We thought it might be useful to spell out the principles by which we want to run the farm. We’ll explain each of them and the reasons they are in the order they are. So here they are:
- Welfare of the animals
- Environmental sustainability and improvement
- Minimum use of chemicals
- Economic viability
The most important thing to us is the welfare of our animals. We feel a strong sense of responsibility for all the animals. Just because it is their destiny to be slaughtered is no excuse for not ensuring they have the best possible life up until then. We try to give all the animals as natural a life as is possible, they are allowed to behave as cows, with pasture which is a mix of many different grasses and shrubs so they can choose what they want to eat. Each paddock has fresh water and at least one stand of trees for shelter.
Because we need to handle them at times, we find its best to spend quite a bit if time with them in stress free situations, eg, walking around with them when they are grazing. This means that when we have to move them or put them in the yards, they are used to us and feel less stress. So although we try to allow them to live as if they are wild, we find a balance where they aren’t frightened of us, but they are respectful, (never forget a fully grown cow weighs upwards of 700 kg and can do a lot of damage if it wants to.)
We never use growth hormones, we never fatten calves in feedlot conditions, we don’t feed grains or processed growth enhancing supplements and we allow the young animals to grow at a natural pace, rather than forcing fast growth through scientifically formulated feeds and supplements. We leave calves with their mothers until they are 9 months old (rather than 4-6 months), then we wean gently, by locking the cows and calves on different sides of a fence, so they can stay together but the calf can’t feed. This was, the cow’s milk drys up and she wanders away after a few days, rather than having the stress of ripping the calves away, after which the bellowing from both parties usually keeps you up for three nights straight.
Environmental Sustainability & Improvement
When we bought our property it was a 1000 acre sheep farm which has been run into the ground. The soil was effectively dead, the pasture was poor quality and patchy in most places, the creeks were nothing but drains, removing all the water and any remaining fertility off the property. Its going to be a long process, but we are slowly fixing the place. Even though we’ve had terrible drought, we are already seeing improvements.
We’ve been repairing fences and implementing a rotation system for grazing. There are 17 paddocks, which means if the cows are in a paddock for a week and a half at a time, they can graze the entire property in 6 months. The sheep follow directly after the cows. This heavy grazing for a short time, followed by a long rest of 6 months seems to be the best way to manage pasture. (more about this in future blogs as its something I’m very interested in.) We are trying to bring the land back to life, encouraging maximum biodiversity, we’ve locked some 250 acres of bushland from the sheep and cattle and are planting trees and shrubs in the paddocks.
The creeks we are slowly working on repairing. There are two main creeks which join together 2/3 of the way through our place and they form a small but complex floodplain system. By slowing down the water which currently runs 2 m below the surface in a ditch, we are restoring the system to its original form. Rather than do this with bulldozers, we are trying to set up the conditions so it will happen naturally.
Use of Agrichemicals
Our goal is to use no chemicals at all on our farm. There are a thousands reasons for this and some of our personal reasons will be discussed in our blog in the future.
Out ideal farm is nothing but a pipe dream if we can’t make it an economic reality. We strongly believe that a farm run on the principle above can be economically viable and we intend to prove this.
Order of Principles
The four principle are in a specific order for a reason. Any decision we have to make can be tested against these principles. For example, in order to control parasites (worms etc) in the cattle, we rotate them in a way that interrupts the life cycle of the worms. Also by making the place friendly for dung beetles we aid in parasite control, which reduces our need to use worming chemicals, which leave residues in the meat, kill a lot of the soil microorganisms and are expensive. If however, we develop a problem with worms in the herd at some point, then the welfare overules the no chemical rule. So if our best option for the welfare of the cows is to drench them, we will find the least harmful chemical and confine them to small paddock where the manure can be raked up and removed before it can kill the dung beetles and other soil life.