Sunday, 9 December 2012

Dung Beetles Now Active In Cattle Manure

In the past couple of weeks we've noticed quite a deal of dung beetle activity in the manure pats from our cattle. This link takes you to the Dung Beetle article on Wikipedia. The article explains that there are three main types of dung beetles:

  • 'Rollers' who are called such because they roll the dung into balls
  • 'Tunnelers' because they tunnel under the dung and bury it in the the tunnels they make in the soil
  • "Dwellers' because they basically live or dwell in the dung
In our dung we've observed two different species. One is quite small at about twice the size of a house fly or half the size of a blow fly. They other is much larger at around 2/3rds the size of Christmas Beetles. Based on the activity we can see in and below the dung at least one of these is a tunneler; which to be honest is our preferred type as we are very keen to see the beetles assist in the build up of organic matter in our soils.

Below is a sequence of photos showing different aspects of the beetles and the dung at different stages. NB: The photographs are not all of the same dung pat, but rather a range at different stages of dung beetle impact.

Untouched / fresh dung pat

From what we understand this is a pretty good 'shape' for a dung pat in that it contains good moisture whilst maintaining reasonable structure. Given that we are now in the non-growing season due to the extended dry period (we've not had a rainfall event of in excess of 25 mm since July) we recently recommenced giving our cattle daily Distillers Condensed Soluble as a supplement, together with a small quantity of some other minerals and grains.

It is important to note that whilst some of the sheep manure has dung beetle activity it is much less in percentage terms of the total number of deposits. Almost all of the cattle manure pats have some level of beetle activity which we deduce is as a consequence of the greater critical mass of the cattle pats. They take comparatively much longer to dry out and have a higher initial moisture content.

Early Stages of Dung Beetle Activity

Here you can see evidence of the tunneling activity on the edge of the cattle pat.

Tunneling Through the Dung

The above photograph was taken of the preceding cattle pat after most of the top was moved away. Clearly evident is one of the tunnels through the manure, as is one of the beetles (partially covered). We've been able to flip over some of the pats at this stage and have seen entrances to the tunnels that are in some cases every 2 to 3 cm or so, quite evenly spread.

Dung Tunnel Close-up

Here's a photo in macro of the same dung tunnel.

Dung Beetle in Close-up

Here's a better picture of one of the species of dung beetle. It's similar in appearance in some ways to a Christmas beetle and about 2/3rds the size.

Pat as Dung Beetle Activity Subsides

Here you can see that the cattle pat has lost most of its structure due to the dung beetle activity.

Pat After Dung Beetle Activity Has Ceased

Here you can see just how well the dung has been dispersed. Eggs will have been laid in the below-ground stores of dung. Aside from assisting in enhanced mineral cycling the beetles also dramatically reduce the scope for flies to lay eggs in the dung.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Trampoline Mat Replacement

The mat on our family trampoline needed replacing. A web search identified the Gold Coast based business called Topline Trampolines and checking of the website suggested they were reputable with reasonable pricing. They have some excellent pages on the website which enables customers to accurately determine the size and type of mat to order. Here's a link to the page for what we were after, given our trampoline is rectangular in shape. After looking at our trampoline and doing some measurements we determined that ours is a "Hills" with 54 springs: 17 along each side and 10 along each end.
We placed our order online which was straightforward and the very next morning received an email advice letting us know that the replacement mat had been dispatched. Excellent service!
The mat arrived yesterday and we installed it straight away. The size was spot on.
Close observation of the replacement (see photo above) reveals two key differences between the old (on top) and new (on the bottom) mats:

  1. The overlap in the new mat is about 1 cm less than the original meaning that the stitching is closer to the edge. This is not a big drama but does make it more difficult to install the wires from the old mat into the new.
  2. The new mat has only two rows of stitching V four on the old mat. We suspect that the life of the new mat will be considerably reduced as a result and are a little concerned that the mat will be less able to handle use by other than small children. Hopefully the cost reduction approach by the manufacturer does not translate into reduced safety.

We are very happy with the service from Topline but a bit disappointed that the quality of the product seems less than the original. Time will tell.

Excellent Stockmanship Book

"Stockmanship: A Powerful Tool For Grazing Lands Management" by Steve Cote is as good a book around that explains the principles and techniques behind the low stress stockhandling methods we use here on Ochre Arch. We don't, though, profess to be across or proficient in all of the techniques.

Most of the principles and practices were developed by Bud Williams who recently died from cancer. He has certainly made a huge difference to many livestock managers, to the benefit of the welfare and wellbeing of the animals they manage.

A free copy of Steve Cote's book can be downloaded from this link.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Local Big Trees

On Saturday Jacqui Mitton hosted Derek McIntosh (who runs the National Register of Big Trees) around the local area (with us being part of the group out of general interest) looking at local big trees identified through local knowledge and contacts during the planning for the day. In all we looked at and recorded 6 trees each of different species. All are within an area where Grenfell is considered to be the local town. Grenfell is within the NRBT's designated region of Central NSW.

