Starting out on 40 fertile acres- feedback on our plans welcome

Discussion in 'Members' Systems' started by void_genesis, Aug 13, 2013.

  1. void_genesis

    void_genesis Junior Member

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    My partner and I recently bought a 40 acre ex dairy farm in the Sunshine coast hinterland in Australia. We are currently setting it up around the principles of low input and regenerative agriculture and we would be interested to hear any feedback/suggestions/things we may have missed considering in our current design and plans.

    The block is roughly square with a permanent creek as the eastern boundary. The main access road runs along the western boundary. The block is fairly hilly (around 30 degrees above horizontal) and has two main high points to the north and south of the block. There are two connected dams to the southwest and two in the middle running east into the permanent creek (sketch included). A high power electric line runs through the middle, creating a zone that cannot be planted with trees or built in.

    We get between 700-2000 mm of rain a year, winters are cool with very light frosts every few years, summers are hot and usually humid. We are about 200 m above sea level. The soil is heavy brown clay with a layer of quartz about 1-2 feet down that seems to carry ground water surprisingly long distances. Soaks and springs pop up in unexpected spots after rain and continue for months after it stops.

    The space is currently mostly a pasture of Kikuyu, Setaria and orchard grass with a fair covering of Vigna. It runs up to 20 cows but currently only has 11. It has been very well managed and never overgrazed, consequently with relatively few weeds (Ageratum- blue top, and a few patches of other thistles like orange head thistle). The fences are three-strand barb wire, currently in good condition. There is some Setaria in the waterways and soaks that I am gradually spraying with round-up during dry spells (we inherited a big drum so figure it has to go somewhere, but once it is gone it is not being replaced) to revegetate the areas with moisture loving plants like arrowroot, taro, bulrush and papyrus.

    Based on a few years of living and gardening/farming very close by I have come up with the following plan. We are currently both working full time but spend weekends managing the weeds, infrastructure and plantings for the next few years and have some time to get a good foundation in place.

    The plan is to plant the majority of the hills with fodder shrubs along the contour lines to feed a flock of around 10 nubian dairy goats (for personal use). From experience in the area I know Leucaena, Montanoa, Inga, Malvaviscus, Paulownia and Mulberry all grow well in the area and are highly palatable for stock (plus a few other more experimental species). Of these only the Inga and Paulownia grow beyond shrubs size, and are responsive to coppicing/pollarding. I am also about to trial Gliricidia (a large batch of seedlings have overwintered nicely). Currently around 3 acres has been planted out with 2 m between shrubs along the contours and 4 m between the rows. This should allow the shrub canopy to just close at maximum growth, but still allow good access and light penetration for growing an understory when the shrubs are browsed and pruned. The deciduous shrubs will be planted together at the more fertile hill bottoms so that light is more accessible in winter for rotating potato and tomato crops.

    The goat herd will be contained in a small (~1 acre) electric netting fence that will be moved every 3 days. This should break the parasite cycle since they need at least 3 days to go from eggs in the manure to infectious grub stage. An area should get a rest for about 3 months in between grazing. I might go for 0.5 acre cell with 6 months rest between as well. I may incorporate a donkey into the herd for protection (we occasionally get wild dogs in the creek, but hopefully the electric netting will protect the goats). A livestock guard dog is an option but we get lots of ticks occasionally. We plan on putting a large water tank for animal water at the top of each of the two large hills to allow gravity-feeding water to the moving stock. I will probably have to get in beef calves to join the rotation to keep the grass down during wet seasons. I don’t want to be milking more than 10 does (may alternate breeding them so that I have about 5 in milk maximum per season).

    The goat rotation will be followed up with a large flock of laying hens (100-150) in a mobile night pen with gravity fed water. Surplus milk/whey from the goats, plus arrowroot mash from the low-lying creek flats, will make up the supplementary feeding for the hens. The egg production will be a substantial portion of farm income (sold CSA style or through the many local farmers markets). I currently have an Australorp/Buff Orpington mix but will probably trial other utility breeds for foraging/laying ability.

    The area around the dams and waterways has already been excluded from the cattle using electric fences. These areas are being stocked with geese (first batch hopefully breeding this spring). All the dams have been planted with lotus as well this winter.

    The four dams are being planted so that each has a predominant fruit tree that I wish to specialise in collecting and breeding; mulberries (for spring), sapodilla (for summer), persimmon (for late summer/autumn) and mandarin (winter). All of these are proven performers in our area, fruit fly proof and hardy, plus we like eating them, and only the mandarin is difficult to preserve. The idea with the grouping is to facilitate harvest (only one dam to visit regularly each season) and breeding (e.g. mulberries usually spontaneously cross pollinate due to being wind pollinated). We have a healthy python population so possums and brush turkeys are not present and bats seem reluctant to land as they fly past. We have a few kangaroos and hares but so far the new fruit trees haven’t been bothered.

