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On Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 April 2021 we met Den Barber from Yarrabin Cultural Connections and a team of cultural burning practitioners at Birkenburn Farm near Bungendore to learn about Aboriginal cultural burning.
The workshop began with an Acknowledgement of Country and Smoking Ceremony. The smoking ceremony involves smouldering gum leaves to produce smoke, which provides a spiritual cleansing and protection for all workshop participants.
For Aboriginal people, cultural burning is an ancient traditional practice used for thousands of years throughout the many different Cultural Lands of Australia. The process is complex with many interconnected objectives including protecting cultural assets by maintaining the health of surrounding country, protecting ceremonial sites, habitat enhancement and fuel reduction. Fuel reduction is often not the primary objective. Cultural burning uses frequent, low intensity fires that do not adversely impact parent trees or the forest canopy. Parent trees are considered sacred by Aboriginal people.
You don’t manage your mother you look after her
Den Barber told us about the Aboriginal belief of caring for Mother Earth. Before starting the fire, we prepared the burn site (under the direction of our guides) by raking back excessive bushfire fuel loads of bark, leaves and sticks from the base of the trees. It was necessary to create containment lines in this ‘Country’ that has not seen any fire for more than 50 years by raking debris to create bare tracks. Den showed us a ‘parent tree’ which had a hollow in it, we could see signs that the hollow was in use because there were scratch marks and frass at the base of the tree.
Cultural burns help protect native animal habitat by reducing fuel loads and the intensity of fires. The low intensity of a cultural burn allows animals, insects and reptiles to move away from the fire. By protecting the forest canopy the ecosystem is preserved, unlike bushfires where whole ecosystems can be lost in one fire event.
The right fire at the right time
Cultural burning is not about saving money or meeting hazard reduction burn targets. It is about putting the right type of fire, at the right time into the right landscape. This takes time, patience and guidance from an Aboriginal practitioner. Aboriginal people have a relationship with fire and the Mother Earth, they are the traditional custodians of fire in the Australian Landscape.
Let go of time… and be patient
Den taught us the right way to start a fire by establishing a single ignition point in the middle of the burn site, so that the fire will move out in a circular fashion from that point. Using a series of fires like this produces a mosaic burn effect in the landscape. The fire is low and slow and aims to predominantly leave only a black ash layer behind. Some patches and even individual plants will not be burnt.
A cultural burn will only be conducted during suitable weather conditions including the right amount of wind, temperature, humidity as well as the appropriate season.
Look for signs that a burn is needed, this could involve asking yourself questions. What are the fuel loads like in the forest? Are the trees or shrubs fruiting? How much dead grass is in the tussocks? Is one plant type dominating?
Burning in grassland is like mowing the lawn
Slow cool burning protects the roots of the grasses and shrubs so they can regenerate when it rains. Den suggests that grassland is ready to burn when 50% of the tussock is dead grass.
One of our guides shared his experience of using cultural burning to manage Serrated Tussock. Burning tussock at the right time of the year can reduce seed heads and create space for other plants to establish. Burning over several years is required and can be used as part of an integrated weed management plan.
Knowledge is only powerful when shared
Towards the end of the workshop, we asked how non-Aboriginal people could apply the knowledge learnt at the workshop? What should we call a burn if we want to conduct one? Den’s answer ‘if you have received Cultural Knowledge, you should acknowledge that it is a Traditional Aboriginal Cultural Practice. It is good to share and practice cultural burning regardless of your heritage.’
The generous way in which Den and the Yarrabin Fire Crew shared their traditional knowledge was appreciated by everyone attending the workshop.
Rural Fire Service perspective
A Bush Fire Hazard Reduction Certificate may be required to perform any type of burning on privately owned land and a Fire Permit from the Rural Fire Service (RFS) is required during the bushfire period. You need to comply with the conditions of the certificate or permit including safety requirements and notifying your neighbours. Notification of intention to burn is a relatively simple process that can be done online. Please contact the RFS for more information.
