How the cows bring life to the landscape

I call my little piece of the world paradise and for good reason. If gives me great pleasure to wake up very early every morning and breathe it all in.

These days the wonder of it all starts to bring joy to my heart around 5.30am and I spend many mornings on my front verandah just trying to capture the sheer beauty of it all with my camera

This week I was reminded just how much the cows add a whole new dimension to the word ‘landscape’ 

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Whatever my legacy it will always give me great pride to have spent the last 35 years of my life enhancing and sustaining this very special part of the world.

And just to reinforce my point this incredible photo was taken (not by me) just ten minutes from the farm 

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The Milky Way above the coast of Kiama

I never thought of it like that

Today’s post has been written by the amazing Stephanie Coombes creator of the Careers in Australian Agriculture website who also blogs at the laugh a minute  Steph’s Agventures

Steph was born and raised in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. She has just graduated with a degree in Ag Science with First Class honours and is passionate about the beef cattle industry and ultimately wants to work in the live export industry, in animal welfare, training, education and supply chain management. She is now honing her skills as a jillaroo just about to start work for Annabelle Coppin on the huge Yarrie station at Marble Bar in WA

Steph first told me this story on the couch at the National Press Club in Canberra and I was fascinated. I have watched the cows going to the paddocks backwards from the dairy for years and must admit they way they do it intrigued me but never understand the “science” behind it

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Here is the “science” told like I will guarantee you have never heard it told before ………  

 

There are countless times I have said “I never thought of it like that”, and it always makes me think that well… I don’t think enough. How could I not pick up on something so fundamental? The skill of observation often sets people apart in this industry, if you have it, you’re one up, if you don’t, well… awkward! However, sometimes I tend to focus on particular things, and stop observing the bigger picture.

One example of when I have said “I never thought of it like that” was when the intricacies of cattle pads (tracks) were explained to me.

Question time! Cow pads… are they straight… or meandering?

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If you answered meandering, two points to you! Next question… why do they meander?

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Are the cows drunk? Are pastoralists all over Australia spiking the lick for a laugh? Are cattle just not blessed with the gift of balance like the Australian gymnastics team? Nope. Is my imagination in overdrive? Yes…

The answer is to do with livestock senses. In the short time I have been working with beef cattle, I have had two main teachers who have bestowed a lot of knowledge upon me. Well I don’t know if I have said that quite right, because it is not as if they dropped a bomb of knowledge on me. I suppose it was more not just what they taught me, but also how they taught me. It wasn’t just facts and figures from a book, it was about using my skill of observation, and asking myself questions about what I was seeing and why I was seeing it.

It should come to you as no surprise that both of these people are well respected in the beef industry, and very good at what they do. They are Doug “Dougie” Jenkins, and Boyd Holden.

There is a whole spiel on livestock senses I could go into, but I’ll cut to the chase about meandering cattle pads.

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Cattle have peripheral vision. That means they have a wide angle vision, like a panoramic camera shot. They also have poor depth perception directly in front of them. Humans, on the other hand, have binocular vision, so we can see directly in front of us, but not so much to the side, and certainly not behind us!

One theory entertains the idea that our vision is dictated by our predator- prey status throughout evolution. Cattle are herbivores, they are the prey. Furthermore, they are grazing animals. Like that game we played in primary school “heads down, thumbs up”, drive past a paddock of cattle, and you will see them playing “heads down, bums up”.

Now, if the cattle are busy playing “heads down, bums up”, who is on the lookout for predators sneaking up in the grass?

If cattle had binocular vision, it would serve zero purpose to them as they had their head in the grass, munching away. They’d just be looking at grass. However, with their panoramic vision, they have poor vision directly in front of them (the grass) but good vision side to side.

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Now first things first- that is an awful picture, yes I am aware! It looks more like a pig than a cow.

Now back to business. So can you see in this picture, with the panoramic vision, the cattle can be scanning for predators while they are grazing? Why it is more useful for them to be able to see around them, than directly in front of them?

