The Kangaroo, A Icon, A Pest and A National Identity

Old Skippy is never shy of a bit of publicity, he appears on our coat of arms, he had his own TV show and appears on countless other Australian products along with some that are trying to be passed off as Australian. But has our attachment to this national identity clouded our sense of reason when it comes to managing this animal?

While the kangaroo is a iconic Australian animal it can also be a major pest to farmers particularly in dry years as large numbers of kangaroos can quiet easily decimate a wheat crop and compete with stock for feed; leading to overgrazing and land degradation. This was highlighted when a military base out side of Canberra had to cull kangaroos to put a stop to the overgrazing and land degradation, however while there was a genuine environmental reason for this cull it still attracted world wide coverage and protests by mostly well meaning but ill-informed people.

I always known that there has been opposition to kangaroo culls and the kangaroo trade but I never really paid much attention to the information they were pushing with it until someone retweeted a tweet from @Boycott_Aussie. The twitter page Boycott Australia has put out over 20,500 of pure rubbish to their 40 followers (how they have that many I don’t know), including there latest example “Do you know Australia tells it’s citizens to kill every kangaroo they see because they are garbage?”. Where’d they pull that from? Activists have been know to be a bit loose with the facts but that is taking things to a whole new level in my opinion, however this group is probably the most extreme of the extreme and is reflected in their following on twitter.

However some things they claim is reflected in many other activist websites, the main claim is that they are near non-existent and on the brink of extinction; I’ll just quote The Kangaroo Protection Coalition “Many Australians who have lived in rural Australia for several years, cannot remember seeing a single kangaroo in the wild”.  Again where do they get this information from? Tabloids do a better job at fact checking. A quick drive out of town would soon put that myth to rest as it usually doesn’t take long to spot one on the side of the road. Just from my own experience last weekend when I went out pig shooting, I failed to find a single pig (plenty of signs though) but saw countless kangaroo’s resting under trees and grazing the grass (In case your wondering I only shot them with my camera). Now if we’re going use peoples personal experience of animals in the wild to assess their vulnerability lets use mine; I’ve only  ever seen 5 Koalas in the wild and its official listing is vulnerable, I’ve seen four Short Billed Echidnas which are classified as Least Concern and one Bare-Nosed Wombat is not listed on the threatened species list (accidentally set up my hoochie next to its burrow, I was left wondering what the red eyes belonged to that were staring at me as I climbed into my sleeping bag). So really a persons individual experience bares little relevance on the animals population.

So instead of devoting time and resources to a animal that is doing well for itself why aren’t these people out promoting some lesser known and lesser iconic but still critically endangered Australian species; have you ever heard of the Short-nosed Sea Snake? I hadn’t till five minutes ago, no specimens have been sited since 2000, yea I know what your thinking but that’s a snake its no where as cute as a kangaroo. Well then what about the Gilbert’s Potoroo? There’s only 40 left alive, again I had never heard of until five minutes ago. Endangered animals include the Woylie, Quoll, Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, Dibbler, Various species of bandicoot and the list goes on. Surely these lesser known but endangered animals are worth as much if not more time than the kangaroo.

While I still believe and maintain that the kangaroo is a icon of national importance and must be protected to a extent, their is still room for culling programs and harvesting to help protect the environment, crops and pastures. I also believe that the people who campaign so hard for the Kangaroo should work to direct their effort towards raising awareness and promoting the protection of other lesser known endangered Australian species. Feel free to leave your comments and opinions below as I’m keen to hear what people have to say on this issue.

You'll Step In Front Of A Truck For Me

You’ll Step In Front Of A Truck For Me

But Have You Heard Of Me?

But Have You Heard Of Me?

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Back At It

Yes that’s right I’ve got two weeks break from uni so I’m back in Moree and back at work. Which means that today’s post is coming to you live from the tractor. Unfortunately because its live from the tractor there’s bound to be a few typos due the bumpy ride as I type it on my iPhone, so I’ll apologise in advance.

