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At our online meeting Dr Jason Condon chatted with farmers Jennie Curtis, Allan Spencer and Harji Dhindsa about the soil test results from the demonstration plots on their farms.
Soil samples were taken from each farm in September from a ‘good patch’ and ‘bare patch’ of soil in the demonstration plots. The soil from the bare patch plots was bulked. The soil was sampled at depths 0-5, 5-10, 10-15 and 15-20cm to see what was going on in the different soil layers.
Jason discussed what the soil test results mean and the differences between the patches, soil depths and farms. We recommend you take the time to listen to Jason’s presentation. He explains how to interpret the soil test results including soil pH, aluminium, potassium, cation exchange capacity, organic carbon, exchangeable sodium percentage, soil electrical conductivity and calcium/magnesium ratio. He then goes on to suggest actions that can be taken to improve the soil health on each farm.
This meeting was recorded on the 16 November 2020 and you can view the video here.
Jason explained the demonstrations sites have their own unique factors that are limiting plant growth and contributing to the bare patches. It was fascinating to learn about how the “Law of the Minimum’ works in practice and how soil structure can affect plant growth.
Key messages from the meeting:
This is a summary of the key differences between the project sites.
Soil Acidity and Liming AGFACT
Identifying dispersive sodic soils
Assessing soil aggregate stability
Cycling on phosphorus in grazing systems
You can catch up on the latest Grassing the Bare Patches Project here.
Dr Jason Condon is a soil scientist and educator from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, a partnership of NSW Department of Primary Industries and Charles Sturt University based in Wagga Wagga.
The Small Farms Network Capital Region received funding for this project from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.
At this event Helena Warren from Cadfor Equestrian and Murray Greys spoke at a webinar and then in afternoon led two paddock walks where she identified pasture species. In the webinar Helena discussed the critical elements of establishing and maintaining grazing pastures in a challenging and changing climate.
You can watch the webinar recording.
See more about land classes
The MLA Pasture Soil Health Kit contains information on ground cover management and stocking rates.
Limiting soil factors can include:
A soil pH of less than 5.5 can reduce some nutrient availability and cause aluminium toxicity that will affect plant growth and legume nodulation. Over time, soils in the Southern Highlands have become more acidic due to cropping and agriculture. Some plants are more adapted to low soil pH, salinity and low rainfall. For example, Serradella is more tolerant of acid soil and Balansa Clover tolerates saline soils but generally it is easier to address the soil pH problem rather than try to find plants that will grow in increasingly acidic soils.
See more about soil pH
4. Pasture establishment requires water and the correct soil temperature. The type of plant you want to grow will dictate the best time for planting. C3 grasses are temperate grasses and C4 grasses are adapted to warm conditions. Having a mix of both types of grasses can help you grow more pasture throughout the year. Native pastures are generally well adapted to surviving drought conditions.
Grazing Management for Native Pastures
Tactical Grazing to Maximise Animal and Pasture Productivity
Weed removers, pasture improvers – effective weed control.
Pasture Species and Varieties
Grasses of the NSW Tablelands
Grass Habits and Habitats
Farming Forecaster – a tool for monitoring soil moisture and ground cover
Agrifutures – free downloads and resources
Weeds Poisonous to Horses - free downloadable PDF.
C3 and C4 native grasses
In the afternoon Helena led two paddock walks through old pastures in Bywong where we learned to identify pasture plants and looked at the pH profile in soil cores using a home pH testing kit.
Pasture plants we looked at
Ryegrass (Lolium perenne) is red at the base and has shiny leaves. Considered a good pasture grass, but not good for horses as it is high in sugar. See more
Giant Brome Grass (Bromus diandrus) also know as rip gut brome is annual tufted grass to 100 cm tall with sharp seed heads. Common in disturbed areas, such as road sides and stick camps. Considered a weed and has limited feed value. May produce useful early spring feed but is only palatable when it is vegetative. Seeds can damage the eyes, mouth and guts of stock. See more
Prairie Grass (Bromus catharticus) a tufted short lived grass to 150cm tall. The leaves are sparsely hairy and bright green. This grass has higher feed value than Giant Brome Grass. See more
Common Wheat Grass (Anthsachne scabra), a native cool season perennial grass to 100cm tall. The leaves typically have a twist and the flag leaf sticks out at a right angle. The leaf sheaths are hairy and auricles are present. A minor component of pastures but is drought and frost tolerant. See more
Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) an introduced perennial pasture grass. Cocksfoot is tolerant of acidic soils (down to pH 4.0 and have high exchangeable aluminium).