'Biggest' trees and Points Allocation

The biggest trees of a particular species are given 'champion' status and this can be at Region, State and National levels. To enable consistent comparison between all trees regardless of species points are calculated based on the trunk circumference at 1.4 metres from ground level, tree height and average crown spread. The formula for determining total number of points for each tree is:

  • Trunk circumference (girth) at 1.4 metres from ground-level in metres multiplied by 39.37 PLUS
  • Tree height in metres multiplied by 3.28 PLUS
  • Average crown spread in metres multiplied by 0.82

The resultant total from the above process enables direct comparison with trees listed in both the Australian NRBT and the American Forests register. The calculation process gives primary weighting to the girth measurement, secondary weighting to height and tertiary weighting to crown spread.

Biggest Trees in Australia and the United States of America

To give perspective to the size of our local trees:
  • The largest tree presently listed on the Australian NRBT is a Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) located near Geeveston in Tasmania. Its total points are 1,087 calculated off the tree's circumference of 20.45 metres, height of 81 metres and crown of 20 metres
  • The largest tree on the American Forests register is a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) located in Sequoia National Park, California. Its total points are 1,321 calculated off the tree's circumference of 25.9 metres, height of 83.5 metres and crown of 32.6 metres.

Local Trees we Visited on Saturday 17 November 2012

All 6 of the trees we checked out on Saturday are listed below in the order seen. All are on private property and we were grateful to the owners for giving us permission to access their land to see, photograph and measure the trees. The names of the owners and their properties are not shown below in the interest of privacy.
The following is given for each tree:

  • Common and scientific name
  • Location listed by Parish, Locality and Shire
  • Photograph NB: The photographs unfortunately don't do real justice to seeing these trees 'live'
  • Measurements in metres: Circumference, height and crown
  • Points
  • Status in terms of the National Register of Big Trees

Western Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa)

Location (Parish/Locality/Shire): Maudry / Ooma / Forbes

Trunk circumference: 5.3 metres
Height: 26 metres
Crown: 26
NRBT Points: 315
NRBT Status: New National champion

Red (Mugga) Ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon)

Location (Parish/Locality/Shire): Maudry / Pinnacle / Weddin

Trunk circumference: 5.61 metres
Height:  21 metres
Crown: 26
NRBT Points: 311
NRBT Status: New National champion

White Cypress Pine (Callitris columellaris)

Location (Parish/Locality/Shire): Maudry / Pinnacle / Weddin

Trunk circumference:  3.71 metres
Height:  17 metres
Crown: 18.2
NRBT Points: 217
NRBT Status: New National champion

Lemon-Scented Gum (Eucalyptus citriodora)

Location (Parish/Locality/Shire): Yuline / Glenelg / Weddin

Trunk circumference:  4.38 metres
Height:  22 metres
Crown: 26
NRBT Points: 265

Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus)

Location (Parish/Locality/Shire): Bimbi / Bimbi / Weddin

Trunk circumference:  5.16 metres
Height:  16 metres
Crown: 26
NRBT Points: 277
NRBT Status: New National champion

River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis)

Location (Parish/Locality/Shire): Yambira / Bumbaldry / Weddin

Trunk circumference:  8.1 metres
Height:  30 metres
Crown: 29
NRBT Points: 439
NRBT Status: New Central New South Wales champion

Equipment Used by Derek

Here's a list of the equipment used by Derek as part of his process of recording details of the trees:

  • Pen and notebook
  • Digital camera
  • GPS device
  • Distance calculator, which includes the ability to calculate the height of a tree

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Distinguishing Bees V Flies V Wasps

For a while yesterday morning we were watching honey bees foraging in one of the flowering Kurrajong trees near the sheep yards. The tree has a very heavy load of flowers and in this photograph is a single honey bee accessing pollen and nectar:

We noticed another species of insect being quite aggressive to the honey bees, and managed to capture the image of one of them ... below:

To appease our curiosity in determining the species of the aggressor we sent an email to members of the team room set up post attendance of the natural beekeeping course in Sydney earlier in the year. We asked whether any of the members knew what it was and attached the above photo. Within a couple of hours Louise Y responded saying that it was some type of hover fly and shared a hyperlink to the Queensland Government Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries publication titled "The Asian Honey Bee - A Guide to identification" located on the Animal Health Australia website. The document in fact is an excellent summary of the main things to look for in distinguishing bees from flies and wasps. Some information about Rainbow Bee-eaters is also contained in the publication, including the fact that they have communal roosts in the same location each night.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Big Trees on Ochre Arch

In yesterday’s local paper (The Grenfell Record) there was an article submitted by Jacqui Mitton alerting readers that next weekend Derek McIntosh, Co-ordinator, National Register for Big Trees was going to be in the area and will be looking specifically for large White Box (Eucalyptus albens) or Western Grey Box (Eucalyptus macrocarpa) to place on the register. We checked out the Register website, learned the measurement guidelines (NB: we used method 1 to determine tree height ... quite a bit of fun, actually) and headed off around the farm to see what we could find that might be suitable for registration. One of the biggest challenges in the process when it comes to identifying possible eligible eucalyptus trees is finding ones that are still a single stem at the stipulated circumference measurement height of 1.4 metres. Our guess is that only one in ten on our place meets this criterion.

