

Our maximum daily temperature during the past fortnight has been as follows:
12th January: 42 degrees C, 13th January: 40, 14th January 40, 15th January: 42, 16th January: 44, 17th January: 43, 18th January: 45.5, 19th January: 42, 20th January: 40, 21st January: 38, 22nd January: 38, 23rd January: 35, 24th January: 25 (17 mm rainfall received during the course of the day), 25th January: 30

9 days of temperatures of 40 degrees or more is quite an extended hot spell. It has given us quite an opportunity to see how both we and our set-up handle the heat.

A few years ago we installed what our research suggested was the most energy efficient reverse cycle refrigerated air conditioner manufactured by Mitsubishi Industrial, model number SRK71ZEA-S1. A photo of the external inverter unit is below:

Our original intention was to install an evaporative air cooler but we opted for an air conditioner on advice from many that the former are of little use during high humidity periods. The latter does require considerably more power to run and was not in the calculations for our remote power system. It and the stock water pump are by far and away the two major power use items during summer. The latter is getting more use than normal presently due to the 'Just Add Water Experiment' we kicked off on 6th January.

Our house is not large by any means and during the renovations we did our best to insulate both the roof cavity and walls where we replaced the old plasterboard.

So here are some observations and learnings during the recent hot spell:

  • We both seem to be a bit better at handling heat than the 'average Joe-blow', which might be genetic or physiological
  • Our house insulation combined with fan use is such that we are comfortable inside in temperatures up to about 35 degrees
  • Solar panel performance deteriorates in temperatures above about 35 degrees C. On days below that our solar panels will harvest up to 19 kilowatt hours on a clear day, and when it is above 40 degrees about 17 kilowatt hours is the best we can hope for
  • The inverter we use that converts battery stored direct current to 240 volts AC recently 'chucked a serious huff' during temperatures above 40 degrees while the back-up generator was running.
  • The air conditioner doesn't draw much power when external temperatures are up to about 35 degrees, uses more up to 40 degrees, and heaps more when it is above 40 degrees.
  • We've found that the most appropriate internal temperature setting for us with our air conditioner unit is 28 degrees. The internal unit is near the ceiling so that actual temperature at 'living' height is well below 28 degrees
  • We've found that on above 40 degree days it works well to run the back-up generator for an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening. We see the cost of running the generator as the price of comfort during extremes.
  • We'd need to double the capacity of our solar panels to capture enough natural energy to cater for above 40 degree days. This is not cost justifiable as the reality is that there are not that many days during the year when temperatures are above 40 degrees.
  • On days when the maximum temperature exceeds 40 degrees we run the air conditioner from around 12.00 pm through to 9.00 pm.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Upgrading Some Tree Guards

Our livestock are by nature pretty handy at consuming the leaf matter on Kurrajong Trees across the farm. This is not an issue with established trees but is for those we planted some years ago to become paddock trees. The addition of cattle to our enterprise mix also means that being taller than sheep they are easily able to get over the top of the guards we installed ... at the time just to protect the plants from sheep.

We've decided to upgrade the tree guards around young Kurrajong Trees in paddocks that have below what we think is the desirable number of paddock trees, especially in the Spring Paddock, Airstrip Paddock and Duck Dam Paddock. The photo below shows one of the Kurrajong trees in the Spring Paddock with the old guard still in place.

It would be great to be able to upgrade the guards on all of the trees we've planted as paddock trees but the materials are a bit on the pricey side.

The photo below shows the same tree in the Spring Paddock with a new guard in place. Height is 1.8 metres constructed out of sheep yard mesh. Hopefully this will do the trick!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Just-Add-Water Experiment


Our last decent rainfall event was in mid-September 2013 at 36 mm; so things here on Ochre Arch are ‘crisp’ and the long term forecast suggests little rain until autumn or beyond.

The quality of our bore water supply is first class, both in terms of mineralisation (or lack of it) and lack of impurities (zero chance of hose fitting blockages). The marginal supply cost is low at around $0.50 per kilolitre and marginal on-farm pumping cost is next to zero provided we don’t need to draw on the back-up diesel generator i.e. power source is from our solar and wind turbine sources. We are not stocked to capacity and thus are not using our full daily bore water scheme supply allocation.

