Category Archives: Homesteading

Food Security – Rethinking the Source 

“When all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. (The World Food Summit of 1996)

If there was a major disruption to the food supply network would you cope?

Civil Defence tells us that we need food and water for at least three days. Their recommendations are…

Non-perishable food (canned or dried food)

Food, formula and drinks for babies and small children, Water for drinking. At least 3 litres per person, per day

Water for washing and cooking

A primus or gas barbeque to cook on

A can opener

Check and replace food and water every twelve months. Consider stocking a two-week supply of food and water for prolonged emergencies such as a pandemic.

This maybe fine for a short-term situation but what if it was an extended event. For those of you who live rurally assistance may be a long time coming, roads may remain blocked for days, weeks, months…

In 1988 Cyclone Bola hit New Zealand, at that time my family was living near Matawai, a small rural settlement between Gisborne and Opotiki. The road was washed out at the bridge near our property and slips closed all other access roads. We were cut off. With no power the farming community rallied, setting up generators at a central location to run chest freezers so the local households did not lose all their frozen food stuffs. A community BBQ was held to use up any food which needed to be eaten and also boost morale among the locals. It was during one of our visits to the neighbor’s farm, about three days after being isolated, that a small plane landed and delivered supplies for the families. I remember one of the canned items was lambs’ tongues, a strange thing to be given in an emergency drop, but very amusing for us kids. We were cut off for over a week, with a school teacher unfortunately, and without power for about 3 days, but I do not remember any real hardship besides having to attend shearing quarters school for about 2 weeks.  A ford was formed across the river once the water level had dropped low enough, and this was passable by car when the river was low. Later a Bailey bridge was set up, but the actual bridge took many months to be repaired.

This is just one example of an event; the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes are other examples of disaster suddenly hitting, but the impacts have lasted for years. Recently the Hikurangi subduction zone has been in the headlines as scientists prepare the public for a future rupture of the fault. ‘The Hikurangi subduction zone runs offshore from the east of Gisborne down to the top of the South Island and “poses a significant earthquake and tsunami risk to the entire east coast of New Zealand”, says Dr Wallace.’ When this earthquake occurs, it has the potential to devastate New Zealand from the East Cape to the lower South Island and inland to areas like the Manawatu. The most recent example of this type of large earthquake is Japan 2011, imagine if that happened here… If it impacted such a large area how would we cope, there would be wide spread infrastructure damage of a scale New Zealand has never seen before, major food producing areas could be wiped out, add to that the physical and emotional trauma suffered by much of our population and it would take many, many years to recover.

Living in the rural Manawatu these are our main risk factors, flood, earthquake and snow event. During the 2017 snow drop, for some, power was out for weeks, roads blocked and communications were out. These are localised events and the Councils, power and roading companies struggle to keep up with demand. What if it was a larger event?

Do we really want to be at the mercy of an aerial food drop? Stuck waiting for the government to come to the rescue?

So, what can we do on a personal and a community scale?

We will start with location, being aware of the risk factors within your area. This is an important factor, because if you are in a high-risk zone e.g. flood zone, low coastal, unstable land or living in a city, you should follow the Civil Defence guide lines, because in a major event evacuation is probably your best bet. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put other solutions in place, it is just the reality of where you live. While evaluating your property and the surrounding community or environment, we also need to be aware of other risk factors. Fuel shortage, food supply issues (apparently there is only enough food for approximately three days in supermarkets), social unrest, financial collapse, pandemic and major power outage (EMP). I say this not to be a doomsayer but to create thought, many of these events have occurred in our past and could occur again, anytime. If you are serious about food security and resilience than you will need to consider these scenarios.

Now, Water, this comes before food. You can go 3 weeks without food but you cannot go three days without water. Where does your water come from? Town supply, roof catchment, spring, bore? What will you do if there is no power? All households should have some form of water storage, even if it is just a couple drums collecting rainwater from roof run off. But ideally the household would be able to source their yearly water use by means not reliant on electricity. This would mean adequate rainwater storage, a gravity fed spring water source, a well with manual draw up, or diversion from a creek or river etc. Electricity is a great convenience while we have it, but having non-power options which are also integrated into our systems are of great benefit. Having management over your own water collection also allows for prompt resolution if a problem emerges. The Havelock North water contamination event from 2016 comes to mind.

