The network’s very first webinar was a discussion about sheep handling on small farms. Things like yard setup, weighing sheep and feeding out can be done in many ways. The scale of small farm operations means that producers need to find cost-effective, practical solutions to everyday sheep handling tasks that our larger farming cousins take for granted. Sometimes these solutions can be slower to carry out but when there are only a few sheep, this is not necessarily a problem. This webinar, presented by Jennie Curtis from Roogulli Farm, was a chance for small farmers to see some ideas for sheep handling equipment, learn from each other and ask questions.
Jennie, with assistance from Alice McGlashan, created the video below showing yards for small flocks, a way to weigh sheep, a method for tipping sheep up and a variety of feeders. The video is just under 10 minutes and can be watched here.
If you are interested in joining a sheep discussion group contact us via email.
Thank you to Jennie Curtis, Alice McGlashan and Chris Curtis for assisting with this webinar and donating their time.
The Small Farms Network Capital Region received funding from the Every Bit Counts project. The Every Bit Counts project has been funded by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust.
This workshop examined rural landscape issues emerging as a result of prolonged drought and recent bushfires. The workshop was held in Bombay, just south of Braidwood. Led by Andy Taylor from South East Local Land Services (SELLS) in Braidwood, the workshop was an opportunity for local farmers learn about actions they can take to mitigate the effects of erosion. We also learnt from Judy Carmody about the support available from the Rural Mental Health Resilience Program and Felicity Sturgiss, Senior Land Services Officer (SELLS), talked to us about ways to support wildlife after fires.
Jane Ambrose from Upper Shoalhaven Landcare talked about Landcare in the area and how to get involved in the projects they run. Jane kindly agreed to share her notes from the workshop which can be downloaded below.
The scale of the drought and fires has made erosion events more likely due to lack of ground cover. A question asked at the workshop was “How do I to prioritise erosion control activities?”. Andy suggests using Six Maps to calculate the catchment size above an erosion point and prioritising groundworks on the gullies with the largest catchment. You can slow water higher in the landscape by using grazing management to maintain ground cover and sediment traps to slow water run off.
Understanding your soil type is vital for remediating erosion. Around the Bombay area, where the soils are sodic and highly erodible, protecting the topsoil is critical to prevent erosion. Information about your soil type can be looked up on eSpade along with soil testing results for your area. Here is the eSpade link and an example of the soil report you can get from eSpade.
Dams and rivers away from the fire grounds have been adversely affected by debris from ash, soil and dung. These contaminants can cause water quality issues for stock, fish and other water users. It is possible to build a sediment trap above a dam using vegetation, rocks or a sediment fence to slow down the movement of water into the dam so that debris is dropped in the trap before the water reaches the dam. This will improve the quality of the water collected in the dam.
Repairing containment lines created by bulldozers during the fires is important to reduce erosion. Replacing the topsoil with a grader is a good way to start. Mitre and roll over drains can help slow down and divert water in steep sections. Weed free hay bales can also be used as sediment traps to slow water movement.
Because of the intensity of the recent bushfires, the seed bank in the soil could be depleted. A hot fire can change the soil chemistry including soil pH and soil structure. Generally speaking, native grasses have evolved with fire and will recover better than introduced species of grasses. Perennial grasses with deeper root system can also recover well, depending on how hot the soil surface became. Consider using sterile Rye Corn to help establish groundcover. Rye Corn is a better choice than other exotic species on sites with high conservation values where you don’t want to introduce weeds and new exotic grasses. Branches, jute mesh, rocks and other vegetation can all be used to slow down water and create niches for plants and pastures to establish.
Felicity and Andy reiterated the importance of biosecurity when planning erosion works and when feeding wildlife. For example, use straw or other inert materials for erosion management rather than hay or materials containing seed to prevent the spread of weeds. Seek appropriate advice on what to feed wildlife in fire affected areas and avoid feeding meadow hay that could accidentally introduce weeds.
The Small Farms Network Capital Region received funding from the Every Bit Counts project. The Every Bit Counts project has been funded by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust.
A vision splendid, a place filled with trees and koalas, while the rivers teamed with fish and platypus. From the historical records this is what Bungendore would have looked like to the early European settlers who arrived in 1820. It was the country of the Ngunawal people and to this day a culturally significant place for their descendants.
This workshop was about stories of past times, honouring Aboriginal and early European history, while learning the importance of the fragmented vegetation that remains. The guest speakers were Wally Bell, Karen Williams and Jasmyn Lynch.
