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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Dwelling off the land, due to diversification

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Producing a wide range of crops and livestock has enabled Tabby Robertshaw and her accomplice to understand their dream of homesteading. She spoke to Glenneis Kriel in regards to the laborious work they’ve put into the enterprise.

Living off the land, thanks to diversification
A couple of geese are saved on the farm to assist maintain snails and slugs in verify within the vegetable backyard
Picture: Glenneis Kriel

Tabby Robertshaw and her accomplice, Alex Chouler, are skilled homesteaders who’ve lengthy sought full self-sufficiency.

Immediately, they reside and work on rented land close to Stanford within the Western Cape, the place they produce a wide range of natural greens, fruit, salad greens and meat, and promote it below their Goodluck Homestead model at native markets and eating places and by way of WhatsApp teams. Additionally they produce all of the meals they require for themselves, aside from breakfast cereals.

The couple moved to the present farm, Vaalvlei, a yr and a half in the past after spending 10 years on their earlier property, the place they used to make sufficient cash to reside on. The transfer, nonetheless, has required main investments in infrastructure and soil enchancment.

To spice up their earnings, they constructed visitor lodging in December final yr, and Robertshaw believes this can make the farm financially viable. She additionally presents self-sufficiency workshops comparable to meals gardening and meals processing. Her most up-to-date workshop centered on the manufacturing of fermented butter and kimchi.

“We’re organising the farm to have extra space for workshops,” she says.

Farming philosophy
Vaalvlei covers 50ha, with 0,5ha below greens and salad greens, and 3ha below Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc vineyards. The remainder of the land is used as pasture, or is destined for that objective.

Their wine grapes are delivered to a neighborhood winemaker who repays the worth in bottles of wine. “The wine is nice, however we have now to rethink the settlement, as a result of we’re nonetheless within the strategy of making use of for a liquor licence and might’t promote the wine simply but,” says Robertshaw.
She provides that the winery is the most costly of their enterprises to keep up, with prices pushed up by the necessity for particular farming gear comparable to a tractor and spray tank.

As well as, they’re changing the winery from a standard one managed with fertilisers and pesticides to an natural operation. This has necessitated costly soil correction and enormous portions of inputs to enhance soil well being.

“We had good harvests final season and this season is trying glorious. However there’s no sentimentality right here! Every little thing we produce is given 4 years to see if it turns into a viable earnings stream. If it doesn’t earn a living by then, it’s scrapped,” says Robertshaw.

The exception is her vegetable backyard, which incorporates a wide range of heirlooms and fascinating crossbreeds, in addition to crops comparable to salad greens, herbs, berries, olives and keenness fruit.

“The vegetable backyard is extra of a ardour undertaking. We produce every thing we want at residence, promote the excess on the native markets, and provides the ‘ugly’ and ‘broken’ produce to our pigs. It’s not likely a money-spinner. Then once more, it most likely is saving us some huge cash, contemplating the value you need to pay for greens and salads within the outlets today.”

She provides that it’s essential to have a vegetable backyard with a view to go ‘full cycle’ and turn out to be self-sustaining. The completely different crops are rotated and blended within the planting beds to forestall a build-up of illnesses, with plantings fastidiously deliberate to reap the benefits of neighbouring crops. Beans, for instance, is perhaps undersown with maize to allow the latter to reap the benefits of the nitrogen produced by the beans.

Their produce is natural, however not organically licensed. Robertshaw says that it’s not the price of certification that’s discouraging, however the quantity of extra work, administration and record-keeping that goes with it.

“A small enterprise like ours merely doesn’t have the time or capability to tackle all the extra admin related to natural certification.

“We farm organically for ourselves, as a result of it’s more healthy and we need to depart the soil in a greater situation for the subsequent era. Our market doesn’t have an issue with the truth that we’re not licensed, as we’ve constructed a relationship with them through the years they usually’ve come to belief us.”

Meat manufacturing
Meat can also be on the menu, with goats, rabbits, pigs, chickens, and some Dexter cattle being farmed on Vaalvlei. The goats, hen and pigs include a mixture of indigenous breeds, and Robertshaw, over time, has chosen animals primarily based on their hardiness. This she defines as the power to thrive outdoor with as few inputs as potential.

The variety of rabbits is maintained at round 50, relying on the demand for meat.

“I used to maintain a particular breed, however I’ve since blended them as much as produce specific-coloured pelts, for which I’ve additionally secured a market,” she says.

There are two kinds of rabbit farming, explains Robertshaw. The primary, battery farming, entails putting the rabbits in small cages on high of each other.

“That is unnatural and will increase the stress ranges of the animals, which in flip renders them extra weak to illnesses, a few of which might wipe them out in a single day,” she says.

She prefers ‘colony rearing’, a manufacturing strategy that mimics the way in which rabbits reside within the wild. To this finish, three does are saved in every pen, which measures 3m x 3m. The fencing is sunk about 1m deep to forestall the rabbits from escaping. Left to their very own gadgets, the rabbits dig burrows, which allow them to remain heat in winter and funky in summer time, and breed in consolation all year long.

Just one buck is used. It’s saved with a gaggle of does for 2 months earlier than being rotated to a different pen. Does produce three to 4 offspring of their first breeding season, and between six and 12 thereafter. They’ve a gestation interval of a month and might fall pregnant mere days after kindling, enabling them to provide greater than seven litters a yr.

Robertshaw slows down replica, nonetheless, by protecting the buck separate when there are too many rabbits on the farm.