Yarrabin Cultural Connections Pty Ltd
Steffensen, V (2020). Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia. Richmond, Hardie Grant Explore, Australia.
Australian Story documentary featuring Victor Steffensen
CSIRO publishing ‘How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia’
NSW Rural Fire Service
Notification of intention to burn
Nature Conservancy Research into the effects on cultural burning on climate change
Burning as a control method for Serrated Tussock
This event was funded by the NSW Government through an Increasing Resilience to Climate Change (IRCC) Community Grant.
This workshop was held in Bywong in July 2021 and was about constructing animal yards that are suitable for keeping farm animal safe and predators out. Our guest speaker was Chris Curtis from Roogulli Farm.
Chris provided the following resources for this workshop, click on the link below to open them:
Predator proofing animal enclosures PowerPoint presentation
Bibliography – a list of research papers on this topic
Chris has designed a simple box addition to his chicken coop that allows chickens to enter the coop but excludes foxes. The bends in the entry way are designed so that the fox cannot bend around the tight corners.
Lamb predation and fox control in south-eastern Australia 2001
Fencing for fox control. Factsheet, Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, 2012. PestSmart website.
Cost effective feral animal exclusion fencing for areas of high conservation value in Australia, Natural Heritage Trust 2004.
Alpacas as guardian animals
Guardian Dogs – Best Practice Guide to the use of Maremma dogs as guardian dogs, Invasive Animal Cooperative Research Centre
Toolkit resource - guardian animals for livestock protection and wild dog exclusion
This project was supported by the NSW Government through a grant from South East Local Land Services.
Watch the webinar recording in YouTube.
A National Guide for Smallholder Livestock Producers
(Meat and Livestock Australia)
This guide, providing an overview of your responsibilities when keeping livestock including pet sheep in Australia, is a good place to start.
Farm Biosecurity toolkit
(Animal Health Australia and Plant Health Australia)
Forms, biosecurity manual and other resources for creating your biosecurity plan
A Producer’s Guide to Sheep Husbandry Practices
(Meat and Livestock Australia)
Guidance for many standard sheep handling and treatment practices including yards, tagging, injections, worm egg counts, drenching, foot trimming, lamb marking and humane killing.
Sheep Calendar of Operations
(NSW Local Land Services)
What to do when for sheep on the NSW South Coast regionhttps://www.lls.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/1280923/Final-Version-SELLS_Sheep_Calendar.pdf
General information about biosecurity, health and welfare for sheep (Animal Health Australia)
National Livestock Identification System (NLIS)
Register here to be able to record sheep movements on and off your property (this is free)
Meat and Livestock Australia (MyMLA)
Register with MyMLA as the first step to gaining LPA accreditation so you can sell sheep (even pet sheep) and write NVDs
Animal Carcass Disposal (NSW DPI)
Safe handling and disposal of carcasses.
Yards and Equipment (NSW DPI)
Series of fact sheets about design of yards, sheep handlers, ramps and shearing sheds.
Straying Stock (NSW DPI)
What to do if stock stray onto your property
Vaccination in Sheep Flocks (Meat and Livestock Australia)
Guide to how vaccinations work and the vaccines available for sheep.
See also Vaccinations for Sheep in the Capital Region
This event held on the 22 May 2021 was a combined webinar and paddock demonstration with Alice McGlashan. Alice is a natural resource management practitioner and environmental educator who lives on a rural bush property near Canberra. At this event she shared her knowledge about feral predator management using different trapping methods.
The webinar recording can be viewed here.
Alice recorded a 15-minute video demonstrating the use of padded jaw traps, you can view the video here.
This is a summary of the main points from the webinar and paddock walk, a list of resources can be found at the bottom of this page.
South East Local Land Services Feral Fighters Program - Feral Fighters is an initiative to strategically target pest animals at a regional and state scale through strategic, coordinated group baiting control programs.