Wally Bell is a Ngunawal man from the Yharr clan group and a Traditional Custodian of the Ngunawal. Wally welcomed us to his country and called upon the spirits to guide and protect us during our visit to Day’s Hill Reserve in Bungendore. Wally’s story telling about the local area was moving. He talked about Budjabulya the creator and water spirit who lives in Lake Ngungara (renamed Lake George). Ngunawal people believe that since the beginning of time this spirit has nurtured the Ngunawal people and created the lakes, rivers, valleys, people, animal and plants.
Wally talked about the importance of Mother Earth to him and how we can all play an important role in restoring and healing the land. Wally’s advice is to sit, observe and listen to the land on which you live. Respect it and look after it because land is a gift.
Wally also emphasised the importance of scar trees and how they were used as directional markers. Often they were located up high so people could see them from a distance.
We looked at some Aboriginal stone artifacts and asked a lot of questions about what to look out for on our own properties. Wally told us that Aboriginal artifacts retain the spirit of the person who made them and must be left in the location where they are found.
We all know that water is essential for life and making every drop count, especially during drought, is essential. How to maximise water harvesting and efficient irrigation methods was the focus of this workshop.
Two successful market gardeners from Canberra’s rural outskirts, Chris Curtis from Roogulli Farm and Geoff Foster from Jerabutt Organics showed us how they manage water and grow enough to sell at the local farmers market. Planning effectively for water resources on small farms is challenging. Running a commercial small-scale enterprise is a remarkable achievement during drought. Geoff and Chris manage to do both.
Chris Curtis has written two fact sheets on how to design a small-scale drip irrigation system and how much water to apply to different crops. The fact sheets can be downloaded here and include links to more information.
Here are the key points discussed at the workshop:
Secure your water supply from the threat of bushfire. Geoff demonstrated his bore and pump set up with a backup generator if the power is cut. Geoff has designed the system so that the water used for firefighting can be sourced from the bore or the house tanks via gravity feed. There is a sprinkler system that surrounds the western fire sector of the house including one on the top of the bore shed.
Rainfall is sporadic in this region, often falling over a short period of time with high intensity. Invest and plan for the largest water capacity you can and then have extra tanks to collect the overflow. Geoff showed us his set up for the market garden. Water is collected from the greenhouses using a viaduct system into a storage tank that can also be filed from the house tank over flow. There is a bore which is used to irrigate the outdoor garden beds while the plants in the three bay green house are irrigated using rainwater.
Always use a tap timer so you don’t accidently drain your tanks. Buy the cheapest tap timer you can because they are not very durable. Tap timers are suitable for low pressure set ups and automating the irrigation of garden beds.
When you dig a trench for irrigation consider laying an extra pipe for future upgrades. Geoff has a duel irrigation system from the bore and tanks. Two lines have been run in the same trench so if one water source dries up a back-up supply can be used.
You can fit your garden beds with two types of irrigation. Geoff uses fine sprays to establish seeds and seedlings. Once the plant roots have grown, pressure-compensating drip irrigation is put onto the beds.
The quote of the day was ‘feed to work’. Would it surprise you to learn that some pleasure horses are overfed? Helena explained how to calculate a ration for a horse based on condition score, growth stage, level of work, pasture availability and feed types.
You can create a feed budget for your horse using the links below. Having a feed budget can save you time and money and you can tailor the ration to what feeds are available. Please note that these are general guides and the condition of individual horses should be monitored to ensure animal welfare requirements are met.
FeedXL on line – application (fees apply) for working out feed requirements.
Worm testing and rotational grazing are critical elements in an effective worm management program. Some horses have high worm burdens, while others have developed natural resistance. The only way to find out if your horse needs a drench is by doing a faecal worm egg test. You can get testing kits from Local Land Services or many rural suppliers.
According to Helena the best time to take soil samples is in October when the soil is depleted during the pasture growing season. Further advice about soil sampling and fertilising pastures can be found in the Fertilisers for Pastures booklet. Some benchmarks for healthy soils can be found here.
During the field day we looked at the soil test results from the property. The test results indicated that the soil pH was probably too low and the Aluminium too high. You can read more about soils in our recent blog post From the Ground Up.
Harrowing horse paddocks and using rotational grazing can help increase organic matter in the soil and reduce fertiliser costs. Soil testing and working out a nutrient budget can help you decide if additional fertilisers are required. Fertilisers for Pastures contains a guide to working out a nutrient budget for a horse property.
Horsewoman Helena Warren from Cadfor Equestrian and Murray Greys Pty shared her expertise with a group of participants over a two-day workshop in 2019. Day 1 of the workshop included pastures for horses, stringhalt and laminitis.
