carbon sequestration

The drought shrinks my business. First shoe to drop is eggs.

We are, with immediate effect, closing half of our egg operation. Please read this entire post as it explains why and then lists the clients that will continue to receive eggs from us.

Last Friday our irrigation quota was cut again and consequently we have no Theewaterskloof water with which to irrigate our pastures anymore (I am still paying off a R250,000 fine for overuse of water last summer, I cannot afford another fine and there is no water in the dam anyway).  We have always been able to irrigate 126 hectares.

Our regenerative agriculture project is based on the fact that we enable our pastures to regrow after grazing. This has been possible for the last 9 years thanks to rain or irrigation water. We cannot do this anymore.

We are only going to be able to irrigate 18 hectares of pasture. There is a small dam on the farm that has enough water to keep the 18 hectares going until the end of May. If we do not have  normal winter rains by then, I will close all operations.

Let me preempt a few questions as to why only half the egg business and not the broiler chickens, the pigs, the vineyards and the cattle.

1.  The laying hens are very aggressive graziers on the pastures. This has, up to now, never been a problem as with water being applied to the pastures after their grazing our multi species pastures have bounced back even stronger incorporating the life giving chicken manure. There is no longer any water to ensure this recovery. We have spent the last 9 years as custodians of the land building fertility and I am not prepared to ruin this work. The 18 hectares is enough for 8 Eggmobiles with 300 hens in each. The cattle need to graze there too.

2. We have built up enough grazing for the cattle and the broilers and the pigs for the next 4 months which is when we are hoping that the rains will have started in earnest. We have been able to have this grazing cushion because we have built up the Carbon content of our soils and hence the water holding capacity. Remember that each 1 gram of organic matter in the soil holds 8 grams of water. High density grazing of animals and the BioDynamic fertility sprays have enabled us to be the first farm in the world to sell Carbon credits from our pastures.

Regenerative farmer currently playing rugby, David Pocock, took the video below at the winter solstice in 2017 elaborating on our soils and the drought we were already facing back then. Unfortunately the wind makes it even harder to understand what I am trying to say. Up to the day of filming we had received 80ml of rain. A normal winter for us is 700ml. The last normal winter rain was in 2014. To an extent the soil I talk about in the video has saved us.

3. We use 5% of the recommended water for our vines because we have built the Carbon content of our soils (up by 20% from 2011 to 2017) by high density grazing our cattle and the use of compost and because we don’t kill the cover crop with a herbicide. If you kill the cover crop by now your soils are all bare and consequently the vines are stressing a lot more as bare soil is up to 20 Celsius hotter than covered soil. Cooler soils happier microbes and longer photosynthesis which means more Carbon in the soils. Hence our vines are fine. These have been organically certified for 4 years.

4. We have been reducing our cattle heard over the last 2 years. In 2016 we had an average of 300 head of cattle on the farm and today we have 73. We have done this because over the last 3 years we have had half the normal rainfall.

What does the future hold?

If our Western Cape government does not get on top of the alien vegetation in this province then there will be no change for the good. Here Maitre study on alien vegetation is a very detailed peer reviewed study on the actual impact of alien vegetation throughout the country. It is well worth a read. The salient point for me is that in 2000 a full 33% of the precipitation in the Western Cape was being consumed by aliens. You decide if there are more aliens today than then.

The massive gum trees suck up thousands of litres of water every day.

Not only would cutting down all these different types of trees create jobs, if done properly the exercise will make money as the potential income streams are as follows: lumber, mulch, essential oils and biochar. Also our groundwater would not be depleted. This is what is known as a win win win situation.

Our egg clients going forward (until it rains and we can double production) are listed below.

Spier – Hotel, Eight, Hoghouse and the Farm Kitchen

Mount Nelson

The Loading Bay

Organic Zone

Paul Roos Spar

Wellness Warehouse = Kloof Street Branch only

Think Organic

La Tete

Bread and Wine

Foliage

 

 

Open source outdoor broiler chicken production. How we do it. The regenerative impact on the land.