“I additionally assume the does may want a break earlier than they reproduce once more, however I don’t know what they consider that!” she says.

Does are culled as soon as their manufacturing begins to say no, often when they’re 4 to 5 years previous. There may be sturdy demand for them on the meat market, in keeping with Robertshaw, as they’ve extra fats than the rabbits she sells at six to eight months of age.

The rabbits reside off backyard waste comparable to weeds, cabbages, broccoli and banana leaves, sugar cane and carrot tops.

“They don’t price us something aside from the preliminary pen infrastructure,” says Robertshaw.
Comfrey leaves are added periodically to the rabbits’ feed as it’s a “good drugs for everybody”, however the easiest way of guaranteeing the rabbits’ well being is to offer a different food plan, she says.

Robertshaw notes that authorities issued a warning in direction of the tip of final yr in regards to the outbreak of rabbit haemorrhagic illness, which was inflicting excessive rabbit and hare mortalities within the Northern and Western Cape. She feels, nonetheless, that her rabbits are out of hazard, as they’re produced inside pens that restrict their publicity to disease-carrying brokers comparable to wild rabbits and individuals who might need been in touch with sick rabbits.

Forty goats, consisting of purebred and blended Boer goats, indigenous veld goats and speckled (skilder) goats, are run on Vaalvlei.

“The indigenous breeds are proof against parasites and don’t have any bloating points once they’re on a different food plan. We do need to vaccinate them, although, towards botulism and tacky gland [Caseous lymphadenitis],” says Robertshaw.

The goats reside off the veld and are given a lick to make sure they obtain important minerals and salts.

“They’re fairly simple to farm, with every ewe producing twins final breeding season. The one drawback is that they don’t respect fences. Ours haven’t been too troublesome, however we’ve needed to go and fetch them on the neighbour a few occasions.”

The goats are raised primarily for meat, however are additionally milked by hand, with three goats milked per lactation. “Boer goats don’t have lots of milk, nevertheless it’s very wealthy, with the identical quantity of butterfat as that of Jersey cows,” says Robertshaw.

Just like the rabbits and goats, the pigs on the farm are reared exterior. Robertshaw remembers that they began out by placing a Sandveld Purple sow to an Iberian Wild Boar cross, and in the present day places a number of the offspring (5 blended sows) to a special boar.

The piglets are bought to different farms or completed for the meat market, with Robertshaw additionally including worth to the meat by making charcuterie.

An added benefit of the pigs is that they assist to clear areas deliberate for pasture, and fertilise the soil with their manure and urine.

Robertshaw explains that the pigs usually are not but wholly ‘free vary’, as their feed remains to be supplemented with industrial premixed rations and spent grain sourced from a neighborhood brewery. Her goal, nonetheless, is to ascertain pastures for the pigs, subdividing them into small grazing areas to allow rotational grazing. This may enable for restoration of the pasture and assist stop a build-up of parasites.

The chickens on Vaalvlei, that are of blended selection, are moved throughout the farm in cellular housing, and serve numerous functions. They assist to decrease the populations of fruit fly and different pests, and likewise enhance soil well being and fertility.

“These are farm chickens within the true sense of the phrase,” says Robertshaw. “They don’t get fed, and it’s a bonus once we get eggs from them!”

There are additionally a couple of geese on the farm which are helpful for protecting slug and snail populations in verify within the fruit and vegetable backyard.

Robertshaw says they tried to farm turkeys, however finally gave up this enterprise. The birds, she explains, breed properly as soon as they’re adults, however the hens make poor moms.

“Turkeys make big nests which are troublesome to search out, and a few chicks die as a result of they battle to get out of the nest. The few chicks which are left usually die from illnesses like pneumonia or fall over and might’t rise up, after which die within the solar.”

To beat these issues, Robertshaw hatched numerous turkey chicks artificially. All went properly till the chicks had been allowed to go exterior: each chick ended up being caught by a predator.

“We hardly have any such issues with the others animals on the farm, so turkeys clearly style higher than the remaining,” she says wryly.

Soil well being
Like most farmers, the couple recognise the significance of wholesome, fertile soil, so had been stunned by the state of the soil at Vaalvlei once they first arrived. Robertshaw remembers that it resembled white sea sand. To deal with the issue, they utilized Restore, a combination of biochar and hen manure, within the pastures, vineyards and vegetable gardens.

“Biochar helps to enhance soil construction and improves the provision of carbon and different vitamins. And the hen manure slowly releases macro- and micronutrients,” she explains.

She additionally makes on-farm compost from the manure of the animals and waste from the vegetable backyard. Rabbit manure, she provides, has larger nutrient ranges than poultry manure, and can be utilized as is within the vegetable backyard with out scorching the crops.

Quite a lot of compost heaps on the farm usually are not turned or inoculated, because the manure incorporates sufficient dwelling organisms. The bigger compost heaps, nonetheless, are turned commonly and sprayed with trichoderma to speed up decomposition.

Compost is utilized to the vegetable beds initially of the season after which topped up with Restore when the beds are modified.

“This strategy has vastly improved our soil. It’s now teeming with life,” says Robertshaw
Whereas having fun with their way of life and happy at what they’ve achieved, she admits that homesteading is much from simple.

“We labored abroad for seven years to assist us finance this dream, and need to work till late every evening to make it occur. Operating a farm isn’t like a daily job, the place you’ll be able to change off after 5pm. You need to be continually alert and able to act when the animals want you or issues break.”

E mail Tabby Robertshaw at [email protected].


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