As you can see in the photos below, the farm is looking green, but there is not much growth happening at the moment. The cloud juice (rain) has dried up since mid March, and with no rain forecast for at least another two weeks, mmmmmmm, it is getting rather tough for our sheep.

If it were not for our need to breed up as many sheep as we can, it is these tough times that I will in the future be using to find out which sheep are losing weight first and cull them. However, I have started putting out hay again (poor quality hay unfortunately) and I have started spreading small amounts of oats to help them get through the next few weeks.

Surprisingly the sheep are going quite well, but, worm numbers are rising and so all of the sheep will be getting drenched in the coming week. The worms won't be helping the sheep cope with these stressful times.

We are only getting 1-2 days grazing in each paddock at the moment. You can see the kikuyu is growing, but not thriving in these dry conditions. We have very little clover that germinated on the mid March rains, but ryegrass is hanging on at the moment. If I had not implemented a few weeks of containment feeding to allow the ryegrass and clover to get their roots down, they would not have survived the harsh time that was ahead of them.

Right now the 3-leaf ryegrass rule has gone out the window. We don't have the funds nor feed on hand to take all the sheep off the paddocks again for another few weeks. Kikuyu can cope with this stress as it is only taking 5-8 days to grow a few leaves again, but ryegrass can't. I am not worried about that because there is so much more ryegrass and clover waiting to germinate on the next rain.

The pastures will bounce back very quickly when it does rain and I expect we will quickly have the rotation times extended out to 3-4 days in a paddock, if it rains soon while the soil and air temperatures are still warm.

Lamb marking and weaning next week, and drenching all the sheep. It is going to be a busy week. We should officially have ~3,500 sheep on the 185ha property once we have counted the new lambs.

Ewes with unmarked lambs about to be shifted to the next paddock.

Those bare areas in the foreground are non-wetting soil patches. That is also the paddock with the ewes and lambs and were shifted into the background paddock.

This is the paddock the ewes and lambs were shifted into. Not much feed waiting for them unfortunately.

This is the Foxtrot paddock looking back towards the front of the farm. This paddock doesn't have much feed in it, but the 1265 green tag ewes (born 2019) were put into it one day later. They will only be there for two days.

A close up of the Foxtrot (above) paddock showing some ryegrass and kikuyu, but bare areas and not a lot of bulk.

It's been touch and go whether the rain we had in March that germinated some clover and a fair bit of ryegrass was going to be a false break or not. Thankfully most is still alive thanks to 7mm a few days ago. They were very blue and wilted up until that rain. Each day is a day closer to cooler and wetter weather! The deferred grazing is paying dividends in that it gave time for the clover and ryegrass to get some roots down before being grazed.

Right now with lambs at foot in two of our three mobs, the pastures are barely adequate to supply enough energy to the ewes. We are only getting 2-3 days grazing out of each paddock before we are moving them onto the next paddock. It is important we leave some leaves behind to help the pasture recover quicker and have something there to graze by the time the sheep have returned.

It's been a busy few weeks spreading lime before a decent rain comes, which is when I will be spreading some much needed nitrogen. I've not spread any nitrogen since late August last year. I didn't get an opportunity over summer to spread nitrogen to encourage the kikuyu to flourish and spread into the non-wetting areas, and build a thatch (which is what will cure the non-wetting problem). There was no summer rain that was big enough to wash the nitrogen into the ground. Urea is in the shed waiting. There is still no significant rain forecast that would be enough to take the risk in spreading it yet. The pastures are needing a nitrogen boost, and a drink.

Lime is one of the most important foundation inputs on this farm. That is why I went hard as soon as we had the farm, and we would not have grown the pastures we have so far without that expensive input. That was back in September 2018. Since the end of March 2020, I've been spreading another 3t/ha of high quality limesand, with some areas (peat areas mainly) receiving another 6-9t/ha. That takes all areas to a total of a minimum of 8.4t/ha in the past 19 months. The most acidic peat areas have received 18-24t/ha. Thankfully they are relatively small areas. No more lime should be needed now for a few more years, at least, and it will be the pH at depth (>30cm) that will determine when and if more lime is needed. It takes time for the lime to affect the pH at depth. Years. While we wait, the pastures will improve month by month whenever there is moisture.

I am going to refer back to photos that are shown below where lambs are at the back of the mob when we are moving them to a new paddock. It will be a sign if we have better genetics or not in the future. Right now, the mothering instincts of the Ultrawhites we have in our flocks are not strong enough for our system. There is no problem with them producing twins and triplets at any time of the year, but as you can see in the photos, too many ewes will leave their lambs behind. That is not the genetics I want and there will be a constant pursuit of genetics with much stronger mothering instincts, while still having the ability to produce twins and triplets at any time of the year. I am looking forward to infusing some Katahdin and SheepMaster genetics later this year, hopefully. These have very strong mothering instincts. In the meantime, we are culling any ewe that loses her lambs.

And as a final update to this blog, our sheep numbers. At the time of writing, we are down to having 49 rams, 2925 sheep and an estimated 500+ lambs yet to be marked, on our 185ha arable. Hopefully we won't be this low in the future as our pastures will be substantially better than they are now, the soil won't be as acidic at depth, and we will have better genetics in our sheep. We still have significant non-wetting soil areas that are not producing pastures. It is these areas that I am using every opportunity given to encourage the kikuyu to cover it. Hopefully we will receive rain soon while it is warm/hot to enable the kike to run and keep growing a thatch into those areas.

Kikuyu in our environment only needs dribs and drabs of rain to stay green over summer, and it booms when there is a decent rain and the weather is still warm. Clover and ryegrass however, are in a precarious position if they germinate on a March rain with kikuyu waiting to suck all the water away from them.

From 13th March to 19th March, we received 39mm, and 18mm of that was on 15th March (by 8am on 14th to 8am on the 15th). Those moist days have started some clover germination and a fair bit of ryegrass germination. However, they will need frequent follow up rain in this hot weather to survive when they are living with kikuyu - a grass on steroids when it is happy. Not much rain is forecast in the coming week, but we will see how it survives.

As mentioned in the previous update, all but one mob and half the rams were put into containment for a few weeks to allow the clover and ryegrass to have a chance to get their roots down. The intention is to move them back onto the paddocks next week when the clover and ryegrass should be 2-3 leaves. Lots of clover has not germinated yet, so hopefully it will pop up on the next decent rain.

Some photo's in the recent days are below.

14th March. 1300 green tags ewes with rams on the left grazing in Foxtrot paddock. In the foreground is the raceway they had been locked in for two days prior to eat it down. See what it looks like 14 days later in the next photo.

28th March. The raceway in the middle that had been grazed to the deck, Foxtrot on the left that had been grazed for 5 days more after the top photo, and neighbour on the right.

I am pleased with this section of Echo paddock. It was a very bad non-wetting area last year but has matted quite nicely. Unfortunately not all non-wetting areas are this good. Lots of work still to be done. This will be grazed in 14-17 days time.

A good example of grass grows grass. This is Romeo 3, a ram paddock that was not grazed down enough in time on the previous rotation. Now it is growing away from them on this rotation. Brown paddock on the right is where they came from that is wetter and still has areas where there is no kikuyu - too wet and still too acid.

This is the lambing ewe mob that have stayed in the paddocks. Raceway in the foreground that was recently grazed. 10 more days of lambing left in this mob.

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