As with our pig operation and our egg laying operation we are happy to share what we do so that you don’t have to pay the school fees that we have. If you don’t want to see the photos, videos or witty comments below then click on the protocol and on the pdf drawings of the enclosures Chicken Broiler-sides and Chicken Broiler-plan and Chicken Broiler-sections by Mr W Hammers, master draftsman. These drawings are to scale if printed on A3.

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Resilience in agriculture relies on creating soil. Every gram of soil organic matter (SOM) holds 8 grams of water. By rotationally grazing our animals around our farm we have since 2011 (which is when we started taking soil samples) increased our SOM by 42%. Please note that the farm average is still 1.87%, which is marginally better than beach sand.

I have written here about how our pigs create soil, here about how our laying hens in their Eggmobiles do the same. Here are more details about our cattle operation. Central to our cattle operation is the free choice mineral lick.

The underlying principle is that all the animals and their housing move regularly. The cattle are moved 4 times per day. The broilers and layers every day and the pigs once they have completely trashed an area which takes about 5 days. This ensures that the farm is neither overgrazed or overfertilised. Whether the conventional farming operation is caged or so called “free range” the housing is fixed and so the animals are under constant disease pressure as they live with their manure.

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This picture explains why the vegan and vegetarian option is defeatist. Only animals managed properly, in this case broiler chickens, can regenerate soil. The dark green strips are where previous batches of chickens grazed in their enclosures and in the background the paler grass indicates that they have not grazed their yet. Sustainability is also a defeatist belief. Regenerative agriculture is the only option that we have left if we are to survive as a species for it is agriculture that is destroying the planet.

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Above is a chicken we spatchcocked, marinated with herbs from the garden and enjoyed on the farm on which it was raised. Tasting our produce is one of the compulsory perks of the job.

If you don’t want to see any of the photos below and simply want our protocol then click here. It has the following sections. Daily tasks, additional tasks, materials sheet and vaccination program.

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The chicks on day 1. Note the feeders, drinkers and heating lamp.

Our broilers operation is simple. We get the birds as day old chicks. We raise them inside a building for 3 weeks and then outside on the pastures for 4 weeks. Thereafter they go for slaughter in Hopefield.

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The yellow on the beak at 11 o’clock is the yolk left from hatching out of the egg this morning.

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The photos above are of a batch of 225 day olds on the day they hatched. We are lucky to have access to Ross chickens. We tried Cobb a long time ago and they were not as tough outside.

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The greatest help you can be to your day olds is get them vaccinated and then fed and watered as soon as possible after hatching. More on our vaccination program in the protocol. Then you need to make sure their bedding is comfortable. We combine Zeolite (you can buy it from Agring – details in the protocol) with shavings. This is important as Zeolite binds to 27 Oxygen molecules, which enables it to help with your ammonia issues. The space that they are in is 3 metres by 3 metres. I would not put more birds in that space than 225. We have a second space for the other 225 that make up our 450 birds weekly.

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Note the other lighting option. Also the drinkers have changed to bell drinkers which we buy from Poltek. Ditto the tube feeders. As the birds get bigger they are able to eat and drink from these devices which are easier to handle. They also move over to this feeding system when their food changes from the starter ration to the grower ration. It is very important that the birds get starter (Day 1 to Day 10), grower (Day 11 to Day 24) and then finisher (Day 12 to the end). You are wasting money on feed if you don’t stick to this.

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The shavings/Zeolite combination needs to be turned every day. This is the best tool. It is a modified garden fork.

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It is very important to have these hand sanitisers at the entrance to each room as you don’t want your staff handling the birds of different ages without sterilising their hands.

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The enclosures on the land are 4m x 6m. It is critical to galvanise the metal. I promise you that if you try to do this with non-galvanized metal you will end up having to throw away your rusty enclosures. We have ours made by Rouan who is available on +27 76 197 1413.