To differentiate Cocksfoot from Phalaris (Phalaris aquatica) grass, the stem of Cocksfoot rolls in your fingers like a flat tyre, while the Phalaris stem is round and rolls easily. The seedheads are also different. In the photo below, a Phalaris grass stem is shown on the left and Cocksfoot is on the right.
See more about Cocksfoot and Phalaris.
Subterranean Clover (Trifolium subterraneum) has small white pea like flowers on stems that bury the seed into the soil (like a bur). The leaf of the subterranean clover is heart shaped and hairy with equal leaf storks. See more
White Clover (Trifolium repens) is a perennial, aerial seeding clover with white flowers and often a pale green stripe across the leaves. See more
Balansa Clover (Trifolium michalelianum) Introduced cool season annual, the seed heads consist if many white pea like flowers held on stems above the ground. The flowers are white to pink. It is a hard seeded annual clover that tolerates waterlogging. See more
Meadow Fescue (Festuca pratensis) an erect, short-lived, tussock forming perennial grass with leaves 3-5mm wide. Rough to touch on the top and shiny below. The auricles are stem clasping and hairless. See more
Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) grass is common in stock camp and low lying areas. It has furry leaves that many stock do not like to eat. Erect tufted greyish grass, covered in velvety hairs. The flower heads are purplish to white. Regarded as a weed. See more
Wallaby Grass (Danthonia species) is shown in the photo below, a native grass that survives drought. The leaf has a hairy ligule where it joins the stem. This feature is present in the many species of Wallaby Grass. See more
Spear Grass (Austrostipa spp) a native grass, good for biodiversity. Can grow year round but most productive in spring. Leaves are fine, inrolled, usually rough to touch. See more
This project is supported by the NSW Government Department of Planning, Industry and Environment Increasing Resilience to Climate Change community grants program. More information about the program can be found here.
Climate change is a big thing. How do we tackle it and prepare for it? The Small Farms and Climate Change Forum on 5 September 2020 was an opportunity to examine these issues and identify the topics that small farmers want to learn about in relation to climate change.
You can view the recording of the Forum presentations here.
Our guest speakers were Melinda Hillery, Senior Project Officer, Climate Resilience and Net Zero Emissions Branch, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, and farmers Harry Watson from Millpost Merino and Helena Warren from Cadfor Agistment and Murray Greys.
Below is a summary of the key points discussed at the Forum and links to more resources on climate change.
Mel Hillery provided a snapshot of the projected changes to weather patterns in the near future (around 2030) and the far future (around 2070) as a result of climate change. She suggested the best way to prepare for climate change is to know (inform yourself about climate change), assess how climate change might impact us and respond by taking positive actions to prepare for climate change.
KNOW: What we know from climate research and historical observation
Climate change is happening now. We are already seeing impacts of increasing global temperatures such as changing snow seasons, bushfire, floods and droughts. There are flow-on effects to native ecosystems and impacts on farming and aquaculture. Examples include bushfire smoke taint to grapes and increasing ocean temperatures that have led to tropical species moving further south.
The areas that have warmed the most since 1970 are in Eastern Australia and the observed increase has been 0.3-0.4 degrees/decade. Further information on historical climate change in our region is available at the Bureau of Meteorology website.
Modelling for the South East and Tablelands region of NSW suggests that by 2030 the number of hot days will increase with 5-10 extra hot days above 35 degrees Celsius per year compared to 1960-1990.