Below are the biggest trees of the main species we have on our farm. Given that ‘size is all relative’ the ones we’ve listed may well be dwarfed by same-species trees on other properties; especially given that much of our farm has been cleared since white-fella occupation of the area and the fact that our soils are comparatively light and low in fertility. That said we reckon our White Cypress-pine tree would give others a fair run for their money! 

Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus), NE corner, Amphitheatre Paddock

Trunk Circumference: 3.3 metres
Tree Height: 12.7 metres
Average Crown Spread: 15.5 metres

White Box (Eucalyptus albens), Gully edge near southern boundary, White Box Paddock

Trunk Circumference: 1.5 metres
Tree Height: 19.3 metres
Average Crown Spread: 12.3 metres

Blakely’s redgum (Eucalyptus blakelyi), West of track 1/3 way from entrance gate, White Box Paddock

Trunk Circumference: 1.8 metres
Tree Height: 18 metres
Average Crown Spread: 14.7 metres

Western Grey Box (Eucalyptus macrocarpa), near tourmaline site, Lookout Rock Paddock

Trunk Circumference: 2.2 metres
Tree Height: 21 metres
Average Crown Spread: 15.3 metres

Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora), centre southern boundary, Valley Paddock

Trunk Circumference: 3.9 metres
Tree Height: 27.8 metres
Average Crown Spread: 17.7 metres

White Cypress-pine (Callitris glaucophylla), centre west, Big Pine Paddock

Trunk Circumference: 3 metres
Tree Height: 19.3 metres
Average Crown Spread: 15 metres

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Comments on Ochre Archives Posts

The Ochre Archives blogsite profile is set up in such a way that any comments on posts come through to us for moderating. We then categorise each comments as being one of the following:
1. Publish. The full text is then visible at the bottom of the post to all who access and read the article.
2. Delete. The comment is deleted and does not appear on the blogsite.
3. Report as spam. The comment does not appear on the blogsite and we assume the administrators of Blogger keep a record of the item and suspect that they would in time prevent users who are reported multiple times from making any further comments on posts created by bloggers.

By far and away the greatest number of comments we receive on Ochre Archives posts are generic comments (unrelated to the actual post they are commenting on) that contain a hyperlink to a website the person making the comment wants to promote. We moderate these and any other comments that are simply trying to encourage people to go to their preferred website as spam.

A couple of days ago a comment came through that was different. The comment (posted anonymously) was basically an attack on a business, its proprietor and an associated family member who were connected with one of the posts we made last year. The person making the comment had clearly had some unsatisfactory experience with the targets of the comment and we suppose might argue they were just trying to pre-warn others. After much deliberation we decided not to publish the comment for several reasons:
a) The comment was posted anonymously which makes it impossible for those who might read the comment to make further inquiries and seek clarification
b) Some parts of the comment were not sufficiently specific to be constructive.
c) Whilst the intent of Ochre Archives is to share information it is not our intent to post material that could be considered offensive.

Having said the above we do welcome comments and are open to constructive feedback

Thursday, 16 August 2012

"Bud Pen" videos

We are presently designing new cattle yards and are intent of incorporating a "Bud Pen" to assist with cattle handling. The "Bud Pen" or "Bud Box" was the brain-child of American cattle handling guru Bud Williams. Here's a link to his website: In Australia there are a couple of businesses that teach the low stress stockhandling methods. We attended a course a few years ago run by Grahame Rees and Rod Knight who are part owners of a business called Low Stress Stockhandling:
Here are a couple of videos that help explain the principles behind "Bud Pens" and some actions shots of them being used:
1. Bud Pen being used to load cattle onto a truck. NB: It's important to bear in mind that the resultant density of the cattle that end up in the truck is not low stress i.e. there are too many for actual transport in a low stress manner.
2. Bud pen being used for cattle processing. NB: This video explains more about the benefits from the animal's perspective in going through the processing set-up.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Protecting Air Release Valves from Cattle

In the next week or so we expect to receive the small herd of cattle we've agreed to buy from a neighbour. Whilst we both remember our parents having cattle in our youth we have never directly owned or managed cattle. What we do know is that being much larger than sheep they do have a reputation of being harder on farm infrastructure and it is with this in mind we have a few small projects underway to try and avoid major issues arising.

