The six principles of soil health

Much has been written and spoken about the first five principles of soil health. Farmers that are implementing regenerative agricultural practices know the principles, but what they often lack is the knowledge of how to implement the principles on their own farms.
It is impractical to merely copy the practices of your next-door neighbour and hope for the same results. Your management style, your soil, your rainfall and your goals are very different from theirs.
So, where do you start?
No one knows the context (makeup, conditions etc.) of your farm as well as you do, especially if it is a family-owned farm that has been handed down through the generations. Without the institutional knowledge of your farm, gained over the years, a consultant, sales representative, scientist or academic would be hard-pressed to accurately determine the methods or measures you need to introduce so that you farm more productively.

We all agree that scientists and academics are very knowledgeable about the nature of a specific area or system, but science in general needs to be refined to a level where it is understood and can be measured. It is very seldom holistic, where systems are integrated into a single one-size-fits-all unit. If we take the modelling systems that are in place, for example where the effects of climate change are measured, one small error in calculation will compound over the years, inflating the magnitude of the disaster. This often leads to scaremongering tactics, so be very wary of believing every tale of doom without first checking the facts.
Nature is a wicked system. If it does not feed you, it wants to kill you.

We often look at how things are done without questioning why they are done. Asking the question why is important to clarify the reasons behind certain decisions. Why change over to a regenerative system? Why change a livestock production model that has proved sustainable over the last couple of decades? To fully comprehend your why, it is imperative for you to understand your goals.
Where do you want to be in the short, medium, and long term? What do you want to achieve?
Our goals change over the years, and a teenager’s goals are probably not what a forty-year-old would wish as a teenager anymore. And what a forty-year-old’s goals are today, will probably change when the forty-year-old is a sixty-year-old.
So, how does all this relate to a farming enterprise, especially a family farming enterprise?
What must a goal achieve so that the sixty-year-old does not regret what the twenty-year-old chose as a goal? We have all had goals, but they need to be adjusted over time because our circumstances change in so many ways. Life happens, and we must be able to adapt and work on challenges as they arise, but that does not mean your long-term goal must change so drastically.
Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great” talks about keeping the flywheel turning. It gains a momentum of its own but, if you change the direction every year, thinking you have found the new pot of gold, you start everything again, from scratch.
“The key to a successful agricultural enterprise is to find the advantage your area has over other regions of the country and capitalise on it” – Allan Nartin
What must you goal encompass?
·         family
·         community
·         environment
·         money
·         workers
The larger your influence the larger your circle becomes, until it grows to achieve provincial or even national status.
Changing your thought processes from having rights to having responsibilities changes your goal- setting mindset. If we as a nation recognise that a family, a community, and a country’s citizens have responsibilities rather than rights, then our mindset changes from what is good for me (entitlement) to what is good for everyone, then all of us benefit. Your level of influence will always be determined by the amount of responsibility you are able to shoulder. It is also suggested that IQ plays a role, as those with a higher IQ can generally shoulder more responsibilities. It is a shame that this does not happen. The consequence is we lose abilities that could really help make the country a better place. Instead, mediocracy is celebrated.
Your farm’s context is all important in your goal setting, and the context of every farm is different. Your goal setting is determined by your age, which cannot be denied, and that is one reason why it is crucial to understand your context.
An older person will have questions like: Who will inherit the farm? Is there somebody who wants to farm the land when I retire? What do I want to leave behind for my loved ones? Do I just want to sell the farm? How much change can I still effect on my children, on my farming enterprise, or even in the community?
A younger person generally wants to change the world and will ask: How can we become more efficient? How can we implement what I have just learnt? The thought of starting a family and having a successful farming career are more prevalent in a younger person’s mind. Questions like ‘how to leave the farm in a better condition than when they took over’ don’t really make the top of the priority list for younger people.
In Freiburg in Germany there was a bench with the following engraving: ‘The wood that is chopped today was planted by the great-grandfather and the trees that are planted today will be chopped by the great-grandson’. We need to change our mindset to long term sustainability rather than short term profits.
Having a family-owned farm that has been around for generations has certain advantages, like the institutional knowledge passed down through the years. But it can also have disadvantages, where the older generation won’t budge on management principles, saying ‘we’ve always done it this way’.
So, how can you formulate a plan to make your farm more productive and sustainable? And how can you regenerate your farm’s soil so that nutrient-dense products are produced, products that are both good for the environment and the consumer?
Understanding your WHY
Understanding your why has its challenges and aligning your goal with your why and, finally, with your how, takes time and research. It is time that would be well spent before life gets in your way, leaving you with no time to do it now, or ever because you’ve left it too late in your life. This quotation by Israelmore Ayivor says it all: “Success is not obtained overnight. It comes in instalments; you get a little bit today, a little bit tomorrow until the whole package is given out. The day you procrastinate, you lose that day’s success.”

As Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

Consider the following points, which are becoming a frightening reality, now more than ever.

  • input costs are rising
  • the global shipping industry is in a crisis
  • decades of chemical agriculture have degraded our soil biology so that we rely increasingly more on external inputs
  • our livestock management has had a detrimental effect on our veld vigour — we are understocked and overgrazed
  • yield!
  • the consumer has access to the same information that the farmer has
  • our weather patterns are changing.

How can we mitigate our risk to ever increasing input costs?

There is no one simple answer, and it depends entirely on your farm’s context. How can you minimise the risk on your farm so that you maintain a positive cash flow? Know what your farm’s advantage is and exploit it. But remember that every paradise has a snake. Know the snake but exploit your advantage.

In the east of South Africa there is generally enough rain to produce a cash crop. The higher input cost is mostly mitigated by the fact that there is always a yield from a harvest that will cover the costs. Even though the costs for purchasing the implements required for a no-till system seem huge, the costs will be covered over time by eliminating the diesel expense.

Stimulating and enhancing the soil biology will also improve the biological services that we get for free, rather than paying for the chemicals to supply the services. We have relied on chemistry to feed the soil for too long and have neglected the soil biology. We really need to understand the complexity of soil biology and how to promote and enhance its natural rejuvenation systems. There is not a single chemical product that can deliver the optimal biological results that are obtained when the five principles of soil health are implemented.