Pastures for horses
When planning your horse property, think about ways to minmise runoff and nutrient loss. This can include locating horse infrastructure away from water courses, fencing along contours, rotational grazing, using windbreaks and installing vegetation buffers. A two-metre fenced wind break can provide adequate ground cover to prevent significant erosion and water loss.
According to Helena, reseeding a pasture from scratch is a three year process that takes a lot of planning including soil testing, managing weeds, planting a break crop and final seeding. Refer to the DPI Primefact on Pastures for Horses for more information. When the cost of pasture establishment is compared to the ongoing cost of supplementary feeding, fertilising and maintaining pasture becomes financially viable.
Being able to assess your horses condition score and weight is a useful tool for feeding management and worming. The amount of feed a horse requires depends on their weight, activity, growth stage and body condition. The NSW DPI Primefact 928 Estimating a horses condition and weight gives a step by step guide on how to do this.
For optimum feed production, perennial grasses should be rested (ideally at the flowering stage) to allow them to develop their basal buds and roots. This will maintain the vigour of the grasses. Allowing native pastures to seed in autumn will also encourage the spread of these grasses in a pasture.
Helena described the optimum resting of pastures in a rotational grazing system as the ‘three leaf rule’. The three leaf rule allows the grass roots enough time to recover to maintain good production and for the grass to have the optimum sugar level for horses. The leaf stage of optimum grazing will depend on the species of grass. The Grazing Management Tool provides advice on how to grow more pasture and influence the species mix in your pasture.
After colic, laminitis is the second largest killer of horses in Australia. Laminitis is caused by overconsumption of grasses or feeds high in sugar, but it is often associated with some other stress factor. The critical point to remember when feeding a horse with a high risk of foundering is to keep the structural carbohydrates low. The availability of sugars in grasses is impacted by a number of factors including the species of grass, moisture stress, time of day and amount of shade in a paddock. The production rate of sugar in grasses is linked to photosynthesis.
Perennial pastures require resting to maintain their leaf production and to be safe for horses at risk of laminitis to graze. Continually grazed grasses at the 1 leaf stage are high in sugar and can increase laminitis risk. More mature grasses in the three leaf stage of production have lower sugar levels. Native pasture grasses are lower in sugars than introduced pasture grasses. The types of grasses suitable for horses are different to those suitable for ruminants. Cattle and sheep digest sugars in grass in the rumen to feed the microbes in the stomach. In horses sugar is digested in the hindgut, from here the sugar enters the bloodstream which can cause metabolic syndromes such as laminitis.
Weeds in hay
Helena recommends that you monitor your feed sources, especially hay, for weed contamination. Some pasture grass hay can be contaminated with undesirable pasture species and weeds. If hay you are buying is cheap this is usually for a reason. If you are unsure of a grass species advertised you can look up the NSW DPI Weed Wise website and NSW Plant Net website.
Owen Whitaker is a fifth generation farmer with 25 years experience revegetating farms and managing large scale revegetation projects. At this workshop he shared his revegetation wisdom and practical knowledge.
“Planting trees is an investment, well designed windbreaks can mitigate production losses from cold winds, improve pasture productivity, provide fodder and enhance biodiversity” Owen Whitaker 2019
Before deep ripping contact Dial Before You Dig and/or get professional advice to locate services, this can save you thousands of dollars. (Note that some services on rural properties may not be on record with DBYD.)
Tree and shrub tube stock can be planted in rows using existing fences or in strategic clumps around the paddock to provide stock with access to shade and shelter from all directions. This can be achieved by using circular ‘ring style’ fencing around star pickets without strainer posts with either electric or hingejoint wire, depending on livestock.
Trees can be incorporated into lane ways so that paddocks can be split up for rotational or holistic grazing.
A typical shrub and tree planting layout would be 2 metres away from fences, 3 metres between rows and 4 metres between plants. Plant shrubs in the outside rows and trees in the middle rows creating a tapered profile effect to deflect winds. Offset the plants between the rows. The minimum tree row width for a good shelter belt effect is 3 rows x 10 metres however for a better return on outlay 5 rows x 20 metres would deliver the best micro-climate and ecological outcome.
Controlling biomass and ripping 6-12 months ahead of planting will help water to penetrate into the ground and build moisture profile to aid seedling establishment. Removing pasture by using a knockdown herbicide will reduce the allelopathic effects of pasture and competition for water when the tube stock is planted. Do not use a residual herbicide when preparing the planting site as the active ingredients will inhibit tree establishment.
Have a tree guard making party and have all guards assembled ready to go before planting day.