Next, take note of the blind spot. Even with their panoramic vision, cattle, like us, are not blessed with being able to see directly behind them, which means they are also susceptible to people running up behind them yelling things like “boo” or “RAHHH”, things other people think are funny, but as the person with no eyes in the back of our heads, things we do not think are funny…

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So imagine you are a cow walking around. You have poor depth perception directly in front of you, (I’m not sure if that is near or far sightedness?), good vision side to side, but then you have this annoying blind spot. That one spot which leaves you open to a dog or another predator, sneaking up behind you. Of course, being in the “prey club” as opposed to being a predator, I would be a bit paranoid on top of that if I was a cow.

So, you need to check behind you, to make sure nothing is eying you off as dinner (unless you are in a hoof and hook class and then you should be eying off that human on the other end of your lead rope!).

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Now, we all have that annoying friend who bumps into us when we’re out shopping, they keep looking at window displays, cute boys walking past etc… Fact is, when you turn your head, you often wander off your pathway. That’s why we have mirrors on our cars, especially those add ons which show you your blind spot! Wandering out of your lane is far worse than bumping into your friends!

That is why cattle pads meander. Cattle need to check their blind spot as they go on their way. They have fairly short, inflexible necks, so when they bend them to play peek-a-boo, it affects their whole body, sending them off course ever so slightly.

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Horses on the other hand, have longer, more flexible necks, are able to look behind them without such an obvious effect on their balance and as a result, their tracks aren’t as meandering.

I love learning bits of information like this. It is such an important concept to me, to be able to understand livestock senses, and why they do what they do, to be able to work with them effectively. Sometimes we are so focused on awesome research and discovering new things, we don’t discover what already is.

…. and a great night was had by all on the couch at the National Press Club as you can imagine with story tellers like this for entertainment. Thanks Steph I must admit my life is re-energised since I met you   

BTW Some more interesting stuff here via Emma http://www.slideshare.net/LandLearnNSW/cattle-whispering-emma-kay

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Start the day with the perfect cocktail

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This weekend Erin (see Next Gen giving our farm lots of TLC) has bought the troops in to put the finishing touches on our Fountaindale Dam project

Fountaindale Dam is a beautiful area bordering our farm but was sadly suffering from benign neglect and we have taken it upon ourselves to build community partnerships to help rectify this.

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This important community area covers diverse environmental zones including the headwaters of Fountaindale Creek which flows into Minnamurra River and wetlands.

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Red circle indicate area of Fountaindale Dam at Jamberoo

Whilst the dam borders our farm it is actually owned by Kiama Council who built it a long time ago in the hope of supplying Kiama with water. An expensive pipe dream as it turned out.

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Lots of farm generations have had fun playing under the dam wall

Above the dam are a number of hobby and lifestyle farms and many small mountain streams which bisect significant areas of high conservation value remnant rainforest feed into the dam. The hobby and lifestyle farms unfortunately in the main don’t fence their cattle out of the waterways and this has led to considerable degradation of the upper stream beds during the drought.

The region is also habitat for the spotted quoll – a beautiful little native animal (which also has a penchance for chooks)

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Spotted quoll cute and endangered but don’t let him near your chickens

Zieria Granulata is an endangered shrub found only in the Illawarra region of NSW and also thrives here.

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With the support of Kiama Council and funding from a Community Action Grant and Erin’s expertise we cleared the invasive evil lantana from the banks of the dam.

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Lantana is considered to be one of the ten worst weeds worldwide but it is so entrenched in the Australian landscape its thickets now provide a substitute habitat for a range of animals, including bandicoots, whipbirds, quail, wrens, birdwing butterflies and brush turkeys, where it has replaced the natural understorey vegetation.

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Every wise landholder knows removing Lantana is a waste of time unless cleared areas are revegetated with native trees or pasture immediately and regular maintenance is a must until the vegetation is well established.

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Once we had cleared the Lantana we sowed ryegrass in the open areas and did spot spraying of secondary weed nasties in the rainforest understory.

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We ensure all our paddocks around the dam have a permanent pasture coverage which helps keep the nutrients on the pasture where they should be and not washed into the waterways during major rainfall events. 

This weekend Erin and her eco warriors have planted a further 400 rainforest tree species such as Black plum, bleeding heart and myrtle ebony as part of a new wildlife corridor.

