Current as of 2021-02-28 15:54:15 +0000
How to build a farm from scratch
When we purchased the land in 2017 there wasn’t much there. There was no place to stay and no workshop. It was basically a piece of neglected land where cows and pigs could whatever they want. Because of the lack of management the land degraded and fertility got lost. The animals simply ate whatever they could find until nothing was left.
So over the course of 2018 we build a wooden house and moved in by February 2019.
What follows is an ongoing description of what we are doing or what we are planning to do. It should guide ourselves and it may also be entertaining for others. It might even help others to embark on a similar venture.
The main topic has been to figure out how to keep cows on pasture alone and how to manage pigs.
- we built paddocks A01 to A17 in zone A
- we built paddocks in zone B
- we moved pigs from A02 to A04 and to A08
- we also saw the pasture come back in A02 after the pigs have been out for a while
While we had lower temperatures during winter and spring we practiced good rotational grazing and finished our paddocks in zone A and B. The cows enjoyed an abundance of grass which was helped by a lot of good rain during spring.
We also turned the big paddock C01 (2 ha) into four smaller ones designated C01 to C04. When the soil got hard due to the harsh sun and lack of rain we could not continue to put in fence posts. This will have to wait until fall.
In our paddocks A15 and A14 we see a lot of Cynodon dactylon emerge. It’s a C4 plant and might be our naturally ocurring summer grass unless we help a bit more by seeding.
Plan - Mid 2020 to mid 2021
Now we are starting to figure out how to build a business at this place. Transparency is important. There isn’t any secret to keep and thus we can openly share what we are doing and planning to do. In the end our future customers can see how we produce their food.
Our farm is located in a forest but because of the treatment the land received in the past we don’t have the biomass that one would expect to find in a forest. We are looking to fix that in order to improve soil fertility in order to grow more forage for our animals and thus be able to have a broad range of products while regenerating the land in the process.
Our biggest issue is availability of forage. We did have good grass growth during the last spring and we also had some success growing corn for the pigs. But our attempt at seeding more grass as pasture failed due to an ever growing ant population. We simply loose all the seed we bring out to the ants.
- Plant a lot of trees
- In order to have more shade for cool season grasses that might last longer after spring we planted many Paulownia trees at B01 and A09.
- Plant and replant some more trees at A09 and B01 to replace those that didn’t make it
- Plant more corn
- Corn has shown to be growing well in the soil have and it can be used to feed pigs (the cobs) and cows (the leaves and stem). The first area for that is C05.
- Chicken to reduce ant population
- As the better seed production has led to an increased ant population we plan on using chicken for pest control. That should allow the existing grass to self-seed in order to fill in the gaps and allow us to seed grass species for summer.
- Planting more trees and shrubs on berms of swales and ponds
- Fruit, nut and support trees on berm of big swale in zone C.
- Vetiver below berm of big swale in zone C
Seeding and harvest plan
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Time and money is always a constraint. Although we wish to accomplish a lot we have to work within our means and then there are also dependencies on others who may not be available to deliver their services when we would like to receive them. So we are juggling projects and regular farm chores all the time.
- Dog palace so that we don’t get in trouble with the neighbors
- Workshop so that we have a dry and clean place to build things
- Market garden so that we can offer vegetables and start our local food delivery business
- Mobile chicken shelters
- Outdoor kitchen so that we can learn about processing chickens
- Water retention earthworks so that we loose less rainfall
- Greenhouse so that we can start plants for the market garden and have more tree saplings for reforestation
- Cattle sorting facility so that we can do health checks on our cattle more easily
- Biosecurity fence
- more paddocks in zone C so that we have more pasture under our planned grazing management
Instead of keeping chickens in a barn and feed them we want to keep them on pasture.
Once our seeding of cold season and warm season grasses is providing some yield, especially during the summer, we can start with chicken tractors and get into the poultry business. Due to local regulations it will have to be eggs first and after approval we can offer chicken meat later on.
Keeping chickens on pasture is way different from feeding chickens ecological food. Keeping chickens within the rules of “organic farming” is certainly better than keeping them cramped up in cages. However, there is a difference in taste at the end and - even more importantly - the negative environmental impact from destroying the soil where they roam is still there.
In accordance with the idea of regenerative agriculture our birds should contribute to soil fertility and the eggs should be best tasting.
Plan 2021 and beyond
We want to raise our animals in the best possible way that is best suited to their natural way of living for their species. For the species Bos taurus (cows) that means they should be on a pasture only diet and not be fed any type of grain under no circumstances.
One of the biggest challenges is to figure out how to slaughter the animals legally. It’s not so much a challenge to do it well. The main problem is that for many reasons in Europe - and in Spain in particular - it came to be that animals have to be trucked for hours to big slaughterhouses. Much of that process creates stress for the animals and lowers the quality of the meat. Another issue is the often bad conditions for the humans involved. We want to work with the authorities to find a way to make it better.
Vegetables and fruits
Ornamental and essential oil products
Because it looks good and smells good and attracts bees and other pollinators we plan to plant a lot of lavender along all paths that run through the farm. We can then make ornamental products and turn the leafs into essential oil for additional products.
- Lavender (Lavandula …)
There are several examples around the world how human activity has created striving ecosystems that are pretty, resilient and highly productive. One particular type of ecosystem that is more and more talked about - despite the fact it is a very, very old farming practice - is called a food forest. We are aiming at turning the whole farm into one big productive forest and thus honor the very idea behind the Dehesa.
As the farm becomes pretty we can welcome visitors. They can engage in various activities:
- Equestrian offerings
- Farm tours and on-farm shopping
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