Author Archives: Dominique Sparks
I loooove this time of the year. There is something special about having new babies on the ground, the renewal of life and all that……
June 1st is officially our starting date for lambing, so tomorrow, in theory. But every year we get a couple of early lambs, which I guess is no different in the human world. It was decidedly chilly last night (0.4 Celsius when I checked the thermometer first thing this morning) so I was keen to go round the ewes early. And what a wonderful surprise. This little Bub was in one of our main mobs of flock ewes, perfectly protected from cold winds by the old long lucerne stalks (you can see the lush new growth coming up underneath). He/she was born probably less than half an hour before I arrived as it was still lying down and being licked clean. So what you see here are it’s very first steps. You can see it still has quite a bit of the yellow “goup” (don’t know the official name for it) that covers its body when it is inside the womb. The mother will progressively lick this off over the next few hours.
As I headed into the next paddock, where our stud ewes are, I came across this healthy set of twins.
They may have even been born yesterday, as they had obviously already had a couple of drinks from the ewe, and their little umbilical cords were quite dry. They were both sleeping in the warm (ish) morning sun, until I came along and disturbed them. The ewe wasn’t too worried about me though. Leading up to lambing we spend quite a bit of time slowly driving through the mobs, so that they get used to us checking them out. This means they are much less likely to take run off and abandon their lambs when we come past.
Lambing will be a fairly busy time, so although I get excited at the start, I’m always glad when we get near the end. Each trip around our four mobs takes about an hour, and as we like to check them twice a day, that’s an extra two hours each day we need to make time for. And that’s assuming we have no issues on each trip. Occasionally we may have to assist in a birth, or we may find a lamb who has lost its mother for one reason or another. In this case we try and catch the lamb so we can bring it up the house to be bottle raised.
I’ll post some more pics of lambing in the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you have any questions about how we manage lambing, or what is involved, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below……
We have been very lucky this autumn so far, to have not had any frosts! As a result quite a few of our summer veggies are still producing quite well. The tomatoes have finished up, as it has been quite cold, but the chillies and capsicums are still going well.
Above is, from left, beetroot (under a cage because every pest in the world seems to want to eat me beetroot), then carrots, and spuds. Below is one of my pumpkins. Our local tennis club has a pumpkin growing competition each year. Originally it was the biggest pumpkin, but this year we got mystery seeds – 5, and its the most overall weight from all the pumpkins. Mine were prolific however a lot haven’t ripened properly.
I visited an old friend a month or so ago and she gave me some rhubarb that she had divided off from her patch. I wasn’t sure they’d survive as I didn’t get them in the ground for a couple of weeks after getting home. But they are growing superbly.
I still have some more planting I’d like to do, but first I need to do some more cleanup of old plants left over from summer. I still have 2 rows of old corn stalks to pull out, as well as some cherry tomatoes. Then I have garlic and onions to get in! And maybe some more peas….
Well its been a while between posts – and who knows, I may get better at posting, I really want to…. We’ll see. Here’s a summary of where the farm is at, at the moment…..
We have had fantastic rains over the last 6 months – a very healthy spring, probably the best in the 10 years we have owned the farm, reasonable rain throughout the summer and a pretty good autumn break. As a result of our spring rain, in particular a huge flood we had in September all our dams filled – they were all just about empty if not completely empty as a result of 5 very dry years.
Having good water sources on the farm makes an enormous difference to the running of the farm, mainly meaning that we are not carting or pumping water for the sheep and cattle every second day. Our work load over the summer was soooooo much less as a result!
It also meant that we had great feed in the paddocks heading in to summer, which meant that we weren’t carting hay and feeding grain all summer also! In fact we didn’t start feeding until late March, which has never been the case as far as I can remember.
We are due to start lambing in the next couple of weeks, due date is June 1st, but we often get a handful in late May. The cows have all been scanned and in calf, due in early September, including our new house cow, Marmalade – so that will be exciting.
This weekend just gone we finished our main sowing. The large cropping block at the end of the farm has been sown down to wheat this year. The only other sowing we did was some hay pasture down on the Flat, and some resowing of the smaller horse/house cow/bull paddocks around the house.
