Thursday, July 9, 2015

Farewell Moora Farm

A couple of weeks back we sold Moora Farm.

As I said on Facebook at the time:

Somewhere in the past I remember reading a phrase expressing someone's love for and connection with a particular place. It was something like ... "I belong to it, like it belongs to me."
Today, as we leave Moora Farm for the last time as its owners, I feel like I will still 'belong' to Moora Farm even when it no longer belongs to me. I know almost every inch of it and take some satisfaction that the land is now in better heart than when I arrived.
But perhaps the best part of the day was to see the anticipation and excitement in the eyes of the new owners as they did their final inspection. May they to end up 'belonging' to Moora Farm ... as we always will.

I seems like a sensible time also to cease posting to this blog and set up a new one based on what we are planning for our new (old) farm at Grenville in Victoria.  Back in 1998 we established P. Radiata and E. Globulus plantations on a leased property.  A few years later we bought the land.

We are now engaged in doing several things:

  • managing the existing plantations as well as we possibly can;
  • continuing to establish other forest crops;
  • working (carefully) away from an industrial plantation forestry model towards a European sustainable yield model; and 
  • planting a farm amongst the trees on 'spare' land that was formerly quite badly affected by salinity.

We now know the property as Carmyllie - and, in due course, I will start a blog called Carmyllie Forest & Farm.  I will post a link when it is up and going.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Vale good friend

A good friend has passed away in London after a brave battle with cancer.
Joe and I got to know each other nearly 20 years ago when he started to help me on one of the more challenging projects I ever worked on.  We were ‘crunching the numbers’ for a privatisation process that (arguably) worked better than almost any other such enterprise.   We were tasked with giving decision makers a sense of what would happen to tariffs as a result of a series of decisions that were turning an entire industry on its head. 
The players in that industry were understandably hostile.  And they were the people Joe and I needed to extract numbers from in order to do our work.  They were not above withholding data - and then being fiercely critical of the analysis that was produced.  Twenty years has not dimmed the memory of who cooperated … and who was an a**hole.  Twenty years has not dimmed the memory of who, on our side of the fence, was supportive and who sought to position themselves for the fallout that might follow from ‘getting it wrong’.
Joe and I were a team.  He was the relentlessly cheerful one – who was always ready to ring the guy who had lied to us yesterday to ‘get some better numbers’.  I was the analyst who sought to structure the analysis such that the questions we were being asked could be informed.
‘Informed’ not answered!  I have spent a fair part of my professional life preparing spreadsheets forecasting future cash flows.  Such things appear enticingly precise, but what any decent analyst knows is just how easy it is to make discounted cash flow analysis tell you anything you want it to.
Anyway – working with Joe was a pleasure. 
I have come to see, over time, that my whole life can be read as a series of collaborations.  On my own I’ve achieved little of lasting significance.  Where I have made a difference, it has been because I’ve found a way of working with someone else to do things together that we could not have achieved on our own.
Thank you Joe … and Godspeed …

Monday, October 6, 2014

A wonderful day!

Ten years ago next February I splashed out on a big zero turn ride on mower at the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo.  It seemed a lot at the time, but it's done a power of work since.

Andrew and his mechanics at Gisborne Gisborne Power Products roll their eyes a bit - because I've used it for some pretty rough works.  Here at Moora there are an unbelievable number of rocks - and it's pretty much unavoidable to 'mow rocks' from time to time.

It's got a new engine a couple of years ago and some other major overhauls.  Having done some very tough work breaking in Moora and it's now starting to do some similar 'development work' at the forestry property that will be our new home in a few months.

There is an area of remnant native vegetation that was required to be kept when the permit was granted for forestry use.  It is about 250 metres by 100 metres (and so 2.5 ha).  Over that area there are maybe 50 quite mature and large trees - and then a range of smaller trees.  Up to 16 years ago it would have been grazed, so I guess the younger trees will mainly date from when the stock were excluded.

The screen shot from Google Earth shows Flemings Rd running across the top.  There is a blue shipping container almost exactly in the centre of the house we have planned - with the remnant trees to its south.

In order to manage our fire risk we will need to remove some trees to the west and south.  Before we do that we need to do a cleanup - which is where the big ride on mower comes in.

The soils are reasonably depleted because, as well as the trees, there is a lot of bracken.  This is a native plant, but one that grows well in relatively poor soil.  Peter Andrews describes it as a plant that is part of repairing depleted soils.  It is a low growing fern that is also pretty good ground fuel for a fire.

On Saturday we took the mower up to what we are going to call Carmyllie Forest Farm and started work.

As with any area like this, limbs large and small fall all the time.  While they are part of the habitat, they are also an impediment to clearing up the bracken - and a fire hazard in their own right.  So the first task is to take all the fallen timber and put it into piles that will later be burned.

After that the mower goes in.  You could almost feels its relief when, having seen that it was in for another property breaking in task, it found that the worst thing that was hiding in the bracken was some decaying branches rather than the thousands of rocks we have at Moora.

As I check through my photos I find I have mainly 'after' shots rather than the 'before' ones I'm looking for now.

This first one shows how thick the bracken was pretty much over the whole area.  The clear area was just as high as the foreground an hour earlier.

The second photo shows Luca on the ride on quietly nosing his way in to the thicket.  Yip has been pulling out branches and is making piles.

Having now researched the bracken control issue a bit, it is clear that the best strategy (by far) is to knock it down - and the address the reason why it is growing in the first place.

The material I think best suggests that manure is the key.  That is like music to my ears.  I can think of multiple ways of addressing that - all of which we have used at Moora.

The first thing that occurs to me as a 'quick hit' approach is the organic chicken manure and rice hulls that I've sourced for Moora before.  Here I shandy it with compost, but it will be a while before I have the first batch of Carmyllie compost ready to go.

The second option that appeals is simply to use it as the area for our chooks.  I think we will need another 50 metre roll of electric netting to go with one I bought back from England a couple of years ago.  That will let me make a square of 25 metres by 25 metres and leave 40 hens there for a few days.  They will do their scratching - and deposit their poop.  They will be reasonably close to the house - which will make it easy to collect eggs and care for the Maremma dogs that protect them.

And finally - we will start compost rings on the Moora Farm model as soon as we get there - and before too long we will have compost to spread.  That is the best of all.  With a bag of lime and some pasture seed tossed on top, my compost spreader will work at an improvement task that I hope will go on far into the future.

The next few photos show what we were able to achieve on the first day of the process.  The first photo looks back at the house site.  The house will sit on a low platform with a rock retaining wall built of leftover stone carried up from Moora.  Look carefully and you can see a pile of those rocks in the middle left.

The photo is taken from the foreground of the beautiful view we will have away to our west.

The following 2 photos show areas where I worked while WWOOFers rested.  They were pretty clear areas to begin with - with few fallen branches.  I think they will be lovely semi-shady areas where we can grow some good grass and produce very good pastured eggs.

Having gone through this improvement process now in 2 previous places - I love this initial phase!  Clearing the ground for the first time lets you see a little bit of what you have.  While the soil isn't perfect - it is material to work with.  It is so interesting to see the mosses and lichens beneath the bracken and wonder what they mean?

In years to come I'll notice the transitions  - how I look forward to when I see clover for the first time - when the colour of the soil changes.  Well - maybe that is a ways off.

