The Farm

Lambing starts today

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……

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Where are we now….

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…..

The Farm

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.

The Menagerie

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.

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Scanning the Ewes

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”!

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Out of action for a long while!!!!

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!!

The Farm

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.

Hay cutting

Jessie the dog, watching the hay being cut.

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 Menagerie

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

Marmalade the jersey

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!

Horses Rosco and Marley

Here’s Rosco greeting Marley for the first time.

 

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.

 

The Garden

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!

 

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Calving has started!!!!

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.

09 Calving 01

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.

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Here he is just about to have his first drink…..

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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.

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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.

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So we only have four cows left to calve. One of these is a heifer (first timer) so she will be the one we need to keep a close eye on.

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Greening Australia!

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.

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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…..

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It finally cleared and we were able to get started. Here are the species of trees we were planting.

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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!

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A tree in its hole…..

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Jaz again, holding a collection of empty tree tubes.

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And here’s a view of some planted….. We put juice cartons around them to protect them from the weather, and from rabbits!

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Easier to feed now!

I mentioned in the last post that we are up to five orphan lambs now, which makes it very tricky for one person to feed them. A few years ago we invested in a milk feeder that will feed 5 at a time, and we’ve used it nearly every year since. One year we actually saved 7 lambs, which was manageable because I could feed 5 with the feeder and then a bottle in each hand!

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A nosey chook in the background!!

And here’s the view from above……

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Five bottle lambs now!!

So we have five orphaned lambs now! The original one, Mischeifa, is going great. He’s grown lots, and is really fit and healthy. The second two lambs we got were named Bobby, and Boris. They were both found off by themselves on different days, and quite weak. Not sure why – we have had a few sets of triplets this year, and sometimes the weakest one can get left behind. Anyway, they both took to the bottle very quickly.

The last two I came across on the morning of the Chook Pen Disaster! It had been a terribly wet, cold and windy night, and when I found them they were very, very weak and barely alive. In both cases their mums were standing over them, urging them to get up, but I knew they wouldn’t last another hour if I didn’t take them home and warm them up.

20140707-152041.jpg Here they are in front of the fire, with Jaz keeping an eye on them while I make up their milk. You can see how weak they look! The big one I don’t think had been up since being born as he still had the orange birth fluid on one side where he was lying and the ewe couldn’t get to it to lick it off. Maybe it was a difficult birth as he is quite big. The smaller one looked to be a couple of days old.

When they are so weak like this, they can’t drink from a bottle, so I had to “tube” them. We have a special small, thin tube, that is attached to a little cup.

20140709-102530.jpg To use it, you first measure the distance from the last rib (roughly where the stomach is) to the end of the lambs mouth, so that you know how far the tube needs to be inserted. For the big lamb, it needed to go in right up to the cup, but there was a couple of cm left with the little lamb. I always grease the tube first with a bit of vegetable oil, to help it to slide down easier.

When the lamb is lying on their side their side like this you open their mouth using a finger in the side of their mouth and place the tube over their tongue, towards the back of their throat. Then you need to gently keep passing the tube through to the stomach. I usually check for signs of swallowing, which is a reflex action that even very weak lambs will do as the tube passes down their throat, and this is a good way to tell that you havn’t accidentally gone down the windpipe. Also, the lungs are closer up the body than the stomach, so you probably wouldn’t be able to get the tube down all the way, if you had entered the windpipe. Often you can also hear a weezing sound of their breathing if you are in the wrong pipe.

Once you have the tube inserted correctly you lift the cup and pour in the milk. I was actually able to catch one of the ewes of these lambs, which I always try to do if I can, so I can milk some colostrum from them. The more colostrum the lambs get the better their chance for survival. So both these lambs got colostrum for their first couple of feeds. I usually only give about 30ml for each of the first few feeds, so their stomach has time to adjust -little and often!

Depending on how weak the lamb is they may struggle and try and maneuver it out with their tongue or by shaking their head. This is a good sign – it means they have some fight in them still, but even ones that don’t, can still be saved! It usually only takes a few tube feeds and then you get a surprise when you suddenly hear a loud bleat. Before you know it they are starting to stand up, and then you can start trying to train them onto the bottle!

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Here they all are, out in the paddock. Today we are going to set up a multifeeder for them, as it is hard work feeding five lambs with bottles. It takes at least two of us, ideally three! Jasmine gives them plenty of love!

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Lambing continues…..

We had another lovely day yesterday (today is exceptionally cold, rainy and windy!! Great winter weather), so I couldn’t resist grabbing my camera as I headed out to check the lambing ewes.

Lamb photo

I love this shot of this little lamb, high on the hill. It looks like he’s all alone, but his mum was just out of shot, keeping a careful eye on him as she was grazing.

 

Twin lambs photo

A brand new set of twins. As you can see they actually come out covered in an orange film, which the ewe then licks off them, usually within the first few hours.

Lambing photo

They are pretty content overall at the moment, particularly here: warm sunshine, plenty of fresh green feed, and new babies to love!

Look away now if you don’t like gory/ unfortunate photos. This little lamb has had its tail bitten off by a fox. He obviously has a very brave ewe as a mum as she was able to frighten the fox away before he could completely drag the lamb away. We occasionally see lambs that this has happened to, not often. Usually I suspect the fox manages to drag the lamb away completely.

Twin lamb photo

The lamb on the left has the end of its tail missing, due to a fox trying to drag it away.

I managed to catch this little fellow, just to make sure that it was okay, and not injured anywhere else. Besides his tail, he was fine. He could still run around, and suckle, so I know he’ll survive. One of the lucky ones!

Its hard to gauge how many lambs we lose to foxes. We occasionally see lamb carcasses in the paddock that have been chewed on, but I suspect that they have died due to a natural cause, and the damage we see is actually the hawks, eagles or crows pecking at the lamb after it has died – getting an opportunity feed. I think when a fox takes a lamb it actually drags it back to its den, to share with the rest of its family. Overall we’re pretty happy with how it’s all going.

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Crutching the Rams

It is a blustery, wintery day here today. Cold, wet and windy! Our winter equinox was on the weekend, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that we are getting winter weather – but it makes going outside very unappealing!

We crutched our rams on the weekend, which was a job we had been putting off for a while now, so it was great to get it done.

Crutching is the process of shearing the wool off the back end of the sheep only, predominantly around the tail and in front of the hind legs. We do this for a couple of reasons – firstly, with the ewes, removing the wool around the udder makes it much easier for the new lambs to find the teat when they are first born. Secondly, and possibly more importantly when the wool around the tail gets long, it can get very dirty from faeces, which attracts the flies once the weather starts warming up. If you have ever seen a fly-blown sheep you will know how awful it is, and why we try to avoid it all cost.

The bulk of the ewes were done back at the start of April, which is the plan every year, ie just prior to lambing. We employ someone to do this for us, as it takes a couple of days to get through the entire mob. Usually we would get the rams done at the same time, but this year they were way up in a hill paddock, and we ran out of time to get them home.

Anyway we brought them home on Saturday, and crutched them on Sunday. Here’s the first one up on the board. Cam is holding it on its rump, and he’s about to bend down and shear around the tail. You can see how dirty it is  – considering he was completely shorn in November.

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We only have 12 rams, but it still takes a couple of hours as they are such big animals. So they are heavy and very hard to maneuver. It’s also a long reach all the way down to their rump! Poor Cam was exhausted after each one.

Here’s some of them with their nice clean, newly shorn bottoms!!

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