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.

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