MONITORING FARM ACTIONS AND RESULTS

Image courtesy of The Australian Women’s Weekly

THE IMPORTANCE OF MONITORING

I cannot stress enough the value of monitoring as a tool to be used in all facets of farming.

Here at Kumbartcho we started our monitoring program right from the beginning. On our former property Dukes Plain we did not start the monitoring till 1995, some 12 years after we took up the management.

Vegetation growth on Dukes Plain

There, within 6 months of beginning, we had saved our selves in the order of $40 per hectare, which we would have spent on re-clearing timber regrowth.

Yes, within 6 months we were able to demonstrate from our grazing chart records that our timbered country was out yielding our re-cleared, re-pastured land. We have now been able to demonstrate with 20 years of yield data, that our re-cleared country has such a miniscule increase in yield, that it would take 98 years to re-coup the cost of clearing!

NUTRIENT AVAILABILITY

Here at Kumbartcho we took soil and water samples when we inspected the property.

We established what elements are low in availability.

What actions then have we taken as a result of these soil tests?

Action one was to begin to apply the biodynamic preparations (Biodynamic Soil Activator) within hours of settlement.

In the first 48 hours we had sprayed along all boundary and internal fence lines with soil activator.

We began to plant trees (with soil activator under the planting sites).

We brought these trees from our former property Dukes Plain, deliberately to carry the biodynamic impulse, which was well established in the soils there.

The property has now had three applications of Biodynamic Soil Activator, the first fence line application and two full property applications. The last two applications have been timed for autumn and winter, deliberately to “prime” the soils for spring.

During winter the “forces” from the cosmos are streaming into the earth, so any soil amendments we apply in the autumn/winter period will be “pulled” into the soil, and accumulate there, ready to “burst” into life in spring /summer.

PASTURE STATUS & YIELD

Our next monitoring action was to establish fixed-point photo sites in all paddocks (18 in all).

We now have February, end March, and end June photos from these sites.

Fixed point monitoring photos for two paddocks. Top to bottom: February, March and end June 2014.

The property was rested (livestock removed) for five and a half months to allow pastures to fully recover from grazing. Livestock were re-introduced on 16 June.

Our third monitoring tool is to keep records of paddock yields.

INFORMED DECISION MAKING

Our next soil samples will be taken 12 months into our management of the property. The results of a combination of rest, biodynamic preparations and grazing management will then be revealed by what changes there are in nutrient availability.

The soil sampling will also be done in tandem with plant tissue testing. This will reveal what nutrients the plants are taking up, and what are lacking.

No tissue test was done with first soil samples due to lack of tissue to sample!

We do our soil tests through the Environmental Analysis Labrarotory at Southern Cross University in Lismore.

Available nutrients, total nutrients, and tissue samples are done in order that we can better work out how effective our soil amendments have been, and what additional amendments we may need to make.

Without ongoing monitoring it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of our farming actions, so monitor, monitor, monitor.

We are fully committed to our monitoring program as it gives us a “baseline” from which we can then measure the effectiveness of our various actions.


BUILDING FARM AND COMMUNITY

Image courtesy of The Australian Women’s Weekly

This update on starting our new farm at Kumbartcho, Kilkivan will be focused on our community involvement.

A large part of our community involvement goes back now some eight years.

When at Dukes Plain, Theodore, we started a “partnership” with Samford Valley Steiner School (SVSS). They have been bringing their Year Nine class out to Dukes Plain for “farm camp” each year during winter. Initially the camp was for one week, however more recently it has grown to three weeks.

The history of our association goes back to my spotting an advertisement in the Biodynamic Agriculture Australia News Leaf. SVSS were seeking a farm in south east Queensland. I stretched the definition of “south east”, and we volunteered, and in the absence of a better offer, were chosen.

I had a friend who worked at SVSS as a gardener. Rob was familiar with the Dukes Plain landscape, and recommended the area as having great potential, despite the distance that they would have to travel to come to this “south east corner” farm!

Well here we are in 2014, having sold Dukes Plain, and deeming running the farm camps there any more far too difficult (the new owners are a corporate and even I have needed “induction” to be on the site).

We offered SVSS the opportunity to come to the new farm at Kilkivan (yes, we are now in the south east corner).

Fortunately we have an old farm house to accommodate groups, and being just three hours from Brisbane, a much shorter journey for the groups.

The association has also included Noosa Pengari Steiner School, and their Year Nine class.

We view these associations as a valuable community service, which gives urban students the opportunity to experience first-hand farm life and work.

Part of our obligation is to have a “mountain” of tasks for the students to complete. Believe me, one can get much work done/many projects completed with a workforce of up to as many as twenty-eight students!

