Muscovy Ducklings

After the drought broke in January, our ducks decided it was time to breed, and one month later here are the results:

duck1

Three nests have bred out so far, with about 12 ducklings each. The ducklings like to swim, but from our unfortunate experience of drowning a few ducklings, we keep the water shallow so they can walk on the bottom and climb out of the water easily.

In late summer we have a lot of pumpkins and squash, and these make excellent duck food. We just chop them into small pieces and they are promptly devoured. Apparently the pumpkins are full of lysine which is an amino acid required for protein formation.

duck4.jpg

The males grow to about fifty percent heavier than the females. Once the males are about three to four months old, they are ready for sale or slaughter. We either take them to an abbatoir if we have enough to warrant the trip, sell them live at a livestock auction, or slaughter a few ourselves.

A slaughter ready male:

duck2

Muscovy ducks do not need water, and can be kept pretty much anywhere, as long as there is shade and drinking water. They are good lawn mowers, and are particularly adept at trimming verges. They are however partial to fruit trees and can jump up and pick off leaves and fruit to about 60-70cm high.

duck3

These ducklings are about 3-4 weeks old and are just about to start getting their proper feathers. You can see how quickly they grow, when comparing them to to the newborns!

duck6.jpg

 More Information

Muscovy Duck Central

Duck Nutrition

Some Thoughts on the Economics of Small Farming

I think everyone would like to be in a position to make a living from their farming efforts, or at least live in a sustainable way at little or no cost. I have been trying to achieve this over the past few years, with varying degrees of success, but from watching my efforts and other’s, I would like to offer the following observations.

Before you start, you should consider that trying to compete with large farms, growing the same products is a non-starter. There are economies of scale that you will never be able to achieve if you are trying to produce a similar bulk product. So growing maize, wheat, broiler chickens, carrots and cabbages, soya beans and sunflowers which can be done on a huge scale, on an industrial farm, is not going to be profitable, if you are selling into the same market.

So if you won’t be profitable by producing volumes of a bulk product, what can be profitable?

I would say there are a few aspects to this.

Firstly you need to sell directly to the end user, thereby cutting out all of the middle men (or women). This can be selling directly to people within your community, or to interested groups, or finding a specific niche in your local, or even the international market that you can occupy.

Secondly you need to differentiate your product. You can be any or all of the following: Organic, pesticide free, ethically farmed, non-GMO, sustainable, hormone implant free, free range and so on. Your products can also be natural, preservative free, additive free, colorant free and just plain tastier! For all of these attributes you can charge a premium over the normal supermarket freezer fare. Also, large farming enterprises produce essentially a factory feed stock that can be processed,  squashed into square boxes, given a healthy dose of MSG and then called food (!). If you can convince people of the difference, they will happily pay for the better product. Most things you find in a supermarket in those square boxes with colourful logos of smiling farm animals are made from maize, soya, deboned chicken and a bunch of chemicals and that is about it.

Thirdly, you need to look at your strengths in terms of costs. If you are not buying chemical fertilisers, patent seeds and buckets of insecticides, this should be an advantage, surely? Permaculture involves feeding the waste of one process into the next,  So that must give you a cost advantage? Your crop yields may be less (or maybe not), but your input costs and labour costs should be much less than a commercial farm (you work for free remember!).

Fourthly,  you need to sell a value added product. If you are growing fruit, you need to sell a jar of organic pesticide and preservative free jam, ethically farmed, and bottled using an old family recipe, handed down for generations etc, rather than a box or sack of fruit. Your branding as well should tell a story and give your product more value than the generic mass produced quasi-equivalent. In business it is called ‘owning the value chain’, so if you can go from a heirloom seed that you kept from last season, grown in your mulch and manure, to a healthy nutricious fruit/veg/fish/poultry/animal, home processed into something even more delicious, and then sold for what it is, people will see the value in that, and a hopefully be prepared to pay for it.

If a product is to produce a profit, the value of the end product needs to be more than the cost and effort to produce it. Your own labour is free, but that doesn’t mean you need to consume all of your energy for little or no gain. Fortunately you have nature on your side, so let nature do its thing, just help it along in the right direction where necessary.

I have also thought about the scale of your small farm operation, you can get too big and then find yourself in the wholesale space, rather than the niche retail space where you have the most value to add to your home grown and processed products.

