Last Friday we were lucky enough to have a storm that delivered some welcome rain. However, it resulted in a lot of soil being deposited onto our flats as the neighbouring country upstream could not handle the deluge and the creek burst its banks.
A dramatic demonstration of how longed-for rain can be not only ineffective, but destructive on degraded land. Farmers need to build soil through regenerative agriculture, not see it disappear when the rain is a bit too heavy or the wind a bit too strong.
In an environment like ours the only way we know to achieve this is by bunching our animals, moving them often and giving plants had time to recover. There is no better illustration of this than a TED talk that Allan Savory gave in 2013.
Water is always a big issue.
On our farm most of the dams have no water in them and surprisingly, we see this as a positive. This is telling us that any rain that is falling is being absorbed into the soil and not running away across the top of it. Any rain that falls is effective rain - captured by the soil, plants and growing grass.
In a year like this one where we have received approximately half the average rainfall we have been able to maintain our animals without any supplementary feeding. Why attempt to capture water in irrigation dams when you can utilise the enormous capacity of the soil to do the same?
Walking around the farm, moving cows or putting out fences, we look at the round. We look at all sorts of things - the grasses, the litter and the manure. It has been very pleasing to see evidence of dung beetles doing their thing all through the winter. To us this is an indication that the environment here is healthy and diverse. Where there are dung beetles there is vibrant microbial activity in the soil.
We were given a head start here on the farm because Sam's father Jim ceased using synthetic fertilisers in the 1970s. He could see that the native grasses were being swamped by short-lived annuals that boomed briefly but damaged the long-term health of the soil and community of grasses. When we came along and changed grazing management the farm was ready to bounce.
Now that the days are getting longer and warmer we hope that the dung beetles and soil microbes will enjoy spring as much as we do.
Calving is well underway, and going well. Wandering through the mob this afternoon there were another two new babies, taking their all-important first drink on unsteady legs. The calves are beautiful but we all feel that the lambs take the prize for cuteness, and (controversially) even intelligence! Calves are often too busy demonstrating how fast they can run to take notice of where you want them to go and where mum has been moved to. It’s all about speed!
Given the time of the season we are moving the animals onto fresh pasture every day. This has allowed us to meter out the grass so that it lasts until spring growth, hopefully only a couple of weeks away now.
The ducks are pairing which may be a sign that the weather predictions are wrong and there may be good rain in spring. However, if the ducks are wrong and the predictions right we will reassess the amount of grass that we do have and make decisions from then. No matter what happens our land and our animals will not suffer.
Farming, and by extension the civilisation it supports, is inextricably linked to the climate and the changes being wrought. It is impossible not to feel this every day. But as farmers we are in a position to remove carbon from the atmosphere reversing these changes.
Healthy, living soil is key to that soil holding carbon. It is a soil that is covered, not bare. It is a soil that has high microbial activity, not one that has been doused with artificial fertilisers and chemicals. It is a soil where the grasses in it have been allowed to grow fully before being grazed, and then left to recover again. It is where animals recycle the grasses into manure that is utilised by microbes to further improve the organic matter in that soil. A beautiful symphony that is conducted every day.
The beautiful food that we produce, the healthy animals that we care for, all begin with the soil. Regenerating the soil can only be good.