Food; while having a store of dried and canned foods may be beneficial in the short term it is not sustainable long term. Though having a decent supply of sea salt or kelp etc. should be considered for flavour and minerals. Producing food from your own land is a necessary factor in developing food security. The most obvious home food source is the vegetable garden, but this needs a re-think too, while rows of vegetables all nicely tilled and tended may be what comes to mind, this may not be the most practical and productive use of space. Some of the most nutritious plants in your garden are often classed as weeds. Dandelion, Puha, Fat hen, Plantain, Purslane, Stinging Nettle, Chickweed etc. These should all be encouraged, not removed (though management and selective thinning is recommended, because they will take over) Also the reliance on external inputs, fertilisers, pest and disease controls, seeds and mulch needs to be addressed.

Saving your own seeds or allowing plants to self-seed not only removes the need to purchase seed but also allows plants to adapt to your specific growing environment. Many pests and diseases can be managed by natural means, improved soil health or simply growing plants which are more resilient to your climate. Fertilisers can usually be sourced locally, if not from your own property, compost, manure, humanure (from composting toilets), rock dust, lime, wood ash, animal remains, fish remains, seaweed etc. Mulch can also be gathered locally or sourced on your own land, green manure plants can be grown as living ground cover, harvested for mulch and used to attract beneficial insects. Spent plants and pruning’s can be chopped and dropped in place to cover the ground and return their nutrients back to the soil. Using mixed plantings rather than large mono crop areas can also be of use in soil coverage and pest management.

Perennial vegetables such as Artichokes, Jerusalem Artichokes, Asparagus, NZ spinach, Day-lilies etc. create food for less work and disturbance of the soil, allowing the ground to establish networks for health. If used around annual garden areas they also provide shelter and some can support climbers such as peas or beans. Herbs, beneficial insect plants and edible flowers integrated in to your vegetable areas create diversity and assist in establishing a healthy ecosystem. Diversity is very important, a case of ‘not putting all your eggs in one basket as’ the saying goes. This allows more security if a crop should fail, for example this year we have had no plums, a hard frost hit as the trees were in blossom and wiped out the entire crop. But by planting more than we need and with a staggered blossoming/fruiting time this risk should be mitigated and if we happen to have a bumper year then there is a bounty to be shared.

Fruits and nuts can also be integrated into the vegetable area, smaller deciduous shrubs and trees can provide shade during hot summers but allow the sun through in winter. While larger trees and evergreens can be used to filter winds or planted around the southern side to create a micro-climate to protect less hardy plants. There is much information out there on creating a sustainable garden, edible garden or food forest, re-thinking the paradigm of what is a productive food garden. By embracing these concepts, the garden becomes better equipped to provide year-round and adapt to climatic changes.

But the fruit, nut, and other plant sourced foods can extend beyond our boundaries, wild harvested or foraged foods can often be found. Being aware of where these sources are, within easy travel, can greatly increase your harvest. Whether it be mushrooms, watercress, blackberries or naturalised fruit and nut trees these are all valuable food sources.

Another source of nutrition is fats and protein, for vegans that will have to fit into the garden, but for the rest of us it extends further afield. However, that said, through the raising of small animals, chickens, quail, ducks, rabbits, Guinea pigs etc. much of, if not all of, your eggs and meat can be produced from a small area like your average sized section. Dairy on the other hand will need more room. But this is where forming relationships with neighbours can really help, trading fruit and vegetables for milk or meat, while this maybe frowned upon by ‘the powers that be’, the reality is when it becomes a necessity who cares!

However, Goats (if very well contained) and milking sheep take up far less land and food than the average cow, if you want to be self-reliant in this area too. We currently have a low-line cow destined to be our little milker, she is probably a third the size of your average cow.  Making simple cheeses, butter and yogurts will extend the shelf life of your milk even without power-based refrigeration. Though a cool room/store would certainly help here. By choosing smaller breeds or animals this also assists in the need to store meat, though traditionally most larger animals are hung for several days to weeks anyway, which is not so much of an issue over winter in cooler areas. But over the warmer months, again, a cool store is of great benefit. Investigating and learning about the storage of foods e.g. pumpkins, potatoes, root crops, apples, cheese and meats without the use of power can greatly increase your level of food security.