I love the order of a carefully and sympathetically altered landscape.  I also love wild things, but no landscape is unaltered and a big part of the integrity of a forest / farm is its productivity.

One of my favourite verses from the King James Bible is at Matthew 6: 28-29 where Jesus said:
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 
And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

I really enjoyed my day considering the lilies of a new field.  We got perhaps a fifth of the area cleared I think, but it may have been more.  There is a lot to do, but it can only happen one small piece at a time.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Carmen Segarra revelations

I just came across the Carmen Segarra revelations via ProRepublica and This American Life.

Following through on the story I came across a Joseph N. DiStefano post on  In the post DiStefano quotes economist Steve Golub as follows:

Golub says economists in general need to return to basic analysis of the copious financial reports the government and banks generate. “But that’s not the kind of thing research economists like to do. The Fed 20 years ago decided to make their research more academic. Rather than do the humdrum policy stuff. At the New York Fed you got promoted based on academic articles. That’s not a terrible thing. But the economists weren’t motivated to really get down and dirty in the data. It’s just not what we do. We want a data set you can enter into a computer easily and run some statistical packages on. Rather than say, ‘What’s happening here?’”

Who does that? “Anthropologists. Economists have to be a little more like anthropologists to be successful. Take the policymakers, the economists and the regulators -- and connect the dots.”

Anthropology is an under appreciated discipline - just as economics is over valued in the public policy discourse.  The attachment of most economists to mathematical models that might work if data that is fundamentally unobservable were observable makes them too often easy dupes for the self interested - or, at best, foot soldiers for the conventional wisdom of the day.

Carmen Segarra fairly obviously has the sort of personal and intellectual integrity that is too rare in New York city.  Different, but the same as Harry Markopolos.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sustainable firewood

An earlier post referred to trying to 'take a yield' from our forestry plantations in the form of firewood.

The common practise is to 'cut to waste' when coppice pruning Eucalyptus globulous for a second rotation chip crop.  We stripped the coppice stems and stored them up off the ground to dry.  Here is the result 6 months later on my firewood table.

This will keep our fires going for the remainder of any cold weather.  It has been easy to handle - and burns well.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A favourite blogger

My son Neil introduced me to Coach Nick.  He has become one of my favourites.  This morning I saw this post.  There is a lot of wisdom in that short video.

I imagine that my children studying education might benefit from reflecting on the Slow - Explain - Whole - Part - Whole - Full Speed sequence near the start.  What a great way to teach anything!

Near the end Coach Eastman pays credit to the 2013/14 San Antonio Spurs in a way that is wholly correct, but generous none the less coming from a professional rival.  It should not surprise anyone that Game 3, 4 and 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals were one of my sporting all time favourite events.

The only match analogies that come to mind immediately are a couple of rugby ones.  There was a Bledisloe Cup test match in Sydney in 2000 when the All Blacks beat a very fine Wallabies side.  Then for demolitions (which was after all what the Spurs did to the Heat), there was the World Cup semi final in South Africa in 1995.

But that featured an 'incomparable' in the rampant Jonah Lomu.  A few months ago it was the Heat that had the incomparable player in Lebron James, but the Spurs were the incomparable team.  I suspect that will make it my favourite event ever.  And give Lebron and his team mates their due - they acknowledged the quality of the Spurs play.

I'm looking forward to the 2014/15 season.  Coach Eastman talked about the extra pass - will the Clippers really do it?  Two other teams will be running some version of the triangle (Knicks and Warriors).  I actually look forward to seeing how Carmelo Anthony plays within that sort of system.  He was very good in London for the USA in a disciplined team structure.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A diversion ...

Going to do one thing late this afternoon - when suddenly a water trough was spraying water.

I'm not that good with pumps and pipes, but needs must when the devil drives.

It turns out I could repair this one.  The first photo shows the repaired fiitting - and a half star post driven down the side to protect it from 800 kg of bull deciding to scratch himself against it.

Second photo shows second star post in and some crushed rock around the sensitive bits.

Then some rocks / old concrete - and finally some more crushed rock all around the outside.

It's amazing how much of a pond you get around a trough.  I guess, in winter, if every cow drinking at the trough walks away with a few grams of mud on each of its feet - eventually there is less dirt around the trough ... and more elsewhere.  Puddles create more mud ... and more gets walked away.

With a big concrete trough like this the poor old sheep get to where they can't reach the water - the smaller ones anyway.

Hour, maybe hour and a half I guess for Alessio and I.  But hopefully the repair will hold, the bull won't break it, and the crushed rock will slow the wearing away of the surrounding area.

I felt quite good at the end - almost wanted to call the guy who usually repairs bull damaged troughs for me and tell him "I did it myself!".

But I remembered that I also needed to reset the irrigation system in the Trufferie.  Pretty soon we were fixing a few sprinklers and connections.  Another hour ...

Then we got the chooks' electric netting going properly again - and instructed Alessio in how to debug it and care for a very useful, but quite fragile tool.  I bought it in England last year and carried it back as hand luggage.

With the fence now energised at 8.5 instead of 2.5 kV, a couple of chickens and one Maremma dog will get a little surprise tomorrow morning.  We've been trying to persuade Josie that her job is to protect the chickens and not the house.  A little zap might help.

After checking the vege garden and saying goodbye to Soren (off home to Germany), it was 8pm before I went in.

The task I was about to start at 4 pm was not done, but we'll get to that tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Permaculture Principle No 3 - Obtain a Yield

I've just spent a day at our McKerrals Tree Farm trying to work out how to 'take a yield' from something I have to do to manage part of our forestry interests.

Until 2010 we leased part of the farm to another party who grew Eucalyptus Globulous (Tasmanian Blue Gum) to produce wood chips for export to Japan - where it is used to produce high quality paper.  During the summer of 2009/10 they harvested their crop and left me with stumps - from which it is possible to produce what is known as a 'coppice rotation'.

Over the 4 years since harvest each stump has sent up between 2 and 6 separate stems.  They are now from 3 to 8 metres tall.  The task now is to select one stem to grow on - and remove the rest.

This photo shows Soeren (a WWOOFer) starting into the process - using a fantastic little arborist chainsaw I got last week.  It's only 3 kg - and designed to be used with one hand or two.

Soeren is taking out the first stem here.  The next photo shows him about to take out the last waste stem leaving just one (hopefully the best and straightest) to grow on for another 8 or 9 years.

While the little chainsaw seemed to do a great job, I'm very interested to see what a group of contractors we have coming in a week or two use for the task.  Their quote is $638 per 1,000 treated stumps.

Many stumps are easier that the one shown in the photos - but others are worse.  Nearly all have small, dead twiggy bits that need to be brushed away before you can get at the base where the cuts need to be made.  And the tolerance for any damage to the retained stem is ... zero.

Having done a few trees now myself, 63.8 cents a tree seems like not a lot of money for the job.

In David Holmgren's book Permaculture - Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability the 3rd principe is Obtain a Yield.  In this spirit I looked at the coppicing process and wondered whether it might not be possible to 'obtain a yield' beyond the 2022 chip harvest.

In the normal course of plantation forestry the pruned stems are just 'cut to waste' - that is they are just allowed to slowly rot on the ground.  It occurred to me that perhaps the pruned stems might be used as firewood?  From the research I've done, Tassie Blue Gum is regarded as reasonably good firewood - and, if we're using something that would otherwise just decompose, it is definitely from an 'eco-friendly' source.