Soil has three main components, structure, chemistry, and biology.  ‘Vigorous biology can overcome imperfect chemistry – perfect chemistry cannot deliver optimal results in the absence of biology.’
Trying to squeeze an avocado ripe is futile. We all know that ripening is a process that takes time.  Just the same with soil biology, it is a process that takes time to rebuild. It also takes longer, and is more complex, to build the more brittle its environment becomes. It all boils down to the carbon in the soil – we are a carbon-based life form.
Thankfully there are two things that we still get for free and which our soil thrives on. They are sunlight and rain.  Harvesting sunlight for photosynthesis and energy and ensuring that the rain penetrates your soil will enhance your soil biology. Don’t let the rainwater wash away your topsoil so it flows down to your neighbour’s farm.
Through photosynthesis, the plant excretes simple sugars in the root zone, called exudates, and these simple sugars feed the soil microorganisms. This action leads to the formation of a symbiotic relationship between the plant and the soil microbiology, where the plant feeds the microbes, and the microbes feed the plant with various minerals. This is as an on-demand system, similar to the way we currently do it, where fertiliser is applied at certain stages.
To highlight the complexity, a maize plant needs 42 minerals to function optimally. Currently, most farmers only give nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The companies and farmers that are really on top of their game use 17 minerals, but this still falls short of the requirements.
Can cover crops live up to the promise of reducing inorganic fertiliser? The farmer will have to determine this for himself according to the soil’s requirements.
A number of cover crop combinations really work wonders, and an in-depth discussion with the cover crop companies and their technical staff would be beneficial. Don’t just plant a mix because your neighbour is planting that specific mix. His goal and what he wants to achieve is probably different from yours.
Remember that your cover crop must be aligned with your goal and your farm’s context. The mixes have various functions, so the in-depth discussion you have will centre around:
·         animal feed
·         cover
·         living root (perennial)
·         compaction
·         mineral deficiencies
·         stimulating soil biology – specifically mycorrhizal fungi.
We are normally in too much of a hurry, wanting to see results because we are now doing the right thing. Restoration takes time, but it is worthwhile and priceless. The return of diversity, the improvement in the robustness of the soil, and the overall improvement in the health of the environment, becoming a custodian of the land again, is what makes the journey enjoyable.
Understand your context and your why, and the how becomes so much easier. Nobody on the journey of regenerative agriculture has done everything 100% correctly all the time. We need to do, observe, adjust, and let the cycle start again. The principles are always the same, they don’t change, but the application of the principles can change drastically from farm to farm and from management style to management style.
There are experts in every field, be it planting cash crops, using all five principles of soil health (context excluded), to breeding programmes where animals that are really well adapted to their area are reared. Go to farmers’ days and listen to the experts — I am not talking about listening to a product sales pitch here, but the experts. Read, watch relevant YouTube channels, participate in pertinent social media chat groups where questions are asked and answered. We are all far better connected now than we were ever before, so use the platforms that are available to you, firstly to learn and, secondly, to teach and show what you are doing. We are all in this together and it is amazing what farmers are doing to improve their situation by observing, learning and applying a system according to the context of their farms.
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Celebrating Regenerative Agriculture

Celebrating Regenerative Agriculture

Celebrating regenerative agriculture. Heal the land; heal the people

South Africa is not unique compared to the rest of the world in any sense when it comes to agricultural debt, and the way we treat our most valued resource – SOIL


Currently the agricultural debt is R187 billion – this is double the agricultural GDP. There is a shortfall of R20 billion for the next planting season. One reason being the problems at the Land Bank, and the inability of the farmers to service their production loans – and this after a near record harvest in the 2019 – 2020 season.

Dr. James Blignaut has written an opinion piece in the Daily Maverick – “Investing in unsustainable agriculture is reckless and endangers our future” – 5 August 2020.

Are we heading for a collapse in our agricultural system where we hope that government will bail us out? Is agriculture the next fiscal crisis that is going to happen with more severe consequences than any other industry, because our livelihood depends on it?

We know what unforeseen consequences conventional agriculture has:

  • Soil erosion – 3 tons topsoil is lost each year from agricultural land
  • Nutrient deficient food – Thomas, D.E (2003). A study of the mineral depletion of foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 – 1991. Nutrition and Health, 17: 85 – 115.
  • Starved soil Biology
  • Dysfunctional water cycle
  • Dysfunctional mineral cycles

If we do not change our management system where we enhance rather than destroy our biological services that nature offers for free, our input costs will rise we will become more vulnerable to ever-increasing prices. We must bring robustness back into our farming enterprise. Having only a yield as a measure of success is not sustainable – Banks do not bank yields.

How do we regenerate our soil?

How to regenerate soil
How to regenerate soil
Source: Integra Webpage –

Source: Integra Webpage:

In the process of regenerating soil, the farmer is the most important aspect of the whole chain. There are however certain key points that you as the farmer, owner or manager of the farm must be aware of. This will provide a measure of success in changing your management system to make soil health the primary goal of your farm.


The first step in knowing there is a problem, is to recognise the problem.

It you can relate to any of the following, then you do not have a problem and do not need to change anything:

  • You are not affected by drought
  • All your chemical inputs are effective. The chemicals do not harm the environment nor animal or human health
  • You are producing a nutrient dense food.
  • Your water and mineral cycles are functioning optimally.
  • You do not have soil erosion or degradation


We must fully understand why we must change; this is far more important than how we must change. If you fully understand the why, the how becomes easier to understand.


You as the farm owner must make the process of regeneration of soil your own. It is nobody’s project. It is not an idea that the consumer can implement on your farm. You must fully buy into the process where you understand the why and how – Ask yourself: what is in it for me?


This is your farm. You must make it happen; you are the jockey. Nobody is going to do it for you on your farm. You must apply it. There are people doing it already and we must see how we can build a community to help each other. At the end it is you that must drive the process, on your farm.


Make it happen. At this stage you are probably convinced that what must be done is correct and to the benefit of everyone around you and the environment at large. Now you just must take the action and make it happen.

The other five principles of soil health are about HOW we achieve:

Minimum soil disturbances – both chemically and mechanically

We must acknowledge that we are working with a degraded resource – soil. Our management practices have been of such a nature that we have starved and destroyed the soil biology, and the structure of our soil with modern agricultural practices.

I have written about quite a bit about the five principles of soil health. Read more here

Soil cover or armour

Erosion – Caused by wind and rain

Temperature – Bare soil is always hotter than covered soil, and the variation in temperature is detrimental to the soil biology

Diversity – in all aspects

The bigger our diversity becomes the more biological services we will activate. The more robust our farming enterprise will become in terms of:

  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Insects
  • Birds
  • Trees
Living Root

Having a living root on your cash crop fields via cover crops, companion cropping or inter-seeding, feeds your soil biology for longer. This stimulates a larger variety or diversity of soil micro-organisms, that in return improve your soil health.

Integrating Animals

On your cash crop fields, either by eating the stover, or more advantageously cover crops. The symbiotic relationship between grazing ruminates and root and plant stimulation, has been proven by various farmers world-wide. The anecdotal evidence where the biomass growth, and the hay harvest has doubled in certain instances.

How does all this fit together and why should we bother?

What I do, however, want to mention is the advantages of Mycorrhizal fungi and how can we establish Mycorrhizal fungi in our degraded soil.

Mycorrhizal fungi form a mutualistic symbiotic relationship in the rhizosphere of plants. The fungal hyphae allow a larger volume contact with soil. Mycorrhizal fungi are transport “highways” for the plant to transport water, minerals, and various nutrients to the plant. Mycorrhizal fungi are also thinner than root hairs and can therefore penetrate smaller cracks in the soil to access water in the soil that would otherwise not be available to the plant. The symbiotic relationship between the plant and the Mycorrhizal fungi is then completed. The plant “pays” for the biological service that the Mycorrhizal fungi gives, by supplying various root exudates to the microbial world beneath our feed.