Members Camera loan program - Small Farms Network Capital Region Members can borrow a wildlife monitoring camera to use for feral animal monitoring.
Trapping Equipment- There are many suppliers of trapping equipment. Alice uses Victor #1 1/2 and #1 3/4 2 coil traps from traps.com.au and gettrapped.com.au. You are encouraged to do your own research for suitable suppliers.
Pest Smart Website https://pestsmart.org.au/pest-animals/
Trapping of foxes using padded-jaw traps (fox005) standard operating procedure.
General methods of euthanasia under field conditions
This project was supported by South East Local Land Services.
This workshop was held in Tarago on Sunday 2 May 2021. Our presenters were Ross Kuchel, Agricultural Adviser from South East Local Land Services, Peter and Penny Dagg from Eastern and White Dorpers, Fiona McNeil from Bent Shed Produce and Stephanie Helm from The Vintner’s Daughter.
The topics covered included farm planning, water resources, managing risk, farm business resources, business planning, biosecurity, moving livestock and taking care of your natural assets.
Plan, plan and plan was Ross’s clear message. Knowing your personal values and goals can help you develop the priorities for your land and farm business. Understanding your legal obligations when it comes to managing water, weeds, vegetation and livestock is important. More information about how to do this can be found in the Rural Living Guide and by contacting your nearest Local Land Services Office.
Penny Dagg discussed starting out with livestock, managing a sheep stud, biosecurity and animal health. Penny told us how difficult and expensive it was to buy water and feed during the drought. Penny’s advice is to plan for the extremes and prepare to de-stock if necessary. Importing feed from outside the region can increase the biosecurity risk of getting new weeds that don’t normally grow at your place. Penny’s top tip: don’t be afraid to ask for advice, everyone starting out on the land needs help and support.
Stephanie Helm shared her family’s experience running a small winery and cellar door during COVID-19 and how the crisis led to a decision to start online marketing and to diversify into other farm enterprises to manage risk. Stephanie showed us how it is possible to integrate animals into a horticultural business and reduce chemical use at the same time. Stephanie’s top tips are take the time to create a business plan, develop your business skills and learn how to use social media.
Fiona McNeil’s key point was don’t forget to pay yourself a living wage. For unskilled labour this is a minimum of $25/hour and for skilled labour aim for around $50/hour. The Australian Taxation Office website can help you work out labour, car and other business expenses. Fiona discussed the challenge of working full time while juggling a business and how health can change your priorities. Her top tips are to contact the Business Enterprise Centre for support and look out for changes to council zoning that could affect your chosen enterprise.
Farm Planning Ideas - Local Land Services
Sustainable Farms - Ten Ways to Improve the Natural Assets a farm
National Livestock Identification Scheme
Order of Streams NSW Water
Business Enterprise Centre Queanbeyan
Business Planning Templates
Native Vegetation Planning
Thank you to our presenters and the Country Women’s Association Tarago Branch for supplying delicious food for this event.
This workshop was made possible with funding from the Australian Government through the National Landcare Program and in-kind support from South East Local Land Services.
Do you have an alpaca or two? Would you like more information on how to care for them? Perhaps you inherited a few when you purchased your small farm. This webinar with Dr Lou Baskind is about the basic care and management of alpacas and was recorded on the 3 March 2021.
You can view the YouTube recording of the webinar here.
1. Alpacas have a digestive system similar but not the same as other ruminants such as cattle. Alpacas have three stomachs and they chew their cud. Alpacas are more efficient at digesting low quality feed than other ruminants and have a lower risk of bloat compared to cattle. BUT that does not mean that you don’t have to watch what they eat. Alpacas have a requirement for long stemmed grass at all times for their gut to work efficiently. Pregnant and lactating females (called hembras) have a higher requirement for energy and protein. If there is a lot of green grass you might want to consider supplementing them with low quality feed for fibre.
Body condition scoring of alpacas
2. Alpacas must have a at least one companion otherwise they will fret. Alpacas have very strong herding instincts and need the companionship of other alpacas to thrive, it is best to provide each alpaca with a companion alpaca of the same gender.