The issue is that, when cut, it is green and not suitable for burning.  It needs several months (at least) to cure.  So we need a way of allowing it to cure - before being able to cut and package it.

Step 1 is to trim the pruned stems to the point where the diameter gets too small to make acceptable firewood.

Step 2 - we drag it to the edge of the plantation.

Step 3 involves using a hand held machete to trim off the leafy branches and twiggy bits.

What we then have is a trimmed sapling up to 100 mm in diameter at one end and down to about 40 mm in diameter at the other end.  They are between 3 and 5 metres long.  They are ready for 'curing'.

I've had various ideas about what to do next, but the best so far involves building a simple frame from shorter bits that keeps the wood for curing well off the ground.  The next photo shows the first attempt.

I emphasise ... this was the first attempt.  The second was lower to the ground (half this height) and used heavier stems.

The stems are dug in about 3-400 mm - and I use the small chainsaw to 'shape' the top of the post into a U.  With this one I put a screw in to hold the cross piece.  With the heavier stems on the Mark II version - my screws were not long enough - so they just rest in the U.

Once I have sufficient stems to make a bundle which I think might weigh between 500 and 800 kgs, I used a polyester strapping system to hold it all together.  

The plan is to come back when the stems have cured and tighten the strapping up.  Then, with a tractor with a front end loader, I can lift the firewood bundle onto a truck or trailer and bring the firewood back to Moora Farm.

There I have another tractor with an FEL.  I will use it to put the bundle of cured firewood onto something I build late last year from scrap I had from dismantling cattle yards when we first came to Moora Farm.

I built it to help me cut up 'logs' of sawmill offcuts I get from Frosts Sawmill in Monegeetta.  These 'logs' are about 5 m long, 1 m in diameter and bound with steel strapping.  They are a great way to get firewood, but lying on the ground, it's hard to finish cutting it to length.

With this table, I just lift the 'log' onto the table - and cut it there at a comfortable height and with no risk of blunting my chainsaw chain by touching the ground.  I think it will work just as well with my eco-firewood bundles.

So - I'm taking firewood orders.  Maybe for this winter - we'll have to see.

Oh - and, once the coppice pruning is done and the firewood recovered, the plantation looks like this.

Thanks Soeren and Alessio (my helpers)!  Although we only did about 120 stumps we learned a bit about what might or might not work.  There are another 46,880 stumps to do over the next few months.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A wise, wise man

I've just listened to an edition of Scott Mann's The Permaculture Podcast where he interviews David Holmgren.

It reminds me that, only 100 km from Moora Farm, there lives a man of transcendent creativity and wisdom.  I have met the man, been to his property Melliodora, and have a number of his books.  His Permaculture: Principle and Pathways beyond Sustainability is as precious a book as I own.  You can buy it from his site.

During the podcast Holmgren talks about some important things - including his justification (?) for being a 'practitioner' as well as a theorist / teacher.  The further I go on life's journey, the more sure I am that what we do is so much more important than what we say.

He also talked about the limitations of reductionist science - in his quiet, wise way.  It seems to me that scientific triumphalism is one of the errors of our age - possibly exceeded in cost only by the practical chaos that results from treating economics as a science - rather than the dangerously narrow philosophical speculation that it is.

Anyway - enough pontificating for one morning!  I need to do something practical.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

I'll be happy when ....

I'll be happy when the pastures in all my paddocks are performing like Paddock 11.  Here is a photo of (admittedly) the best part of it - taken in mid August.

Riku is actually about 6 ft 3 in - so this amount of growth at the end of winter is ... amazing.

This is one of my Phalaris paddocks - which seem to do better than my ryegrass paddocks.  I also gave the whole paddock an application of compost and chicken manure in late December.

The next photo show a close up of the grazing boundary.  The right is where the cattle were yesterday.  To the left is the new area.  In the bottom right corner is .... my finger.

The cattle have now moved to 12 - and the part of 11 that was grazed about 3 weeks ago is already coming back strongly.

I have thought about putting all of my pasture across to a Phalaris mix, but my advice is that I'm better with some ryegrass dominant paddocks - as they will grow at different times.  It seems to me that the Phalaris grows all year - and the ryegrass mainly in Spring and Autumn.

We just had our first calf of the year this afternoon.  It's the first calf from a new Dun bull.  The Black mother has dropped a Dun calf.  I was given to believe that the Black is dominant and not to expect too many Dun calves - but from a sample of one - 100% Dun.

Give up, go home?

A young woman I know sent me a message on Facebook.  She has emigrated from an Asian country to New Zealand.  After 7 months she is wondering if she has made the right decision. 
I have responded to her note as I always do when asked by young people what they should do next – with the best mix of affirmation and common sense I can manage. 
But as I finished the reply, I suddenly thought of a story told to me by a man who was once in a position not entirely dissimilar to that of my friend.
My maternal grandfather was an Englishman who emigrated to New Zealand in the 1920s.  He was then in his mid 20s.  He had fought in the trenches of northern France as a teenager, where a brother lies forever.  He lost his father shortly after the War – and then found that the family fortunes were not what he had expected. 
He told me 50 years later that he decided he wanted to go somewhere new – and start afresh.  He could not recall then why he had had chosen New Zealand – he said he might as easily have gone to Canada.
He arrived in Wellington Harbour on a clear still morning the type of which there are few.  He remembered the little painted houses on the hillsides. 
He went to work at what he knew best – which was farming.  In England he was more towards the gentleman end of things, but in New Zealand he ended up cutting scrub for someone he called a ‘hard man’.  Weeks and months on a cold, wet Taranaki hillside working ‘til he was near to dropping.
I think it was more than 7 months, but there came soon enough a time when the young Englishman had had enough.  He was a musician, a bit of a bon vivant – and in New Zealand … he had access to none of that, none of his old friends or family - or his Clumber Spaniel.
He also decided to ‘go home’.
While he was getting together what he needed to implement his decision, he was staying in a 1920’s version of a Backpackers hostel.  One night he struck up a conversation with the stranger in the next bunk – and, eventually, poured out his sad story. 
The stranger said he was the son of a farmer – and harvest was coming up.  Could he do with a bit of work before he went back to England?  My grandfather said yes. 
The stranger became a friend, and then a brother in law.  Grandad stayed in New Zealand and built a good and full life – a life that still anchors my own and those of many other descendants.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Chelsea Flower Show and growing some Fodder Beet

I'm in London at present (for Board meetings) and took the opportunity to attend the final day of the Chelsea Flower Show.  The Concierge at my excellent hotel did what concierges are supposed to do and found me a ticket.

It was only a short taxi ride and I was there soon after gates opened at 8am.  What can I say ... in the main it is very English - so it was lovely.  But the things that really caught my eye were not, in the end, English at all.  The first was a garden called 'After the Fire'.  Until I looked just now I didn't realise that it was an award winner - but ... there you go.  The first thing I noticed was what looked to me like a plant that grows on my roadside at Moora Farm.  I know it as Black Wattle.  The lady I talked to said it was Acacia Dealbata - which Wikipedia describes at a Silver Wattle.

