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Despite good rainfall in many areas since autumn, some patches of soil are still bare. Dr Jason Condon from Charles Sturt University explained how soil acidity can be a factor driving poor ground cover in pastures. Jennie Curtis, a small farmer from the Capital Region, showed us some of the bare patches at her place.
The webinar recorded on Saturday 4 July 2020 will help you to develop an understanding of soil acidity including the causes and influence of soil acidity on plants and the landscape. Simple methods to diagnose soil acidity are explained. Addressing soil acidity may be a useful step in filling the bare patches on your land.
Watch the webinar recording
1. Soil pH is a measure of hydrogen ions in the soil. The most commonly used pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. As the number goes down from 7 (ie. 6, 5, 4...) the soil acidity increases while values above 7 are alkaline. In the Capital Region many soils are acidic. Soil pH can be measured in the field using a test kit or by sending a sample to a laboratory for more accurate results. The pH (CaCl2) test is the more accurate of the two pH tests, as it reflects what the plant experiences in the soil. The values of pH (CaCl2) are normally lower than pH(w) by 0.5 to 0.9. A simple pH soil testing kit from the rural shop measures pH in water.
NSW DPI Understanding Soil pH
NSW DPI Soil Acidity and Liming
2. Agriculture involves removing plant material either by harvesting plants or grazing plants and this process acidifies soils. To counteract this you need to get to know what the problems are for your soils.
3. If your soil is pH 5 or lower, the percentage of available Aluminum is more likely to be at levels that are toxic to plants. High Aluminium reduces root growth and stops cellular growth at the root tip - the roots will be short and stumpy. Where % Aluminium is high, Magnesium and Calcium are leeched away from the root zone.
4. Soil acidity is not uniform down through a soil profile so the pH results from a 0-10cm soil test won't give you the full story. Often the pH at the surface where plants are growing is higher and then the soil is more acidic further down. A dig stick can be used with pH indicator powder from a pH test kit to show the range of acidity in your soil profile (see photo below where the pH in water is being tested).
5. When you get a soil test done, only pay for what you need. A simple soil test should include soil pH, electrical conductivity, available phosphorus, cation exchange capacity, % Aluminium and organic carbon.
6. Lime is akaline and can be used to adjust soil pH. It is not an annual fertiliser. Soil tests should be used to identify the need for lime and the effects of applying lime can take a long time to be seen. In acidic soils, research suggests that lime moves down through the soil profile best when a target pH of 5.5 is used. This often requires a high initial application rate followed by small top ups every few years for maintenance of a target pH of 5.5. This approach allows lime to be applied on the surface or in relatively shallow seed furrows and to move down through the soil profile without cultivation of the soil. Monitoring your soil is essential for finding our what works on your farm.
7. Plain lime is best for surface application. Prilled lime can have a good effect when applied in seed rows or riplines but generally is not as effective as regular lime when applied on the surface.
This project is supported by South East Local Land Services, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.
Dr Lou Baskind, District Veterinarian Form South East Local Land Services, joined the small farms network for a webinar about keeping backyard chickens.
UPDATE: Pestene Insect Powder is a registered chemical for lice in chickens and can be safely used. Pestene is best used as a preventative and can be added to the dust bathing area or directly applied to the chickens.
Registered chemicals for poultry
Registered for laying poultry
Pestene (sulphur and rotenone dusting powder)
Avitrol Bird Mite and Lice Spray
Avian Insect Liquidator
(ornamental and caged birds)
Fido's Fre-Itch Rinse Concentrate for Dogs and Cats
Fipronil (Frontline Spray Flea and Tick Control for Cats and Dogs)
Essentials for Backyard Chicken Keeping and Health by Dr Lou Baskind
DIY rodent free chicken feeder from Gardening Australia
NSW Department of Primary Industries Poultry Fact Sheets
The Queeensland Department of Industry has published a series of articles relating to poultry diseases and health. Follow the links below to find out more information.
Moulting and the laying hen
Feather loss not related to moulting
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.
Andy Taylor has written a handy guide to managing erosion after fire.
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.
Key points from the workshop were:
Branches create a planting niche
Using old lucerne hay under jute matting to slow down water
Jute matting with seed spread over the top
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 following are links to more information:
Understanding the impact of the 2020 fires
Building a sediment fence
Pasture recovery after fire
Fire retardant plant list from Yarralumla Nursery (but remember all plants can burn)
Bushfire Customer Care NSW Government
Healing the land techniques for managing erosion workshop summary
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.