It’s been a while since we kicked off a new on-farm experiment. They are one of the best ways to learn.

Experiment Description

We've installed a high flow water sprinkler well out from fence-lines in the Airstrip Paddock and will observe vegetation change over time from the soil (under the range of the sprinkler) being kept constantly damp from regular evening watering events using our surplus water scheme supply.

Current Soil Surface Condition

The photo below shows the soil surface condition at the site.


We recently purchased the following parts and assembled a water sprinkler (parts listed from the ‘top down’ in terms of the final assembly):
  • 20 mm brass two-nozzle impact sprinkler. This was the highest capacity sprinkler the supplier had on hand. We wanted to be able to apply the maximum water over the greatest area in the shortest period of time.
  • 3/4 inch BSP threaded plastic socket
  • 900 mm 3/4 inch BSP threaded pipe riser. The riser needed to be at least this high to keep it clear of the sheep.
  • 3/4 inch BSP threaded elbow
  • 3/4 inch to 18 mm Neta brass fitting. Our hoses are 18 mm rather than the 12 mm standard, allowing for higher volume flows.

Here's a photo of the brass nozzle on the top of the riser.

Estimating Water Flow Rate

When the assembly was complete we attached it to a hose near the house connected to the bore water supply hydrant. The spray nozzle was placed in an empty 20 litre bucket and the hose turned on full pressure. We timed to see how long it took to fill the bucket with water. The pressure was such that initially water flowed out of the bucket. After things settled we calculated bucket fill time at 25 seconds giving a flow rate of 0.8 litres per second.

Our initial thinking was that we’d run the sprinkler in the paddock long enough to disperse 1,000 litres. Based on the above figures this would take a tad over 20 minutes.

Installing the Sprinkler

We chose to set the sprinkler up in the Airstrip Paddock with water sourced from the hydrant on the fence between the holding yard for both our sheep and cattle yards and the Airstrip Paddock. Site location factors included being within close proximity to the house (we can see the site from under the covered area to the east of the house), on pasture that has been reasonably heavily grazed and in a paddock that we set stock with both pet sheep and our rams. Whatever grows will be a good source of protein for these livestock through to the end of summer.

Using one of our 18 mm hoses as the connector and distance setter we selected a spot equidistant from two fence-lines such that it would not be possible for the water to land on fence-lines i.e. all growth will be within the Airstrip Paddock. In the interest of simplicity a shortened star post was hit into the ground at the desired location and the new assembly attached.

Here's a photo of the riser in place, with the nozzle on top.

Stock Exclusion Area

Using two panels of weldmesh we constructed and put in place under the estimated drip line a circular fenced area. The diameter is approximately 3.6 metres giving an area of approximately 10.2 square metres. Having this in place will allow us to observe vegetation growth without the sheep having access, although other herbivores such as kangaroos and rabbits may gain access.

The photo below shows the stock exclusion area with the sprinkler 'doing its thing'.

First watering

At a tad after 7.30 pm on Saturday 4 January 2014 we turned the water supply to the sprinkler on. There was a brisk breeze blowing which meant that the water spray up wind was not nearly as far as it was downwind. The sprinkler worked extremely well.

After 20 minutes when in theory about 1,000 litres of water had been dispersed the top of the soil under the sprinkler was damp but our impression was that it would not be sufficient to get much growth happening. Consequently we decided to run the sprinkler for a full hour, making 3,000 litres dispersed. The soil surface was very damp (but no mud).

Watering close to sunset should mean we reduce the evaporation from the site, or certainly in comparison to what might occur if we did the watering during the middle of the day.

Area Watered
Once the watering was complete we were then able to calculate the total area watered. We simply walked across the wet area from drip-line to drip line twice at perpendicular angles. From this we estimated that the diameter of the wet area was 22 metres or slightly more than the length of a standard cricket pitch. Using a web-based calculator ( the approximate area watered was 380 square metres or 3.8 % of a hectare.