Through photosynthesis, the plant captures light energy and converts this to chemical energy. Chemical energy transforms into a carbon-based molecule which nourishes and sustains most living organisms on the planet.

6CO2 + 6H2O = C6H12O6 + 6O2 – is the most important piece of chemistry in the world!

The simple carbon glucose molecule formed in photosynthesis is the basis for our entire food chain.

Soil health and our survival

No feature on earth is more complex, dynamic, and diverse than the biosphere, the layer of living organisms that occupy our soil surface and chemically unites the atmosphere, geosphere, and the hydrosphere into on environmental ecosystem within which millions of species, including humans have thrived. – Green Cover Seed – Soil Health the sixth edition.

It must become clear why the soil biology is so important for our survival – and why the destruction of it is so detrimental for all living species on earth including humans.

Books often mention how important Mycorrhizal fungi is. But how can we restore Mycorrhizal fungi and more importantly how have our conventional agricultural practices destroyed Mycorrhizal fungi.

The importance of Mycorrhizal fungi

Mycorrhizal fungi consist of hyphae, and these can increase the root surface area of the specific host plant by approximately forty times. As mentioned before, the Mycorrhizal fungi receives its energy from the host plant in exchange for all the various minerals, elements, and water that it transports to the host plant. This exchange can only take place when the host plant photosynthesis. So, if a monocrop, soy, corn, or wheat does not photosynthesis it cannot feed the Mycorrhizal fungi anymore. That is of course assuming that there was Mycorrhizal fungi in the first place. Remember we are working with a degraded resource, our soil.

The Mycorrhizal fungi has enough energy stored in its hyphae to survive for about one month if the host plant does not excrete any root exudates anymore. It takes three months before the crop is ready for harvesting.

If we only plant monocrops, and then leave the field fallow until the next season, we risk the chance of any living Mycorrhizal fungi left form the previous year. If there are any fungal spores in the soil these will sporulate when they come into contact with a living root, but as is obvious the fungal spores will diminish each year, as each year the fallow period is too long to sustain the sporulated hyphae.

Therefore, the fourth principle is so important, to keep feeding the Mycorrhizal fungi through the fallow period.

The problem with inorganic fertiliser applications, is that we are giving the cash crop plant the basic elements and minerals that they need. This is normally done in excess, the plant does not have to excrete root exudates anymore, as it has enough nitrogen, Phosphorus, and potassium – this also starves the soil biology. This is where the microminerals, and various other vital elements and minerals that healthy plants need, are not transported to the cash crop plant anymore. We wonder, then, why we produce nutrient deficient food.

Hyphae are thin strands, thinner than root hairs, which can enter cracks that are small for a root hair to penetrate. This however also does not make them strong, and tillage destroys the hyphae. You are breaking your soil’s ability to communicate – remember bacteria cannot move, they signal. The hyphae are the “vessels” through which the water, elements and minerals are transported. You have destroyed your underworld highway.

The problem with conventional agriculture, is that we are destroying our soil biology. The two examples given, are sufficient to see that if this is done year in and year out that in a brief period we have destroyed our Mycorrhizal fungi. We have diminished the fungi spore count in the soil so that it is no longer viable.

How can we change our management practices?

So how can we change our management practices to enhance and to improve our soil biology especially Mycorrhizal fungi? Please remember, regenerative agriculture is never a sole product or a single change. Everything is connected, and everything you do influences the environment. Nothing happens in isolation.

As mentioned before, we are restoring a degraded system. One of our aims should be to build-up our soil biology so that the Mycorrhizal fungi is so abundant that it produces spores again.

The hyphae never touch each other and will always branch away from each other. Once they become so abundant, that they cannot branch away from each other, they will then start making spores. It is obvious that the smaller the area, like a pot plant, will start producing spores much quicker than on an open cash crop field.

On an open cash crop field, it can probably take up to eighteen months before the hyphae are so dense that they start making spores. How can we achieve eighteen months of minimal disturbance, having a living root, 24/7 365, having armour on the ground, and plant diversity? The answer simply becomes: A perennial cover crop. To give that specific land parcel, the best chance to restore its resource, namely soil biology.

The integration of the animals now becomes easy, as the animals will harvest the cover crops to mitigate the cost of the cover crop.

It is also obvious that not all your cash crop fields can be done during the same year as you still need an income.

It must also become obvious that the crop rotation is no longer between two, three or four crops, but it is a crop and perennial cover crop rotation. There is a farmer that has a twelve-year cycle, of which eight years is a perennial pasture. The pastured is grazed multiple times during the wet season, and once during the dry season. The last grazing is done mechanically in the wet season, for hay.

Regenerating your soil biology is a management system, it is not a single event, nor is it a specific product. It is a combination of various management principles that when implemented, work together with the common goal of restoring the soil biology. If you have implemented one of the principles of soil health, it does not mean that you have now become a regenerative farmer. Rather apply the constant implementation of all five principles.

Regenerative agriculture heal the land heal the people

The implementation of regenerative agriculture and restoration is not a sprint but a continuation from generation to generation. The future of agriculture is secure when we can heal the land and heal the people. Celebrating regenerative agriculture Heal the land; heal the people.

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What is topsoil

What is topsoil?

What is topsoil? Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil – usually the top 5 to 10 inches. It generally has the highest concentration of organic matter and microorganisms. Most of the earth’s biological activity occurs in topsoil. Topsoil is weathered rock that has come into contact with a living root.

Topsoil is composed of minerals, organic matter, micro-organisms, water, and air.

The 5 different groups of micro-organisms in topsoil are:

  • Fungi
  • Bacteria
  • Protozoa
  • Nematodes
  • Arthropods

Topsoil contains living roots and is a living system that supports all forms of life. We must implement farming management systems that build topsoil.

Water also plays an integral role in maintaining soil life – We will address this later again in the article.

What is topsoil? Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil

How do we feed or build topsoil?

The short answer is a living roots – this is however not a satisfactory answer. Building topsoil is a biological process and not a chemical one.

Remember that in Biology multiplication and division give you the same answer.

There are 1 x 109 – 11 CFU’s in a teaspoon of healthy living topsoil. It consists of such a multitude of species that most of them have not been identified yet.

What does any living organism need to multiply or grow?

The main needs are food and air – this can be CO2 or O2, and the correct temperature. Bacteria is in the artic and the desert. So, the temperature range and moisture level at which some of these bacteria can grow vary

Often in the different micro-organisms in topsoil, one organism’s waste is another organism’s food source. The bacteria and fungi feed on the organic matter and the root exudates (this is sugar excrete via a living root). The bacteria and fungi become food for the Nematodes and Protozoa and Arthropods. These again become food for a higher life source including earthworms, moles, and birds.

We have a carbon-based life – so all living organisms need carbon. There are two sources of carbon for bacteria and fungi in the soil.

One is organic matter – dead plant or animal matter, or faecal matter and urine.

The other source of carbon is the root exudates. This is the slimy liquid that is excreted on root tips. It is excreted as various sugars. This is a liquid carbon that is a product of photosynthesis. A much more stable carbon than that of organic matter.