It also pays to consider the feed aspect of your livestock, setting in place fodder and forage systems so you eliminate the need to buy in feed, Kune Kune pigs are a good example of a more sustainable livestock as they are a grazing pig and do not need to be supplemented unless grass growth slows off too much, but this can be catered for with the use of pumpkins and fodder beet etc. stored for winter feed.

When it comes to meat there is also the extended area, wild caught rabbit, turkey, eel, trout or other fish species, shellfish, deer, goat, pig and of course possum. Though it would pay to be aware of recent poisoning/baiting which may have taken place in your area and to source seafood and freshwater fish etc. from ‘clean’ areas. Contaminated food is not something to be taken lightly….

Then of course there is bugs. Huhu grubs have a long history as food in New Zealand but there are many others such as grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas and cockroaches. Mealworms, soldier fly larvae and fly maggots are often bred for high protein animal feed, again these do not take up much room and provide valuable nutrition, both as a food source in themselves and also to improve the quality of your eggs and poultry meat. Learning which insects are edible as well as fungi, native plants and in fact any plants, are essential skills to develop for food security.

This brings us to my final major aspects for food security, skills and mindset. You need to learn how to grow food, how to raise livestock, how to process it, how to cook it if needed and how to extend the harvest by simple preservation. But you also need to re-think the way you eat, simply, seasonally and without waste. Also, as nutritionally as possible, for some foods this will be fresh picked, but for cooked foods the best ways are soups, stews or casseroles as all the nutrients are contained with the pot. There are also some foods which need special ‘treatment’ before eating to make them more digestible, so understanding traditional methods of soaking, fermenting and lime treating etc. will allow foods to be more nutritious therefore you will need to eat less. With our modern diets we tend to over eat due to the lack of nutrient in many foods today, this can include meats, fruits and veges if grown/raised on nutrient deficient soils.

So, at what level is your food security?

Do you have access to clean water without the use of electricity?

Can you produce food all year round?

Do you have access to enough fats and proteins to keep you healthy?

Do you have the skills to feed yourself and your family should the worst happen?

Further reading:

https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/dietary-guidelines/

http://www.koanga.org.nz/knowledgebase/design-knowledge/200-sq-m-urban-design/

http://www.countryfarm-lifestyles.com/Mini-Farms.html#.XDjuW1wzbIU

http://peakoilhausfrau.blogspot.com/2010/05/resilient-gardening-part-i.html

https://www.wildernessmag.co.nz/gourmets-guide-edible-insects/

https://freezedriedemergencyfood.co.nz/bush-survival-7-new-zealand-edible-native-plants/

https://teara.govt.nz/en/1966/plants-edible-native

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2019/01/hikurangi-subduction-zone-scientists-prepare-for-imminent-threat.html

https://www.civildefence.govt.nz/

Embracing the Pioneering Spirit

As the new year approaches, we reflect on the year that has past and look forward to the year to come. In our fast-paced world, it is easy to lose sight of who we are and what we are trying to achieve in our life time. So, we need to slow down and refocus, rethink our ideas and our choices and reconnect with who we are. But we also need to appreciate what we have and look at the world with eyes wide open. To understand that we all have a story… 

I have always had an interest in living off the land, from being raised on farms in the Gisborne region. To delving into a book as old as me on my Nana’s book self, ‘The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency’ by John Seymour, which even now sits on my desk as I write. I may have taken a 17 year hiatus from living in the country but it was always still there and I never stopped gardening. Now living in rural Manawatu, we are achieving that goal, it has been a long journey with many side roads, but as they say good things take time. It has also been about changing our mind set, changing the way we think and how we choose to exist on this earth. 

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This is a story which is a part of me, one with which I have only recently reconnected, but affects me deeply and I believe partially defines who I am, where I stand in this world and how I chose to live.  

In 1874 my great, great grandparents Bernhard and Johanna Langer left their home in Moravia, Austria to come to New Zealand. Times were hard in their country and Napoleons army was calling up the young men for compulsory military service. They decided it was better to leave their farm and take up the offer from Queen Victoria to their Emperor Franz Josef, of land in the new country. With their six children and Johana’s brother Johann Schubert, they traveled to London to catch a ship to New Zealand. 

