Come Shepherding

Barley Grass Blues

Barley Grass Blues

23rd October - 15 November
Every season has its own particular challenges when it comes to shepherding, and this spring is certainly no exception.  The challenges arise not only from the weather, which has been way outside the norm, but also from the myriad grazing decisions the sheep and I have made over the last few dry years.  This year, the prevalence of bare ground--from overgrazing and from fire--has provided the precise conditions for a perfect storm of annual grasses and broadleaf plants.

Taking Shelter

Taking Shelter

9 - 22 October, 2016

Somewhere between irony and serendipity, my procrastination in writing this post has worked perfectly.  "Taking Shelter" was meant to be the last catch-up, describing the period of nasty weather in early October, but the nasty weather has just kept coming.  I'm writing this today, instead of shepherding, because the rain is coming in horizontally, from the south, and the ambient temperature is not far off freezing.

Higher Ground

Higher Ground

September 21 - October 8, 2016

This is another belated post--one more and I'll be caught up with my backlog.  There we were, happily grazing the barley- and spear-grass infested flats, with the occasional treat of some Patterson's Curse, when we got hit with another nearly 3 inches of rain on our already saturated soils.
Anticipating the deluge, I moved the flock to higher ground--up into the dolerite country where there is shelter, and enough slope for the runoff to run off, rather than just pool like it does in the Road Paddock.

Patterson's Delight

Patterson's Delight

September 14 to 21, 2016

In case you missed it in my last Come Shepherding post, I've decided to modify my approach to these reports.  Here's what I said in Recovering from Shearing:  "Taking time off shepherding has also given me the impetus to re-think the way I've been doing the Come Shepherding posts.  It's been a fascinating process for me, and when I look back over the past 5 months I'm really glad I made the commitment.  And, it's a LOT of work.  I think I (and probably all of you, too) have gotten most of what is useful from a documentary description of shepherding on a day-by-day (and even hour-by-hour) basis.

Recovering from Shearing

Recovering from Shearing

September 5-15, 2016

It's just over two weeks since shearing, and we all seem to be more or less recovered.  Shearing is the most stressful thing we do, in my humble opinion.  Other than jetting for fly during the summer season, mostly the flock and the dogs and I just swan around the countryside doing what the sheep most want to do.  So, having to squeeze 300 sheep at a time into the shed, allowing strange men to manhandle them (twice--once for crutching, then two days later for shearing), removing their 4" long wool coats and then putting them back on the hill to brave the cold, must come as a huge emotional, physical and thermal shock.

Last shepherding till after shearing!

Last shepherding till after shearing!

August 27, 2016

Today we moved the flock into position for easy access to the wool shed tomorrow.  The sheep need to be dry for crutching or shearing, so I pop them in the holding shed overnight, just to be sure.  I'd say they are well and truly over the Racecourse Grazing Area, despite there being quite a lot of good feed in patches still there.  But the high ground where they like to hang out is getting pretty short and stale, so it was not hard to convince them to come with me down into the lucerne for a short feed, then into the Road Paddock, which is virtually ungrazed.

Around the Racecourse and into the Lucerne

Around the Racecourse and into the Lucerne

August 24, 2016

It was a beautiful day after a mild frost to start.  The flock was still in the Stud Paddock from Monday's circuit, and seemed quite enthusiastic about following me anywhere else.  We circled the Racecourse Grazing Area, staying in the "bottoms" as much as possible, then headed into the Lucerne Reserve for an hour of dessert and nap.  At least, I think that's how they feel about the lucerne--that it's a special treat, and when they've filled up they often settle down for a rest and ruminate.  

Full day at the edges of the Racecourse

Full day at the edges of the Racecourse

Mondays are my designated "full days" for shepherding, defined by (a) I take my lunch and (b) I don't transmit.  As a consequence I have lots of time to think, or more accurately, to let my brain spin.  For the past week or two, I've had a song on replay in my head:  of all things, a choral version of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, that I sang in my junior high school choir, lo, these many long years ago.  

Near the woolshed

Near the woolshed

We had a mild frost this morning after fitful rain last night, so the day started beautifully--sunny and light winds.  I found the sheep just coming back out of the Stud Paddock, so brought them up over the hill to graze around the woolshed.  They had a lovely graze down the west-facing hill of the Strip (V1), then a sojourn in the lower reaches of Curly Sedge Creek, where they seemed set to spend the morning!

Cygnets' first outing!

