On farm strategies

Shan and Shane Joyce

Image courtesy of The Australian Women's Weekly

Well, well, well here we are at Kumbartcho, Kilkivan two and a half months on from settlement date.

At the end month one I committed to paper a “progress” report of our activities in relation to “starting a new farm”. Wow a lot of “water has passed under the bridge” since then!

image of clear runoff over soils

Rainfall for January was 4.5 mm from four rainfall events, and February 42 mm from three rain events, and March 158.5 mm from fourteen events.

The February rain was one substantial fall of 40 mm on 17/02/14. This was the first rain to make any real growth in pastures. We then watched as the district became green, followed by a browning as it dried up!

Next big rain was 25/03/14 when the “big wet” started. 146.5 mm, over seven days. This has come at a great time and was followed by some nice warm weather. You can “hear” the grass growing!

Still the property remains free of livestock (except for the kangaroos). We estimate that it will now be about one month before we introduce some cattle and begin our cell grazing management of the pastures.

So just what have been some of the highlights of these past weeks since I last wrote?

Managing weeds

One of the first “manifestations”, after the February rain, was Giant Rats Tail grass. When everything else was struggling this stuff was just exploding out of the ground. An opportunity was seen, the GRT was highly visible and we moved immediately into a “spot spraying” exercise with a herbicide. Yes the organic farmer returns to chemicals!

I will reveal the logic in this. The GRT had had some ten years of not very effective management, and I identified a need to “seize the moment”. Six and a half days, five litres of chemical ($175) later we have covered all but one quarter of the farm. This has been immediately followed by a complete coverage of the farm with Biodynamic Soil Activator (RULE: Always follow chemicals with a biological).

As well we have made a “pepper” from GRT seed. To do this we have collected seed, burned it, and then “dynamised” it in a mortar and pestle (with Biodynamic soil activator and clay). This pepper is introduced into our radionics field broadcaster. From here it will work into the fertility, flowering, and seed set of the GRT.

image of giant rat's tail grass, seed and processing stages to make 'pepper'

Making GRT "Pepper" (L-R) Giant Rat's Tail Grass, GRT seed, GRT pyrolysis,
crushing in mortar and pestle, the final powder.

So there you have it, a three fold strategy to manage the GRT - chemical, biological, and energetic.

To apply a fourth strategy, we will use grazing management to increase the health of the 3P grasses (palatable, productive, perennial).

The grazing management will also help to increase the health of the soils.

Let us now look at some “economics” to this point in time.

  • 6.5 days spot spraying GRT.
  • Herbicide + Dye cost $340.
  • 6 days spraying Biodynamic Soil Activator.
  • Biodynamic preparations cost $0.

Observing biodiversity

One month into our new farm we had not seen any butterflies. That now is history! First there was one, then two or three. When we were spraying out the soil activator (19 – 24 March) there were butterflies all over the paddocks!

The birds recording exercise has not been boring either. Our bird species count now is up to forty-seven!

image of green pastures in paddock

I made a number of phone calls to council and National Parks and soon had a contact person who was “into birds” and she forwarded me a generic bird list for the area, which I can tick off new sightings on a month-by-month basis. A great resource to have as it gets everyone on the farm in “observation” mode.

It is good to build this “observation” skill in people and it soon “spreads” to earth worms, butterflies, grasses, trees, etc. Gradually an awareness of the farm environment develops, and it then becomes a wider awareness of the broader landscape out away from the farm.

So just what do we “farm” here?

We are farming SOIL. Yes our first objective is to re-establish a healthy soil, with diverse soil biology. This is our resource base, our “production factory”. If we can get the soil ‘right”, then we can look to produce some great “by-products” (beef cattle, hay, grain, produce).

One of the current “disadvantages” of not having livestock here is that we are “missing out” on the biology that they introduce into the soil. The state of the pastures (soils) dictated that we needed to rest the pastures (RULE: 60 days at beginning of growing season).

The Biodynamic preparations are our current “substitute” for livestock, and lack of rest was a far greater issue than a few months without livestock.

What next then?

1. Going by our soil tests we are deficient in sulphur, boron, and phosphorous. We are looking at what it will cost to “top up” these missing elements, and weigh this cost up with potential economic gains.

2. We will send off some tissue samples to find out what elements the plants are taking up from the soil and compare these results with soil tests.

Physically the demolition of old infrastructure continues, and we have “stripped” back the old house on the property and will soon commence to repair and make livable. This old house was moved here (1966) from town (where it was the head masters residence at the school). Built some where in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s it has “good bones”. We have acquired some of the history of the house and it’s various floor plans, and renovations. We look forward to bringing it back to life again!

We have made some valuable contacts in the local catchment, Landcare groups and will work with them to get funding for off stream watering for stock and seedling trees to plant on waterways.

image of green pastures in paddock