Monday, 27 January 2014

Grazing challenges

I am going to have figure out how to get the cattle onto the good grazing that we have available. The obvious mistake that I have made is to bring the cattle onto the farm before I have proper fences in place and before I have proper water infrastructure in place. But of course it was not so much a mistake as me forcing my own hand. With the cattle here, I have been forced into some learning and some hands on experience that is informing and will continue to inform the decisions I make going forward.

I have a small paddock in which I have been confining the cattle. It measures probably 50 X 50m

I have been using this to get the cattle trained to the electric fence, the objective then being to be able to direct them around the farm to begin with the clearing work that is required. We have now been experimenting with letting them out of the permanent paddock. We are having limited success but will have to get things working much better, much quicker, if I am not to do significant damage to the pasture

And its really dry now. Veld fires starring up all over the show and very hot. We need rain.

Condition of grazing on 11 January 2014

Condition of grazing on 27 January 2014
The other problem I see is that taking care of the cattle is using the lettle time and energy I have availble. I need to begin focussing on getting the cottage habitable. The basic plan now is to get the cottage habitable to the point where we can get tenants or a caretaker, giving a permanent presence on the site.

  • So toilet is important,
  • running water (from rainwater)
  • electricity (solar)
  • perimeter fencing
On the "paperwork" front, we signed the last documents at the bond registration attorneys this afternoon. The documents can now be sent to Cape Town (as soon as the attorneys receive the "Enrolment Certificate " from the NHBRC. The woman at the NHBRC said it should take about three days when I dropped the forms on Thursday last week. So, I suppose, three (working) days ends tomorrow afternoon. Lets see!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Can this really work?

I worry a lot. I know its pointless, but I become overwhelmed sometimes with fear. Right now I fear that this will not work out. I fear that it is foolish of me to think that I can get this farm going and still hold onto my career as an architect. I fear that I am delusional. I fear that I am becoming obsessive about this project and that I am loosing focus to the point where I could damage myself and hurt my family. I fear that to take care of the cattle is taking too much time and energy and I have not yet go enough fence and water in place to be able to deal with them. I fear that I will find, find with time, that this is not actually what I want to do. I fear that I will find that I am more interested in watching other's permaculture projects on Youtube, or reading about them on the blogs and forums. These are my fears and many others that surface individually or simultaneously.

We have piled the cut ink berry in one heap. Our neighbour Richard has offer for his guys to chip it with the wood chipper. Ink Berry is poisonous to cattle (and sheep and goats) it is a brazillian native and is terribly invasive, especially on the wetter parts of the site.

But lets talk rather about progress this week.

We still don't have transfer...but, we have no done everything that needs to be done to get the bond registered.

  • I have municipal approval (for the cottage we told the bank we are going to build)
  • We have an enrolment certificate from National Home Builders Registration Council.
  • We have " Builder's All Risk" insurance cover.
So we sign with the attorneys at 13:00 tomorrow.

Everything should then be plain sailing till the transfer is registered at the deeds office in Cape Town. This should take about three weeks. I can't think of anything that can go wrong but still I feel that nagging fearfulness welling up in my stomach.

Other than the procedural work toward transfer the work this week has been as follows:

  • Continuing to clear Ink Berry (Cestrum laevigatum)
  • Continuing work clearing Port Jackson and Black Wattle from the path that will become our driveway. 
  • Continuing to train the cattle to the electric fence
  • Bought a charger for the 12 volt motorbike battery I am using to charge the electric
  • returned the charger, then bought the correct charger with the correct amp rating
  • Selling three oxen at the Fischers Corner Auction yesterday 
    • 1 at 246 kg for R2300.00 or R9.34 per kg
    • 2 at 339 kg (average) for R3300.00 or R9.73 per kg
    • total income - R8900.00 less comission at R710.00 and costs at R29.70 = R8159.99
    • (not to self - never sell at Fitches corner again - prices too low)
If you have a 9 amp hour battery you should be charging at about 10% of that as an amp input. This charger inputs 1.5 amps, but the instructions say it would be good for batteries between 9 and 20 amp hours.

I am feeling a bit tired this afternoon, but I can see we are moving forward.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Electric Fence Works like a bomb

OK. Well things are going much better. The portable electric fence is up and it running, and to my surprise all nine cattle now stay inside the fence. I have made some improvements to the water situation and bought two 200 litre drums (from a recylce place) I cut them in half with a chain saw.

There was no way on knowing what was in the drums, so I was a bit nervous that it could be poisonous. I washed it out as best I could with soap and water and it seems to be OK. One half drum gives m 100 l and this seems to last for about a day.

The electric fence runs off a Gallager energiser. A 12 v motor bike battery keeps it powered. I put this one on the fence on Thursday afternoon and it has kept going until now. I will monitor it to see how long it takes to run down. I still dont have a charger for the 12 volt battery and am still busy thinking whether I want a charger that I can plug into my solar panel or one that I can charge off mains here at home. Got to make up my mind quickly.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Be careful what you dream for

Perhaps a real adventure is one where you really don't know where you are gonna end up. I can see now that our adventure of perusing Goedmoedsfontein is just such an adventure. I am not very sure where the adventure is going to lead, but for better or worse we have caught the train and we are headed out of the station.