Rainfall projections under climate change are more complicated. It is expected that there will be more rainfall extremes and it is projected that spring rainfall will be reduced. These changes are indicated in all of the climate models from the NSW Government.
ASSESS: What climate change means for you and your community
Mel suggests a vulnerability assessment is better for small farmers than a risk assessment.
These are the key features of a vulnerability assessment:
Use this to plan ahead. This is where we move from ‘business as usual' to how can we adapt to climate change.
RESPOND: Adaptation and transition to a low carbon future
The NSW Government has a target of net zero emissions by 2050.
Good news includes work being done by the Cobargo Community post fires and the Yass Area Network Climate Ready Revegetation Project. You can find out more about these projects here.
Harry Watson and Helena Warren provided us with case studies about how they are managing and adapting to climate change.
Key points from Harry:
Some useful texts:
Permaculture - Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability
Holistic Management Handbook
Water for Every Farm - Yeoman's Keyline Plan
Key points from Helena:
Resources and further information
Further information on climate change and adaptation can be found in the links below:
NSW Government Adapting to Climate Change
Impact of climate change on biodiversity
Specific snap shots for soil erosion and biodiversity have been developed and can be viewed on the Adaptation Research Hub website.
Information on climate ready trees and revegetation
Which Plant Where?
Information on the importance of soil organic matter
More information on C3 and C4 grasses.
More information on Blue Tongue disease and its movement south.
This event was made possible with funding from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment Increasing Resilience to Climate Change Community Grants Program.
Allan, a small farmer in Bywong, tells us about his truffle farm.
Watch the video
Dr Lou Baskind, the District Veterinarian from South East Local Land Services in Braidwood, discussed weeds, livestock and how pasture plants can be poisonous to ruminant livestock in some conditions. Temperature, rainfall and the plant’s lifecycle can influence the amount of poisonous compounds in a plant. Other plants have inherent physical and chemical properties that are poisonous.
Download a copy of the slides from the presentation
The three common problems that weeds can cause in livestock are:
St John’s Wort poisioning
Bracken fern poisoning
Australia’s poisonous plants, McKenzie, R 2012
NSW DPI Weeds Wise App
Vaccinations can help prevent common sheep diseases when used correctly. They have the potential to improve sheep health across the region for all farms, small and large. A key element in deciding which vaccines are useful on your farm is to find out the risk of particular diseases in the local district and the past history of your property.
Many vaccines require two doses for the vaccination to be effective followed up with annual boosters. Specific recommendations for effective vaccination can be found in the manufacturer’s instructions for each vaccine along with information about storage conditions and the length of time that the vaccine can be used after opening.
Correct injection technique and sterile, clean needles are required both to deliver an effective vaccination and to protect sheep and people from adverse side effects. Used syringes and needles need to be disposed of safely. For more information about injection techniques in Making More From Sheep: Sheep Husbandry Practices.
Vaccines can help prevent the following diseases of sheep in Australia. The information provided below is general in nature. It is strongly recommended that you consult your vet or animal health advisor before carrying out a vaccination program.
Commentary marked with * was provided by Alex Stephens, District Veterinarian, South East Local Land Services in July 2020.
Tetnus, Black Leg, Black Disease, Malignant Oedema and Pulpy Kidney (Clostridial diseases)
5-in-1 vaccination – typically given as a primer dose at lamb marking followed by a booster dose four to six weeks later and then an annual booster dose. Various brands available.
This vaccine is widely used throughout Australia and is usually the one being referred to when people say that their sheep are vaccinated.
* Booster vaccinations are recommended to be given more often, every three months in high risk situations, particularly to younger stock. Boosters are also recommended to be given at other high risk times such as grazing high risk pastures and crops and at the start of a flush of green grass after a long dry spell.
MLA Clostridial Diseases information
Agriculture Victoria Clostridial Diseases
6-in-1 vaccination – covers same diseases as 5-in1 as well as Cheesy Gland and has similar vaccination regime. Various brands available.