There are a total of 3 air release valves along our farm water scheme that are out in the open and very exposed, one of them is in the photo below:

We contacted our trusty farm water scheme advisor, Phil Wells, and sought his advice on how best to protect the valves from cattle in a cost effective manner. Aside from letting us know that the height of our air valves should be much lower than they are (should be no more than about 30 cm from the ground) Phil had four suggestions:

  1. Locate the air release valves on the fence-line
  2. Install a stable / solid post adjacent to the stem leading to the air valve
  3. Install the air release valve at or below ground level and place a steel box or cap over the top
  4. Surround the air release valve with either a rock mound or old tractor tyre
We figured the easiest method for us was to source some old tractor tyres. It transpired that our local Beaurepaires store in Grenfell had 3 old tyres they were happy to give away. Apparently it is now very expensive for them to take old tyres to the tip due to landfill implications, so we really were doing them a favour.

Yesterday we called and collected our 3 old tyres. Fortunately at the time the Beaurepaires team had a forklift on loan and it was a simple process to load the tyres on the back of our ute. Here's a picture of the loaded vehicle after we drove it home.

It proved to be a simple process for the two of us to unload and locate the old tyres over each of the air release valves. Here's a photo of one of the 'finished products':

How effective the tractor tyres are as guards remains to be seen. The environmental impacts of using the old tyres seem to be:
  • Reduced landfill, although of course there are companies who recycle tyres
  • Additional edge-effect ... creating new micro-climates around the air release valves. It's possible that water will collect in the tyres and could be a place for mosquitoes to breed. If this proves to be the case and a problem it will not be difficult to temporarily remove the tyres and drill holes through the walls of the tyres
  • There is a risk that some species of fauna could get trapped inside the tyres ... and especially kangaroos given the shape of their legs
  • Phil has forewarned us that some reptiles do like to 'hang around' old tyres ... especially snakes!
We'll keep an eye on the effectiveness of the tyres and make adjustments if necessary. One thing's for sure ... sourcing and installing the tyres as guards was quick, low cost and easy to do.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Australian Konsortium / Multi Purpose Merino Services Website

Scott Heeney is the bloke we work with who classes our ewes and selects our rams for us. He recently set up a new business name and accompanying website. Here's a link to Scott's Australian Konsortium / Multi Purpose Merino Services Website.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

New Chainsaw Very Different to the Old One

Yesterday we bought ourselves a new chainsaw for use with various farm activities, including cutting firewood. Our old chainsaw has been proving difficult to start; understandable given it’s over 30 years old and has done a stack of work. It’s a Homelite, was manufactured in the USA, and in the scheme of things has served us superbly.

We researched several brands in making our decision on what to buy. The professional tree surgeon who cut down the massive tree out the front of our place a while ago recommended we go for either a Stihl or Husqvarna; and a neighbour suggested Echo. In the end we opted for a Stihl given they have a deal going at the moment where they give in $150 worth of extras at no additional cost, Husqvarna were slightly dearer, and Stihl still holds the reputation as the best quality chainsaw on the market.

After explaining our requirements to the salesman and bouncing ideas around we opted for the Stihl model MS 391 Farm Boss. Here’s a link to the Stihl website which gives all the technical information on the chainsaw we’ve purchased:

The following list summarises the features of the new chainsaw that are different to the old one:
  • Fuel mix is 50:1 rather than 25:1, and supposed to be more economical on fuel
  • Chain break safety feature as part of the front safety guard
  • Flexible handle fixings and materials to reduce vibrations
  • ‘Fancy’ plastic ‘toolless’ and locking fuel and old caps
  • Decompression valve to make starting easier
  • Duel air filter system, with the filter being right at the back of the saw to reduce fouling
  • Chain maximum RPMs is much higher than the old saw making it more powerful
  • A whole lot of stuff on the new one is polymer rather than metal assisting in keeping the weight down
  • Translucent fuel tank allowing ready checking of the fuel level
  • Single switch (“master control lever”) which incorporates the choke
  • Automatic bar oil feed to the bar and chain (rather than manual)
  • Spark plug is protected via a polymer hood
  • Sprocket at the tip of the chain bar helps further reduce friction between the bar and chain
  • Adjuster for severe winter operating (won’t really be needed by us)
  • Massive Instruction Manual (50 pages) pus a 57 minute DVD
  • Larger and more robust screws for the hood
  • Manufactured in Germany

We gave the new chainsaw a light work-out today. By the look of things it will be better to use and is certainly more powerful. The only ‘downside’ we can think of with the new saw is that there a lot more features all requiring servicing and able to cease functioning properly. Time will tell, but for now we are very happy with our purchase. It’s amazing to think that so many aspects of the new saw are different to the old.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Feral Control Netting and Sheep at times Don't Mix

