Cow Peas

Our deal with our children is they can watch as many movies as they like, as long as they she’ll peas at the same time!

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Here are the results:

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We planted about one hectare of cow peas this year, and they did quite nicely with all of the rain. We are harvesting enough peas to keep us in bean soups and so on through the winter.

Our boer goats will eat the rest probably next month, before the plants dry too much. It will make a good, high protein green feed before they lamb in July.

We will also combine the peas with our tomato crop and make ‘baked beans’ as a preserve.

Winter. Endings and beginnings..

Our summer garden has come to an end. All of the tomatoes and aubergines, pumpkins and squashes, broccoli and cauliflower have been eaten, preserved or given away.

Some of our boer goat ewes are heavily pregnant and so the task of clearing the leftovers falls to them. Here they are making short work of some cauliflower plants.

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It’s now a few weeks since I took that pic. It is now midwinter and they are now eating their way through the lucerne and sericea I baled. The grey is last year’s mulch, and the yellow, this year’s contribution. The goats sort through the bale and eat all of the tasty bits, and spit out the stems and other unpalatable bits. I estimate about a quarter of the bale is turned to mulch, but that is simply a function of the amount of grass growing in the lucerne field when baled.mulchgoats

I will soon start making seedlings again for spring, and hopefully we should be producing abundant tomatoes again before long like last season.

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Some new lambs for the new season:

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So this completes a cycle where goats, lucerne, vegetables and the by products of all of them, add to the fertility of the soil, the goats, and us humans even get some benefit!

Boiling a Kettle with Goat Poop!

I would like to use biogas for cooking in the house, so I built a pilot project to check if and how it works. We have the feedstock, being goat manure so I decided to give it a try.

I wasn’t going to spend any money on the project, so I built a crude digester out of junk lying around on the farm. It comprises a 220 litre drum filled with goat manure slurry, a 100 litre drum upended in the larger drum with a valve and a rock on top, and a piece of gas pipe, wedged into the valve with a plastic bag. Behold its precision engineered glory!

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I filled the big drum about one third full with goat manure, topped up the drum with water and mixed it up into a nice slurry. I then put the small drum upside down inside, covered it with black plastic and waited.

For a week nothing happened.

In the next week the smaller drum started to lift a little, but the gas produced did not ignite.

In the following week a foul stench was noted.

And after about 3 weeks the contraption was producing gas every day, and I could make flares of gas flame out of the pipe.

Apparently the bacteria first ferment the mixture to produce CO2, then H2S is produced and finally methane production commences as the methane producing bugs establish themselves.

The next test was to see if anything useful could be done with the gas, so I connected up a camping gas cooker, but it wouldn’t light. It took a lot more google research to figure out that biogas (being mainly methane and carbon dioxide), behaves quite differently to your normal propane or butane gas that you buy in cylinders.

An important difference is that propane and butane liquify under pressure, so they occupy a lot less space as a liquid than as a gas. You can’t compress methane into a liquid, so you need relatively large storage volumes. Methane’s burning characteristics are different so you can’t just use a normal gas burner, it needs some tweaking.

I then bought a small one ring cooker that I could modify. What needs to be done is the jet needs to be opened up to much larger than for normal gas, and the amount of air restricted. I opened up the jet in the stove from about 0.5mm to 1.5mm, and blocked up the air intake with a piece of plastic with one 6mm hole drilled in it.

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So, I opened up the gas, applied a match and hey presto! It works!

Next thing is to boil a kettle, which I duly did (OK, only 1cm of water in it, but it boiled nonetheless). You can’t see the flame or the steam in the pic, but it is boiling, trust me….

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So I’m quite pleased that the experiment worked. The digester is probably making about 30 litres of gas per day, probably quite a lot is lost due to the small drum not filling nicely in the big drum.

My next step will be to make a 1000 liter digester so that we can use the single ring burner in the kitchen to make a cup of coffee in the morning. I am going to use the design from this website and see how it goes : Solar Cities IBC Digester

I will keep this digester bubbling as the bacteria are established in this system, so you can take this material to quick start the new system, without waiting for the whole process to establish from scratch again. Seeing as IBCs are fairly cheap, I will probably be able to get a small working system going for less than $50, hopefully enough to do some of our cooking on, but we’ll keep our normal gas stove as well. Based on the experience of this pilot system I would anticipate about 100 litres of gas per day from the 1000 liter system.

There are many variables that dictate how much gas a biogas system will produce, like type of feedstock, ambient temperature, water hardness and so on, which is why I wanted to see it work on a small scale first, but I am very pleased with the results!

I found these websites quite helpful in this process :

ATTRA – Sustainable Agriculture

DIY Methane Generator

Biogas Plant in a Plastic Drum

Biogas Start Up

Backyard Biogas

Biogas from Kitchen Waste

Modifying a Gas burner for Biogas

 

 

Goat Fodder from Sweet Thorn Trees

Do goats like trees? Of course they do! And in particular they like Sweet Thorn (acacia karroo). Fresh leaves contain 12% protein and a lot of calcium and phosphorus, and the pods are even more protein rich.

I am establishing Sweet Thorn all over the farm as part of my Silvopasture project. The pictures below are of goats devouring the leaves from branches pruned from Sweet Thorn trees growing in our garden.

I prune off all of the bottom branches so the trees grow tall and spread to become shady, and the cuttings are fed to the goats.The tree below is about 5 years old. If the goats were allowed to graze the trees, they would clean off the bottom branches without my help, but there are fruit trees in the same area which would be equally pruned. The trees are full of pods after the drought a few months earlier, so I will have plenty of seeds to make seedlings from.

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The pruned branches cause a feeding frenzy amongst the adults. How they manage to nibble between the thorns is quite a talent.

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And the kids nibble off everything that is left.

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Once the branches are dry I will use them for firewood, or use them to keep chickens out of vegetables (the thorns help).

More Information

Acacia Karroo – A sweet and thorny thing

Sweet Thorn Leaves Nutritional Value

Sprout selection and performance of goats fed Acacia karroo coppices in the False Thornveld of the Eastern Cape, South Africa

Long-Term Impacts of Goat Browsing on Bush-Clump Dynamics in a Semi-Arid Subtropical Savanna

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A bad infestation:

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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.

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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

Boergoat Lambing Season

Our boer goats are lambing currently, the picture below is a new born being cleaned by her mother. A healthy kid should be up and standing within 10 minutes, and drinking on its mother within 30-60 minutes.

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A one day old kid with its mother.

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So far about two thirds of the kids have been born male, we were speculating whether that had something to do with the severe drought that has affected us, which only broke about three weeks ago.