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It’s all go go go here at the moment we’ve got the cotton picker charging ahead in the field with the three tractors following up behind preparing the soil for the next crop.

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When the cotton is picked the cotton picker leaves the plant mostly in tack so the first machine to go through the field after the picker is the slasher-root cutter. This machine slashes the cotton plant above ground and cuts the roots below ground to stop it coming back in the following season. After the cotton has be slashed the ground needs to be prepared for the next crop.

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As this is a irrigation property we don’t use zero till in the irrigation blocks, instead we need to put hills in so the plants have a good seed bed and there are furrows for the water to flow down. To do this we run a plough through once and figs the furrows while building up the hills. However these hills still aren’t a great seed bed and need one final machine to finish it off.

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When the hills are formed the tops are narrow, uneven and filled with clods of earth. To fix this and make it suitable for planting a roller needs to be run over them which flattens out the tops and helps to break up the clods of firth leaving it ready for next season’s crop.

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Again I’d like to apologise for any typos as it is difficult to type while in the tractor. As always if you have any questions or want to leave a comment feel free to do so below and make sure you check out the latest Cotton Career this weeks is Ag Pilot.

What Is Going On?

WARNING CONTAINS RANT

Yes that’s right I’m sorry I’m doing this, I do try and keep the blog level and free of opinion and full of facts but the media during the last couple of weeks has lead me to this. We’ve got drones in the air, rangers calling for bullet proof vests, undercover activists and glass in gumboots, honestly what the hell is going on? has the country just lost its mind?

Lets start with the drone, Animal Liberation has just spent $14,000 on a new drone to spy on farms to certify organic and free range statuses as well look for breaches of Animal Welfare so they can report them to the RSPCA. For a start I think that’s its just a complete waste of money, a grab for headlines and probably Australia’s most expensive clay pigeon. My biggest fear with them flying drones over farms and around stock is that they’ll get a lot of footage of stressed stock and use it against us, not because stock is stressed because of poor Animal Welfare but because some bright spark is dangling a drone on top of them to check for stress and AW issues, but they won’t let couple of facts won’t get in the way of a good story. Also $14,000 is a lot of money to spend on something that won’t necessarily improve anything, so wouldn’t putting it towards fixing a issue that has already been identified be a better use for the money?

Another thing that was making headlines this week was park rangers calling for bullet proof vests to issued for when the National Parks are opened for hunting. Now I believe that no matter what a persons personal view of hunting is there is no need for bullet proof vests to be issued to park rangers as it is completely irrational and nothing more than a head line grabber. Statistically shooting is a very safe sport between 1997 and 1999 16 people died in accidental shootings while in 2012 284 people drowned, yet no one wants it banned and it shouldn’t be people should be able to have the freedom to swim if they want to just as qualified people should be allowed to hunt if they so choose. I firmly believe that if parks are opened up to hunters it will benefit pest control measures already in place and will be able to be carried out without risk to park staff, visitors or other hunters.

While on the topic of hunting the activist group Coalition Against Duck Shooting or CADS sent under cover activists complete with shotguns into the wetlands this year to monitor the duck  hunting. Again is this really necessary? Isn’t this just taking things too far and where do they draw the line?

Today I read a press release from the Victorian Farmers Federation after the link was posted on twitter (http://www.vff.org.au/media_centre/detail.php?id=1502&order=0) which described how a Victorian egg producer was raided by activists which left glass from a broken bottle in a row of Gumboots. It is just simply dangerous not only to the farmer but employees and potentially the farmers children, what drives people to do that? There is no reason to try and physically harm a person just because you may disagree with what they do or how they do it, I also wonder how these groups are meant to be taken seriously if they are going to about breaking into farms and booby trapping peoples work wear.  At what point will the line be drawn? How long till someone gets hurt in one of these raids gone wrong or in a trap left by them? And on a very serious note if a activist injured themselves on one of these raids would the farmer be liable?

