Words: Hein Eksteen Photography: Michel Dei-Cont
“Boss, my granny says you get two kinds of people. Those who run around like headless chickens and those who are dancing dragons.” These profound words of wisdom are offered to Mike Dei-Cont (our photographer) while being persuaded by a street philosopher into washing our car’s windows. “And I am a dancing dragon!”
It is easy to see that Nottingham Road in die KZN Midlands is a dancing dragon kind of town. Neat and progressive. Charming restaurants and coffee shops (not to mention the legendary Nottingham Road Hotel – affectionately referred to as the Notties – but we are on assignment and wisely give the place a wide berth).
LEARN FROM NATURE
Our wisening up is furthered on Bramleigh Farm under the tutelage of the enlightened Andre and Kait Kauerauf. Andre, a sound engineer, turned solar energy expert turned farmer. And Kait, a fine arts and psychology major turned farmer and soon to become a mother.
Cynics may instinctively shy away from seemingly New Age terms such as regenerative farming, communing with nature, spiritual well-being and a holistic approach to whatever floats your boat, but listening to this enthusiastic and dedicated couple quickly puts an end to eyes rolling with exasperation and zoning out.
According to Andre, “Regenerative agriculture is an approach to farming that mimics nature, with every action aimed at sequestering carbon, improving water retention and biodiversity through building topsoil and a resilient landscape. This produces nutrient dense food.”
RESPECT FOR LIFE
Kait adds, “As with any natural ecosystem, animals are essential and are therefore given the highest respect. Mechanisation is traded for time and labour equalling more human contact, and greater observation of needs. Cramped houses are traded for mobile infrastructure.”
Their website explains, ‘Our animals are pasture raised, the most natural way of raising animals, which means happier animals positively impacting the land through natural behaviours. Pasture raised animals are always on the move to new areas. For the animals, this means hygienic living conditions and new places to explore. For the land this means an even spread of manure and managed impact. Integrated multiple species of animals are moved across the same piece of land, each having their own role to play in building topsoil through their natural behaviours.’
Finally, they see themselves, not as the owners of the land and its animals, but rather as stewards.
Bramleigh Farm was purchased by Andre’s parents in 2001 and was initially run as a guest house. In 2015 Andre and Kait took over, but keeping their day jobs soon proved to be impractical. The intrepid couple eventually convinced themselves to slowly take the plunge into a world completely alien to them, successfully developing and cultivating a farm of 200 hectares with little capital and no experience. To make their lives even more complicated they decided to follow the tenets of the Rodale Institute with regards to regenerative farming: ‘A holistic systems approach to agriculture that encourages continual on-farm innovation for environmental, social, economic and spiritual well-being.’
A NEW DIRECTION
The first step was to at least make the farm self-sufficient as far as electricity is concerned. And Andre was perfectly suited to do just that. The next was to make their own biofuel. Sadly, that failed, but fortunately their spirit (and the vehicle used to experiment on) survived.
Andre explains, “Moving to a rural area changes one. You are forced to live more seasonally. You have to manage your own waste. And with nature all around you, you start seeing ecosystems falling apart and you can’t ignore it. You have to confront it.”
For Kait the shift was not too severe as she taught at a local school. Furthermore, they were already dedicated to leading healthy lives and following healthy diets. “And we’ve always had a veggie garden. Once we moved to the farm we were no longer restricted by space and we could plant as much as we wanted.”
All good. But what happens when reality rears its ugly head and one sadly has to earn a living?
Kait, “It was not without its challenges. Sure, you can have your little veggie garden and be quite successful, but what works on a small scale doesn’t always work as you scale up. It was a very steep learning curve.”
So, with little capital and certainly no experience, how does one start to farm commercially?
Andre, “Chickens certainly are the gateway drug to small scale farming. We started with two laying hens. Now we are up to over 400. And again, it is always small scale versus a viable scale. Even when we were up to 50 hens, all we had were very expensive eggs.”
Bramleigh Farm’s laying hens are pasture raised with unlimited access to sunshine, fresh forage, dirt baths and even healthy insects. The egg mobile (fashioned from a caravan’s chassis) is moved every few days, ensuring hygienic conditions and thereby avoiding the need for any medication. At night the hens enter the egg mobile, equipped with roosting space and nesting boxes. The mesh floor of the egg mobile means all droppings fall through onto the grass below, keeping the egg mobile clean while also fertilising the grass until their next visit.
A large electro-net secures the area ensuring the hens are protected while also maximising their impact on a given area. Their scrabbling, scratching and dirt bathing gently aerate the soil.
A solitary cockerel moves around the many, many ladies. Alas, he is not there because he is a very lucky fellow. Andre explains, “The hens focus more on feeding and are not looking out for hawks. The cockerel, on the other hand, is way more vigilant. As soon as he spots danger, he sound a warning. The hens don’t even look up as they race into the egg mobile.”
The same applies to the pasture raised broilers. They graze on grass and are moved to a fresh area every day where their manure fertilises the grass, which in turn builds topsoil and boosts regrowth.
Andre, “Pasture raised chickens produce a better quality, more nutrient dense meat, higher in vitamins and omega 3. And their diet is supplemented with feed that is truly free from medication, antibiotics and hormones.”
Pigs are essentially forest animals and on Bramleigh Farm they live in their natural environment. They, too, are protected in mobile paddocks.
“This ensures fresh forage and hygienic living conditions while also allowing the pigs to have a positive impact on different areas.”
Kait, “With a focus on food security, sustainability, and self-sufficiency, we established three REKO Rings in the Midlands, enabling small scale producers to sell their produce directly. Bramleigh Farm is part of the Midlands Regenerative Producers Slow Food Community. We aim to inspire and educate through building a working small scale regenerative farm and regenerative lifestyle.”
EVERYBODY IS HAPPY HERE
Ask farmers about the challenges they face and inevitably problems with labour crop up. Not on Bramleigh Farm. Andre believes farm workers are an integral part of the holistic approach. “Our workers are part owners of the animals. That said, we haven’t had the heart to penalise them when things occasionally turn turtle.”
If your soul is worn out and you are in need of some regeneration, book a farm stay on Bramleigh Farm to commune with happy people, happy animals and happy soil. You will leave as a dragon dancer. Guaranteed.