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Grassfed Beef at Pebblespring Farm

 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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I wrote about bringing my cattle onto Pebblespring Farm on 16 January 2014 (I apologise for only posting it on Permies.com now)

Perhaps a real adventure is one where you really don't know where you are gonna end up. I can see now that our adventure of perusing Goedmoedsfontein is just such an adventure. I am not very sure where the adventure is going to lead, but for better or worse we have caught the train and we are headed out of the station.

In March last year (2013) we secured and option to purchase this beautiful 10 hectares. I have told you before that it has spring, a stream and a dam. I have told you before that it has some forest, some grassland and some marsh. I have told you before that is is just the right distance from town, to be in the country, but still allow our kids to go to school in the city. Just close enough for people to be able to drive out to the farm and buy their weekly supplies of eggs, chicken, boerewors and other fresh produce we dream of marketing from the little shop (or a ruin of a shop that we intend to renovate back to a shop) that is on the farm.

We managed to sell some property last year and secure the difference between what the bank would loan us and what the sellers wanted. That has all been finalised and all the documents have been signed at the transferring attorneys. (There is a bit of a "technical hitch" at the Bond Registration attorneys, but this should be cleared up in the next week.)

The funny thing is that I didn't feel so much that the "train had left the station" when the sellers accepted our offer, or when the bank approved the finance or even when I paid the deposit to the conveyancers. In fact, I only felt it this weekend when we brought 9 or our cattle from where we were keeping them in Tsitsikama to the farm.


I had worked the week before to create fenced pasture for them. It measures about 40 by 60 metres. The pasture is good. I rigged up a water supply from a rainwater tank which I haphazardly installed to catch some runoff from the roof of the cottage. So we loaded these cattle up on a hired trailer on Saturday afternoon and drove them to the farm. It was the first time have have loaded cattle or pulled them in a trailer. It was quite scary. Number one its a heavy load and you cant go very fast and number two these guys kept jumping around causing the trailer to sway uncontrollably. It was not fun.

After this exhausting journey we got the trailer as close as we could to the new padock (but this was still the other side of the stream) We let them off the trailer and they scattered in all directions. If Litha was not here I dont know what I would have done. But we eventually got them herded together and moving slowly in the direction of the padock into which we managed to secure them. I was exhausted by the time I got home and a bit shaken by the experience. The next morning, Sunday, Litha and I drove to the farm. All nine seemed quite restful. Some were mooing for their mothers (even though they were quite a bit over 12 months old they had not been weaned at Tsitsikama) All seemed fine, but when I cam back on Sunday afternoon, I found the whole herd out. I was alone. I ran round like crazy at first trying to direct them back, but the were determined to get away from the padock. I called my neighbour Richard. Luckily he was in he and a friend came to help. We go them in and I spent the rest of the evening trying to make the fences more secure. But the more I tried the more I could see that two black cattle were absolutely determined to escape they pushed at the fences and then over they went. By this time it was bout 8 pm. I called Litha and Hlubi. I stayed by the fence that had just been jumped to be sure the others would not also come out. They did not and eventually the family arrived and herd to two black cattle back from the tar road where they had got to so that I could get them back in the paddock.

With family back home preparing for the first day of school the next day, I sat in the dark at the farm watching the fence, stepping up every few minutes to beat a cow back from the fence it was trying to trample. It was a loosing battle. By about 10 pm as the rain was staring to come down, the two belligerent black cattle again jumped the fence. I had no choice but to let them go. I was hopeless to try no again to find them in the dark and what's more the remaining 7 cattle seemed reasonably complacent and not intent on leaving the paddock any time soon. I went home, defeated and depleted, to sleep. In the 20 minute ride back home I could not shake the stress. I was upset. I was rattled and I was exhausted. I did not sleep well. My mind was racing. fearing the worst. fearing the whole heard was now dispersed all over the neighbouring farmlands. But I new there was nothing that I could do till the morning.

