We feel very privileged to be the home of Regen Ag in New Zealand. This group was founded by Australian broad acre permaculture teacher Darren Doherty back in 2011 and now has branches in 10 countries around the world.
Regen AG is committed to bringing some of the world’s leading pioneers of Regenerative Agriculture to share their ideas with farmers through a series of short courses and workshops.
The focus of Regenerative Agriculture is on building soils, restoring watercourses, and encouraging biodiversity, while reducing dependency on outside inputs, improving livestock health and increasing farm yields and profitability.
As part of this group we have organised 3 visits to New Zealand for Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm in Virginia USA. Described by Time magazine as “the world’s most innovative farmer” Joel has inspired much of the change on our farm.
His philosophy is about stacking layers of production onto the land using nature as the guide. An example of this is to have a flock of hens following behind holistically grazed cattle. The hens are spreading the cattle manure with their scratching, they are sanatizing the pasture by pecking out bugs and parasites and they are spreading their own manure as fertilizer and producing eggs for sale.
A movement that is sweeping the world right now is Permaculture.
“Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.
The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.”
We are trying to follow these principles as much as we can on Mangarara where enterprises are complimentary to each other and have multiple functions. An example of this would be our dairy shed which is designed for producing milk for calf rearing to create an income for the farm and also reduce the embodied energy in buying milk powder for calves. The dairy supplies milk for the people living on the farm, milk is fed to pigs on the farm and laying hens so we are significantly reducing the amount of grain we are having to purchase. The dairy features in educational visits to the farm where children get to see up close where milk comes from and the dairy is also an attraction that guests staying in the lodge can experience. Any manure that does get left behind in the shed is either put in the worm farm or sprayed back onto pastures for fertility. SO there is an example of permaculture where one enterprise is creating 8 different benefits.
Holistic Management is a decision-making framework which results in ecologically regenerative, economically viable and socially sound management of the world’s grasslands.
Holistic Management was first developed over 40 years ago by Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean biologist, game ranger, politician, farmer, and rancher, who was searching for ways to save the beautiful savannah and its wildlife in southern Africa.
It is based on the observation that over millennia the soils of the great planes of Africa and America have been built with massive herds of grazing herbivores. Always densely grouped and constantly moving to access fresh pasture and keeping ahead of predators. The grass they grazed was long and so a percentage was trampled onto the soil surface with dung and urine which fertilized the ground acted as a mulch to keep the soil covered from the hot sun and ultimately the carbon in the grass is broken down to produce humus.
Holistic management is also a system for business planning and monitoring and can be used as a decision making process that checks any decisions made are in alignment with a pre determined Holistic Goal which all members of the management team create together.
We are using Holistic Grazing and are thrilled with the results we have been getting over the last 2 years. We are moving large mobs of cattle every day using electric fencing, and are recording above average stock growth rates. We have a holistic goal which is a good exercise to do with other people on your team so everyone has input in creating the goal and can feel ownership in it and then it can be used to check decisions made are achieving the desired out comes stated in the goal.
Biological farming is defined as a system of food and fibre production that incorporates natural processes into ag production, ensuring profitable efficient and healthy food. It results in a reduction in external harmful and non renewable inputs with more targeted use of remaining inputs with the aim of reducing costs. It is not anti science because it builds carefully and creatively on advances in scientific knowledge, particularly in the disciplines of biology, ecology and micro biology.
Another objective of biological farming is to increase humus levels in the soil and therefore soil carbon. A 1% increase in soil carbon enables the soil to hold an extra 144,000 litres per ha so it makes sense to store as much water in the soil as possible which builds resilience to drought and produces healthier food.
In my journey over the past decade to understand what a truly sustainable food production system looks like, the best I have found in the western world is a 110 acre farm in SW Wisconsin called New Forest Farm
The farm is owned by Mark Shepherd, who began designing and planting a perennial ecosystem in 1994. The goal was to redesign agriculture in natures image, it is designed to remove carbon dioxide from the air, provide habitat for wildlife, produce food, prevent soil erosion, hold water in the landscape and begin the creation of ecologically sustainable human habitats.
Our global food system is predominantly dependent on 4 main crops, namely wheat corn, soy and rice, all annuals requiring large amounts of energy and inputs to produce. Restoration Ag is producing as many calories per hectare as the same area of corn but when comparing the nutrition value of the food produced on one hectare the Perennial Polyculture wins by far, and the crop is grown with very little energy inputs and the major labour input is at harvest time. It is self fertile and managed under a system called STUN Share Total Utter Neglect.
It is the goal to have at least 7 layers of production in the system which includes Chestnut trees, hazelnut trees, pine nuts apples, berries, and also raise cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys.
Design using keyline principles so rainfall is captured and held in the soil and so any water leaving a property designed in this way is going to be very clean as no chemicals are used.
