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

13 Responses

  1. Dear Angus

    You are feeding your cattle weeds ? What is their nutritional value ? Were cattle “desighned” to eat weeds. Cattle do also compact soil especially at the high densities you are stocking them which is also unnatural according to your own principles ? Atleast my cattle are not weedivores .

    Chalmar Beef

  2. Dear Willem (Factory Farmer) Wethmar

    You have missed the point entirely. We want the cattle to eat the weeds as they have brought up crucial nutrients that the cover crop (Oats, Vetch and Serradella) cannot get to. Those nutrients are immediately bioavailable to the vine and cover crop to grow.

    Weeds very often have higher nutritional value than the pasture they are growing in. Read here http://www.google.co.za/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=are%20weeds%20in%20pasture%20nutritious&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CFsQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fpubs.ext.vt.edu%2F418%2F418-150%2F418-150_pdf.pdf&ei=mzsYUNO3IIfBhAfizoCwBg&usg=AFQjCNE-US02L1bxmVq_kmU8niB2htHAEQ&cad=rja

    As to compaction the cattle are only there for half a day. Each foot puts about 90kgs on the ground as opposed to a tractor, that you use to produce your cattle’s food, weighing 2 tons. What is heavier?

    Finally the animals urine and manure is full of microbes that aerate the soil once they make contact with the soil resulting in the opposite of compaction.

    Angus (Organic and Biodynamic Farmer) McIntosh

  3. Dear Angus

    Please try this at home . Have your wife put on flat shoes and stand on your foot . No problems . Have her put on stilletos and have her stand on your foot now . Big issue ! Same with cattle . They concentrate their weight on a small area . You also simply devided the animals weight by 4 which is incorrect . When walking cattle do lift their feet – ours do atleast – so sometimes there is only two feet on the ground ( by the way that is why I did Bsc. Animal science at Stellenbosch and not accounting like you , it helps me count feet ! )

    Speak to alot of dedicated crop farmers and they never allow cattle on their arable land as it gives them compaction issues .

    Now that your cattle can utilise a by product – weeds – from your other farming practises it is alright but I am not allowed to ?

    You have a picture of chicken coops on your pasture : does it ever happen that your cattle consume some of the chicken litter or have you got a system that ensures that never ever happens ? If you do have such a system please enlighten me as I am always willing to learn .

    I never misssed the point : you did without realising it .

    1. Dear Willem (Factory Farmer) Wethmar

      First you should know that organic farmer’s wives don’t wear stilettos.

      Second I hear your point about concentrating the weight but what you conveniently (or is it inconveniently?) forget is the point I made in the original blog is that the animals are there for a short time and most importantly that they deposit copious amounts of urine and manure on the ground which brings loads of microbial life back into the soil and consequently importantly aerates it. A tractor cannot do that.

      I know it is hard trying to think wholistically when your entire education is reductionist, linear, compartmentalised and systematized but in order to understand what we are trying to do you need to ditch the reductionist thinking.

      I never said you could not use a waste product. Grain should never be grown for cattle to eat in the first place. It makes them grow artificially, the meat is nutritionally inferior to grass fed beef, the antibiotic resistance, GMO maize, an unusable waste product (I know you claim to have made compost from your feedlot waste but in order for you to make that statement have your “compost” analysed at a lab first), carbon is emitted into the atmosphere as opposed to being sequestrated in the soil by the grass feeders etc etc etc.

      As to how our system works, I invite you yet again to come to our farm to see what we are doing. My cattle don’t eat chicken litter. Only grass fertilised by the litter.

      Angus (Organic/Biodynamic Farmer) McIntosh

  4. Dear Angus

    Getting personal is not really called for : try to stick to the facts .