The problem with organic matter is that the final product, when it has broken down completely, leaves only H2O and CO2.

So, you cannot build soil carbon by adding compost or mulching. Compost or mulching has its advantages. It is food source for the bacteria and the fungi, and they can multiply on the organic matter. It also helps with water retention. Compost also helps to increase the microbial life in the soil, and this has various other benefits that we will touch on later.

Liquid carbon that is excreted via the root through photosynthesis, builds soil carbon 5 – 30 times quicker than adding compost. This shows how vital a living root is for the health of the topsoil.

The other aspect of building healthy topsoil is plant diversity

The more plant species you have the bigger your microorganism diversity is in the topsoil. The more carbon you can sequestrate or capture in your soil.

Each plant excretes different sugars, feeding different microorganisms – what these different organisms do is through enzymes and chemical excretions, acids. For example, they make the minerals more bio-available firstly for themselves to survive, but secondly to the plant as well. This is an important symbiosis between the plant root excretions and the various microorganisms. The plant to get its basket of various elements and minerals and micro-elements, to produce healthy nutrient dense food.

An especially important aspect of microorganisms in topsoil is quorum sensing. You need a certain number of bacteria so that they can function properly. When enough bacteria is present the magic really starts to happen. The bacteria start building the soil aggregates around the roots, to improve the mineral exchange between root and microorganism, where the different mineral and water cycles function optimally.

The interesting thing with quorum sensing, is where the microorganism can stimulate gene expression in the host plant or in the digestive tract in mammals. This gene expression is normally positive regarding immune stimulation.

Building carbon in topsoil should be all farmers’ aim. An increase in carbon content in the soil has a direct effect on the nutritional status of the plant and this improves the health of both production animals and human health.

Animal impact on topsoil

Farmers that have integrated animals on their hay meadows or even on the cash crop fields, in their fruit orchards, have increased their carbon sequestration in their soil.

Example: A farmer put cattle on his hay meadow during spring, to feed it as standing hay, he used UHDG as the grazing management system.

Result: Double the number of bales of the field compared with the field that he mowed in spring rather than grazing it.

The symbiosis, of the cattle the veld and the root stimulation, is undeniable – animals stimulate root exudates, and therefore stimulate bacterial growth in the topsoil.

The next question is, “How do you protect your topsoil?”

  • No soil disturbance – mechanical or chemical – Pesticides and Herbicides kill microorganisms.
  • Cover – organic matter must be left on top of the soil, that way the topsoil is protected from the wind and the sun. It also helps that the impact on the topsoil is not so severe during rain.
  • Water – I mentioned that I would get back to water, in fact, we could have a whole program on the importance of water.
  • With healthy topsoil we achieve better water penetration and better water retention, and this is related to a higher carbon content in the topsoil.

Therefore, it is crucial that we increase our carbon content in our soil.

We mentioned that an increase in carbon is related to an increase in the soil biology. What is specifically important is the increase in Mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi becomes a network of fibers that are used as a transport mechanism for nutrients and specifically water.

This will only happen once the quorum sensing has been achieved. We must reach a certain threshold of microorganisms to achieve this nutrient network.

The Mycorrhizal fungi is thinner than the root hairs – so it can penetrate cracks in the soil where roots cannot penetrate, and through these cracks it can transport water to the plant.

Tillage, pesticides and herbicides and even inorganic fertilizer destroy mycorrhizal fungi. We are destroying our microorganism ability to help the plant survive that again is crucial for the survival of the microorganism in the soil.

It is obvious how important healthy topsoil is, not only for the plant but for all living forms of life. By adding inorganic Nitrogen fertilizers to our cash crops, we block or stop the soil biology to do its work. The plant shuts down the excretion of root exudates, and therefore the full benefit of having a living root in the soil.

Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil with concentration of organic matter and microorganisms.

We will not build our soils with current chemical agricultural systems.

Nothing and nobody are independent beings. We are all interconnected and need each other for survival.

Two thoughts that I do want to leave behind for today:

Dr. James Blignaut mentioned at The Landbou Weekblad Regenerative Agriculture Day, that the west of the country will have to look at regenerative agriculture to become or remain profitable.

Secondly Jay Fuehrer a soil scientist said – “If you take more carbon out of your soil than what you put in, your sons will not farm your land.”

Read more about soil health principles here.

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Rumenpro Brochure

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Rumenpro probiotics for ruminants
Rumenpro probiotics for ruminants

This probiotic feed supplement specifically for ruminants helps to improve animal health.

At GreenBio we farm with nature – not against it.

Animals, plants, soils, and microbes play a synergistic role together. The health of one part of an agricultural ecosystem will always affect the genetic quality and health potential of another.

Working to strengthen whole agricultural ecosystems is the only way to maximize our farming capabilities, our land, our health, our business, our communities and to do so in a way that will last generations.

We believe creating regenerative, holistic agricultural systems sustain:

  • Successful business.
  • Rich and fertile soils, abundant crops, strong livestock, genetically superior ecosystems as a whole
  • Healthier humans who will eat the most nutritious, hormone and antibiotic-free foods.

The implementation of restoration is not a sprint but a continuation from generation to generation. We secure the future of agriculture when we can continually heal the land and heal the people.

Rumenpro improves:

  • Rumen adaptability
  • Feed conversion rate
  • Average daily gain
  • Rumen health for your ruminants

Contact us at GreenBio for specific diet applications where we address the needs of the animals at the various stages of production

Order your Rumenpro here

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Breeding Of A Bull

How can we breed the perfect bull?

How can we breed the perfect bull?Breeding of a Bull
How can we breed the perfect bull? Breeding of a Bull
How can we breed the perfect bull? Breeding of a Bull
How can we breed the perfect bull? Breeding of a Bull
Breeding of a Bull

There are certain criteria that a bull must comply to, to become a breeder bull.

Firstly, he must be the son of a mother animal that calved at 24 and 36 months, if you can add 48 months, then that mother animal should be given a role of honour, on you farm.

The bulls with the highest maturity index, hip height to weight ratio at a corrected 12 months age in their age group, should be used for breeding for the next 14 – 15-month heifer breeding season. DNA testing can be used to determine which calf was from which bull and which bull breeds the most calves. Therefore this bull should be used for AI on the rest of the cow herd the following year.

The most crucial factors for the bull selection are hormonal balance, masculinity, and his testis. The bull should have the largest testis circumference proportionate to his weight in his age group (class the bulls in monthly age groups, do not use the whole breeding season).

Factors to determine hormonal balance are:

  • Shiny coat
  • Bull-like head and neck
  • Well-developed epididymis should be visible from at least 25 meters
  • Avoid thin cylindrical scrotums with long hair
  • A tight sheath in the South African veld context is advantageous
  • The bull must be able to control his scrotum

Give your heifers the better veld. Let the bulls work for their condition. Score the bulls at the end of the dry season for you to choose bulls that can maintain their condition through the most challenging times.

