Farmer Angus

Photos of recent activity on the farm, 27 May 2013

All these photos have been taken by the amazing Eva van Niekerk over the last month. Click on her name to get to her website.

This is SP 1301.He will be given his Zulu name at weaning. The first Limousin Bull calf born this year and he is exactly a month old on the photo. Not brave enough to venture too far from Mamma’s legs…yet.

Here is our eldest son, Hamish, stirring the BD 500. The foundation biodynamic preparation (horn manure) which is stirred for an hour and then sprayed out onto the land. All these photos were taken in the Ezibusisweni vineyard which produces Chenin Blanc grapes from which I make straw wine. Notice the vortex he is generating. The quintessential form for the flow of energy in all nature.

Here I am having a go at creating a vortex. The idea is to create a vortex that reaches the bottom of the barrel and then create chaos by starting the other way.

The most important part of doing a BD500 stirring (it activates the soil and is in the words of the erudite Monty Waldin “a microbial tonic for the soil”, READ his website by clicking on his name for an excellent explanation of why we stir in biodynamics) is that the stirrer must have positive thoughts throughout the process. Two heads are better than one as Hamish and I think good vibes over the vortex.

A vortex just before it is plunged back into chaos. In the book Secrets of the Soil in Chapter 9 the authors go into great detail about the vortex and it’s significance to life.

Hamish stirring away with the Stellenbosch Mountains in the background.

I am trying to explain the significance of what is happening in the cosmos during the hour that we are stirring. The time of stirring is specifically chosen when the forces working on the root part of the plant are dominant.

Here I am filling a knapsack sprayer with Irisa, Eva’s daughter, holding the sieve to stop the nozzles from blocking. Using the knapsack is a great idea of Monty Waldin’s that enables one to cover a larger area than with the bucket method.

A great photo of Suzaan spraying out the BD500, using the bucket and brush method. Note the arc of the droplets.

Hamish as focused on spraying out the BD500 as he was on stirring it properly.

Lijan, another of Eva’s daughters, spraying out the BD500.

Hamish heading North, towards Slangkop (an ancient Khoi worship site), whilst spraying the BD 500.

My turn to apply the BD500 with some of the granite from Slangkop in the background.

This Limousin heifer could not deliver her first calf. We had to pull it out and she got hurt in the process. She was lame for two days. Here I am coaxing her to have a drink from the bucket.

I am rubbing Cape Khakibos onto her in attempt to get the little biting flies not to settle on her. Because she was lame she could not use her tail to chase them off. Thankfully with the help of our herdman Khipelakhe Mkhize, Tommie (Quantum Agriculture) Dyzel and the phytotherapist Dr Caren Hauptfleisch she was nursed back to health.

We are very proud of our egg operation. I am sorting eggs below. The sharp side must always be at the bottom.

Irisa holding onto her precious dozen of TRULY free range eggs. I am making sure that the double latch is properly secured.

Laying hens are very inquisitive if they are allowed to be in a natural environment. 24 out of the 25 million laying hens in this country live in metal cages with approximately an A4 page of space. The Eggmobiles are in the background. What on earth is an Eggmobile? Click here to find out

Whilst our daughter, Maya, looks on disapprovingly at my handwriting Hamish and his younger brother, Joshua, are trying to figure out how to connect the electronic scale to the measuring rods so we can weigh oxen.

I am waiting for the oxen that were in the BrazSeed trial to come in for weighing. We were testing the claims of the seed company that their daily weight gain would double as a result of eating this new grass.

The team in operation at the scale. Hamish operating the back door, Joshua the front, Maya looking enthusiastic about her role as scribe and me conducting.

Hamish and Joshua hoped that by making themselves small that SP 1301 would approach them. He is not convinced that it is safe away from Mamma.

I am trying to sort out a `Limousin heifer, Stellenbosch mountains in the background, but it appears that only the white cattle egrets are taking notice.

Alois, who is in charge of irrigation, giving me tips on how to repair PVC mainlines whilst preparing for the final egg collection of the day.

Thanks for watching.

Angus

 

The role of the retailer in the farm strikes.

Alternative title “It is not only the farmers fault”

Hello Dear Reader

The recent farm strikes need to be viewed in a wider context. From the farmer right through to the end consumer. We are all farmers by proxy, each and every one of us exercises that vote at least three times a day, and by choosing what food we eat and where we buy it, we choose which farmers we support.

I am not attempting to absolve farmers of responsibility to treat their staff well, pay them well (the ANC government set the minimum wage so their comments are mere political opportunism), treat their animals humanely and ensure safe and comfortable working conditions. I would like to focus on the retailer’s role (the big national chains) as they set the price for most of the farmers.

The old joke about a farmer complaining the least in February because it is the month with the least days alludes to the fact that the farmer is being pressurised from all sides, at all times. The primary pressure comes from the income side where prices and payment terms are driven by retailers. The role of the grain traders in artificially moving prices is a topic of discussion for another day. On the expense side the pressures are the ever increasing input costs such as fuel, chemicals, seed, veterinary costs, soil balancing costs and labour costs. Other pressures include the weather (ZZ2 recently lost 140 hectares of tomatoes in a hail storm) as well as having a mostly uneducated workforce.

The retailer’s greatest pressure is to sustain profitability and if you really want to own its shares then it must continue to grow earnings. The easiest way to do this is to squeeze the suppliers. Lets take the example of milk. A certain retailer pays the farmer R2.50 per litre for the milk and then sells it at R10.00 for that same litre. If the farmer is lucky he gets paid 30 days after statement but that is more likely to be either 60 or 90 days. (Walmart/Massmart being the exception paying every 14 days). I am not trying to trivialise the work of the retailer. However the farmer has taken the risk to produce the milk. He has had to keep the animals healthy, make sure they are fed, his staff are on time every day of the year to do the milking, his cows conceive, his dairy is kept hygienic, once milked that the milk stays chilled until the retailers truck arrives to cart it away yet he only gets ¼ of the price the consumer pays and he has to wait a minimum of 30 days from the statement at month end before he gets money that the retailer received the moment the customer paid for the milk. In no one’s definition is that farming for the future.

A farmer very near me received R6 per kg for beans last week that the supermarket sells on for R25 per kg.

Why does our government not insist on transparency in the food chain? The agricultural group Sekem in Egypt has managed a transparent association chain which satisfies everyone. A transparent food chain will be of benefit to farmers who can share this information with their workers and also be of the benefit of the end consumer who gets to see where his food Rands are being spent.

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.

PLEASE COMPARE THE TWO PHOTOS BELOW, ONE BEFORE THE CATTLE AND ONE AFTER.

 

Below is the after

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