It was in London that things took a change for the worst, Bernhard a simple German speaking farmer, was tricked by confidence men (con men) and money changers while waiting for their ship. But he had paid their fare so they boarded the ship with the promise of a grant for 20 acres of land in New Zealand. The journey was a bad one, they encountered terrible storms in the Roaring Forties and the ship was so badly damaged the Captain urged all Christians on board to pray for deliverance. Thankfully two days later the storms cleared and the ship arrived safely in Lyttelton Harbour. The Moravians, Bavarians and Poles were all taken to the Provincial Governments Barracks at Addington, and were later moved to the immigration barracks at Oxford. 

But the Langers 20 acres of land was not to be, through some confusion, it appears that Bernhard did not receive their entitlement. Instead Bernhard utilise his skills learned while living as a peasant farmer in Moravia to earn a living, he found work cutting flax and then landed a job in the timber milling industry,working on the stationary steam engines at Glen Miller Estate. It was there that they realised their dream of owning land as, while the owner was away, the foreman sold them 13 acres of the estate, on which they build a small house and moved in. But this to was not to be, the owner of estate returned and declared the sale illegal and the money to be refunded. The Langers were forcibly evicted with the roof torn from their house to prevent them from returning 

Bernhard refused to give up the dream, the following year he bought 20 acres beyond Coopers creek and immediately set about occupying the land. Trees were chopped and milled and the Langers second house in New Zealand was built. Again, this was not to be, Bernhard had mistakenly built on the wrong land. He refused to leave so the Rangiora police were called and the family’s belongings were removed from the house before it was burnt to the ground in front of them. In desperate need of shelter for his family Bernhard found some unclaimed land,milled the trees and built another shack. But the Oxford police heard he was on a roading reserve and again they were evicted and their house burnt to the ground. 

Returning to Oxford they were befriended by a blacksmith, Mathias Horricks. Who generously allowed them to build on his land and wrote up a lease so they could live there rent free.   So, Bernhard built his fourth house, a more substantial one this time and they developed a garden. Sadly, in about 1880, the Blacksmiths wife died and he decided to sell the property.  The new owner ordered the Langers out.   Again, devastated, the Langers  moved, this time to a Road Board cottage near the cemetery. In six years, they had left their homeland, lost almost everything they owned and been evicted from four hand-built houses. Their dream of owning their own land seemed fated to never be. 

Then, unexpectedly, the deeds to the real land at Coopers creek turned up. Bernhard was not going to let this one go, he decided to occupy the land immediately. The local police officer in charge of the district escorted the Langers to the land, pointed out the boundary and “planted them on it”. But this was not the land Bernhard thought he had bought, instead of fertile flat it was on the cold side of a hill and clay, land that no one else would have bothered with. But it was theirs and he was determined to make it work. He built a basic hut and storage shed and then started on the main house. This time he made sun-dried bricks, diverting a stream into a hollow, he then spread rushes through it and drove some cattle into it to churn the muck. This was then shaped into bricks and dried in the sun. It took Bernhard three years to build a five-room cottage with a dried flax thatch roof. At the same time the family was clearing the land of scrub and ploughing the ground with a make shift plough pulled by their daughter Rose. Through sheer hard work and determination, they transformed their clay ground, carting humus from the bush to feed the soil and create a fertile garden. They grew many vegetables and also rye, which was ground with a wooden mortar to make bread. With a house cow for milk, ducks, geese, poultry, pigs and many beehives they finally had the self-contained farm they had dreamed of. Surplus was taken down the road to sell from a wheel barrow. This was no easy feat as to access their land the Langers had to wade through a swamp, cross a neighbours land and then follow a stream up a ravine to where their farm lay. They may have had their farm but it had come at a cost, they no longer trusted people and kept to themselves, with only a few friends among the neighbours, it was these friends who brought the Langers food in hard times, when they feared they must be close to starvation. 

But it does not end there, according to the maps and The Oxford Road Board there was a road to their farm, in reality there was not. Bernhard refused to pay the roading rates and many others in similar positions choose not to as well. The board decided to make an example of someone to encourage compliance, Bernhard was the unfortunate one. The board applied to the supreme court to have his property sold to cover the unpaid rates, a mere 5s 5d (approx 55c NZ), the process was long and Bernhard refused to budge. On the 2 August 1897 the court ordered the land to be sold, which it was, eight months later, at auction for 21 pounds. But still he refused to budge, Johann Schubert (his brother in-law) died in August 1898 and Bernhard followed him in May 1899. Four of their children had already dispersed to other parts of New Zealand, leaving only Johanna Langer, her son Joseph, aged 25 and daughter Rosalie who was now 38.  