We've been creating a house yard progressively which has included replacing some of the old original fence. We are not sure who told us about it but we liked and decided to buy and install 'Stocksafe-T' as the hinged-joint netting around the yard. It is specifically designed to keep out feral animals including "wild dogs, pigs and wallabies" however for us we just liked the way it looked. The product falls within the Waratah brand range and is manufactured by One Steel. There are 3 different heights and configurations but the one we chose is referred to in the trade as '11/90/15' which basically means it has:

  • 11 horizontal/line wires with the gap between each being (from the bottom up) 5 cm between the first and second wires, 7.5 cm for the next 5 gaps, 10 cm for the next gap, and 12.5 cm for the top 3 gaps.
  • 90 cm total height from top to bottom
  • 15 cm picket spacings (gap) between the vertical wires
Here is a link to the brochure on the OneSteel website:

In 2008 when we were planning the construction of 7.5 km of fencing our fencing contractor went to particular trouble to tell us that the way he constructs fences was better than other contractors because he has the Star posts align with the vertical wires in the fence. When the Star posts are not aligned with the vertical wires it creates variable widths in the individual panel sections which can be of a size where sheep can get their heads stuck when trying to graze vegetation through the fence. To be truthful at the time we did not take a lot of notice as we'd never seen or heard of sheep getting their heads stuck in fencing.

Last month we had several instances where our pet lambs got their heads stuck in the panels of the '11/90/15' house yard fence. This is evident in the following photograph:
Fortunately for us and our pet lambs we were able to get the lambs out of their predicaments. From a behavioural perspective it was amazing how the lambs 'called out' when they saw us; alerting us to what was happening to them. We have subsequently made adjustments making it impossible for the lambs to get their heads through the fence in the locations where they were in trouble. We'll shortly replace all of the 'Stocksafe T' with standard sheep proof fencing.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Two Natural Beekeeping Hives on Order

On 14th and 15th April I attended a Natural Beekeeping Course at Alexandria in Sydney organised by Milkwood Permaculture and presented by Tim Malfroy. Tim owns and runs his own beekeeping business not that far from Blayney and Bathurst which he calls ‘Malfroy’s Gold’.

Some of the factors that influenced my decision to attend the course included:
  • We have ample trees here on Ochre Arch like Yellow Box that are known for producing nectar and pollen from which honeybees make excellent honey
  • During spring last year a bloke from Bathurst had 60 hives here. From this two major lessons were learned: 1. I’m not allergic to bees, having been stung at one stage when about 50 metres from the hives mowing firebreaks 2. Some beekeepers are lousy when it comes to giving landholders a share of the honey they harvest while their hives are on farms. Whilst we are happy to help others in their commercial endeavours we don’t enjoy being used – which in hindsight we feel we were by the bloke who had bees here in the spring.
  • Off the back of the above point we figure we might as well have our own hives which we will run for commercial gain if we find we can harvest sufficient quantities.
  • Jan suffers from hay-fever and from what we are told eating honey from local hives can help reduce allergic reactions to pollens. This is because the bees make their honey from tree species that can cause hay-fever.
  • We do enjoy taking on new challenges, and attending courses is always fabulous for learning new things and broadening networks and friendships.
  • Owning and managing hives under the Natural Beekeeping system requires minimal effort, aligns with natural cycles and processes, and is low cost. This is entirely consistent with our holisticgoal, especially when considering that there is zero need to plant additional trees or provide additional inputs into the landscape.
  • My mother’s father used to maintain honey bee hives when my mother was growing up and the experience of harvesting and eating the outputs was always a source of enjoyment.

One of our local wildlife enthusiasts did attempt to talk me out of attending the course, arguing that honeybees are not native to Australia and occupy hollows that could be used by native fauna. Whilst the argument is valid and we do highly value native biodiversity we already have honeybee colonies on the farm. I have also had one neighbour inform me we will not have any success in keeping bees due to the affects of chemicals used regularly in various farming activities. This may prove to be the case but we’d rather try and possibly fail than die wondering.

20 people attended the course at Alexandria, travelling from as far afield as Geelong in Victoria. Tim is an engaging and incredibly knowledgeable presenter, making the whole experience a complete pleasure.

The program also included a visit to a residential property in Sydney where two beehives are maintained. In this photo you can see one of the hives presently set-up in the chook-pen in the backyard. Apparently chooks and bees are a great natural fit as the chooks take no notice of the bees but help with pest control.

In this photo you can see one of the frames of honey being held by Tim for us all to see what goes on in the hive.