I left home at 5:30 am. I found a job seeker next to the road near the farm before 6 am (I could not believe my luck that there would be someone there that early - his name was Marius) Marius and I found the two black cattle heading toward us on the side of the road. They were reasonably easy to herd back and seemed quite relaxed and content to be re-united with the group they had abandoned the night before. I was relieved that the others had not also jumped the fence. Marius worked the whole day with Boyce to get the fences as strong as we could get them. I had to go in to the office for some crucial meetings. By the time I got back to the farm in the afternoon the cattle were all still in, but the two black cattle were mooing loudly again and looking agitated. As sure as anything right in front of my eyes the two black cattle jumped the fence again.
Richard from next door gain came to my rescue. suggesting that we separate the two black cattle out. He arranged for them to be located on his neighbours land were 2.4m high electric fence contained them last night. I kept the remaining 7 on my side last night and set up the portable electric fence for the first time. When I went this morning to drop Marius, they were happily inside the paddock. As a write now from home 20 km away from the farm, I a feeling less anxious that fences will be jumped tonight, but I will find out in the morning. I have definitely been jolted into a place in which i am uncomfortale. This is not theoretical any more. I am not a spectator to the spectacle.
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Scott Strough
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Love the story!
 
Dana Jones
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I live in Texas. I once thought I wanted Longhorns. I no sooner voiced this, than my husband found me a red and white speckled bull and brought him home. Much to my regret, I learned not to "wish" out loud anymore. That blasted bull could jump the fence like a deer and run up and down the road. He weighed 2,000 pounds!! Like you, we didn't live on the property and the sheriff's department would call to tell us the bull was out. The dispatchers got to know us very well.

The bull would run at me, so I took to carrying a piece of metal pipe. He would paw, shake his head and charge. I would take a baseball batter's stance and swing as hard as I could just before he obliterated me. I usually had to beat him on the nose a few times before he got the message and ran to the other side of the pasture.

I finally snapped one cold, dark, rainy night. A Deputy and I chased him up and down the road before he jumped a fence and disappeared for parts unknown on some timberland. We looked at each other and I told the Deputy I would be back out the next morning and deal with it. Next morning, the bull was back home.

I got a friend and a rope. We made a big loop and put a bucket of feed in the middle. When the bull put his head in the bucket, we tossed the loop over the horns and I cinched him up tight. I tied him to a tree and called a friend to come get him. Friend came and got the longhorn bull and took him home. That bull jumped his fence and went down the road and jumped into a neighbors pasture. He proceeded to breed the neighbors registered Angus cows. There was almost a range war over that. My friend loaded the bull up and took him to the sale.

My point in this is sometimes you just get a problem animal. Sounds like you have two of them. If they do not settle down, then you might want to take them back where you got them and swap for two more. If they remain a problem, they will always be a problem and will make more work for you that you don't need. The other seven cows sound like they are docile, nice cows and will be a joy to have.

Yes, you are no longer a spectator. You are in this now and I hope it is everything you wish it to be. I don't have cows any more and I so miss having them. They can be sweet, eating out of your hand and letting you pick up their newborn calf and carry it up to the barn. And they can be meaner than an outhouse rat, having murder in their eye every time they see you. Guess which ones go to the sale or to the freezer? LOL

I wish you the very best. Those are some nice looking cows.
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Thanks Scott. I will add more "chapters"
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Dana,

Your longhorn bull seems a like a handful. You will see from the coming posts how mine calmed down eventually (and what other tragedies we encountered)
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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19 January 2014

Electric Fence Works like a bomb

OK. Well things are going much better. The portable electric fence is up and it running, and to my surprise all nine cattle now stay inside the fence. I have made some improvements to the water situation and bought two 200 litre drums (from a recylce place) I cut them in half with a chain saw.

There was no way on knowing what was in the drums, so I was a bit nervous that it could be poisonous. I washed it out as best I could with soap and water and it seems to be OK. One half drum gives m 100 l and this seems to last for about a day.

The electric fence runs off a Gallager energiser. A 12 v motor bike battery keeps it powered. I put this one on the fence on Thursday afternoon and it has kept going until now. I will monitor it to see how long it takes to run down. I still dont have a charger for the 12 volt battery and am still busy thinking whether I want a charger that I can plug into my solar panel or one that I can charge off mains here at home. Got to make up my mind quickly.
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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26 January 2014

Can this really work?
I worry a lot. I know its pointless, but I become overwhelmed sometimes with fear. Right now I fear that this will not work out. I fear that it is foolish of me to think that I can get this farm going and still hold onto my career as an architect. I fear that I am delusional. I fear that I am becoming obsessive about this project and that I am loosing focus to the point where I could damage myself and hurt my family. I fear that to take care of the cattle is taking too much time and energy and I have not yet go enough fence and water in place to be able to deal with them. I fear that I will find, find with time, that this is not actually what I want to do. I fear that I will find that I am more interested in watching other's permaculture projects on Youtube, or reading about them on the blogs and forums. These are my fears and many others that surface individually or simultaneously.


