Farming Organically - Healthy Soil = Healthy Pasture = Healthy Animals.
Previously, our 4 hectare block had been part of a large farm, and although not organic, it had been very well cared for so we were lucky to start with good fertile pasture. As well as rye grass, we had a good coverage of clovers and a fair wack of yarrow, which naturally adds selenium to the soil. We over planted this further with a herbal ley containing among other things chicory, poppy, parsley, plantain and sorrel. The idea was to give our cattle a variety of plants to eat providing them with a varied source of different vitamins and minerals.
We have experimented with a variety of organic fertilizers over the years and have found the most success from one we make up ourselves which contains a combination of seaweed, comfrey and worm tea. The seaweed and comfrey are steeped separately in barrels. The worm tea comes from one of two worm farms, the larger of which we have created ourselves using an old unused metal bath. We feed our worms on kitchen and garden fruit and vegetable scraps, and regular generous top ups of well rotted cow manure.
Once a year we spray EM1 on our pastures as a soil conditioner. EM1 is a combination of anaerobic effective micro-organisms which work on the soil and pasture by stimulating biological activity. We add EM1 to a brew of molasses and artesian water, which is warmed on a brewers heat mat to activate. We then water it down further and add to the sprayer on the back of our quad for spraying on the paddocks. This mixture is also effective when used in the vegetable garden, orchard and even on our flower gardens.
For stock rotation, we have divided our block into seven pastures and move them on every week or so. We find this works well as paddocks are never allowed to get overgrazed allowing quick recovery of pasture. We have also found that faster rotation helps to reduce worm count as worm numbers are not given a chance to build up. This is particularly important as we do not use conventional drenches but instead add apple cider vinegar in the cattle troths to help strengthen the animals immune and digestive systems and add garlic powder to calf nuts to help with reduced parasites. We also use cider vinegar in the water for our chickens for the same reason.
We are lucky to have two areas of native wetlands on our property. The largest, covering nearly a hectare, we have fenced off from all our stock to encourage further regeneration. It contains many native species, some of which are very rare. DOC have even gathered seed from some of these rarer species to propagate in their own native nurseries. One of the highlights of these wetlands each spring is the ever increasing mass of white native Clematis which flower profusely. In spring and summer the great plumes from the native toetoe are a sight to behold. The second, smaller and less significant wetland we have incorporated into a paddock so that the cattle can access the flax and native grasses growing there, as it too is a natural wormer and health tonic for them.
To treat external parasites we pour a thin coating of peanut oil along the backs of all our lovely quiet highland cattle. The oil will attract any parasites, which in turn will suffocate in the sticky oil.
One of the first things we did when we purchased our block, some 14 years ago now was to plant fruit and nut trees and some large stands of Eucalypts to keep us in firewood. The Holly which grows like a weed here has kept us in firewood until the Eucalypts are large enough to take over. Our Highlands put their horns to good use to hook the lower growing prickly branches of the Holly which they love to munch.
We have raised, and well rabbit fenced, vegetable beds and a glass house and poly tunnel to extend our vegetable growing season. Our garden provides us with vegetables year round as we freeze and dehydrate seasonal vegies and make preserves and chutneys from our excess. We keep carrots in the ground over winter and despite the harsh winters we experience here, we had fresh salads throughout last winter from a constant supply of rocket which grew out of one of our compost heaps and parsley which self seed readily throughout our herb garden. The rhubarb grows enormous on chicken and cow manure and we have discovered it freezes really well when cut into one inch pieces and stored in nothing but fruit juice. The juice makes a great job as a sweetener and there is no need to add any extra sugar.
We have been experimenting with some of our potato crop and growing them in the left over baleage from the previous winter. This is working really well and provides us with a huge crop of healthy and clean potatoes.
At the end of winter we open our vegetable gardens to our last seasons roosters to forage the nitrogen fixing greens we plant over winter and any remaining last years crops. In return they cultivate and manure our garden beds ready for spring planting.