Hay, Hay, Hay – it’s a drought!

“Without water, life would just be rock.” 
Anthony T. Hincks

 

It’s been a strange winter. I can count the number of really cold days on my fingers. Mostly it has been as warm as spring, and sometimes warm as summer. No-one jokes about global warming anymore. It’s here, and the evidence is all around us.

In 2015, in response to rising baseline temperatures at our farm we pulled out an entire heritage citrus orchard that could no longer tolerate the increased UV radiation and heat that has become the new normal in Byron Shire. We’ve slowly replanted with native food trees and tropical varieties of traditional fruit trees. But it’s all a glorious experiment.

The plants on our farm this winter don’t seem to know what to do – some are flowering, some dropped a few leaves, some have leaves dropping and new leaves growing and flowers trying to bud all at once. Birds have nested early or haven’t started yet. Some of our trees have produced two fruiting cycles instead of one, and both of them out of season. Nature can’t seem to settle into any kind of normal rhythm.

The deep frosts that were once a normal part of our winter have become occasional, and not enough to kill the weeds, ticks and other pests that would normally be decimated and controlled by a period of intense cold. Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are rampant, affecting humans and animals alike. It’s worrying. Meanwhile the rising ocean temperatures mean that sea creatures like the Irukandji jellyfish with its deadly sting – once known only in tropical waters – are slowly drifting south and may end up here within a few years too.

Our farm a few months ago, when there was abundant rain and feed.

Around us the neighbours’ farms are already flogged. Winter is our hardest season – dry and cold enough that the grass grows slowly if at all. Feed for livestock always runs low in our district by winter’s end.

Here at our organic farm we have paddocks locked off and we cell graze, rotating our herd through each paddock one by one to give the pasture time to rest and for the grasses to set seed and rejuvenate and the native wildlife to have their habitat too. Looking after our soil and the grasses, plants and animals that create biodiversity and habit is important to us. We still have feed, and we maintain a smaller herd than we could carry for the size of the land, but we don’t want to use the paddocks that are closed off for rejuvenation. When you graze everything down to nothing it can take years to regain that natural biodiversity of species. We’re fortunate to still have that luxury of pasture management. Many farmers have not a blade of grass left and have been feeding out for months or even years.

Looking after our herd is important. They will be used by other farmers to restock their own land and to breed from. These are good bloodlines that we carefully nurtured over years and preserved at great effort during that last big drought.

We’re worried about the summer ahead. Already we have a bushfire plan, and we’re thinking about what we can do to keep our farm green, well watered and fire hazards to a minimum. We’re thinking about how we can help the trees, the bees and native wildlife. We’re planning for hardship if our district ends up going back into drought as much of the rest of Australia already has.

Yesterday we bought a truckload of hay from a farmer we know an hour south of us. They’ll be delivered later this week but we hauled one bale home with us straight away to feed out to our girls – big round bales of dried bluegrass that can nourish the cows and spring calves if rain doesn’t come soon. Our plan is to still try and keep some of our pasture locked off until summer to protect that seedbank and nurture the revegetation we’ve worked so hard to create.

The hay might end up being mulch for our orchard and vegetable gardens too. Everything suffers in a drought. Having endured eight straight years of severe drought back on our old farm we are keen to be prepared, and if necessary to rethink everything. We can’t do another stint like that again.

We’re doing our best to strategise, to think ahead, to plant and grow food that works with the prevailing conditions. Here’s hoping we get at least some of these adaptations right. We also bought hay yesterday to gift to struggling farmers and do our bit to help keep them on their farms. We’ve been in their shoes, and we know how soul-crushing it can be and how isolated and desperate you can come to feel.

Meanwhile here’s a little happy news – our latest addition, a baby male calf that a friend’s son has named Li’l Onion (Eli’s four and thinks of impossibly crazy names for things!).

Sending much love your way, Nicole ❤ xx

PS – Australian farmers are doing it tough right now. Whether they are growing crops, managing dairy herds or raising livestock many of them are struggling from prolonged drought and extreme weather events – and their struggle is relentless. If you’d like to help here are some ways that you can:

Drought Angels

Aussie Helpers

Lions Need for Feed

Salvation Army

 

 

 

 

A Posy Of Weeds For My Friend

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”

~ Muhammad Ali

 

I have a friend who waits for me every day.

Our big tough bull – or Red Bull, as we call him.

Each day he walks along the fence until he catches a glimpse of me. He might wait until I am out in the vegetable garden or hanging out the washing. Sometimes he comes and stands on the other side of the fence level opposite my kitchen window.