I don’t propose to go into all the details of what Tim taught us during the course in this post but plan on writing articles as we learn and experience more. That said, here are two excellent reference sources that give both the detail and an insight into what’s involved:
1. Link to a free PDF copy on the Malfroy’s Gold website of the main authoritative text book on natural beekeeping titled ‘Beekeeping for All’ by Abbé Warré
2. Link to the Milkwood Permaculture ‘warre’ website tag where Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar have posted numerous articles complete with photographs on managing bees using the techniques Tim teaches and equipment he manufactures

We have just ordered two hives from Tim which we hope to have ready for bees to occupy in early spring of this year. The plan at this stage is to have one at the front of the farm in among the Yellow Box trees and another up the back in among the White and Grey Box trees.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Megafauna Collapse led to Mega Vegetation Changes

On 23rd March 2012 Rachel Sullivan via ABC Science Online posted the article in this hyperlink (titled the same as what we've titled this blog post) highlighting the change that occurred in the vegetation in Australia post the extinction of most of our endemic mega-fauna: Reading Rachel's article inspired us to track down the original report in the Science journal. Here's a link to the Science Magazine website ( From there we found that the actual name of the full original report is titled "The Aftermath of Megafaunal Extinction: Ecosystem Transformation in Pleistocene Australia".

Given the significance of this report to what we believed to already be the case in terms of human impact on the Australian landscape we paid the USD 15.00 and downloaded the full report. Here's a copy of the unedited Extract from this report: "Giant vertebrates dominated many Pleistocene ecosystems. Many were herbivores, and their sudden extinction in prehistory could have had large ecological impacts. We used a high-resolution 130,000-year environmental record to help resolve the cause and reconstruct the ecological consequences of extinction of Australia’s megafauna. Our results suggest that human arrival rather than climate caused megafaunal extinction, which then triggered replacement of mixed rainforest by sclerophyll vegetation through a combination of direct effects on vegetation of relaxed herbivore pressure and increased fire in the landscape. This ecosystem shift was as large as any effect of climate change over the last glacial cycle, and indicates the magnitude of changes that may have followed megafaunal extinction elsewhere in the world."

The research and writings of well known Australian environmental scientist Tim Flannery bring to light that some 95 % of Australia's native megafauna is now extinct post human occupation and that most of these were herbivores (plant eaters). Page 119 of his book 'Future Eaters' has a table showing 48 extinct species including: 
  • Tree feller, marsupial rhino, large and small species of diprotodons
  • 5 species of wombats, giant rat kangaroo, and the marsupial lion
  • 7 species of giant short-faced kangaroos
  • 8 species of kangaroos
  • Dwarfed marsupials and monotremes
  • Various birds and reptiles
On Page 112 of the same book he lists some of the extinct predators as:
  • Gigantic goanna - Megalania - 200+ to 1000+ kg and measuring up to 7 metres long
  • Land crocodile - Quinkana - 200 kg+ and up to 3 metres long
  • 100 kg python - Wonambi - reaching 6 metres long with a 30 cm diameter
  • Several extinct crocodiles
It is basic human nature for survival and quality of life reasons that we rid or exclude critters in the environment that are a threat to our existence or comfort. Thus in our view blaming Aboriginal people for the extinction of the megafauna species is not appropriate. It's just the way of things. What the research does support is many of the principles espoused in the Holistic Management material developed by Alan Savory et. al. and the important role large herbivores play in restoring and maintaining land and soil health.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Management Techniques on Ochre Arch

In response to our last post titled Deserts and Desertification one reader (aka Anonymous) asked: “I would like to know more details of your management techniques. Perhaps you could refer to dates your blog mentions this or give more details here”. Sorry ‘Anonymous’ but we are not prepared to allocate time to going over all our previous posts when you can readily do so yourself.

The question from ‘Anonymous’ is, however, a handy prompt to share a few things about our management philosophy. What follows are few points that might be of interest to our blogsite followers.

We make our decisions holistically
The major components of making holistic decisions for us are:
  • We are advocates and practitioners of the decision making framework developed by Alan Savory and others as documented in the text ‘Holistic Management – A New Framework for Decision Making’. Copies of this book can be ordered directly from Holistic Management International via this link: We reckon reading this book is an essential step for anyone managing land. We have been asked repeatedly to try and summarise the content of this text but doing so just does not give the recipient of what we say an adequate full picture.
  • As a key component of the above we have developed our own unique holisticgoal. The main components of this include 1. The quality of life we want to live. High on our list is freedom, simplicity of business operations, and frequent quality interactions with our family 2. What we have to produce (in order to give us the quality of life we want). High on this list is profit from farm and off farm activities, engagement in diverse activities, and a place that people want to visit 3. The future state of our resource base. High on this list as far as our farm goes is that we want to optimise species diversity in the broader landscape, have increasing ground cover and herbage mass production, and have genetically improving herding animals.
  • We do use a range of techniques that support the above. One example is that with areas of bare ground that no longer have any form of decent soil or soil structure we use a range of methods that introduce organic matter to those areas from which soil can then develop. Some alternatives used so far with varying levels of success include: 1. Encouraging animals to camp on bare ground, with them naturally leaving dung and urine on the surface when they leave 2. Animals that die are moved onto bare patches 3. When trees are lopped or felled (e.g. on fence-lines) we move branches onto bare ground 4. Off cuts from lamb marking are placed on bare ground 5. Kitchen scraps also go onto bare ground. Ideally we’d like to buy in hay or similar and have animals work this onto the soil surface but at this point we are not ready to allocate time or money to doing this.