3. Alpacas have a strong instinct to bond with other grazing herd animals and this has resulted in the growing use of wethered adult male alpacas or adult females as sheep and goat flock guardians. They have a strong instinct to fend off dogs and foxes to protect their flock.
4. Vitamin D deficiency – because alpacas come from high altitudes, even in Australia they can suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. Crias (baby alpacas up to the age of 3) are most at risk of the disease. Prevention is the easiest treatment; you can do this by shearing the alpacas and by giving them a vitamin D injection every year. A deficiency in vitamin D can cause problems with calcium absorption.
5. Alpacas are susceptible to worms and liver fluke. These parasites are best controlled by integrated worm management, with consideration given to regular worm testing, creating worm free paddocks and targeted use of drenches.
Worms and alpacas
CRIA Genesis Website - A comprehensive website about alpacas.
Low stress animal handling
Tocal College Alpaca Ag Skills
Australian Alpaca Association
This webinar was made possible through funding from the NSW Environmental Trust through it’s Every Bit Counts Project and with in-kind support from South East Local Land Services Vet Dr Lou Baskind.
At this webinar Bill Handke from the Canberra Indian Myna Action Group Inc. discussed why a feral bird, the Indian Myna, is a problem and what actions you can take at home to manage them.
The webinar was recorded on the 17 March 2021 and you can view the recording here.
A copy of Bill’s PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded here.
This is a summary of the five key points from the webinar:
1. Indian Mynas are native to the Indian subcontinent and are highly invasive, adaptive and intelligent. The birds were introduced into Melbourne in 1862 to control pests in market gardens and have subsequently spread along the eastern Australian seaboard. They are classed as one of the top 100 invasive species worldwide and are implicated in species decline and extinction because they prey on native animals and birds and compete with them for food and nesting sites. In Canberra, the impact of Indian Mynas on native birds has been studied by ANU researchers who identified they have a severe impact on birds such as rosellas, wrens, Willy Wagtails, Silvereyes and Whistlers.
2. Indian Mynas were introduced into Canberra in 1968 and have been recorded in densities of up to 250 birds/km2. Indian Mynas are a major threat to native wildlife because they:
3. Indian Mynas pose a human health risk because they carry bird mites and blood-borne parasites that can be transmitted to humans. They can increase the fire risk in rooves by creating nests in roof cavities. They are also a pest for agricultural, viticultural and horticultural industries. A major concern to the public is the loss of social amenity because of Mynas fouling backyards and BBQ areas, their raucous calls and their displacement of native birds.
4. The experience in Canberra indicates that trapping is highly successful and is the best method for controlling and removing the birds. Indian Myna bird trap designs can be found below. The disposal of animals once they have been trapped has been approved by the RSPCA. Training and support from the Canberra Indian Myna Action Group is provided for people interested in trapping Mynas in their backyards.
5. You can also help at home by reducing feeding opportunities, eliminating nesting sites in roofs and reducing roosting sites. Avoid planting trees with dense foliage, such as pencil pines, in which Mynas will roost at night.
Useful links and information:
Canberra Indian Myna Action Group
A website dedicated to help people manage and control Indian Mynas.
Indian Myna Information Sheet
Indian Myna Trap Plan
Indian Myna - the flying cane toad
Trapping Help Sheet and Protocol on Animal Welfare
MynaScan is a resource developed to help community members, pest controllers and biosecurity groups to map sightings and the damage that Myna birds cause, and coordinate control efforts with local community groups. MynaScan is free, easy to use, and can help you develop a detailed map of Myna bird activity in your local area. You can also upload images for accurate record keeping.
This webinar was made possible with funding from the NSW Environmental Trust through Every Bit Counts Project. Thank you to Bill Handke and the Canberra Indian Myna Action Group for their support of this webinar.