So it was after an Australian fire?  Well no actually - the people are from Mediterranean France - and the wattle is an import there.  The garden was still reminiscent of home - and beautiful.  There was some sort of a tie up with a Cancer charity involved and the parallel was drawn between after a wildfire - and after Chemotheraphy.   Which made me think of good friends dealing with that challenge at present.

The other highlight for me was meeting a man called Jaap Sneeboer - the owner of a Dutch company that makes traditional hand forged garden tools.  Two or three weeks ago I was in a little town called Trentham - not far from my home in Australia.  I found a little shop called Phillip&Lea that, it turned out, had only opened that very day.  It sells a slightly eccentric mix of cooking equipment and gardening tools - with the gardening part of the range being ... Sneeboer hand tools.  I bought a beautiful hand weeder for a not unreasonable price - given its quality and functionality.

I was able to tell Jaap the story and hear a little of his.

He has just put out a new form of a Dutch hoe - which he calls a Royal Dutch Hoe.  I seriously covet one!  It's not only the hand forged tool head - but the handle is great as well.  Being made by Dutchmen the handle on the standard how was almost long enough for me - but Jaap said they had a longer handle still.  I gotta get one!

I'm particularly interested in hoes at present - because I'm growing a crop for stock feed called Fodder Beet (or Mangel Wurzel)  My Dad grew it in the 1960s for a few years and they produce a large beet (several kilos) - which is a very nutritious cattle feed - though in what combination with hay or other dry food I am yet to find out.

I planted several small areas totalling perhaps a quarter of an acre in March and early April.  The first photo is of one of the WWOOFers (Alex) doing the fairly laborious job of the first thin.

The seeds come in small clumps naturally - and so after about 3 weeks it is necessary to thin them to about 3 inches apart.  When they are fully grown the spacing will need to be more like 6 to even 12 inches - but I'm intrigued by the capacity to 'take a yield' along the way to feed to chickens or sheep - which will be mainly tops as opposed to the root dominance there will be later on.

The second photo shows two more WWOOFers (Ashleigh and Lisa) weeding the same fodder beet after they have been growing for nearly 2 months.  They now are at the stage where a further thinning can be fed out.

The interest in hoes comes from the thinning and weeding tasks.  I remember when I weeded fodder beet for my Dad it was with a home made triangular headed hoe.  If I remember correctly, he was most pleased with himself and thought it better than the available alternatives.

I already have a variety of hoes - but none that seems to do the job better than bending one's back and hand weeding.  I'm hoping that a Royal Dutch Hoe will make a difference.

Depending on how this autumn planted crop produces, I may grow more over time.  I suspect it can help me fill both my summer and winter 'feed gaps'.  This crop will be ready (I hope) during winter or very early spring. If I plant another crop in (say) November - It would help deal with the late summer grass growth slowdown.

The stock definitely need to be trained to it.  They don't rush it at the moment - not like our pigs did in the 60s - and others have told me cattle will once they get the taste for it.

I also don't think I'd do it without the WWOOFer help - as thinning and weeding is hard work.  But I'm not asking you to do anything I haven't done guys!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Armstrong and Cycling

People who know that I was once a cyclist and love watching the Tour de France each July have asked me how I feel about Lance Armstrong.  It's actually a difficult question - one I don't know quite how to answer.

Perhaps it's a bit like boxing for me.

I remember listening to radio commentary of Muhammad Ali's first fight against Henry Cooper - when he was still Cassius Clay.  I was 9 years old.

Muhammad Ali was then a constant of my youth - I grew up with him.  I still think of him as one of the great people of my age.  I loved his rebellion, I loved his humanity, I loved the dimensions of his talent that adversity uncovered - I loved it that conservative / conventional people hated him.

But in the end - boxing was, is and always will be a corrupt and brutal enterprise.  As I look back now, I'm almost embarrassed by the pleasure I took from events like the Rumble in the Jungle or the Thriller in Manilla.  When I see them now on ESPN - I'm drawn .... but can't take pleasure the way I would have in the past.

As I was losing the stomach for boxing in the 1980s and was becoming a half decent bike rider - SBS was showing half hour highlights of each Le Tour stage - and viewers were being introduced to the complexities of the sport by Phil Liggett.  Over the years I became more and more hooked - until now (with my more flexible schedule) I will watch most of the mountain stages live (on TV) each year.  They run from about 10pm to 2am - quite a commitment for a 'morning person'.

So I watched every one of Armstrong's Tour victories - start to finish.  His 'look' back at Jan Ullrich on L'Alpe d'Huez.  A couple of ascents of Mont Ventoux with Marco Pantani and Joseba Beloki.  And every time trial he ever did (almost).

[I can personally relate to a time trial better that a mountain stage.  I could never drag my hundred plus kilogram frame up a hors catagorie climb, but I used to be able to get my big old engine wound up to over 40 kmph for longish periods.  I never quite did a 40 km time trial in an hour - but I got pretty close.]

I read Armstrong's first autobiography 'It's not about the bike' - 10 years ago and enjoyed it.  It made plain just what a tough 'trailer park thrash' type background he came from.  I was a bit discomfited by the way he had dropped the girlfriend who supported him through the cancer treatment.  And it was also very clear that he was an extraordinarily focused guy - capable of pushing himself (and others) very hard.  But I recommended the book to others - and even bought it for a few people.  Which, for me, is a bit of a statement about how much I admire someone.

It was year or two later that the first crack opened in my regard for him - when he left his wife and young family for Sheryl Crow.  In my world you don't do that - and preserve my respect / admiration at least.  So thereafter I would have more regarded him (and think I did) as an extraordinary athlete.

So coming back to his use of drugs.

Having read a bit about the history of the Tour, I'm not sure that its not as flawed / corrupt (almost) as boxing.  They talk about drug use as being pretty much a constant shadow - as far back as the first tours before WW1.  Certainly there is the terrible story of Tom Simpson's death on Mont Ventoux in 1967 - ascribed to amphetamine use.

So part of me doesn't want to over condemn Armstrong even now.  Is the right way to look at this to say that cycling has always had a battle between good and evil in its soul - at the administrative level?  Then the same battle goes on at the team level - and the individual competitor level.

I don't support going after Armstrong and an alleged 'few bad (competitor) apples' and leaving the administration / management level alone.  I'd almost support the reverse - a complete amnesty for all competitors in return for a total focus on how the governing bodies allowed this to happen.

That's never going to happen - but I wonder whether it's this sort of angle that Armstrong's confession and 'assistance' is going to take?

And if a quixotic quest against cycling officialdom were to meet with any success ... well there would be the Olympic Committee and FIFA to go on to.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Compost spreading

After a year of steady accumulation of compostable material, it was recently time to spread the results onto my pastures.

I have previously described my compost yard and here is a view of it after a year of effort. 

In this photo you can see 4 of the 6 heaps.  Until shortly before this photo was taken they were each confined by 2 pieces of galvanised steel mesh - which are linked with wire and small D shackles into a circle that is about 6 metres in diameter and 1200 mm high. 

Into these enclosures we pile whatever compostable material we can get.  Our garden and kitchen refuse, rain damaged hay from properties in our area, dead animals, cow manure when we clean up our feed yard or the cattle trailer - anything that can create the right sort of mix or carbon and nitrogen.