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Then one day in the pouring rain a bailiff and a policeman came to evict them. Their meager possessions were moved on to the hillside beyond the boundary and they were ordered to never go on the property again. Neighbours and even the policeman offered to house them but she refused and built a simple shelter where they stood, with permission of the land owner. They felt bewildered at the way the “Britishers” had used them from London to the shores of New Zealand and beyond. No-one locally knew of the court proceedings and all were shocked, they would have paid the rates for the Langers if they had only known. Instead the people of Oxford, in just three months, raised enough money to buy back the farm for the Langers and cover any future rates.  Mrs Johana Langer lived in her mud brick house until her death in 1907, Joe and Rosalie staying on together after her passing. They kept mainly to themselves but the plight of the “Hermits of Ram paddock Hill” had reached the public in 1900 through an article in the “Weekly Press” and they were gifted money and some comforts. But none of this could shift Rosalie’s deep-seated resentment for the way her family had been treated nor quell the fear Joe had every time someone came to their property,  for he had been threatened with hanging for brandishing a firearm during one of their evictions. 

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Both remained on the property for most of their lives, Rosalie only leaving when, at age 78, she was injured while going home, as they still had no access road in 1937. She died in 1940 at Nazareth House. Joe continued on the land alone for some time, before being taken to a home for the aged in Oxford and then also on to Nazareth House, where he died in 1951. * 

These simple folk from Moravia built a life in New Zealand from nothing, their determination to succeed in owning their own land and their strength to fight against injustice is inspiring.  Bernhard Langer and his family built six houses from the land, while some of them may have been only simple shacks, the process of milling timber by hand means this was no simple task. To build a house from handmade mud brick gives a foundation to your home, a connection of your blood and sweat to every inch of that dwelling. To farm a poor piece of land into a fertile garden is just strengthening that bond.  

Today, not all, but most people have lost their connection with land and therefore,with the bounty it can provide us. For almost every purpose there is a natural resource and knowledge of how to use it, yet this has been stolen from us by these modern confidence men, who legislate not for the good of human kind but for their pockets. A good example of this is the building industry and how it has excluded the pioneer man from building  on their own land with natural products with-out mountains of legislation. They have created a system of forced use of inferior man-made building materials with limited lifespan. Many of these ‘improvements’ are simply not that, ten/twenty years down the track and the issues start to show, leaky buildings, asbestos, health concerns, ‘oops, sorry that is actually not safe’.  Another good example is the wool industry. Wool is a remarkable natural product that should be widely used, yet its virtually value less. Its insulating properties give it such promise and yet we still fill our walls with fibre glass. 

We, the people, rush from place to place, buying what we want without any real thought, consume, consume, consume. We work and are motivated by money so we can enjoy life and things, but yet we have no time to just be. An example of this is the yearly holiday where you rush from one activity to the next with no time to really enjoy and actually take it all in, then you feel as if you need a holiday to get over the holiday  because you are exhausted 

I look at our ancestors and think they had none of this. Most lived simple lives and what motivated them was grounded and were very real needs. In actuality our real needs are simple; warm shelter, clean water, healthy food and companionship. These are the true wealth of our world, as long as we have these everything thing else is a want. The problem in our world is that so many put their wants in front of their needs.  I feel that even though the Langers endured much hardship as a family, they were stronger and more resilient than many people I know today. They fought for their needs and for the land to provide their needs so they could maintain their independence in the corrupt  world that they encountered. In the face of adversity, they simply began  again refusing to give up on their goal. 

Many of us have a story of the pioneering spirit which brought our ancestors to the shores of New Zealand, whether we came from Britain, Europe, the Americas, China or Pacifica. It was the courage and determination of these people, the simple hardworking people not the government or confidence men, which has shaped us and our country. 

So, this year I choose to remember my great, great grandparents’ story, I thank them for the qualities they have handed down to me. Determination, resilience, the strength to stand up for my rights, the hardheadedness to not bow down to adversity and the bloody mindedness to seek our independence.  Also, the ability to appreciate the abundance we have created and are still working to create on our own land. Through this I hope to share our experiences and knowledge gained in the hope that it will help others to create their own abundance, appreciate their own achievements and develop their own  independence. We need to embrace the pioneering spirit and the resilience of these people in the face of a rapidly changing world. 