    One dry hillside to the south west of the block has been earmarked for a mixed chestnut and black locust plantation. This is the only reliably well-drained spot. The soggy north east corner between the drainage ditch and creek has been earmarked for a pecan plantation (seed going in this spring to be grafted to our best varieties from trials over the last few years). This ditch has been planted with giant papyrus and broad leaf bulrush for fibre production. The southeast corner has a spot of erosion, so that is earmarked for a bamboo grove, plus also maybe another damp/eroded spot in the middle-east creek boundary. I’m aiming mostly for a range of sizes of timber types that have grown well in our trials so far (G.atter, D. latifolius, B. textilis). The outer edge of the east/west dams will be planted with seed grown macadamia where they aren’t too soggy.

    The creek flats to the middle east have been earmarked as our main crop growing area. They regularly flood about once a year, but since we are up high in a very small catchment the floods usually last less than 24 hours. The topsoil here is much deeper (~3-4 feet) and sandier. I am planning on specialising in agricultural canna varieties (Qld arrowroot) and have been sourcing new seed strains from across the world for a breeding program. A large grove of asparagus should do well here also (possibly worth doing enough to sell at the markets, but the local supply seems to be quite high in season). I’m considering adding pigs to the flats if there is enough arrowroot/etc to sustain them, but the disease risk and risk of flooding is offputting (plus we will probably have too much chicken, goat and goose meat already).

    Past experience has also shown that only a few grains take our weather and birds: buckwheat in spring, giant amaranth in summer and white maize in autumn (possibly foxtail millet but I find it musty flavoured and we have lots of finches on the block). For starchy roots we seem to do best with potato in winter, sweet potato in summer. I’ll try growing some more pacific taro in the wet spots but I am oxalate sensitive and find it not that edible. For staple legumes pigeon pea is very reliable over the warmer months. Cowpea only crops well sometimes due to insects, and peanut grows well but crops poorly when it is too wet. There are plenty of other veggies that grow easily enough. The drainage gully from the east/west dams through the flats will be dug out into a series of ponds so that silt can be dug out to improve the veggie beds during the dry times. I am planning on using a roving style of agriculture, keeping the majority of the flats in diverse pasture, only clearing small sections of fresh ground for a 12 month veggie crop (2-3 crops), then planting with slow perennial crops (ginger, jicama, turmeric, pigeon pea etc) and gradually allowing the pasture to take over again to let the ground rest thoroughly between clearings. This also means the flats pastures can be kept for emergency stock food during droughts if necessary.

    The area under the power lines has to be kept as pasture, as will a region around the house and house yard. This might be a good place for a few beehives if time allows. I might try establishing some taller grasses for hay making. There are a couple of greenhouses/propagating areas going into the house yard and a flower garden, but other than a very small raised herb bed for the dry loving small herbs (thyme, oregano, aloe, and some well fed chives) nothing utilitarian is going in this space. Finally the verge of the road may be planted with a line of a short local strain of Casuarinas for nitrogen fixation, weed suppression and firewood production.

    So that is the plan. We have about five years before I can be on the farm fulltime to take on the more management intensive livestock (goats and chickens).

    Can anyone think of things we have forgotten to consider?

    Thanks

    Shane
     

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  2. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Don't forget to join Permaculture Noosa.
     
  3. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    ...and introduce yourselves to the neighbours, if you haven't already.
     