Selecting the correct bulls for your herd is crucial. Do not buy bulls where you cannot access the mother’s production records. Do not buy bulls from a breeder where you do not know the full feeding program of the mother animal. It is crucial to understand how the mother animal was fed to achieve her specific production figures.

By using the small window of opprotunity given each heifer to prove herself, the fertility of any herd can be improved. .

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Stacking in Regenerative Farming

Stacking in regenerative agriculture

Stacking in regenerative agriculture

In stacking in regenerative agriculture, we concentrate on making the soil more resilient to drought, improve water penetration and retention. We aim to build up soil carbon and the soil organic matter to the benefit of the microbial health in the soil and the health of the plants, animals and humans. We produce nutrient dense food, because we have taken care of the soil. Stacking in regenerative agriculture and stacking of animals on the soil result in different effects. Various animals can be used for stacking.

It does not matter if you are a secondary producer like a feed lot or a chicken farmer producing broiler chickens or layers or a pig farmer. The better the quality of your food, the healthier your animal will be and the better quality your product will be.

Stacking in regenerative agriculture and stacking of animals

Farmers’ regrets

There are a few things that all farmers who farm with animals and who practice regenerative agriculture regret when changing over to UHDG. Firstly they regret that they did not start earlier. They regret that they did not reduce the grazing area quicker. To be able to move more frequently every day in order for the animals to get fresh food serval times a day.

The second regret is that they did not increase their animal diversity earlier. Adding more animals to your farming enterprise increases the interaction on more biological systems than we can comprehend.

We are working with three living systems, that are so closely interlinked, and interdependent on each other for survival.

These systems are:

  • The soil
  • The plant
  • The variety of animals, and with this I mean all living species that live above the ground

All three systems are biological systems where the bacteria, through various systems, release the necessary chemicals on an on-demand system.


Everything revolves around diversity. Nowhere in nature do you find a monocrop with no animals. We have changed this to suit our limited mindset. Humans cannot comprehend the complexity of natural systems therefore we have reduced our production systems into something that we can comprehend. Monocrops with pesticides and herbicides, to eliminate everything that stands in the way of our crop production. The same can be said about animal production. We want to eliminate every internal and external parasite, but we cannot comprehend the unforeseen consequence and effect that our management systems have.

How can stacking in regenerative agriculture and animals positively influence our production unit? One of the first advantages is that you are harvesting more than one protein source of the same piece of land. The other advantage is that the parasites are often host specific, meaning that the parasites cannot survive on the other host.

Remember that in nature there is always a predator-prey relationship. Restoring these systems ensure that the natural predator becomes stable again. That is where the diversity of insect and bird life is enhanced. We cannot wake up in the morning and wonder what to kill next.

The stacking in regenerative agriculture and various animals on the soil result in different effects. The digestive tracts of the various animals are different, either monogastric, ruminants, or hind-gut fermenters. The faecal material of these three different digestive systems each has a different effect on the soil.

Grazing methods

The different forms of grazing methods also vary within the different digestive systems. A cow tears, the sheep nibbles, and the goat is more of a browser. Each method has a different effect on the grass plant or shrub.

It is well documented about the positive effect grazing has on veld recovery, especially if it rains. The increase in root exudates, which is the sugar that is excreted via the roots of the plant. That is part of the process of photosynthesis. This is also a symbiotic relationship between the soil microbes and the plant. The plant gives food to the microbes, and the microbes make minerals more bioavailable to the plant. This in return increases the aboveground biomass of the plant.

Farmers can use various animals for stacking like cows, sheep, goats, chickens both broilers and layers, pigs, just to name a few.

Pasture raised chicken, are highly effective fertilisers of the soil, especially where they sleep. There are enough examples on the internet of various egg mobiles and chicken mobiles where the birds are kept inhouse during the night. Move mobiles moved daily so that the concentration of dung is not on the same spot every day. This will burn the soil.

Chickens are also great in parasite control since they are omnivores. They will consume animal protein including various insects and parasites, from the animals that were on the veld previously.

Pigs are destructive and not suitable for all application. They are also one of the best tools to build soil through their burrowing and their faecal material.

Green Bio products provide all the probiotics your animals need.

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Stacking in regenerative agriculture and stacking of animals on the soil have different effects. Farmers can use various animals for stacking.

Everything in farming revolves around soil health. No farmer is exempt from looking after his soil. Using various animals on the same plot of land is crucial, and remarkably effective.

Gandhi said – “The future depends on what you do today”

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Chasing the Disease

Chasing the disease

Salespeople can be very convincing that our production is at risk of various production losses due to threats if we do not use their products. Therefore, we often blanket treat our production herds before a threat has even emerged. This management practice is one of the biggest drivers of increased production cost. The question is, “How do we build resilience into our herd so that we do not have to blanket treat our herds annually or even weekly as is the case in some intensive production systems?”

Is it possible to produce animal protein without the use of antibiotics, antibiotic growth promoters, internal and external parasite control? When will the consumer demand it? When will we realise what unforeseen effects we cause with our chemical controls that we continually use?


Chemicals work, and they are a tool in the management toolbox that is available to the producer to achieve his goal of producing healthy nutrient dense food. However, where the environment is regenerated, the animals become more resilient. This ultimately enhances human health rather than causing harm if managed correctly.
Chemicals are fortunately not the only tool. Chemicals should not be used indiscriminately. We must determine what management practices increase our risk of disease, and really enhance those that promote health. Unfortunately, those that promote health are very seldom a quick fix. It takes time to reverse years of chemical abuse – be this in animal or crop production.


You might think I am mad for saying this, because genetic advancements are what keeps us in business. If it were not for our yield, be it piglets/sow/year, or the number of tons per hectare or liters of milk per cow per day, we would not be in business anymore.
Banks do not bank yields.

We cannot run our production systems on a knife’s edge. We must build resilience and robustness into our food production systems. This means that we will have to build up our biological services that nature has provided for centuries already in the following areas:

  • Soil biology
  • Diversity
  • Immune system


One of the most devastating effects of conventional agriculture, is that we try and control everything with chemistry. Soil has three main attributes namely biological, chemical, and structural. Regrettably, until recently, we have ignored the biological attributes of soil, probably because we did not understand it. It is not like chemistry, where the elements that were present before the reaction, are still there after the reaction, in whatever form these may be present.

Biology is the only science where multiplication and division give you the same result. We cannot and will probably never be able to simulate every pathway and biological interaction within soil, the rumen, the small intestine or even between the various predator prey relationships or copy the immune system reaction to all the beneficial bacteria and pathogens in and around us.

By the time research is published it is already outdated. Research is about pushing the knowledge frontier. You can never be on “the other” side of the knowledge frontier, only on the known side of the frontier. So, when research is published, it is already outdated since the frontier was moved, you are now “this side” of the frontier, and new opportunities have emerged as a result of the increase in knowledge. These are not always good or benign opportunities.

