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Beyond the Bale : Dec - Jan 08
By Emma Leonard At a FRESH Group's meeting, five prams containing sleeping babies line up in the shearer's kitchen while their mothers are next door in vigorous discussion. It would be easy to assume these women, from the north of Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, have assembled for a social event. Although this is true in part, the main purpose for their gathering is to learn about grazing saltbush and wool quality. After indeed starting out as a 'mother and baby group' more than a year ago, the FRESH Group is now involved with the SheepPlus grower education program. "We all had young babies and lived on farms -- some had farming background, while others were from the city -- but we all wanted to improve our understanding and contribution to our farm businesses," explains Anne Pearce, who has been a member of FRESH from the start. Anne grew up on a farm, completed a Bachelor of Education and spent time as a governess near Oodnadatta, before marrying Andrew and moving to his family farm in 2001. Completing a certificate in rural business, Anne was keen to learn more about the whole business of the family farm, which includes cropping and prime lamb enterprises. "The group is a great way to learn about a diverse range of farming topics," Anne says. "It gives me more confidence to talk about farming with my husband and his parents." FRESH meets once a month and has speakers on business, production and marketing topics. It has also held two internet conferences, using the same technology as the School of the Air, as well as visits to field days. Originally from a sheep and cattle property north-east of Hawker, Cynthia Correll spent eight years working in Adelaide before marrying a farmer and moving to Yorke Peninsula in 2003. "I just love working with sheep and I would like to work with my husband Nick," Cynthia says. "But with two babies under two years old it is hard to be involved with the farm business, so the group is a great way to keep up with the latest information. "It is a great support group. We are all mums who have married into farms and we can help each other with issues ranging from succession planning to managing the shearers' meals." The information presented at this SheepPlus meeting -- on the opportunities offered by feed-lotting sheep on saltbush -- created much interest, with questions ranging from sourcing and establishing plants to grazing strategies. In the afternoon, state wool manager for Elders Andrew Pike gave a presentation on wool marketing. Several of the women are already involved with marketing their wool and tapped into Andrew's knowledge of different contracts and payment options. Those less involved appreciated the chance to become more familiar with the terms and jargon associated with wool-quality classification. The FRESH Group is coordinated by farmer and rural business educator Sharon Honner, who is passionate about providing women with the opportunity to be more proactive in their farm businesses. "Women are thirsty for knowledge and groups specifically for women offer the opportunity for open discussion," Sharon says. "No one feels intimidated that their question is too stupid to ask, so the meetings are productive and positive for everyone." And if you are wondering what FRESH stands for, it is 'Fun Rural Educated Sexy Housewives'. What more could a rural community need? ú More information: Sharon Honner, 08 8837 3993, email@example.com In South Australia, the SheepPlus program is helping equip women to play a real part in the management of the family farm 14 EDUCATION BEYOND THE BALE PHOTO: EMMA LEONARD FRESH women take a lesson in wool The FRESH Group on northern Yorke Peninsula, SA, is involved with the SheepPlus grower education program to help the women better participate in the farm businesses into which they have married. (From left) Anne Pearce, Joanne Harris, Carolyn Read, Bethany Paterson, Cynthia Correll, Renee Hewett and SheepPlus facilitator Sharon Honner. New tool measures rabbit threat Just two rabbits a hectare halves the potential of native trees and shrub seedlings to regenerate, and at 10 per hectare they allow weeds to replace perennial native grasses, new research has found.The research, by Dr Brian Cooke, program manager for the jointly funded AWI and Meat and Livestock Australia rabbit-control research program, has estimated how many rabbits it takes to damage natural biodiversity as part of the development of an assessment tool for land managers. Dr Cooke found that despite rabbits having been kept low for some years by rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD), a survey of remnant vegetation at 220 sites adjacent to farmlands in south-eastern Australia shows that rabbits were present in 54 per cent of sites visited and were causing noticeable vegetation damage in 26 per cent of those sites -- about half the infested sites. "Rabbits don't do much damage to crops at low levels," Dr Cooke says. "But at just one or two a hectare they are capable of removing all seedlings of the more palatable native trees and shrubs and exacerbating weed competition with native flora. Seedlings are like ice-cream to rabbits. However, most land managers are not aware that a problem exists, except where acute rabbit damage is observed." To raise awareness of the problem, Dr Cooke has developed an assessment tool for scoring rabbit abundance and vegetation damage, which allows land managers to quickly make a decision on actions necessary for reducing rabbits and maintaining biodiversity. Applicable to native vegetation on roadsides, reserves and natural shrub-lands used for pasture, the tool has been tested by Landcare groups, farmers and government agency staff, and progressively improved to increase its robustness and practicality. Dr Cooke says the tool "gives people the eyes to see and appreciate the problem", especially as rabbit populations remain unnoticed in many areas. "Few land managers regularly assess rabbit populations or look at the damage rabbits cause, and many do not understand how to carry out an effective rabbit-control program.This project has set out to address at least the first part of that problem, by developing a simple method to quickly assess a situation and decide whether rabbit management is needed." Although preliminary, the research has also pointed to some areas that should be investigated more thoroughly, he says. "For example, rabbits appear to affect the regeneration of native plants not only by direct browsing, but also indirectly by disturbing the soil and promoting weeds." Dr Cooke says stopping ongoing loss of biodiversity is not something that can be left "to some lucky combination of weather and low numbers of grazing animals." However, if rabbits were held below a level needed to conserve native vegetation, rabbit problems in wider rural landscapes would never reach levels where economic damage was sustained, he says. -- REBECCA THYER
Oct 07 - Nov 07
Feb - Mar 08 Supplement