Once the confining steel mesh is removed and hung on the structure to the left of the picture, I get going with my tractor.  I put the bucket on the Front End Loader of my elderly John Deere tractor and scoop up about a cubic metre of compost. 

I then transfer it into my Manure spreader which I tow behind behind a Polaris Ranger.  It's at the limit of the Ranger's towing capacity, but I take it quietly in low ratio 4WD.

I certainly don't want to overstress the Ranger - it is an unbelievably valuable piece of equipment for multiple applications.  One day I want to do a blog post on the difference between doing a job like this with a tractor, FEL and Ranger and the way it would have been done only 60 or 70 years ago when horses provided the main motive power on most farms.  There is an amazing difference. 

 I then add a scoop of chicken manure mixed with rice hulls that I get when an organic chicken farm in Riddells Creek cleans out its sheds.  It costs me $220 to have a load of about 22 m3 delivered.  I feel like a 'shandy' of compost and chicken manure is quite a healthy thing to be adding to my soils.

The chicken manure was pretty dry and dusty.  Son Neil needed to get out of the way or he would get a good covering.

There is a bit of a smell, but not one that I would object to.  Occasionally a visitor will comment on something on the farm smelling.  My every time reply is that my farm doesn't smell bad - but their City does.

Here is the Ranger with a full Manure Spreader on its way to the paddock.

The following photo shows the ground drive on the Spreader engaged and driving the apron that shifts the load backward and the metal metal beater that spreads it over about a 2 metre width.
The Spreader itself comes all the way from Ohio in the US - where it would be used to spread the stable manure resulting from housing animals indoors during a continental winter.

But it suits my purpose equally well.  Over 3 days we put about 40 or 50 loads onto my most productive paddock. 

As it's very dry at present we will have to wait until there is a bit of rain to see what effect it produces.

Previous spreadings in other less productive paddocks has produced a marked thickening up of the pasture sward - as much as doubling the quantity of feed available to my cattle.

  And here is what my compost yard looks like before I put the mesh compost hoops back in place and start the process all over again.

Problem Heifers and Hero WWOOFers

Yesterday I was organising cattle and I came across a cow with a trimmed tail.  It was a reminder of a good story from a couple of months ago.

We have had a tough year with our calving.  We had 40 cattle due to calve.  22 were cows that had already had calves in previous years - in the main without any problems.  The other 18 were heifers - which is the name for a female that has yet to have a calf.  4 of them we bred ourselves - the other 14 were bought in to speed up the process of getting our cattle numbers up to what we think is our sustainable stocking level.

Heifers are inherently more problematic.  It is generally considered ok to put a heifer to the bull at 15 months - she then calves at 24 months.  By that stage my Belted Galloways should be around 350 to 380 kg.  If their breeding is ok ... there should be few problems.

Somehow we did have problems this year.  Of the 18 heifers - we lost 3.  We also lost 2 other calves - where the heifer survived.  At least another 3 or 4 had to be assisted with calving.  That is about half of the heifers - which is a bit of a disaster really.

That makes 8 dead cattle, a substantial vet bill - and an unavoidable sense that we have failed to look after them properly.  Given that we know the breeding of all the animals - we think the problem may have been in putting them onto fresh Spring growth in the final few weeks of their pregnancy - such that the calves were just a little bit bigger than the heifers could cope with.  I'm not really comfortable with that explanation, but we have not had trouble previously - and the older cows all calved without drama.

Anthony (our farm help) says fatalistically ... "Where there're livestock, there'll be dead stock."  But it's not much consolation.  

Anyway - back to the good story.  In October, in the middle of it all, Anthony and two WWOOFers (Kaori from Japan and Giorgio from Italy) came across a heifer called Fazilah who was in trouble.  Anthony pulled the calf - which was dead already.  Fazilah was down and didn't look likely to get up.  In such circumstances you try for a while - and then start thinking about humane disposal.

Fazilah was in a paddock that is quite steep - so Kaori and Giorgio manouvered her legs below her and massaged and bent them back and forth.  They then rolled her (with the assistance of the slope) onto her other side and massaged and worked on her other side.

They kept it up for 6 hours - 6 cold hours in a wet paddock!  Eventually, Fazilah  decided that she would try to get up - and did.  Even then, no one was sure she would survive the night, but again - she did.

Here then are the heroes:

Now I have the dilemma - do I cull her - or give her another chance?

Given the widespread nature of the heifer calving problems I have responded by:
  • trying again with the 5 or 6 surviving heifers who had trouble calving this year - but if there is any problem again - they go; and
  • giving the heifers born in the Spring of 2011 another 12 months before they go to the bull - meaning they will be 27 months instead of 15 months at conception and 3 instead of 2 years at calving.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Spectating - 'Hero Ball' vs 'Team Ball'

I'm not sure what sporting event I enjoy watching the most.  For much of my life, it might have been the All Blacks.  There have been times when test cricket catches my attention.  More recently the Tour de France and the Melbourne Storm have occupied special places in my sporting spectating.

But a constant, at least since I was taken to the American Club in Jakarta at 6 am in the morning to watch the 1991 match up of Magic and Michael, has been the NBA playoffs. 

Actually my NBA Finals watching does go back further than that - to the old black and white film that used to be played at New Zealand basketball tournaments in the early 1970s.  I think it was called 'The Final Game' and was about one of the Boston Celtics game 7 wins in the 1960s.

The watching is better now.  I can watch any game I like on my MacBook or iPad via my NBA Pass. 

What I'm enjoying at present is the way in which the American exponents of what is known as 'Hero Ball' are struggling - in spite of the way in which the NBA positively encourages the style.

I can't wait to see the Miami Heat beaten.  I wondered whether it might happen against Indiana, but now I'll have to wait.  But I'm not a Lebron hater in the American sense of the word - that (parenthetically) seems to me to have undercurrents of racism about it.

I think Lebron is an incomparably talented man playing the wrong type of basketball - a type of basketball that will regularly lose against 'Team Ball'.

You only have to look at who has won NBA titles over the last 21 years - 11 Phil Jackson / Tex Winter wins, 4 Greg Popovich / RC Buford wins, one Dirk Nowitski (and team) win, one Pistons win, two Hakeem (and team) wins - even Boston in 2008.

The only clear 'Hero Ball' win to my mind was the 2008 Miami Heat.  Even then the 'Hero' turned out to be Dwayne Wade and - maybe it was just that Shaquille understood a bit about 'Team' having played in LA for so long.

And I don't accept that Jackson's wins were mainly about Jordan, Bryant and O'Neal.  To my mind, those players were (only just) smart enough to play within Tex Winter's offense for long enough to win.

Pretty good evidence for this was provided by the 2004 finals when, instead of the two 'Heros' that had taken the Lakers to 3 previous titles, there were actually four.  Gary Payton and Karl Malone were aging - but Bryant and O'Neal were absolutely in their prime.  They got beat by Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Tayshun Prince.

So - here's hoping that Philadelphia beats Boston this morning, then the Heat.  I don't care who comes out of the West.  I suspect one waanbe 'Hero' on the Oaklahoma Thunder may make the difference - in the wrong way (for the Thunder.  I leave it to you to guess who.

Admission (to my daughter in law who always hated Kobe)
Up to now I've respected Bryant's capacity to play within the Triangle - and win.  However, him mouthing off at Pau Gasol at week or two ago is outrageous.  Gasol is a genuinely classy guy - and the reason (along with Jackson) that Bryant has two of his rings. 