We work with the best people we can find
It has taken us a long time to find the great people we work with who provide goods or services in support of our farm operations. Those wanting to understand why this is so important should read the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. Here’s a link to some more information

Our Livestock are Low Maintenance and High Performing
In 2009 we consider ourselves very fortunate to have visited Nigel Kerin’s place at Yeoval at a time when he had some of his merino ewes for sale. They had been specifically bred for high fertility and fecundity, good wool quality, as well as large strong plain bodies with low susceptibility to fly strike. The rams we buy from Chris Blowes at Jandon Partners Molong are bred along the same lines.
Some of our management practices with the sheep include:
  • Through our grazing planning our stock ALWAYS have access to high quantities of herbage mass growing naturally in each paddock
  • (With a few exceptions) We only treat those animals with problems, not the whole lot. Fly strike is a good example where we don’t treat the whole mob with chemicals routinely but rather allow nature to identify the susceptible and treat those. To quote from a friend of ours “We'd rather personally subsidise the sustainable, yet socially not readily acceptable than the socially acceptable, but inherently unsustainable.” The level of fly strike in our mob recently was around 2 % which we feel is acceptable, especially given the recent deluge of rain and the fact that several locals have shorn or chemically treated all their sheep 3 times so far during the summer.
  • Animals that don’t perform to expectations are culled. Examples: ewes that don’t fall pregnant within 2 cycles, sheep that have been flyblown or have cancers, lambs selected by our sheep classer as not suitable.
  • Breeding timed to maximise fertility and seasonal feed availability and quality

We use low stress stock-handling techniques
The discoverer and developer of these techniques was Bud Williams from the USA. In Australia there are several businesses that teach them but we have attended course run by the Low Stress Stockhandling team. Here’s a link to their website:
Some key points:
  • The techniques are low stress for both us and the stock
  • The behaviours of herding animals are extremely predictable
  • We get to understand how animals see us
We move our stock silently on foot and without dogs. Consequently they are very quiet, trust us and actually perform better as a result.

Our learning journey will never finish
We choose to be here on the farm and thrive on the fact that we are free to do what we think is right. We continue to look for different ways to do what we do and readily take on new ideas.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Deserts and Desertification

We recently self-nominated and were listed on the Holistic Management International website as a contact point for people who wanted to communicate with an Australian practitioner of Holistic Management. Flowing from this we were contacted by a bloke in Melbourne who wanted us to recount our experiences in producing additional herbage mass from our farm from the application of holistic planned grazing. After sending off our initial response the bloke then changed tack substantially and revealed that what he was hoping we could give him examples / explain how Holistic Management fixes deserts (I'm being simplistic). Obviously not having had experience with this directly we were not able to help him much, if at all really. We learned quite a bit from the overall exchanges, though. It gave us a deeper understanding of the difference between deserts and desertification, something we'd not pondered much on in the past. Here's a few of the points taken from documents emailed to us by the Melbourne bloke.

From the publication: The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and its Political Dimension, Uwe Holtz, Bonn, 26 May 2003: "Desertification means the degradation of land and vegetation, soil erosion and the loss of topsoil and fertile land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations." The author goes on to list the 12 major 'soil diseases' that lead to land degradation, sourced from the publication German Advisory Council on Global Change, Summary for Policymakers. World in Transition: The Threat to Soil, reprint, Berlin 2001. "The German Advisory Council on Global Change has put together what it considers to be the twelve most important anthropogenic 'soil diseases'. The names chosen for these syndromes are deliberately symbolic, each one having been taken from a selected crisis area or a striking phenomenon accompanying the syndrome. However, the label always stands for a particular syndrome which occurs or can occur in different regions of the world. The twelve syndromes, which are in a certain sense “geodermatological diagnoses” of the “skin” of our planet Earth, are:

1. Changes in the traditional use of land: the Huang He Syndrome
2. Soil degradation through mechanized farming: the Dust Bowl Syndrome
3. Excessive use of marginal land: the Sahel Syndrome
4. Conversion and/or over-exploitation of forests and other ecosystems: the Sarawak Syndrome
5. Misplanning of large-scale agricultural projects: the Aral Sea Syndrome
6. Remote transport of nutrients and pollutants: the Acid Rain Syndrome
7. Local contamination, accumulation of waste and inherited pollution: the Bitterfeld Syndrome
8. Uncontrolled urbanization: the São Paulo Syndrome
9. Overdevelopment and expansion of infrastructure: the Los Angeles Syndrome
10. Mining and prospecting: the Katanga Syndrome
11. Soil and land degradation through tourism: the Alps Syndrome
12. Land and soil degradation as a result of war and military action: the Scorched Earth Syndrome"

In our area of Australia it is probably fair to say that there is some evidence of land degradation from the first 4 'soil diseases' although practices generally are now not too extreme in the overall landscape.

