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Ideas for a 4,000-acre farm?

 
Lenny Johnson
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Hi. This will probably be a familiar-sounding story to many. An Australian friend is thinking of selling their family farm. His dad is too old to pitch in and there's only so much my friend can do with 4,000 acres.

They have about 170 head and 600 sheep and water is a problem in dry season. It's a conventional, tractor-run farm that uses a lot of fertilizer, etc. Seems like an ideal situation for permaculture and I'd like to help him develop a plan but... 4,000 acres?!

My first instinct would be to cut costs and probably cut production to a manageable level with a mob-grazing approach. For water I think a keyline system would do the trick. But where I'm stuck is, what then? How much can one person do, say, to start an alley crop/food forest system or something like that? Seems kind of overwhelming.

Any thoughts? Thanks in advance!
 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Holy cow. Talk about an epic project! I would say to pick a small area to start and focus on that and then pick the next small area and do the same. Looking at the over all size of the property could really overwhelm you into inaction.

See if you can get some advise from geoff lawton. Watch whatever videos of his you can find on earthworks, water retention, etc. Keyline, swales, ponds.

I would also take a look at what Mark Sheppard has accomplished on his farm. (He wrote Restoration Agriculture and here is a good (although quite long) video of a presentation that he did
) He started from a traditionally farmed field and has turned it into quite something.

Maybe you can develop projects and use them as learning experiences for others. One way of getting some extra help while helping others to learn.
 
Grant Schultz
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Location: Iowa City, Iowa Zone 5
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Hi Lenny, Darren Doherty has a lot of experience in Oz putting the permie treatment on broadacre dryland farms. A great resource for Australia.
 
John Elliott
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Tell me, is it 'invaded' or 'infested' with Parkinsonia, what we call Palo Verde here in the States? I shake my head when I hear about Australians conducting eradication efforts on Parkinsonia so that they can graze sheep on grass. It's a FAR better plant than grass to be growing in a desert with limited water resources.

But then you would also have to change your grazing herd makeup. Parkinsonia may not be so palatable to sheep, but it sure is popular with camels and goats. Instead of raising lamb for export to the U.S., maybe then you have to market the camels and goats to cultures that like that meat -- like in the Middle East.

Just a thought from someone too far away to know the problems up close. But I have the impression that Australians really want to duplicate Old North Wales in New South Wales instead of developing the natural productivity of a much different desert environment.
 
Lenny Johnson
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Thanks for your replies. I think the keyline system would be the starting point but I'm not sure where to go from there it does sound like a job for Darren Doherty. I'm sure he's dealt with this situation many times before.

Cheers,
Lenny
 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Lenny - have you seen Allan Savoury's TED talk on Planned Holistic Grazing? I think this could have really good application in Australia. Where in the country is this farm? What kind of climate are you talking about? My impressions are that lowering absolute production and reducing costs seems to be really important in most large scale agriculture these days - fuels and fertilisers keep going up in price - so your plan sounds fairly sensible. Holistic grazing also has the potential to improve land and stocking rates given a few years of application so is worth investigation.

If permanent fences are not already in place you will probably need to invest a bit in some portable electric fencing and think about how you will supply water to a series of mobile paddocks - some kind of water storage on a trailer with a trough?

Water is particularly important - sounds like you should have plenty of scope for putting in some water catchments on an area that large. This will help your animals, but also open up options for alternative landuses if you have sufficient water storage for even occasional irrigation.

On contour swales/ditches will help infiltrate what rainfall you have to replenish the local groundwater - keyline ploughing could be an aspect of this, but if you go for larger swales and ditches you could consider planting some shade/fodder/fruit trees.
 
