Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Farm Post

Roger with some carrots from his garden.

Not a fence post! It is just that I have not made a blog post about the farm for a long time. And that might possibly be because I am not on the farm very often these days. In fact I haven't been home much lately. Before I went to Japan there was a lot of preparation and weekly meetings in Bunbury, then ten days in Japan, and now I have had three days hosting Akiko from Japan and driving around the countryside. Last night the kids worked out I hadn't eaten dinner at home in six nights! (Although three of those nights I was with the family, and those three nights all involved sausage sizzles!)
Even though I didn't eat with the family last night because I got home late, I did eat the dinner Roger cooked. He was very proud to prepare for the first time a dinner made completely of his own produce - steak from his cows, with onions, carrots, pumpkin and beans from his garden.

New tomato plants in the garden.

Onto farm stuff...
Another reason I haven't posted about the farm is because there hasn't been a lot of good news. The winter and spring were very dry. We kept waiting for a decent rain to turn the season around, but it never came. Our crops are dismal, pasture is minimal, and we are offloading livestock to ease the pressure. The growing season was late to start, and then when we had rain it came in very cold and we had a record number of frosts, so nothing grew. Things held on with small amounts of rain far enough apart to really stress the plants. Each year we call it the "Spring Flush" when the wet winter turns into a warm spring and there is an abundance of pasture growth, far in excess of what the sheep and cattle can eat, and we can conserve the pasture for dry feed in the summer. This year it never happened.

Spring pasture should not look like this...

The hay crop was the worst I have ever seen.
The first year I came to Warragal Park (1995) I took photos of Roger in his waist-high oat crop. He battled to get his mower through it and rolled hundreds of bales of hay. This year the crop wasn't knee-high, and the area of crop Roger cut for hay would normally produce 200 bales of hay. He optimistically hoped for 150 bales, but the final count was a meagre 85 bales. And that is not enough to feed all our cattle through summer. The remaining oat crop which will be harvested for grain in December or January is likely to yield similarly. So without enough dry pasture and supplementary feed, drastic action was required.

Roger inspecting oats.

Much of the agricultural region in Western Australia has experienced unusually dry conditions this year, and for many it is not the first time their crops have failed. That means no-one has excess feed to take the livestock everyone wants to sell. And that could be disastrous, except that in the East the season has been exceptionally good. The severe drought in the Eastern States has broken, so farmers are looking to re-stock their farms. Which has been a real bonus for us. Probably a million animals have been trucked across the Nullarbor plain to farms in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

Our cross bred lambs from Wattle Creek were weaned early and 1,200 lambs were trucked to South Australia. Thirty cows with their thirty calves followed. Another 186 dry ewes went to an abattoir in South Australia, and some 600 wether hoggets are going onto a ship for live export. Today the stock agent is looking at some cross bred lambs at Warragal Park.

Poll Dorset/Merino cross lambs

Some of our remaining cattle.

Roger has managed the poor season well, and his burdened has been lightened with the sale of the livestock. Most of the sheep and some of the cattle would have been sold eventually, but we would usually expect to carry them through summer and fatten them for higher profits. Without the fodder that is not possible, so the limited resources will now be used to maintain the breeding ewes and cows, so that they are maintained in a good condition, ready for a good season next year.
And as an added bonus, there won't be so many sheep to shear in January, and most of the sheep sales, which usually occur after shearing, have already happened; so we have booked into my parents holiday house at Bremer Bay for ten days in January!!

Always look on the bright side...

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