For those of us wanting to live more sustainably, living on a small acreage, growing your own fruits and vegetables and keeping a few animals is something most of us want to achieve. My partner and I (Bel) worked hard to buy our small farmhouse on 10 acres, and have lived here now for 11 years. We have planted fruit trees, have a vegetable garden, keep geese and chickens and also run sheep in the paddocks. We are also working on a plan to grow and expand and want to farm over 100 acres in the near future. We love this kind of life and it can be very rewarding, but being more sustainable – well trying to be – does bring with it its own challenges.
One of the main questions I always get asked is
“how do you manage a farm, work, travel and family?”
My partner and I both work full time away from home, and I spend 3 hours a day commuting. I also have lots of siblings, nieces and nephews so have a lot of family commitments, as well as all the usual things you try and fit into the few spare hours that’s left. So, I thought I would be open and honest with you and say, it’s not always easy.
Our biggest challenge to date has been the lack of rainfall at our farm over the last few years. We live only a couple of hours south of Adelaide, but rainclouds tend to part like the Red Sea over our farm and we have had very little rainfall for the last three consecutive years. We aren’t connected to mains water so if we run out, we have to truck it in.
Whilst the emptying water tanks was something we were starting to notice, the flow-on effect of the drought-like conditions would have on the farm wasn’t something we were aware of at the time.
In April 2017 we were hosting our family Easter celebration when we notice that one of our ewes had abandoned her twin lambs. In over 10 years of running sheep, we hadn’t had this issue before (we’ve been very lucky to say the least). Although the kids and adults enjoyed cuddling and feeding the lambs, we weren’t prepared for raising them ourselves. So here we are, hosting Easter for 20+ people trying to look after two newborn lambs.
A couple days later, another ewe abandoned her lamb. Thankfully, we were successful with getting the ewes to take back their lambs, however this was just the start of a very bad year for us. We ended up losing 8 lambs and 4 ewes. There were no warning or physical signs as to why this was happening. We were incredibly concerned.
We then found out it was a combination of issues all stemming from the lack of rain. The paddocks were no longer growing feed so the sheep were lacking in nutrients, the only thing that was growing was a weed commonly known as potato weed which is not something you want your livestock eating, and the water tablet we use to assist in keeping the livestock’s water cleaner for longer, all contributed to losing so many of our flock. They were copper deficient.
Why I am telling you this? Well, to give you an insight into our reality at the moment.
Lack of Water
We are nearly at the end of winter and are still lacking in water. We’ll be lucky to have harvested around 200ml for the entire year. We will be trucking in water not only for ourselves, but for our livestock as well. It means another year without feed in the paddocks. We’ll have to buy in hay to feed the sheep.
There will be no spare water for a vegetable patch or for the fruit trees. I’ll be trying my hardest to at least keep the trees alive by composting and mulching well. I’m hoping there’ll be enough nutrients there to keep them going. We won’t get any fruit.
It’s not looking great for us and even if the rain comes next year, it will take a few good years of rain to make a difference and put us back on track.
Now, I don’t want to scare you if your dream is to live a more sustainable life on acreage. But rather to give you an insight into what could happen, especially if you choose to have animals or experience a lack of rainfall.
It’s not all doom and gloom for us. We have our jobs and will pay to bring in feed and water. We will get through it. But it is a different situation for many of our commercial farmers. Some of whom are going into their 6th year of drought.
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