Mulching around the base of plants (but not against the stems) can help the seedlings to establish. A woody mulch is preferred over pasture hay.
A Pottiputki planting tool can be used with seedlings grown in a HIKO tray. The seedlings are inserted into the top of the planter so you don’t have to bend down to plant seedlings.
Owen’s tips for direct seeding:
A four-wheel drive direct seeder is a good option for lighter soil types on slopes that are not suited to ripping. Plants sown using direct seeding can take three to five years to germinate. Seeds will germinate at the ideal time and when moisture is available, usually during summer rains.
Native grass seed is often expensive. You can reintroduce native grasses cost effectively by sowing or blowing small amounts of seed into degraded pastures. The seed can also be hand sown. Smaller seeds should be mixed with sawdust or vermiculite so they can be spread more effectively.
The composition of pasture can be manipulated to include native grasses by allowing the grass time to seed and using rotational grazing. Animals will move the seed around your farm on their coats and in their dung. Wind and rain will increase native grass density over time and seasonal events.
The benefit of direct seeding is that the store of seed remains in the soil and will germinate over a number of years,. This helps mitigate the risk of plant failure due to drought. You may need to thin some of the seedlings that emerge over time.
Some seeds require treatment before planting. For example, some Acacia seeds require scarification (i.e. soaking in hot water) before planting.
This workshop explored options available for fox and rabbit control in peri-urban areas. The workshop presenters were Nicky Clark and Phil McGrath, Biosecurity Officers from South East Local Land Services and Alice McGlashan, a local small farmer.
A combination of management tools delivers the best results when it comes to managing feral animals. To manage rabbits and foxes, persistence and planning is required.
Fox Management and Trapping
Alice McGlashan showed us methods that she uses to ‘out fox a fox’ when it comes to soft jaw trapping combined with wildlife cameras. The benefit of soft jaw trapping is that non target species including your neighbours’ dog, possums and other wildlife can be released.
When deciding on where to focus your control program, a wildlife camera can be helpful. Foxes tend to use established pathways and young kits will follow adult paths even if the adult has been killed. You can use a trail camera to learn the favoured routes and pathways of the foxes so you know where to set the traps. This might include locations close to the tracks, chicken pens and adjacent to fences and gates. Once you have established their typical routes on your property, you can use the information to set fox traps in the same place in subsequent years.
Alice’s tips for buying a trail camera are – you get what you pay for, it is worth shopping around and USA sites will often be cheaper. There have been advances in camera technology over the past few years. A no-glow camera is essential. Do not buy a low glow/red glow camera because the light is visible and foxes are put off by the glow.
The use of soft jaw leg hold traps requires skill and training but the results can be good in peri-urban areas. The use of the traps is governed by legislation. The traps should be buried in soil or sand and disguised with surrounding leaf litter. Alice demonstrated laying a number of traps around a bait like a dead chicken or other meat. She suggested wearing gloves and minimising body contact with the ground and nearby objects to minimise the human scent left in the area. Ensure that the trap chains are secure. Once you have trapped the fox you can transfer to fox to a cage and cover the cage with a blanket. Local Land Services biosecurity officers are licensed to euthanise foxes or you can organise a local shooter.
Alice has published a guide to managing predators and trail cameras on her website Nest Box Tails, see the link below and download Alice’s notes on buying a wildlife camera.
Nicky and Phil advised that Spring and Autumn are the best time to manage foxes. Options for control include laying 1080 baits, trapping and shooting. Other exclusion methods such as fencing and companion animals can be used but these methods were not discussed at this workshop. South East Local Land Services delivers training on the use of 1080 baits for fox control to minimise risk to other animals. If you use a 1080 baiting program it is essential that the baits are laid in the areas where foxes travel. Any uneaten baits must be picked up to avoid poisoning non-target species.
In NSW there is a Fox Control Pest Order and control programs are most effective when a number of neighbours in an area work together. According to the Department of Primary Industries, re-invasion by foxes can re occur within two to six weeks so ongoing planning and trapping over a number of years and in coordination with neighbours delivers the best results.
Nicky and Phil suggest the following steps for effective rabbit control:
First reduce rabbit numbers using a bating program. A rabbit baiting program involves a pre-feeding routine so that the rabbits learn to eat the carrots before poisoned carrots are put out for one night. Where possible it is good to get a group of neighbours involved in a baiting program. Rabbits can move up to one kilometre from their warren. When they are 20-60 days old, young rabbits will disperse.
Poisoning of non-target species and secondary poisoning are both factors to consider when deciding on a baiting program.