Monday, May 14, 2012

Memories of an Anzac

It's now a bit past Anzac Day, but on that day I had reason to remember the Anzac I knew better than any other. 

Here he is as a soldier.  Len Holdaway was a farmer from Blenheim.  He spent a few months on Gallipoli - and later fought on the Somme.

My recent Anzac Day memory was of a time in the late 1950s or early 1960s.  My Papa was a talented engineer (in the practical sense) and he had a huge variety of tools in the 'workshop'.  As a child I loved rummaging around in there.  One day I 'borrowed' the hacksaw and managed to break a blade.

It's probably an exaggeration to say I didn't become a farmer because of that hacksaw blade, but there is some truth.  The fact that I did break it, my Papa's reaction, my sense that I did break things when my brother didn't, my academic potential (more than attainment) gradually led me to university - as a second choice really. It's only after I've made my career as an accountant that I've returned to my farming roots - with enough money to pay for my mechanical incompetence.

My Dad eventually solved the earlier hacksaw blade problem by having me buy Papa a new hacksaw blade for Christmas that year - and every one subsequent (for a few years).  When Papa saw that present each year he would laugh ... but not quite forgive me for my lack of mechanical dexterity.

This Anzac Day I was working with a couple of WWOOFers at Moora and we had reason to take a length of mild steel rod and cut it into pieces.  So I taught a young Japanese woman and a young Frenchwoman how to use a hacksaw - and, while I did, I told them about my Papa.

They didn't break any blades.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Chicken update

We're back in the egg business.

We had given up last year after the foxes got the better of us - more particularly of our chooks.  In the end they got the lot.

That is the reason we got the Maremmas - see earlier posts.  We started them each with their own small flock of sheep.  As they got a little older we saw the opportunity (as we always intended) to get back into chooks.

Because we are a bit 'gun shy' at this stage we decided to limit our investment by getting some ex battery hens.  I think they're only about a year old.  The man who supplied them said he'd picked out 'the best of them' - and that the shock of being shifted would mean they probably wouldn't lay for a while.

We got 12 eggs from 22 chooks the first day!

They were pretty scruffy when they arrived - not a lot of feathers.  I hate to think what 'the worst of them' must have looked like.

There is a big difference already in this photo - which was taken a couple of weeks after they came.  Tell me these girls aren't happy!  Happy enough to producing an egg each pretty much every day.

As soon as they arrived we put Polo (one of the Maremmas) beside them in a pen made of 5 farm gates.  We then started carefully supervised contact with the chooks - with Polo always on a lead.  Left to himself he wanted to play - except he's 35 kg (and growing) and they are not.

However, I got back from an overseas trip yesterday and - hey - Polo has 'graduated' to being a fully fledged livestock guardian dog.

There he was lying in the shade with chooks all around him.  This photo has him with one of the two that still look a bit scruffy.  The rest a just about as good as new.

I noticed last night that he was barking a bit.  The chooks were locked up, but he's letting any foxes know that he's around.  I'll put up with a bit of barking if I know the chooks are safe.

Polo is still only about 8 months old.  The book says they are not completely reliable until at least 18 months - so we'll keep a close eye on him.

This is a fantastic development though - as we can now think about getting more hens and having more eggs for sale.  And the production we've been getting from the ex battery girls is good enough that they seem to be a better deal at $2-50 / bird than getting point of lay pullets at nearly $20.

We've put a sign at the gate offering free range eggs.  The boss priced them at $5 / dozen without consulting the accountant.  I think they're worth more than that.

My mind is now turning to a Chookmobile V2.0.  The next one will be bigger and enable us to have more chooks - and to follow the cattle.  This is a system developed by Joel Salatin - whereby the chooks act as what he calls his 'sanitation crew'. 

His mobile henhouse follows about 4 days behind his cell grazing cattle.  He says this is just time enough for flies to lay their eggs and for the larvae to hatch - but not enough time for them to pupate and produce the next generation of flies.  The chooks dig their way through the cow pats looking for larvae (maggots) - and, in the process, spread the cow pat about.

This provides quick return to the soil of the nitrogen and organic matter in the cow manure - and, of course, the hens add their own concentrated nitrogen boost.

I already spread a certain amount of chicken manure that I get from a farm over near Riddells Creek.  I was looking yesterday at two parts of my paddock 43 - one half has had chicken manure and other hasn't.  There is quite a difference.

Mobile phones

I am now the owner of 4 SIM cards for my iPhone.

I have my Australian SIM.  But I am so peeved with the international roaming arrangements that telcos have that I have, over the last few months, got a New Zealand SIM, then an Indonesian SIM and finally a UK SIM.

Last year my then Australian telco tried to charge me $900 for 3 days roaming in Jakarta.  They then announced that I needed to reduce my account balance - or they would 'suspend' me.  I suspended them first.

At the same time I also cancelled the payment authority - so that we evened up the negotiating position a bit in relation to the $900.  In spite of acknowledging the suspension, the telco proceeded to deduct monies from my account for 3 more months.

Eventually I got the bank to accept that the authority had been properly withdrawn and the payments were reversed.  That was another story - and the banking bureaucracy was not much more cooperative and reasonable than the telco.

All I could get out of the telco (until I complained to the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman) was an automated response saying 'ring our call centre'.  I have a visceral dislike of call centres - so I said 'Either respond to my emails - or you call me'.  I'm not willing to waste my time with call centres - particularly 'off-shored' ones.

Eventually the TIO provoked a phone call from an Australian woman - clearly 'with a script'.  It was a script affected (I think) by her misplaced confidence that the bill had already been paid.  When I said I wasn't willing to pay for data services of no value to me - she decided she could tick the box 'refusal to negotiate' and said the conversation was at an end.

A further loop back to the TIO produced another telco representative who, for the first time (4 months after the original problem), read the email traffic and listened to what I had to say.  His response, after cordial discussion, was to credit the entire bill and allow me to keep the iPhone - notwithstanding that I was only 16 months into a 24 month contract.

In the end, this was a more generous resolution than I sought - but probably reasonable given the aggravation they had caused.  It seems a pity that they didn't 'talk sense' some 4 months earlier when they still had a customer.  Instead, they preferred to use their 'efficient' off-shored, customer handling system.

So I now have a different telco provider - and a prepaid SIM card.  The telcos may think of prepaid SIMs as a means of dealing with 'subprime' customers.  In fact they're a way of dealing with an industry that can't be trusted.

This way I can limit their capacity to gouge to $20 a time.  When $20 disappears too quickly - I can work out why and avoid it in future.

My international SIMs are my response to the most egregious of their misbehaviours.  I've found that within each country there are international call and data arrangements that are a tiny fraction of the cost of international roaming charges.  My SIM card shuffle prior to landing is a small price to pay.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hail the boyos

I just watched the Welsh beat France to win the Grand Slam.  Well done!

Wales were cruelly robbed of a place in last year's World Cup final when Sam Warburton was sent off early in the semifinal.  How bravely they tried for the rest of the match, and they nearly did it.