  4. Curramore1

    Curramore1 Junior Member

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    Wow. Good to see lots of planning and dreaming. Goats are a bastard to contain. Electric fence netting for an acre is expensive and my goats easily clear 1.5 metres without touching the fence at all. 300 metres or so of fence surrounds an acre of land an all sides. Pretty time consuming to move over uneven ground as well. My does kid in late winter and are milked Spring through summer and dried off for the autumn and winter. I have to lock them up during the night with the sheep to prevent wild dog predation with a light sensor spotlight on the perimeter. The wild dogs ate my neighbours so called guard alpaca and their Maremma in the first week of them leaving them out at night, the donkey lasted a bit over a month. We also 1080 bait with the Sunshine coast Council program twice a year. Paralysis ticks would kill all our lambs and kids without routine jetting and tick and flea collars or buffalo fly tags. We shear in the spring all sheep and goats, vaccinate with Glanvac 6 in 1, backline for lice and to minimise ticks and internal parasites treat with Genesis Extra drench to last till Xmas, then treat again then and in the Autumn with Genesis Tape. After 25 years of experience here we have learnt the right type of animal to keep and how best to keep it alive and producing. We started with the idealistic low chemical approach, but this is too cruel on the animal ,and you, in this high rainfall, high stocking rate environment. My goats give 3-8 litres of milk each day, what are you going to do with 60 or so litres of milk a day? For every 10 does in milk you will have another 10 hangers on; 5-10 doe kids as replacements, 5 or so yearling does, the odd buck and wether for rations. 10 goats soon turn into 25. I try to plan all my activities by the season to fit it all in. Fencing, building, waterworks and planting all in the dry spring from late August to November. Weed control and harvest through the wet Summer. Little work from Xmas to late Feb due to wet season, spend time at the beach and in the ocean. In the late summer and autumn wean, mark and market extra baby mammals, cull extra non pregnant mature animals, make sausages, prosciutto, smoked hams, cheeses, conserves, dry chillies, tomatoes, olives and herbs and spray weeds and plant winter vege plants in March, April and store dry firewood. Mulch everything to store water around plants for the dry spring to come.
    The most difficult thing for me was to have a continuous vege supply with variety and to feed the surplus non preserved foods to the pigs and other livestock. One day you have a kg of guava, the next you have 100 kg. I might only eat 20 pumpkins of 5000 directly this year. The rest will be stored in the field to feed livestock in late winter and the dry autumn. Most of my lemons will be fed to weaner cattle, the banana suckers will be fed with excess sugar canes in the yards to wean cattle. 90% of the Summer milk will go to raising dairy replacements and for fattening pigs to kill in autumn at 5 months. Most people's calendars have birthdays and parties, mine have animal joining dates, planting and harvesting dates and rainfall.
    If you are not there full time I would suggest no animals at this stage, concentrate on weeds, good fences, water pipes, roads and tanks. Enjoy the journey.
     
  5. void_genesis

    void_genesis Junior Member

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    Thanks for the excellent advice Curramore. I am reconciled to needing to vaccinate (particularly for cheesy gland as apparently no breeding program has ever developed resistance to it) and use some chemicals to keep the animals healthy and comfortable. I'll be doing everything I can with nutrition and breeding to keep them healthy but still expect to have other issues. I agree an acre is pretty big to fence tightly- going down to 0.5 acre at a time would get it to 180 m total length. I may end up going smaller and moving it every day. I am hoping that we fall into a pattern of using similar spots for the fence with each big rotation to make clearing easier the second time around. Our ground is hilly but luckily fairly smooth (few dips/gullies, no big rocks).

    I'm curious to hear what goat breed you keep. It sounds like a Saanen from the volume of milk per goat. I was expecting the Nubians to be a bit less bug prone, produce less milk (~2L day is what I have read) and maybe even less inclined to jump fences. I'm hoping the abundant shrubby browse and regular fresh ground will reduce their tendency to escape. Do you use permanent paddocks for yours? If they end up being too much of a struggle I reckon I could try damara sheep or just go back to cows. I am mostly interested in specialising in a smaller animal so we can more easily keep and handle a breeding male on our property. 40 acres is a little small for keeping a bull in check I believe.

    The milk will be mostly for making yoghurt and cheese, with excess and whey going to the chickens to supplement their protein/fat intake. I'll probably stockpile frozen feta to keep going the rest of the year. I like the idea of drying them off so I can get a proper break from daily milking each year. I may alternate the breeding of a couple of goats to keep a supply going longer through the year. If the total herd is around 10-15 with generational cycling it should only be about 5-8 milkers, meaning 10-16 L of milk a day from nubians. The only thing we want to try to sell on any scale are the pasture raised eggs. We may look at specialising in making pickled eggs (target the pub market) since they keep well.

    Good to hear the problems with guard animals as well. I have considered having a smaller more secure night pen with a high strength electric fence to deter wild dogs. They are pretty rare in our area but I guess it only takes one big attack to devastate the herd.

    At the moment the cows and geese seem to be fairly self sufficient, but we wont get anything else until I am there full time. Luckily my parents live near by and are keeping an eye on things. I agree about the continuous veg supply issues for feeding livestock (and ourselves). That is one of the aims in the arrowroot breeding program- it is the only staple crop I know that keeps in the ground year round, even through dry spells (though it is best quality in winter, which is ideal when the pasture is at its least productive). I should be able to build up an acre or so of arrowroot on the wet creek flats over time to regularly supply of starchy mush for the chickens. My current batch of hens will eat arrowroot mush rather than cracked grain when given a choice. Pumpkins grow like mad here as well and we already send most of them to the cows, so that can scale up as well in time.

    If you are ever open to the idea of a visit we would love an opportunity to see how someone who has been doing it for years manages everything.
     

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