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

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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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Its A Bit Wet

Well its not flooding in Moree but its still very very wet and its making it a bit tricky to get around the farm or just get any where, including up the driveway where I had water go over the bonnet of my Holden ute (water wasn’t moving only risk was electronics failure and a short walk in the rain). By around lunch time today we’d had 100 millimetres of rain and counting but it seems to have stopped now, worried that it might keep raining and cut the road I made the mistake of going out to the farm to drop in my time sheet and then decided to stick around and take a few photos.  Three hours later I was still there.

I was tagging along with manager and the other two fellas who had came into work, water was backing up into the cotton fields and had to be moved quickly to stop water logging. It is a challenge that is a lot easier said then done as the backing up water wasn’t just from the rain falling on the fields and the farm but it was also from the water that was rushing across from the neighbouring property. Even with pumps going at full pace and the gates fully open water was still managing to run over the drop boxes and blow out some channels. The majority of gates are hand operated but some need a hydraulic pump that it run off the ute’s gear box, its a great help for opening some of the real big gates on the property. The water also made it a real challenge to get around.

Just going up the driveway was a big enough challenge with the mud and the neighbours run off giving my commodore a bit of trouble (again there was no danger even though it was fast flowing water it wasn’t deep and the only risk was getting bogged and a awkward phone call), but the commodore powered through and made it to the shed. When I got the shed I got it the old 1996 Toyota Hilux, its an old thing and really battled in spots to get through when the speedo was reading a very optimistic 30 kmph, the engine revving over 4000 rpm, steam coming off the bonnet and more smoke coming out the exhaust then a steam engine. We didn’t get bogged but there where a few close calls and we got very close to the edge of some channels at various times.

We eventually got all the gates set up and water was starting to drain, so as soon as we were back at the shed I jumped soaking wet into my ute and heading straight out the gate. With over 100 millimetres of rain we’ll be able to skip an irrigation so I’ll have a bit of spare time on my hands, I got a fair bit of video footage so I’ll probably try and put them together into some sort of video.

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A Bit Of Variety

Wednesday night was the last night of this irrigation cycle with day shift wrapping up the final field Thursday afternoon, so it was an early start on Friday to go chipping. Volunteer cotton from last season was coming up in one of the refugee crops and needed to be removed, the only way to remove it is to chip it out so we had to walk up and down the rows and chip out the volunteer cotton and weeds with a hoe. Its not the best job to do but it needs to be done.

Luckily for me I got asked to change the points (the bits that go through the dirt) on a plough halfway through the morning, I always find it amazing that dirt can wear down metal as quickly as they do so its all ways some thing that need to be watched. While the plough was in the shed we gave it a full check over finding a couple of loose tines and a sheared pin, soon it was all fixed and ready to go back to the field.

The last couple of days have brought rain to the area, its not really what you want to have just after irrigation as it can water log the cotton but it can’t be controlled so you just have to look on the brighter side as it’ll help save a bit of water by putting of the next irrigation for a few extra days. More rain is still predicted for tonight and the next few days and should make it very wet and slippery but again it will help to save water and we may even get a bit of run off.

To see all the sights of the farming world check out Farming Photo’s or The Farm Gallery

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Getting Wild

The weather has really rolled in the past few nights, with lighting storms hammering the area two nights ago making for some spectacular sights but at the same time causing large amounts damage. Winds that were up to 90 kmph dropped trees all around Moree with some falling on power lines and knocking out the power with them, lighting also took its toll on the power lines blowing up a pole near where we were working. The sight was incredible and all over in under a second even though it seemed to go on for minutes, there was the loud crack of the thunder and the pole lit up like a Christmas tree, then this bright glow travelled across the wire to the next pole before it lit up as well. Understandably we high tailed it back to shed after that, taking refuge for a while until the storm passed.

Last night the storms rolled in again bringing more rain and lightening and once again knocking out the power, although the rain looked promising at the start it was unfortunately not enough to stop irrigation, just enough to make the road very slippery and difficult to drive around on. It also made us busier as the water was getting through the fields a lot quicker than normal, so they needed to be changed more often keeping us in a constant loop of field changes.

So I’m still irrigating on night shift which is why I’ve started to focus more on how we grow cotton in recent posts, other wise I would of run out of things to write about weeks ago. Irrigation is just a cycle and moves around in circles starting back up as soon as we finish leaving not a lot of variety to right about, so I hope you’ll enjoy more articles about how we grow cotton instead of what I’m doing.

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Home For Christmas?

The rain has come down, the river has come up and I could be stuck. Heavy rain over night has caused the river to rise significantly cutting us off from half the station and the road to town, its also backing up some of creeks on the station causing us to be cut off again (but I’ll get to that later). With all the rain we went to pull a pump up the bank before the river rose too far but we were too late it was already up and were cut off from it making trip a bit of waste and leaving the freshly cleaned ute muddy again.  Following this we went into  Yarralin to pick up our panel yards and take them home, with the exception of a few storms hanging about it was uneventful until the trip back. One of the creeks we had to cross was dry on the way out but two hours later on the trip back it had risen to point were it was almost impossible for the manager to pass in the ute, luckily he got through by following the truck I was driving. Hopefully the rain will hold off tonight and I’ll get through tomorrow.

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Water Water Water

We can’t live with out it and neither can the cattle which can make keeping the water up to them a never ending mission. The new turkey nest is still not at level were it can supply the troughs so i’m still manually carting water to them 1000 liters at time, although this sounds like a lot of water it disappears quickly when your watering a few hundred head of cattle. One of our main pumps has also been having some problems continually shutting down with out explanation, it turns out the intake pipe has been sucking in and closing up causing the pump to stall, with this fixed its now supplying the dam with water again and not a moment too soon as it has already dropped in level. Their are storms all around Humbert tonight so hopefully one of them will drift onto us bringing much needed rain.

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