Biodynamic Farming

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CowsAn address given by Don Rathbone to the Grassland Society of Victoria Inc., 33rd annual conference, 25th  and 26th June, 1992 at the World Congress Centre, Melbourne

I have been asked to inform you of my experiences in Biological Farming, and since receiving literature from the Grassland Society of Victoria and seeing the theme is "Looking Forward" I am sure that what I am going to talk about will adequately cover this.

I started with the Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association of Australia 26 years ago (1966), when I was aware that the soil on my farm was not performing. I had taken over an old sheep property that had been heavily grazed under irrigation and conventional farming conditions.

 Why Did I Start Farming Biodynamically?

I talked to agronomists about the problems I was having -  water would not soak into the soil and would then turn slimy. Then, as soon as the water had gone the plants would look dry and turn blue-green in colour, with the water-couch and sedge taking over. I used their recommendations of 1.5 tonnes of lime to the acre together with superphosphate and trace elements copper and zinc on part of the farm. Then I met some local farmers who were starting with the Biodynamic method and they spoke about improving soil structure and better tasting food so I decided to give Biodynamics a go.

I borrowed the only stirring machine in Australia or the World at the time for stirring the Biodynamic preparations. Prior to this time all stirring of these preparations was done by hand. I then started applying the preparation called 500 to the soil, and within 12 months of spraying the preparation, I was over my stinky soil problems, water started soaking in better, and pasture species began to thicken up. I continued with the method, and the soil structure steadily improved with the aid of some deep ripping and spraying of 500 twice yearly and some compost work that I will tell you more about later.

Advantages of  Biodynamic Farming

The other advantages I have gained from the Biodynamic method is in health of both pastures and animals. The pest problems, such as red-legged earth mite and lucerne flea have practically disappeared with the aid of some extra Biodynamic spraying. With the cows we have no bloat. And I have also stopped drenching all the cattle on the farm although it took me many years to give away fluke-drenching because it was a big problem on the farm before Biodynamics. It was not until another Biodynamic farmer who lived and farmed next to the Mosquito Creek (which should have been a bad fluke area) had sons that worked as stock inspectors and watched their cattle go through the abattoirs, and found that their livers were clean, that I had the confidence to give away drenching altogether. Mastitis in the dairy cows has all but disappeared though I do not believe that dairy cows will ever be totally free of mastitis especially under today's intense farming conditions.

As years have gone by, the soil and root structure have improved and humus levels have increased to the degree that I have now only to irrigate about every 20 days instead of the earlier about 7 days, which is a big saving on labour and resources.


Getting back to my story on compost, in the early days I decided that because there was not much experience about Biodynamic farming under our conditions, I would make some compost with the Biodynamic preparations to enhance it. Without making a long story out of it, the yearly compost heaps became better and better, full of red worms, and broke down in approximately a six month period to a rich humus like material.

I deep ripped the irrigated summer pasture in a semi-dry, ploughable condition, composted over the top, and then irrigated the compost in, spraying 500 later when the soil was a bit drier. 

The method mostly used on Biodynamic farms today is spraying the 500 preparation for 2 or 3 years and then spraying 500 with the compost preparations  in conjunction with efficient use of pasture by growing pasture to optimum length and nutrition, then grazing it completely and growing it again. In doing this you are growing a new set of roots with every grazing, the old roots break down into humus, and the cycle goes on to improve the soil. So I say in broad terms that I have changed my soil from 3 inches to 3 feet over this period of  time.


So now you can understand that I believe that the Biodynamic method is "LOOKING FORWARD" and saving our precious resource, our soil.

Note: Don continues Biodynamic farming to this day, in partnership with his son, Mark.