The complexity of nature

We cannot comprehend the complexity of nature, and the biological services nature provides. Instead of trying to improve nature with a reductive mindset, we should rather enhance it with biological principles that have been shown, even if only anecdotally, to be true – where farming practices have reduced the input costs on cash crops and even animal production units. Just because we cannot prove something, or the instrumentation is not accurate enough to give us a result, this does not nullify the observations of the farmer, who has the best local knowledge about his area, and his farm.

A simple example is a penetrometer. After a certain hardness is measured, it states that roots will not grow in such hard soil. However, when a profile pit is dug, there are roots deeper than the penetrometer indicated. Why?

How can two neighboring farms have a disease profile that is so different that the one farmer must dip his cattle every 14 days during the peak tick season and the second farmer has not dipped for the last 15 years?
Why are some animals more resistant to internal parasites than others? How can we breed more resilient animals? How can we make sure that the newborn animals get the right profile of antibodies through the mother’s colostrum, from all the pathogens that are present on the farm?


Antibiotics, anthelminthic, tick remedies and other chemicals are part of the management toolbox any farmer should be able to use. The problem is that it is used indiscriminately or as the only tool. The principle of “the bigger the doubt, the bigger the hammer” is then applied. This is not sustainable, and only increases your input costs.
Everything in nature is about survival and this is also true for the pathogens. Through the indiscriminate use of antibiotic growth promoters, and the incorrect use of antibiotics when a disease does breakout, we have created resistant pathogens in all aspects of animal production.

The problem is also experienced in human health where many doctors still prescribe antibiotics at the slightest aliment. Producing food ethically and with integrity is something to strive for. This should be the role of the consultants; they should provide management solutions. Selling a product for every problem is not a solution. This only turns consultants into salesmen and not somebody that has the farmer’s best interest at heart.

We should view the solution of the production system holistically, and not only at a product level to solve our problems caused by pathogens. This principle does not only apply to animal production, but is also applicable to cash crops, vegetables, and fruit production.
If we only look at a short-term solution, and a cure for the problem now, but do not change anything in our management systems to try and prevent the disease outbreak for the next year, we will have the same disease challenge again and again.

If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. As Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

So how do we build a more resilient food system? The short answer is: Enhance your soil biology. If you understand that fact and pull the value chain from the soil through to plant health, animal health and ultimately human health, you will understand how important it is to become a custodian of the land again. Enhancing the soil biology, improving the predator prey relationship, in order to use natural predators instead of killing the food for the predators, and even the predators themselves. That way we will not have to wonder why we have an antibiotic, pesticide or herbicide resistance problem. We must enhance our soil biology, and the biological and immunological systems in our plants, production animals and ourselves.

Immune systems

Allergies, food intolerances, asthma and other disorders like ADD and ADHD, are on the increase. This is the result of how we produce our food, how we raise our children and how we have been raised.
The convenience of ready-made meals, our obsession to keep up with the Joneses and trying to keep everything sterilised, just out of fear that we might catch a disease, has resulted in our immune systems never being triggered – not even by probiotics – to function properly. Our immune system must be primed to withstand pathogens. If we always kill everything, our immune system will not be triggered nor will it develop to withstand the various antigens that is all around us constantly.

Dr. Christine Jones of Australia often talks about enhancing the biological service to such an extent that you get quorum sensing. When this happens, the bacteria (probiotic bacteria, normal flora) can trigger certain gene expressions in the host animal, or plant. This is directly related to the immune system as well. Where the immune system is triggered to perform optimally. If the immune system is primed optimally as an infant, a lot of the food allergies and food intolerances would not be recorded.

There are more and more reports and scientific articles being published where the relationship between soil bacteria, the mental state and a healthy gut system are described as being part of a whole. We have lost our relationship with soil.
When was the last time you walked barefoot on healthy nutrient rich soil? When was the last time you got your hands “dirty” planting or seeding your own vegetables or fruit trees?
We are part of nature, and not above it. The biological systems that enhance our immune system are neglected.

Animal production

How do we produce robust, more resilient production animals, where we can rely on the immune system of the animal to protect themselves and their offspring against various diseases? Can we chase the disease and make our mother animals produce better colostrum for their newborn? The answer is yes.
How often do we hear farmers say that a camp is infected, when animals give birth in the camp and the newborn animals get sick?

One of the most critical defense mechanisms of the newborn animal is the antibodies produced by the mother animal and passed on via the colostrum to the newborn. It is critical that every newborn animal gets its share of colostrum as soon as possible. The shorter the time from birth until the first sip of colostrum, the better protected the newborn animal is. After a certain time frame the small intestine of the newborn “shuts down” and no IgG antibodies can pass through the villi. It is useless to feed colostrum after that time. Six hours after birth is already pushing the boundary of inefficiency.

Commercial colostrum can be used for very specific diseases. For diarrhea and other gut related ailments, it is better to prime the mother animals so that their colostrum is of such a nature, that the various pathogenic antigens are covered by her antibodies produced in her colostrum.

There is a fine balance of controlling the pathogenic load on the farm and keeping the production animals healthy. Disease outbreak, and your management practices are crucial to keep the balance between production and disease. The various production systems also determine what kind of animal management system you should follow. When comparing a TMR system and a pasture dairy system, the pasture system is more robust and resilient to price fluctuation than a TMR system. Any intensive system is more prone to disease.

As far as the proximity of the animals are concerned, it should be determined whether the proximity of the animals causes the disease or whether it is the animal management system that causes the disease. We are working with life systems from the soil, to the gut and what we produce is organic material on which bacteria and other pathogens can thrive. If we sterilize everything every day, we destroy the immunes system’s ability to react to a pathogen. What if the pathogen becomes resistant to the antibiotic or the disinfectant that we try and kill it with daily?


How often have farmers’ problems started as soon as they started dipping for ticks? We will not be able to farm without ticks. They are part of the system. The important question is: How can we minimise our losses due to tick-borne diseases? At the beginning of the article I mentioned that neighboring farms, at the peak of the tick season, one farmer dips every 10 – 14 days, whereas the neighbor has not dipped in 15 years. Does the neighbor not have red water? The answer is no, far from it. True, some of his animals do succumb to red water every year, and sure, it is a loss, but it is never more than 10 animals on a herd of 1300 animals.

The production loss of walking the herd to a dip every 10 – 14 days, is probably greater than the 10 animals lost annually. The other advantage of losing the 10 animals is that they did not adapt to the specific disease on the farm. If they did, they would keep the ticks alive and therefore the disease alive.

The same happens with sheep and internal parasites. If you constantly blanket treat you animals for internal parasites, all you are doing is weakening their defense system. Once again, you cannot farm without internal parasites. They will always be part of the system. Doing the FAMCHA test before dosing sheep and only treating those that need to be treated is already a step in the right direction. If an ewe or mother animal must be treated constantly, discarding that animal from you farm is probably the better option, as she will only produce resistant parasites for you.

Mother animal vs baby animal

As far as diarrhea related diseases are concerned, it is often the mother animal that is the host of such diseases or pathogens. She is the carrier of the disease and the baby animal is then infected and the multiplier of the disease. This is part of the life cycle of the pathogen. It will not kill the mother animal, but the young animal. Something will eat the carcass of the young animal and this way the pathogen will find a new host.
It is therefore crucial to breed animals that can withstand the onslaught of the various pathogens on the farm. Priming the mother animal to produce effective colostrum is essential in your overall disease management system.

