Back into blog writing mode, trying to document and share what is an incredible and privileged experience, travelling the world amongst the Nuffield network, visiting farmers and researchers learning all I can about goats, markets and farming.
A Nuffield scholarship is normally finished within 18 months of starting out, I had a few extenuating circumstances that included the end of my marriage, the post traumatic shock bought on by it’s violent end, and the subsequent property buyout. So now it’s me and the bank and working very nicely indeed.
To finish off this scholarship I wanted to spend some time looking at grazing management in arid areas, particularly the effective management of browse species. Much of the rangelands across the world have had an increase in woody weed species that often causes a reduction in production as well as access problems. In my own area at Wanaaring, woody weeds got going in the 70’s following a run of wet years. There is still debate about causes and effects, but my view is that a reduction in perennial grass species caused by overgrazing opened up a window of opportunity for woody weeds to get going. It seems to me that nature covers the ground with whatever it can, the hardier, colonising species occur first, building up organic matter in the soil and providing shelter for the softer more palatable species to get going.
I want to learn about how to manage the grazing of livestock in general but goats in particular to reduce the density of unpalatable woody weeds, increase the perennial grass cover and maintain a healthy and production population of palatable browse species.
I flew into Cape Town, South Africa from the UK where I’d spent a couple of weeks catching up with the Nuffield network, exploring how to grow a farming business. The Irish dairy farmers I met were inspirational in their focus and attention to business strategy. As the end of restrictive milk quotas approaches in 2015, they are determined to be well placed to maximise opportunities.
A week in Scotland was like a visit to my old home town of Bathurst NSW with rolling green hills and a lot of small operations that offered little in the way of economies of scale.
My last visit in the UK was with Nuffield scholar Jem Sewell and his wife Anna. They were among the pioneers of share farming in the UK and certainly showed me how important it is to focus not only on business strategies but also operating with principles and ethos that gives whole of life direction and meaning. It was an ideal focal point for me as I left the UK to head down to Africa for 2 months.
Currently motoring through the South African Karoo chewing on Biltong and listening to Allan Jackson, enjoying the amicable company of Robo, we could be excused for forgetting where we are; this place is so like the Broken Hill area of home. Robo is a great travelling companion, well read enough to make it interesting but enough of a ‘bush boy’ to keep it real, he caused a ruckus in a bikie pub the other night when in typical Robo style after a few beers he started talking faster and waving his arms about, the locals didn’t understand a word he said but were amused nonetheless.
We hired dualsport motorbikes for 4 days and headed around the southernmost tip of Africa getting the feel of the place. I didn’t tell the bike hire guy that my road bike experience was zilch, but turns out it was much easier than battling my bike through the scrub at home chasing goats. We glimpsed whales off the beach, saw paddocks full of ostrich and baboons, eland and other stuff. We rode rough tracks over mountain passes, winding roads through vineyards and raced down freeways with our hearts in our throats. So much fun, I couldn’t imagine a better trip to do on bikes.
Now the safari begins! We’ve hired a Land Rover with a camper on the back and headed out into the Karoo to see what we can learn from the farmers in Graaf-Reinett. We just love South Africa, the people are friendly, meals are cheap and the scenery is nothing short of spectacular. Life is good and just keeps getting better!