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At the back of the enclosures you need the wheels above so that you can move it daily. The daily moves are critical.

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This is what we have made to attach to the tractor to pull the enclosure. Daily moves ensure neither overgrazing or undergrazing. The chickens very soon learn to accompany the enclosures on their moves.

The covers are made for us by SA Shade. Best to speak to Rudi on +27 84 503 6169. Under the shadecloth is a clear plastic which keeps rain off the birds. The sides are only shadecloth. You must have the ventilation along the sides at the bottom.

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The team from Hopefield Abattoir where the wonderful team under the supervision of Essie and Tyrone do the job. Essie is on +27 82 7433 566

The birds have to be inside for 3 weeks as it is only after three weeks that they have enough feathers to handle the cold night time temperatures. These birds only reach sexual maturity at 20 weeks of age which is when they will be fully feathered and considering we slaughter at 7 weeks they look slightly bedraggled.

We have written a detailed protocol for this operation. Please click here Broiler chickens, nov 2017 to download it. The plans for the enclosures are here Chicken Broiler-sections and here Chicken Broiler-plan and here Chicken Broiler-sides .

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I filmed the video below with my drone. Here I am showing Never, Murehwa and Khayalethu how it works.

Angus

13 December 2017

 

 

4 videos from our outdoor pig operation and an explanation of how we raise them.

We got our first pigs on the 9th of June last year and it has taken us 14 months to iron out all our major problems. (The nature of farming is such that you will never be rid of all your problems). Hence the timing of these 4 videos. (If you are not interested in how and why we farm with pigs as we do, but rather want to know how we produce our pork in our on farm butchery then click here, alternatively if you want to know where to enjoy our produce then click here.)

First, some background. Since I started farming in December of 2008 my clients have been encouraging me to produce edible pork. They struggle with caged pork which is 99.9% of the market. Outdoor pig farming is an engineering challenge more than anything else. A pig is the most destructive of the domesticated animals and so their feeders, shade and drinkers need to be very strong but in our case need to be very light too. Light because the cornerstone of our fertility creation project is that we move all our animals constantly. It was only on the 27th of April 2016 that I experienced a model of outdoor pigs that I knew would work for us. Mzothule, more about him later, and I were privileged enough to spend the day with Hendrik O’Neil on his farm near Bela-Bela in Limpopo province. The fertility improvement on his farm from using only pigs is staggering. An old Allan Savory practitioner, he honed his skills of high density grazing/fertility creation with cattle but his new farm is too small for cattle and so by default he has ended up with pigs which are doing a magnificent job building resilience.

Second, I needed a champion to take on the pig project. Fortunately Mzothule Ndokweni wanted to farm with pigs. I knew him through the BioDynamic Association Internship programme. He became available at the time I heard about Hendrik.

Third a note on the videos. I filmed these on an afternoon just before rainstorm (we have only had 1/3 of our normal rain this year and it is our third year of poor rain) and so it is windy. Apologies for the sound quality. I also get excited and sometimes you can’t hear what I am saying. I have made some notes above each video of the salient points of the video. However to truly understand what we do then please come out from behind your computer screen and come into the light on our pastures to see for yourself.

Finally we move our pigs approximately every 3 days as that is when they have churned up the whole area. We move our cattle 4x per day and our chickens every day. We wait a minimum of 6 weeks before we graze the pastures again.

Video 1

This is about our growing-them-out-for-slaughter part.

The key achievement of the pigs has been that the area where they have only grazed, below the road, has 24% higher soil Carbon. Prior to the pigs both sides of the road had had exactly the same grazing by cattle over the years. Same soils. Same pastures planted. There are some photos at the bottom of the blog elaborating on this.