* Cheesy gland is an endemic disease in the Capital Region so Alex Stephens advised use of 6-in-1 rather than 5-in-1 for the initial vaccinations and annual booster. Use 5-in-1 if you are giving the extra boosters in high risk situations mentioned above to manage a higher clostridial risk.
NSW DPI Fact Sheet Cheesy Gland
Johnes Disease Gudair vaccination – single dose lifetime vaccination given to lambs.
* The Capital Region is one of the highest endemic areas for Ovine Johne’s Disease. Alex Stephens advised that this vaccination is given to any sheep that are going to be kept to be greater than 2 years of age (ie. breeding stock or wethers).
MLA Australia Gudair information
DPI Johnes Disease Fact Sheet
Eryvac and Eryguard are brands of vaccine – primer and booster dose for lambs then annual vaccination.
* This vaccine is given in response to a diagnosis of this bacterial cause of arthritis on a property. This disease has been diagnosed and vaccinated against in the Capital Region. Where properties are getting higher rates of arthritis an investigation and diagnosis is advised.
Scabby Mouth Scabigard is a vaccine option – single dose given to lambs.
*Scabby Mouth is a common viral disease seen in the Capital Region. It is present in some flocks and not in others. It is only advisable to vaccinate against this disease as a disease control measure if it is present on your property, as vaccination (with the live vaccine) will introduce the disease to your property. It is a nasty disease and vaccination is an effective control measure.
DPI Scabby Mouth Fact Sheet
Barbers Pole WormBarberVax – a vaccine option where Barbers Pole worms are prevalent and resistant to drenches.
* Fortunately in the Capital Region we can still use strategic drenching with effective drenches to control Barbers Pole Worm. This is a very effective vaccine and should be considered where producers want or need to drench less or they have significant resistance issues. This vaccine has not had a high uptake in this area so you may need to order it in in advance and courier fees may apply.
WormBoss Barbers Pole Worm
CampylobacterOvilis Campyvax – where abortions and still born lambs have been caused by Campylobacter infection. Initial primer and booster dose followed by annual booster given to ewes before joining.
* Campylobacter is a prevalent disease is the Capital Region. The vaccine is reasonably new. Uptake of this vaccine has been higher in recent years, reflecting higher sheep prices and research showing the disease to be quite prevalent in the area. Abortions are more likely to be seen when sheep are being held more closely together and eating from the ground, such as during drought feeding times. See the link for a local case study.
Campylobacter case study
Anthrax Anthrax vaccine – annual vaccination which requires authorisation in NSW by Local Land Services.
Anthrax is a serious and usually fatal. It is a notifiable disease in NSW. It typically occurs in an area through the centre of NSW and into Victoria.
* The Capital Region is not within the Anthrax belt/zone and so vaccination against Anthrax would not be advised. Vaccination is usually done in response to control of an outbreak, which would most usually occur within the Anthrax zone
More information on anthrax
To contact your local District Veterinarian in NSW, visit NSW Local Land Service Contact us
This post was reviewed by Alex Stephens, the District Veterinarian from South East Local Land Services (SELLS). Alex works at the Yass SELLS office.
In this webinar Alastair Rayner from Rayner Ag discussed sheep nutrition, how to use the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Drought and Supplementary Feed Calculator app, biosecurity and the National Vendor Declaration Scheme. The webinar was recorded on 10 June 2020.
You can watch the webinar recording on the Small Farms Network Capital Region YouTube Channel.
Key points from the webinar:
Other useful websites
Agriculture Victoria - Trace minerals in sheep
Sheep Connect - Pasture assessment skills and feed management
WormBoss control program for non-seasonal rainfall areas in NSW
This webinar covered the information for people thinking of keeping production poultry on a small scale for eggs, meat or live chicken sales. The webinar was recorded on Saturday 27 June 2020 and features Dr Lou Baskind, District Veterinarian from South East Local Land Services, and Wendy Hutton, a chicken farmer from just outside Canberra.
