Farm Management

Fencing


Farms are generally separated into areas according to their intended use. Areas may include homestead and domestic garden, parking and access, animal and poultry housing and servicing, pasture and grazing, crop and orchard, as well as others that the farmer finds necessary.
Today, this division is much the same, although there are many more "hobby-farms" now that have only animals, poultry or orchards and these may all be in the same area.


The stile allowed people to cross into a field without opening a gate.
Stile

In the olden days, the homestead was usually surrounded by a reasonably attractive, sturdy and animal-proof fence and gate, either post and rail or post and wire. Other areas had post and wire, often barbed, or natural hedges to divide them, and access gates for farming equipment linking them. The fence or hedge was often covered with, or made up of, blackberry bushes which were very popular with families nearby for the free berries available in season.
Occasionally, on English farms there was a stile in a fence. This was two or three wooden steps on each side of the fence, allowing people to climb the fence easily, rather than open the gate. These are much less common now, and a larger proportion of fencing is wire.

An alternative to gates to limit road passage of stock, is the stock grid. This is a set of parallel steel bars fixed horizontally in the ground between two sections of fence. The bars are spaced a few inches apart to make it difficult, if not impossible, for cattle or sheep to pass, while allowing vehicles and humans to pass unimpeded.

Electric fencing is used to control access by animals and people. Electrical pulses have peaks up to 10,000 volts, which drops almost instantly to a low value when current is drawn.
Early fence chargers used a transformer and a mechanical switch to create electrical pulses. Later systems used solid-state circuitry, which was more reliable.
Modern fence chargers use a different design. A capacitor is charged by a solid-state circuit, and when contact is made the charge is released via a controlling device such as a thyristor for a very short time, typically ten microseconds.
Fence chargers may be mains-powered, battery-powered or, more recently solar-powered.

Weeds


The most basic, and probably the oldest form of weed control is hoeing, followed later by the advent of ploughing. Hoes were used as early as 1800BC, though they have undergone many changes since then. Hoes are tools that cut weeds just below the soil surface. Early types had short handles, and were responsible for many back injuries. More modern ones have long handles to prevent this. There are also hoes designed for shaping the soil into mounds or ridges for crop planting, and another, called a hoedad, for digging holes for tree planting.

The grubbing hoe, or grub hoe, is used for digging up root crops like potatoes
A grubbing hoe

The hoedad has a much stronger head than the hoe and is set at right-angles so it acts rather like a pickaxe to dig holes
A hoedad, used for digging
holes for tree planting.

Ploughs continue to be horse or bullock drawn in many places
Horse-drawn plough
Ploughs were once drawn by horses or bullocks
Plough shears of a
horse-drawn plough
Tractor-drawn ploughs are now widely used.
Tractor-drawn plough

Picture of a modern plough

Although all of the above hand-tools are still used and are necessary for smaller jobs, modern machinery reduces land treatment time and cost, as well as improving the results.
Horse-drawn ploughs can plough multiple furrows but this generally requires two or more horses, and horses need to be rested frequently so it becomes costly with regard to farm resources.
The section of a plough that cuts and turns the soil is called a mouldboard. Early ploughs had only one mouldboard and when the plough was turned to start the next furrow, the upturned soil was thrown on top of that from the previous furrow.
Later ploughs have two mouldboards leaned in opposite directions. One mouldboard is raised in the air while ploughing, then after each row the mouldboards are reversed with the result that the soil is always upturned and thrown into the previous furrow.
The modern plough at right has many very useful features like reversible mouldboards, hydraulical protection that allows them to pass over rocks and other hard material without damage, and simple width-variation. Being tractor-drawn, no animal rest time is necessary.


Insects


Insect pests can be controlled in several ways, including the use of chemicals, companion-planting, crop-rotation and encouragement of natural enemy breeding. All of these, and others, have been tried at various times and with varying success levels.
Chemical application has been used for thousands of years, perhaps the earliest being the use of sulfur over 4000 years ago. More recently the use of pyrethrum (a natural insecticide obtained from daisys) and rotenone (from tropical plants) have been used. Pyrethrin remains the more popular as rotenone can be hazardous to humans and is lethal to fish.
Companion-planting is the planting of two or more varieties of crop in the same area, as the companion repels the insect pests that would attack the major crop.
Crop-rotation acts by effectively starving the pest population during alternate years as they lose their natural food source.
Some insects are harmless but eat other harmful ones, so are encouraged into the crop area. An example is the growing of blackberry vines in vineyards. These attract parasitic wasps that eat leafhoppers, which ruin grape crops.
Some plants are grafted onto other rootstock that has resistance to the pests. This was once used just for perennials, but is now sometimes used for tomatoes and cucumbers as well.
Trellising and removal of lower leaves are also used to discourage non-flying insects.
Chemicals were (and still are, in many places) applied by hand, then machines were made that distributed the chemical evenly and quickly over large areas.

Picture of a Cessna plane spreading chemicals over a field in Australia

In very large areas of farmland, crop-duster planes are now used, but these require a high degree of flying skill and are too expensive for smaller farms. Many farms and stations hire a crop-duster for a few days to apply the chemicals, thus sharing the cost. The plane, usually a small Cessna or similar, can also be used for top-dressing, fertilizing, watering and hydro-seeding. In hydro-seeding, seed is mixed with mulch and sometimes fertilizer and formed into a slurry for spreading by hand, truck or aeroplane.

Wildlife


Animal pests are many and varied, including feral cats, dogs, pigs, and horses and many more. Many pests that were not originally present in an area were introduced, either accidentally, for sport or some other reason, and then got out of control. Two examples of this in Australia are rabbits and foxes, both introduced to provide sport for hunters. These both caused many millions of dollars of damage to property.
Mankind has always struggled to control animal pests in various ways. Back in 3000BC, the Egyptians used cats to control rats and mice in grain stores. Cats and dogs are still used today for controlling small animals, though many more advanced techniques have been developed, including trapping, shooting, poisoning and repelling.
In 1907, a fence called The Rabbit-Proof Fence was constructed across Western Australia, North to south, with a length of 1139 miles. It was intended to keep rabbits from entering Western Australia,but did not succeed and another two shorter ones were later built to improve the protection.
Later, when myxomatosis was used to control the rabbits, these became less important.
Myxomatosis was introduced in 1950 to try to control the rabbit population. It was partially effective but the rabbits later develped an immunity to it. In 1996 another virus, calicivirus was developed and released and is still used today.

The rabbit was introduced to Australia in 1859
and has caused millions of dollars damage.
The rabbit has caused millions of dollars
damage since it was introduced in 1859.

The Rabbit-Proof Fence stretches north to south across Western Australia. It was built in three stages  with a total of 3200 miles.
Rabbit-proof fence

The red fox was introduced into Australia for sport, but is now a severe problem to farmers
The red fox, introduced to provide sport
for hunters,has caused huge losses in
young sheep and poultry.

In 2002 the Victorian Government (Australia) trialed a bounty system for foxes, but this was not successful. Similar schemes have been tried for rabbits, with varying degrees of success. Currently, there is no defined scheme for eradication of either rabbits or foxes in Victoria and they continue to be a big problem to farming with foxes killing sheep and poultry, and rabbits eating and uprooting crops.

Cane toads were introduced to Australia from Hawaii in June 1935 by Sugar Research Australia to control the native cane beetle in Queensland. They are highly toxic and have severely impacted wildlife as well as causing the death of many domestic animals. Having no natural predators they are now out of control and have spread to other parts of Australia, with very little effect on the cane beetle population.


If you have information about farming in The Olden Days, or modern-day farming, please visit our Contact page with details.


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