Water Applied per Square Metre

3,000 litres of water spread evenly over 380 square metres equates to roughly 8 mm water falling per square metre (sought-of comparable to 8 mm rainfall). Using the generally accepted guide that every mm rainfall produces 10 mm soil profile moisture this means that roughly 8 cm of soil profile moisture would have been created. Most of the ‘action’ in the soil happens in the top 4 inches or 100 mm, so we are pretty happy with our first watering. Using the foregoing it means that we will be applying roughly 1 mm water over the area each 7.5 minutes.

Second Watering
On 5th January 2014 we again watered the area for one hour. Our intent is to repeat this at around the same time each day for at least 2 weeks regardless of any natural rainfall.

Moisture Profile Check
At 4.00 pm on Monday 6th January 2014 we dug into the soil within the drip line to see what the moisture penetration was so far. The top 100 mm was damp, and dry below this depth. Daily watering for one hour should be sufficient to stimulate plant growth. One point to note: the temperature on 4th through 6th January 2014 has not been extreme but the wind has been strong.

Cost of the Experiment
The total cost of the materials used in the experiment is around $100. Daily water cost will be about $1.50.

Reporting Outcomes
We will make periodic posts showing any material change on the site.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Review of 2013 Rainfall

Our impression was that 2013 was, overall, a dry year. With 2014 upon us it is a good opportunity to check the data and do a brief analysis of the 2013 rainfall results to see what actually happened.

Some context:

  • The summer of 2012/3 was particularly dry
  • The previous two summers were very wet
  • Our long term average rainfall is around 600 mm per annum, spread evenly over each month (50 mm per month)
  • We tend to have more rainfall event days during the cooler months, but higher falls per event during the hotter months
  • 2006 was one of the driest on record at a total of about 265 mm
To the 2013 figures:
  • Total rainfall received was 385 mm. This is roughly 2/3rds of the long term average.
  • Thus overall 2013 WAS a dry year
  • Total for the summer months was  31.5 mm (average 10.5 per month) ... dry
  • Total for autumn was 114.5 mm (average 38 per month) ... dry
  • Total for winter was 169 mm (average 56.3 per month) ... a tad above average
  • Total for spring was 70 mm (average 23.3 per month) ... dry
If we define a significant rainfall event as one where we receive 25 mm or more (half the monthly long term average figure) then:
  • There were (only) 4 significant rainfall events during 2013
  • They were: 70 mm on 1 March, 42.5 mm on 2 June, 28 mm on 19-20 July, and 36.5 mm on 16-18 September
  • The year was one where rainfall was predominant during the cooler months
  • A pretty good year for those growing winter crops
  • Not so bright for us graziers

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Chooks no longer laying in the nesting boxes

We've only got 3 chooks and let them out each day to roam where they choose. A few weeks ago we sensed that something must have spooked them around the laying boxes that are set up in the chook-yard. Since then they now lay their eggs on the 'director's chairs' around the round table under the shade area to the east of the house. Here's a picture of today's effort:

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Aboriginal Heritage Site Recording Application

We registered the ochre arch on our farm some years ago on the Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System (AHIMS), colloquially pronounced 'aims'. The process was very much paper based, cumbersome and it took a few years for the registration to be lodged in the database.

Yesterday we received a courtesy email from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage informing us about the recent release of 'the new Site Recording Android application', following the earlier release of an iPhone application. By the look of things both applications will make recording of aboriginal heritage sites much simpler and more accurate, with all key information collected on site.

Here's a link to the website were the application and process is explained: AHIMS Site Recording forms.

Monday, 25 March 2013

New Cattle Yards Now Functional

At long last we have our cattle yards up and running; except one item – a loading ramp which we’ll arrange before too long. The bottom line is that the yards are operational and we used them for the first time yesterday with calf marking. In this post we share some of our experiences in getting to this stage.