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Petrol powered plant auger makes light work of digging the holes

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We even landscaped the backyard of our friendly neighbourhood wombat

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Michael bravely put his hand up to plant all the Giant Stinging Trees (Dendrocnide excelsa)-

The purpose of these plantings is to strengthen the existing wildlife corridor that links the lower rainforest to the rainforest around the dam. Once the trees in the wildlife corridor are established we will be planting rows of native grasses to act as a nutrient buffer zone between the pastures and the dam. This will ensure minimal farm runoff can get into the community waterways and help reduce the nutrient load on the waterways.

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All the rainforest trees that have been planted here have been provided by Landcare Illawarra as part of the “Illawarra Rainforest and Woodland project”.

This project aims to increase the genetic diversity of plantings in the Illawarra which has the potential to increase the level of fruiting of individual species. This is an important project as it aims to ensure genetic variability in the many species selected. Landcare Illawarra has collected seed from multiple locations to guarantee this.

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Many hands make light work and another great effort from Next Gen Eco Warriors

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Heads up today is Erin’s birthday – you can wish her happy birthday and tell her what a great little eco warrior she is via Twitter @ErinLake_C2G

Custodians of the land

Clover Hill Dairies in partnership with a number of local stakeholders has been lucky enough to access Federal government Caring for our Country funding to deliver great environmental outcomes on both local dairy farms and hobby farms which are also providing significant benefits for the waterways of the wider catchment

When we started these activities on the farm five years ago we recognised we didn’t have the expertise required to do the job to the level of significance our landscape deserved so we sought expertise from Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority and Landcare Illawarra to ensure best on farm and wider catchment environmental outcomes. We outsourced cow comfort expertise from our farm consultant Dr Neil Moss and Dairy Australia’s NSW NRM coordinator Jess Jennings

Then we got stuck into it and we were pretty pleased with the outcomes and ourselves. A couple of years down the track we found we had ongoing maintenance problems and we readily admit we were well and truly out of our depth.

Cows grazing along water ways do a great job of keeping the weeds under control but the negative is they pollute the waterways and the negatives definitely out way the positives

So when you fence the cows out of the waterways and riparian zones the challenge is then how do you control the nasty weeds. Again you get the experts in and this time its was the bush regenerators. If you then take the time and have two way conversations with these amazing people you learn so much and we now have a new appreciation for our native landscapes and the plants who inhabit them.

We have worked with a number of bush regenerators over the years but our favourite is Erin Lake who I wrote about here

Erin with the help of director Ann Burbrook and videographer Tay Plain of Clear Cut Productions is creating a series of short videos with which we aim to engage, enthuse, educate and empower both farmers and rural landholders who care about their land but don’t necessarily have the skills sets to ensure the best outcomes for the landscape and the native animals

Here are some pictorial highlights from the last two days of the film shoot on the farm

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Director Ann and “talent” Erin co write the scripts

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On set Day 1 and Tay checks out the lighting

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and action

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Ann multi-skills and Erin proves to be a natural. Watch out Richard Attenborough

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Day 2. As far as locations go it doesn’t get much better than this

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Learning the lines

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was never so peaceful

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Cant wait to see the outcome of this footage

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New life

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Its a wrap and now long process of editing and reviewing the footage begins

We hope the take home message from our videos will be

Whether you are a commercial farmer or a hobby farmer or just lucky enough to have your own little piece of rural heaven it is pivotal to remember we are just custodians of the land

The landscape and our waterways are our lifeblood, they feed us, they provide us with natural beauty and so much more, they are not a toy and we must treat them with respect

If you don’t have the skills to manage them to the level they deserve GET THE EXPERTS IN

Gearing up to the countdown

Our little Princess Eileen is off on a big adventure to International Dairy Week the largest annual dairy cattle show and sale in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Eileen says watch out world I am on my way.  

 

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Held in Tatura, Victoria, IDW as it is best known is indisputably the most prestigious event in the dairy industry, showcasing the best quality dairy cattle to over 4,000 visitors from every state in Australia and over 20 countries internationally.  Australia’s dairy men and women bring their top stud animals to compete in a display of over 1,000 dairy cattle from over 6 dairy breeds.