For example if you grow a lettuce and eat it yourself, you have essentially displaced the cost of what you would have paid in the shop, and saved yourself $1 (for instance), while your input cost was probably a few cents or less. If you can sell your lettuce within your community for 80c or 50c even (or trade it for something of equivalent value), you are still profitable, so with 100 lettuce you can feed yourself, sell a few locally, trade some,  and give some away for goodwill, which you may well receive in return later (when other people have excess). A penny saved is a penny earned, so they say.

If now you have grown 1000 lettuce, and you have saturated (and sated) your local market, you will then have to sell those lettuce for about 10c each to a retailer, and instead of making $50-$100 for 100 lettuces, you have now made $100 for 1000 lettuces, with a lot more work. so there is little advantage in growing bigger than your immediate retail market, unless you get really big and are able to produce 10 000 lettuces (or more) where you will start to see a profit as a wholesaler.

So it is probably better to have a variety of niche seasonal products, so you have a continuity of supply throughout the year, rather than put too much effort into a single crop, where all of your eggs are in the basket of the success or failure of that one crop.

Some examples of what people are doing or producing in our area are things like: Honey, goats milk cheese, goats milk soap, jams, preserves and other processed foods, grass fed beef, retreats of various kinds from religious to spiritual, courses and other learning opportunities, horse riding lessons and out rides, farm stays and other accommodation, various handcrafts like weaving or carpentry and so on. All of these are products and services you won’t find in the city, and are sold directly to the consumer.

Anyways, these are just my musings, I would appreciate comments, and I will probably update this post later,once I have ruminated on this a bit more!

 

The Fruits of Summer

Its now late summer and delicious things are coming out of the garden. I will be using these to make a pasta sauce, just fry them all up with some coconut oil: We have not quite ripe tomatoes (as the monkeys and birds make off with the ripe ones), Jalepeno peppers, sweet peppers, baby squash (called pattipans), black eyed peas and basil. Yum!

fs.jpg

 

Ruth Stout’s Potato Method Works!

I recently tried Ruth Stout’s potato planting method using straw mulching. Basically you place a seed potato on the ground, cover with straw and wait. Our straw mulching has been quite successful with other vegetables, so when some store bought potatoes started getting roots on the shelf, I put them in the vegetable garden and covered them with about 200mm of straw.

Lo and behold about 2 weeks later, potato plants! (okay, no potatoes yet, but its a start…)

spuds.jpg

Some beetroot seedlings that I planted out:

beet.jpg

Fancy lettuce:

lett.jpg

Jalepeno Peppers:

jal.jpg

More Information

Home Guides

Waldeneffect.org

 

Boergoat Kids Two Weeks Old

Some pictures of our new boergoat kids. We have 22 in total so far, with just one or two ewes left to kid. Two thirds of them are male which we suspect has something to do with the drought conditions that prevailed during the pregnancies.

The kids all stay close to their shed during the day while the adults walk to another field to graze.

wsx3.jpgwsx2.jpgwsx1.jpg

Hay Baling by Hand

This was my first attempt at hay making for winter fodder. I had established smutsfinger grass for goat grazing purposes, and my next goal was to try to reduce our reliance on bought winter fodder.

I borrowed a sickle bar mower for my tractor from a friend,  and set to cutting. A sickle bar cutter is supposed to be better than a rotary slasher, as the grass is cut cleanly and not chopped into small pieces.

sickle5

I left the grass on the field to dry and then hand raked it together.

I made a simple baling box out of old plywood that I had lying about. The box is slightly tapered so when you pull the bale out, it slides out easily.

bale

Basically what you do is rake the grass together, drape strings inside the box and stuff it full with grass. A small child is then used to bounce with great delight on top to compress the bale, you then tie the string as tight as you can, and pull the bale out. The bales weren’t pretty, but they did the job. There is lovely rich sugary smell that comes from freshly baled hay! I used sisal twine to tie the bales as it is very strong and biodegradable. I didn’t want to have plastic baling twine or wire all over the farm later.

Each bale took about 5 minutes to make. I managed to make about 150, enough for a reasonably sized haystack. Here is the start of the heap.

stack

Later I got a hay rake, and built a steel baling box with a lever to compress the bales, and still later a baling machine, but hand baling was a good experience,  to really get to grips with the process.

