J Conway

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since Mar 18, 2020
NSW, Australia
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Recent posts by J Conway

Thanks Michelle,

But then I'd have to look after/worry about/feed/pay costs for a dog too!

But on the bright side, we'd have a dog!

Seriously though, I can move animals myself without too much hassle, just not back and forth multiple times a day, foregoing all other work.
9 months ago
You're on the money with picture B! Except think like you're selecting your new section of truck each year.

From the bottom you'll always keep 2. If one trunk dies, or gets dieback, or similar, you can cut it right back, and still have the other trunk while you grow another backup (pun intended).

Above that, prune back to only 2 long canes on each trunk. You'll only keep the best of those when you go back the next year.

In my picture, green you select for your trunk, blue is only kept for a year, red is removed.
9 months ago

For water, I have a spare small self filling trough, that typically holds about 50L. I can move it by hand easily, and it's easy to tip out. I'll incorporate it into whatever coop design I end up with.
9 months ago
Thanks folks, it seems like runner ducks and cobra chickens (aka geese) are the go. We'll try to start with half a dozen or so, and see how we go, before getting  the flock up to real working numbers. I wonder what the DSE for ducks is?

Regarding the height of grapes from the ground, Our cordon wire is at 110cm, everything under that is fair game. Maybe 2-3% of our crop hangs under the cordon, and even then, the grapes will only be tempting during about 1 month a year.

As far as grazing cell rotation goes, hopefully they can just go in behind the sheep.

As a vineyard, everything is already in rows, and I need to be able to run the tractor up between every row, so can't put in permanent fencing that would restrict that. I know some places put fencing right up against their vines, and thus the rows themselves double as fencelines, but if I did that with even only every third row, it'd be nearly 10k of fencing!

So no hubs, or even small square paddocks, are available, since fences can't cross grapes rows.

Instead, I put step in posts down the middle of a row, and roll a single hotwire out from one perimeter fence to the other, about 30cm high. Do that again, about 3 rows along, and I have an "instant" ~8m×200m (1600m2) grazing cell. We're still fine tuning the cell size, by providing more or less rows, and at the moment we're moving them about once a week. I know they say that long narrow cells don't work, but the sheep seem very happy walking up and down the rows during the day. sleeping at one end in the morning, and the other in the afternoon. They certainly cover the whole area, though their manure does concentrate at the ends.

To move animals, I put in the new hotwire, open the previous front wire about 5m, push through water trough and salt lick, animals follow, then I close it up. Voila, yesterday's front wire is now today's back wire; and I can reel in the old backwire ready for the next move. The whole operation takes less than 30 mins. If I add another animal type in the cell behind, I still only need put out 1 new front wire, and collect 1 old back wire. I'll just have one extra set of water and animals to move through in the middle. Adding maybe 5-10 more mins.

Jamie C
9 months ago
We just use bailing twine, tied somewhere convenient near the top of the young vine, and then tied up to the cordon wire. Admittedly the cordon wire on our trellis is only at 110cm, not 7 foot. Consider bringing up at least two canes as trunks from near the ground, in case there's a problem with one.

Until it grows to where you want it, when everything is totally bare in winter, prune off everything except the few best top canes. Be brutal, if the vine is healthy it will be fine. And think about how you're going to prune your vine up on the trellis. Remember you only get grapes on that season's growth, so you keep last season's growth only to determine where you want this season's growth to be. Then, once the new shoots start to grow, you again remove every shoot that isn't where you want it, it's much easier when they're young and green, and you can just pop them off by hand.

Good luck!

For context, we're on a vineyard, with about 10,000 vines. For cane pruned vines, we leave just 2 canes per plant, about a 3 foot long.
9 months ago
From what I can ascertain, that vineyard splits their ducks into two groups. One group stays at the pond, where they are presumably also housed, while the other goes to work. They swap them a few times a day, whenever the ducks' appetite wanes.

While they're 'at work', they're contained in a limited part of the vineyard by a team of chasers. That is a lot of work when there's other things to be done. I guess labour is much cheaper there than here. I'm a 1 man show 90% of the time.

I do have a dam that might make a good duck pond. I could provably even float their coop on a raft, and they'd be instantly predator proof. Getting them out into their grazing cell each day might take some doing though. Possibly a combination of movable coop and floating coop is the answer.

9 months ago
Thanks Drew,

I've had a look at some articles about that vineyard. They put a lot of work into moving those ducks around multiple times during the day.

There's no mention of them having any problems with the ducks, and runners are one of the breeds I have in mind.

I'm worried there are lots of success stories in various farms' marketing, but then quite a few backyard chook keepers say the birds have eaten their grapes?!

I suspect that if anything is going to work, you're on the right track suggesting runners.
9 months ago
Hi all,

We are on a small commercial vineyard (9ha),  which I am slowly moving from conventional farming (lots of glyphosate and chemical controls), to a more wholistic operation. To be clear, this is not a hobby farm: the vines are my whole income and occupation. If the crop fails, the bills don't get paid.