We do a variety of farm tasks, which may include:

  • making and application of Biodynamic preparations,
  • fencing,
  • installation and repair of water infrastructure,
  • bush walking,
  • cleaning out cattle grids,
  • construction of leaky weirs (drawn from Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming),
  • planting of trees,
  • planting of Vetiver grass in waterways/drainage lines,
  • treating noxious weeds,
  • cutting and collecting fire wood,
  • managing compost toilets (carbon:nitrogen ratio!),
  • management of their own hot water resource (donkey with wood fire),
  • furniture making,
  • sculpting, etcetera…
The students get to learn some “life skills” while on camp. One of the many is to learn about Low Stress Stock handling. This methodology (the principles of) can be applied to many aspects of life, from our interaction with other humans to encounters with wild animals while driving.

An appreciation of where food comes from and how it is produced is a big learning for many students (suddenly the piece of meat on a Styrofoam tray under glad wrap has a different meaning!).

Now that the camp is over a three week period, the students get to break through some challenging personal issues. The first week can be challenging (“I want to go home”), the second week is when some order comes into the group, and the third week is the time when many shift to “I don’t want to go home” mode.

For us and the farm the great things are:

  • the great energy of youth which has a big impact on the farm environment,
  • we get lots of work done (while having fun),
  • I get to practiced my memory skills (remembering up to 28 names!),
  • having the association with the schools brings (for a brief period) a community on to the farm and we share food preparation, meals, conversation, and music.

Among the achievements for the students, is that they gain a bigger appreciation of the comforts of home, and their parents! We look forward to continuing this association into the future.

Our other community involvements at this stage are doing a presentation for a local farmers group at a field day, applying the Biodynamic preparations to two neighbouring properties (done by the Samford Valley students by hand), sharing freely knowledge on use of the Biodynamic preparations, and giving Biodynamic soil activator to local people to get them started.

I hope eventually to get involved with the local community garden (all trees and lawn at this stage), and markets (weekly).

RESTOCKING AFTER RESTORING A DEGRADED LANDSCAPE

Image courtesy of The Australian Women’s Weekly

Well here we are at Kumbartcho, and we have hit “P” mode, where P is for production.

We have had the property in ‘lock up’ mode since the 13th of January this year. Yes, no stock till pastures had fully recovered from previous (over) grazing, and under resting.

Rain throughout this resting period has been:

  • 4.5mm in January
  • 42mm in February
  • 158.5mm in March
  • 17mm in April
  • 37.5mm in May
  • 7mm in June.

The February rains started the growth processes, however with 40mm falling on the 17th of February and then no further significant rainfall untill the 25th of March, recovery in pastures were quite insignificant.

However, March rain from the 25th to 31st of 146.5mm gave the land a good soaking over a week, and with continued warm weather, pastures were afforded the opportunity to fully recover.

With two biodynamic soil activator applications and adequate rest, much has been achieved.

Pastures have had the opportunity to ‘max out’ to feed soil biology. (Most likely for the first time since settlement in the 1840’s!!!)

MAKING HAY

We have cut hay. Our very first hay production enterprise.

So, why and what of the hay enterprise???

  • We have a neighbour who has full hay making plant who offered to cut hay for us, so we are able to do this enterprise without the need to purchase equipment. (The only tractor is a con-tractor!)
  • This is also a ‘share’ arrangement, so no need for the exchange of money.
  • The paddocks we are cutting hay from are areas that frost in winter, so the longer-term plan is to harvest (make hay) from abundant summer growth, and then “pasture crop” a winter annual. The winter annual will both add organic matter to the soil, and be used for grazing.
  • The farm has a huge hay shed, so lots of storage facility not being used. We can now use this infrastructure to store summer forage for later resale, there already being a demand for hay I doubt that much of the harvest will go into storage this season.
  • None of the hay will be used on our farm as we have “kicked the hay habit”.

INTRODUCING LIVESTOCK

On the 16th of June we purchased sixty-eight (261 kg) heifers from Gympie sale yards.

The timing of the introduction of livestock has been largely determined by WATER.

Yes, we now have a great, reticulated water system to three-quarters of the 141 hectare farm. Seven new troughs, a header tank, new submersible electric pump in the irrigation bore and four kilometers of 63 mm poly pipe (see this post).

image of cow at water trough

The system is deliberately quite over-engineered to allow for future ‘mob’ grazing, for improvement of soil and pasture condition.

Five paddocks currently have water and paddock size varies between 4.5 hectares and 16.8 hectares.

Troughs have been strategically placed to:

  • allow for future sub-division of paddocks.
  • provide “top of hill” watering for nutrient distribution (as per Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming).

We have five remaining paddocks, and five holding paddocks in which to implement new water reticulation or perform existing system upgrades.

Paddock graze periods will be determined both by what will maximise animal performance and provide adequate rest for pastures to recover.

Paddocks will be treated post grazing with biodynamic soil activator, as well as being spot sprayed for Giant Rats Tail grass.

Stock are ‘inducted’ using Low Stress Stock Handling methods, which in this instance was done largely by a group of year nine students from Samford Valley Steiner School. The seventeen students were given an introduction to Low Stress methods over a four day period, concluding with doing individual working of stock in yards, and ear tagging of cattle.

I’ll talk more about our relationship with this school in the next post…