Reclaiming worn-out soils
Our farm is slowly being regenerated from a long history of cropping and resultant loss of top soil and organic matter. Now these paddocks are growing native grasses and tree regrowth in a long-term healing process. Slowly we are building organic matter in the soil. Soil that has been quite lifeless for many years is gradually regaining its capacity to support plants. It is a long process, one that is taking decades. We are proud to be able to work toward this with the help of our horses and sheep.
Soil health – microbes > blood > agar plates > microbes
At the core of soil health is a thriving world of micro-organisms. Conventional agriculture suppresses, or even kills, this population with the use of chemical fertilisers and herbicides. We are aiming to have soil as full of life as your vegetable garden. This is the key to the health of our business. It will create a carbon sink in our soil, open it to good aeration, let the water in, provide soil nutrients for our pasture and ultimately create pastures that are resilient to the long dry spells we are seeing as a result of climate change.
The interesting thing for us is that, in the same way that our soil microbes are supporting the production of blood worthy of an agar plate, so too is this blood supporting microbes grown on these agar plates in labs all around the country.
Our pastures are native grass with various forbes, legumes and even weeds scattered through them. This gives us the best chance of having the right plant available to grow when the rain falls. Sometimes we will not see a particular grass plant for a season or two if the rain fails to fall at the right time of year for it. Slowly, even in the midst of long dry periods, we are creating more groundcover on our bare patches. Grass litter is trampled down, bare soil is chipped by hooves and seed beds are created for new plants. It is extremely satisfying to see the pasture improving all the time.
When you look after the soil and pasture the ecosystem gives back many free services to the whole system. These include trapping rainwater where it falls, and providing habitat for native insects, birds, reptiles and small animals. Other benefits are the pollination of flowers by the insects in the system, control of pest insects by animals further up the food chain, and water infiltration deeper into soil due to holes made by insects and soil life. We leave as many things in place in our paddocks to provide habitat for our little friends and have also planted tree lots around the property to increase the benefits we gain.
Cell grazing, or time-controlled grazing, is our method of choice for grazing. The herds are moved around small paddocks for high density, short graze periods which gives the paddocks long periods of recovery time. The premise is to emulate the way large grazing animals move about in the African savannah. Plants are only bitten off once and left with enough leaf area (solar panels) to still capture their own energy from the sun. As the foliage is reduced the plant’s roots are also pruned, increasing the soil’s organic matter.
All our inputs aim to work with the soil life we are trying to encourage across our farm. We have been using natural fertiliser such as chook manure, compost extract, soil bacteria with minerals, rock fertilisers and liquid fish with seaweed. These additions aim to balance the chemical nature of the soil, feed the microbes and through healthier plants effect physical change in the soil too.
A healthy grassland is a massive carbon sink, able to capture and store large amounts of stable carbon in humus in the soil. Our every move aims to reduce the amount of carbon we are releasing and increase our soils’ ability to capture it. We have ever increasing grass and tree-regrowth across our whole property.