Updated: Sep 5, 2021
The idea of integrating heifers (young cows that have never had a calf) and orchards came via an Australian beef cattle farmer. This farmer, Doug Pow, who had a few rows of avocados, and was experimenting with carbon capture via feeding his cattle charcoal, and letting dung beetles bury them beneath the ground to improve soil health, gave us an idea. Here is a relatively short YouTube clip of how Doug explains what "soil engineering" is - Sustainability Western Australia - Biochar Cows Dung Beetles Avocado trials. For starters, you need to have relatively good rainfall (not an absolute must, but we are blessed) and for two, young orchards. Young orchards provide a "dead space" in-between the rows that essentially are a cost for an orchard farmer, the cost of keeping the grass cut. As we are organically certified, we have to make sure that no chemicals are used. Chemicals destroy soil health and inhibit a natural environment to flourish and ultimately deliver the consumer what they need and want, a nutritious and natural product with no chemicals. Secondly, for a dairy farmer, they need to feed a cow from birth to nearly two years of age, essentially whilst the heifers are waiting to become adults, and by extension, economically active, the young cows are an economic drain, needing to be fed and raised, without generating an income for the farmer.
What if there was an opportunity to solve these two problems? And add benefits to both parties along the way. For one, the climate in Rungwe where the main orchards are, is possibly the perfect temperature and rainfall patterns (and of course soil) for dairy cows to be raised. And as the best and my favourite dairy farmer, Brett Green says, a happy cow is a productive cow. The huge added benefit of the cows essentially eating high energy grass (and seeded pasture mixed in with the local legumes and grasses) is improving soil health. The composting of the soil and adding of the natural manure adds all the benefits that a "fit and healthy" soil needs. Value microbes added to the soil has a compounding future impact on soil health. Healthier soils mean no fertilisers. Healthy soils are not prone to attack from pests and unwanted funguses. The cows get to be reared "feed free", once the pastures are developed and growing. This is a massive saving to the dairy farmer. Equally, being such a great area for dairy farming, the potential of a first year yield being 10 percent higher than where they come form originally, is a real possibility. The savings to the avocado orchards are slashing costs, and immediate composting of the grass, an essential fast forward of the process. Much needed natural manure and nature living in symbiosis. Grazers recycling the grasses for the grasses themselves and the trees. Here are a few pictures, the rows of young avocado orchards are protected from grazing by the electric mobile fences (common practice in grazing pastures).
Below is the "first graze", the cattle have been through here and eaten the native grasses and legumes.
These are the young cows, the heifers, hard at work.
Just before the line of cattle, pasture seed (a whole mix of nutrition) is spread. See below. The hoof action essentially sinks the pasture mix into the soil and around a week later, here is the new pasture, mixed with the old mix, to create the diversity for a healthy soil.
Will this work everywhere? I am not too sure. Conditions are good in Rungwe, on the highlands of Tanzania. Rainfall is abundant, the soils are brilliant. We plan to slowly roll out from an experimental phase to a production phase (dairy) in the future. For the time being, the cost savings for the young cows and the young orchards, and the huge added benefits of soil health and nutrition for both the cows and trees is immeasurable. We are likely to see the benefits in the coming months, the rows grazed and the trees next to those rows, as well as the cattle grow stronger daily.