Waste is a human construct. Nature does not waste. Fortunately pigs consume “waste” that is normally thrown away or buried. Our pigs enjoy the non meat waste from the Spier Wine Farm restaurants as well as waste from a local supermarket and vegetable wholesaler for breakfast, eggs (broken ones from a big egg farm that used to be buried) for lunch, Bertie Coetzee’s organic maize soaked in whey for dinner whilst grazing and rooting in the pastures throughout the day. Bertie’s maize also powers our laying hen and broiler chicken operation. Click here to read about Bertie’s amazing work.

Video 2

Filmed a few minutes after the first one. Also about our growing-them-out-for-slaughter part.

The whey drinker is our third one. They smashed the first two and the bite nipples got blocked. It appears that this Class 12 200mm PVC pipe can handle Mr and Ms pig. There is also a ball valve where we have enlarged the opening.

With reference to the electric fencing you can run all of this off solar. It is key to have the two lines on the horizontal plane as well as the three on the vertical plane. You don’t need to pay the school fees that we have. We also made and galvanised the posts for the electric fence as those from the manufacturers are not pig proof. Also very important to use the 12.5mm Turbo Tape from Gallagher. In fact use only their equipment. Best to email Christo from Gallagher.

One thing I failed to mention, which was pointed out to me by one my mentors, Dick Isted, is that is is very important to keep spreading seed in the paddock where the pigs are so that they trample it into the ground, fertilise it and therefore ensure great regrowth of your pastures. The only free energy we have is from the sun and so by ensuring that your pastures are continually green you are maximising this energy. We buy the sweepings from our local seed company, Agricol, for this critical job.

Another key part of our farming is free choice mineral licks for all our livestock. Click here for the detailed story on this biological solution to many of your farming problems. Zinc is a must for outdoor pigs. In our three compartments are Khoisan salt/legume seeds, Zinc Sulfate with Khoisan salt and then the Pat Coleby mix which you can get in the detailed story referred to above.

The two pigs are in a creep feeder. This enables the smaller pigs to get to food that the big ones cannot get to and so we have better growth and happier pigs. Another great idea from our pig mentor, Hendrik O’Neil.

Our hospital patients are in the other creep feeder.

Zincalume is the material that we have covered their Shademobiles with. It remains cool to the touch even when it gets over 40 Celsius here in summer.

The speed with which they acclimatise is amazing. No sunburn and hairy within weeks of coming out of the cages. We are currently buying caged weaner until Bodman’s babies are born and weaned.

You will notice that we don’t have any boars in this group. This is because we don’t want the boar taint in our meat. Uncastrated male pigs develop a terrible taint in their meat after 154 days of age. As our outdoor pigs grow slower than the caged pigs we kill many days after 154.

The last words in this video are “A pig is a beautiful thing, it is a tractor that you can eat when it is finished working.”

Video 3

This is about our breeding operation.

Bodman, our Duroc stud boar, turns 1 on the 26th of August. We are crossing our Large White/Landrace gilts with him to have darker offspring as this makes them suffer less in the sun.

Video 4

Following on from above, relating to the breeding operation. A few minutes later.

These are non meat kitchen scraps from our home. Our earthworms are a little bleak as they used to feast on this but we now give them cow manure which they are very happy with.

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The photo above illustrates the increased Carbon point I was making above. The pigs have never grazed above the road which is demarcated by the poles running across the photo.

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The snout of a pig is one of the greatest farm implements. No diesel to run this tractor. No drunk tractor driver. No compaction of your soils. It fertilises as it goes.

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A close up of the whey drinker in the video above.

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One of our sons with the first batch in the first week after their arrival.

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BioDynamic consultant Vincent Masson with Mzukisi and the pigs. In the background you can see the water drinker which is also a provider of shade. It is designed to be turned on it’s side and rolled to the next camp. Everything in this type of farming must be movable.

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I explained earlier about the green growing grasses. The photo above is understood as follows. In the foreground is where the breeding operation has been. They have moved to the left. In time they will return from the left and graze the area in the background. The sweepings have helped the regrowth.

Angus

20 August 2017

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