Sowing by hand

Sowing seed by hand

The only way to get seed onto the paddock

Zoe sows the paddock

Sowing by hand is a novelty

When the going gets tough, the tough get going! Paddock number 2 was so wet when it was time to sow that part of it was just not trafficable. Now that the rest of the seed has shot, we decided we’d better fill the blank spot with seed. It’s about the size of a quarter-acre house block and, normally, we’d mix the seed in with some fertiliser and spread it behind the ute but it’s still so wet, you couldn’t even ride over it with a quad bike.

So, we decided to do it the old-fashioned way: by hand. It was fun, even as the cockatoos eyed off our bounty!

Does grass grow on trees?

A few of the trees planted last spring

Trees Dad planted along a gully 12 years ago

Money may not grow on trees but I’m beginning to see that grass just might.

Our most productive pastures in summer are those that are sheltered on three sides by thick stands of willows. These are clapped out old ryegrass species but they outperform much newer pastures. I think that mostly it comes down to the relief the trees provide from those roasting NW winds. The cows also love the deep shade under the willows’ spreading branches, which must minimise heat stress. In other words, they create a more temperate micro-climate.

But willows are not universally loved, especially if you’re a native fish. Our farm draws water for cows and to clean the dairy machinery from the Albert River, so it is in our interests to protect the river’s health. I’m trying to see those shady willow windbreaks as “infestations” but without enough alternative shade, tearing them out is not a consideration.

So what are we doing? Planting hundreds and hundreds of native trees each year. If I had enough funding, I’d plant thousands every year! By doing this, we’re also creating wildlife corridors linking our gorgeous Land For Wildlife dam (which stretches over 8 acres) with two waterways and a wetland.

I’m so impatient. I can visualise the beauty of the farm in 20 years’ time, the cool oases of shade and the relief from the howling SW winter weather that these trees will bring. If the scientists are right, those refuges are going to be even more valuable as our climate becomes increasingly variable. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to celebrate my 60th birthday in the summer of 2030 and Zoe’s 18th in the winter of 2024 in a very different and much more sheltered landscape to the one we enjoy now.

Cycle of life adapts to a new climate

The calves are offered a special treat

Whether you call it climate variability or climate change, one thing’s for sure: we’re dealing with very different weather patterns in our part of Gippsland. The summers are hotter and tougher. The dryness now often begins in November and sometimes stretches into May. On the other hand, winter is warmer and grass grows far better in June and July than ever before.

This has fundamentally changed the farm, right down to the cycle of life. Instead of planning the calving season to begin in mid-July, we’ve decided to begin on April 20 this year. We’ve been surprised to see four premature calves (including twins Ella and Bella) born already – best laid plans often come undone at the hands of mother nature.

The reasoning is that we want to match the cows’ need for grass with the time when it grows best. Naturally, cows need the most energy when they produce the most milk, so we’re hoping to hit peak production in July/August/September, which is the period when the farm’s pastures are most productive under the new conditions.

The cows will have their two-month annual holiday from mid-February until calving begins in April – the time when grass is hardest to grow and when the cows’ energy needs are lessened. It will take time (two or three years) for us to get the whole herd into this pattern but it will be worth it. There will be less pressure on all of us.