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 a video showing ideas for yards for small flocks, a way to weigh sheep, a method for tipping sheep up and a variety of feeders.
Watch the video
Weigh bars and race set up
Homemade sheep feeder
Download design for sheep hay and pellet feeder used at Roogulli Farm (based on many others found in Google searches)
For general principles of yard design and the U-Bugle design in particular see The ‘U’ bugle sheep yard from NSW DPI.
Thank you to Jennie Curtis, Alice McGlashan and Chris Curtis for assisting with this webinar and donating their time.
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 artefacts and asked a lot of questions about what to look out for on our own properties. Wally told us that Aboriginal artefacts retain the spirit of the person who made them and must be left in the location where they are found.
Karen Williams shared her knowledge of the early European history of the area, including a story about the first explorer in 1820, Joseph Wild. Jasmyn Lynch talked about the fragmented native vegetation that remains, including nationally threatened ecosystems such as the Temperate Grassland of the Southern Highlands, White Box, Yellow Box and Blakely’s Red Gum Woodland.
You can download a copy of Ngunawal-stories-of-Lake-George-2019, the handout prepared by the speakers. The notes include a comprehensive list of online resources.
Read more about the Aboriginal history and culture of the Canberra region by the Buru Ngunawal Aboriginal Corporation.
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.:
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.
Always use a tap timer so you don’t accidentally 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.
Water NSW Farm Dam Handbook
How to calculate how much rainfall you can collect from a house roof
This project received grant funding from the Australian Government through the National Landcare Program.
Horsewoman Helena Warren from Cadfor Equestrian and Murray Greys shared her expertise with a group of participants over a two-day workshop in 2019.
This project received grant funding from the Australian Government through the National Landcare Program
Pastures for horses
NSW Local Land Services runs Prograze courses that can help property owners develop skills in managing their pasture. Contact your local office.
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.
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.
Integrated pest management for horse farmsPrimefact – Worm Control in Horses
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. Y
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.
Pasture Management and Laminitis Risk
Diagnosing and treating gastric ulcers in horses
How to discourage your horse from eating sandPoisonous plants of horses field guideStrategic planning for horse properties
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
Read more in The Economic Benefits of Native Shelter Belts
The 3 P’s of successful revegetation according to Owen are planning, preparation and persistence.
Owen Whitaker’s Planting Guide
Tips for revegetation projects:
Pottiputki Planting Tool (above)
Owen’s tips for direct seeding:
More information:A Guide to Native Pasture ManagementGreening Australia Revegetation Guides for Victoria Guide for planting temperate grasslandsPlant Net Online – Comprehensive listing of plants in NSWBraidwood Local Planting Guide for Upper Shoalhaven LandcareA Guide to Managing Grassy Box Woodlands
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.
Alice 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: 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 euthanize foxes or you can organise a local shooter.
Alice has published guides to managing predators and using trail cameras.
Nest Box Tails Feral Predator Control
Wildlife cameras for feral predator monitoring
Nicky and Phil advised that Spring and Autumn are the best times to manage foxes. Options for control include laying 1080 baits, trapping and shooting. Other exclusion methods such as fencing and companion animals can also be used.
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.
More information about managing foxes:
Principles of pest animal management
Standard operating procedure for using soft jaw traps for foxes
Feral Scan website
1080 and Pindone are toxins registered for rabbit control and are listed under the Pest Control Orders issued by the Environment Protection Agency. To use these baits you need to undertake training with Local Land Services. Contact your local office for more information.
Nicky and Phil suggest the following steps for effective rabbit control:
More information for rabbit management:
Local Land Services Rabbit Control
Uses and effects of 1080 poison
Soft jaw trapping of rabbits
NSW DPI Rabbit Control
This project received funding from the Australian Government through the National Landcare Program.
Learning to identify grass weeds, pasture grasses and native plants was the focus of this Farmers Postcard event led by Kris Nash and Fiona Leach, Agricultural Adviser with South East Local Land Services.
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. Here are copies of Kris’s handouts explaining the different parts of grasses and identification of grass weeds and native grasses:
Parts of grasses
Field ID for native grasses
Field ID for exotic grasses
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.
Tips to maintain a healthy pasture:
African Love Grass can be distinguished from Hairy Panic by looking at the seed. The seed head of 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.
African Love Grass fact sheet
Serrated Tussock fact sheet
Chilean Needle Grass fact sheet
Small Farms Network Capital Region IncPO Box 313BungendoreNSW 2621