 

 

*My thanks to ‘The Press’, December 16, 1978, for the information for this story. 

 

 

Where There’s Live Stock, There’s Dead Stock.

One of the realities of farming any form of livestock is that, as our old neighbor used to say, ‘where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock.’ The difference between our thoughts on this topic was the level of intervention and her unwillingness to accept that her dog was the leading cause of death in her chooks, but I digress. 

When new to livestock it can be all visions of bouncing lambs and copious eggs or simply the grass gets mowed with no real input from you. But when the first death happens among your animals this can be a very confronting and sometimes traumatic situation. Feelings of having failed these creatures in your care are common. But in order to deal with this scenario when it happens, not if it happens, because it will happen, figuring out what your philosophies are in regards to your animals will help. These can range from wanting all your animals to be pets and rescuing animals, to farming for meat and fibre etc. From doing whatever it takes to keep them alive, to allowing nature to take its course. Only you can decide where you stand on this matter and as long as you are working within the animal welfare guidelines it is your choice.  

https://www.mpi.govt.nz/protection-and-response/animal-welfare/ 

This is in fact, a highly controversial topic and so I am simply going to share some thoughts on the matter. Our farm is only small and every animal must have a purpose. There are a couple of exceptions like the Budgie and the old cat is not much use at mousing these days, plus I’m not sure just how useful the dogs are, but they do tend to deter people from entering the property and let us know if anyone is around. So, in thinking that our animals are a product of our farm we treat them according to this philosophy. We try to provide an environment which is suited to each species and provides for their needs within the realities of a farming situation. We have to consider that by farming these creatures we have removed them from what is their natural habitat and interfered with the natural processes and conditions which would have governed their life. In some cases, this may actually mean that their life has become easier, but it also removes much of the choice that these animals have. Not many animals would choose to stand in the sun all day if shade was available or browse only within the confines of a fenced area on pasture species instead of diverse plantings. 

This also limits their ability to self-medicate unless you have provided those plants or minerals etc. that are needed. This is another area where we need to decide what our philosophy is, do you go natural or ‘conventional’, call in the vet or manage yourself, perhaps a mixture. For us it comes down to firstly, can it be treated naturally, most minor issues can easily be dealt with in this way but sometimes we need to use ‘conventional’ methods. In our case the worm burden on our small property was too high, so after trying natural control without success, we have for the time being resorted to drenching our lambs. We will go back to natural as we establish plants for self-medicating and breed for better resistance. It’s about being realistic. 

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Secondly the value of the animal, this may sound harsh but it is again the reality of farming animals. If the value of the animal is low calling out a vet is not a feasible option, however many vets will do a phone consult or are happy for you to pop in and discuss your issue at no cost. We then, if necessary, purchase the required treatment from them. Now this is where we can get controversial.  We start to see the separation between those who farm, whether big or small and those who don’t. Social media can be a useful place to find answers, there are a lot of people who will know the answer and how to help. But… VET is not the answer to every condition; many farmers deal with livestock illness or injury on a regular basis and they do it themselves. Your own observations and research into livestock health will give you great insight into what may affect your animals and how to treat it. We should never stop learning and observing our livestock and land, questions and discussion are essential to expand our knowledge. To shut someone down with one word, VET, is not conducive to learning.  

There is another saying, ‘a sick sheep is a dead sheep’. Sometimes you need to make the decision, is it worth attempting to save this animal or is it time to cull? This is another issue you will have to face even if you choose to keep your animals as pets and for those who choose to farm for meat this can still be a difficult decision. The process of killing an animal or asking someone to do it for you, whether for health reasons or for meat, can be very confronting both physically and emotionally.  I, personally, do not kill our animals but I am largely involved in the processing of them. My husband who does the real hard work shares his thoughts on the process…  

‘To dispatch an animal is no easy task and for me personally it is always associated with a sense of loss.  My approach to deal with this is to ensure that it is very quick. I will hold the animal, to feel its life drain and, in this moment, I feel we share a connection. This animal has just paid the ultimate sacrifice, their life for mine and it is in this moment that I say sorry and thank you. I find that being alone while dispatching an animal allows me to focus fully on the task at hand and give the animal the respect it deserves. 