Not too much has changed in regards to our animals. We are running roughly the same numbers of sheep and cattle as this time last year, although we do plan to purchase some more cows towards the end of the year. We still have Jackie and Clancy, our two kelpy dogs, as well as our cat Emma. And we still have a hodge podge array of chooks in the hen house, including two beautiful young ones that I fear are actually roosters…. We have three ferrets, two very friendly older males, and one young feisty female that will sink her teeth into you if you turn your back on her – we are working on winning her over, and getting her used to being handled.
Our two horses, Marley – little black shetland, and Rosco – large chestnut quarter horse, lead fairly quiet lives with regards to being ride. I am finding it hard to fit in much riding these days, but always love it when I do. Jazz has become quite confident riding Marley on her own, which is great.
We put the Rams out with the ewes on New Years Day, every year (occasionally the next day, depending on the night before!!). This has them ready for lambing on June 1st. For the last couple of months the nutrition of the ewes is crucial to the success of lambing. Ideally the ewes that are having twins are well fed to give their growing twins the best chance possible of a good birth weight. The ewes having a single lamb need to have their feed limited so their lambs don’t grow too big and cause birthing problems.
So… We scan our ewes six weeks or so before lambing to determine which ones are having singles and which ones are having multiples.
This is Matt, who does our scanning. This year we scanned at 127%, which is fairly normal for us, we are usually between 120 and 130%. We had 47 ewes that weren’t in lamb at all. Some of these were quite young, so will stay in the flock ready for next year. A handful were quite old so were “retired”!
October 2014 was my last post! I’ve thought about writing so many times, but it has always been a question of where to start!! But I figure if I don’t start, I never will so this post will just be a “where are we now” post!!
2015 was a very dry year for Balancing Rock Farm. We had below average rainfall all year, and spring, in particular, was exceedingly dry, meaning we headed into summer with less stock feed in the paddocks than we normally would. We did cut quite a bit of hay, so that has been very handy.
We currently have 500 ewes on the place, 9 rams and 20 head of cattle. The crop yields weren’t great last year, but not as bad as we were expecting, so that was nice.
The biggest news from last year was our decision to sell our milking cow Pickles. She had failed to get in calf after a few attempts, so looking from the practical side, not the emotional side, we decided we needed to look at a new one. Cam took it the hardest, he was very attached to her after spending many, many mornings with her out in the milking shed. But it just didn’t make sense to have a milking cow that you couldn’t milk! So…. Meet Marmalade
Jasmine and I went and picked her up from Warnambool and brought her home in my car! She was soon cute as a baby, as you can see from the last photo she has darkened quite a bit. We have also had the vet remove her horns as they were very sharp!
The other main addition to our menagerie is my horse, Rosco. With Jaz having her little pony, Marley, I was really keen to get back into riding myself, and thought it would be wonderful to be able to go riding together. We looked locally for many months, with no luck finding anything suitable – so finally contacted a friend in QLD who found us a great stock horse very quickly, and even arranged transportation of him down to Victoria. When he arrived his name was Colin – terrible name. So Ross was the name of our QLD friend, so the horse became Rosco. He’s only young, so quickly learnt his new name!
So we still have our two cats, Emma, the house cat and “Shed Cat”, the ah shed cat! Two dogs, Clancy and Jackie, two ferrets, Ben and Alfie, and umpteen hens, plus 3 roosters.
Not a lot has been happening around the garden in the last 12 months, mainly due to the lack of water for watering. We have no access to mains water where we are, so we totally rely on mother nature. There are two bores on the farm, which we can use for watering, however it is slightly salty, so I’ve quickly determined which plants are salt tolerant and which ones are not! The good news is we have built a very large shed on one end of our house, which has an enormous roof, and put a large water tank on the end of it to collect the rain. So fingers crossed we will be in a better position next summer with regards to stored water.
Tomatoes and eggplants were the only vegies I had growing this year, and they have both done well, so I have bottled lots of tomatoes, so we’ll be right for spaghetti sauce over the winter.
Well that’s a quick run down and where we are at at the moment on Balancing Rock Farm. Lets see how often I can keep this updated now!