    Fact 1 : Spier uses many tractors : look at the pictures in your blog . What by the way is pulling/driving your new multi row spray : oxen ?
    Fact 2 : With each step the cattle compact soil .
    Fact 3 : You never studied Animal Science with me or ever for that matter so how can you describe my education as “reductionist , linear , compartamentalized and systemized ” ? You studied accounting .
    Fact 4 : Grass fed beef is not nutritionally superior as a source of protein , iron or B vitamins . Grass fed beef producers CLAIM to have more omega 3 & 6 fatty acids . It is still a poor source of those nutrients . Fish – farmed or wild – are recommended as a source of omegas not grass fed beef .
    Fact 5 : Of course our compost is analized in a lab : have you heard about precision farming standard practices?
    Fact 6 : You took a Simbra cow from Standerton down to Stellenbosch ( about 1600 km ). In what way were you sequestering carbon while you were transporting her ?
    Fact 7 : I have seen your farming operation before ; when I visited a working museum of past ineffiecent farming practises . LOL



  5. Dear Angus

    Once again your infographic on water is totally flawed . It does not take 3 years to produce 200 kg of boneless beef but 6 months . Futhermore the largest part of the cattle’s diet is derived from by products from different grains ( maize , soya , wheat etc) which are grown to feed people ( vegetarians and omnivores ) . The other crucial mistake made in the calculation is that cattle do not only produce steak but also a hide , offal and manure ( for compost ) which are all products with great value to society ; therefore your infographic overstated the amount of water / kg used even futher !

    I have posted a number of comments weeks ago – I think 3 – which are still being “moderated” . Are you intending to post them or not . Please clarify .

    1. Dear Willem (Factory Farmer/Manager) Wethmar

      Once again you are clutching at straws.

      Once again implies I have done something before. I have never produced an infographic. If you have problems with the accuracy of the infographic take it up with the producers. Stop trying to shoot the messenger.

      Your rantings, which I will get to this weekend, will change nothing about the artificial work you are involved with. Artificial food you feed your animals, artificial growth stimulation, artificial animal husbandry.

      I see you have not changed your labelling yet to state that your meat has more than 5% GMO in.

      Angus (Natural/Organic/Biodynamic Farmer) McIntosh

  6. You have ONCE AGAIN distributed information which is untrue/incorrect . Do you as a messanger simply distribute incorrect information without checking the facts ? How often have you done this ? Please put a disclaimer up on your blog so that people are aware of the fact that you do not fact check your postings but only deliver messages.

    I am not ranting . As far as I am concerned you are the one getting personal and using very emotional language . I am sticking to the facts , you are not .

    The best compost in the country on your bakkie seems to be packed in polypropelene bags . Is that so ? That does not seem to gel with all you stand for.

  7. Dear Willem

    I see this blog was two years ago so not sure you’ll read this. My five cents worth -compaction can no doubt be a problem with cattle in a vineyard or lands. But consider the following-and from my personal experience -that if one is farming biologically the soils should move to have higher levels of organic matter which to some extent counter compaction. And in them and more importantly earthworms. If the soil is healthy then one should have a few hundred earthworms/cm3. (Why is there not massive compaction on all the soils that SA’s millions of cattle live on?) These should deal with compaction very quickly-and the cattle manure is food for them and increases their numbers.( I also keep cattle out of arable land/vineyards after and during heavy rain.)

    The point here is we either eat beef from feedlots whose cattle are fed grain/soya etc often from GM sources.There is some sobering research coming out about GM crops-do a google search about the effects of glyphosate on animals-scary shit!! I cant comment for you but Im pretty certain (and for financial reasons obviously) these cattle are given everything possible to make them put on weight-growth hormones etc none of which can be good for us. How good do you think Zilmax is for us humans?!

    Alternatively free range grass fed beef not fed any stimulants. It should be fairly obvious which one should be better for you. One produced in a natural environment like god intended-or one in an unnatural one. Im not going to enter in the debate. At the end of the day we’ve all gotta live and make enough money to survive!

  8. Thank you for the interesting article about ramnas.
    Just one question, is there a botanical name for ramnas and is the name regional in the Swartland area?

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