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19 Oct 2011 - 12:33 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Cows only have bottom teeth. They swipe their thick, coarse tongue over a swathe of grass, curl it around and chomp it off using the teeth and a hard pad on the upper jaw. With this quick, efficient action, a cow can graze quite happily for about 10 hours or so a day, walking forwards past the eaten graze to fresh grass further afield.

They need long grass for this action to work, and hence the pasture needed for cattle is longer than that for sheep. Sheep and wallabies can compete for very fine grass, particularly over winter, when many cows in cold climates are put on dry food, such as hay. When a cow isn’t eating, she’s probably chewing her cud, masticating food that has been through two stomachs and is partially digested, before depositing it in the next stomach. All up, a cow has four stomachs and can make 40 000 chewing motions in a day.

These things probably aren’t that interesting to your average person. But to me they’ve become mini obsessions. Watching the animals eat. Seeing how much time they spend lounging and chewing their cuds. Seeing the three-leaf stage of grass, and how long it takes to appear. Watching the almost immediate impact of the new wallaby proof fence on the length, colour and quality of the grass within the paddock. Observing the slow movement (or lack of) moisture through the landscape. And wondering how best to harness what nature has given us.

This week, nature gave us twins. Two fresh new lambs on a blustery, cold, very wet night. They’re sturdy enough already, which is a relief after the last twins were born. The small, fragile one of the previous two was taken by a quoll or possibly a devil on its first night. It must’ve staggered away from its mum and all we found was a leg. They say the only man who hasn’t had dead lambs has never reared lambs. They say a lot of tough stuff in the bush. Like your cows won’t notice a new fence that’s been put up a bit wonky. But your neighbours will, even if they don’t comment on it.

Visited a couple of pig farms up north last week and talked about caring for the land. It’s hard as a free-range pig farmer, particularly in a rainy area, to manage the soil. Guy Robertson from Mount Gnomon put it well when he said it was a balance between animal welfare and the environment.

Pigs will root around in the ground. They will spend their whole day trying to dig up plants or grubs or something, in the dirt. What is a green paddock one day is soon turned to something else entirely. At the moment our pigs are on used ground, and we don’t have anywhere else to put them where they will thrive and not destroy the land we’ve built up. They seem happy enough. I still think it’s better than a barn, but can’t wait to get them onto new country.

The plan is to use them to help break up a new vegie garden area. They can act as a harrow when it’s dry (which it hasn’t been much), but as soon as it rains they tend to damage the soil structure. But first I need to get more fencing done. Which seems to be the story of livestock farmers everywhere.