Yards Location
Our existing sheep yards and shearing shed are about the right distance – 100 metres or so - from the house. Far enough away that we don’t get dust at the house when working on the sheep and close enough that they are easy to get to. The sheep yards have an excellent hinge-joint holding yard with great stock access from the Duck Dam Paddock. The holding yard is designed for relatively low stock densities and feeds into the main part of the sheep yards (which are steel and too low for cattle) and we figured would comfortably double up as a holding yard for cattle (although not at the same time, of course!). So our new cattle yards run to the north from the holding yard, with the sheep yards running to the west. The topography at this location is pretty much flat.

Yard Design
Given our lack of experience with cattle handling in yards we did a power of research in developing the design for our yards. Some of this included:
  •  Reviewing standard cattle yard designs produced by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and several yard manufacturers
  • Talking to many cattle producers
  • Seeking input from one of the owners of Low Stress Stockhandling on the draft design (sadly no response)
  • Assisting our friends Sam and Claire Johnson at Boxgum Grazing, Murringo with their annual calf marking

The latter brought to light the following important observations:
  • Drafting can be carried out using low stress stock handling principles in the larger pens in the yards i.e. not necessary to use a drafting race per se
  • Adult and young cattle are relatively easy to separate as the adults get used to the flow of the yards and are keen to go through open gates, while the juvenile are more hesitant
  • Young cattle can more readily and tend to turn around in the standard width races. Thus bringing them through in small lots is likely to save time in the long run.
  • A crush is pretty much these days an essential part of any good yard design. Added to this, most veterinarians will now only attend to cattle on farms that have crushes in place for OH&S reasons
  • There is a real skill in getting the timing right to get the front doors of the crush to shut at the right moment so that the neck of the animal is restrained. If one gets the timing wrong and the animal ends up getting out of the front of the crush it’s important that it ‘escapes’ into a pen in the yard where it is straightforward to get them to return to the crush
  • Races can be a bit too long necessitating a second or third person to be pushing the animals forward to the working area / crush.

We made the decision early on to make our yards using mobile cattle panels rather than fixed rails. This was in part due to our lack of experience, in the knowledge that if we made a mistake it would be a pretty simple process to move panels to something more workable. When we were drawing up the yards we went through several sheets of paper, scrapping and refining what we thought would work. It then occurred to us that we could use match sticks to represent standard panel lengths, and that when we were happy with the design we could photograph and print the layout. Here is a photo of the layout we came up with that is in fact our final design.

Some explanatory points in respect of the above design:
  • Entrance to the yards from the holding yard is from the bottom left
  • There are 3 ‘pens’ within the yards. The flow of the cattle through the yards is basically 1. From the holding yard (not shown) into the “Main” pen, then right or east into the “Bud Box” pen, then left or north into the small ‘Forcing” pen, then left or west down the race, through the crush and either back in to the “Main” pen, out into the Front Paddock or (in time) up the loading ramp
  • The position of the (future) loading ramp is represented by the open parallel matches at the top left
  • Gates (6 in all) are represented as in an open position, hinged as shown
  • ‘Man’ access gates (2 in all) in specially made panels are represented by the small silver rods
  • There are 3 slide gates – one at the rear of the loading ramp, one at the back of the crush, and another at the rear of the race leading up to the back of the crush
  • The ‘crossed’ matches represent the cattle crush
The following photograph shows the entrance to the cattle yards from the holding yard.

The photo was taken while standing in the holding yard. Visible to the right is the standard sheep gate that goes into the holding yard from the Duck Dam Paddock. This standard gate is, of course, closed when moving cattle from the holding yard into the main pen.

The following photo is taken from where the loading ramp will be in time.

On the left you can see the sliding gate that will provide access to the loading ramp in due course. The front of the crush is in the background. The ‘Man’ access gate can be seen to the right of the panel in the centre of the photo.

In this photograph you can see the closed exit gate from the ‘Push/Forcing’ pen.

Several people recommended that we install a ‘bugle’ race in the design. Our own experience with sheep and experienced low stress stock handlers suggests to us that these are not suited to the way we intend handling our stock in the yards.