In 2011 the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) based at Gland in Switzerland published a paper titled 'World Heritage Desert Landscapes: Potential Priorities for the Recognition of Desert Landscapes and Geomorphological Sites on the World Heritage List'. On page 3 of this document was included the following figure, which was in turn sourced from the paper: Goudie, A.S. 2002. Great Warm Deserts of the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford

What we found of great interest from the above map was that Australia, whilst being the driest occupied continent on the Earth, does not have any areas that are classified as 'Extreme arid'.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Bumper Season for Figs on Ochre Arch

At the edge of the creek we have 3 fig trees which we think may have been growing there for over 100 years, seen in the following photograph.

Each year we have had some figs on the trees but they have all either dropped off or been eaten by birds. For some reason this year has been very different and we have been inundated with fruit. Here is a photograph of a recently picked bucketful.

So far we’ve picked 5 bucketfuls. Jan has cooked 4 lots (3 into jam and another as preserves) and we have given away 1.

Two particularly interesting things about figs:
1. The ‘fruit’ is not actually fruit but rather inside-out flowers
2. The sap from the tree and fruit is for some people quite itchy when it gets on the skin (like yours truly’s!)

Our normal appliance we use for cooking jam is our gas oven. Given that we are on a remote power supply driven off solar and wind we have just purchased a portable electric double cooker. Using this means that we basically have zero cooking costs.

The recipe Jan is using for the jam comes from her grandmother’s cookbook. Here’s a photo from the book of the actual recipe.

The recipe Jan has used reads as follows:
a. Peel and slice sufficient figs to produce 2.75 kg (6lbs) of figs ready to cook
b. Combine 2.2 kg (4.5 lbs) sugar, 775 ml (1.5 pints) water and 1 cup white vinegar into a boiler
c. Bring contents of the boiler to boiling temperature and maintain for 10 minutes.
d. Add figs to the syrup (above) and boil gently for 3.5 to 4 hours.
e. Bottle contents once ready.

Here's a photo of the figs after they've been peeled.

... and here's a photo of the scraps, which we place of bare soil to add organic matter and in time enhance soil condition.

We use a very old and conventional boiler, seen here with sugar added.

The following photo shows the boiler contents, taken just after the figs were added to the syrup.

After about 4 hours the figs are cooked into jam, seen in the following photo, with quite a bit of the liquid having evaporated. It's also not a bad shot of the electric portable double hotplate, running on solar energy.

Here's the final product ...
The jam is superb to taste and we've taken to adding fig jam and camembert on savoury biscuits. Yum!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Using 'Sheep Power' to Mow and Fertilise the Lawn

Of late we’ve had quite a bit of rain resulting in rapid growth of the grass in the house yard. One of our mobs of sheep was in the front paddock as part of our grazing plan. Given that the weather is quite hot at the moment we decided to let the mob of over 400 sheep into the house yard to eat down the grass a bit and to do a tad of natural fertilization.

Here you can see some of the mob in the northern section of the yard.

This photo shows some of the sheep in the eastern part of the yard.

Yes, they did stir up a little bit of dust in the process but this was not an issue at all. See below.

To prepare for the sheep coming into the yard we moved some potted plants up out of the reach of the sheep and covered with mesh guards those we definitely did not want eaten.

It was difficult to assess how long the sheep should stay in the yard before bringing them in. To be safe we decided to 'stand guard' and let them out when we felt they'd taken enough of the herbage mass. The total duration ended up being approximately half an hour.

One unforeseen bonus of the sheep being in the yard was that they did an excellent job 'trimming the edges' and eating under things in the yard (like the trampoline) that we'd normally need to move if using the mower.

Here's a range of 'before' and 'after' photos. Not a bad effort, we think, especially given the whole process took less time than conventional mowing ... and a lot less energy.

Location 1 - Before

Location 1 - After
The hose is more visible and the flowers of the Patterson's Curse plants have been eaten.

Location 2 - Before

Location 2 - After

Location 3 - Before
Location 3 - After

Location 4 - Before

Location 4 - After

(Sorry ... this photo from a comparison perspective is a bit tough to judge ... it was taken on dusk).

We learned during the process that in addition to grass the sheep loved eating the following plants in the house yard:
  • Peach and apricot trees
  • Lilac tree
  • Grape vine

On the other hand none of the sheep touched any of the following plants in the house yard:
  • Geraniums
  • Heliotrope
  • Pumpkin
  • Cassinia
  • Nodding Blue Lilly
  • Lemon Tree
  • Smoke bush
We thought it was pretty neat that (as you will see in the following photograph) the sheep ate the weeds around one of the potted geraniums but left the geranium alone.

Given the success of the exercise we think we'll do a repeat each time we have a largish mob of sheep in the Front Paddock.