There are various factors that influence colostrum production. Heat-stress has a huge negative effect on colostrum. Nutrition can influence the colostrum either negatively or positively. Always ensure that your feed is toxin free. If there are toxins in the feed it will have a huge negative effect on the colostrum production. Do not ever think that it is only one bale, or only one bucket of silage that is contaminated. Toxins affect everything in your production system negatively and weaken your whole breeding herd.


Always make sure that the animals have access to clean, fresh drinking water. It is, after clean fresh air, the most important mineral that has huge effects on the overall health of your production unit.


There are certain diseases where we cannot protect the animals through management systems – be they the production animals or the newborn animals. Vaccinations must be a crucial and integral part of every farm’s management healthcare system. In South Africa we must vaccinate against certain diseases annually. The vaccination program for each farm must be developed in co-operation with the local vet. Never think that you do not have to vaccinate if you have not had a specific disease problem before. Many of the diseases are zoonotic, meaning they can infect humans as well. You do not want to be the reason for disease infected humans, because of your lack of understanding of the disease.


At Green Bio we specifically look at management practices where we enhance the production of colostrum. With our various natural products, we aim at giving the mother animal the best chance to produce effectively, improving the gut health and reducing the pathogenic load on the farm. We strongly suggest implementation of management systems. Through effective management systems, the young animals are given the best chance for survival.

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Regardless of our accomplishments, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil, water, and the fact that it rains.

We cannot survive without it. In Southern Africa we realise this on a daily basis. We have prolonged droughts and unusual weather patterns. Our seasons are ever changing.

Healthy robust topsoil can retain more water than degraded “moeg geploegde” soil, water penetration and water retention leave a lot to be desired.

How often do we say our prayers of thanksgiving, because it is raining? But we have done nothing in our management system, to prepare for rain, and prevent our topsoil from being washed away?
Our climate is changing. Irrespective of whether you want to call it global warming, or if you deny that it is happening. We cannot carry on with our destructive agricultural management practices, and think we will remain profitable.

Our ways and viewpoints should change from where we currently farm. We must manage our natural resources as if this is the last harvest we’ll ever need. We should come to a viewpoint and management practices where we secure the resources for generations to come.

The following section is taken form the book Chicken Nutrition – by Rick Kleyn

“Water is often called the fundamental nutrient. Whereas animals may survive for considerable periods without food, without water they would soon die.
Water is required in the body for the maintenance of body temperature and for almost all metabolic processes. In nutritional terms, water is the single most important nutrient that we feed to animals. Yet in most instances, it is taken completely for granted and therefore often neglected. Water usually receives attention only when mechanical problems occur.”

Water constitutes the major component of both cells and the extra-cellular environment.

It does, in fact sustain life by performing the following important functions:

  • The transportation of nutrients (glucose, amino acids, minerals, vitamins)
  • Transportation of gas, in particular oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • The transportation of wastes towards the liver and kidney
  • Transportation of hormones
  • Regulation of cellular hemostasis
  • Adjustment of body temperature
  • Maintenance of mineral homeostasis
  • Excretion of end products of digestion, anti-nutritional factors ingested with the diet, drugs and drug residues.

Water quality

The quality of water offered to animals may have a direct bearing in their ultimate performance. Extremes in pH, bacteria, nitrogen levels, hardness and excessively low or high naturally occurring elements can adversely affect water quality.
Its chemical and microbiological content determine the quality.

We must employ management practices where we preserve our water, regardless of our profession. Everybody must look at water and air as the most important resource. We must protect it, because our life depends on both these natural resources.
Water contamination is often not taken into consideration when certain management practices are applied. This is probably the most fundamental issue in today’s industrial area. For example, applying chemicals, in the various forms, in modern agriculture, but also in other industries.
There are always unforeseen consequences when contaminating water. The price we are already paying, and the price future generations will pay will be too high for the short-term benefits.

It is not only chemicals and its applications that can contaminate water, but also organic waste, resulting from the various industrial farms. It is crucial to have a proper waste disposal plan for the discarding of faecal material and other organic waste, including dead animals.
We cannot afford that organic waste be the source of a disease outbreak on farms because the waste management system failed.


We must look after our natural resources – air, water and soil – and how we can benefit optimally from these resources. Not exploiting them, nor contaminating them, but for the benefit of all living creatures.

Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, will we find out that we cannot eat money.
-Indian Proverb

Photography: Gerry Weber

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The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare

The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare

The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare

It is a well-known fact that production animals produce better in a stress-free environment. This is true for all living organisms in every production system. Animals and humans get diseased as soon as there are any signs of stress. Consequently, production drops. Here we discuss the five freedoms of animal welfare.

The question is: “How can we produce animal protein that is crucial for the wellbeing of humans? Without increasing the stress levels of the animals?”

Animal welfare is a topic that is not often talked about at farmer level. It is often ignored instead of being tackled proactively. Furthermore, the consumer is demanding that farmers take animal welfare and the environment seriously when producing food. The problem is that this issue is not addressed properly. Good nutrient dense food is the next step. It has a positive effect on the human health. In reality, consumers are already demanding certain Brix values of their fruit and vegetables.

Farming Practices

We have to change farming practices and take the whole value chain into consideration. Farming practices should improve soil biology and the effects on the environment. It should improve the quality of the feed and food we produce. We need audited animal production systems that specifically look at the five freedom principles of animal welfare. We should monitor the effect of produced food on human health. Does it improve human health and resilience?  Are humans more disease prone? Certain chemical residues in food contain known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

It is crucially important that we change proactively instead of being blinded. We are so entrenched in our ways that we cannot comprehend the effects on the environment. We impact the health of our production animals and eventually the health of humans.

Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare

What are the five freedoms of animal welfare?

1. Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition

It is unthinkable that farmers would not feed their animals or not give them water to drink.

However, it is about more than that. We should always provide toxin free feed. Toxins are probably one of the main causes of disease and often go unnoticed. It starts with the maize purchase. Don’t think you are buying a bargain if the maize is so much cheaper than commercial maize prices. It will come back to haunt you. The result: Disease or production losses, lower conception rates, or reduced daily weight gains.

Antibiotic growth promoters

For how long will we be able to feed Antibiotic growth promoters (AGP)? They have been banned in Europe and in some African countries already. Should we not breed animals robust enough to withstand the pathogenic challenges they are exposed to on farms? Has COVID19 shown us how fickle our food production and food distribution processes really are? What will happen if one of the large chicken or bacon suppliers close because of a virus? We have had our first scare last year already with Listeria.

The problem with any pandemic or disease outbreak is misinformation. Social media can so easily enable the distribution of misinformation. Important: What is not said rather than what is said.

The other side effect of AGP is the pathogen resistance to antibiotics. We must produce animals that can produce regardless of the pathogenic load on the farm. This includes bacteria, internal or external parasites. Farmers should use management systems which limit exposure.