,

 

Mulching

I had a lot of straw bales left over from last winter, and a lot of animal bedding that needed to be cleaned out. I hunted around on the net for ideas on what to use leftover bales for. Apart from all of the straw bale house building ideas, I eventually came across the idea of thick straw mulching for veggie gardening.  Here is a site that gives you the general idea : http://www.goveganic.net/article182.html

It seemed deceptively simple, and turns out that it is. Basically you pack your beds thick with straw. Grow seedlings, and when they are ready to plant out, make a small hole in the straw, plant them and pack the straw back around the stem. And that’s it. You get the odd weed pushing through the straw, but you just pull that and drop it on top of the mulch pile.

Previously we were using lots of compost and digging over the beds, or using a disc harrow to work in manure, but weeds were a huge problem overtaking the vegetables. Now we are just packing any organic matter as thick as possible on the ground, and the veggies love it.

If it wasn’t for using this technique, there is no possible way that our veggie garden would have survived the recent drought and 40 degree temperatures (C not F). Granted it didn’t grow very quickly, but now that we’ve had some rain, everything is taking off.

Some pics:

asd2.jpgasd1.jpg

I am currently making seedlings of autumn vegetables like chard, celery, brocolli cauliflower, lettuce and maybe some late tomatos etc ready for when the weather cools off a bit.

seed2.jpg

seed1.jpg

More Information

Mulching Ruth Stout Style

Mother Earth News

The No Dig Duchess

Slangbos Control Using Goats

Slangbos (snake bush, bankrupt bush) is a small shrub that invades grazing land. In cattle farming operations it can completely invade grass land and push out the grass entirely. This mainly occurs as it is not palatable for cattle so they don’t eat it, but they do remove the competing grasses.

sl1.jpg

A bad infestation:

bank.jpg

Some people promote the use of poisons again Slangbos : Chemicals: the best weapon against slangbos. Goats, however, find Slangbos very tasty and readily graze the growing tips of the plant. So while they don’t eradicate the plant completely, as the stem is very woody, they do keep it under control so that grasses and other plants grow amongst the slangbos. I don’t see many new plants establishing, so I would imagine that after some time the goats may graze the plant so that very few remain. The area below was quite choked at a stage, and almost completely covered over but the goats have grazed it back and grasses are regrowing in between.

sb2.jpg

If you break the plant and smell it it is quite aromatic so I would think that it is probably quite nutritious and likely has medicinal properties.

More Information

Slang Bos

Grassland.org

AgriSA

Weed Control – Milk Weed

Milk weed can be a problem as it grows quite densely where it established itself, and is not really grazed my any animals. Goats will eat the seed pods, and nibble on the leaves in winter, but it becomes problematic if it starts growing in any field that will be cut for hay. You don’t want as lot of weeds in your hay, as the weeds are generally wetter than the grass and may cause mould, and they may spread their seeds to other parts of the farm.

Fortunately when the ground is soft after rain, they can be pulled out quite easily. I am busy clearing a field of Smutsfinger grass that is being established. Once the grass covers the ground completely, the milk weed probably won’t grow again.

Cutting the weeds down doesn’t help though as the plant will just regrow from the cut stem. Pulling is the only way. Always lean down slope when you are pulling weeds and let gravity help you. Helps if you have a bit of counterweight in that region as well!

Before:

m1.jpg

During :

m2.jpg

After :

m3.jpg

More Information

Operation Wildflower

Medicinal Properties

Weed Control – Pom Pom Weed

Pom pom weed is a very invasive weed in South Africa. It is common along road verges and in fallow lands but can also invade pastures and natural grazing. Once established it is very difficult to get rid of as it spreads by seed, as well as by rhizomes. The picture below is some that had invaded a lucerne field.pom pom.jpg

Pom pom weed was originally introduced as an ornamental plant, which then escaped into the wild. If people had been growing vegetables in their gardens instead of pink flowers, this would never have happened!

Sunday morning was spent with the whole family cutting off the seed heads and digging out the plants where possible, and spraying the plants with poison where the ground was too hard to dig them out. Here is a dung out plant showing the roots.

pp1.jpg

The plants are grazed by our goats, so they are not entirely useless, but they can reach a state where they push out all other plants, so I’d rather try and nip this in the bud, so to speak.

More Information

South African National Biodiversity Institute

Pom Pom Weed Control