It is never easy, some might say “what a hard arse, killing an animal.” but for me what I find offensive is when those same people go to a fast food outlet or the supermarket and buy and eat meat with absolutely no thought or connection to the loss of any life. I know that the animal I have dispatched has had a good life, been feed on good food and been well cared for.’ 

Many people will have different thoughts and processes in regards to dispatching their livestock, we also do not believe is isolating our children from the process. They do not watch the actual killing but if they choose to do so that would be fine, we also do not hide from them the death of an animal, especially pets. What they do have is, from a young age, is an understanding of life and death. This does not mean they are immune to it, they simply accept that at some stage we all will die, that it is part of our world. It is my belief that this disconnect from the natural processes of life is one of the greatest down falls of our world. Many of the animals we now have in New Zealand are not native to this land. We have removed them from their natural land and therefore, as New Zealand has no real predators, from the natural population control which would manage each species. Also, by fighting to prolong their lives we are also removing natures methods of balance. If we remove ourselves as the primary predators or at least managers of these introduced species our land will be over run. Several prolific examples of this are rabbits, possums and rats, which even with various control methods in place are still devastating to our environment.  

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This raises another issue, roosters. Our children know if it’s a rooster, ultimately it will end up in the freezer. Most boy animals do on our small farm.  But one of the issues which made me decide to write this post was the disposal of unwanted roosters. Again, it comes down to philosophy. Of which mine is, if you cannot dispose of your unwanted roosters either through culling or giving/selling to someone else, you should not breed chickens or any poultry or water fowl for that matter. This may sound harsh but the real harshness is in over populations of roosters or abandoned roosters. The recommended ratio is about a minimum of ten chooks to one rooster, however I would go as far to say that unless the roosters were raised together, we would only have one rooster per area.  If the rooster count is exceeded life becomes very hard for the girls with persistent mating, often one rooster after the other, which can result in injury or the death of your chooks. Dominance fights between roosters also are very brutal generally resulting in significant damage to the birds or again death. Keeping chooks is a wonderful way to introduce yourself or your children to caring for livestock and where your food comes from. But being aware of the issues that can arise though breeding or even buying fertile eggs to hatch is very important. So many times, we have offered to take roosters only to be told ‘no its alright I’ll just drop them off at …. (where ever the local rooster abandoning spot is)’, they would rather let a domesticated bird loose in the wild then allow it to be quickly culled or a family to eat it. Instead these birds are often introduced to an area where there are other roosters and the resulting carnage is not seen or not their problem.  The over population of males in many species can result in very brutal and traumatic displays of nature. People often wish to save the roosters and I get it, they are stunning looking creatures, but if these same people were confronted with the realities of chicken life I wonder if that feeling would remain. 

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Which brings another dilemma to mind, pet rams.  We have over the past six months culled two pet rams for people. Both were absolute menaces and it was a difficult decision for the people in both instances. But after seeing how dangerous both beasts had become, we simply made an offer to buy for dog tucker and left it with them. When the offers were accepted, we removed the rams from their property and quickly dispatched them once back on our property. While there may be the odd exception, the combination of an entire male sheep reaching sexual maturity and having no fear or at least a healthy respect of people is pure trouble. They become aggressive and it is no longer safe for children or even, in some cases (such as these two rams), adults to enter the paddock. Castrating a young male lamb will remove this issue and result in a nice pet sheep if that is what you want. It is situations like this that you will encounter if you choose to have livestock. It is, like all things a journey in which you never stop learning. 

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In an age where farmers and even meat eaters are getting a lot of flak, where misinformation is rife, caring for animals is becoming more and more monitored and observed. A dairy farm had a cow in its ‘hospital’ paddock, they were monitoring this cow, encouraging it to stand, doing everything they should. But from the view point of the road, situations can be assumed. With this in mind the farmer parked his tractor in front of the cow to block the outsiders view. It was decided that culling was necessary and it was promptly done, all behind the screen of this tractor. People are easily offended and those without knowledge jump to conclusions. In this PC world you are not only providing suitable care for your animals but you are protecting yourself from harm. There are guide lines and it pays to learn them, though most are just common sense. But the divide between town and country is growing, most urban people lack an understanding of farming, animal care and management in general. They have lost their connection with the land and its natural systems, lost the connection between life and death. 

