Farm blogs – personal stories from the bush

There are now quite a few Australian farming blogs – and there are several different kinds. 

  • There are those that are entertaining and informative accounts of daily domestic issues, written by women, which highlight the lifestyle and financial management differences between living in towns and living in the bush.  These blogs are interesting and very useful in regard to helping non-rural residents understand what it’s like to live in the bush – particularly from the point of view of being a mother and a wife.  In the bush  women still mainly run the household, which includes the business’s office (statistically, most rural women have spent more years in formal education).  While blokes spend most of their time outside in a hands-on role.  It’s not politically correct to point this out, but it remains an immutable fact that blokes are physically stronger when it comes to rural work, which remains physically demanding despite labour saving devices – and as age advances, this difference between men and women becomes more apparent.   And women generally do a better job of organising and running a household, family etc.  This is not to suggest that women should be chained to the kitchen!  In fact there are many blokes who deal with finances and many women who work outside, particularly in jobs requiring patience, such as training weaners.  (To clarify further – ‘running a household’ is of course just as essential as working to earn an income – successful farming families usually have a husband and wife partnership, in which each person does what they’re best at, enabling the other to do the best job they can, sometimes swapping roles, and supporting one another.)  It is mostly blokes who are writing blogs discussing more technical, factual, hands-on aspects of farming, because they’re usually the ones driving the tractor all night or branding or crutching all day – and these are the farming blogs that are the scarcest (for obvious reasons).
  • There are also many blogs written by people running food production enterprises that are not of a sufficient scale to produce an income large enough to live on.  I.E., they’re ‘hobby farm’ type enterprises, for want of a better description.  These are often run by people who have made a living in an urban career, and bought rural land to escape to on the weekend or in retirement.  Those written by people who do not have a rural background are interesting in regard to growing your own food in your spare time, often with very innovative ideas, and often with very clear descriptions of farming practices because they’ve been written by people new to the business.  However as farming blogs they can be misleading, because often the way of doing things is not economically feasible on a farming operation that is required to generate sufficient income to support a family, long-term.  How it is possible to manage a small number of livestock or grow food on small acreage often isn’t transferrable to a full-time going concern that grows enough food to sell to others and make a full-time, long term living for a family.  It’s easy to be idealistic and use practices that would be inefficient on a large scale,  if  there’s another source of capital or income.  There are quite a few blogs that purport to be ‘farm blogs’ that fall into this category.  Without naming any names, some of these ‘farm’ blogs are written in a clearly superior/smug tone, either criticising the previous owners (the farm we bought from an elderly couple was very run down and degraded…) and/or neighbours.  How not to win friends & influence people, and how to set yourself up for future criticism by successors.  It must be pointed out, however, that anyone who has purchased rural land and set about improving the natural environment and producing good quality food, is a very valuable asset to the local community.  Often people who have built up capital outside primary production have the financial resources to spend money on renovating and/or embarking on capital works that would otherwise have been difficult.  This includes work on buildings (homes, machinery & shearing sheds) to yards, fencing, waters, pastures and livestock breeding programmes; and weed and pest management.  This capital expenditure doesn’t just improve the property they own, it can help introduce innovative ideas to others, improve local moral, provide local employment and help local businesses.
  • The exception to the above ‘hobby farm’ group of blogs, is blogs written by people who grew up on farms, moved to the city or mines for a career, then returned to the bush with enough money to buy their own land (which may or may not be enough to make a living off).  The old saying ‘you can take the boy out of the bush but not the bush out of the boy’ is true.  People who grew up on the land and return to it, do so with enthusiasm tempered by a healthy dose of realism.  They understand the good aspects of rural life and primary production but they also know the downsides so they’re not filled with romantic dreams or out-of-control idealism.  They retain a life-long understanding of the web of life and that making a living from primary production is complicated, completely weather and market dependent, and not a two-dimensional career in which hard work and talent is predictably rewarded.  If you grow up in the bush you have a fundamental understanding that what’s great in theory won’t necessarily be feasible in practice, but most people are creative, prepared to give new things a go, and hard working.  Blogs written by this group of people tend to be especially well written, because they’ve got very broad life experience.
  • It’s much harder to locate well-explained rural blogs written by people who are hands-on running fulltime agribusinesses, long-term – with nitty-gritty factual information and debatable issues relating to large scale farming and livestock raising.  (Full time) farmers work long hours most or all days of the week and are generally exhausted when they knock off.  So naturally it’s hard to find any hands-on fulltime farmers dedicated enough to voluntarily spend some of their scant spare time, writing about what they do, for no other reason than to help people unfamiliar with the industry, understand how their food and fibre is grown and encourage thought on topical issues.

However there are a few.  Here’s a few excellent rural blogs that I’ve found via some concerted digging around the internet:

  • Dairyfarming – Milk Maid Marian (Marian Macdonald, Gippsland, Victoria) Excellent info on dairyfarming and explanations of issues.
  • Free Range Pig farming & heritage poultry and other rare livestock breeds – Mt Gnomon Farm (Guy Robertson & Eliza Wood, NW Tasmania) Loving descriptions of their livestock combined with the practical realities of raising livestock to be eaten – different to the average ‘organic, free range’ type farmers who are specialising in odd breeds because they’re ‘cute’ – this couple are the real deal.
  • Cotton growing – Tales of a Cotton Wife (Bess, Mungindi, northern NSW) Excellent info on cotton growing.
  • Chook farming – Our Free Range Farm  (Andy Peverill, Cookamidgera NSW) Good explanations of the trials of chook farming.  And no it’s not like having half a dozen chooks in the backyard, only bigger.
  • Grain Cropping – Nerd Farmer (Jonathan Dyer, Wimmera district, Victoria)  Wondering what your supermarket pasta is made from?  Jonathan grows it, and he explains it.
  • Sheep – wool production, plus sustainable land & wildlife management – Ochre Archives (Phillip Diprose, Grenfell, Central NSW).  Practical, no-nonsense, factual examples of sustainable farm management.  Images explain the writing in an exceptionally organised and clear manner.  For example, before and after images of sheep mowing the house yard, wool selling, soil sampling and tree planting. 
  • Merino wool production, crossbred fat lambs & Hereford cattle, written especially for young children – especially those unfamiliar with life on a farm – KT’s Farm Life.  Over the years I’ve been contacted by many primary and secondary school teachers seeking agriculture-related teaching resources for their students.  Older kids would find adult blogs interesting and informative, but younger kids need something specifically written for their age.  This blog has been written by Alison Rutledge but from her five year old daughter’s perspective.  Now I have somewhere to direct the enquiries from teachers!

It’s surprising that well written, informative blogs similar to the style of the above farming blogs, but written by people making a living out of Merino sheep (as distinct from non-fine wool breeds), are scarce.  Given the historical significance of Australia’s production of fine wool, the continuing uniqueness of our fine wool industry and increasing popularity of wool as the ultimate environmentally friendly fibre (with prices rising again in recent years) and the relatively high level of education amongst this sector of primary industry –  the lack of blogs written by people living on Merino sheep properties is surprising. 

Writing good quality blog posts, regularly and long-term, with no prospect of financial or other tangible gain, is truly an act of dedication.  The rural blogging landscape is constantly changing as new farm bloggers begin, full of enthusiasm, and longer term farm bloggers find their supply of time and/or energy has depleted past the point where continued blogging is possible.

I look forward to seeing additional farming blogs written by people involved in all aspects of Australian agriculture, from horticulture and fruit growing, to fishing and forestry, crop growing and livestock raising, in different parts of the continent.   The more variety there is, the faster two-dimensional farming stereotypes will be broken down.

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