When I watch the Welsh I can't help thinking of the great players I saw as a young man.  Gerald Davies, JPR Williams, John Dawes, Mervyn Davies, John Taylor, Barry John - and the best of them all Gareth Edwardes.  And, of course those two great Irishmen - Mike Gibson and Wille John McBride.  I watched all of them break New Zealand hearts in the 3rd test of the 1971 Lions series - the first test match I saw live (after sleeping the previous night on the footpath outside the ground).

I was standing on the bank at the northern end of that Godforsaken place Athletic Park - watching from behind.  The Lions were in the 22 and on the left.  An impossibly long pass came out from Edwardes and I can see it now (in slow motion) ... Barry John takes the ball and slots the drop goal.  I feel a Kiwi's usual contempt for the drop goal, but I remember thinking, as that kick sailed between the uprights ... we're not coming back from here.

Wales (as opposed to the Lions) last beat the Allblacks, when I was 3 months and 5 days old.  I don't expect them to beat the Allblacks again in my lifetime ... but you never know ... and this team is a fine one.

PS  As a footnote ... I was also there in Bridgend the day John Ashworth stomped on the great JPR Williams face.  From the papers, you would have thought WW3 was about to break out - but every Welshman this Kiwi met just wanted to buy me a beer. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Do I blog ... or not?

It's been so long since I've blogged that I wonder whether I have it in me to continue.  It's not that there are not lots of interesting things going on - in my life - and in the world around me.

I find that its less about time than about the mental energy one has available.  Over the last few months I've been easing my way into a couple of new 'governance' positions.

I enjoy being on a board of directors.  The time demands are not that great.  The risks are sometimes described as excessive - but I'm not sure I agree.  Provided one has some knowledge of the industry, a soundly founded trust in the key people, a moral compass, and (in the end) a willingness to resign ... I think it's possible to keep the risks to a level commensurate with the rewards.

But working through new challenges does drain a bit of mental energy - and one thing I haven't felt like doing is ... blogging.

I guess the other thing is that ... I feel like I'm starting to repeat myself a bit.  My wife and children (maybe even a few colleagues) might think this is nothing new, but I try not to.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Creating pastures

Ever since I used conventional mechanised means to kick start the transition to  high productivity pastures at Moora, I have wondered whether I might have been able to do it without the contractor's 200 HP John Deere, disc plough, and other implements.

But, at the time, I hadn't read Peter Andrews or Joel Salatin - and I hate gorse - of which we had plenty.  So I got the most of the place mulched and then burnt before cultivation, lime, 2 years of fodder crops and re-cultivation (to break the weed cycle) ... before planting to a mix of just a couple of pasture species - plus clovers.

I think Moora pastures are now pretty good, but I'm actively looking to increase the range of species in the pasture sward with hand oversowing - and also just seeing what volunteers (and performs) under the cell grazing regime we now operate to.  After reading Peter Andrews, in particular, I can never look at a 'weed' the same way again.

Leasing another farm nearby has given me an opportunity to try a different approach to improving pasture.  We are fortunate enough to have the new farm - of about 60 acres - on a long term basis.  So I can afford to put some effort into building its productivity - knowing we will reap the benefit for as many years as I am likely to want to continue farming.

When we took over there was one reasonable quality 10 acre paddock - where we were already grazing stock.  The farm included 4 more small paddocks (another 8 acres) and a big area (40 acres) with little grass and a lot of hungry kangaroos in residence.  This area had been fenced, but at some stage this had fallen into disrepair.  My first thought was to just lease the fenced paddocks, but this was not attractive to the owner.  In the end I took on the big paddock as well.

When it started raining again in winter of 2010 the response in that big paddock was pretty impressive - and a bit unexpected.  By the end of that summer, I was in charge and it was necessary too slash the huge quantity of grass and weeds.  It took a contractor several days to grind his way through it all and the mulched grass lay thick on the ground.

During the winter I had an electric fence built to separate my area off from the part of the property I'm not leasing.  It's a 4 wire fence - 2 of them electrified.  Various pundits predicted the kangaroos would destroy the fence, but it hasn't happened in the 6 months it has been there.  Perhaps because of plenty of feed in the bush - or the long grass - we seem to have far fewer kangaroos.  Long may it continue.

We've had another good year and the grass (with fewer weeds this time) was well over a metre deep across most of the big paddock by late Spring.  My holiday job has been to create an electric fenced sub-divsion - and to start the process of cattle led pasture improvement.  I have a mob of 19 steers on it and they are working their way through it.

In the spring they were getting about a 1/6th of an acre a day.  With the deteriorating quality of the pasture now, I'm giving them about 1/4 of an acre.  There is a lot of Phalaris and it's long and has seeded.  They are trampling a fair bit of it now, but look well and seem to be gaining weight.

I've now finished feeding 2 of the 7 paddocks that the fencing has created.  I'll keep two of these as 'set stocking' rest areas.  The other 5 -  I'm going to really try to improve pasture productivity.  The first of these, I finished feeding at the end of November.  It is now greening up and coming back nicely.

The second paddock was very long and rank before the steers went in - and had more weeds.  When they finished, I decided to use my big zero turn mower to slash the residual.  The first photo shows slashed and unslashed areas side by side.

 The second photo shows the southern half of the paddock after I finished - and the last one the northern half.

The slashing creates more organic material to go with the mulched pasture from last year.  It also knocks down the weeds - a mix of dock, thistles, wire weed and another woody thing that the cattle seem to strip bare.  They don't touch the dock, thistles or wire weed.  We do a certain amount of grubbing, but mainly we're going to use the Peter Andrew's approach and see what happens with cell grazing and a bit of natural fertility enhancement.

Mowing it gives me a good look at the paddock - where grass is growing well - and where it's thinner.  This, and the fencing, tells me that I've got quite a bit of really productive land - at least when it rains.  Not all of it is good - but I think the poor spots are probably only about 15% of the 40 acres.  The rest looks as though it's as good as (or better than)  the best of Moora.

When I finished it this evening it looked pretty good.  I'm thinking of getting a really big lot of the chicken manure and rice hulls that I've been using at Moora and using my manure spreader to put that out.  It has made a big difference at Moora - where I've spread it.  I just got 22 m3 a few days ago - and most of that will go onto 43 this weekend.  The rest will be used to turbo charge the compost heaps.

Dung beetle update

As I've reported previously, over the last 2 years we've released two species of dung beetles at Moora and one type at our leased farm.

The first were released in March 2010 only at Moora - when things were still very dry.  They were Geotrupes spiniger.  Earlier this year we released some Bubus bison - at both properties.

As I was walking starting to do some paddock harrowing a few weeks ago I noticed that quite a few cow pats looked a bit 'disturbed'. 

I haven't had any feedback from the supplier yet, but I suspect the G. spiniger to have been at work.

As I understand it they burrow through the cow pat and into the ground - and then as much as a metre into the ground - where they lay their eggs in a ball of cow manure.

My paddock harrows spread things around a bit, but they don't dig metre long tunnels and bury the dung in deep in the root zone.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cell grazing and cattle update

I've been very busy.  Too much of it in the City, but that is what pays the bills.

There is a website in Australia that is a bit like Google Earth, but better.  It's a website based system accessed at  Here is a screen shot taken from a photo taken 21 October this year.  I hope I'm not breaching any agreement by putting this on the blog.

The photo shows 4 of my paddocks.  Starting bottom right and going clockwise, we go 41, 42, 43 and 44.  The photo shows the pattern of use.

