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!

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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

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

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:

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During :

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After :

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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.

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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