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. So I'm going to move to a format of something like once a week, with less daily detail but a more considered analysis of what I've learned over that week. I'll still post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, but not as many images. And I'll still provide a summary map (still working out how best to do it) for each post." In the new map format, the area grazed will be highlighted bright yellow, so you can readily see where we've been hanging out. Rather than a daily weather report, I'll just give you a brief description of the type of weather we had during the time covered. This somewhat belated post is the first in the new format, which is still under development. It's belated because I seem to be under the pump, literally (3 more inches of rain in the last 2 weeks) and figuratively--just a few too many work and personal irons in the fire. At the end of the previous post (Recovering From Shearing), I moved the sheep out into the flat I call the Road Paddock, with Eeyore's Patch and The Forest adjacent. These are all nominally part of the Racecourse Grazing Area, but separated from it by Curly Sedge Creek and the main lane through the farm. They also comprise the bulk of the burn area from last January's fire, which I allowed to rest and not be grazed until just before shearing. So there's lots of feed, and with all the soil moisture, lots of diversity in the form of weeds as well as native and exotic pasture plants.
In particular, there is a patch of Patterson's Curse (also known as Salvation Jane), a broadleaf weed that has taken over large areas of the Australian mainland. It is quite rare in Tasmania, but I have a couple of patches. They've stayed under control with grazing, and have not been a problem for me over the years, though the weed control officer sends me a letter most years reminding me of my responsibility to control it. This happens mostly because the distinctive purple blossoms in the main patch are completely visible from the highway.
This year, with all the rain, I can now see why it's referred to as a curse--plants that I'd only seen growing a few inches high, and widely spread out, are 3 or more feet high and completely cover the ground in between. This was bound to bring the weed control officer down on me like a duck on a June bug (as they say in the US). So, I decided to see if the flock would help me out--and they did, in spades! In the course of 4 or 5 visits to the Patterson's Curse patch, they demolished it. Only stalks and bare ground are left. On the first visit they were cautious and only just nibbled (nutritional wisdom in action), but once they became convinced it was delightful, they just settled in to eat it all. I'll have to take them back again when it regrows, but I have every confidence they'll mow it down again.
Each season on the farm has its own set of challenges for managing the complex system of landscape, animal needs and human constraints. This season will be characterised by a struggle to keep the annuals--grasses and broadleaf plants--under control. I'm mostly concerned about the introduced annual grasses: barley grass and spear grass. While most of my farm is predominantly perennial grass, the Road Paddock, Eeyore's Patch and the Lucerne Reserve have a lot of annual grass. Sheep stop grazing these once the seed heads start to dry off, but the seeds will still get into their wool, their skin and their eyes and noses. Annual grasses are truly impressive growth machines--they go from zero to sixty in about 15 minutes, it seems: one day they're just innocuous tufty grass blades and the next they've shot up 3 feet or so and have a fully developed seed head! So my job is to try to stay ahead of that amazing growth, while still giving the sheep lots of diversity. Hence the value of the Patterson's Curse patch--some much-needed diversity in a sea of annuals.
The sheep made another visit to the Patterson's Curse (September 8 and 9) after a sojourn up top (see the next post, coming soon). The same level of enthusiasm for this delightful repast is still holding!