In March last year (2013) we secured and option to purchase this beautiful 10 hectares. I have told you before that it has spring, a stream and a dam. I have told you before that it has some forest, some grassland and some marsh. I have told you before that is is just the right distance from town, to be in the country, but still allow our kids to go to school in the city. Just close enough for people to be able to drive out to the farm and buy their weekly supplies of eggs, chicken, boerewors and other fresh produce we dream of marketing from the little shop (or a ruin of a shop that we intend to renovate back to a shop) that is on the farm.

We managed to sell some property last year and secure the difference between what the bank would loan us and what the sellers wanted. That has all been finalised and all the documents have been signed at the transferring attorneys. (There is a bit of a "technical hitch" at the Bond Registration attorneys, but this should be cleared up in the next week.)

The funny thing is that I didn't feel so much that the "train had left the station" when the sellers accepted our offer, or when the bank approved the finance or even when I paid the deposit to the conveyancers. In fact, I only  felt it this weekend when we brought 9 or our cattle from where we were keeping them in Tsitsikama to the farm.

I had worked the week before to create fenced pasture for them. It measures about 40 by 60 metres. The pasture is good. I rigged up a water supply from a rainwater tank which I haphazardly installed to catch some runoff from the roof of the cottage. So we loaded these cattle up on a hired trailer on Saturday afternoon and drove them to the farm. It was the first time have have loaded cattle or pulled them in a trailer. It was quite scary. Number one its a heavy load and you cant go very fast and number two these guys kept jumping around causing the trailer to sway uncontrollably. It was not fun.

After this exhausting journey we got the trailer as close as we could to the new padock (but this was still the other side of the stream) We let them off the trailer and they scattered in all directions. If Litha was not here I dont know what I would have done. But we eventually got them herded together and moving slowly in the direction of the padock into which we managed to secure them. I was exhausted by the time I got home and a bit shaken by the experience. The next morning, Sunday, Litha and I drove to the farm. All nine seemed quite restful. Some were mooing for their mothers (even though they were quite a bit over 12 months old they had not been weaned at Tsitsikama) All seemed fine, but when I cam back on Sunday afternoon, I found the whole herd out. I was alone. I ran round like crazy at first trying to direct them back, but the were determined to get away from the padock. I called my neighbour Richard. Luckily he was in he and a friend came to help. We go them in and I spent the rest of the evening trying to make the fences more secure. But the more I tried the more I could see that two black cattle were absolutely determined to escape they pushed at the fences and then over they went. By this time it was bout 8 pm. I called Litha and Hlubi. I stayed by the fence that had just been jumped to be sure the others would not also come out. They did not and eventually the family arrived and herd to two black cattle back from the tar road where they had got to so that I could get them back in the paddock.

With family back home preparing for the first day of school the next day, I sat in the dark at the farm watching the fence, stepping up every few minutes to beat a cow back from the fence it was trying to trample. It was a loosing battle. By about 10 pm as the rain was staring to come down, the two belligerent black cattle again jumped the fence. I had no choice but to let them go. I was hopeless to try no again to find them in the dark and what's more the remaining  7 cattle seemed reasonably complacent and not intent on leaving the paddock any time soon. I went home, defeated and depleted, to sleep. In the 20 minute ride back home I could not shake the stress. I was upset. I was rattled and I was exhausted. I did not sleep well. My mind was racing. fearing the worst. fearing the whole heard was now dispersed all over the neighbouring farmlands. But I new there was nothing that I could do till the morning.

I left home at 5:30 am. I found a job seeker next to the road near the farm before 6 am (I could not believe my luck that there would be someone there that early - his name was Marius) Marius and I found the two black cattle heading toward us on the side of the road. They were reasonably easy to herd back and seemed quite relaxed and content to be re-united with the group they had abandoned the night before. I was relieved that the others had not also jumped the fence. Marius worked the whole day with Boyce to get the fences as strong as we could get them. I had to go in to the office for some crucial meetings. By the time I got back to the farm in the afternoon the cattle were all still in, but the two black cattle were mooing loudly again and looking agitated. As sure as anything right in front of my eyes the two black cattle jumped the fence again.
Richard from next door gain came to my rescue. suggesting that we separate the two black cattle out. He arranged for them to be located on his neighbours land were 2.4m high electric fence contained them last night. I kept the remaining 7 on my side last night and set up the portable electric fence for the first time. When I went this morning to drop Marius, they were happily inside the paddock. As a write now from home 20 km away from the farm, I a feeling less anxious that fences will be jumped tonight, but I will find out in the morning. I have definitely been jolted into a place in which i am uncomfortale. This is not theoretical any more. I am not a spectator to the spectacle.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Repairing the Dam Wall

Before even getting fences ready for cattle, I have been working to repair the break in the dam wall.

My thinking is that its a reasonably small job, but the effects will be quite significant at the dam level rises.

I am interested in attracting the birds and animals that need permanent standing water to sustain themselves. Not to mention the fish of course.

It will be interesting to see what fish species, if any are in the dam. I wonder if there are any Tilapia. It is said that in South Africa Tilapia (Mocambicus) are only indigenous as far down the coast as the Bushman's river. They have of course been introduced to rivers all along the coast as far as Cape Town, but it would be interesting to see if they are present here in our dam.
Perhaps I can play with the idea of cages in the dam to grow out Tilapia fingerlings that I raise in my tanks.