Ben Waimata

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since Jun 11, 2017
Organic farmer, orchardist and forester.
New Zealand
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Recent posts by Ben Waimata

Once you've added the clay, could you plant a summer annual legume like mucuna or similar to  provide a mass of high N biomass? It would reliably winter kill, one summer season of growth might make a huge difference, possibly a lot easier if you cab handle the wait and not starting for another season. Your hot wet summer but frosty winter climate has some limitations, but also you should be able to play it to your advantage with high growth potential tropicals in summer.

My climate is cool in summer, and frost free in winter. But my summers are warm enough for some tropicals. I planted Neonotonia wightii one season into a mass of impenetrable kikuyu grass. The legume outcompeted the kikuyu and killed it.  If you used mucuna or similar in summer there is a good chance your existing vegetation could be outcompeted, if you wanted this to happen.

What I'm suggesting is essentially like  a one-season kudzu, use a cultivar that needs a long season so it does not produce viable seeds before frost, out compete everything then start next season with a mass of compost/mulch grown  in situ.
2 days ago

raven ranson wrote:Yes, breeding makes a huge difference.

Ben Waimata wrote: This included getting rid of summer wool.

Can you tell me more about this?

Hi Raven,

I'm 5th generation sheep farmer (ie multi generational peasant), my father had bred up a line of good NZ Romney for the old school wool market. NZ Romney had been developed from the original UK Romney for NZ conditions, and aimed for good meat/wool sheep. So 20 years ago or so I had a good long look at the various farm economic analysis systems being used and realised they didn't fit my requirements which included environmental sustainability, ethical land use, and lifestyle as well as the standard total economic outcomes. Then first thing I noticed is that per kg of grass eaten, the cattle were returning about 3x the profit, so dropping the sheep numbers from the 2000 we had then was my first move.  So looking at sheep from an ethic/environmental viewpoint I made the following observations;
#sheep were developing health issues with internal parasites and farmers were coming to depend on constant animal health product interventions
#sheep had health issues related to flystrike problems in summer, particularly with a small green Australian fly that arrived in the 1980's.
#sheep are hard on pastures as they selectively graze the plants they like to extinction and only eat what they don't like if forced to.
#sheep are hard on the soil as they will happily graze desired plants to the ground, opening the soil up to erosion, and allowing pasture weeds in (thistle etc).
#Sheep are hard to maintain as they require expensive fencing to keep them were we want them.
#sheep can be hard on the microclimate as they have the ability to reduce all pasture to near zero covers, leading to shallow rooting depth, reduced rhizosphere soil interactions, and reduced pasture drought tolerance.   Cattle can be hard on soil in the wet with pugging, but they leave a much higher residual cover which is better for soil health.

Economically the market for sheep meat was suppressed, and for wool was very poor. I sat down and calculated all the costs involved in producing wool as a byproduct of the meat industry, and worked out that producing wool cost me $15/sheep/year, excluding labour costs. This was worked out by studying the amount of energy required to grow wool versus meat, and all the wool-related costs such as dagging, flystrike etc.

So I got to the point where I realised there was very little economic incentive to farm sheep (at least on a small farm like this), however they are kind of nice to have around, and my Dad spent a lifetime working with them and would have hated to see them all go, so the answer was to breed the sheep I wanted.

We already had a flock that had been bred for good feet, and foot issues were almost non-existent. The first thing was to breed out any sick animal, anything sick got treated then sold. Getting the wool away has taken a long time, and mostly achieved by crossing back and forth to Wiltshire genetics, with a small amount of Dorper as well. Our sheep are now smaller than most of my neighbours, but still weigh in much heavier than they look. They are born with wool in winter, but as it warms up the wool falls off naturally, then regrows in winter.  In summer the animals have a fine layer of hair similar to goat hair, but strangely the wool is still good. In full fleece they still have bald heads, necks, bellies, legs and crutch area.  

These sheep are a much better climatic fit for our maritime temperate climate, it's warm enough that full wool sheep suffer severely in summer while ours are fine,  but our winters are mild enough that these half-naked sheep with wooly backs are always warm enough.

This is an example, our 'pet' orphan lamb for this season, picture taken late winter. She has never been shorn, all her fleece is nearly shed for the season in this image, just a tuft of wool left on her back.

Nina Jay wrote:

So I guess the secret to not having to trim so many hooves is making them move a lot and putting them regularly on abrasive surfaces.

Actually the secret is breeding from the good ones! We changed our flock from requiring high-inputs  (animal health/internal parasites, fly issues, dagging etc) to hands-off easy care sheep in less than a decade using standard organic selective breeding techniques. This included getting rid of summer wool.  It is possible, and makes life a lot easier.
Some times it is straight ignorance that what we say could possibly be considered offensive elsewhere. We have a word here in NZ used exclusively for female genitals, South African immigrants use it in a totally different way and wonder why NZers are shocked!  When I first started using the internet I looked for an email username and settled on the local name for one of our most common native trees, Alectryon excelsa, common name titoki. Now 'titoki' is a totally polynesian word, no issues there. The fact that American readers thought I was advocating a love of pornography was totally lost on me, until someone pointed out what an obnoxious individual I was! This kind of cross-cultural stuff is important to remember. We are writing in English and communicating, but if speaking face to face our respective accents might make communication much more difficult, but also help us make allowances for different linguistic idioms. The internet is tricky like that. I think the moderation policy Paul is speaking about is spot on.  