It makes sense to me to be producing our food from tree crops that can get their roots deeper into the ground to source water and nutrients and they don’t need all the fuel necessary to grow annual crops. In a pastoral context Lucerne is achieving success as a plant with a large root system but it is not an option in our heavy clay soils at Elsthorpe. Our solution to this has been to plant trees in paddocks to create a savannah effect so animals and pasture will get shade reducing evapotranspiration and increasing photosynthesis over a hot summer.
We have been planting nitrogen fixing trees through the paddocks to help with nutrient cycling and to slow down the drying winds. Trials have shown cattle growth rates are improved when they have access to shade.
In2003 I realised that pastoral agriculture, which is the backbone of our economy was reliant on cheap energy to bring nutrients from the other side of the world, mainly Phosphate fertiliser from North Africa. In order to farm sustainably, soils, at a minimum, must be maintained at their current depths and levels of fertility. In a world of surplus energy, unsustainable farming practices can be hidden by “nutrient subsidies” hauled in at great energy costs from far away. But when the energy subsidy is withdrawn, the true state of our farmlands will be revealed.
It is an ongoing journey to close the nutrient cycle associated with growing food, but the tools and knowledge of the systems listed above go along way towards creating the world that gives our children at least the same opportunities we have had.
Healthy & nutritious food starts with soil.
A healthy soil with good structure, high organic matter and a thriving biology is what ensures high rates of nutrient and mineral cycling, good rainfall infiltration and storage, deep and expansive plant roots, and minimal soil erosion or compaction.
This allows for healthy plants with good access to water, nutrients and minerals to grow abundantly and provide quality nutrition to the sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens that we raise wholly or mostly on pasture. The minerals contained in the plants are absorbed by the animals, promoting healthy and happy animals, with excesses stored in the fats, bones and internal organs.
We ensure our plants and animals have the minerals they need by testing our soils across the farm and supplementing any deficiencies through our biological fertiliser program, as well as providing them directly via self-selecting animal feeders – they know what they need!
So by focusing on healthy soils we grow healthy plants and healthy animals, thereby increasing the nutritional quality of our meat and the health of the people that eat it.
Different pasture species uptake different nutrients and minerals more effectively. Our goal is to steadily continue to increase the diversity of pasture species that our animals are grazing, allowing them to selectively graze the species that they need during different times of the year and contributing to the nutritional quality of the meat.
Consequently (there’s a theme building here) pasture diversity is not only good for the animals, but different plants also have different root structures, microbial associations and growing seasons, therefore promoting healthy and biologically active soils that sequester carbon and become increasingly productive!
There is increasing evidence of the positive impact of low-stress livestock management on animal health, growth rates and consequently the quality of milk and/or meat produced (we would do this even if it simply meant happy animals!).
Some of our key management practises to maximise the happiness of our animals include holistic planned grazing, which ensures animals are well fed and shifted onto fresh pastures regularly (for our cattle this means every day and they quickly learn to follow us to fresh grass rather than run away!), minimising yard time, and paying close attention to the health of our animals. While we try to minimise the external inputs onto the farm, we will treat animals for issues like infections or worms, and we are constantly looking for more ‘natural’ and effective remedies.
Happy animals also means happy farmers!
Every breed of sheep, cattle or pigs has different genetic qualities, although there is usually significant variation within breeds too.
Our Texel-cross sheep are tender and tasty, with the breed being frequent winners of the Golden Lamb awards (Glammies). They are also known for their good fertility, as well as having less wool on their bellies which keeps them clean and healthy.
Our Angus cattle are a popular breed for premium beef producers, with well-marbled fats throughout the meat. We raise mostly heifer (female) Angus cattle that are known to produce a very high quality of meat, with the added benefit of being small and light and therefore more gentle on our soils. They also have a gentle and fun nature!
Our Berkshire pigs are a heritage breed with a renowned fat to meat ratio meaning super tasty pork and bacon! All our pigs are raised on a mix of milk (fresh from our dairy cows), grain and/or squash, and as much grass as they want to eat! Grass-fed free range pork is reportedly one of the highest sources of Vitamin D available, so eating it can be a guilt-free pleasure.
Becoming a ‘Friend the Farm’ gives you great discounts on our produce, last minute deals on Eco Lodge stays, keeps you up to date with how your food is produced and how we are investing the returns back into the land.
By ordering a ‘subscription’ meat box you automatically become a Friend of the Farm!
If you are ordering a one-off meat box simply add ‘Friend the Farm’ to your cart with your first meat box – the annual $20 fee will go directly to food forest planting near the Eco Lodge.
Justin – Wwoofer
I’m so grateful for the opportunity you all have given us. I hope to be able to go wwoofing later in life.
Olivia – Wwoofer
I’m so glad you all let us into your family for the week. I learnt so much about farming and life and your warm hearts have inspired me to live a life similar to yours. I hope to come back someday!
A Hawke's Bay Farm
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