We have piled the cut ink berry in one heap. Our neighbour Richard has offer for his guys to chip it with the wood chipper. Ink Berry is poisonous to cattle (and sheep and goats) it is a brazillian native and is terribly invasive, especially on the wetter parts of the site.


But lets talk rather about progress this week.

We still don't have transfer...but, we have no done everything that needs to be done to get the bond registered.


I have municipal approval (for the cottage we told the bank we are going to build)
We have an enrolment certificate from National Home Builders Registration Council.
We have " Builder's All Risk" insurance cover.
So we sign with the attorneys at 13:00 tomorrow.

Everything should then be plain sailing till the transfer is registered at the deeds office in Cape Town. This should take about three weeks. I can't think of anything that can go wrong but still I feel that nagging fearfulness welling up in my stomach.

Other than the procedural work toward transfer the work this week has been as follows:

Continuing to clear Ink Berry (Cestrum laevigatum)
Continuing work clearing Port Jackson and Black Wattle from the path that will become our driveway.
Selling three oxen at the Fischers Corner Auction yesterday
Continuing to train the cattle to the electric fence
Bought a charger for the 12 volt motorbike battery I am using to charge the electric
returned the charger, then bought the correct charger with the correct amp rating
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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27 January 2014

Grazing challenges

I am going to have figure out how to get the cattle onto the good grazing that we have available. The obvious mistake that I have made is to bring the cattle onto the farm before I have proper fences in place and before I have proper water infrastructure in place. But of course it was not so much a mistake as me forcing my own hand. With the cattle here, I have been forced into some learning and some hands on experience that is informing and will continue to inform the decisions I make going forward.

I have a small paddock in which I have been confining the cattle. It measures probably 50 X 50m

I have been using this to get the cattle trained to the electric fence, the objective then being to be able to direct them around the farm to begin with the clearing work that is required. We have now been experimenting with letting them out of the permanent paddock. We are having limited success but will have to get things working much better, much quicker, if I am not to do significant damage to the pasture

And its really dry now. Veld fires starring up all over the show and very hot. We need rain.

The other problem I see is that taking care of the cattle is using the lettle time and energy I have availble. I need to begin focussing on getting the cottage habitable. The basic plan now is to get the cottage habitable to the point where we can get tenants or a caretaker, giving a permanent presence on the site.


So toilet is important,
running water (from rainwater)
electricity (solar)
perimeter fencing
On the "paperwork" front, we signed the last documents at the bond registration attorneys this afternoon. The documents can now be sent to Cape Town (as soon as the attorneys receive the "Enrolment Certificate " from the NHBRC. The woman at the NHBRC said it should take about three days when I dropped the forms on Thursday last week. So, I suppose, three (working) days ends tomorrow afternoon. Lets see!
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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2 February 2014

Everything's Gonna Be Ok

We spend three days last week in Cape Town (Bruce Springsteen concert) This forced me to make arrangements to be sure that the cattle could be watered and cared for while we were not there.
We drove back from Cape Town on Saturday (is about eight hours drive) we drove in past the farm, just checked the cattle water - It was almost empty.

The grazing situation has improved a little. Last week Tuesday we installed a make ship "bushfence". I took a 50 m length of 1.2m Field Fence and strung it between tees and vegetation on the edge of the camp. I tensioned with with tiedown straps. The types we use to tie our fishing skis on to the roofracks. We added droppers we had saved from clearing the driveway. Well the fence has held. The cattle have not challenged it.


So the routine has become to graze the cattle in the larger camp around the cottage in the day, and then to put them back into the 50 X 50 properly fenced camp during the night with the electric fence on. Seems to work.

Next step would be to use electric fence to strip graze the cottage camp, without putting the cattle back into the 50 x 50 camp each evening. This would begin to rest the grazing and allow it to recover before it is re-grazed.