“Water is the fundamental nutrient without which animals soon die. It is taken for granted and, therefore, often neglected”. In the words of Rick Kleyn in his book Chicken nutrition.

We must give our animals clean, fresh drinking water. There is so much at stake in any animal production system. We cannot afford to mess it up with contaminated water that might cause diseases within the herd. Only one water source, if contaminated, risks infecting your whole herd.

2.  Freedom from physical and thermal discomfort

This once again is an obvious statement. Why would any producer want to cause a state of discomfort for his animals? It affects the farmer’s production and income. What is not obvious to the consumer is that animals are not as sensitive to temperature as humans are. Free range or pasture raised animals are normally more robust. Or could it be that the environment is just more animal friendly for the pasture raised animal than factory farmed animals? That would beg the question, why spend so much money in trying to control the environment?  Pasture raised animals don’t need to be pampered to such an extent as industrial farmed animals. Is the cost of industrialisation worth it?

Farm with Nature not against her.

It is important to retain trees and natural shade for your animals. They can then move out of direct sunlight. They must have access to direct sunlight too to stand or forage in the sun.

3.  Freedom from pain, injury, and disease

It is very seldom that a producer deliberately causes pain or injury to his animals. What this refers to though is the handling facilities should not cause pain or injury. A mercy killing is necessary if the animal has chronic pain or cannot be helped anymore. Consider the welfare of the animal in mercy killing over the potential loss of money.

Prevention is better than cure

The veterinary consultant plays a crucial role on the farm in freedom from disease. You cannot think of animal welfare without a resident vet who inspects your animals at least twice a year.  The farmer and the vet should discuss disease prevention. Prevention is better than cure. This should be an all-encompassing discussion including quality feed, water, animal handling, breeding, disease tolerant animals for your specific area. Discuss vaccination programs, and what treatments should be followed if there is a disease outbreak. Antibiotic growth promotors should not be part of the disease preventative discussion. We are fooling ourselves if we believe it doesn’t cause pathogen resistance to various antibiotics.

Antibiotics are, however, part of every farmer’s tool box. Use according to the vet’s prescription. To blanket treat a herd for a disease that might affect production with antibiotics is not an option. Using vaccines or boosting the immune system of the animal is a more sustainable option.

4.  Freedom from fear and distress

Easier said than done. Farming in Africa is not for the faint hearted if we take all the predators in consideration. Controlling predators will always be a contentious issue between conservationists and farmers. Relocating programs for predators should be more coordinated across Africa. From leopards, cheetah, to wild dogs and hyena. Some countries welcome the reintroduction of predators while others feel they have too many. Because of various restrictions, rules and lack of funding, these relocations aren’t happening. A farmer is often made out to be the villain when he shoots a predator. The problem is that he has no system to support him in predator control.

In the Mamre Intensive Lambing system ewes lamb in predator-proof pens. This prevents predators killing lambs. Farmers incur astronomical costs to protect their animals from various predators.

As far as freedom form distress is concerned, I just want to highlight air quality.  This is often ignored, especially in baby animal enclosures. Baby animals must be kept warm – usually at a temperature higher than ambient temperature. The air circulation is critical in these rooms or facilities to ensure enough oxygen in the room. Circulated air must be clean.

5.  Freedom to express normal patterns of behavior

This is an interesting principle as most of our production animals have been domesticated. Their genetic selection is such that they can produce or grow in a certain time frame. This enables harvesting for meat under various conditions. In the chicken industry for example, the chickens are genetically selected to grow at a certain rate. They must be kept in a specific environment to maintain that growth. Taken out of that environment the chicken will not produce and probably die. With all genetic selection, the immune systems is negatively impacted if you only select for growth and production.

Pasture raised production animals have a different behavior pattern than factory farmed animals. Poultry, pigs and diary are the same. An animal bred for a TMR system will not have the same behavior pattern as a pasture raised dairy cow.

The interesting questions about the five freedoms of animal welfare are:

  • Who is the judge and the jury?
  • Who is the accused and the accuser?
  • What determines how these principles should be monitored?
  • What determines whether an animal is in discomfort?

Joe Salatin, in his book “Folks this ain’t normal” describes how he was reported to the animal welfare office. He wars reported because his ducks were swimming in a pond during winter. The charge: His animals were cold. The ducks went into the pond on their own. Wild ducks were also swimming in the same pond.

We must be very careful not to judge wrongly and in ignorance.

Animal production has advanced scientifically over time. The genetic achievements made in all the various animal production systems is fascinating.

Farmers should consider that they can push their animals over the limit. Take any intensive reproduction system where the success rate is measured in number of pigs weaned, per sow per year. Having ewes lamb three times over a period of 24 months and the yield that has to be achieved in a dairy cow. In a TMR system, to produce a calve yearly and average over a certain yield of liters per day to cover costs.

Resilient management systems

We are still working with living systems and they are wicked. Life happens and things do go wrong. It can go wrong with with feed, water or other environmental factors such as heat. We must not run our herds on a knife edge. The production cost is just not worth it. We have to build more resilient management systems with better control of input costs.

The broiler industry must be nearly sterile to produce their results.  This is not for the biosecurity of the humans, but rather for the broilers. Fatalities are high when there is a disease outbreak. There is no more robustness in our animal production systems. Cryptosporidium, for example, has been devastating for both beef and sheep farmers.

Animal welfare: Farmers versus Vegans versus Animal Rights Activists

Animal welfare from a farmer’s perspective is totally different than from a vegan’s or an animal rights activist’s perspective. These are totally different conversations.

Animal rights activists and vegans only take the animal into account. Everything revolves around the animal. The financial aspect of farming does not feature in the argument. Some controversial animal rights activists vandalised farms and cut electricity cables in the past. This resulted in a malfunction of ventilation and 700 pigs died. This is not fighting for animal rights. These are criminal acts that should be dealt with as such.

However, the farmer cannot ignore animal welfare and think he will achieve optimal production. Think of how strict the various industrial farming setups are. They take animal welfare into consideration like group housing in the pig industry.

The farmer must make money. He cannot do it at the cost of animal welfare. He must be aware of any short coming with his management practices.

Animal production systems

Consumer pressure to produce animal protein ethically is mounting. More farmers are starting to tell their stories about how they treat their animals. They do not use antibiotics or harmful chemicals to control internal and external parasites.

Ultimately, we must start looking at our animal production systems where biology plays a major role in all aspects. We cannot reduce our farming systems to only mechanical and chemical processes. This is just too simplistic and the production costs will escalate. The result of management systems where the biological services are enhanced, is more control of input costs. Undefined advantages like animal health and soil health reduce the production costs even further.


Ultimately, animal protein is essential to human wellbeing. We are omnivores. Therefor, we as consumers, have a choice in our buying power. We can choose how the animals that we eat, are raised. This is applicable in all aspects of animal protein from dairy, poultry and various meat products. Finally, keep the five freedoms of animal welfare in mind in animal production.

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Photography: Gerry Weber

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