Alice McGlashan has spent many years monitoring feral animal predators and wildlife on her property just outside of Canberra. At this webinar/paddock walk she discussed her observations and methods for filming animals to help other small farmers set up monitoring programs for their properties. A useful links section is included at the end of this summary.
You can view the recording of the webinar on the 27 February 2021 HERE.
The key messages from the webinar and paddock walk are summarised below:
1. The key design features to look for in a wildlife camera are;
2. When thinking about where to put your camera, start at the places where you think feral predators are active (i.e., around chicken pens, along fence lines, well used paths). Foxes and their young are habitual and will follow the same paths each night. Leave your camera in the same location for 7 days.
3. Choose the height of your camera a little higher, or at the same height as the body of the animal you are wanting to monitor. For foxes and cats this is just below knee height.
4. Moving foliage and long grass can trigger the camera. If at all possible, choose a location where the camera is not looking towards long grass or shrubs. If you don’t have a choice, review the camera footage and erase the SD card. At the same time change the camera batteries (if they are flat). Change the SD and batteries every 2-3 days as needed if the weather is other than very calm.
5. Wildlife cameras can record still images or video (with sound). Video is great for recording animal behaviours, however fill up the SD card and flatten the camera batteries quicker than recording still images. Still images are great for recording presence/absence of animals. Set the camera to record still images (not video) if you wish to leave the camera in a remote location for several weeks to months without needing to replace the SD card or batteries. For easy to access locations where the camera will be checked every 1-2 weeks, choose video or still images depending on the purpose of the survey.
6. For wildlife monitoring – do not use baits or attractants to lure wildlife to your camera location. This can change the behaviour of the animal you are trying to monitor and put them at risk of predator attack or harmful to their health. Instead choose a camera location that will observe them in their natural environment. Direct the camera towards animal paths, rotten logs, rock piles, shrubby undergrowth, tree hollows and at tree trunks - depending on which animals you are seeking to observe.
7. Your scent can deter predators from visiting an area. Attaching the camera can be fiddly, Alice suggests you practice setting the camera up in an area that you will not be monitoring. When you set the camera in the monitoring location use a ground sheet and gloves so your scent is not transferred to the camera installation location, and the camera itself.
8. Use short sticks of varying thickness behind the installed camera (horizontal) to angle the camera up or down as needed when strapped to a tree, fence post or similar. And ensure the camera is very firmly strapped in location to prevent it from being dislodged by an animal.
The Small Farms Network Capital Region Trail Camera Loan Program is an initiative to provide financial members of the network short term access to high quality wildlife cameras to use on their properties. Find out more and loan a camera.
Alice recorded a 9 minute demonstration video on how to use a wildlife camera, see the link below.
Video - how to use a wildlife camera
Pest animal monitoring techniques PEST SMART
WIRES - Information about feeding wild animals
Setting up a Browning Trail Camera
SFNCR fox and rabbit workshop.
This event is made possible with funding from South East Local Land Services.
This workshop was held at the Mulloon Institute on the 5 December 2020 (with social distancing). Our guest speakers were Peter Hazell and Anne Gibson from the Mulloon Institute and Jennie Curtis from Roogulli Farm.
What is the water cycle? It can be illustrated by the diagram below.
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The water cycle is essential to life on earth and 65% of rainfall is produced over land.
Peter explained to us that the small water cycle on your farm can be influenced by management. If there is insufficient water in the soil, on its surface and in plants, solar energy cannot be transformed into latent heat that produces water evaporation but is instead changed into sensible heat. The surface of the ground soon overheats, and as a result, a breakdown in the supply of water from the large water cycle arises over the affected land (Source Europeanwater.org). We learnt that farmers can maximise the water potential of their farm by increasing soil carbon, rotational grazing, maintaining ground cover, avoiding bare soil, planting trees, installing simple structures to encourage water infiltration and reducing the effects of erosion.