Cygnets' first outing!

I got a good look at the cygnets out walking with their parents this morning, and I'm pretty sure there are 5 of them. Yesterday evening I had the treat of watching them being put to bed on mama's back for the night.  Just as much to-ing and fro-ing as you'd expect from 5 kids.  There is something really special for me in knowing mama and papa feel safe enough to keep returning year after year to have their clutch near Swan Lake.

Eeyore's Patch

Eeyore's Patch

The plan for today was to graze the main yards, and in the process check out a couple of sheep with sore feet, to see if they needed doctoring (they didn't).  From there, we grazed across the Road Paddock and into Eeyore's  Patch, which is the paddock at the base of the big hill--part of the January burn.  Eeyore's Patch, not surprisingly, has a section with LOTS of thistle, and also has a fair bit of chicory, plantain, lucerne and clover.  

Up and down Curly Sedge Creek

Up and down Curly Sedge Creek

Curly Sedge Creek is a seasonal soak that drains much of the northern half of the property.  Because it tends to have better soil moisture, a few years ago I decided to plant trees, shrubs and sedges in it.  I did the preparation, and had the lines "deep ripped" to break through the clay barrier layer in my sandstone soils.  Unbeknownst to me or the ripper, he cut through both of the water lines spanning the creek multiple times as he followed my planting line contours along the line of flow!  

Into the Racecourse Grazing Area

Into the Racecourse Grazing Area

It's been a month in the Basin Grazing Area, so time to make a move.  There was a domino effect, starting a couple of weeks ago when my fencing contractors demolished the old fence along the highway in the rams' paddock.  I shifted the rams onto the Racecourse, into the triangular paddock I call the "Stud Paddock"--a legacy of the years I bred my own rams from a small flock of high quality ewes known as studs (yes, it confused me at first, too--how can girls be studs??)

Old Cabin into Waterfall Gully-full day circuit

Old Cabin into Waterfall Gully-full day circuit

Quite a contrast to yesterday:  we transited nearly the full length of the Basin Grazing Area, and the wind was howling again, out of the west.  Yesterday, late in the day, the wind veered northerly long enough to draw the flock out of the Back Gully Reserve  and into the Grass Gully, where we picked them up this morning.

Back Gully Reserve, still

Back Gully Reserve, still

A delightful day, with sunshine, light winds and tractable sheep.  We did only a relatively short distance but the sheep were grazing most of the time.  The NE side of the gully is a bit hard for the sheep to find:  they have to make their way through fairly dense cutting sags (lomandra longifolia) and gorse to get well down into the better forage.

Blustery day in the Back Gully Reserve

Blustery day in the Back Gully Reserve

Cold sunshine and blustery winds made for an exciting short circuit this morning.  The sheep were in the Back Gully, near the tree reserve, when we found them, and from there it's just a short hop into the Back Gully Reserve.  The Reserve is a rocky, mostly native area, though with lots of gorse in parts.  It has good shelter from the westerlies, and lots of forage diversity.

Old Cabin

Old Cabin

My computer suffered a nasty power surge last week, and has been limping along since, but only just barely. Today I sent it off for repair, leaving me with only my iPad to pretend to be a real computer.  I started working on computers in the mid-1970s, and bought my first PC when they came out in the early 80s. Since then, I've never been without a PC or Mac, so little wonder I'm feeling withdrawal symptoms!

Walking on Water

Walking on Water

An astonishing proportion of the property, even at elevation, is under an inch or so of water.  I can report the sheep have gotten much better (or more resigned) to walking on water than they were before the big rains.  On the other hand, my hiking boots have developed a leak, so I'm less happy about it.  Today's circuit was not a deliberate attempt to sample all the wettest bits, but we seemed to hit more than our share.  The forecast for tomorrow, my usual full-day for shepherding, is showers, windy and cold, so I took advantage of today's beautiful weather to do the circuit.  

After the wild weather, into the Back Gully Reserve

After the wild weather, into the Back Gully Reserve

Between the wild wintery weather and my somewhat dodgy ankle, I haven't been up to see the sheep for a week.  It's so wet I nearly bogged the Polaris, so I've given up driving it for the time being.  However, today augers well, so I'm heading up on foot for a half-day visit.  I really have no idea where the flock will be, but given the persistent sou'west and westerlies of the past few days, and knowing their preference for the gully in the middle of the Basin Grazing Area, I'm expecting to find them there.