Alexander Duncan
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Michael Cox wrote:Lenny - have you seen Allan Savoury's TED talk on Planned Holistic Grazing? I think this could have really good application in Australia. Where in the country is this farm? What kind of climate are you talking about? My impressions are that lowering absolute production and reducing costs seems to be really important in most large scale agriculture these days - fuels and fertilisers keep going up in price - so your plan sounds fairly sensible. Holistic grazing also has the potential to improve land and stocking rates given a few years of application so is worth investigation.

If permanent fences are not already in place you will probably need to invest a bit in some portable electric fencing and think about how you will supply water to a series of mobile paddocks - some kind of water storage on a trailer with a trough?

Water is particularly important - sounds like you should have plenty of scope for putting in some water catchments on an area that large. This will help your animals, but also open up options for alternative landuses if you have sufficient water storage for even occasional irrigation.

On contour swales/ditches will help infiltrate what rainfall you have to replenish the local groundwater - keyline ploughing could be an aspect of this, but if you go for larger swales and ditches you could consider planting some shade/fodder/fruit trees.



I have to agree with Michael Cox, on such a large farm holistic planned grazing may be the best solution. From start to finish planned grazing uses livestock for regenerative landscape, with proper planning you could regenerate your land with just yourself which would be way less input than a large permaculture project.

Dams are designed to catch and store water run-off in a situation where little water is absorbed. Now what happens when you repair the soil, build carbon in the soil, and have maximum absorption. Now what water 'Run-off' do you have when the water doesn't just 'run-off' but gets absorbed? Well then the dams that you may have paid 10-50k to put in place would be of no use or little use. I'm not saying that dams are wrong, there are a "Time" when dams and swales are needed as long as it fits into your plan socially, economically, as well as catering to the needs of your environment.

If you think moving your cattle everyday or once a week or whatever your plan dictates, imagine in a cold climate like Saskatchewan Canada, Zone 2, its far less work to move your cattle than bringing bales out to the cattle everyday, it will also cost you far less in fuel, (side note: cows do dig into the snow to get the grass, and you get a far greater quality of beef that hay fed cattle)

A bonus to planning is you may already be able to tell if you will be short of feed that year, That will give you the opportunity to purchase extra feed early. Buying extra feed in the growing season (June in Canada) is the cheapest time of the year to buy feed because no one will think they are in need of it while their cattle are grazing on the fresh spring growth. Also any farmers that have left over bales from the Non-growing season (winter here) will nearly give them away to make room for the coming bales.

Just curious but has anyone installed a dam or swale on their land and had to remove it?

It may be hard to admit seeing that it may have been a financial hit to put it in and a hit to remove it.
Side note: when we started we had dry soil on the tops of our hills nothing even at 6 feet (180 cm) after implementing holistic planned grazing we had 3 feet (90cm) depth of moist soil 'ABOVE' our swale and dam in year 2 and in year 3 we have just over 4 feet.... now we are contemplating a dam removal to make more room for grazing lol.


So first think about your options, permaculture is good... but when using it with keyline and Holistic Planned grazing it becomes GREAT!
Luck
 
Alexander Duncan
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I found a video that I think explains what is now happening on my land, Allan talks about how he had to remove dams

He begins to talk about it at the 1:05.00 mark encase you would not like to watch the whole thing. I wrote about my dam troubles on another site and was shown this video... In my case I do have to agree, permies need to manage holistically

Enjoy the video, you can watch the whole thing it quite nice.
 
Alexander Duncan
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I forgot to add this before but DO NOT USE MOB GRAZING!!! it is a grazing method for a Humid environment... It doesn't work on dry landscapes. Even where I live, east of the Rocky Mountains... Holistic Management is your friends best bet.
 
Lenny Johnson
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Good point about mob grazing, Alexander. I hadn't thought of that but what you say makes sense given the need to protect against evaporation.

Sadly, it seems my friend is intent on selling the farm. I really had hoped to help him set up a sustainable farm that wouldn't stress the family too much, while helping the planet at the same time by getting away from conventional ag. But that's cool. It's his life not mine.

Cheers,
Lenny
 
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