Again I’m sorry but I couldn’t help myself these activist are just going too far into the extreme zone, next week I go on uni break for two weeks so I’ll be back to work right in the heart of the busy picking season. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some more pictures of the pickers at work and I might even be able get inside  a cotton gin so I can show you all what happens to the cotton once it has left the field.

 

They’re A Bit Feral

Its been a while since my last post and I’m sorry about that but I’ve been fairly busy with uni work. With no farm work to write about I’m going to try and write at least one post a week focusing on farming practices and issues around farming, so this week I’m writing about feral animals.

Feral Animals have been building up in the wild since the colonisation of Australia in 1788 when the first fleet introduced 7 horses, 29 sheep, 74 pigs, 6 rabbits and 7 cattle to Australian environment. Since then goats, foxes, buffalo, donkey’s, cats and wild dogs have taken hold in the Australian environment decimating stock numbers and causing huge amounts of environmental damage, the cost is so great that the Invasive Animals CRC estimates that feral animals cost Australian’s $720 million each year. But there are some that I think do more damage than others.

Feral Animals Come In All Different Shapes And Sizes

Last weekend I went back to our family farm at North Star in Northern NSW, recent rain has left it green and full feed but it has also given the local population of pigs a place to play. Everywhere I drove there where signs of pig activity with tracks, wallows and rutted up ground littering the property. Feral pigs destroy infrastructure (fences), damage crops, spread disease, contribute to soil erosion, water purification while competing with live stock for resources. Feral pigs have even been known to prey on lambs as well as other native animals, their impact on Australia and its environment is so great that they are estimated to cost Australian’s $100 million a year.

Fortunately there is a market for feral pigs which provides an incentive for people to trap them, helping to lower their numbers and potential damage. But this isn’t always enough and other measures often need to be used such as baiting and aerial culling, baiting can be a effective and cost efficient method if carried out properly over large area with the cooperation of multiple landholders. Aerial culling has also proved to be an expensive but an effective method of controlling feral pig numbers if used in conjunction with other land holders, we have used it a couple of times on our own property and it has always yielded great results with over 200 pigs taken in a hour on our small 2000 acre farm.

The rabbit has been the blight of farmers since 1859 when Thomas Austin first released 24 rabbits into the Australian bush for sport on his Victorian property “Barwon Park”. While in hindsight his efforts to make Australia more like England is one of the worst decisions in Australia’s environmental history but at the time it seemed to be a reasonable idea as rabbits had been released into England from France with no major effects on the environment and were a popular form of sport hunting. Unfortunately Australia has a completely different environment to England causing the rabbit to have a huge destructive impact on the Australian environment.

One of The Most Famous Photos of Rabbits in Australia

Rabbits cause of wide range of damage to the environment and farms across Australia, they reduce carrying capacity on farms by competing for feed, damage crops, eat shrubs and plants reducing ground cover adding to erosion. This all cost Australian farmers over $110 million in damages and control.  Biological controls have proved to be the most effective control option for the rabbit population with Myxomatosis (1950) and the Calicivirus (1991) both having a devastating impact on rabbit populations when they were released into Australia, however after the release of Calicivirus scientists said there was a ten year window to find another biological control and finish them off once and for all, but now that window is closed and rabbit numbers are back on the rise. So other control methods  such as fumigation, baiting, shooting, trapping and warren ripping are used with varying effectiveness.

The Old Days

Wild dogs and foxes are estimated to cost Australian farmers $65 and $35 million each year in losses and control, they are a major contributor to stock losses in both sheep and cattle, they increase stress amongst the heard and have the potential to host disease. The fox was originally introduced to Australia for sport hunting and since spread right across the Australian mainland, while the feral dog is the result of interbreeding between domestic dogs and the dingo which was brought to Australia from Asia by the Aboriginal people. The impact of feral dogs can clearly be seen when cattle are brought into the yards, many are missing ears or tails and are covered in scars. The impact of foxes on lambs is just as significant, as young lambs are no match for the quick agile foxes that easily take them down. The main control methods for foxes and dogs are shooting, trapping and baiting; they each work to varying degrees of success depending on how well they are carried out. In 2011 the Victorian government committed $4 million to the establishment of a bounty on wild dogs and foxes with $100 dollars being paid for a wild dog and $10 for a fox, while it met opposition from various groups bounty’s have proved to be successful with the 2002-03 bounty turning in 198,000 foxes.