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Seedling Fruit and Nut Trees

Drive down most rural roads and you will see naturalized fruit and nut trees along the roadsides and fence lines. These are scattered here and there by the toss of a core or stone from a passing car or spread by bird, possum or rodent. Left to develop, these natural plantings can evolve into wilding hedgerows or thickets, providing shelter, erosion control and food. Traditional hedgerows would, typically, have regenerated themselves with this same process, fallen or bird-spread seed would have sprouted to fill the gaps left by dead or damaged trees and shrubs. This creates a continually changing and varied landscape, full of plants which are naturally adapted and suited to their local environment. Your location and what grows well there will dictate which edible plants establish in these sites, for us, in the upper Manawatu it is Apples, Plums, Hawthorns, Elders, Blackberry and Walnuts which thrive in these wilding areas (though walnuts due to their production of juglone, which is toxic to some plants, tend to be isolated specimens). While some of these plants are now considered pest species there is still value in their existence. Hawthorns are a valuable medicinal plant with edible young leaves and fruit, and are also a spring nectar source. Elders are sort after for their edible flowers and the ripe berries which are often made into cordials and wine. While harvesting wild blackberries is a common summer past time for many New Zealanders. It is these simple acts of seed dispersal which have resulted in a diverse collection of food, ripe for the taking, be it for human foragers or animal.  

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Wilding Apples and Elder grow together along a fence line

 

In the home garden many of the fruit and nut trees are grafted, this allows the purchaser to be sure of what the tree produces and how it grows. But these trees also have a significant cost if you are looking at planting an edible, fodder/forage hedgerow or food forest and may not be suited to a mixed planting. They have been bred for an orchard or stand-alone type planting not for robustness to compete with other vigorous plants, though some vigorous heritage varieties may do well. It is in these situations where growing your own or purchasing cheaper seedling trees can not only allow for a larger planting at a low-cost but also assist in creating a truly diverse landscape. 

 

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Cherry seedlings

Many fruiting and nut plants can be grown from seed and produce true to type (apricots, peaches etc) while other others result in variations of the parent plant. Apples and Pears are less likely to produce plants similar to the parent but that does not mean the trees are without use. Planted in a hedgerow or similar they can provide fruit and edible leaves for the livestock, a diversion for the birds away from your main orchard, fruit for cider or cider vinegar or pollen for the bees. Sometimes the fruit can be nicer than the parent, many of the common and heritage fruit trees today are the result of a chance seedling, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Gravenstein and  Braeburn are good examples of this. Others have been bred through controlled cross-pollination, but the result is the same, many seedlings with only a handful selected to develop further. So many trees would be discarded, but that does not mean they didn’t produce, it simply means they didn’t have the characteristics that particular grower was looking for mass production. Seedling nut trees also can produce variable results not necessarily true to the parent plant. But if you have grown a seedling which is vigorous and healthy in your soil and climate then you have the option of grafting on to it. Scion wood can be easily sourced from trees you know produce the fruit or nut you want or purchased online.  

 

We have many wild sown apple trees along the roads in our area, one of which produces large ‘Granny smith’ like apples which are brilliant for cooking, another usually carries masses of ‘Gala’ like apples. Both of these trees grow in difficult areas and yet thrive, while in the home orchard we can have no end of problems with the grafted fruit trees. Our favourite peach is from a tree growing in semi-shade on the bank of a creek, it was not a big tree but had large tasty white flesh peaches each year. Someone threw one of these peach stones into the garden near our front gate at the time. A couple of years later a small peach tree had grown, we only lived there for four years and yet when we left this little peach tree was bigger than the grafted plums we had planted near-by and had been covered in fruit that summer. We still have the off-spring of the original tree and though our climate now is not the best for peaches the trees have grown well in their new home. 

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Three to four year old seedling peach tree in a mixed planting.

While it is said that grafted trees produce fruit much faster than seedling, this is not always the case and you must remember that these grafted trees are already several years old. The act of grafting and often bare-rooting the plant for sale can set it back and removal of fruit is often encouraged to allow it to develop good root structure. While a seedling tree, allowed to grow en-situ or planted young, can put on rapid growth and when it reaches fruit production stage it is well able to handle the load as its roots are fully established.  

So, in the small garden or orchard, grafted apple and pear trees allow you certainty about your trees, but seedling stone fruit are worth considering. In the larger garden, orchard or hedgerow situation you have the space to really experiment and develop a truly unique collection of fruit and nut trees which, if locally sourced, are well adapted to your area and climate.