On the progress with the transfer: NHBRC eventually gave me an "assessment" - the amount I must pay in order to get the enrolment certificate. (R4700.00, once I convinced them that I could not pay a fee based on the value of the entire farm and the new cottage that is to be built. We eventually agreed that a 1000 sq m plot could be assumed for calculation purposes) So they promised the enrolment certificate by tomorrow, which will then allow the bond registration attorneys to continue and then we should expect transfer in 3 weeks.
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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12 February 2014

Rumours of Rain

I think I told you about the part time assistant, Marius, that has been clearing some vegetation and keeping an eye on the cattle. Well he did not pitch for work on Monday, yesterday or today. Perhaps he has had enough for now. I have been driven by this turn of events to try out a new routine.What we were doing is keeping the cattle in camp "A" at night behind the proper fence and a strand of temporary electric fence. Then in the morning when Marius would arrive, the cattle would be moved into camp "B" for the day. But now, I am leaving the cattle in camp "B" day and night. They are not wondering off. They are contained by fence only on two sides. The other two sides are basically the bush. The bush is thick and there is no incentive for them to wonder too far into it, because the better grazing is in the pasture area.

I have managed to get there each afternoon this week to be sure that the water is full.

This new plan allows me to rest camp A a little. It would be great if I could give it a full 30 days rest. I just heard a few drops of rain come down through the open window. I hope some fell on the farm.

I am under pressure to develop a proper grazing plan. I would like to be use the temporary electric fence to divide camp B into 10 small strips and graze the cattle 2 days in each strip. Then perhaps pasture A into 5 strips each of 2 days. This will give each strip 30 days rest. With enough rain this could work out. But my feeling is that camp A plus camp B is still too small for the bull, two heifers and three calf's.

My observation continues.
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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15 February 2014

Expanding the pasture

Well the rain did come down. Nice soaking rain on Thursday night and during the day on Friday. I was out of town in East London, but went straight for the airport last night, just to go and see that the water troughs were full and that everything is in order.

I been putting some effort into planning my next steps with the pasture. This is my thinking right now:

Step 1 - move the temporary field fence (the red line)

Step 2 - Set up perimeter electric fence (white line)

Step 3 - 15 different strips can then be created using temporary electric fence.

Step 4 - Set up water lines


With the pasture set up in this way, I would be able to graze each strip for two days in order to give 28 days rest before it is re grazed. I can observe this arrangement ot see if it delivers enough nourishment for the cattle.
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Hide and Seek

The black heifer I "lost", is back. Let me tell you the story.....

On Thursday this week, when I popped in to the farm in the afternoon, the cattle are nowhere to be seen. All six, vanished. I see no evidence of the them going through the part where I had put up a fence. I see no evidence of foul play (car tyre tracks etc..) I must say I was quite relaxed. Did not really stress too much. Looked for them a little, but when I could not find them, I left, back to the office. (Assuming they were in the forest somewhere). My neighbour,Richard would have told me if they had gone over to his side. I did not see them anywhere the road side.

Friday afternoon I went back. Still no cattle, I walked a around calling them. I thought I heard them in the forest toward the east of the cottage, but I could not be sure. Again I left, not too worried.

Yesterday morning (Saturday) I went quite early, planning to search the forest with Litha, and there they were back in the camp, lounging at the water trough. (Well five of them at least. The black heifer was still missing.)

I put some time into erecting a new temporary electric fence around what I have called "Camp B" and left them there over night.


When I went this morning, The five were still in Camp B, and the black heifer nowhere to be seen, I called and made a noise. I walked in the forest near the dam and listened out as best I could for her call, then when I walked up back to "camp b" there she was. I could tell by where she had disturbed the temporary electric fence, that she had been in the Port Jackson forest up the hill. (there is a small herd of calves just other side the fence)

So now with all six back in camp B, I have made a temporary electric fence subdivision. Trying now to begin to work toward the grazing plan I have in mind.

In other news, the dark brown heifer calf was looking very ill on Tuesday. It was limping a looked disorientated. We separated it and put in in camp A. By Wednesday it was looking a lot better and I put it back with he others. The bull seems to be quite rough and with push the others out of the way if there is some food that he particularly likes. Perhaps dark brown calf came a little too close.I can see how in future it would be best to have the calves separate from the adults.

Transfer is very close now. On Thursday the bond registration attorneys said that the documents had been "lodged" at the deeds office and that I had to pay an invoice of R16 000 for the transfer to proceed. I paid the invoice first thing on Friday morning, so I am expecting a notification from the attorneys this week informing me that the land is now in Hlubi and my name.
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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6 March 2014

Padock Shift


I moved the cattle into this new pasture yesterday (5 March 2014). They were very happy. very eager to get to the new grazing as soon as possible. This evening when I went there they had done a lot of work, but still seemed very happy with what they had left to eat. Perhaps one more day, perhaps two.