Yard Suppliers
Approaches were made to 4 different cattle yard / panel suppliers:
  1. M A Steel at Young. We have made several other steel purchases from them previously and have been happy with the quality of goods and service, and delivery arrangements.
  2. Hayley’s Steel and Hardware, Forbes. Standard panel lengths were shorter than what we were looking for.
  3. Mad Harry’s at Young. We’d been told that their pricing was considerably less than what M A Steel charged but this proved not to be the case.
  4. National Livestock Systems based at Rutherford near Maitland in NSW. We’d heard rave reviews about their products and sent them our yard design. They undertook to provide us with a quote but did not respond. Some time later we visited a local farmer who sourced yards from this business. Whilst he was happy with the product the access to the yards did not work effectively and he told us that the amount of effort required to finally get the yards delivered was atrocious. The problem stems from the fact that the business revolves around one person who is ‘all over the place’. Our take on this was that this is not a business to deal with if you need yards in a reasonable time frame.
We ordered our panels, gates etc from M A Steel. They were very helpful in altering 2 gates so that they hung differently to the norm.

Crush Supplier
The different crush designs are, to put it mildly, mind-blowing. To cut a long story short we purchased a Vet Crush from John Berends Implements through Southwest Tractors at Young off the back of a recommendation from a neighbour. The beauty of their crush is that they only make one design. It also happened to be about $800 cheaper than what was on offer from M A Steel. The fact that our neighbour had one installed also meant we were able to check it out (several times) and get better prepared for how to set it up properly.

We ordered our crush toward the latter part of 2012 but were not ready to receive it at that time. Southwest Tractors kindly agreed to store it at their business premises at Young until we were ready, with us paying for it in total when they received it. They were consequently able to sell at least one other crush that we know of due to ours being on display at their premises.

Here’s a picture taken looking toward the east from inside the front of the crush.

You can see from the concrete that our cattle have now properly ‘christened’ the crush!

Yard Assembly
Given that our yards site is fairly level it was a straight-forward process to use the pins supplied by M A Steel and assemble the panels. There were a couple of slight hiccups:
  • M A Steel supplied us with short pins but ended up exchanging these for long ones at no extra cost. One of their employees was especially helpful and took the pins to his home for us to collect outside of normal working hours.
  • It was necessary to move some of the lugs on some of the panels, and we got a bloke from Grenfell who has a mobile welding plant to help us.
Concrete Slab for the Crush
The process of getting the slab in place for the crush was roughly as follows:
  • Via Southwest Tractors we sourced from John Berends Implements a set of installation instructions. These helped us figure out approximately where the anchor bolts need to go.
  • We sought the help of a local handy man who made up a set of 100 mm high form-work to the length needed as well as pins to put the form-work in the correct position.
  • When we started digging to move soil from where the slab was to go it quickly became apparent that we’d be digging for several hours. At the suggestion of our handyman we rang David Troth from Troth Equipment in Grenfell who came to the farm within about 1.5 hours with his Bobcat. It took him all of 20 minutes or so to remove the soil. At our request we got him to pile the topsoil up in the house-yard and have subsequently created 2 new garden beds. He also used the Bobcat to lift a wooden fence post and a wooden gate post out of the ground. More on this later.
  • We put the form-work in place and used mesh that was at one stage part of a trellis structure for reinforcement. Section of the mesh were cut away to allow for later drilling for the holes for the anchor bolts of the crush.
  • Mitton Brothers Earthmoving supplied 1.4 metres of concrete for the slab. The amount proved spot-on, although the delivery fellow turned up about 20 minutes before the agreed time which meant we did not have time to install the reinforcing mesh as well as we might have liked. Not a biggie in the scheme of things.
  • Our handyman and yours truly leveled out the concrete and our handyman did the finishing touches using appropriate hand tools.
Crush Delivery and Placement
After the concrete slab was in place for a few days we lined up a time for the crush to be delivered (on a trailer – driver was Ben from Southwest Tractors – delivery was included in the price of the crush) and another neighbour to be on hand with his front-end loader with forklift attachment in place. Here you can see the crush being lifted from the trailer.

