Creature report – farming in the wilds of 2015

A new genus: the man-eating wallaby

A new genus: the man-eating wallaby

It’s not just the live animals you’ve got to be wary of here on the farm. Aside from the copperhead that kept Wayne company during milking the other week, perhaps our most memorable wildlife encounter of 2015 was actually with a dead animal undoubtedly new to science: the man-eating wallaby.

One rainy winter’s night, Wayne called a halt to cooking the evening meal when he drew me aside to check out a mysterious shape wrapped in a tea towel.

Bent low and unwrapping the tea towel slowly, he said in hushed tones, “I found this outside the pump shed. Take a look at the fangs on it.”

“Wow,” I gasped, “see how they hook together. Looks like they could tear a nasty hole in your leg.”

“F*@&ing scary wallaby,” whispered Wayne with a poker face.

After nearly choking on a mouthful of water, I came up for air, and wondered if I saw the faintest of smirks on Wayne’s face as he retaliated with: “It’s a bloody wallaby alright, you should see its tail!” Was the joke on me or City Boy? I’ll never know for sure.

Life and death
It was raining too, when the kids and I discovered a dead kangaroo along the boundary fence. Her eyes were dull, legs immobile.

While I worked on the fence, the kids took a closer look and announced a miracle! “Mama, Mama, it’s alive, it’s alive,” they shouted, arms flailing wildly as they ran towards me.

They were right, almost. The kangaroo had killed herself in an impact with the fence but her pouch rolled and wriggled with life. Oh my god. The kindest thing might have been to euthanase the squirming joey right there but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Luckily, we had latex milking gloves in the Bobcat and, with my heart in my mouth, I reached deep into the still-warm pouch. After a few tries, out came a weeks-old hairless male joey, plop, into a towel we carry around in case of mud pie catastrophes.

Joey in front of the fire

Joey in front of the fire

Wrapped in the towel and my raincoat, joey was held close to Zoe’s tummy for the chilly trip back to the warm of our hearth. We got him off to wildlife rescue volunteers, who told me just the other week that he’s soon to be released back into the forest. ‘Til we meet again!

Reptilian gatecrasher
In general, I’m not a big fan of reptiles on the farm but Blueys are different. Why, we even had one as a class pet in primary school. So, when this fellow appeared at home, I was keen to introduce him to the kids.

As with the cicada conditioning calamity, it seemed my introduction may have backfired a little. But all was forgotten later when Bluey unexpectedly appeared out of nowhere to watch the evening news with us.

Bluey obviously likes to be well informed

Bluey obviously likes to be well informed

Beast becomes beauty before our eyes
Not every creature we see makes such an exciting entrance but we marveled every day as we walked to the bus stop during Spring, watching a web of monsters transform themselves.

From this

From this

To this

To this

To emerge as the gorgeous Northern Jezebel

To emerge as the gorgeous Northern Jezebel

A motley crew!
There were plenty of other beauties along the way, too. Enjoy just a selection of what the farm offered up to us in 2015!
CreatureYabbyLoRes

CreatureHoppingMouseLoRes

CreatureFrogLoRes

CreatureEchidnaFaceLoRes

Instilling a love of nature the Brave New World way

When Alex found this gorgeous green grocer cicada, he was a little wary. But, of course, cicadas don’t bite – they’re sap suckers – so I encouraged our little people to have a really good look at the marvellous creature.

CicadaZoeGrinLoRes

Once Alex saw Big Sister having fun with the green grocer, he was more inclined to get into the act, beginning with a cautious stalking session.

CicadaStalking

Then, with some trepidation, he let it creep slowly across his fingers and was actually starting to enjoy the encounter when the impossible happened: the wretched winged wolf BIT him.

CicadaDrill

Alex’s hands shook and tears began to well but the green grocer clung on with all six hooks and the proboscis too! We finally flicked it off a little less carefully, I must admit, than I’d like.  Twenty minutes later, Little Man was off for his afternoon nap, only to wake with a “Cada hurting me, Mama!” nightmare.

So much for instilling a love of nature. More like a Brave New World conditioning session.

PS: If you were under the illusion that cicadas won’t hurt you, watch the reaction of this grown-up:

What wildlife does for farms

Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egrets in breeding plumage follow the cows everywhere

There’s lots of wildlife on our dairy farm: waterbirds of every description, a chorus of frogs, waddling wombats and lots of lizards from the cute blue-tongue through to the vulnerable goanna!

Sometimes we curse them. Ducks gobble new pastures and crops, cockies eat seed, wombats dig cavernous holes. But we never begrudge them a home and we’re aware they have important roles to play, too. The ibis eat root-eating grubs and aerate pastures with their needle-like beaks while the army of little birds help to manage the insect population.

With this in mind, we’ve created a whole farm plan that incorporates wildlife corridors linking our big environmental assets:

  • The state forest and our remnant vegetation on our southern boundary
  • Our Land for Wildlife dam
  • The wetland
  • The revegetated gully
  • The Albert River on our northern boundary

We’re also proud to participate in the JARR project, which is creating a biodiversity blueprint for this important catchment for the RAMSAR-listed Corner Inlet.

While it’s important to justify planting trees and fencing sensitive areas from a business perspective, the farm is more than that. It’s our home and, if I’m honest about it, we protect and encourage wildlife on the farm because it makes this a much better place to live.

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.