This year for the first time Clover Hill Dairies will be exhibiting in the Jersey section represented by the gorgeous Eileen. You first met Princess Eileen at Christmas when she donned her Rudolph crown

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Well since then she has been washed and blowed dried and washed and brushed and fed and led and generally pampered daily

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So what does one look for in a show cow. Well this is what you look for and as you can see the stud cattle world has a language all of its own.

  • The animal needs to be long, stretchy, and of good size for her age and breed.
  • It should have sharp, clean withers; a straight, strong back; a long, level, wide rump; and feet and legs with correct set.
  • It should have a good spring of rib and be deep in the chest and rear flank.

 

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This picture of Eileen taken by professional cow photographer Dean Malcolm shows off all of Eileen’s best assets 

This picture taken by me shows how her udder measures up ( there is a lot of udder talk in the dairy industry )

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  • rear udder should be high and wide with a well defined ligament throughout
  • fore udder should be snuggly attached to the body wall with four teats hanging straight to the ground

Months of preparation goes into preparing show cows. They have to be well fed. The nutritional needs of your show animal are of major importance and should include high quality hay and grains.

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Now Eileen is quite tiny compared to our Holsteins but like all true princesses she knows how to get her own way and no-one but no-one beats Eileen to the best hay in the hay rack.

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Eileen in the dairy scoffing down her grains whilst she gets milked just before leaving on the truck for IDW

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Emma says “I will miss her whilst she is away”

Show cows have to be brushed at least once a day and have their feet pedicured. Eileen’s feet are looked after by the team of vets from Sydney University. The cows have to be clipped which improves the animal’s style and overall appearance.

Just as weight lifters strike a pose that demonstrates their taut muscles and fashion models know which profile to present a cow needs to be led and posed so as to show off her best assets  The cow should be lead at a comfortable pace with the animal’s head held high enough for impressive style, attractive carriage, and graceful walk.

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Come Wednesday evening next we will see if all the hard work has paid off. What ever happens Eileen will always be our little princess and doesn’t she know it

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Paradise through the lens

Yesterday the cows enjoyed the views from the Cooking School paddock

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Heading home (above) and enjoying the morning feed (below)

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But the day didn’t get off to the ideal start for the cows, the neighbours nor the person who forgot to open the gate to the paddock.

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This is the entrance to the paddock where the cows camped until one of the neighbours saw them and told us

This is the entrance after the manure had been scrapped of the road. Heaven forbid 250 cows waiting to get into the paddock can you imagine the mess.  Less said the better then again as they say in the classics “shit happens”.

The Cooking School paddock you ask?

Yes Clover Hill is very unique. It is part of a dairy centric rural residential subdivision with 12 privately owned blocks ranging from 1 to 100 acres and one of these blocks used to be a five star cooking school. Just as well no cooking lesson were being held today.

Today one of the other neighbours was able to have the pleasure of sitting on their front veranda with the cows almost in their front yard.

Unfortunately John and Jenny did host the cows in their front yard uninvited a few years ago as have most of the neighbours at some stage. But as you can see the garden did recover quite spectacularly

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Much to our relief. In fact it was these very agapanthus that took the biggest battering

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And the cows were eyeing them off again today but they were disappointed. John has made the fence cow proof thank goodness.

Speaking of the fence – the rock wall made a magnificent backdrop for this photo today

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I have a Canon 600D which is their beginner top of the range but I do have the EF 24-105mm lens and this lens can turn even me into a decent photographer

Speaking of photographers John’s nephew is the well known photographer Toby Dixon Now this is photography. Check out his photo shoot with Jonathan Brown, Captain of the Brisbane Lions and Paul Gallen, Captain of the Cronulla Sharks here  http://tobydixon.com/blog/?cat=1

Toby has done some adds for Cadbury’s and a few others at Clover Hill as well

Like this classic

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This is Clover Hill’s very own  Mandelyn Skyframe Toni

Back to the amateurs

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How’s that view along the backline – might not be in Toby’s league but I am having fun