That said, I am trying to shift as many of the vineyards controls as possible to animals: reducing the huge amount of mowing we do, and reducing chemical fertiliser and pest control. We will still need to spray against mildew and botrytis, but want to minimise it by having a good biologically active soil.

So far, we have 13 sheep, and need a lot more. They are babydoll southdowns, and are working perfectly in single hotwire cell grazing arrangement. I estimate we need another 60 of them though! If anyone's interested, I can write a mini-article about how we're optimising the vineyard for the sheep.

We tried miniature pigs (Not true minis, as they are unavailable in Australia, but bred to only about 50cm at the shoulder). They really are lovely animals, but we simply cannot sustain the damage they cause. We only have 6, and we have found a new home for them starting this Saturday. We tried everything except noseringing, but when we recently caught them standing up with their front hoofs on the vine cordon eating our grapes, we knew we just can't keep them. Besides which, they turn a weeks worth of good grass into just mud within a day, and leave the ground so uneven we'll need to till it, which defeats the pupose. If we had a few more acres, I'd keep them, but we don't, so we can't.

Which brings me to our next animal experiment, and the reason for my post: poultry.

I don't want a repeat of the pig problem. I don't want to put poultry out there, just to find them sitting on the cordon mid season, eating our crop. A chicken tractor is out, because the main place we want them to hunt is directly under the trunks of the vines. So I'd use portable coops, shifted weekly, in rotation behind the sheep. We don't have a guardian dog, and they are incredibly hard to buy here, so I'll have to lock the birds up every night.

Does anyone have any experience with chickens in a substantial vineyard?

When the grapes are in season, will chickens damage the crop?

Chickens, ducks, geese? What poultry is least likely to get up into the cordon and eat grapes?

Honestly, I don't eat a lot of eggs, and we'll rarely slaughter a chicken. I'm solely interested in them for pasture/insect management.

Many thanks!
Jamie C.
9 months ago

Fred Tyler wrote:Many vineyards will install purple martin houses. These are of a very specific design to keep out predators. The purple martins are very territorial.  They will chase other birds from the area. They eat bugs, not fruit or seeds.

That sounds like a great idea! Our vineyard struggles terribly with bird damage from starlings, crows, and cockatoos. I wonder if our a house for our native (Australian) tree martins and fairy martins would have a similar effect?
9 months ago
We have 6 small pigs (fully grown about 50-60kg, so very small, but not technically miniature) that we procured specifically to cell graze behind the sheep as we move them through our 9ha vineyard. They're not for bacon, just to eat grass and interrupt the sheep's parasite cycle.

Almost every day we move them to a new 1000m2 area to zoom around in, so they definitely have lots of space and novelty. They always seem very happy: running, eating, playing, and sleeping under the vines, they love a pat/scratch, and one even sits on command. So they're not deprived in any way, but you would not believe how much rooting damage they can do in just one day! They consistently destroy 60-80% of the headland (the 10m wide open area between the fence and the end of the grape rows), and open up a few spots along every row.

The grass is plenty long, since we barely have enough sheep to make a dent, and there's lots of fodder, but they just root everything up terribly.

To be fair, this is almost entirely our fault. When they first arrived, we kept them in our overgrown "nursery paddock" of about 1200m2; they were great and didn't root at all, until the paddock was eaten down. Once the grass was eaten down, and we had to supplement their feed more, they started rooting. We couldn't move them because of harvest, and the workload at that time of year delayed our prep for pig rotation. In that time they learned to root a lot, and have not stopped.

Is it really a problem though?

It is traditional practice to till between the vine rows every winter. I really don't want to do that, so the pigs are a great compromise, but we can't just leave the moonscape rugged. I still need to run the sprayer and harvester over it, which I don't want jumping all over the place. My solution for now is to go over all their damage with a rake whenever I get an opportunity, and throw down some new seed. Only time will tell if it's viable in the long term.

So my problem is similar to yours, but beyond soil health, I have to also consider the practicality of towing machinery over a pig rutted surface. Is the raking enough? Am I undermining the pigs good work? Is this going to wreck my land in the long term? I just don't know yet.

Worst case scenario is ringing the pigs. I'd really rather not, but if push comes to shove it's either nose rings or the table.

On a bright side note, we have found very long narrow grazing cells (~5m X ~200m, with water at one end) work fantastically for our sheep and pigs. Grazing impact and manure distribution is pretty good and even so far. Perhaps it's the nature of the vine rows; the linear pattern of growth under the dripper lines, and long runs of shade? Whatever it is, all the animals spend mornings at one end of the rows, afternoons at the other, and at play they love the long runs up and down. Head out with treats, and a dozen babydoll sheep stampeding along a vine row is pretty hilarious; our little sounder of pigs isn't much better!
9 months ago