Sunday, 23 November 2014

Snakes Alive!

Of course we have lots to fear in this life. There are so many ways in which we can get hurt, killed, robbed  or betrayed. Everyday we are exposed to danger. Motorcars are viscous killers. Any home contains all kinds of ordinary looking things that can kill us if we are not careful. And I am not even talking about rat poison or pool acid, just ordinary stuff, which when taken in the wrong quantities can kill us, like vodka, or paracetamol or lying  in a bath. But it is of course not logical or acceptable to live in fear of bathwater, electricity or a motor car just because it can, in certain circumstances, be deadly. It seems though that we discriminate differently between Urban dangers and rural dangers. Or so it seems this week with the excitement caused by the appearance of two (very small) snakes in our rainwater tank. I have builders working on site and they were terrified. It effected their work. Some in my family too, (I dont want to mention any names) are hinting at not ever returning to the farm that is loved by all of so much. Of course I as a husband and a father must make every effort to understand that not all of us are the same and that some and may have different loves and fears. I understand this. It is not good enough for me to explain that as we warm up into summer, the snakes will be on the move and we should be on the look out.

Anyway, the snakes turned out to be two Spotted Bush Snakes Philothamnus semivariegatus. (thanks to the people at snakesofsouthafrica for help with the identification) which are not poisonous at all. There are dangerous snakes on the farm, like the Puffaders that like to lie on a sunny path waiting to be stepped on. What I am trying to say though, is that we are confronted everyday with a strong bombardment of ideas of what is "normal" and what is not. We are told that "Normal" is to work in a cubicle, commute to work in a Toyota Corrola, and watch rugby on Saturdays. So it is with normal dangers that confront us every day in the city. Because they are "normal" we tolerate them. Even when they kill us, we continue to tolerate them. But snakes, scorpions and frogs are "abnormal" dangers and they are to be eradicated, chopped into little pieces, burned, poisoned and obliterated. Such is the logic of our time.

So, while I can see that all this, to keep the peace I have had to make a visible effort to do something about the snakes. So I have cleared all the longer grass around the house and reduced the number of places snakes can hide. And also very cleverly I have installed a very innovative anti snake device onto my watertank.

You can watch the video if you like.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

So, How have the cows been?

I have not spoken much about the cattle since I lost the calves and the bull. But is actually going quite well now with the two heifers. A brown one and a black one. We move them to new pasture everyday with the portable electric fence.

watch this video

 We keep the "camp" small enough to ensure that they graze everything down (not just the tasty stuff). Cattle are picky eaters, they will first go for the greenest grass and then try the other stuff if they have to. So by keeping the camp just the right size I can ensure that they get enough, but that they don't just pick and choose the best grazing. The important part of this strategy is that all the unpalatable stuff gets eaten as well, making space for other species to come through. The exercise is really all about building the soil. The cattle improve the soil in three important ways:
  1. They leave there manure behind - adding the nitrogen that's crucial to get life going in the soil
  2. When grass is grazed, it automatically cuts off the proportionate amount of roots underground (thus adding much needed carbon to the soil)
  3. The animals hooves disturb the soil surface helping seeds get a chance to germinate.
Overgrazing is of course an incredibly destructive force, but in the a managed environment, grazing animals can build the soil and save the planet. (life is not possible without topsoil - just think about it)

So how it practically works though the week, it that Mandoza (my trusted assistant) moves the cattle to new grazing every day. I prefer to move them in the afternoon when the sugar content of the grass is higher. I have a simple diagram which I leave in the cottage so Mandoza and I can refer to camps by alphabetical letter. We talk mainly by texting through the day. I charge the battery  for the electric fence here at home and once or twice a week I would make sure a newly charged better is taken to the farm. If we use this configuration we have 20 camps. so that would mean that would mean that each camp would get 20 days rest if each camp were grazed for one day. Of course depending on rain and time of the year, 20 days may or may not be enough time for the grazing to recover, so the idea would be to vary the size of the camp accordingly. I can see now that we have had some rain and the days are warmer, the grass is looking good and I can keep the size of the camp quite small, giving me perhaps 30 or 40 camps in total. The grazing is looking quite healthy, If I compare it to my neighbour's place where he has sheep, cattle and goats continuously grazing the grass down to about 50 mm high, then we are looking very good. 

I am also slowly, but surely expanding the pasture. Over the weekends I spend time with the chainsaw cutting out the alien invasive species: Black Wattle, Port Jackson, Inkberry, Blugum, Poplar and Cape Wattle. I start buy cutting paths just wide enough to run the electric fence in. I create a camp in a forested portion. The cattle eat some and stomp down other parts including brambles and vines making it easier for me to come in with the chainsaw. I find it does not take long for the grass to begin to establish in areas where I have opened up the ground to new light that was previously blocked by tree cover. Anyhow, I enjoy working with the cattle. I see them as my landscaping assisants. We work together to bring this farm to be the most that is can be,