The Mulloon Institute has been working with local farmers along Mulloon Creek. These are the three main principles of the Mulloon Creek Rehydration Initiative:
1. De-energise flood waters by putting leaky weir structures in Mulloon Creek. The leaky weirs spread nutrients and water across the flood plain. The recharged ground water is released back into the creek system in times of drought and habitat is created in the resulting chain of ponds. The Mulloon Institute is monitoring the project including stream flows and water quality.
2. Slow the speed of surface water runoff higher in the landscape. At the Mulloon Institute they achieve this in steep areas using swales, leaky weirs and non-permanent structures in first and second order streams. Water energy is dissipated and stored in vegetation below the swales.
3. Increase surface roughness using vegetation, rocks and plants to create niches and microclimates. This conserves water in the landscape, creates habitat for wildlife and potentially increases feed resources for grazing.
Peter described simple ideas such as creating a wetland upstream from a dam or in the inflow area of the dam to catch sediment. He also suggested making brush packs using unwanted plants such as Kunzea and blackberry to place along the contour as small-scale solutions to reducing runoff and improving water quality.
Find out more information about the Mulloon Institute Rehydration Initiative here.
Jennie Curtis is a landscape architect who manages Roogulli Farm in Bywong with her husband Chris. The farm is a mixed enterprise with a Babydoll Southdown sheep stud and a market garden. These are key points from Jennie’s presentation:
The guiding principles that Jennie uses are:
The placement of structures in water courses requires rigorous engineering and planning. Weirs, rock structures are examples of ‘controlled activities’ that may require a permit and approval. It is wise to check that your contractor is aware of these requirements before building any structures in water courses.
Find out about Water Licencing and Compliance here.
Contact NSW Water Advisory Services on 1800 353 104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Digital elevation model and contours from Geoscience Australia
Water recovery for the climate: a new water paradigm
Peter Andrews - Natural Sequential Farming
Rivers of Carbon - What are swampy meadows and chains of ponds and why we need them
NSW Local Land Services. Chapter on water in Rural Living Handbook
Small Farms Network Capital Region Irrigation workshop
Small scale ideas for managing erosion
Information on dams, building dams and water on small farms
What is a swale?
Swales? Or Not to Swale?
This event was funded by the NSW Government through an Increasing Resilience to Climate Change (IRCC) Community Grant. You can find out more about the IRCC projects here.
At our online meeting Dr Jason Condon chatted with farmers Jennie Curtis, Allan Spencer and Harji Dhindsa about the soil test results from the demonstration plots on their farms.
Soil samples were taken from each farm in September from a ‘good patch’ and ‘bare patch’ of soil in the demonstration plots. The soil from the bare patch plots was bulked. The soil was sampled at depths 0-5, 5-10, 10-15 and 15-20cm to see what was going on in the different soil layers.
Jason discussed what the soil test results mean and the differences between the patches, soil depths and farms. We recommend you take the time to listen to Jason’s presentation. He explains how to interpret the soil test results including soil pH, aluminium, potassium, cation exchange capacity, organic carbon, exchangeable sodium percentage, soil electrical conductivity and calcium/magnesium ratio. He then goes on to suggest actions that can be taken to improve the soil health on each farm.
This meeting was recorded on the 16 November 2020 and you can view the video here.
Jason explained the demonstrations sites have their own unique factors that are limiting plant growth and contributing to the bare patches. It was fascinating to learn about how the “Law of the Minimum’ works in practice and how soil structure can affect plant growth.
Key messages from the meeting:
This is a summary of the key differences between the project sites.
Soil Acidity and Liming AGFACT
Identifying dispersive sodic soils
Assessing soil aggregate stability
Cycling on phosphorus in grazing systems
You can catch up on the latest Grassing the Bare Patches Project here.
Dr Jason Condon is a soil scientist and educator from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, a partnership of NSW Department of Primary Industries and Charles Sturt University based in Wagga Wagga.
The Small Farms Network Capital Region received funding for this project from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.
Small Farms Network Capital Region IncPO Box 313BungendoreNSW 2621