Stephanie NewComer wrote:Just wanted to say...We clearly informed the buyer of the reason we were selling and had planned to butcher him but he wanted the wither as well because he was cute and cuddly at the time of the visit. I know we could have butchered him sooner and kept the rest but his behavior just made me on edge with the others. It made me worry about the kids a lot. Also the medical expense was more than I would like to spend, given that most of my health care comes from herbs and home remedies:)

New here and I’m absolutely loving the variety, quality and quantity of the responses!

Hi Stephanie,

It's a shame the bad experience you had with this wether put you off sheep. There are a lot of excellent reasons not to have sheep, but temperament should not be one of them.  One look at your picture of the villain in question shows me immediately he was essentially hand-reared, they get too close to humans and don't understand the usual cross species protocols. We had a pet ram (by neglect!) lamb a couple years back,  he would take on full grown cows if he thought they were too close to us humans, but he also became potentially dangerous as he aged and had to go. In my close to 50 years around sheep I have never met a commercially raised sheep that presented any deliberate danger at all, unless we happened to get in the way of an escape attempt etc. It's the hand reared ones that can be problematic, although also often they have great character. Just hand-rearing females helps. Most sheep are far more nervous around us than we are around them, and it needs to be that way.
I've cut down sheep numbers here from around 2000 ewes a decade ago to about 35 ewes now. For me, sheep are too much work, too little return,and they are a pain in the neck to handle, requiring expensive fencing etc. We do have a few pet lambs. To be fair our wiltshire sheep are pretty easy care, no wool so we have none of the hassles associated  with wool. Also our low-input organic certified flock now have no health issues. 20 years ago it was a different story.

If you have sheep, they can easily become the dominant part of your system, as they are great at getting out of fences and destroying anything else you try to achieve. I don't enjoy killing things, but sheep can be so extremely frustrating that I have ended up shooting them occaisonally, usually after they have done something super annoying, like destroying 50 grafted avocado plants overnight months after planting. If you have the right temperament sheep are great, for me, not so much. I don't like the person I become when I have to work with them. I'm more of  plant person.

Bryant RedHawk wrote:Take a standard "big" farm (these are in the 1 million acre range)

Are 1 million acre farms very common in USA? Sounds like a lot of work!
2 weeks ago
This is a political question really, how much should the state dictate what you do on your land? While there are some advantages  to the concept, in reality this reduce would farmers to state-mandated peasant status. Some nameless paper-pusher in a distant city office telling you how best to use your land. Maybe you can see an eroding hillside on your land that needs some forest? Pass it by the state officials and see if they say yes. Not an appealing idea to me.

I knew of an example small vs big years ago, in an arable farming district in NZ South Island East Coast, big flat easy land for cropping, there were a heap of big farms making small returns from grain production in a low return period.  Right in the middle there was an old shed with an acre or so, new owner put it all into flowers and dried them themselves,and made more income of 2 acres than the 1000 acre grain farm next door. To me the best option is let the market run to some extent, and encourage innovation and diversification. My feeling is the state should stay out of it except for environmental protection legislation.
3 weeks ago
I've grown somewhere around quarter million trees through my farm nursery so far. Most of them are Ecualyptus and Acacia. Also many thousands of palms. Heaps of out native rainforest trees and banyans. And fruit trees.
Basically it is extremely simple, seeds fall on the ground and grow. Copy that and everything usually works well. It's easy enough to vary your techniques to suit the seed in question. General rule is don't bury a seed any deeper than the size the seed is. Good luck! Don't get fooled by people saying tree growing is difficult.
My best tasting avocado is a seedling tree. My understanding is the avocado is not sufficiently selected to grow anywhere near true from seed reliably as happens with some fruit that have been selected for many seedling generations. Most avocado cv.s are selections straight from the wild. However some do produce quite close to the parent tree, the best tasting fruit I mentioned is seedling of 'Reed', and tastes and looks similar, but subtly better flavour.  This one also produced fruit in much less than 10 years, possibly only 5 (can't remember exactly). The major problem with avocados is flowering season. If you live in a place with a proper winter season, you need an avocado that does not flower in winter. Pollination is generally considered to require a 3 day period with days above 17C and nights above 12C for any fruit set. If your tree flowers in winter and you are colder than that, you get no fruit. This is one of the reasons why 'Hass' is so popular, it flowers in spring. Hass replaced "fuerte', which  is a more cold-tolerant tree but flowers in winter so pollination is more problematic. I have one avocado seedling that fruits massively in mid-winter and produces no fruit.
1 month ago