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    Using solar power to move water

    Using solar power to move water

    The beginning of winter is a great time to reflect on the past year - what worked well, what can we do better (it’s too damn hot to do it in January…). The, at times, unquenchable thirsts of our cattle proved to be one problem.  

    We use portable troughs across the farm because it allows us to move the mob everywhere and means we do not have to rely upon the contradiction of dams; more grass cover means less water in dams. At times though, the flow of water from our water system could not keep. The solution is to pump the water higher using solar panels, increasing the flow and keeping the animals happier on the hottest of days to come.

    It is also time to prepare the soil surface for pasture growth in spring. The cows are now grazing the dried material from the pasture, leaving their areas manured and the soil disturbed. Ideal conditions for conversion of sunlight to green grass when spring arrives as Daisy is demonstrating here!

    It rained last week!

    It rained last week!

    Some of our white box eucalypts are heavily in flower now, a vital feed source for this time of year. These trees have attracted many birds and they are alive with rosellas, superb parrots and the loudest of them all, friarbirds. The chattering and cackling of the friarbirds will lead you to the flowering trees.

    We received 21 glorious millimetres of rain at the end of last week which has been very welcome as you can probably tell. Especially because our grazing animals only ever eat the grass that grows beneath their feet - we do not feed any supplements, grains or hay. Rather, we attempt to drought-proof our farm by maximising the effectiveness of whatever rain does fall (by following holistic management principles) and matching grazing pressure to the conditions so that the land grows as much grass as possible. Basically, rain falling on healthy, living soils covered with a diverse range of grass, plants and trees will do more than rain falling on a desert.

    It is not always easy, but this is what we aim for.

    The start of straw and a new boar

    The start of straw and a new boar

    The last week has seen a definite change in season to cooler and (hopefully!) wetter weather. The pigs no longer need wallows and wet ground to cool down but they now love straw in their houses to keep them warm and dry - some would even call them demanding! To us, the straw seems somewhat magical and combined with constant fresh pasture for the pigs it means we do not have any need for medications. Prevention is far better than a cure.

    Last weekend we collected another Berkshire boar from Allsun Farm. He is the full brother of the boar that was Champion pig of Adelaide Show in 2016, so naturally we are very excited to see what he can do. Granted, I am not looking at him with a pigs eyes but he looks beautiful.

    The arrival of sheep and cooler weather

    The arrival of sheep and cooler weather

    We are excited to now have sheep at Boxgum Grazing. We recently purchased 72 ewes that are in lamb to a Southdown ram, with the little ones due to arrive in June. These sheep add another species to the farm with different grazing behaviours - nature abhors monocultures. And another meat product that will be available before the end of the year.     

    The beginning of May signals the first home fire of the year, unfortunately much later than usual. Autumn is at last cooling down and surely rain is not far away (hopefully in a few hours). Daisy has always had a habit of gathering her own sticks, and now she cannot believe that Sam is bringing them to her - right by the back door

    Harvesting Sunlight And Managing Groundcover

    I like to think of our farm as a large green biological solar collector, harvesting the energy of the sun and turning it into a living biomass of plant and animal species. For only green living plants through photosynthesis are able to capture and convert solar energy to matter upon which all biological life exists.

    To be fruitful sunlight needs to fall on green leaves, if it hits bare ground it produces nothing.

    So we need to have no bare ground and as many of these plant solar collectors as possible throughout the year to cover the ground and turn the incoming solar energy into biological energy. As land managers all else flows from this simple but profound realisation.

    Consequently we are first and foremost “grass farmers”, harvesting sunlight in our grassy woodland to drive production of plant biomass, sequestering carbon, building soils and producing high quality food from the grazers of the grass.

    In order to produce a vibrant grassland we need grazing animals, as they are the major recyclers of carbon, turning old plant material to dung and mulch, opening up the growth points of the perennial grasses to sunlight to allow them to grow and creating disturbance with their hooves thereby providing germination sites for plants. 

    All grazing though is not created equal and grazing animals can be an immensely constructive or destructive force on plants depending on the timing of grazing and the way they interact with plants and the soil.

    If they remain grazing too long in one place or return to re-graze before the plants have recovered then the plants will be overgrazed. This overgrazing depletes the grasses and impacts their ability to harvest solar energy and pump life into the landscape. If continued it will lead to their death and disappearance from the plant community which tends to simplify and become dominated by species more tolerant of the overgrazing. 

    When managing plants and animals the critical interface to observe is the condition of the soil surface and its associated ground cover. Their condition will determine how effectively the processes at the heart of this biological system function. These processes cover how well water and minerals cycle, how the energy flows in the system (for instance is the sunlight captured by green leaves or lost on bare soil) and whether the whole community of plant and animal species is moving towards complexity and stability or simplicity and instability?For the plants on our farm not only have to feed our livestock, they also have to feed the soil and its future. They provide the carbon that soil life will convert and sequester to humus, the litter and mulch that reduces water runoff and evaporation and the minerals in a form that won’t readily leach so fertility is maintained.

    Everyday we manage our animals with these things in mind, so they can not only harvest their own food and thrive but also be the predominant tool we use to influence the plants and ground cover in our grassy woodland so it will thrive and harvest more life giving sunlight.