Watch the webinar recording
Biosecurity Checklist for Poultry Keeping (a simple guide from DPI Tasmania)
NSW DPI Guidelines for Poultry Biosecurity
Despite good rainfall in many areas since autumn, some patches of soil are still bare. Dr Jason Condon from Charles Sturt University explained how soil acidity can be a factor driving poor ground cover in pastures. Jennie Curtis, a small farmer from the Capital Region, showed us some of the bare patches at her place.
The webinar recorded on Saturday 4 July 2020 will help you to develop an understanding of soil acidity including the causes and influence of soil acidity on plants and the landscape. Simple methods to diagnose soil acidity are explained. Addressing soil acidity may be a useful step in filling the bare patches on your land.
1. Soil pH is a measure of hydrogen ions in the soil. The most commonly used pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. As the number goes down from 7 (ie. 6, 5, 4...) the soil acidity increases while values above 7 are alkaline. In the Capital Region many soils are acidic. Soil pH can be measured in the field using a test kit or by sending a sample to a laboratory for more accurate results. The pH (CaCl2) test is the more accurate of the two pH tests, as it reflects what the plant experiences in the soil. The values of pH (CaCl2) are normally lower than pH(w) by 0.5 to 0.9. A simple pH soil testing kit from the rural shop measures pH in water.
NSW DPI Understanding Soil pH
NSW DPI Soil Acidity and Liming
2. Agriculture involves removing plant material either by harvesting plants or grazing plants and this process acidifies soils. To counteract this you need to get to know what the problems are for your soils.
3. If your soil is pH 5 or lower, the percentage of available Aluminum is more likely to be at levels that are toxic to plants. High Aluminium reduces root growth and stops cellular growth at the root tip - the roots will be short and stumpy. Where % Aluminium is high, Magnesium and Calcium are leeched away from the root zone.
4. Soil acidity is not uniform down through a soil profile so the pH results from a 0-10cm soil test won't give you the full story. Often the pH at the surface where plants are growing is higher and then the soil is more acidic further down. A dig stick can be used with pH indicator powder from a pH test kit to show the range of acidity in your soil profile (see photo below where the pH in water is being tested).
5. When you get a soil test done, only pay for what you need. A simple soil test should include soil pH, electrical conductivity, available phosphorus, cation exchange capacity, % Aluminium and organic carbon.
6. Lime is akaline and can be used to adjust soil pH. It is not an annual fertiliser. Soil tests should be used to identify the need for lime and the effects of applying lime can take a long time to be seen. In acidic soils, research suggests that lime moves down through the soil profile best when a target pH of 5.5 is used. This often requires a high initial application rate followed by small top ups every few years for maintenance of a target pH of 5.5. This approach allows lime to be applied on the surface or in relatively shallow seed furrows and to move down through the soil profile without cultivation of the soil. Monitoring your soil is essential for finding our what works on your farm.
7. Plain lime is best for surface application. Prilled lime can have a good effect when applied in seed rows or riplines but generally is not as effective as regular lime when applied on the surface.
This project is supported by South East Local Land Services, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.
Dr Lou Baskind, District Veterinarian Form South East Local Land Services, joined the small farms network for a webinar about keeping backyard chickens.
UPDATE: Pestene Insect Powder is a registered chemical for lice in chickens and can be safely used. Pestene is best used as a preventative and can be added to the dust bathing area or directly applied to the chickens.
Registered chemicals for poultry
Registered for laying poultry
Pestene (sulphur and rotenone dusting powder)
Avitrol Bird Mite and Lice Spray
Avian Insect Liquidator
(ornamental and caged birds)
Fido's Fre-Itch Rinse Concentrate for Dogs and Cats
Fipronil (Frontline Spray Flea and Tick Control for Cats and Dogs)
Essentials for Backyard Chicken Keeping and Health by Dr Lou Baskind
DIY rodent free chicken feeder from Gardening Australia
NSW Department of Primary Industries Poultry Fact Sheets
The Queeensland Department of Industry has published a series of articles relating to poultry diseases and health. Follow the links below to find out more information.
Moulting and the laying hen
Feather loss not related to moulting
Small Farms Network Capital Region IncPO Box 313BungendoreNSW 2621