Cascade of hurdles

Updated: 2 days ago

A new update has just been emailed to all current shareholders in Caluka Farms, so check your email inbox. It has some very important things for you, and details our plans for growth. Exciting times are ahead.


Before I write another blog on what has been happening on the farm, I wanted to tell a little story. It's a story every farmer will have a similar one of, and if you don't, keep farming and you will. :-).


It's how a cascade of disasters can happen so quickly. Before you think the following disaster is the whole farm, it isn't. It was one mob out of our five mobs, though it is impacting negatively a little on three of the other four mobs because they should have had some extra paddocks available to them by now.


So, our trade merino and suffolk sheep mob arrived in mid September 2019. The agent said there was no need to drench and quarantine them on arrival because they had just received a weanerguard injection (long last intestinal worm control plus vaccinations). So I said OK. That was my first mistake that lead to all the other dominoes that could fall. Sigh.


So out into the paddocks they went on the back half of the farm where we were keeping all the trade sheep. The front half of the farm had our mobs of ewes, weaners and rams. It was spring time and the pasture was lush, very lush. October came and that is our peak pasture growth month. The feed was growing much faster than the sheep could eat it. All looked OK.


As per my promise to Reneé, my wife who originated in the USA, mid-October to early December I took her back to the USA to see her squillion relatives and friends. On my return (5th Dec), we brought the trade sheep into the yards and they could hardly walk. Several had died and all made a beeline for water troughs. It was hot, but there was obviously something very wrong. I took poo samples (Faecal egg counts to be politically correct) and got the results back that day. Average of 1,800/g. No wonder they were in bad shape.


So we drenched them with a multi mix of drenches and had to put them back in the next worm infested paddock of their rotation because we had no containment areas set up. So on the phone I go to organise a fencing contractor, more cup & saucer water troughs, lick feeders, pellets, lupins and hay. More hurdles now began.


Fencing contractor couldn't come until mid January. Water troughs were not available until mid January at the earliest. Lupins were nigh on impossible to acquire, but I did get some pellets and hay. Lick feeders would be a few weeks away. So my plan then was to keep the trade sheep in one paddock and then when the feed was eaten down, start giving them hay and pellets until the lick feeders arrive and I can lock them in the yards until the fencing contractor comes and builds the containment areas.


Mmmm. Life had other plans. Lick feeders arrived before Christmas, but couldn't use them because they were put together wrong. Sigh. They would come and fix them after New Years. Arrggg. Sigh. So I had to put the sheep in another paddock and feed them hay and pellets.


Then 2pm on Christmas Eve, our JCB telehandler that I'd been using to shift hay and pellets, died while driving it. Sounded like a dead battery. Went to jump start it, but the engine would try to turn over, but wouldn't. So rang machinery dealer. Christmas party had finished and they were shut for the week. Sigh. Rang some neighbours and others if they had a tractor I could borrow. All were away, or using it themselves. Too late to try hiring one as Christmas shut down had begun. Sigh. Managed to get a truck to come and take the JCB to the dealer the following week (before New Years). Fused bearing in one of the two right angle gear boxes was the cause apparently - but oil and all other fluid levels were good. More on that later.


Sheep obviously needed another drench and many were still very weak, and a few dying every day. Panic stations. Fortunately had a reasonable amount of pasture still even though they had been locked on 2 paddocks. My farmhand was on much needed holidays. One neighbour was able to come and shift some hay to get me through for a few days. Yay.


Between Christmas and New Year, fortunately someone was able to come and fix the lick feeders. Yay. But I had no way of shifting them. Sigh. So the kind neighbour was able to come again and feed out some more hay to give me some more time.


Then after New Years, I got the JCB back from the dealer on a Saturday morning. So I shifted the lick feeders into the yards and started to fill them with pellets. Then the JCB died again. Arrrggghhh. I got four tiny hours out of it. So it went back on the truck on Monday to the mechanic. Sigh. The cause wasn't the fused bearing in the gear box, but faulty valves making the oil return to the tank and not lubricate the bearings. Sigh. Parts to come from England.


The kind neighbour was then able to finish filling the lick feeders and put out some hay and then I could bring the sheep into the yards and arrange for them to be drenched again. They should have all been sold by now, but they had lost a lot of condition and were not ready to sell, and now many had too much wool on them. They were growing wool and not meat. Stinkin' stupid merinos. Sigh.


Ever tried finding a shearing team in January when you have no shearing facilities, no shed to put the sheep in, and have no baling equipment? Sigh. Finally managed to find a team. They did one day and then had a family emergency and couldn't finish the job ( 4-5 day job). Sigh.


A farmer has loaned us his JCB telehandler while we are still waiting for our JCB to be fixed. Yay. He also sold us a much larger bucket that does in one trip with pellets and lupins what takes 5 trips with the neighbours little tractor and bucket. Yay.


In the meantime, the containment yards were built, the underground pipes were put in ready to connect to the cup & saucer troughs, but they were another week away from arriving. Which brings us to today.


We have wet sheep from some rain. Some are now in a containment area and have access to lick feeders filled ad lib with pellets and lupins, and rolled out hay. Others are still in the yards while more troughs are connected and filled in the containment areas. No word yet on when our JCB will be repaired. The farmer who loaned us his JCB needs his back soon.


As for our other sheep (ultrawhites), they are going well. Lambing has finished with one mob a few weeks ago and are ready for marking as soon as all the troughs in the containment areas are full of water and we can shift the sheep out of the yards into the containment areas. By the way, there is plenty of green kikuyu on the back paddocks, but that is now for all our green tag ewes that are about to be mated. We have ~1300 of them after pulling out the bottom 250. We're going to feed them in containment areas and sell them so that only our best 1300 are mated and stay on the farm.


Paddocks are full of worms thanks to the stinkin' merinos and me not organising them to be drenched while I was in the USA, but we are going to have to use the pastures to keep the kikuyu in good condition and drench and test poo regularly in the ewes. Kikuyu is poor quality if I let it grow rank. It must be kept eaten down.


Another ewe mob is due to lamb from 2nd March and they look good. Rams look good and our 1300 green tag ewes that will meet the boys on the 25th are also looking good - and just had their next drench. They'll receive a few needles just before the boys meet them.


So, lessons learnt? Always drench and quarantine sheep on arrival, no matter what they might have just been drenched with. Have containment areas where sheep can be fed and watered at short notice. Have your staff take poo samples while you're away! One drench while I was away would have fixed nearly all the problems, except the JCB would still have jammed up at some stage - hopefully not just prior to Christmas/New Year holidays.


I have all those things in place now. Shearers are coming back next week to finish shearing the merinos and we'll be drafting them off as soon as we can to send to market. Many are in very good condition now. It looks like we've had our best lambing so far and the continual culling of the tail is paying dividends. We are on track to achieve ~5,500 ewes by the end of 2020, and hopefully produce >5,000 lambs. Next year, the target is ~9,000 lambs off the 185ha, but also to have more land in the next few months.


We have some exciting growth ahead of us.

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