Remove warrens and harbours. The removal of habitat is essential when managing rabbits. This includes the removal of fallen logs, rubbish and blackberries – anywhere that is providing burrow protection for the rabbits. For warren ripping use an experienced contractor with tines up to 900mm long and rip no less than 50 cm apart.
Reassess rabbit numbers. Follow up with another control program that could include baiting, trapping or fumigation. If you decide to use a fumigant you can run a dog over the warrens so that all the rabbits go into the burrows before you start. The use of soft jaw traps is approved under legislation for rabbit control and can be effective once rabbit population are brought under control.
Calicivirus is part of the rabbit control story but many rabbit populations have developed resistance to the virus. According to Phil, the second release of the calicivirus only had a 20-40% knockdown effect. You can read more about the biological control of rabbits on the CSIRO website.
You can revegetate the area after ripping and baiting but you will need to monitor for rabbit activity. Of all the methods discussed above, fumigation poses the most risk to humans.
At this workshop Dr Lou Baskind, the District Veterinarian from South East Local Land Services in Braidwood, discussed weeds, livestock and how pasture plants can be poisonous to ruminent livestock in some conditions. Temperature, rainfall and the plant’s lifecycle can influence the amount of poisonous compounds in a plant. Other plants have inherent physical and chemical properties that are poisonous.
Download a full version of the slides presented by Dr Lou Baskind.
The three common problems that weeds can cause livestock are:
Physical impediments such as wool contamination and physical damage to the animal;
Key points from the workshop:
Animal species are affected by different weeds, for example, alpacas can tolerate some weeds that sheep and cattle can’t.
Sharp weed seeds can cause damage to the face, eyes and hide of animals. The affected animal is then predisposed to other health problems including secondary infections such as pink eye in cattle and scabby mouth in sheep.
Weeds often out compete other more nutritious pasture species and this can affect the animal’s ability to consume enough feed to meet its nutritional requirements. The fibrous nature of some grass weeds with low digestibility creates gut fill, limiting the intake of nutritious feed. Most weed species are too low in nutrition to maintain body condition. Serrated tussock has the same digestibility as cardboard.
Over 200 plant species are potentially poisonous to ruminants. The three main factors that contribute to plant poisonings are:
Plant factors such as toxic chemicals in the plant that are there as a defence mechanism, the stage of growth and the part of the plant;
Environmental factors – temperature, water stress and drought; and
Fodder oats can cause nitrate toxicity in cattle. When grazing new paddocks be careful with monocultures of the same grass type. Where possible avoid sudden changes of diet because the microbes in the rumen don’t have time to adjust to the new feed which can cause poisoning. Feeding roughage (such as oaten hay) is protective against nitrate poisoning.
If you have multiple deaths in your flock or herd, call your local vet or the district veterinarian. Don’t dispose of the animal carcasses because they can be used for autopsy and blood testing.
First aid if you suspect plant poisoning: remove the animals quietly from the pasture they are grazing, don’t stress or overwork the animals. Provide clean (not green) oaten hay, shade and access to water.
Plant poisonings can be chronic (sudden onset) and cumulative.
Links to websites and weeds that can cause poisoning
Learning to identify grass weeds, grasses and native plants was the focus of this event. Kris Nash and Fiona Leach, Agricultural Adviser with South East Local Land Services led a two hour walk and talk in Bungendore in April 2019.
Kris showed the participants how to use the morphology of a grass plant for identification, most importantly the ligule and auricle on the sheath of the grass stem.
Copies of Kris’s handouts explaining the different parts of grasses and identification of grass weeds and native grasses can be found here.
Clearing for agriculture, grazing and urban development has seen the decline of natural temperate grasslands in Australia. There is now only 0.5% of natural temperate grasslands left in Australia. Preserving and managing this declining valuable resource is very important.
You need some disturbance regime to manage native grassland. Aboriginal people used traditional burning techniques to manage the diversity of species living in an area.
Grass weeds are like teenagers, they change their appearance with the season making them difficult to identify at different times of the year.
Some tips to maintain a healthy pasture;
Don’t over graze the pasture and do practice rotational grazing.
Cover bare soil where possible and carry around some seed to sow desirable species.
Create micro climates for seeds to collect and germinate.
If you want to collect seed heads try using old baskets or branches to protect the seed from livestock and kangaroos.
African Love Grass can be distinguished from Hairy Panic by looking at the seed. The seed head of the African Love Grass has one seed on the end of the pinnacle. Older plants often look messy at the base with old curly leaves in the centre of the thatch. African Love Grass has a higher feed value than Serrated Tussock but is very invasive.