In my grazing plan below (revsion 2), the cattle are now in temporary paddock number 9. The plan is to move them to 10 and 11 after than then to 12, 13,14,15.


Grazing Plan, (revision 2)

Posted by Tim Hewitt-Coleman at 20:45
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 137
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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20 April 2014

Death and Destruction

I have delayed writing this post. Its been too painful.

Three cattle are dead. Tick born disease perhaps. Inkberry poisoning, also a possibility. I had to go out of town last weekend. I left on Friday. When I came back on Tuesday, they were dead.

I am devastated by this failure. I know all the rhymes about how we learn from failing, Its just that it feels so bad. It feels so discouraging .It brings everything into question. It brings my dream of this farm into question. I know it shouldn't. I know I should just shrug it off, but I am just telling you how I feel. I know that I am not ready to bring animals onto the farm, I know I am not ready to but the farm I know things are too hectic with work and with family. I know all of this, but I also know that the only way to make this happen is to make it happen.

But maybe this is what this blog is about: Communicating the real struggle that it is to transition to some kind of agrarian reality. Showing that its not all about strolling in the forest and singing songs by the camp fire at night.

Its real and it gets nasty!
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Scott Strough
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman wrote:20 April 2014

Death and Destruction

I have delayed writing this post. Its been too painful.

Its real and it gets nasty!

Sorry to hear that Tim. Most definitely get a vet out to find out what killed them. If for no other reason than to make sure it doesn't happen again.
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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I have not spoken much about the cattle since I lost the calves and the bull. But is actually going quite well now with the two heifers. A brown one and a black one. We move them to new pasture everyday with the portable electric fenc



We keep the "camp" small enough to ensure that they graze everything down (not just the tasty stuff). Cattle are picky eaters, they will first go for the greenest grass and then try the other stuff if they have to. So by keeping the camp just the right size I can ensure that they get enough, but that they don't just pick and choose the best grazing. The important part of this strategy is that all the unpalatable stuff gets eaten as well, making space for other species to come through. The exercise is really all about building the soil. The cattle improve the soil in three important ways:
The leave there manure behind - adding the nitrogen that's crucial to get life going in the soil
When grass is grazed it automatically cuts off the proportionate amount of roots underground (thus adding much needed carbon to the soil)
The animals hooves disturb the soil surface helping seeds get a chance to germinate.
Overgrazing is of course an incredibly destructive force, but in the a managed environment, grazing animals can build the soil and save the planet. (life is not possible without topsoil - just think about it)


So how it practically works though the week, it that Mandoza (my trusted assistant) moves the cattle to new grazing every day. I prefer to move them in the afternoon when the sugar content of the grass is higher. I have a simple diagram which I leave in the cottage so Mandoza and I can refer to camps by alphabetical letter. We talk mainly by texting through the day. I charge the battery for the electric fence here at home and once or twice a week I would make sure a newly charged better is taken to the farm. If we use this configuration we have 20 camps. so that would mean that would mean that each camp would get 20 days rest if each camp were grazed for one day. Of course depending on rain and time of the year, 20 days may or may not be enough time for the grazing to recover, so the idea would be to vary the size of the camp accordingly. I can see now that we have had some rain and the days are warmer, the grass is looking good and I can keep the size of the camp quite small, giving me perhaps 30 or 40 camps in total. The grazing is looking quite healthy, If I compare it to my neighbour's place where he has sheep, cattle and goats continuously grazing the grass down to about 50 mm high, then we are looking very good.

I am also slowly, but surely expanding the pasture. Over the weekends I spend time with the chainsaw cutting out the alien invasive species: Black Wattle, Port Jackson, Inkberry, Blugum, Poplar and Cape Wattle. I start buy cutting paths just wide enough to run the electric fence in. I create a camp in a forested portion. The cattle eat some and stomp down other parts including brambles and vines making it easier for me to come in with the chainsaw. I find it does not take long for the grass to begin to establish in areas where I have opened up the ground to new light that was previously blocked by tree cover. Anyhow, I enjoy working with the cattle. I see them as my landscaping assisants. We work together to bring this farm to be the most that is can be,
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Burra Maluca
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I've embedded the video for you.

 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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Thanks Burra
 
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