Why farm mechanically when you can farm biologically?

We always try to opt for the biological solution where possible. This vignette, pertaining to management of our cover crop in the vineyards, illustrates the point I am trying to make.

A major problem for almost every wine farm at this time of the year is a weed called Ramnas, a type of wild radish. It outcompetes the cover crops and will eventually hinder the flow of air through the vineyard (increasing the risk of fungal diseases) and where it grows particularly well it grows higher than the cordon and interferes with vineyard growth.


All weeds are messengers and what ramnas indicates is leached nitrogen. Most artificial fertiliser leaches and ramnas has the ability with it’s long taproot to go and mine the nitrogen. We have ramnas because we are in conversion of our vineyards from conventional to organic and eventually biodynamic management. Spier was conventionally farmed for many, many years. Instead of listening to the messenger, my fellow wine farmers shoot it.

The standard solution to ramnas is to send the tractor in with a bossiekapper(a giant lawnmower). Usually twice a season. This achieves the following:

  1.  Compaction of your soil.
  2. The ramnas lies on the ground, and because there is no life in the soil because it is chemically farmed, it will take a very long to break down.
  3. Diesel cost.
  4. Tractor driver costs.
  5. The cover crop is also mown which removes the primary reason for having the cover crop in the first place, namely biomass in the vineyard.
  6. Maintenance costs for the tractor.

What we do is put 237 cattle into 1 hectare and move them twice a day.

There are none of the above mentioned expenses and more importantly there are the following benefits:

  1. The ramnas has been eaten and gone through the digestive system of the herbivore(not a grainivore) and is therefore bioavailable to the microbes in the soil.
  2. The cover crop has been eaten by a herbivore which has an enzyme in its spit that stimulates plant growth and so the recovery in the cover crop is tremendous.
  3. Cattle herdmen cost a lot less than tractor drivers.
  4. The electric fence that contains the cattle is solar powered and movable.
  5. An enormous amount of free, microbe friendly fertiliser has been deposited in the vineyard in the form of manure and urine.



Below is the after

The bullying tactics of the feedlot/grain fed beef industry.

Dear Reader

I have been threatened with legal action by SA Feedlot. They represent the grain fed beef industry. You can only feed cattle grain in a feedlot.

They know that on every conceivable metric grass fed beef beats grain fed beef. Whether it be nutritional value to the human eating it, the environmental impact, carbon sequestration versus contributing to global warming, treatment of the animals etc etc. So rather than engage on the subject and keep most beef eaters ignorant they resort to smothering tactics.

If you are interested please read their letter to me below and below that the measured response from my attorney.

I look forward to debating this with supporters of grain fed confinement cattle finishing.

Thank you.

SA feedlot letter to me 6 June 2012
VLCB response 15 June 2012



Conventionally produced food is irresponsibly or dishonestly priced

I had two sets of visitors to the farm today and the question of the pricing of organic goods came up again. Second to the great canard, organics cannot feed the world, it is the most common observation about our produce. That usually stops after tasting the quality and engaging on the subjects below.

As Joel Salatin so eloquently argues conventional food is mispriced. We can use any conventionally produced fruit, meat or vegetable for the purposes of this discussion but in this case lets look at feedlot or grain fed beef.

Here are the items that are not in the price that you pay for your steak (remember it is only ourselves and Greenfields who finish our beef on pasture/grass).

1. The environmental damage from the feedlot.

2. The antibiotic resistance in the human being from eating antibiotic meat.

3. The environmental damage from raising the GMO grains fed to these animals.

4. The humaneness or rather lack of it in having an animal stand in its own excrement for at least 110 days.

5. Contributing to global warming.


Before discussing in a little more detail have a look at the photo below of a feedlot in this country.

Now compare that with this picture taken last week whilst we were training our cattle to high density graze the vineyard cover crops. 200 cattle in a total of 2 hectares daily, moved twice a day versus an animal having 10 square metres to stand in for 110 days.

Spier vineyard grazing

1. The environmental damage from the feedlot.

The waste from the feedlot is uncompostable as the antibiotics kill the microbes that would be breaking down the compost.

2. The antibiotic resistance in the human being from eating antibiotic meat.

You can choose to read anywhere you want but this is becoming a major global health issue. Don’t expect our Department of Health or of Agriculture to take any notice of this.

3. The environmental damage from raising the GMO grains fed to these animals.

Your beef eats GMO grains. South Africa is the only country in Africa that allows GMO grains and that makes us the stupidist country in Africa. The only ones who benefit from GMO grains are the companies selling glyphosate. Here is a concise update and explanation of what the problems are with GMO’s. Words such as spontaneous abortion and resistant super weeds should get you to read this article.

4. The humaneness or lack of it in having an animal stand in its own excrement for at least 110 days.

Should there be a premium for beef eating what it is designed to eat and being moved to fresh pasture at least twice daily? Or does the treatment of animals not matter as a price factor? Is it being too green to worry about these things?

5. Contributing to global warming.

Grain fed beef contributes to global warming. Admittedly not as much here as in the Americas but think about the diesel spent on preparing, growing, planting and harvesting the maize and soya and the diesel spent getting it to the silo and then to the feedlot. Compare this to high density grazing where the pastures recover to be grazed every 6 weeks. 65% of the sugars produced by the plant are stored in complex carbon chains in the ground. Carbon is removed from the atmosphere by a growing plant.


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