Paddock 43 (top left) was mulch mown in May because I'd not been able to get to grazing last season.  In late July when it was very wet I thought this paddock might be good being the highest on the farm.  Not true - it seems to hold the rain and the cows hooves were going in 4 inches.  So the mulched grass got well incorporated into the paddock.  I put the whole herd back in there for a few days in early October when it was again very wet.  The photo shows the paddock 2 weeks later with just the slightest of green tinges starting.

When I looked at it today, I scored it at 5 on a scale where 10 equals the ideal next grazing point.  I just checked and it's 49 days since last grazed - and I'm looking for a 100 day cycle.  43 is a Perennial Ryegrass paddock - which doesn't seem to be as good as my paddocks with Phalaris in the mix.

Paddock 44 (top right) is Phalaris - except for a strip around the edge.  Don't ask how this happened, it just did.  It was grazed from 6 September to 1 October and had a huge amount of feed as the break before grazing had been 242 days - albeit that included the winter.  The cows calved in there - and the calves could hide in the long grass.  You could be a few metres away and not see them - just an agitated Mum told you that you must be close.

There was so much feed in 44 that a certain amount of it wasn't used and just got trampled.  56 days after the cattle left it's already back to score 7 or 8.  At the time the photo was taken the score was already about 3.

When the photo was taken one mob of cattle were in 41 (bottom right).  They are at the western (left) end of the paddock.  They are about to be shifted to the last area in the bottom right corner of the paddock.  There was 3 days of grazing in the dark green bit for the 9.5 tonnes of cattle in there.  They got through the paddock (another Ryegrass paddock) in 20 days.

The stripes you can see come from the compost and chicken manure spread last year.  41 was half done last year.  42 and 44 were fully done.  43 and the rest of 41 will get their turn this year.  Other lines are where temporary electric fences have been.

The cattle are in 42 as I write.  When the photo was taken, it had not been grazed for 60 days.  The cows went in after 80 days but, as a Phalaris paddock, it was already pretty good.  The score for the first few days grazing was 9, but we're now into an area where the Phalaris is about 4 feet high and I score it at 12.  I'm feeding a 80 metre strip 4 or 5 metres at a time.  That way the cattle seem to graze the tops with their butts on yesterday's area, then work their way down the stem - without the plant trampling they do with a wider break.

The way I work out how much the mob gets each day is I multiply the square metres by the pasture score and give them about 70% as many pasture units as there are kilograms of live weight.  This is my version of Joel Salatin's cow days.  The feedback is pretty good though - you just have to look at how they did yesterday.

The pasture growth I am getting now is pretty fantastic.  How much of it is just because, after many dry years, we've had 2 good years in a row?  Surely some of it is the cell grazing - and the compost / chicken manure - and the paddock harrowing.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Progress report on calving

We have 21 cows due to calve this year - with only one maiden heifer (2008 produced 8 boys and a girl).

As of half an hour ago ... we had 10 calves - with no problems and no losses.  Here is the latest arrival to a cow called Haviva.

Yesterday Grumpy-bum, otherwise known as Sarah, calved and wanted me to leave the paddock forthwith.

A day earlier she had upset the Chairman (woman) by trying to chase her out of the paddock when we were just trying to move them to the best paddock on the place.

I gave her a quick tap on the nose with the nearest thing to hand (an electric fence Tread-in) - then felt guilty about it.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Maremma learning his job

We have 2 Maremma pups that we are training to be livestock guardians.  They are still both very young so they are not physically or mentally ready to protect stock.

They spend most of their time penned up near the livestock they are to be responsible for.  Every day we take them out at least 3 times.  We walk them around the boundary and supervise their interaction with the chickens (for Josie) and sheep (for Polo).


Here is a video of Polo with the sheep .  I'm very pleased with his progress.  Polo bounces a bit - especially at the end, but otherwise it's all very gentle.  We have been told to watch for the adult animals accepting him - and for him licking their faces.  You can see both in the video.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I wonder how they do it

A large retailer is reported today to have 'imposed' a 5 % cut on prices paid to suppliers for a 3 month period as an 'investment of mutual benefit to both our organisations'.

This is Orwellian. 

If a consumer walked out of their store with 5% more than they had paid for, presumably they would want it to be called theft rather than a 'mutual investment'.

A farmer in the industrial system has to deal with these people.  Even a farmer outside the industrial system has to deal with the consequences of consumers having access to product derived from exploitative systems.

People in the city should understand the level of abuse and economic distortion that underlies their access to 'cheapness'.  These things don't last forever.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The wise and witty

 I enjoy reading or listening to a guy called Dmitry Orlov.  He wrote a book (Reinventing Collapse) that says that our industrial economies are collapsing and the main difference between the USSR and the USA is that a centrally planned industrial economy used up resources less efficiently than a capitalist industrial economy and that, as a result, one collapsed 20 years ago and the other is collapsing now.

For the avoidance of doubt, I enjoy reading him because he's an original (and witty) thinker and he is probably directionally right - AND NOT because I particularly want the world to 'collapse'.

His blog just posted an interview he did recently.  In it he talked about the 1% that own 90% in an economy like the United States (not that we are much better).  He said something that really caught my attention:

Their wealth is ephemeral. It only exists as numbers and letters on pieces of paper.  Their wealth is denominated in future industrial production that does not exist.

Orlov is different to most pundits in that he doesn't then offer a series of prescriptions to remedy the problems - so that we can all get 'back to normal'.  He views the collapse of Western industrial societies as inevitable and counsels practical adaptation rather than political fixes.

I was really struck by his characterisation of the ways the wealthy hold their wealth as 'denominated in future industrial production'.  I guess this can apply to the various forms of capital market products (shares, bonds, funds, etc), to the sort of employment we commonly think of as a 'good job', to any real estate where value is not anchored in practicality, and even (perhaps especially) in future claims on governments.  He's saying the wealthy are actually not wealthy!  They only think they are - and the process of collapse will uncover the real situation.

I think I worked out something similar 15 years ago.  My rationale was different.  It occurred to me that there were / are what economists call principal agent problems shot through our modern society.  The things that stood out to me were:
  1. Public companies commonly didn't (and still don't) operate in the interests of their shareholders.  
  2. Most financial intermediaries have all sorts of conflicts of interest.
  3. Government bureaucracies have equally serious conflicts of interest.
It seemed to me then that, if agents are not reliably representing principals on a systematic basis, strife is pretty certain to follow.  It prompted me to:
  1. Make direct investments in food and fibre.
  2. Avoid (as much as possible) intermediated financial investments.
  3. Expect nothing of governments in the medium or long term. 
  4. Think about what might happen if ..........
Moora Farm is not a perfect hedge against the sort of disruption Orlov anticipates, but its a partial one. 

I came across something else a day or two ago by my old favourite Wendell Berry.  Whereas Orlov is clever / witty, Berry is sober and even majestic.  The article, which I've read before, is at this location.  He argued, 20 years ago mind, the exact opposite of conventional wisdom about urbanisation and scale economies.  Instead of seeing the drift from rural to urban as inevitable and progressive he said clearly and cogently that it was detrimental with much more lost than gained.  I was 'sent to the city' by the sort of influences Berry describes.

Time will tell where value really lies.