Feral Dogs on a cow carcass, taken with a remote camera

Unfortunately I don’t have the time to write about all the feral pests threatening Australian farms and the environment but I feel these are some of the main ones. Please feel free to comment, ask questions or share your own stories below. I’ll try and keep writing at least one post a week.

One of My Own Feral Encounters

One of My Own Feral Encounters

Last Round

That’s it we’re done, irrigation is over for another year, so no more walking the rows, no more starting and pulling siphons and no more raking the trash racks, its also my last week for the season before I head off to start uni. But there’ll still be plenty to do in that week between chipping and preparing rigs for ground prep and getting ready to plant winter crops as well as the many other tasks, so we won’t won’t be letting up any time soon.

The last irrigation was finished in record time but it wasn’t with out mishap though, unfortunately we had we blow out on one of the channels two days into the irrigation but it fixed quickly with the loader. We also arrived one morning to find a pump choking on its own air filter, it was blowing smoke so thick that I thought the pump site was on fire when driving up the driveway, but again it was a quick fix with just a simple change of air filter needed.

The cotton is coming along pretty good with all the lower bolls opening up on the plants, the rest should be open very soon with picking predicted to start in about seven weeks. Defoliation will probably start in late February after the top bolls have opened up, defoliation is a process where a chemical is sprayed on the cotton to make the leaves fall off so contamination is reduced during picking. But when picking time comes I’ll explain all of this in more detail.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately, thanks for reading if you have any questions or want to leave your thoughts please feel free to leave them in the comment section, check out our new page “The Lighter Side” and the new photos on “Farming Photo’s“.

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The Pitch

I’ve been a bit strapped for time lately and am writing this post on my phone during my lunch break. So this post won’t have pictures and isn’t about what I’ve been up to or a explanation of some aspect of farming, it’s just simply an idea.

Reality tv shows like “Big Brother”, “The Block”, “Masterchef” and “The Amazing Race” are all over the TV and I really think there’s not a lot of reality in them. What I think would make better reality TV is a show is where they get a family or a couple of people from the city and get them to try and run a farm. I believe that not only would this make better tv then a mind numbing episode of “Big Brother” but it would also help to bridge the Rural-Urban divide as it would highlight some of the difficulties involved in running a farm as well as showing the public the processes involved in growing last nights dinner or the clothes they’re wearing. So how would this work.

I think it’d probably work best if you set it on a mixed cropping and livestock farm so it covers more than just sector of agriculture. The people should be from the city or a urban area with little farming experience, before starting they’ll need to go through a crash course in farming covering things like basic maintenance, machinery operation and livestock handling. They’d then get introduced to the farm and the machinery before been given a budget and told to make a profit, if they succeed it could be used as the prize money. But making a show like that wouldn’t be without its difficulties.

The main trick to pulling this off would be in the organisation of it, with the two main difficulties being time and money. You would need to over a period of at least a year so there’d be a years worth of footage to sort through as well as a years wages for the camera crew and people working on the show, machinery and lease of the land also needs to be paid for. But a project like this should be able to attract a bit of support and sponsorship from agricultural organisations and companies, helping to cover some of the costs involved and making it more viable.

This show would take a lot of effort to make, but I’d still be better than most other reality tv programs and would help to promote Ag.

Anyway that’s just my idea, maybe somebody in the tv industry will see this and think its alright. Feel free to leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section, I should have a bit more spare time in a couple of days so you I’ll be able to catch you up on everything that’s been going on then.