high density grazing

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

Free choice mineral licks. Update. Biological farming vs mechanical farming.

In February 2014  I wrote this article about free choice mineral licks.

Since then we have expanded the range of minerals that are available to our cattle and we also now have free choice minerals for our pigs and for our laying hens.

The principle remains the same. All soils are deficient, the plants growing in those soils are deficient, the animals eating those plants (in this case my beef) are deficient and deficiency manifests as disease. The cattle self medicate by choosing which lick they need. 30% is used to fix the internal imbalance and the rest comes out of the back end biologically available to the plants.

In the last year I have had to give one of my animals antibiotics. One injection only. I ascribe this to moving them twice daily to fresh pasture as well as having the smorgasbord of free choice minerals available to them every single day.

 

Click here free-choice-mineral-lick-sept-2016 for a spreadsheet with the exact mixes that we use as well as the suppliers we get the various ingredients from. The spreadsheet has two worksheets.

To understand what I mean by farming biologically versus mechanically you need to understand how different our (biological) way is from the conventional (mechanical) way. The mechanical way it to take soil samples, send these off to laboratory and then apply the minerals recommended by the agronomist or technical advisor of the company selling the minerals. The minerals are spread via compost spreader that is pulled by a tractor. Calibration is a nightmare. Tractors cannot have babies, they use diesel, they compact your soil and tractor drivers are expensive labour. Whereas cattle can have babies. I can eat them when they have finished working, they don’t compact your soil (provided you move them daily), they don’t have to be calibrated and their drivers never have hangovers.

Angus

29 September 2016

 

My first Limousin bull for sale

There are many reasons why I settled on the Limousin as my beef breed of choice. Cross breeding, Raymond Blanc, suitability to my farm, not black, slow maturing and more income for the same expense. If you are not interested in any of these reasons but want to see a video I took of him last week with his father then scroll down all the way to the bottom.

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The photo above explains the crossbreeding better than the medical explanation of the Myostatin F94L gene. Moeder in Afrikaans is Mother and Dogter is Daughter. Same expense (mother) but greater income (daughter). Mother (Dam) is an Nguni, father (Sire) a Limousin.

85% of Limousin bulls have the F94L gene. My bulls are all DNA tested and the one for sale is homozygous. What this gene does is double the number of muscle fibres, not double the size of muscle fibres which causes birthing problems. The result is small calves at birth but then a great expansion as they mature.

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A friend of mine sent me the above photo on Tuesday. The calf, photo taken on Monday, was one day old and you can already see that he is muscled like his sire, a Limousin, and not like his dam, an Nguni. Interestingly the calves always take the colouring of the mother and not the father.

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Raymond Blanc, the first chef in the UK to get Michelin stars, was visiting our farm years ago and he said that Limousin beef was best. Who am I to argue with him? That’s him in the white t-shirt above.

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Raymond was brought to the farm by Rudi Liebenberg. Rudi is the head chef at the Mount Nelson and has been a leading supporter of regenerative agriculture for many years. He even has to drive me around when he comes to visit.

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We are in the fortunate position where we can have bigger framed cattle such as the Limousin on our farm. We have winter rain and in summer we can irrigate. We apply the high density grazing methodology, most eloquently espoused by Joel Salatin and most famously espoused by Allan Savory with all our livestock. The cattle, our laying hens and our pigs are rotated daily to fresh pasture and regrazing only takes place 6 weeks later. The best breed for your farm is that which will adapt to your unique conditions.

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Limousin cattle are not black. If it is built like a Limousin but is black then the dam was an Angus and the sire a Limousin. We stopped buying in black cattle as they get so hot in summer that they get into the water troughs. We had to build metal cages to go over our water tanks so that the black cattle would not get in. The summers are only getting hotter.

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(A disclaimer before I mention maturing. I am talking about cattle on a grass only diet. Not the grain fed/confinement animal. Or the so called grass fed animal that is fed chicken manure and urea.) A slow maturing animal suits me. My production costs are very low. (1 labourer, solar powered electric fencing, average of 1 antibiotic injection across the entire herd every 6 months, no feed brought in from outside, food grown for free in winter and for a small irrigation fee in summer.) I want them to be 4 years old before they have the proper fat cover and intramuscular fat. The Limousin starts putting on that proper fat sometime after 3 years of age. The older the meat the greater the flavour. Also the bigger the carcass. Which leads me onto my next point.

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The photos above are of a Nguni hindquarter, on the left, weighing 53 kgs and a Limousin hindquarter, on the right, weighing 90 kgs. Both of them were 3.5 years old. It took me the same time to debone each one but obviously I got a lot more income (meat) from the Limousin for my expense (time). I elaborate on this expense/income story in this blog posting.

I am often asked which breed tastes best. An animal tastes of what it eats. Breeds are entirely irrelevant when it comes to flavour. South Africans have been bludgeoned into thinking that steak must be eaten with a sauce. This is because 99.99% of the beef comes out of a feedlot/grainfed/confinement operation and it has no flavour. The future of beef is terroir. A blog post on this will follow at some time.

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Finally we can meet the bull, SP 139. Born on the 12th of September 2013. Birth weight 45 kgs. His mother is a La Rhone cow. They are the famous stud near Tulbach. This means that he is genetically predisposed to know how to eat out of a feeding trough. His sire I bought from Sas Oosthuizen in Wellington. In the photo above he is with some of his brothers. They were castrated as they did not have the right form and semen count.

Angus

16 September 2016

P.S. The GoPro video below starts off a bit noisily so please bear with me. If you don’t understand the Afrikaans then contact me.

 

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