Our neighbour very kindly stayed around and helped us position and anchor the crush. It’s quite amazing just how much practical knowledge long term experienced farmers have, and we were most grateful for the assistance.

The equipment we had on hand to install the crush included:
  • Generator for power
  • Industrial concrete drill and bit (borrowed from another neighbour)
  • Air compressor and fitting for blowing air at high pressure (to clean out the holes drilled in the concrete)
  • Various other hand tools such as a crow bar, block, spanners etc.
  • WD 40 for lubricating the drill holes
  • Bolts suitable to screwing into the holes through the base plates on the crush. These were 12 mm X 100 mm and cost over $5 each.
Holding Yard Fence Repairs
It proved both opportune and appropriate to renovate the northern fence-line of the holding yard. Some of the steps included:
  • Replace the wooden strainer post that the long gate at the western end hangs from with a steel strainer post and stay. Our handyman welded the gudgeon and hinge used (both with some amendments) with the wooden post onto the steel post as well as a lug on the other side of the post to anchor the stay.
  • Cut the fence to create a space for the entrance gate to the Main pen of the yard. A new steel strainer post and stay were installed.
  • Remove a wooden fence post. (Both wooden posts were lifted out of the ground by David Troth using his Bobcat.)
  • Star posts along the fence-line lifted where necessary
  • New hinge joint installed
  • Barbed wire removed and replaced with plain wire
  • Both steel strainer posts were concreted into the ground using left over concrete from the slab order
  • Large rock placed to support the long gate when opened to the north.
The result is that the fence, posts and gates are now in much better condition and should not need further repair for quite some time. We left the two strainer posts much longer than necessary, allowing for later heightening of the fence to make it more cattle proof if necessary. Here is a photo of the repaired northern holding yard fence, taken from inside the sheep yards.

Final Tasks to Complete the Yards
We arranged for the local welding specialist to call again and weld some lengths of 50 X 75 RHS onto the front of the crush together with lugs to act as anchor points for the two gates in parallel leading to the sliding gate where the loading ramp will go in time.
The land where this sliding gate goes was lower than desirable so we moved some blue metal that had been left near the water bore site in the Arch Paddock onto the spot and leveled it off.

There were a couple of other tasks necessary to get the crush in working order:
  • Installation of a length of rope that when pulled releases the lock on the front doors
  • Spraying of WD 40 on all of the moving parts

We are very pleased with the overall set-up and found that the yards worked to expectation when marking calves yesterday morning. The only unexpected challenge came from having two of our calves who have no fear of us, and we found the size of their flight zone to be smaller than our own area of personal space!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Comparing Electricity and Gas Offers in NSW

In recent times we've been assisting a close family member reduce electricity charges via installation of a grid-connect solar system and selection of a new electricity supply retailer. The latter action proved appropriate when we discovered post installation of the solar system that existing retailer (Country Energy) does not give any of its customers a feed in tariff (payment for any surplus electricity fed into the grid) for installations post cessation of the Solar Bonus Schemes.

A replacement electricity retailer (Origin Energy) was selected based primarily off 3 factors:

  • They do pay a feed in tariff - presently $0.06 per kilowatt hour
  • Their overall pricing seemed reasonable. Certainly no worse than Country Energy.
  • They are a strong and well known brand, who also happens to be in the process of assuming the operations and activities of Country Energy.
Our close family member rang and obtained a written offer (Agreement) from Origin Energy which we've been reviewing to make sure it is OK prior to the end of the 'cool off' period. Right near the very end of the 'Customer Disclosure Statement' from Origin Energy is a reference to a website owned and operated by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) that provides excellent information on electricity and gas supplies and suppliers in New South Wales; including a calculator that helps compare offers current between energy suppliers. The website is titled My Energy Offers and here is a link to it. The website is a fantastic place for anyone living in NSW to start research on energy supply matters and offers.

We are still reviewing the offer from Origin Energy and have yet to decide whether to accept or otherwise.