How portable equipment can save your lamb chops

Portable electric fencing and a portable water trough are two of the most useful – and least expensive – pieces of farming kit we own.

We bought the trough for the sheep yards and the fencing because we could afford it at the time and figured it would come in handy.

They were both sensible buys but it took a “real” farmer to get us out of our townie mindset and show us how useful our portable stuff could actually be.

No winter feed

Case in point: a few months back, when we were de-stocking.

A local farmer and his wife came to guide us through the process of slaughtering our first hogget. In the interests of full disclosure, I should make it clear that Ewan did all the killing and dressing while I sat at the kitchen table and got emotional.

After the business was complete and the sheet-wrapped carcass hung in the shed, Gary and Liz asked us how we were getting on generally.

We told them about our efforts to renew the pasture in two paddocks — neither of which was a roaring success — and our fears that we wouldn’t have enough feed over the winter.

Newbie lifestyle block blunders

In the previous couple of years, we’d made every mistake in the newbie book: we over-stocked, over-grazed and over-estimated the length of our growing season. Then along came the summer drought of 2012-13 and our land never recovered.

We were reducing sheep numbers from 27 to 12 but there was no feed for our seven cattle beasts and things were beginning to look a bit dire.

Gary suggested we winter the cattle off-farm if we could.

“The land needs a rest,” he said.

“But there’s feed for the sheep,” said Liz. “We noticed it when we drove in.”

We looked at her uncomprehendingly.

“All that stuff on either side of the driveway, plus the orchard,” she said. “That should keep them going for a while.”

But that’s not a paddock, the little townie voice in my protested.

Feed grows everywhere

“Our cows graze everywhere, right up the driveway, almost to the house,” said Liz, reading my mind. “When you’ve got nothing else, it can make all the difference.”

So we took their advice. We moved the cattle across the road to the neighbour’s. He was happy to have the long grass in his back paddock eaten down.

Once they were gone, Ewan rigged up the electric fence, moved the water trough into the orchard on a very long hose and let the sheep loose.

I swear they jumped for joy.

They’ve had two stints in the orchard over the winter and now that the cocksfoot’s growing again, they’re due to go back in.

It was the simplest and most obvious solution to a big problem; we just couldn’t see it because we don’t quite have the farming mindset yet.

But at least we had the kit!