We have seven calves on the ground so far. The first one was a fortnight ago. Most of the cows have had at least one calf previously,so we expected it to go fairly smoothly. But surprise, surprise, the very first calf had us a bit worried. I had been watching the cow all morning and could tell she was starting to go into labour. Knowing this particular cow was about to have her third calf, I expected it to be born after just a couple of hours, but after three hours I began to get suspicious. Sure enough when I had a closer look I noticed the calves hooves were coming out upside down. So either the calf was head first, but rotated, or it was the back legs. Either way, I thought we should have a closer look. We walked her carefully to the cattle yards, and after scrubbing up, I was able to determine that it was the back legs.
This is the second most common presentation of calves before birth, so I wasn’t overly concerned after all. We left her in the yards, to keep a close watch on her, ready to call the vet if the calf wasn’t born within the next couple of hours. Sure enough, after ducking inside to have some lunch, and when I came out to check on her afterwards, there was a gorgeous little black calf on the ground.
As soon as possible after the calves are born we ear tag them, with their regulation disk that is required when they’re sold as well as a tag that links them to our farm, and has a number of the year, and then a chronological number that matches the order in which they were born. So the first calf’s tag number is 401 (4 for 2014, and 01 because he’s the first one).
This is another one, just about to be tagged.
The majority of our cows are poll Herefords, however we have one jersey angus cross, and she has the daintiest little calves, very petite compared to the Hereford calves. Being a dairy cross she has an amazing bag of milk so her calves do catch up very quickly. This is this year’s calf.
When we planned our orchards, we planned on having one side of our farm driveway as an area for stone fruit, and also apples, pears, and figs. The other side was to be for grape vines and citrus. Well the first side has been in for about 5 years now, and is growing nicely. On the other side, we decided to first plant a couple of rows of natives to act as a wind break, as it does get a lot of wind from the south west.
Well the natives have been planted, so I visited our local nursery a couple of weeks ago, and picked up 6 varieties of grapes. I loaded to garden cart up with some fresh compost (the soil is not great over ther), the shovel, trowel, kneeling pad and grapevines, and headed over to plant them.
As I started digging the first hole, I noticed it was extremely wet. I knew we hadn’t had enough rainfall lately to account for this much moisture in the soil, and sure enough, when, I wandered up the hill, it got wetter and wetter until finally I traced it to a leaking water pipe.
Although it wasn’t that warm, Jessie, one of our kelpies, felt the need to cool down in the puddles. After digging a trench so the water could drain away, I discovered that a “t-piece” joiner had split, so I replace it, and that did the trick.
Unfortunately though the ground was waterlogged, so I had to wait a couple of days before I could get back to planting the grapevines. But they are all in now, and hopefully some warm spring weather will encourage them to shoot.
We have added to the menagerie – with a beautiful little black Shetland pony called Marley.
We had been looking for a few months, and actually saw her advertised on Facebook. They were offering a trial period so I felt we couldn’t really lose out. And as soon as we saw her everyone fell in love. She has a very gentle nature and loves to be around people. She is only 11hh, but she will be perfect for the kids to learn to ride on, particularly Jaz and Danny.
Being so little, and knowing how careful you have to be to not let ponies get over fat, we just kept her in the cattle yards, with some hay for the first couple of days – also, so she could get used to us, and our farm. But she was very happy to be let out with the cows.
As you can see Archie is a bit big for her, so now we will probably start looking for a larger pony, that will be more suitable for him (and also large enough for me to ride – I’ve been getting very envious of the kids, and would really love to be riding also!!). But in the meantime, Marley is great and we are loving having her!
We have wanted to plant about fifty native trees down this slope for a while now. We did plant some a couple of years ago, but it was at the end of spring and then we had a very dry summer and only about a dozen survived.
So Jasmine and I headed out one day last week – a very blustery day. In fact we just had every thing unloaded and were ready to start when it started raining and then HAILING! So we spent the next 15 minutes huddled in the ute, waiting for it to pass. This was our view…..
Their common names are:
Eucalyptus ficifolia – Red flowering gum
Eucalyptus sideroxylon – Red iron bark
Eucalyptus polyanthemos – Red box gum
Eucalyptus caesia – Silver princess gum
Banksia integrifolia – Coastal Banksia
And the tall one at the end is a Black Wattle, I’m not sure of its botanical name.
Here’s Jaz trying to get a tree out of its pot – some of them are very tough!
A tree in its hole…..
Jaz again, holding a collection of empty tree tubes.
And here’s a view of some planted….. We put juice cartons around them to protect them from the weather, and from rabbits!