It has been a long time since I have put pen to paper – some of it due to the weather conditions we have been experiencing and some of it due to the lethargy that the summer heat induced!
We have experienced severe summer heat here at The Oasis with but sporadic rainfall since Christmas. I guess what motivates me to write this now is that I firmly believe that we as custodians of the land have a duty to be in tune with it and to steward it accordingly. But first I have some observations – some of which could be met with incredulity on behalf of some – but that is not my problem. I am of the belief that we should never become stuck in dogma – for that closes our mind rather than opens it to the myriad and endless possibilities that are out there.
I personally am drawn to question everything – which is not how it always was! Once I had the belief that everything was black and white and that everything could be “changed” to fit into the box as required if I only tried hard enough! Life has a curious ability to grant us opportunities to let go of the Ego and to instead invite us to become as one with reality.
So what is reality? Reality is what is. Nothing more and nothing less. What does this have to do with this blog? Everything! Because I am drawn to question everything I spend my life querying all assumptions – both those that belong to others (society) and those that I have been attached to. I have always been deeply connected to Nature for I always found the environment, plants and animals to be more ‘real’ than people generally are. Kim’s and my journey into Biodynamics has only added to this as we have sought to understand the inter-relationship of everything in our awareness.
This journey has led me to observe that our sheep have the ability to forecast with incredible regularity the seasonal conditions for some time in advance. How? Since we stopped trying to manipulate lambing time by manipulating joining time to fit what we thought worked with rainfall and therefore growth patterns in the spring our sheep choose to lamb generally about mid-winter. And usually about 3 weeks before a reasonable rainfall event that aids in creating the minimal winter growth we experience on our poorly mineralised soils in extremely frosty conditions. (We are a summer growing season here predominantly)
Another thing we have observed is the preponderance or otherwise of the sex of the lambs being born. Last year in a dry very cold winter we had 86% ewe lambs which we always assumed meant a good season. It certainly was not looking like that until October – some three months later! And then we experienced a phenomenal three month growing season until just after Christmas. When we have a preponderance of female offspring it indicates a good season about three months in advance just as a majority of male offspring indicates the opposite.
What was most interesting to observe was that as our deciduous trees came into leaf rather later than usual due to the dry and cold winter they came out with only small leaves. This always indicates the growing season ahead and caused us some consternation as we were now going into a great rainfall and growth period and had had mostly ewe lambs! But we trust these observations that have occurred for some years now and so we knew a hard summer was coming. Which it did. With a vengeance!
What is the relevance of these seemingly random things?
In the last three months of 2017 we were drowning in grass – as were many in our region. The typical farmer rushed out to buy yet more very expensive livestock to make sure every blade of grass was constantly being mown for fear of wasting grass. We were preparing for the worst as the leaves on our deciduous trees were the smallest they have ever been in our time here and so that must mean something horrible was coming. So we resisted the temptation to increase stock numbers for the short term sake of managing pasture growth optimally, and instead grew much rank feed that is our standing hay stack. And I am very grateful for that.
As the searing heat led on into autumn most of our lambs went into the freezer with some cull ewes and the calf as we looked to the sky for rain. Just recently our replacements went also. We have a few ewes and 2 cows left that are locked in a couple of sacrifice paddocks that are predominantly Bladey Grass, Whiskey Grass, and Darby’s Oats. With supplementary feed (some cattle nuts) for the cows we have feed for approximately 20 days more and in the absence of rain creating some growth we may have to remove them all.
These are tough decisions to make. These ewes and cattle have been bred here and are ‘intelligent’ to our place. They understand our ethos and know how to be in this environment. We never have a need to teach our animals to eat weeds as is a huge trend in grazing around the world as they already know what and when to eat as they learn this from their elders. And they always pick out a smorgasboard as they know how to ensure their own optimum vitality when choice is available.
When I look around our region I sometimes question why I would consider total destocking at this time. I see no-one with the residual feed that we have. Most sheep enterprises and, unbelievably to me, most cattle enterprise are looking basically like bowling greens and our winter has only just started. What frightens me is the damage that has been done to the productive potential of those properties. There is only one thing that grows grass – and that is grass! Nothing else can do it.
So what happens when we eat the plant down to the crown? We not only get rid of the solar panel that is designed to create a free net energy gain in the presence of water and sunlight, but we also root prune it so that the roots no longer extend into the ground to access moisture, or create organic matter and aeration through their growth. Now we have no ability for water and air to get into the ground when the rains finally come; and no root exudates as a byproduct of photosynthesis to feed the soil foodweb that is designed to support life.
And then people will blame the drought for their woes. In fact they already are blaming the drought. The dry is not the problem – it is the management – or lack of - that is the problem. Whilst farmers manage only for short-term production to the exclusion of all else they are only hanging more millstones about their neck. I understand that farmers need to make money. But buying livestock at exorbitant prices when the seasons indicators demonstrate that the short term utopia we were experiencing before Christmas was not going to continue; and then holding on against all odds when they could have been off loaded for reasonable money still, in the hope that winter crop could be put in to feed them as there was no pasture left when the seasonal indicators were saying this is not normal. I despair.
To me my first priority as a land steward is to grow soil. If I grow soil it grows feed and that grows my animals and we all win.
The attitude that says we must try and grow animals at the expense of our feed and of our soil is nothing but environmental vandalism and a fast-track to bankruptcy and starvation. Every major civilisation that has dominated large tracts of the world has ended when it has destroyed the quality of its soil and the soil’s ability to provide proper nutrition to everything that is dependent upon it – Life!
Kim and I choose a different way. If we grow healthy living soil (and that is our first priority) then it will grow healthy vibrant plant life that will grow healthy vibrant animal life that all serves to nurture us and all of life.