When he sees me and catches my eye he makes a little noise, a tiny little ‘ooof’ – a cross between a sigh and a grunt of acknowledgement – loud enough that I can hear him but soft enough that he doesn’t attract the attention of the herd.

As soon as I can I go and gather a posy for him. I pluck comfrey and dandelion leaves from where they grow wild in the lawn. I pick tender weeds. Sometimes I will add a few herbs. And then I walk across to the fence and he comes to greet me and I pass him his tasty posy.

He always tries to be discrete but sometimes the greedy older cows cotton on to what is happening and rush over, pushing him out of the way so that they can have a share as well. He never complains and stands aside to let them in like a true gentleman.

That’s Daisy Mae’s nose you can see in the picture below. She barged in on us and ruined our date. I love her too, but gee she’s bossy and, of course, she brought all her friends!

Tomorrow at the Farmers Markets I’ll buy a bunch of carrots so I can keep the tops for Red Bull as a special treat. He loves those.

I never thought I’d count a one-tonne gentle giant as a dear friend, but I do, and I look forward to our daily meet-ups as much as he does.

Wishing you a day blessed with friendship too.

Much love from all of us here at the farm, Nicole ❤  xx

 

Farm Life

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“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”
~ Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

 

If you look closely at the top photo you’ll see a new baby calf taking her very first steps, under the watchful eye of mum.

Here she is a few steps later, looking for her first drink of milk.

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It was a very busy day at the farm yesterday. A new calf at breakfast time. Lots of psychic work and writing in the heat of the day.

New garden beds ready for our autumn crops in the afternoon.

We’ve added three extra herb and vegetable beds, and put in a passionfruit trellis too.

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And then last night as I was making dinner, a big green tree-frog came to visit, landing on our kitchen window with a loud thump.

All in all, a lovely and very productive day.

Sending lots of love your way, Nicole xx

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It’s The Little Things…

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“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

 

Yesterday was my first full day at home on the farm. We went for an early morning beach adventure, and enjoyed a good coffee, and then came home to attack the overgrown vegetable garden, mow the lawn (so much mowing!) and do what seemed like a thousand loads of laundry.

In the afternoon we loaded Harry and Bert onto the back of the ute and drove down to the river paddocks to check the feed (in farmer speak that means length and quantity of grass) and see if we could spot any of the new baby calves.

Bert (our red dog) is feeling much better. You can still see the lump under his jaw, but it has shrunk right down and hopefully it will disappear altogether without the need for surgery. Fingers crossed!

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One of our Droughtmaster mums immediately brought her young calf over for us to take a look. In the background you can just see a Murray Grey mum (the white cow) racing up the hill towards us too. We wondered what her hurry was…

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In the next picture you can see a second little grey calf. She’d been hiding in the grass having a sleep and we almost walked on top of her.The white cow is her very protective mum.

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While the mums hovered over their babies, Daisy Mae popped over to say hello and to check if we had any hay or other cow-type tasty treats. Isn’t she looking big and beautiful? She has all the curiosity of a young teenager, and she still likes to play with Harry and Bert out in the paddock. We caught the three of them chasing magpies yesterday morning. Crazy things!

All of these new calves were fathered by Red Bull, who has been doing a terrific job. It’s hard to believe he’s a dad already. It seems like only yesterday that he was just a little calf himself.

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We finished the day by taking the dogs for a quick dip in the river. We didn’t see any platypus but there were tiny blue dragonflies everywhere, lending the afternoon a very magical feel.

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Meet Red Bull!

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“Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”
~ David Ben-Gurion

Do you remember me posting recently about a very fat cow, who couldn’t possibly be pregnant, giving birth to a baby bull calf. He’s our little miracle, and he came into the world after we’d lost both of our young bulls to bracken fern poisoning.

Today I’d like to formally introduce you to Red Bull.  Yep, that’s what we’ve named him. From all of the clever, meaningful and innovative name suggestions you gave us, Red Bull is the one that has stuck.

His mum has been keeping him away from all of us for the first few weeks of his life, but they came down to join the herd a few days ago.

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He’s a handsome young fella, shy at first but with a robust sense of curiosity.  If you sit down quietly in the grass he’ll come right over to you.

Red Bull has already made friends with our puppy Harry, whom he came gave a sniff and a lick. Harry loved it, and I wish I’d had my camera! But I’m sure Harry thinks Red Bull is just a big dog…

I’m very pleased with our newest addition. He’s got the makings of a lovely bull. And he’s already enjoying lots of attention and treats. Like everyone else around here, he’ll be well fed and thoroughly spoilt. 🙂 Thanks for all your help with the naming.  I thought you might enjoy some pics while Red Bull is still a baby.

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